In our final piece celebrating Women’s History month, we hear from a UM alumna and current graduate student studying Social Work, Annie Sajid, as she shares ten things she has learned from other Muslim women of color in our community.
This is more of a love letter to the women of color in the MSA who have shaped, informed, and redefined integral parts of who I am and who I would like to be rather than a self-help piece claiming to espouse some esoteric wisdom.
This is also a love letter to all of the Muslim women of color in the MSA who I may never know.
1) You will never learn enough about yourself or the deen.
Maybe you are a borderline shaykha, one of those sisters who comes from a strong tight-knit Muslim community and has been Islamically trained by some of the best Muslim scholars around. Or maybe you are a brown girl from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who always craved a Muslim community, but didn’t know the difference between a mufti or an imam (guilty). Either way, your first two years in the MSA will grant you the opportunity to learn and unlearn everything you thought you knew about Islam and yourself. Tightly embrace this opportunity.
2) The MSA is more than a monolith.
Before you even come to campus, you will hear about University of Michigan’s MSA. you will learn it is one of the biggest and most active MSAs in the country. You will hear glowing remarks or brutal indictments about the MSA. Never make assumptions about the culture of the MSA. It is more than just “conservative” one year and then “liberal” the next. The MSA is a fluid, dynamic powerhouse organization that is waiting for you to take ownership of it.
3) Never say no to an adventure.
You will meet a sister who has a real hankering for donuts around midnight on a Monday night. Go to Dom’s (cute 24 hour donut/bakery shop in Ypsilanti) with her for the adventure. You will meet a sister who is committed to going to every single Mini Qiyam regardless of the snowpocalypse outside. Brave the weather with her. You will meet a sister who wants to review every foodie restaurant in Ann Arbor. Put on a bib and say Bismillah.
4) Don’t allow your labor for the MSA to remain unacknowledged.
As a Fresh(wo)man and Sophomore, observe and examine the power dynamics in the MSA. Why are men leaders easily accepted and revered? Why don’t men leaders face the same type or amount of scrutiny as you? Why don’t they have to qualify their contributions and ideas? Why don’t they apologize for taking up as much space as they desire? Why are they praised for being passionate for their work, while you are being deemed too emotional? This goes to say that while you should hold tremendous humility for the work you do in serving the community, it also means you should demand accountability from those who are silencing, and/or erasing your labor, worth, and voice.
5) Ghayba (gossiping) never leads to any good.
Backbiting does not facilitate solutions. It teaches us women to compete with one another in harmful and divisive ways. As much as you want to share who you saw together in the Tower Plaza lobby, please refrain from being a fitna-mongerer.
6) Your lived experiences hold truths.
There will be times when you will be gaslighted aka told that your reality is false and the reality of a mansplainer is the truth. You will be shaken to your core when people say you are overreacting or being irrational when you are demanding to be heard and respected. You will be cut off when you are speaking. Your ideas for community-building might be painted as divisive. Men might summarize everything you have been saying for an entire meeting/semester and then receive all the accolades for all your thoughts and ideas. Your leadership might be questioned every step of the way. This violent act will make you doubt yourself in detrimental ways. Release these toxins by turning to Allah (SWT) for support and to those who affirm, honor, and love you.
7) Your community will evolve as you evolve.
Your best sisterfriend freshman year might not be the sisterfriend you give a shout-out to during your Senior Halaqa speech. That is okay. If we demonstrated kindness, love, and humility in our relationships and we grow out of them, it doesn’t mean we have failed. It means we should celebrate the bravery it takes to grow up together.
8) We are not a post-racial ummah much less a post-racial MSA.
You might notice that the main MSA sister circles are dominated by Desi Sunni Muslim hijabi straight upper-middle-class women from Metro-Detroit. This means that if you hold membership in any of these communities, recognize that you hold unearned power. Interrogate your assumptions and biases as prescribed to us by our deen.
9) Strive to heal, grow, and love your whole being.
This is so much harder than it sounds, but the first step to growing intellectually, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually means uncovering what needs healing and rebuilding. Before you can begin to grow, confront what hurts. There will be times when you need to face the pain on your own, and others time you will need someone else to witness/ accompany you in the process, but either way tend to it with the help of Allah (SWT).
10) Sisterhood is paramount to your survival on this campus, in this community,
and in this world.
Sisterhood is where we thrive the most in our lives. Feed, nourish, care, and love one another deeply. This was essential to my survival, and it will be essential to yours.