So I'm a minority within a minority?

Hello All,

I was listening to BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour the other day and happened to tune into a rather eye opening discussion about sexism and Muslim / Pakistani women in the UK.
Now I've always viewed myself as a bit of an authority on being female, Muslim, Pakistani and British.... you know, seeing as I am those things. And, up until a few years ago, I truly believed that I could speak for this unique perspective because my experience of this particular demographic was A) typical and B) synonymous with all the other women in my shoes.
Little did I know that I wasn't actually wearing shoes... I was wearing a hat made of unicorn hair and farting about on roller-skates.

As I listened to these women talk about how, when they were young, women weren't allowed to go outside and the men had to be served first at dinner, I just kept thinking that I have absolutely no frame of reference for this at all. One man called in claiming to be a feminist because his wife had a job. I mean, really? He then went on to say that, if she wanted to stop wearing her hijab (veil), he would "let" her even though she "wasn't protecting her modesty".

I can honestly say that this idea of ownership of your women is something I have never been exposed to as a Muslim woman. Rather my mother, who was raised in Pakistan, came from a family who insisted that all the girls were educated  to the hilt. My mother was sent to a different city as a boarder for university and came to the UK alone in the seventies to continue her studies. I was always brought up around the idea that this was normal. In Pakistan, your degree is almost considered as part of your high school education. They don't even start calling it university until you do your postgrad qualification. So, there was my mother, the MBA housewife and my auntie the Masters in Economics and I thought everyone else was the same. What I now know is that my grandfather was a bit of a trailblazer.... and kind of a badass actually.

It is still surprising to me that, even before marrying a Jewish man, I was still a minority existing inside a minority. And it is only recently in my life that I have come to realise this. When I was younger I didn't think anything of my relationships with other Pakistani girls in my school, rather it was our synonymous experiences that bound us together. But, as I grew older, the differences between us became more apparent. I remember being in my early twenties and talking to my mum about boys I was dating and whether or not I was drinking alcohol quite openly and it was this openness that caused my Muslim girlfriends and I to drift apart. 
There was just a point we reached where all the things they were hiding from their parents were the things I could share with my mum and, quite understandably, it was hard to be around.
I've spoken about this idea of straddling two cultures when you are a first generation child of migrants before. The juggling act that is wanting to live your life one way and adhering to cultural expectation was often achieved through adopting a double life. One face for you, another for your family..... and a whole mess of white lies to fill in the gaps until you were ready to bring home the person you wanted to marry.

It was never seen as a negative thing. Rather, it was the temporary solution that our generation of young adults had cobbled together that did the job quite nicely. So when someone comes along with a different behavioural model, and one that incorporates an element others previously thought was never achievable, it's understandable that it got people's backs up. No one likes to be reminded of their limitations, especially when that reminder highlights the things they can't have themselves.
It's always the same for me with Muslim friends, sooner or later we reach an impasse, a point where my relationship with my family is different to theirs and people tend to withdraw. Sadly, I understand it completely and wonder whether I would behave any differently if I were in their shoes.

I had two very close Muslim girlfriends a few years ago and I really thought they would be lifelong friendships. I thought, finally, people I can relate to who just get it. Their whole family had even taken me in and made me part of their lives but, sadly, we drifted apart in the end. Everything was going swimmingly until Bob and I started making plans to move in together. Suddenly their mother was telling me to get married first because I'll be making my mum so unhappy (my mum was absolutely fine with it and still is now we're married, she walked me down the aisle and is an excellent lady) and then she would refuse to hug me and say hello as usual whenever I went round.
The girls visited our home a few times but were obviously not comfortable. One of them, who had her own secret boyfriend in tow, even told me that if we did get married it wouldn't be considered a marriage in the eyes of God and would never be pure. 
I couldn't say for sure whether this was motivated by my friend's feeling uncomfortable with seeing the methods we'd adopted within my family working (while they were still living double lives in secret) or whether it was just religious snootiness... but nevertheless, I took a deep breath and decided to be the one to withdraw in this instance. 
I respect everyone's right to believe whatever they like, but this sanctimonious crap fountain was taking the Michael. I really couldn't give a monkey's what anyone thinks about the "validity" of my marriage because it is exactly that... my marriage. It has nothing to do with anybody else and certainly isn't up for debate, discussion or subject to anyone's approval.

