“God will bring people into your life who were once your enemy and they will call you brother.” – Jose Serra
The above statement was said by a young man delivering a sermon at a Christian retreat I attended while I was still considering a conversion to Islam. It was this statement that solidified in my mind that Islam was the right choice. This was the sign that the Lord had a new family waiting for me and if there’s one thing I love, it’s a big family. I was ready to be called sister.
Later this month will mark my first full year of being Muslim, and it’s this upcoming Musli-versary that causes me to wonder: where my sisters at?
Sisterhood in Islam is not this big united conglomerate of awesomeness like I first imagined. Instead we’ve separated ourselves into these specialty groups with specific goals in mind when it comes to our faith. For your convenience, here are those groups in order of popularity:
- Hijab as Political Statement Party
- Islam = OG Feminism Party
- Over Zealous Ex-MSA Members
- Pork Eating Non-Conformists
- The White Contingent
Now, because I know you’re curious, The White Contingent is not exclusive to white women. It encompasses converts as well as all Muslim women that don’t read or understand Arabic and/or do not have any roots to the predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and the African continent. We’re a fun group — we have cookies and unclear ideas about hijab.
It’s from our designated seats in our special groups that we engage in the biggest poison infiltrating the sisterhood: sister shaming. I can’t count how many times a sister has made me feel bad for not being “Muslim enough” or covered enough, or for not knowing the names and birthdays of all the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him). We’ve become so cruel to each other that something as simple as smiling at your sister is a fading practice. I smiled at a hijabi on the subway once and I think I died from the icy glare she gave me.
So ladies, what’s going on? Have we become so obsessed with showing up the men in the ummah that we completely forgot about each other? Are we so obsessed with freedom fighting and defending the Muslim image in the media that we’re ignoring the home front? My mom used to say that a person can’t effectively minister to the public unless they’re a functional minister at home. This sisterhood is our home, and it’s falling to pieces.
When the burden of sisterhood is not stacked with shaming, it’s stacked with expectations. Unreachable expectations. It’s bad enough that non-Muslims are waiting for me to fail in my faith but some of my own sisters stand upon their self righteous pedestals and dole out and scorn for things like a lack of knowledge or for not being arrested enough times at a pro-Palestine protest.
It’s the unending good Muslim/bad Muslim trial. To be a good Muslim in the eyes of other Muslim women, I have to be a fearless leader, constantly speaking out against injustice, and have at least a working knowledge of the beauties of Qur’anic Arabic. Girl, no.
Then to be a good Muslim in the eyes of non-Muslims one would essentially need to be a Christian heterosexual. Or find terrorist jokes funny – which sorry not sorry, but I don’t. “Ahmed the dead terrorist” is highly offensive and no one can convince me otherwise.
So between struggling to learn the faith which has levels inside its levels and struggling to live up to the expectations of my sisters as well as hiding from their frequent shame parties, Islam has become exhausting. It has become a second full time job. It’s a job though that I so desperately want to keep and excel at. I want to make my sisters proud. I want to be a part of the movement that elevates our status in the community. I just don’t want to have to fight my own kind to make that happen.
All I ask is that you don’t consider what you’ve just read as a lecture or shaming about shame. Let’s just say, I’ll step my sister game up if you step up yours.