“Go back home now,” the virtual troll on Twitter screamed in caps. I was told that America did not celebrate a day for Muslim women. That I did not belong here. This invisible person hiding behind a keyboard somewhere believed that he or she has the right to exist, but not me. Because a month ago, I dared to celebrate the first official day that acknowledged Muslim women. March 27, 2017.
Not belonging is a feeling inscribed in my DNA. I am a U.S. citizen by birth and Saudi by ethnicity. As a Muslim woman, I never felt welcome in either country. For the longest time in my life, I battled with both my religious and gender identities. Inside the realm of the misogynistic misinterpretation of Islam, I am an inferior, less intellectual being. In the eyes of modern Western liberals, I am a victim that must be rescued, and somehow I am responsible for 9/11, every terrorist attack that followed, including acid crimes against women and “honor killings.”
I fought hard to believe otherwise. But vicious messages I was bombarded with imprinted painful marks on my mind and soul. I swallowed them with every breath I inhaled. I internalized my own oppression. I embodied the inferior victim. That made me so angry and resentful. Until that one summer day in 2006 when a friend of mine handed me a book she thought I might like. The Emotionally Abused Woman: Overcoming Destructive Patterns and Reclaiming Yourself by Beverly Engel. To this day, I am indebted to my friend and Engel.
I started on a path of self-discovery and healing. I realized that I was not crazy. I was not a victim. I tuned inwardly and unraveled layers of abuse. I discovered my authentic voice. Little progress allowed me to resurrect my Muslim identity. I gradually found my way back to God through love, forgiveness, and empathy. My journey of self-acceptance and spiritual growth became a lifelong project. Along the way, it enabled me to realize what I am capable of doing while remaining true to my faith. Being a Muslim woman became the torch of my autonomy and vigor. Most importantly, it gave me the courage and passion to connect with the larger network of Muslim women to celebrate our unions and negotiate our differences.
Today, I am a proud Muslim woman, despite what the haters do and regardless of what the chauvinists say. I carry my hijab as a crown. I honor myself and all other women for what they stand for and believe in. Thanks to being a writer for Muslim Girl, I belong to a fierce movement unleashing the hidden gems of Muslim women one story at a time. Our collective efforts are pushing back against the status quo. We will not give in to the discourses that have reinforced cultural, religious, and moral stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. We are countering the narratives, reclaiming our identities, and normalizing Muslims. We belong.
Although the name says Muslim Girl, the stories that we publish speak on behalf of many marginalized communities with diverse and intersectional identities where Muslim is one way of being. We write stories on the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the LGBTQI+ community, plus-size models, fashion and poetry. Our analytical perspectives encompass conservative and liberal thoughts, feminisms beyond equality for women, and hegemonic masculinities as toxic constructs of fixed gender roles. Our Islamic voices include minority Muslim groups such as Shia, Sufi, Yazidi, and Ahmadi. We operationalize the Qur’an’s messages of gender equity and Islam’s code of ethics not only to challenge gendered xenophobia and injustice, but also to critique misogynistic ideologies that perpetuate and justify all types of violence against Muslim women in the name of God and Islam.
What two teenagers started as a blogging website seven years ago evolved into a revolution; one that treats Muslim women as agents within their own narratives against the colonial, orientalist, and islamophobic discourses. What better way to celebrate our accomplishments than seeing the first #MuslimWomensDay the number one trending hashtag on Twitter? To see the massive flood of support from lots of communities and institutions honoring Muslim women gave me a sense of heroism.
But this victory does not erase the fact that there is a lot of work to be done. We still need to combat champions of hate who continue to yell at Muslims “go back home” even on social media. After reflection, I decided to speak back to the virtual bigot because I was not going to let anyone take #MuslimWomensDay away from me. My response was, “How about you go back home and give this land to those you stole it from the indigenous natives of America?”