“My Lord, I ask you to expand my breast, make my task easy, undo the knot in my tongue so that they will comprehend my speech.” In the Quran, this is the prayer that Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) uttered when he was tasked to preach to Pharoah the oneness of God. The Arabic is gorgeous, lilting poetry and I remember being caught off-guard at the beautiful simplicity of this profound prayer the first time I heard it as a tween during a Friday sermon.
My friends and family know that I am often quite verbose and passionate, which is the main reason I started my blog in the first place. But, it’s one thing to share your thoughts with people who know you and care about you; doing it publicly is a whole other ballgame. And so, I have whispered Moses’s prayer countless times over the last decade; before giving a speech or lecture, before I deliver a training to strangers, before I write anything on this blog or any other public platform.
I certainly uttered this phrase before and during my appearance on Al Jazeera’s The Stream where I was invited to talk about Ukrainian “sextremist” activists Femen and Muslim feminisms. After I was mic’ed up in the studio, I somehow calmed down and made a split-second decision to act as though my interview was simply a conversation with friends on a topic about which I cared deeply*.
A few days after my appearance on The Stream, I was contacted by an editor at The New York Times, asking me to participate in a debate about the hijab. My essay argued that the focus on hijab is a red herring that distracts us from the real issues facing women and girls around the world and was published this week. It catalyzed a robust online discussion about feminism, clothing and human rights, for which I am grateful. There were certainly hateful comments in response to my piece, and some ignorant ones, but also, many genuine and thoughtful perspectives from across the ideological spectrum.
I would not have received either of these spectacular opportunities if it were not for a recent Hindtrospectives post about an encounter I had with someone at a church where I spoke about my experiences as an American Muslim woman. I wrote of my frustrations:
This woman had just spent 2 hours listening to 3 Muslim women share our experiences. We talked about our female faith heroes, our mothers, our friends. We broke all sorts of stereotypes. This woman listened to us, but did not hear us. To her, being American while being an observant Muslim woman is impossible and we were confused about our identities. I was discouraged by our encounter.
I ended that piece on a positive note, resolving to continue to speak out and help reshape the misunderstood narrative of Islam and Muslim women. In a world where Islam and Muslims are by default hot button issues, I consciously made the decision to step into the fray shouldering the burden of speaking publicly about my faith. Prophet Moses’s prayer never left my heart.
I understand these words as a simple plea: my Lord, keep my heart connected to you, remove the obstacles in my path and please, oh Lord, please help me not sound a fool. It’s perhaps not the way Quranic exegesis would put it, but that’s what I’ve been thinking these last several weeks when I had the opportunity to share with national and global audiences my perspectives on hijab, feminisms, and Western saviors of Muslim women.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I am in fact friends with three of the fabulous women I shared the screen with that day.