Thank you God, for the Women

Who helped me struggle onto my chubby toddler feet. Who helped me spell out my first big word (dinosaur). Who helped me learn to tell time, even though every other kid in the class magically seemed to already know this. Who heard me whine and complain about training bras. Who saw my sometimes snotty-faced pre-teen bad attitude and didn’t let it define their entire perception of me. Thank you God, for the women who let me be a child. Who protected me from the reality of the world with all its harshness. The women who were my teachers and my role models and for Oprah, because she’s fantastic.

Thank you God, for their stories of strength and valor – If I can be half the woman my mother is, I don’t need that prince, shining armor or not. But thanks mom, for teaching me that I can have him without needing him. That I can love without desperation, that I can thrive and support and give without counting and scheming and whining. Thank you for teaching me love.

Thank you for the women who shared the stories of childbirth, or even more trying: child-rearing, stories of loss and of love and of pain and of beauty. Thank you for the strong cancer-survivors, for the ‘have your breasts cut off in a world that defines women by their beauty’ bravehearts. Thank you for the men that have supported them, definitely, but thank you God, for the women.

Thank you for the mother that fed me, that clothed me, but most importantly, who loved me. Loved me when I was not worth it. Loved me when I was a bad investment. Thank you for giving her the strength to scream right back and because there were hard truths I needed to hear, and thank you for giving her enough heart to welcome me back into her arms. Thank you for all of the mothers who raised all of the imperfect-beautiful people that I know –  and the woman who was left, the woman who was brave enough to leave, the woman who was brave enough to stay – thank you.

The men in my life, the ones who came, the ones who ran, the ones who loved – they taught me who I wanted to be. Knowing them taught me what I could say, what I could do, what I didn’t want to do, what I didn’t want to be. The women (I’ve been blessed to meet) taught me who I could be. They embraced who I was and told me the truth about which parts sucked. These women supported me. These women demanded better because they knew I was better. These women loved with their hearts open, their arms open, their minds open.

Thank you God, for the women.

6 “Not Pakistani” Things People Know in #NewYorkCity

Almost-adult (meaning you basically need to get your life together by now) woman moved to New York City with more baggage than socially acceptable (do you really need three checked bags?) and a passion for lights and traffic and noise. Said young woman sets out to explore the urban jungle, and is hit with some hard truths. The world is not what is seems. And so, she writes her first blog post about all the weird things she’s learned here.

Bumping into people is not okay. Unlike Pakistan, where bumping into people (sometimes intentionally) is just inevitable, here most people will instantly turn to apologize, take pains to make sure no part of them or their belongings is touching you, beg your pardon (insert British accent), or glare at you (if you were the clumsy one – basically me, all the time. My adventures on the jostling trains every morning are filled with a series of sorrysorrysorrys).

McDonalds doesn’t deliver. Yes. I was so used to just picking up the phone and McArabia meal-ing my way through the work day, that I called my local McDonalds here and began to list all the delicious things I wanted when the polite employee on the other end told me that they don’t participate in the delivery program. Further investigation revealed that the closest McDonalds that delivered was in fact 15 miles away. Oh joy.

Customer Service really hopes you have a great day. Unlike surly Pakistani customer service (in the rare cases when it actually exists for a brand) whose main aim to get off the phone with you as soon as possible, store or helpline associates here are for the most part, positive, and at the very least polite.

It’s not far – just 10 blocks. When you’ve lived a relatively privileged life in Pakistan, you know one fundamental yet slightly unrealized truth – you never really walk anywhere. Yes, we like walks, and we pride ourselves on going down to the neighborhood market on foot, but we never really walk – not the way people do here. A lady on the subway was talking to her friend, and mentioned how where she wanted to go was 25 blocks away. Her companion said he didn’t want to walk, and her response was, “Goodness, you’re so lazy. It’s not even far.”

