I turned 30 two months ago and leading up to this epic life changing milestone, I began to recall moments in my life that have transformed me.
Moments that have thrown me off course & catapulted me in a whole different direction. Moments that have provoked emotions or decisions that have led to the woman I am today. This blog will be the first of a series I intend to write.
The first time I felt rage and remember the rage was when I was seven. My mum had given birth to my baby sister, her fourth daughter and I wasnt happy. I was the star of the family, the baby, until she came along, we didn’t need *ANOTHER* sister I would moan. Send her back I would beg.
Until one day, shortly after her birth, we had some visitors. They had come to see the baby. But it felt as though they had arrived to pay their respects at a funeral.
The women wringing their hands in front of my mum, consoling themselves would say ‘don’t fret a boy will come,’ or ‘at least she’s healthy,’ and ‘this is God’s will.’ Note the latter is often uttered at actual Muslim funerals.
I was seven at the time but I understood straight away. By the time my parents had another baby, a year later, (and yes another girl) I would feel my fists ball up, by the time guests would leave the skin on my palms were yellow with deep nail imprints embedded in them.
It didn’t happen often, but even the one remark, the one comment would trigger me.
I was ready for a fight anytime anyone responded with a dejected ‘oh’ after they asked how many siblings I had. ‘No brothers?!’ Would be the response. ‘Nope none.’ ‘Tch,’ they would say with a shake of their heads.
Occasionally I would respond in anger ‘daughters are a blessing too,’ but soon I learnt that there was no point. Some people just never change and you have to pick which battles you fight. I had many. And if you’re not careful you’ll burn out.
I had no idea at this early age that this would be my first insight into a reality so many experienced. Matriarchy and patriarchy uniting to ensure a woman felt inadequate, incompetent, unworthy of bearing a prized male heir. I had no idea that it would be these interactions that would make me stand stronger, firmer and more resilient today.
Later throughout my adolescence particularly during my teenage years I would face the consequences of being a girl who couldn’t and wouldn’t tolerate gender inequality.
I didn’t understand why boys had so much more freedom. I wanted to know why. And it was this that got me in trouble. ‘Never ask, just listen,’ I was chastised.
But the more I was suppressed the more I pushed back.
Two decades on, as I look back at the havoc I unleashed, I try to rationalise it.
I was soon to realise and still do that every choice, every decision comes with a cost, a consequence. Every action with struggle.
People ask what’s it like being a British Muslim woman? What are your experiences? Where do I begin? How do I explain that the battles I face were and still are multilayered.
How do I explain that over the past 3 decades I have fought to be recognised as an autonomous woman both amongst those who know me and in wider society?
How do I describe the countless times I have had to break out of the boxes people carve out for me, built by their own stereotypes? Whether it is fellow muslims who assume they know my values or non muslims who assume they have figured out my psyche?
The reality is that to be a Brown, Muslim, young woman of Pakistani heritage, it can be tough for some. It was for me.
I quickly learnt my only respite would be knowledge. I threw myself into academia and religious literature.
You see, it’s quite simple, if you know who you are, no one else stands a chance at telling you who they think you should be