Dec 30, 2011

Self Esteem : The Muslim Woman - A Warrior Of Sorts

By Anum Ali

The world has undoubtedly transformed into a big fireball of corrupt morals where a Muslim woman, in fact any woman, faces some serious issues that threaten to set ablaze her level of self-esteem. But as they say, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” And so she should fight like a warrior, armed with the shield of self-esteem and the sword of her Iman (faith). There are several spatial, verbal, and physical ways that a woman can adopt to counter the issues she faces and self-esteem is the only way she would be able to use them, inshAllah.

This summer I was in Karachi city in Pakistan, my native country, and I got the opportunity to revisit the shops and bazaars. Trust me, in a bazaar, a woman is most unsafe and feels the most humiliated because the men treat you like toys. The illiterate and morally corrupt men would resort to touching you as you walk on the street or in shops, they would stare at you regardless of your Hijab and/or Niqab, and they would tease you with chants and mockery. Now you know why a woman is not allowed to step out of the house without a mehram (a male blood relative). Of course we change these principles, and sometimes we say that we have to, because the times have modernized and the Muslim woman has made her footprint in the fields of education and professionalism.

The weakness is in the functioning and the attitude of the woman herself. She feels that taking her brother, her husband, her father, or any other male relative along with her to common day places would be looked down upon. She feels that it would be very anti-feminism, or that people would assume that she is oppressed. Obviously, this is a self-esteem malfunction.

The best way to tackle such a social problem is to be accompanied by a male relative so the people out there know that they have a good chance of being beaten up if they harass a woman. However, there are times when women are with a male relative and yet she is harassed. Again, if she chooses to remain quiet about an incidence she has a self-esteem problem. If she is incapable of voicing out the wrong that’s being done to her, she is confused.

Let’s look at it detail as to what really goes wrong in the psychological thought process that makes a woman who’s been wronged, spiral into silence. When a woman is teased physically, visually, or verbally, say in a marketplace, she feels as if she is a weak creature that can be toyed around with. If she’s made the mistake of being alone in a social mess, then she feels unsafe because she has no defense. Or, even if she is not alone, she chooses not to “create a scene” because she feels that it would be an insult to her. And hence, she chooses to tolerate the harassment.

While speaking to a friend, I realized that there is a yet another concern that a Muslim woman faces and this one, being in the family, requires a more thought out approach. As the youth is acquiring proper knowledge about the principles and limitations of the Islamic religion, they’re beginning to realize which practices they should stay away from. The biggest challenge for a Muslim woman is to deal with the issue of non-mehrams (males who are not blood relatives) and how to avoid their “loving advances.” There are the distant uncles who leap to pat you on the head, or a namesake uncle who runs to gather you in a greeting hug. Now, because you have grown up and know your do’s and don’ts better, your biggest challenge is to refuse such uncles.

Usually, when a woman is unable to put up a worthy fight in face of such dilemmas, she initiates a series of negative conclusions inside her head that make matters worse. For instance, because a “sticky” male relative is a respectable elder or an influential family friend who you cannot back-answer or push away, you resort into thinking, “Why does it have to happen to me?” “I will be punished by Allah (swt),” “I’d never be able to escape him,” and etc. I recall such an uncle from my days of teenage. He had a habit of grabbing boys and girls and kissing them on their cheeks. Me and siblings used to hide when he visited on Eid, but eventually he would make his way everywhere. I realized that was a unsuccessful approach.

The idea behind a Muslim woman’s struggle is to be proactive about the issues that raise their heads and to tackle them with sensible and sober means. And always know that you MUST set the wrongs right because there is always going to be a lot of resistance from your family that approves of such instances while you do not. You should value your self-worth because that is exactly why Allah (swt) prescribed the codes of mehram and non-mehram, He knows how precious you are. As some women allow such physical gestures from distant male members of the family or friends, they are unaware that they’re providing Shaytan an easy path. Look around you, you wouldn’t have to go too far to find stories of incest and molestation and it may sound far-fetched, but intermingling with non-mehrams is what forms their basis.

A sister’s concern was that if she refuses a particular “touchy huggy” relative, he makes a loud statement about her being an “extremist.” That’s a favorite word the world has chosen to address each hard practicing Muslim by. She also fears that in family gatherings, refusing him would “create a scene”. Her dilemma is understandable, and her realization and anxiety about the problem is honorable. How many woman realize their worth and limitations this way? My advice in such situations is a “threefold approach" process:

Change your approach: Redefine the way you carry yourself. Be more sober and more reserved in the company of men, respond to their gestures by a simple Salam with the wave of a hand, and maintain a distance.
Approach the “subject”: If the “sticky uncle” doesn’t understand your spatial distance, then communicate your view to him. This can be done either directly, maintaining a good voice tone, or via a responsible family member who’s willing to help.
Re-approach with good mannerisms: If you cut off completely after your “confrontation” it may sever family ties. Maintain your greeting and respectful mannerism, but keep a distance.

When I compare a Muslim woman with a warrior, I do so because she expected to put up a worthy struggle against a fireball of fitnah that the world has become. Not only is she to shield herself but also ensure that she doesn’t become a fuel to aggravating it i.e. if you choose to remain quiet and passive you’d be encouraging such moral incorrectness. So guard your modesty with the power vested in you by Allah (swt). Look for people who would help you and make it easier for your fellow sisters.

Together we can, together we will, inshAllah.

I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please post in the comments section below! :)


Jazakallah Kheir for this wonderful article. Thanks for pointing out how society has trivialized Islamically unacceptable behavior such that the behavior is not criticized but the person who refuses to participate in it is criticized. Two weeks ago, I went to a Quran conference in Chicago, and the 70+ sheikh whose organization sponsored the conference kissed a sister volunteer on her forehead who was in her 30s. She was clearly uncomfortable, but since this was public on the podium, she felt powerless to protest.
It's also so shameful that back in Muslim countries, the phenomenon "Eve Teasing" has become almost as a rite of passage for young men, so they have to harass women in the streets and market places to show to their peers that they are men.The other thing that you mentioned about women getting harassed by male relatives is more common than we acknowledge. A lot of times, the younger woman is not even aware that she is being taken advantage of by the older male relative, and falls in love with that relative when the man is only manipulating her.About the hug greetings: I also want to point out that we men in the West also face similar situations where a touchy feely non-Muslim female co-worker wants to hug instead of a simple greeting. I have tried avoiding meeting her; but now reading your article, I see that is not the correct response, and I feel empowered to directly tell her next time that as a Muslim, I will not accept any hugs or handshakes from women.

Wait, what? Aren't your uncles mahrem to you? Or do you mean uncle as in the nickname for a friend of  the family?

A Muslim woman has to be the ultimate warrior, faith takes extreme courage, and is a fierce, stormy ride.  Plus you are constantly attacked and belittled for who you are (also secretly envied for your strength).  but this is all part of this Dunya...and this dunya will end.

Asalaamalaikum Mary, Uncles defined as brother of mother or father are indeed Mahram..But in Arab/Pakistani culture- Uncle is often referred to as any older man as old as one's father. 

Wa alaykum asalaam,

Thank you for clarifying that.

Asalamoalqium :)

I loved the last comment .. 'together we can. together we will'

Allah SWT Guide us all. I feel a woman has to become a warrior in dealing with her Rights as a wife n stubborn in-laws who just dont want to abide by the Shariah ways of keeping wife and want their sons to keep wife almost as an outsider. 

Please Share your views n guidance regarding this as well. looking forward to hear from u. Jazak Allah Khairan

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