This is (sometimes) the land of abundance. Maybe it’s because you don’t see emaciated children on the street, or maybe it’s just because my mom would insist I clean my plate, but I can’t imagine throwing away a good chunk of my meal just because it wasn’t to my liking or I felt too full to have it. I am forever that friend who embarrassingly wraps her half-sandwich in a napkin and tucks it into her purse for future munching opportunities. In the past month, I’ve seen quite a few people just dump sizable meal portions – half a burger, a half-serving of fries, left over fish fingers, and each time, I found myself itching to say, “I’ll keep it and eat it later! Just don’t waste it!” But I didn’t. Damn that peer pressure.

You can talk to automated phone recordings! I know this is dorky, but I was blown away when I called my bank’s helpline number and the automated phone-lady’s voice asked me a question and then didn’t tell me what buttons to push for yes/no. In the resulting 10 seconds of silence, I was confused and glancing around to make sure no one witnessed me being a crazy person, I whispered, “Yes.” and the computer lady voice said thank you. #success

This is by no means exhaustive, and I’ll keep adding to it, but suffice it to say, I’m excited to keep FOB-ing (fresh off the boat immigrant) my way through the adventures that await.

You Have One New Notification

They say you shouldn’t use the word hate, because it’s very strong. It makes you look nasty, and mean-spirited. Well guess what? Sometimes, I hate this interconnected online world. I hate the way my Gmail is linked to my Facebook and my cell contacts are synced with everyone I know on Twitter, and Pinterest and every other account I’ve ever had. I hate the way Skype is now a Microsoft account thing, and the way my contacts are duplicated because there’s Facebook friends, and Outlook contacts (whatever happened to Hotmail anyway?) and something called a Yahoo Friend.

Want to know why I hate it? Want to know why it sucks? Because you won’t go away, even after I’ve cut you so painfully from my life.

Even after I’ve hacked at my heart to get rid of you, torn you like a mass of entangled nerves, woven into me, from my spirit, you just won’t go away. It’s been three months, and I’m idly whizzing through my contacts, stuck in a doctor’s office, and whoops. There you are, with that picture I picked out for you, that you insisted you hated. There is momentary alarm. Didn’t I delete you?

Oh, I realize: My phone auto-synced my contacts with my Facebook. Delete.

It’s been six months. I’ve gone through three crazy anxiety cycles, willing myself not to think about you. We haven’t spoken once, but a thousand conversations have played out in my mind. My friends keep telling me to chill, sympathy in their eyes, but I wish there was an actual pill for that, because I can’t seem to handle this on my own. I wake up telling myself I’m good, this is a better day, I haven’t thought about you in thirteen hours and 47 minutes and 3 seconds. I’m having Cheerios at the dining table, streaming some Vampire Diaries, and a little Skype blurb pops up.

You’re online. The spoon tumbles from my lips.

Why are you on my Skype? Why is there an option to call you? To video call you? Oh, God. My Outlook contacts are integrated with my Skype now, and it’s asking me if I’d like to add 417 other friends. I wish I had never sent you an email from my Outlook. Delete.

It’s been a year. My online presence has been cleansed of you. You are not my Facebook friend, LinkedIn connection, fellow Pinner, Twitter follower, or Insta-buddy. I’ve even gone on a paranoid social-media purging bender and kicked you out of my Google + circles. Your favorite songs have been kicked off my iTunes playlists, and the <3 list on my Soundcloud. It’s done. I’m clean. And then, like a thief in the night, you’re where I never expected you to be.

I’m digging through the caverns of my Dropbox (100 GB) and it turns out it’s been syncing every photo I’ve ever taken – including dozens of you. You, you, you, that I hadn’t even remembered. That quick smile from the driver’s seat as you realized I had my camera app open, a blurry close up of your hand as you try to knock it away from me, a couple of crazy laughing ones, water streaming down our happy faces – preserving memories that I loved.

That I need to get rid of.


It’s been 14 months. You’re gone, and more importantly, the  reminders of you are gone. I can move on with my life, and I hope you have already done so. Maybe I don’t hate the interconnected world quite as much as I thought I did. Maybe hate is too strong a word. Maybe I’ve forgotten something, and one day you’ll pop up in a notification somewhere; if you do, I’ll be okay.

I’ll be okay.

PS: This post was written to support everyone out there struggling with letting go, because it’s only natural. Hang in there, friends.

Oh, You Don’t Like My Body?

