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I Studied Away From Home in China Before Getting Married

I Studied Away From Home in China Before Getting Married

Written by Fatima Naqvi.


I knew there would be whispers about me when I left. Whispers that would viciously attack my decision to study abroad in China for my junior year of high school. I never knew precisely what was said about me, but I could guess at the meanings of the accusing stares and sly comments.

I imagine that they called me a whore or lamented that I had once been a very good girl, because of course, it was only the “loose-moraled girls” that left the supervision of home. It didn’t matter that my reasons for studying abroad were fueled by a desire to become fluent in Mandarin and to share my own religion/culture with the Chinese people; the only thing that my community saw was a girl leaving home without an adult to check her behavior.

…of course, it was only the “loose-moraled girls” that left the supervision of home.

My parents tried not to voice their concerns about my suddenly shattered reputation in the community, but I could tell that it bothered them. After all, it wasn’t just me being whispered about, it was my family too. What kind of parents would allow their female teenager to romp around the world, all by herself? The character and principles of my family were called into question for no reason other than that I would be away from home for nine months. I was judged not on what I did do, but what I could do. It is unusual for a Muslimah to be independent of her family for such a long period of time before getting married and so I was tried, judged and sentenced for the freedom that I experienced, not the choices that I made with that freedom.

The suspicion that I was subjected to is indicative of a bigger problem within our communities: single Muslimahs are not trusted to live by themselves for any long period of time. This doesn’t apply to just the possibility of studying abroad, but also the higher education institutions that we may choose to study at. We are always encouraged to study close to home and while part of the reasoning is so we can spend more time with our beloved families, the more sinister and unspoken reason is that our reputations will be at stake if we do not.

I was judged not on what I did do, but what I could do.

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A person’s character and sense of faith should matter more than where he or she lives. It is possible to engage in sin while living at home and equally as possible to refrain from sin while living away from home. Yet, in the eyes of the community, where you live could be the difference between being perceived as a “model Muslimah” and being suspected of having “loose morals.”

Unsurprisingly enough, this same mindset does not apply to the males in our community. They, of course, are trusted to maintain good faith no matter where they live. This perhaps is a separate issue to discuss, but the bottom line is that our communities have maintained a backward perception of Muslimahs studying away from home for far too long.

 The only way to change this attitude is to continue pursuing our goals, while maintaining a strong faith. As always, we will carry on and hope that someday our communities might catch up.

View Comments (3)
  • I’m a free independent Muslim teen girl that can do whatever she wants (halal terms) I was always privileged to pursue a higher education my family especially my parents motivated me to reach the top level of education, I wasn’t restricted at all my parents had complete trust in me they already know who I am and how I’m going to act, I have also gained a lot of life experiences (friends,colleagues,acquaintances) I had a big dream that I wanted to follow my dads footsteps and become a doctor (I know it’s going to be hard but I can do it!) I know that I have to restablish my goals and make them harder to achieve because in hard work I trust. My upbringing was very much free I was the eldest so I had pretty much all the responsibilities from shopping for groceries, helping with my dad etc. We believed that gender roles weren’t important and that was gone and dusted back in the Middle Ages, as the world progresses so will the human mind. Also my religion played a huge role in my belief in feminism (as I am one myself) I learnt the women’s role in Islamic history and how they had an impact on me as khadija was a businesswomen and was also a successful one as well it was in fact through her business that she met her future husband and guess what?? She proposed to him, she was also older than him by 15 years, moving on to Aisha she was a scholar and yes she was a WOMEN, memoriesd many Hadith and was a women who had a VIOCE and a strong opinion about (politics,religion and even military) there where many strong Muslim females in the past who fought on the battlefields, I could go on and on about strong Muslim women in the past that I see as my role model and feminist advocate.

    However one thing that really bothers me is that people mixing up culture (that oppresses women) with Islam what’s even worse is when they abuse women typically physically, and when asked why they justify with their ‘Islamic’ knowledge. This sickens me as Islam holds a women to such a high standard, also another point that I would like to mention is this whole ‘reputation’ and ‘virginity’ obsessions that I actually don’t understand at ALL, to make it explicit this all stems from culture, I just can’t wrap my head around this ….. I mean were women right? Not a possession or even worse a sexual object?

    So these are my three areas that I have discussed one of them is my general view on this article (from a feminist) combined with my upbringing, secondly I moved on to the history of Islamic women and how EMPOWERED they where (compared to women nowadays)
    Finally I ranted about culture vs religion an issue that is so common nowadays I have also experienced some cultural clash due to my environment, school/work, my tight group of friends, or even society in general. And comparing the two different cultures together which eventually led me to he confused, preplexed, angry, and many other mood swings. So as I sat in my fresh garden it was spring time so you could imagine the flowers growing and their wonderful scent embracing you, i was with nature which allowed me to feel calm, peace and joy. I looked up at the sky and began talking to my creator making dua for him, repenting for all the sins I have committed, just talking to my allah out of pure loneliness and isolation but once I made dua and prayed, I had that strong force of emotional connection between me and my allah, I didn’t care about any of those worldly things it was just me and my creator, I always had that lingering question that seems to be stuck in the back of my head ‘when will I die?’ ‘How will I die?’ ‘What was the cuase?’ ‘What will happen after I die?’ ‘What was hell like?’ ‘Am I one of the people of the hellfire?’ And the last one that always always scared me ‘will I die alone????’ The last questions allowed me to embark on my journey of spirituality, as deep down I knew that allah was with me he is the best of planners, so I put my total trust on allah, this has never let me think of the future sure I may plan it but allah is the best of planners. He knows you better than you know yourself sounds weird huh??? But if I have that joyful relationship with allah your hearts will always be at ease, now I am not saying that I won’t go through some problems of course I will! It’s about you thinking intellectually and putting your total trust on him. So the last question was now answered! as long as i had allah with me then nothing will make me feel alone…………..

    Your humble sister from Islam
    Isra ❤️

  • This seams to be a cultural issue not an issue of being a muslimah. I’m a muslimah and my community are great! I’m single with three children and do as I please. I don’t think you should spend to much time thinking about what others think, just do your best by Allah. That being said, if you’re non the wiser, Allah is merciful. I should tell you that Islamic characteristics are based on obedience to Allah so please do bare in mind the guidance that he has given for us. It’s not a matter of being trusted by others when we travel alone but it is a clear instruction by Allah for our own safety. Islam does not permit a woman to travel without a mahram as far as I am aware. Please correct me with evidences if I am wrong. Allah knows best. And this is not because she will become a whore or lose moralled woman but because she may be abused by evil onlookers, it’s purely for her safety. I am a living example that in some cases there are no alternative and it is absolutely necessary for us to travel alone and Allah is forgiving and merciful. Just do your best to be safe and don’t worry about people’s opinions, Allah knows what you do and why you do it and only Allahs judgement matters. It is between you and Allah.

  • This has nothing to do with being a muslim woman and more so to do with women within certain cultures! Do you live in a bubble? Not everything that you experience happens to other muslim women as well, so don’t use general terms like “Muslimah” in your personal story. Why was this even published, did no one edit this?

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