Margari Aziza

October 11, 2007

On Single Muslim Women Traveling and Working

Filed under: Gender Relations in Islam, Muslim, Muslim Communities in America, Muslim Women — Margari Aziza Hill @ 3:16 am

I have written before about forbidding wrong and judgmental people. I have found some of the social pressures and moral judgments from our community quite oppressive. Things many people in the West may consider quite normal become bastions of inequity. Things like two couples going out for dinner ((gasp!)) or hosting a female language student in your home ((gasp!)). I am aware that there are a wide range of social practices and mores. I try not to judge those who are more rigid or fluid in their interpretations of Islam, but that favor is rarely returned in kind. This is especially the case when it comes to sociological and cultural practices, as opposed to religious and spiritual practices. Gender segregation is a sociological practice that has a cultural basis. For some Muslims who practice gender segregation, the free mixing between the sexes is tantamount to an all and out orgy. As a single woman living in the Muslim world (both in America and the Middle East), I have been on the receiving end of a lot of negative judgments.

I know that there are many Muslims who do not believe that women should live on their own, let alone travel without a close male relative or husband. There are Muslims who won’t have a conversation with an unrelated man or even have a business related meeting alone with an unrelated man. I know for one graduate student, this caused serious problems. I’ve been Muslim for 14 years and for all but 2 ½ years, I’ve had to navigate things on my own. I guess I have a more pragmatic take. I’ve preferred to live as a “loose woman,” working outside the home, traveling by myself , choosing a career as a western trained scholar rather than choose a circumscribed life. I have seen too many vulnerable women who are abused by their spouses and feel helpless to change their situation. I know relatively happy women, who in their youth had ambitious career plans but decided to live conservative lives. A number of my college friends are now stay at home mothers who are deeply involved in their children’s education and community life. I am proud of them and admire their efforts. I have a lot of respect for women’s work. But, I could not limit myself to being only a wife and mother, but also a scholar in order to make a contribution to my community. Finding that balance is difficult, but I think it is possible.
But women who have not given up their career paths in order to get married are looked down upon. I don’t think I’m taken as seriously as a man in my position. I guess in their mind they are like, “How cute, she can write papers!” Perhaps that is the reason why I have gotten little support from my community.

I experienced my first major dose of judgment when I was 18. It had to do with my living situation and the fact that I didn’t live with my parents. People would tell me that I should move back home without understanding my family situation. Nor did they understand how much the family I stayed with helped me stay in school and pursue my education aspirations. At that time, there were few Muslim women living on their own or even renting rooms together. And there is no real community support for convert women. No aid for finding housing, few jobs in the community that offered competitive pay, and definitely no social services for any sisters who had a hard time finding work because she wore hijab. Instead, they encourage new convert women to get married right away. It didn’t take me too long to figure out that our Ummah has really not created a space for women like me.

I suppose the dilemma for a Muslim woman traveling in the Middle East is to pick which scandalous living arrangement she’ll have. If you live by yourself, you’re a loose woman (without a mahram) with no one moderating your behavior, if you live with a family you are inviting scandal (living with a non-mahram man). Perhaps if you live in a commune of ultra-religious women you might escape stigma. But then again, who knows? You can still draw controversy. Basically, you have no business having any ambitions outside of being married.

I am aware that people are often well intentioned in their judgmental behavior. But I do think that it is important that they be aware of how their imposing views can be seriously detrimental to the emotional and spiritual well being of others. There’s nothing more lonely than being part of a community. Just to get by, I have had to make a lot of fluid interpretations of my religion. I would never have been a doctoral student if I followed the Fiqh books like a manual for life. And because of that, I am judged. But getting the same message—“you are not in line”—pounded down my throat turns me off from wanting to engage with this community. I guess we should be reminded that it is easy to judge whether someone is in line with some social norm or cultural practice that may or may not reinforce spirituality. But we cannot judge what is in someone’s heart or know their spiritual station. And because of that, we should be humble and reflect on our own intentions when we tell someone what they are doing wrong and why they should change some aspect of their lives.