Guess what. Most days, neither do I. The way my thighs jiggle when I run, and the “wholesome” curve of my fat arms. You don’t like my body. I don’t like myself.

Just another fat girl. The chubby friend. The girl who is fun, and interesting and creative, but c’mon, you’d never date her. I mean, have you looked at her?

Yeah, plus-sized models are sexy. I mean, OMG look at Kim K and Ashley Graham – I’ll take some of that please. But Fat Amy over there? C’mon. I mean, I don’t want to be rude, but you know we’re both thinking the same thing. Right? Right?

You don’t like my body. You don’t like my body. You don’t like my body.

I don’t like myself.

My skin is too dark. My hands are too masculine. Wearing sandals in the summer gives my feet tan lines. My chest isn’t big enough, but my shoulders make me look like a Viking.

I’ve forgotten, you see, that my body has changed over the years. I forgot the year in high school when I lost so much weight I went down a whole size in my favorite jeans. I forgot the times my mother wasn’t home and I had to come up with something to eat. I forgot that when I was 15, all the girls were my size, and then when I was 17, they suddenly weren’t. I forgot the time I had my heart broken and no one to talk to. I forgot all the boys who said they liked my curves, and all the girls who wished they didn’t look anorexic. I forgot that this body is more than my failure.

The wide hips and strong legs admired in the past are heritage – passed down to me from my grandmother’s blood. This body is family, along with the big eyes, and full lips that you love so much.

The way I’ve bulked up in the last year? I survived having my heart blown to smithereens, and I am still here. This body is proof. This weight is a remnant of being at war with my nerves. This body is strength. The thick hair I have pulled out – of my eyebrows, of my arms, of my chin and my legs – that’s not easy. You don’t like my body, and I pluck and pull and rip and rub. You don’t like my body.

I’m not at risk for heart disease, and yes, they do still carry my size at every clothing store I go to (albeit sometimes it’s shoved in the back). This body is a size 12, a size 14, a size 16. But this body is more than a number printed onto my denim. The acne scarring from the face wax to get rid of my mustache is covered up by my favorite foundation, and now you say you can’t trust women wearing makeup, and makeup shaming has actually become a thing. Are you kidding me? And still, you don’t like my body.

When you sideways glance at my tugging my shirt down over my stomach, or make a sexy big booty remark and wink at me across the room, I forget that I am more. I forget that I would rather have played my video games instead of picking out black heads, and putting eggs in my hair. I forget.

I forget that while I suck at dieting, I am a better cook than most others. I forget that while I can’t find the motivation to get up for a 6 AM run, I’ve circled the world through great literature. You think I don’t exercise, but I am not afraid of washing my own dishes, mopping my own floors, and doing my own laundry. You think I don’t care, but I have a full length mirror that replays all the things you assume I didn’t hear you say.

I wear makeup because I love it. My foundation is marketed as Better Skin, my chapstick is “your lips but better”, and my concealer gives me a “natural” highlighted “glow from within”. You say I am too fake. That I should look more natural. But in a flurry of activity, like a mad woman, if I unzip, untuck, unhook, and wipe off everything you call fake, you don’t like my body.

I forget that this isn’t a war I should be fighting. I forget that this isn’t a war anyone is ever going to win. I forget that you aren’t the enemy. I forget that I don’t need your validation.

You don’t like my body, but sometimes, I really love it.

I love it when I go to the doctor and he says that I am perfectly healthy. I love it when I order my double-patty burger and I love it when you’re not talking about how I need to lose weight.

You don’t like my body. I’m focusing on loving the world, one day at a time.

Disclaimer: This post was written to support a friend who struggles with body image issues. 

Young Woman, You ARE Marriage Material

I’m at that point in my life (by which I mean my early twenties) where everyone around me (literally everyone) is either getting married or about to. Whether it’s engagements or at-home Nikah (Muslim marriage contract) signing ceremonies, I’m losing single friends faster than I imagined. I’ve got two weddings to attend this week, and three more coming up in the next six months. 

