Muslim women in the West today are in a seemingly unique position, often straddling two worlds – that of their family’s ethnic culture and that of their Western country of residence. They are struggling to both revive their faith and their intellect, managing a balancing act of family and career.
Often, we feel alone, stranded in circumstances for which there is no textbook manual on how to do it all right. Surely we can’t be the only generation of Muslim women to face such trials! In fact, we aren’t. Islamic history books are filled with stories of exemplary Muslim women, young and old, who navigated cultures spanning from Asia and Arabia to Europe.
These inspiring women came of age in environments eerily similar to our own: Fatimah bint Muhammad (SAW), whose early teen years were spent struggling through the difficult first days of Islam in Makkah; and Ama bint Khalid, who grew up in the Christian country of Abyssinia during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). They dealt with feelings of isolation, cultural differences and the struggles faced by the pioneers of a new way. They fell in love, fought in wars and achieved heights of scholarship envied by men.
From the Sahabiyat (female Companions) to female scholars in our own times, Muslim women have always had powerful female figures to look up to and emulate. Unfortunately, however, these inspiring women have been forgotten and marginalised by their own people, to the detriment of all Muslims, both men and women.
Now, we hope to revive and relive our neglected history by bringing to light not only the exploits of these heroines, but their humanity as well. We aim to build a direct connection and sense of relevance between the current generations of Muslim women and those who created legacies before us.
Coming of Age in a New World
Modern society marks the transition from childhood into adolescence with contemporary constructs such as issues of identity and angst. For young Muslimahs in the West, these struggles are compounded with further questions about religion, spirituality and their place as citizens in societies whose values are often at great odds with those of Islam’s.
Ama bint Khalid was one of the first young Muslimahs to grow up in a non-Muslim environment and whose love for the Messenger of Allah (SAW) blossomed in her heart before she ever met him. Her parents were amongst the earliest believers in RasulAllah (SAW) and were of those who made the first hijrah (emigration) to Abyssinia.
As a result, Ama was one of a handful of young Muslims who grew up in a distinctly Christian society. Though she undoubtedly faced difficulties and challenges, her identity as a Muslim was strengthened by her circumstances, rather than weakened or driven to compromise. Her parents would regularly share with her and remind her of the reason for which they emigrated: their belief in Allah (SWT) and His Messenger. They would tell her stories about RasulAllah (SAW) – his kindness, his generosity, his concern for others even if they were not his family or friends and how he worked so hard to save everyone from the terrifying punishment of the Hereafter. Long before she ever met him, Ama loved this amazing man of whom her parents spoke so fondly.
Ama was a young girl faced with a massive challenge: living and growing up in a country foreign to her family, struggling to learn a new language and a new culture and, more importantly, retaining the faith for which they had emigrated in the first place. In the midst of this utter strangeness, she fiercely held onto her belief in God and His Messenger (SAW), her saviour.
Though the challenges are many, young Muslims in the 21st century are not the first to experience isolation, alienation and negative propaganda directly concentrated on their faith. Youth such as Ama bint Khalid and ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (RA), both of whom were raised upon Islam from a very young age, grew up in a society where they were labelled as either crazy people, terrorists or both. Most Muslim teenagers often think that they have little in common with famous and awe-inspiring Sahabah of the Prophet’s time, but the truth is that their struggles were very similar to those we are going through today.
Today, young Muslims in the West have far more available and at their disposal than Ama bint Khalid had over 1400 years ago. Masjid youth groups, Islamic schools, youth conferences, CDs and DVDs; these resources provide not only knowledge, but a strength of solidarity for young Muslims growing up in non-Muslim societies.
Teenage Muslim girls who are trying to juggle their non-Muslim school environment, culturally-different home environment and plain old teen hormones need look no further than Ama bint Khalid to feel both comforted and inspired. If Ama could do it – in a time when there was no internet, no halal takeout and no varieties of cute hijabs – why can’t you?
Narrated Sa’id: Um Khalid [Ama] bint Khalid bin Said said, “I came to Allah’s Messenger along with my father and I was wearing a yellow shirt. Allah’s Messenger said, “Sanah Sanah!” (‘Abdullah, the sub-narrator said, “It means, ‘Nice, nice!’ in the Ethiopian language.”) Um Khalid added, “Then I started playing with the seal of Prophethood. My father admonished me. But Allah’s Apostle said (to my father), “Leave her,” Allah’s Apostle (then addressing me) said, “May you live so long that your dress gets worn out, and you will mend it many times, and then wear another till it gets worn out (i.e. May Allah prolong your life).” (The sub-narrator, ‘Abdullah aid, “That garment (which she was wearing) remained usable for a long time.”) Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 22
Umm Khadijah (Zainab bint Younus) is a young woman who finds constant inspiration in the lives of the Sahabiyat and other great women in Islamic history. She hopes that every Muslimah is able to identify with the struggles of these inspirational women and follow in their footsteps to become part of a new generation of powerful Muslimahs.