The Silent Struggle: My Search For Sisterhood

By Jessica Deqammseh

During my first Ramadan, I worked nights in a college library near my masjid. Each night, I broke my fast at the circulation desk and proceeded to Isha prayer once the library closed. Each night, I waited silently for taraweeh while the sisters musallah bustled with salaams, hugs and kisses, and camaraderie. Although alone, I felt the beauty and joy of this blessed month like I never did when breaking fast and praying at home.

Then one night I was noticed. An elderly sister enthusiastically embraced me and granted me salaams. This is where joy ends giving way to shame and misery.

“Do you think it’s acceptable to pray here like that?”

I’ll never forget the venom of that word, the way she looked me up and down, disrobing my contentment. That night I wore a long skirt,a long-sleeve shirt and a head scarf inelegantly draped over my head. After failing to persuade me into an abaya, she brought other sisters into the conversation. Questioning them so loudly and forcefully about my looks, that a small audience began to form. These women were just as unknown to me as I was to them.

That night I made it through one rak’ah of taraweeh. When the floodgates of my eyes opened, there was no barrier to restrain them. The level of humiliation and heartache I felt at that moment only increased with each stranger’s glance my way. I left in a hurry unable to process the shame and rejection I felt from a group claiming to be my sisters.

Afterwards, Ramadan did not hold the same wonder, mercy and contentment. I discontinued praying taraweeh at the masjid. I continued my fast and prayers in solitude far removed from any community.

As a recent convert, the failure to connect with my masjid community while negotiating the public discomforts of the outer manifestations of my faith broke me.

“The Muslims in their mutual love, kindness and compassion are like the human body -where when one of its parts is in agony the entire body feels the pain, both in sleeplessness and fever.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

As Muslims, we hear a lot about the ummah and sisterhood. However, many of us struggle to find a foothold in our communities. Many converts go through phases of community.

(1) An overwhelming welcome: Everyone gathers to share in the joy of your shahada. Hugs, kisses, introductions, and congratulations seemingly know no bounds.

(2) An overbearing embrace: Very quickly sisters begin recommending life alterations, from clothing and who you can be friends with to foods and cultural pronouncements taken as religion. No matter the intention, this slowly becomes overwhelming.

(3) A discouraging distance: After the euphoria of your conversion wanes, you might subconsciously self-isolate or you may find some sisters who greeted you with alacrity are unable to commit.

Seven years later, I’m still seeking sisterhood. The mirage propelling me forward on my quest, yet leaving my thirst still unquenched.

For my sisters in isolation, yearning for sisterhood, know your ostracization leaves a hole in our ummah. The unseen suffering radiates through the veins of creation leaving a stream of tears in its wake.

For my sisters seeking to cultivate what we’ve lost, know your love, kindness and compassion is the main artery of our ummah. May your light reflect back on you, covering you in infinite love and forgiveness. May you rejoin your Lord at the highest rank.

Years ago, those sisters I encountered in the musallah knew nothing of my struggle. They saw an appearance requiring correction.

Intentions remain secrets between us and our Lord. However, when our sisters are seen as essential to our being as air, how else can we greet them but with great care?

A salaam and a smile is more powerful than you know. To know a sister by name and then to unearth her truth are the building blocks back to the path we once walked. A sisterhood and an ummah united by one simple truth: La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadur rasoolu Allah.

It was reported that Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Allah divided Mercy into one hundred parts. He kept ninety nine parts with Him and sent down one part to the earth, and because of that, its one single part, His Creations are merciful to each other, so that even the mare lifts up its hoofs away from its baby animal, lest it should trample on it.”(Bukhari)

Mercy is embedded into the fabric of creation. Like the mare lifting its hoofs away from its baby, we too can remove the obstacles threatening to reduce sisterhood to a long lost day-dream. We too can choose not to trample on one another. Allow mercy to course through you, exuding it to all who encounter you.

“Our Lord, perfect for us our light and forgive us. Indeed, You are over all things competent.” (66:8)

Let the light of our Lord fill our hearts and radiate back to His creation.

Forgive us for forgotten sisters left to worship and toil alone.

May the bonds of sisterhood be strengthened, finding solace in Your infinite mercy, compassion and grace.

Ameen.

About the author:

Jessica is a writer and school teacher living in the United States. She converted to Islam nearly 7 years ago. She enjoys spreading the Islamic message of compassion, love and mercy through her writing.

