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.

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