Now, at this point in my culture, most girls have probably gotten one or two rishtas. These are families who approach the girl’s parents asking for her hand in marriage on behalf of (if he knows her) their son, or for (if he doesn’t know her but the family thinks they’d be a good match) their son. If you’re 25 and single, ladies, we all know there’s a few common reasons this is so:

1. You are focusing on your career and your parents are (almost/maybe/hopefully) supportive of your decision to wait to get married. 

2. You have older sisters who aren’t married yet and you have to wait your turn. 

3. Your boyfriend doesn’t have a job yet and so can’t respectfully ask for your hand in marriage (because what could he possibly offer you if he doesn’t have any money? *gasp*). Darling beti, focus on the doctors and the engineers. 

4. There is some sort of ideological divide. He is from a different caste, or Allah maaf karay religion, or is a communist, or is from a family that for some reason or the other, your family is not happy with. 

4. Nobody wants to marry you because you suck. 

Unfortunately, it’s the last reason that tends to take up residence in our hearts and even if the whole world is cheering us on, it’s not uncommon for young women to become overly critical of themselves. We begin evaluating ourselves on a host of factors. Can I cook? Would I prioritise raising children full-time over my career? Do I know how to host a dinner party and keep a clean house? And most pressing in our minds: Do I look good enough? 

Is my nose too big? Why isn’t my skin fairer? 

A lifestyle of perpetual dieting and stomach-sucked-in selfies, body-shaming larger women (yes, it counts when you’re openly feeling sorry for her), and eyeliner-mastery is adopted. Hair is straightened for everyday, and curled for formal events, and every pushed-up, tucked-in, brightened, whitened, and mattified part of your body is dressed to the nines at weddings because beta log kya kahen ge? (Child, what will people say about you/us?)

Let’s get a few things straight ladies. Maybe dressing up makes you feel good about yourself, maybe it’s just fun, and all of that’s great, but under no circumstances should you ever feel that it’s necessary for people to like or approve of you. I know it’s so easy for me to write these things down and so hard for them to be true. It took time for them to be true for me. It took time for me to allow myself to be comfortable in my own skin. I am so many great things, and so are you. 

Skills like cooking and being a great hostess can be learned, should you wish to learn them. Children may or may not be part of your future, and that’s something you can deal with when the time comes. They say motherhood gives you a different perspective (as do most major experiences) and who knows what you’ll feel like then? We are all constantly changing and evolving as people. And in any case, those possible future children could really benefit from a mom who knows how to follow her dreams. 

Im not saying these are the only issues – spending your life with someone is a big decision, and comes with a myriad of variables – but these are certainly prevalent for a lot of young women (on the verge of spinster-hood (haha, I joke). 

Know this: strive to be the best you can be. Cliche as that is, let yourself be open to different definitions of what’s good and what your best is. Allow yourself to do things you wouldn’t normally do simply to expose yourself to different people and ways of thinking and embracing the world. Something as life changing as marriage takes teamwork, emotional and mental  maturity, strength and positivity. Be sincere. Be kind – especially to yourself. 

Most importantly, cut yourself some slack. You are kind. You are important. You are talented. And you deserve to be valued. The protruding stomach and the limp hair – those are obstacles you have the power to move past. 

And your knight in shining armour? He’ll show up when it’s time. 

The Veiled #Muslim Bogeygirl

Phenomenal insight into what it means to choose to be a veiled Muslim woman. This article says everything and more that I was trying to say in this Tribune article.

Building a Common Future

By: Ethar El-Katatney

Photo Credit: Time Magazine

There are around 800 people attending this forum. Let’s assume half are women. Out of those 400 women, less than half a dozen are veiled.

I understand that “we’re” very much a novelty here. And I understand that our presence here is extremely important to break the stereotypes, misconceptions, prejudices, etc etc And I am extremely grateful to the Anna Lindh Foundation for granting me the amazing opportunity of speaking at the inauguration ceremony, and again on a panel today.

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It’s Okay to be That Girl

The girl that wears a full face of makeup one day and nothing the next. The girl who will only dress well if she’s not tired, or too lazy, or doesn’t have to iron her outfit. The girl who watches TV shows that are so girly, so hipster, so lame. The girl who can curse like a sailor, and isn’t afraid to say what everyone else in the room is thinking – in fact, she doesn’t see the point in not saying it; things would be so much clearer if we could all just dispense with these mind games. It’s okay.