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16 Comments »

  1. Salaams Margari,

    Heartfelt and thought-provoking, as ever. I certainly have experienced the truth of this line (which is very eloquent by the way):

    ‘There’s nothing more lonely than being part of a community’

    I have had to feel my own way back into the wider community during the last few years, after my own painful experiences.

    Allah grant you strength and patience and His Love, which endures in the face of all things.

    Ma’as salama,

    Abdur Rahman

    Comment by Abdur Rahman — October 11, 2007 @ 11:55 am

  2. Mashallah! I love your blog, and I love your outlook. And I really understand those words “there’s nothing more lonely than being part of a community!”
    You’re an excellent example of a strong Muslim woman.

    Comment by Zeynab — October 12, 2007 @ 12:42 am

  3. Do you mind if I include a link to this post on my blog?

    Comment by Zeynab — October 12, 2007 @ 2:40 am

  4. Though much of what you say is still true, I find that a lot of these things are changing very quickly among the traditional circle walhamdulilah. You now find the most “conservative” (I hate that word, I think it’s loaded just for lack of a better one) women living and working alone abroad. Also with so many convert women, it’s becoming more of a norm. I hope.

    Comment by tradicionalista — October 12, 2007 @ 4:01 am

  5. Eid Mubarak!
    Zaynab, you can link this post on your blog.
    Tradicionalista, things are changing. Years ago when I first became Muslim, there were no accomodations for women who wanted to study Arabic. The only ones that were able to study had family members in the Middle East. So, they could either live with family members or have some people looking out for them. Now there are more women living alone, but people will judge them. The whole taboo against travelling alone is the reason why there are few Muslim women graduate students at my university. Many families just won’t let their daughters go away for education or professional development. Even us converts get browbeaten by immigrants and converts alike. Basically, even though more and more are doing it we’re still looked down upon.

    Comment by Margari Aziza Hill — October 12, 2007 @ 6:46 am

  6. [...] shadiness and ineptitude. Overall, it is a mixed bag. I’ve already written about boredom and being judged. I have felt homesick, isolated, disoriented, and lonely. It would be far worse if I lived on my [...]

    Pingback by How Am I Doing? « Just Another Angry Black Muslim Woman? — October 26, 2007 @ 9:31 am

  7. I admire you and find what you are doing completely natural, since 42 years of my life was spent outside of Islam and I can see this multi-faceted world the same as you. What can appear to be haram to those who do not understand the west and the complications that can arise in so many situations, such as the disappearance of the nuclear family, equality in the workplace movements, equal rights for women… well, it can seem so overwhelming and as if Satan rules. Anyway, I’m just saying I admire you and all women who are striving to make their way in this world and in Allah. Ma’asalama!

    Comment by Dawoud — October 26, 2007 @ 11:52 am

  8. [...] month in Kuwait. It is especially stifling to women who are socially punished by other women for non-conformity. I get the sense that I am a persona non grata. “Who are you?….Are you [...]

    Pingback by Gender Segregation and Free Mixing: Where is the Equity in Reality? « Just Another Angry Black Muslim Woman? — November 2, 2007 @ 8:34 pm