10 responses to “The Silent Struggle: My Search For Sisterhood”

  1. Anne Yousif says:

    I’m so upset to hear the story of the sister who encountered the pushy sister regarding her choice of clothing. I personally don’t wear a jilbab all the time. Sometimes I wear 3/4 shirts and jeans. I’m a responder for the ambulance service so I wear an adapted uniform. I also experienced the same. “ you have to wear a jilbab as it’s a single garment “ I never understand this conclusion, after all here in England we also wear trousers and T-shirt underneath with a cardigan or coat. The finished look is exactly the same as a skirt and top.
    My advice to the sister is hold close to ALLAH and Inshallah he will bring true friends into your life who love you exactly the way you are.
    I’m now middle aged and have a wide circle of friends who wear a variety of clothes. Often depending on their culture or circumstances. It’s taken over 30 years of being a Muslim Alhamdullah for me to be ok with the fact that some well meaning people just don’t understand what being a Muslim is actually about and want to push their views down other people’s throats.

  2. Sarah says:

    Asalam alaikum, I too have experienced great isolation and loneliness, struggled to find a community to which I can belong and truly feel a part of. I really feel that as reverts we need to support one another. Sadly the majority of born muslims are just not able to understand the fragility of our confidence which may have been gradually stripped away often due to the huge effect that conversion has in different areas of our lives. Sometimes as reverts we feel a need to prove to others that we are strong when really we feel weak and vulnerable. Not only does this prevent others from reaching out to us but it may also make others feel that they must also create this impression and so it continues…

  3. M. Islam says:

    Assalaamualaikum Sister,
    This story made me want to cry… I’m so sorry this happened to you and sadly it happens still. I was born Muslim and even though I was drawn to practising, I had no idea where to begin as I lacked a religious upbringing. I stayed away from Islam for a long time because every time I approached the Islamic society at college, I was ignored, looked up and down and dismissed. It was one sister who changed my life with her kindness and love. I still make dua for her today even though we aren’t in touch much anymore. No one knows what a person’s intention is or what stage they are at in their belief or practise. Allah is the Judge, not us mere fallible mortals. You have sisters who do care, even as far away as London! The 5 pillars of practise are important but we all need to remember how much of our holy book and especially hadith focus on how we speak and treat each other. Islam is mercy and we must have mercy for one another. I pray that you are surrounded with kind, righteous people and until you are, know that you have the greatest friend there is – Allah SWT. A fellow teacher.

  4. shahin says:

    Salaam sis. You are not alone in this at aaaalllll! I’m a teacher, and mum of 3. I was born into a Muslim family….. but I never covered my head, yes I dressed modestly etc. Recently, I’ve started wearing hijab (just a few things in my life made me rethink my beliefs). Anyway, I too have had ‘sisters’ coming up to me to tell me ‘a hijab is for life’ and that I ‘should wear abaya’. And these comments coming from sisters I’ve known for a while now, and some fellow teachers (I teach in a Muslim school).
    You have to be more thick skinned. Know that the way you cover and dress is right for you. I live in a predominantly Muslim community (I’m from the UK), but there are so many muslims, with so many differing ideas…. you cant please everyone. In the end you have to believe that how you are and way you conduct yourself in front of others is pleasing only to Allah. In fact it is a form of dawah.
    And clearly those sisters you encountered have failed miserably in their attempts of dawah (where’s that roll eye emoji!).
    We all have our trials sis, maybe the loneliness you feel right now is yours. It will in- shaa Allah pass.

  5. Aisha says:

    Forgive me sister. Forgive us. forgive us Ya Allah for not being better. May Allah strengthen the band of Muslims upon goodness in our bid to please only You.

  6. Rubina Bi says:

    Salam sister I am sorry for the experience you had it was not appropriate in method at all and we must remember people are sometimes ignorant of the damage their words can do to people. I am across the ocean from you I didn’t convert but was born into Islam alhamdulilla but that does not make me any more accepted in the community what we must do is create our own unique community and have those open doors as there are many who have the same struggle. Sometimes we are led to do these things as there is a need a gap if u wish in our circles. May Allah make it easy for you Ameen

  7. Umm Amira says:

    Thank you for sharing your story sister,I can really relate to it. From the sly remarks to the openly nasty ones, far from suffering from Islamophobia I’ve had much more problems from within the Muslim ‘community.’
    One day at a gathering somebody said loudly for my benefit that she couldn’t understand why Muslim men have to marry white girls as there is plenty of ‘their own’ women to go round. These are the same people who claim to follow the beautiful teachings of our Prophet (SAW).
    To all my sisters in the same situation may we all stay steadfast to the deen despite the challenges,Insha’Allah and may we find the love and kindness that we are searching for.

  8. Isman Sadiq says:

    May Allah bless you for your courage and fortitude. It is always important to bear mind that in reality there is a difference between Islam and Muslims in the manner they behave. Your words and narrative should serve to help others in their plight. May Allah have mercy on us all and may he bless us with AL Islam in its purest form.
    The only virtue we fundamentally possess is that we are a sign of his creation.

    Keep up your wonderful work.!

    Abu Taqwa

  9. Unity says:

    Salaam where r u located sis? Perhaps we can all arrange a coffee morning or sonething. I’m in London and also a revert and understand well isolation and a lack of fitting in. Email me if you’re inerested

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