Believe it, or not, all of this happened in the U.S.
It started when I was 13. I was no longer going to school due to cultural beliefs that girls should not attend school. I became engaged and married a year later. The reasoning?
“Females will do bad things!”
A sick, and misinformed mentality. Males were encouraged to finish school, and given a pass, and a pat on the back for any inappropriate behavior. Any female from the Middle East knew what would happen if a female, God forbid, even seemed to be inappropriate. Even an allegation could get her killed! The brainwashing, and steady grooming to accept this behavior, tolerate it, and continue to practice it, generation after generation, is still prevalent.
After being married, I told myself, this couldn’t be right. It didn’t feel right. I spoke up, and was swiftly silenced. I was given the lecture that women were created to obey men, and be generally obedient and amiable. Our feelings didn’t matter. Remember, I was 14. Just a child, easy to mold into whatever form the world around me desired. I was also ambitious, smart, and full of potential. Naturally, I couldn’t accept the reality of my situation. I decided to educate myself on my rights as a Muslim woman. After all, they tell us we must accept this way of life because it’s what God wants. Right? No! I couldn’t accept that the God that created me would want this for me. I began researching the Quran, the book the majority of Muslims in my community swear they live and abide by.
To my surprise, nothing in the Quran represented my community. I became confused. How could these people say they follow the Quran and it’s teachings when they were doing the exact opposite of what it ordained? At first I thought, maybe I’m reading the wrong book? I was really worried that maybe they were following a different book, but deep down, I knew the root cause. It was lack of education. See, the difference between me and my community was, I investigate what’s being said. I never take things at face value, but rather, I research and find the truth.
I tried to plead with family that I had a right to a divorce, but it didn’t go so well. Due to losing my mother at an early age, I grew up with a stepmother who had the old-age mentality, that severe oppression against women was completely justified. She would even tell stories about women deserving to be killed simply because they were female. It was what her parents and grandparents had taught her. It wasn’t her fault, rather she was a victim of convoluted thought, but I couldn’t convince her at this point. I was only a child in her eyes.
I continued to research, and pray for guidance. After about a year, I tried leaving again, but was unsuccessful. I waited another year. And another. And another. I waited for a good amount of the marriage, and never ever came close to a divorce. I even confronted my husband a couple of times and begged for a divorce, but I received threats instead. He threatened to break every bone in my body, or said that he would kill me, shame me in our community. These were just a few examples of the threats that were made. When I reported this to my family, I was inexplicably told, “It’s because he loves you.“
My husband wasn’t physically abusive (that changed later on), but he isolated me from my family, and forced me to have intercourse when I didn’t want to. He put me down all the time. He wouldn’t let me go to school, chose who I could be friends with, what I wore, and where I went. At the time, I didn’t understand that this was a type of abuse. I thought abuse had to be physical. He even mocked me if I prayed too much. He would disrupt my sleep on purpose. Again, I was led to believe this behavior was widely accepted as normal behavior from a husband, so I just accepted it.
Luckily, I didn’t have children until later in my life, when I was a bit older. You might wonder how, and I believe God gave me a chance to grow and learn. I believe he was preparing me for another journey because the first one became compromised. I believe my journey was adjusted.
Regardless, the non-physical abuse continued. Along side it, so did a supposedly “normal” everyday life. We even went overseas together. There, the abuse would always escalate. I was repeatedly told that the abuse was normal. Deep inside me, I knew it wasn’t. I started to forget who I was, and became numb. I was no longer me.
I used to dream about becoming a powerful attorney that would protect women and children. I also wanted to become part of the UN and assist women and children in the Middle East. My dream was to build schools, orphanages, rally women like me to run the operations and help reshape women’s lives everywhere. I wanted to bring back the fierceness that once defined Middle Eastern woman, in my eyes! I wanted Khoula bint Alazwar to rise again! I wanted to remember Maryam, Khadija, and Aisha (may Allah be pleased with them) and to remember where we came from. Powerful, unstoppable women! That was my dream.
I thought I would be a humanitarian, and dedicate my life to service that was much needed. I even believed in adopting children instead of birthing my own. Unfortunately, I ran into a huge cliff, and everything had to be adjusted. It was a cliff that turned me towards anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. I began to suffer from these things because I felt trapped. I had reached out for help, but was always turned away. I confronted my abuser, and was threatened. He even snapped a couple of times and attacked me. I began to lose hope, and even my faith. I finally broke down, and cried to Allah. I asked him, “why do you allow these people to do such harm and claim your religion is supposed to be about compassion and love? I love You and believe in You, but everywhere I look I see women in pain and suffering!”
At this point, I had broken down, and given up. 17 years of this abuse had broken me. In that moment, however, I felt a cold chill all over my body. In an instant, I felt my faith return. I thought to myself, “had God sent an angel to remind me of who I was, and return my faith?” I believe He had. After that night, things would never be the same. I started feeling like God was sending me messages through my intuition. He was telling me, “you’re going to be okay, you will see.”
After nearly 17 years of being trapped in this this relationship, having children, being on the brink of suicide, and losing my religion, this sudden strength, gained in blink of an eye, changed my life forever! After this incident I felt myself come alive again. I remembered who I was, and what I stood for. My life completely changed after that day. I filed for divorce, went back to school, and now work as an advocate for victims of abuse. Yes, I am helping women and children! I work alongside local government agencies to assist victims of abuse. I am also trying to build a network to support Muslim women and help them feel safe to report abuse.
Remember how I said people used to react to divorce? That’s already changed in my community, since I took a stand. I am proudly leading the way for other women in my community. Looking for a shoulder to cry on in the Muslim community isn’t easy, but I’m trying to change that. I hope to wake our sisters up before it’s too late!
I know it may feel easier said than done, but never give up on God, and He won’t give up on you! God created us females as the true epitome of #MuslimGirlFierce, and sometimes, it just takes a little bit of time to realize that!