  9. I see you as a silly, self-righteous person who does not respect Islam. It is not just cultural or social to forbid the free-mixing of the sexes. There is a famous Hadith, that says, “if a man and a woman who are unmarried are alone together, then Satan is also there with them.” It is well-known that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was always quick to let people know that the woman he was alone with was his wife, if there was any doubt. Not to mention the Quranic edict to ‘lower your gaze, and guard your private parts’ how exactly are you lowering your gaze when you are alone with a man who is not married to you? Your dedication to being a ‘scholar’ shows that having a title is more important to you than worshipping Allah. The Prophet has said in a famous and sound hadith, that half of religion is marriage, and you have called half the religion this as a ‘limitation’ ( I could not limit myself to being only a wife and mother). The Prophet also condemned learning useless things. If your scholarship has led you to call marriage limiting, then it is quite useless. To speak of what is acceptable in the West right now all but declares your rebellion against religion altogether, and common sense. No religion condones free-mixing of the sexes if you actually read the religious book. No culture that accepts marriage truly accepts free-mixing. The proof of the last statement is that if a married woman is alone with a man for an extended period who is not related to her, these are grounds for divorce. It is only god-less people who worship their own opinions over the one, true God who rebel against such things. This rebellion is usually in some pretense that one wants to understand something better. Read the second Surah, and you find people exactly like this. Their questions are in reality an attempt to get around Allah’s clear commands. A person who wants to do right will avoid the appearance of evil (a Biblical edict), leave what is doubtful about what is right, for what is sure (a famous and sound hadith), ‘follow that which is revealed from Allah, take not as friends nor partners other than Allah, little it is that you remember of admonition ( a Quranic, passage; your opinions are being taken as partner with Allah)

    Comment by Hakim Muhammad — November 28, 2007 @ 2:06 am

  10. Hi, I think same as you. I have been away from home from last four years. I study in US. My family is in Pakistan. Its hard to find someone like myself here. Mostly women come to US after marriage or with their parents. Its very hard for me to relate to someone or express someone that my love for Islam is just as much as a Muslim women has in any other country living with her parents.
    May Allah does the best for all of us. He is the final judge and we should be worried about what he thinks of us rather then what people thinks of us.

    Comment by Taniya — May 28, 2008 @ 2:43 am

  11. I just stumbled across your blog and I am dumbfounded! I felt like I was reading a page right out of my life! There actuallay IS another convert going through the same things I am going through! I thought I was the last single Muslima on earth who was facing those problems! I have been Muslim and single for so long and lived in the middle east all alone for a few years. I have to admit, it was by far the lonliest time of my entire life. I went there to live with muslims and I really felt like an alien…..I don’t fit in my culture anymore, and I sure don’t fit in theirs…even though we are Muslim, so much divides us. I lived alone moving from place to place and when I needed help there wasn’t anyone there to help me. No one understood what it meant to be a convert all alone in a foreign country. Subhanallah no one understood that I needed them…I needed Muslims to stand by me and no one did except for a few other convert sisters. The natives that I knew just kept beating me down about marriage so much that I felt like the biggest failure because I hadn’t found who I wanted to marry and I wasn’t willing to settle. The day before I returned to the US I went to the souq. This man in one of the shops had the audacity to tell me that I should just get married at least to have baby!! I wanted to SCREAM at him! Who was this stranger who, like many many before him, thought that having a baby was the solution to everything for a woman?? Any home that I visited had the echo of “who is her huband?? WHAT?! She’s NOT MARRIED???HARAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM”
    Sorry ladies but, not much for the choosing unfortunately. I have been struggling with the fact that, one of the reasons that I was so interested in Islam to begin with was the “ummah” and I feel SO incredibly let down by it. The men, once they find that I am American, act as though they want to marry but are really looking for the haram because they think American women are loose. Or, if not that, they are looking for a passport.
    thanks for your blog and eloquent honesty

    Comment by disappointed Muslima — June 17, 2008 @ 5:13 am

  12. Glad that I came across this blog, and yes I can see the conflicting issues. I use to think Islam was black/white, which is not necessarily true in most cases. I feel at times when we are in doubt, we should truly turn to Allah (st) for proper guidance. That is what worked for me in the past. I agree education and career aspirations are important in this duniya, as we have to use duniya as a vehicle to get to akhira. However, those desires should not become our obsession of this world.

