From a lot of the converts I am acquainted with, I get the feeling that after converting to Islam, there is a lot of pressure. Not only a lot of pressure to learn new things, implement new practices, ad rethink old habits, but lots of pressure to also either fit into a mould of what a convert “should” look like, or to assimilate into a culture group so that you are basically a really pale (in my case at least ;)) Arab, Pakistani, Irnaian, or whatever.
Never mind all of these different pressures, just the act of growing into a better person while still trying to retain your own unique self can be pretty darn hard.
I would know, I’ve been doing it for upwards of two years now.
I will be honest: I didn’t feel a lot of pressure from my friends to assimilate into any particular cultural group when I converted. I think in part it was because I didn’t have a bunch of friends from one group, but instead individual friends from all over the place, so there was no collective pressure.
But what I have really struggled with, up until very recently, is struggling with the feeling that I “should” be doing this, that, and the other.
It wasn’t until a few months ago when I started writing this blog, that I really was able to find my voice and begin to listen to my own self instead of what my brain constantly told me I “should” be doing better.
Hence the title, Muslimah According to Me.
Just to give you some examples of what I am talking about: I would see a woman in all black and my brain would think “I shouldn’t wear so much purple. I should tone down my colour scheme.” Or a woman with sixteen kids, “I am not being a very good wife to my husband, I should be having babies.” Or reading a woman’s blog who is exclusively a homemaker, “I shouldn’t want a job, that isn’t my place. I should be happy to be at home.” Or seeing a woman who is successful at whatever she is doing in life, “I should be doing better. I am 23 and haven’t accomplished anything.” Or even just seeing a woman with a different style of hijab than the one I was wearing, “I should be wearing it more like hers, hers is more modest.”
But after beginning to write, I began to also find my voice.
And I also read Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, where I found the genius quote, “Good for you, not for me.”
And I have realised that whenever my brain starts coming up with these “should” statements, I need to take a look back and evaluate what is actually going on.
As far as things like colours of clothing, khimars and veils, and all that goes, I have found something out about myself. I do have a desire to be more modest, and to keep progressing on the hijab journey. What my brain turns that into, is that I should being doing every single thing I see another modest woman doing. Do I actually believe that I have to wear all black to be modest?
Nope, I do not. So it is time to let go of that thought. Does that woman’s khimar actually cover more than mine? Yes? Ok, well is it a style I find feasible and still nice in appearance? If yes, maybe it is time to make a change.
Another example: I do have a desire to be a good wife to my husband. What my brain turns that into: I should have ten kids like this woman, be a master chef like that woman, have the cleanest house in the history of houses every single day like that woman, plus have the career that I want to have like this other successful woman. And I should look super-model gorgeous for my husband every single day like that woman. But when I take a step back and evaluate, I have to ask myself, what does my husband actually want?
Well he doesn’t like my bland cooking most of the time, so that checks that off the list. He likes to split the chores when he has time, and honestly I get most of the cleaning done on a daily basis by myself anyhow. As for kids, we have already had this discussion and made that plan. I think the only thing that I can rationally say I would like to work on is dressing nicely for my husband, because he tends to see the same-old-dress-minus-the-bra version of me a little too often.
And I just want to clarify—there is absolutely nothing wrong with striving for something, whether that be more modesty, a better job, being a better wife, or just being a better person in general.
What I am talking about is the idea that you should be doing certain things, just because other people are doing them.
The thing is, we are all so individual. We learn at different rates, we all have different circumstances and situations, and no one person’s journey will every be like another.
As the saying goes, don’t compare your first step to someone else’s 5K (or something like that).
What we all need to do is learn to have goals to strive for, yes, but also to respect the stage we are currently at and realise that this is where we are meant to be in this present moment.
Because our achievements, and especially our Islam, will not mean anything if we have only done it because we “should.”
So it took you fifteen years after you converted to put a hijab on; God will love that act even more because it came from your heart and not the hearts of all the ranting aunties at the mosque.
So your born Muslim spouse has memorised the entire Qur’an and you can barely remember to stumble out “alhamdulillah” when you sneeze. Well, of course. Arabic is not your language! You are learning something entirely foreign to you, and especially in the very beginning, it is all so overwhelming.
Essentially, what I am getting at with this post is that you need to listen to your heart. If you are not ready for something, or are only doing it under pressure, don’t do it.
Take your time and enjoy your journey; trust that all things will come in good time if you are striving towards sincere goals. That way the sweetness of Islam will actually have the space to enter your heart, and when you do begin something you will feel the reward and blessing of it and not the burden.
The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Religion is sincerity.” Narrated by Muslim.