"I'm safe inside this container called me." -Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
We universally can agree in order to be happy and healthy in this life we must feel safe, protected and not at risk of being in danger. It is a challenge to be a Muslim Woman of color in America navigating the many spaces in her daily life that ignore her, ridicule her, or even want her dead. When she is attacked in these spaces she often has to do a mental check list:
Is is because of my hijab/Islam?
Is it because I'm Black/Brown?
Is it because I'm a woman?
Many times the answer intersects and it's all three. The hat-trick that brings out the islamophobes, racists and sexists ready to show their hand. Another ugly reality is, although many are supportive, the challenges often show themselves within her own community as well. Racism can be experienced in the MSA (Muslim Student Association) she attends in college, or sexism on her mosque board not being diverse (or having women, but never listening to their ideas). Although Islam strictly teaches against this behavior, and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon) made many statements referring to the honor, upliftment and kind treatment of women, this doesn't stop instances where those not adhering to their faith choose to ignore or mistreat Muslim Women.
Now let's add on family, school, work, oh yeah- and her social life. How is she dealing with her grandma just dying, failing the pop quiz in her grad class, her child falling out in a terrible-two tantrum in the mall, or who she thought was her close friend not inviting her to her wedding? With all of these stresses self-care has to be a priority and responsible for a Muslim woman.
But why a Sisters Safe Space?
With our problems being unique to our experiences as Muslim Woman, our solutions can often be found in circles that look like us and fully understand exactly what it feels like to be us. Here are some personal sentiments that many Muslimahs can relate to:
There seems to be an unspoken detachment and feelings of isolation that can happen in our spiritual communities. We develop ideas of being too embarrassed to seek help because of the shame that can come from our religious communities. People on their moral high horses aka the "haraam police" that berate using religious texts, often ready to shun women rather than understand, show empathy, and offer help. Many express they often withhold speaking about their struggles because they just don't think it's "safe". They know they will be talked about, severely judged or even shamed.
The Sisters Safe Space event is a Women Empowerment event that was set up to create a safe environment for sisters to gather, share their stories and experiences, express their feelings, pain, concerns, fears, hopes and dreams. The event also had invited professional speakers that educated sisters. Ukhtee Walida, "The Boss Moms Coach" is a business strategist and women life coach. She moderated a workshop on "Being in the Proper Headspace to THRIVE (not just survive). This discussion included communication exercises, recitations of affirmations, how to recognize trauma, how to be supportive (as well as what NOT to do when your sister is experiencing a crisis).
There was a workshop entitled "Your Write to Heal" moderated by teaching artist, Nicole Najmah Abraham (Najmah53), which demonstrated writing techniques to help gain closure and start healing. Sisters recalled painful traumatic experiences, then had to write a letter to themselves written in the voice of the person that caused the trauma saying things the sisters needed to hear.. The room became tearful during the sharing of these letters, with many expressing how good they felt to write it or how it made them realize they were still holding on to pain from their past.
(Research reveals that failing to express our feelings and concerns compromises our health. The continuous stress of holding our feelings in, keeping our pains and problems undisclosed, undermines our immune systems and adversely affects the biochemistry of our brains. In research with thousands of people facing bereavement and other major life crises, Psychologist Pennebaker has found that writing about problems can release the stress of inhibition, relieve our emotional pain, and bring us greater insight, improving our mental and physical health (Pennebaker,1990; Pennebaker, Francis, & Mayne, 1997).
The "Healing Expressions Open Mic' featured the talents of Fatima De Poet. (click to see performance). Fatima is a senior of Lehman College majoring in Creative Writing, and is an avid spoken word artist using her gift to focus on emotions. Her poems reflected on family, African culture, identity, while invoking spiritual healing.
After all the feedback of sisters repeating statements like "This was sooo needed!", and "Thank you for creating this space!" I Am More Than A Scarf already plans to do a bigger Sister Safe Space in the summer. For updates to future events check out the #SistersSafeSpace tag, and subscribe to IAMTAS' mailing list or follow their social media. (@iamtasmag on FB, IG, TW)
All photos and recordings are being shared with the audience's permission. All participants have an option to not be recorded, and every person must take an oath in the beginning of the program to not share any sisters' information she shared during the workshops without her permission, to not violate the sacredness of the space.