    And,life situations may arise as such where no mahrem is available for a woman, what is she to do with such a judgemental society. Quick example, my young female cousin became a widow about 5 yrs ago. She was left w/4 boys to raise on her own. Her brother-in-law lived close to her to assist her. Now, look at a simplistic view of 1 of her daily activities such as grocery shoppin. He cannot accompany her each time that she needs groceries. Is this really practical for her to have a mahrem at every corner/ obligation that would require her to fulfill her duty. I am confident and believe that Allah (st) is Merciful and perhaps forgive her for her obligation. Many times the situation is common sense in our lives where intention is heavily placed. You are right, we never know someone’s situation. So, in this case, she chooses not to re marry, since she loved her husband ever so deeply. So, should she be outlawed from the community due to her marriage status and judged for living alone w/her children? And, to all the single muslimahs in search of a spouse, I say that u musn’t give up so easily, it’s a struggle, remember this sure ain’t paradise, we have proof of that daily. Look all around you, where true happiness in non-existent, wars, poverty, deceit, etc… But this is good, since it opens ur eyes to the ultimate reality, that inshallah we have something to look fwd to in akhira, assuming we try our best and make it to jannah.

    Inshallah, may Allah (st) give us guidance and the ability to turn to him more frequently not only in time of conflict but in true sincerity, ameen.
    Peace!

    Comment by With or without a mahrem, that is the question — August 18, 2009 @ 8:17 pm

  13. Salam alaikum,

    I have been brainstorming the idea of Muslim women and their role.. especially women who come into Islam without any Muslim family. It is interesting that the obvious thing to expect would be that Muslims at large would instantly assume them as family.. but as can be seen that is not the case, unfortunately. I do wonder how many women seriously don’t have any intention of getting into abusive relationships and how many just enjoy the freedom that males enjoy in travel and independence. I know that this life sucks in a lot of ways, but it wasn’t supposed to ever be a paradise, especially not at the expense of following basic Islamic principal. I do think that a woman who has no relatives is essentially free to move about wherever she wants considering there is no Khalifa or Islamic state to take her in. =)

    Anywho.. just want to feel like we are getting somewhere in this world and aren’t all individually yearning for our piece of what Allah has deemed not the least bit significant.

    Take care, Allah keep us all.

    Comment by Ayub — February 10, 2011 @ 7:20 pm

  14. I know it seems so easy for people to say give up certain liberties because your final destination is the Hereafter – this is the argument that has in many ways prohibited women in Islam to speak out and question what are their roles and fully understand their role in Islam. Furthermore these liberties are given to men but not women. I’m a Muslim woman and I have been told that Islam has seen women and men to be the same yet they do not treat women or men equally. Due to my lack of knowledge I’m not sure whether this be it social norms or within what is considered God’s laws. Also there is always this idea that women are to be protected or looked after – are we considered to be weaker therefore it is beyond our capabilities to care for ourselves or even make decisions? The issue of women in Islam has never truly resolved for me and I will never feel peace until I feel that men and women are truly equal.

    Comment by Samira — September 26, 2011 @ 1:10 am

  15. “I see you as a silly, self-righteous person who does not respect Islam. It is not just cultural or social to forbid the free-mixing of the sexes. There is a famous Hadith, that says, “if a man and a woman who are unmarried are alone together, then Satan is also there with them.” It is well-known that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was always quick to let people know that the woman he was alone with was his wife, if there was any doubt. Not to mention the Quranic edict to ‘lower your gaze, and guard your private parts’ how exactly are you lowering your gaze when you are alone with a man who is not married to you? Your dedication to being a ‘scholar’ shows that having a title is more important to you than worshipping Allah. The Prophet has said in a famous and sound hadith, that half of religion is marriage, and you have called half the religion this as a ‘limitation’ ( I could not limit myself to being only a wife and mother). The Prophet also condemned learning useless things. If your scholarship has led you to call marriage limiting, then it is quite useless. To speak of what is acceptable in the West right now all but declares your rebellion against religion altogether, and common sense. No religion condones free-mixing of the sexes if you actually read the religious book. No culture that accepts marriage truly accepts free-mixing. The proof of the last statement is that if a married woman is alone with a man for an extended period who is not related to her, these are grounds for divorce. It is only god-less people who worship their own opinions over the one, true God who rebel against such things. This rebellion is usually in some pretense that one wants to understand something better. Read the second Surah, and you find people exactly like this. Their questions are in reality an attempt to get around Allah’s clear commands. A person who wants to do right will avoid the appearance of evil (a Biblical edict), leave what is doubtful about what is right, for what is sure (a famous and sound hadith), ‘follow that which is revealed from Allah, take not as friends nor partners other than Allah, little it is that you remember of admonition ( a Quranic, passage; your opinions are being taken as partner with Allah)”