The girl who is so far from elegant and graceful that it’s a laugh out loud situation. The girl who always has more guy friends than girl friends. The girl who is well over the over-weight barrier and gleefully goes on existing (the horror!). The girl who can’t be bothered matching her socks, and the girl who painstakingly puts outfits together when she wants to impress. The girl who is neurotic-neurotic-neurotic – are you sure you double checked that the stove was off?! – and is really intense about things like worrying and seriousness and the very real Worst Possible Scenario That Has Every Chance of Coming True. It’s okay.

The girl that feels like she’s playing pretend when she laughs at his jokes that aren’t funny, when she smiles at the older women asking but not really asking about her dreams, when she says sorry when she’s not sorry. The girl that fights for feminism and women’s empowerment when she can’t figure out in her head how women would ever be able to be equal in this messed up world. The girl that un-apologetically demands that she be loved, that she be loved, that she be… at least treated well, at least not degraded, at the very least smiled at after a long day. It’s okay.


The girl that says no, sorry, to the guy she knows she will never love, could never love, because she values honesty. The girl that feels bad about it after. The girl who feels like she has the worst luck because the hot guys never like her, just the social rejects that she isn’t into. The girl who doesn’t care about feminism or socially-constructed gender roles because she just wants a goddamn knight in shining armor and is that so freaking impossible to wish for? The girl that feels selfish but thinks why the hell shouldn’t she? This world is a hard place and she needs to look out for herself. This girl that vows every night to try to be better, as a person, as a sister, as a woman, as a wife. This girl that doesn’t think she can, but knows that she will try. It’s okay.

That girl who loves pink, and glitter and getting her nails done and her hair done and is tired of being thought of as a looker, not a thinker. The girl who smoked a joint when she felt pressured by the cool kids in high school. The girl who fell down the stairs in front of everyone and pretended to laugh with them, because she hoped they were laughing with her. The girl who wanted to be a boy because it was so much easier and no one ever asked her brothers to do the laundry. The girl who always came second in her class, and wasn’t very pretty either, so what use was she? The girl who was only ever good at one thing but couldn’t even manage to be the best in it. It’s okay.

The girl who was always insecure. The girl who wasn’t afraid to take risks. The girl who experimented with her personality. The girl who ate lunch alone because of her pink hair. The girl who skipped class because she couldn’t bare to face them. The girl they called Tootsie because of the rolls on her stomach. The girl they called Goddess, because of the curves of her body. It’s okay.

The girl who wrote because her heart was breaking. Who ugly-cried her guts out without caring who was watching. The girl who sat with her legs politely crossed making small talk because she couldn’t let the facade crack. The girl who worked two jobs to support her family and came home early, pretending she had plans so she wouldn’t have to go out with coworkers for coffee she couldn’t afford. The girl who never drank alcohol because she just didn’t want to, and why was that so hard for everyone to understand? The girl who prayed to a God she believed in even though she could never justify his existence. It’s okay.

That girl. Every girl.

It’s okay.

Who is Prince Charming?

We’ve all talked about it, whether it’s in hushed tones when our mothers aren’t listening, or maybe when you’ve just broken up with the last guy – we want Prince Charming. Whether or not we admit it, and even if we hide behind the whole “Of course you always have to compromise – especially as a woman. You’ll never find someone who is 100% perfect, and that’s not even what you need”, we all still want Prince Charming. 

Now, after we’ve politely made the socially-needed (as in, society demands it) admission that no one is perfect, we are willing to adjust with the man we have to spend our lives with, and that our parents know best when picking someone out for us for the long haul, can we get into the real conversation?

Who is Prince Charming? 

Disney says he is someone who will make your heart want to positively explode with the goodness and happiness that he brings, and have dashing good looks, a rippled-to-perfection abdomen (Disney never overtly brings this up, but all our resident Princes are suspiciously well-built.) and last but not least, a never-ending devotion to your happiness, (never mind his own) which may or may not demand intense sacrifice on his part.