Perhaps I'm being naive with my "live and let live" philosophy but I find, the older I get, the less I care what everyone else is doing and the less opinions I have about it. It really surprises me when people above the age of 25 think they can dole out their two cents on your private life.

And to these people I say:

You really should know better by now and, as for your opinions......


  1. This is a great post and I really enjoy your writing style! I understand what you mean with s=distancing yourself from people who don't approve of your lifestyle/choices. I had to do the same with a few friends and even family members. Either way, your marriage is YOUR business and you still ended up with a best friend in Hubs (I'm sure more understanding/considerate friends will be on the way if you don't have them now! ) Great read!

    1. Why, thank you! How nice of you to say, I'm sorry you've had to do the same :( but hope that life is better for it. Life's too short to be surrounded with negativity isn't it? Here's to laughter and happy times! xxxxxx

  2. Likely the radio station choose those people to be on air because they're more... well, stereotypically appropriate. I'm sure other people exist like you, but it's not very interesting/conducive to the theme to say "My family was just like the white, Christian family stereotypes."

    I'm currently living in the UAE and there is an insanely huge breadth of variety in expectations within families. And I like to think that it forces people to be friends with people from different situations. Although I do think almost everyone hides some element of their lifestyle from their families, haha. We especially don't tell our parents how much we drink or smoke. (Even me, a white American. My mom just doesn't need to know. Even though she probably did the same at my age, it's best not to remind her.) So perhaps even here you would feel like a minority, haha.

    1. Hi Cantaloupe :)
      Interesting perspective on the UAE, hopefully it forces people to open their minds too. How are people with interfaith couplings over there?

      Don't get me wrong, my mum and I have boundaries too, we don't discuss absolutely everything!

    2. Sorry for the late reply, I just saw this a month later, haha. But I like the topic, so I'm going to ramble forever about it. Also because I don't like generalizing and constantly think of new exceptions/examples...

      People are mostly fine with interfaith couplings. It is highly assumed that women will convert to Islam when they marry Muslim men though or at the very least, the children will be Muslim. Western women are also generally expected to learn some Arabic and how to cook Arabic foods. But most expats are rather ok with assimilating to that. Perhaps because they are expats and have less connection to their home countries. And perhaps because it doesn't usually go so far as requiring abayas or hijabs or even really following the religion closely, it's more of an on-paper conversion. (The type of Muslims who end up with Westerners tend to already sort of be on-paper Muslims anyhow.... Like a devout Muslim wouldn't even interact with Christians of the opposite sex to fall in love with one.... ok, I take that back. I have hung out with like two devout Muslims. But I touched one's Quran on accident and he hated me forever. And the other one stopped hanging out with us and married someone of appropriate age/religion to please his father. She's actually really cool and fun. But also hijabi. So way more appropriate than anyone I hang out with.) Although I met an American woman who married a local man and was all decked out in the most gorgeous abaya and hijab. (She was also gorgeous. And so was he. And their children. It was like awe-inspiring how beautiful that family was.) Although in local culture, the outfit is perhaps more of a cultural thing rather than a religious one....

      In terms of Western men marrying Arab women, it's way less common. I know of one such couple and I'm actually not even sure if the woman is Muslim. (She's Lebanese, i.e. there's a 50/50 chance she isn't.) But in general, Arab women don't hang out with Western men. (I don't blame them. Western men are awful here. Excuse my huge generalization, haha.)

      Which is an appropriate time to note that it is hard for me to answer this question without rambling because it's hard to separate religion from culture here. I am never aware of whether or not a person is Muslim until I'm relatively close with them. (Unless she's hijabi, obviously.) The school I work at is predominantly Christian, but I didn't even realize it for like a month. My friend's Jordanian boyfriend is a Catholic, which I didn't know for the first year of their relationship. I went on a date with a Lebanese guy and was shocked when he dropped that he wasn't Muslim. I don't even know why... I guess because Arabic is so entwined with Islam that I'm always shocked to find out that Arab-speakers aren't also Muslim. They just go hand-in-hand in my naive mind.

      In conclusion, they are generally ok with it. :)


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