    Comment by Hakim Muhammad — November 28, 2007 @ 2:06 am

    I would love to respond to the brother who responded above. You call the blogger “a silly, self-righteous person who does not respect Islam”. Pretty harsh words to hurl at someone you don’t know, especially the part about her not respecting Islam. Ya Allah. May the All Mighty grant you mercy. At the end you go onto to mention that her opinions are being taken as partner with Allah. First of all, it would be wise to heed the following: Fudhayl bin ‘Iyaad – “The believer hides the faults of others and gives sincere advice whereas the wicked evil embarrass and disgrace others.” [Jaami' al-'Uloom wal Hikam page. 156]
    Secondly, you sit in judgement of her and use harsh words to describe the blogger, not having met her; not knowing her circumstances and not knowing what lies in her heart, by taking this stance, do you not think that you are perhaps putting yourself on par with Allah (SWT). Only He is the final and true judge, only he knows of our circumstances and what goes on in our hearts.

    We all have our own opinions and we may disagree on certain issues, the proper way to go about airing our differing views is to do so in a respectable manner, with due respect to the other party, especially if we don’t know them and their circumstances. This is the beauty of our deen, it encourages healthy and respectful debate and discussion. I think this applies irrespective of whether the other party is right or wrong. Whenever we try to make a few important points with respect to the deen, we must always be cautious that we do not allow the shaitaan to turn our good intentions into a sin. We should not let the elements of the lower self (anger, judgement and arrogance, etc) override our reason. We should try to draw the person closer to Islam with compassion, soft words and reason, which in turn brings about a better understanding.

    The blogger has stated the following: “But, I could not limit myself to being only a wife and mother, but also a scholar in order to make a contribution to my community.” I think the word, “only” qualifies the statement. I think she means that a woman can fulfill many other roles as well as a spouse and a mother. No where in Islam is it said that women should only be wives or mothers. This can be clearly seen from the Prophet’s (Peace and Blessings be upon Him) wives and female relatives and the contributions they made to Islam. A woman, in addition to being a spouse and a mother, can be a friend, a confidante, a provider, a community worker, etc. You accuse her of calling marriage a limitation, could you please elaborate how you came to this conclusion. From my understanding she in no way shows any disrespect to the institution of marriage and in fact goes on to say that many of her college friends are wives and stay-at- home mothers and states that she is proud of them, admires them and respects their efforts. I fail to understand how she undermines marriage in any way. My dear brother, it is dangerous to read things into satements which aren’t there. It is also very dangerous to accuse people of things without knowing all there is to know about the person and by simply reading a blog.

    You appear as a very intelligent man (Mashallah), I would advise that perhaps you reread the original article. To err is human. I make duah for you and all reading this blog that Allah (SWT) grants us all a better understanding of our beautiful Deen and that He guides us onto the right path, Inshallah Ameen

    Comment by Rushda — February 7, 2012 @ 3:53 am

  16. I love everything you just wrote! Although I am not a convert but I am born in a Muslim family (alhamdulla) in the US, I admire your love for Islam. It is funny how my parents started to push me or it seems like advertising potential husbands when I am only 18!!! Lol when I have plans to finish my degree.

    Comment by Fatima — July 22, 2014 @ 2:29 am


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