Now who do I think Mr. Charming is? (Note: Everything stated below is the result of painstaking research on the matter, undertaken by myself, qualified as I am – being a woman and all – over the last 10-15 years [assuming the effects of Disney movies began to take their toll around the time I was 8] and based on interactions with numerous teenage girls [classfellows, friends – giggles] and super-serious coworkers from my adult life. The point of this note is for you to realize that all parts of the following laundry list are very, very accurate and you need to take them seriously.)

  1. Prince Charming respects me & views my mind as equal – that means whenever there’s a major decision to be made, he will involve me, and we will make it together. This does NOT mean that my preference will always be the final decision. It means we will both share our views, debate their virtues and faults (warning: this might get a bit messy) and then decide on a final course of action.
  2. Prince Charming knows there are certain things I hate doing, that I will do if absolutely necessary, but would much rather prefer that I don’t do them, and helps me achieve this. He knows I am willing to compromise, that I am not unreasonable, but Prince Charming does not demand unnecessary compromise from me.
  3. Prince Charming is ambitious – knows what he wants in life and works towards the goal, regardless of if it’s career advancement or to build a lake house.
  4. Prince Charming is kind. Kind when I’ve failed. Kind when I suck. Kind when I’m not. Kind when I’m irrational and stupid and mean. Because I will be. Because I am human.
  5. Prince Charming accepts his mistakes. This does NOT mean he accepts everything I think is his mistake. I can be wrong. He should argue his point. I should be a good enough person and partner to be able to accept that I am not in the right. But when he knows he is wrong, he should apologize, because sometimes I will need to hear that he’s sorry.
  6. Prince Charming knows what’s important to me – whether it’s my career as a fancy-smanshy business exec, or an active involvement in my community, or whether I’m blood-sweat-and-tears-ing my way to launching a successful start-up, or even if I’m at home, pursuing personal projects such as writing a book or painting – and respects those as worthy pursuits, not belittling or chiding me for pursuing them.
  7. Prince Charming doesn’t lord his job over me, if I don’t work. Especially if I stay home and take care of the kids (a choice which is entirely mine).
  8. Prince Charming may not remember a million anniversaries or birthdays or the first time we ate a samosa together, but he is there when I need him. I don’t mean this in the I’m having an emotional breakdown and WHY AREN’T YOU TEXTING ME BACK RIGHT NOW kind of way, but I mean in life. Real life. Not dramatic, immature, the world is a hell-hole and you’re my salvation life. He helps me pick up the dishes after we’ve had guests over, and will run to the market to get milk when we’re out because I am too tired to go. He will voice his opinion when he thinks I am making a mistake, and he will be there to help me through the aftermath of the bad decisions (leather sofas when you have a cat) I am bound to make at some point or the other. He will celebrate my successes (when I manage to exercise for more than 3 days in a row).
  9. Prince Charming tells me the truth. A lot of girls like flowery romance. And there’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of cheesy goodness. But what really takes your Prince to the next level? When he tells it like it is. So that you know you have an honest opinion whenever you need it. So that you know you have a no-judgement helping hand whenever you need it. So you know that this is a partnership.
  10. Prince Charming has a compassionate face – a beautiful for me face. A face that I can grow to appreciate. A face that makes all the girls I don’t like really jealous because he’s gorgeous. (Don’t pretend you’ve never wished that.) A face that makes me think ooh la la, I got lucky. (Yes, I said it. Go ahead and be nasty and judgmental if you want.)

That’s all we really want, Disney, popular media, rishta aunties, and whoever else is out there.

(Disclaimer: This in no way is meant to be an exhaustive list or represent exclusively my views. This also in no way means that there can’t or shouldn’t be a Who is Princess Charming list. Maybe that’ll be my next blog post.)

Feel free to add anything to the list. The best thing about fairy tales is that sometimes, they come true. :)

So When Are You Getting Married?


It’s been a while since I’ve brought the topic of marriage onto this blog. Some of you might remember my post about rishta aunties. I wrote that post three years ago, easily quipping about how twenty-somethings in Pakistan are always fretting about the all-seeing potential mothers-in-law hunting them down. Well, guess who’s a twenty-something know? (I think this is what they call karma.)

