The Muslimah I Am Today: Finding Meaning and Being Meaningful
By Zaynab Dawood
Nervous anxiety, shy excitement and a feeling of being overwhelmed are some common sensations a person may feel when they leave their old life behind and embark on a new life as a Muslim. This is also true for non-reverts who have finally plucked enough courage to cast away their old selves and adopt new ones: a new self that is determined to be the best Muslim it can be. It is, of course, only natural that the initial buzz dissipates: the shiny smiles may no longer be so shiny from the community, and the ecstatic elation boosting your salah and every other habit may be dwindling into a dull withdrawal. Why? Because life happens. Alhumdulilah.
Particularly for new sisters in places where there are lots of activities (study circles, workshops and coffee mornings etc), there may be enough external support to maintain that interest and vigour initially experienced when a person whole heartedly commits to Islam. For others, the mundanity of life may make it very difficult to maintain that level of Ihsan (sincere and excellent worship) that is required from committed Muslims; add personal problems on top of that, and what we find are Muslims who feel disenfranchised from the strong identity so gloriously depicted by the media. This image, narrated to the world by the media, splinters into two major categories: firstly, the negative image (an all too familiar topic), and secondly, the image of happy Muslim men and women in cosy homes and helpful communities. There is a vast grey murky chasm between these two and we all, at times, wander into it. What is needed as we drift into this gulf is to find meaning in life and to become meaningful. But of course, we have found purpose and everything we do is supposedly meaningful… then why do we feel this heavy void in our hearts? Why do we hear this deafening silence? Why is our vision blurred with the cataract of life’s temptations, burdens and mediocrities?
All these maladies will shrink away once we remember the purpose of prayer: its meaning for us as people and as spiritual vessels, yearning for Allah’s Love. We should not always rely on others to take us to the mosque, or to experience prayer in a gathering (we need to be proactive ourselves). Without a doubt these have untold benefits as many hadiths illustrate, but what is necessary is to find that quiet courage to pray by yourself: to find meaning in going to sleep that bit earlier so you can get up for tahajjud ( the optional night prayer); to find meaning in not buying that beautiful handbag which is finally reduced, but giving the money to that stench-ridden homeless man outside the mall; to find meaning in looking at a verse of the Holy Quran in a deeper way. This makes us meaningful.
There is a trend too, of super cool Muslim sisters attending study circles, events and organising umpteen cake stalls, and while this is essential activity to bind us all to a community that offers sisterhood and brotherhood- those dynamics that are unique to the Muslim Ummah- this may not be accessible to every Muslimah, all the time. The way forward, I have found, is to make a conscious effort of finding meaning in our daily lives and being meaningful all the time.
Years ago, due to some personal reasons, I was uprooted from all these activities, and this left me feeling quite redundant and in search of a new trajectory. It cast a dull shadow on all my duties as a worshipper, mother, wife and neighbour. My prayer was still a part of me, but I knew that my self-perception of a strong vibrant Muslimah was diminishing. Alhumdulilah I came across the story of our beloved teacher Prophet Ibraheem (upon him be peace). When he sought meaning in the sun and moon and found both to obey a force and power that excelled them, Prophet Ibraheem found meaning in tauheed. I found meaning in this story.
As a Muslimah, this story, which I’ve read and taught many times, brought a new meaning to me and sharpened my focus. On a basic level it spurred me to look longer at the natural world around me, subhanallah, and to share my observations with my children. On another level, it gave me meaning as a minute speck of a human on this enormous earthly stage, to make sure I find meaning in everything that Allah has placed before me. From the cold mornings to the colder nights I say alhumdulilah: my daily prayers are a testament of me being a meaningful Muslimah. From the lovely people I am blessed to share my life with I express my gratitude in meaningful ways and for those individuals who, let’s say, are work in progress, I exercise patience.
I have learnt that sometimes even the smallest of gestures can bring meaning to others’ lives as well as enriching our own meaningfulness. As a Muslimah I’m still work in progress, but I know that being meaningful in everything I do gives me the meaning I’m searching for. In Sha Allah.
About the author:
I’m Zaynab Dawood from Lancashire, England. I’m a busy mum of four, a teacher and author. For me there are three delights in life: ibadah, spending time with family and friends, and reading good literature!