Lean In, Lean Back, Reach Up, Fall Over

I washed my face for the third time that morning. “I can do this,” I thought to myself as I slowly clamored out of the bathroom, willing myself to drive to work. Even though it was still relatively early, I was going to explain my circumstances to my supervisor. As I made my way to his office, I found myself speaking to Allah in hushed tones;

Please Allah don’t let me throw up in his office.

Oh Allah, tell me what is the best thing to do…I am at a complete loss.

Please guide me and give me strength. Make me content with what’s to come.

“Marwa so very nice to see you, have a seat.”

My supervisor has a nice, bright smile. His face is rosy, while mine felt green.

“I’m pregnant,” I blurted out before we even exchanged pleasantries.

“Well, mabrouk! Mazel Tov!” and then after awhile, “Can you make a decision by January if you plan to return to work?”

By January, I would have been five and a half months pregnant. It was October.

That was a little more than three years ago. And yet, most things have not changed for women in the workplace. After reading Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s much talked about book, Lean In, I was able to identify with many of the circumstances she describes. I felt in many ways that she was speaking to me. And yet, there was still something missing.

What’s been bothering me is not the book itself, but rather our current society. We value individual goals and successes to such a great degree that a paradigm shift has been created. We no longer think of pushing families forward, but rather, bolstering individuals who are talented, driven, energetic, and great at multi-tasking. On top of that, Muslim women are bombarded with the idea that the decision to work outside the home will be detrimental to their akhira. Just last week, a Muslim mom blogger posted this quote from a well known Muslim scholar:

“It is not permissible to put Muslim children in nurseries unless in cases of extreme or dire necessity. Paid caregivers can never replace mothers and fathers. It is the right of the Muslim child, and all children, to be cared for and loved, and to become properly bonded with his or her parents, especially in those critical early years. If we deny them in early childhood, they will deny us when we get old, as is happening on a huge scale in the West,” Dr. Bilal Philips.

There are quite a few Muslim women who are working mothers and are not doing it out of dire necessity, but because they feel strongly about what they can contribute to society. As a matter of fact, most stay at home moms will seek out the female Muslim ob-gyn, pediatrician, midwife, and counselor. On a broader scale, we will not be able to change our condition without Muslim women in the media, academia, business, politics, social services etc.

In essence, it comes down to a personal decision that every Muslim woman has a right to make. It may be the case that her deal with Allah is to work for the greater Muslim community and He will ensure the children’s upright upbringing. Or, it may very well be the case that a woman decides to stay at home and Allah is preparing for her a great role in society once her kids have grown.

What’s detrimental to our general well being however is that we’ve taken wishy-washy positions and few are content with the decisions they have made. We’re flooded with opinions and information telling us to lean in, lean back, co-sleep, ferberize, pursue degrees, etc. etc.

The hadith that, “Allah loves to see one’s job done at the level of itqaan (of high quality),” could not be more applicable as we navigate our roles as Muslim mothers. Having itqaan requires that we have a deep conviction in what we are doing. That if I’m going to parent full-time, I will try my very best to do my job well. And I will try my best to not regret my decision, because inevitably, that same regret will seep into all my efforts and actions at home.

As we navigate this discourse, we need to be able to articulate our stances Islamically. Allah clearly mentions in in Chapter 4 of the Quran, “Men are the maintainers of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth.” While not every household has a sole male provider, I have to come to think of this verse as quite liberating. Married women have the opportunity to pursue passions without the heavy responsibility of whether or not it’s going to put food on the table. Of course this is not true of all working women, but those who find themselves with this blessing can work towards improving the social fabric of their communities, and their nuclear and extended families. Now more than ever, people are craving physical gatherings due to our lounging around in the virtual ones. People are feeling more and more isolated. Mothers have a wonderful and important role to play. No matter how small one’s perception may be of it, a warm invitation to share tea and children horror stories can be what gets another mother through her week.

Whatever role we decide to lean into, whether it be work, school, child-rearing, activism, or social support, let’s offer our support when we can and lean in to the support of others when it’s offered.

Marwa Aly

Marwa loves reading, writing, volleyball, and tacos. She enjoys spending time with her young family and connecting with other like-minded dreamers. She resides in Palisades Park, NJ.


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