So what better way to deal with this than take it head on? Let’s talk marriage, ladies and gentlemen, specifically marriage for young women in the middle to upper middle class in urban Pakistan. First thing’s first – just about everyone has had a boyfriend. Oh, I’m sorry, do you not like to call him that? Even though you text non-stop from your secret phone? Even though you’re “best friends” who make eyes at each other across the quad? Let’s get real. Every girl who has gone to university has bound to have had one or two (mis)adventures of the heart. (And if she hasn’t, she’s a gem, aunties, snap her up for young Javaid now!)


We’re all familiar with the horrors of formalized arranged marriages, where the girl often feels like a show pony, and the boy is presented as an investment portfolio more than a human. We know about the dreaded serving tea on a trolley ritual, and keeping your legs crossed and your eyes down. We know of how the term semi-arranged (we like each other but we got our parents’ approval) has become a thing now, and how parents have become more open to the idea of their children having love marriages. (I wonder how they would react to I’m in love but I don’t want to marry him.)

So what is it like? The actual marriage part? Supposing you find a fellow that puts up with you (bonus points if he actually appreciates you, ladies!) and start looking to shack up (ahem, I mean, begin your lives together) there’s several other obstacles you find yourself facing. These are some stories I’ve heard over the last three years.

Best Behavior – for how long?

Mom and Dad found a nice/decent/friendly/kind guy, I got to know him, and we are married/engaged/baat-pakki’ed now. He’s great, but we’re still learning our way around each other. Do I tell him about my ex-boyfriends? I am committed to him, but they were a central part of shaping my personality, and many of my views about the world. How long do I keep pretending they never existed?

His Parents Don’t Like Me

We’re perfect for each other. We’ve been happy together for such a long time, and have overcome difficulties together. We want to marry each other, but his parents don’t approve of me. Words that felt like praise my entire life are now reasons for my rejection – working woman, strong, capable, ambitious, good grades, career-oriented. I knew I had to marry his family, but what if they don’t want to marry me?

I Know I Have to Stop Working – for my Family

I have a career and I love it. I am from a wealthy family, and have no need to work. I am well educated and I want to use all those hard-earned degrees, but I know that when I get married, I have to balance my personal obligations with my professional ones. And I know I will have to give up my career – it’s the right thing to do.


Women Can’t Have It All – “Having It All” Just Means Being a Bad Mother

Because I don’t cook for my kids, I’m a bad mom. Because I don’t make it to “pot luck luncheons”, I am a bad mother. I’m killing it in the boardroom, and providing for them just as much as my husband is, but because I am not doing my “womanly” duties, I am a bad mother. It doesn’t matter that I pay the cook and that I buy their school supplies. What matters is that I don’t attend the kitty parties the other mothers throw, and I carry a briefcase. My kids and happy, living fulfilled lives, and they know that their mother loves them and is always there for them – but society doesn’t.

I Make More Money Than He Does & This Is A Problem

I don’t care about him enough. I am not attentive enough. I am always busy with my work. That’s what I hear. The clothes aren’t freshly laundered and the tables are dusty – I am a bad wife. The funny thing is, I am also paying the rent.

This post has one simple purpose: to get us to think about the imposed social structure and societal norms we’ve built. Each of these stories has multiple perspectives. I’ve kept them short and simple, because I invite you to explore them in your minds. Think about your experiences, your friends, and your ideas. And if we can all accept one new idea today, I think that’s a smashing success.

Praying for Louboutins, Boyfriends & Inner Peace – A Journey

My life’s been full of awkward moments, and my journey with my faith has been a rollercoaster ride. I grew up a practicing young Muslimah, the apple of my parents’ eye, with all the adults nodding and smiling with approval at my headscarved young head. As I grew older, the restrictions that came with my religion started to feel like a burden, especially as I reached my teenage years. Don’t be friends with boys, and don’t stay out late. Don’t forget to pray five times a day no matter what else you’re doing, and don’t ever be disrespectful to your parents. (On that last bit, c’mon, what teenager isn’t disrespectful to their parents at some point or the other?) It started to just seem stifling, and like many in similar situations, I started to drift from the path of obedience I had followed till that point. Religion became something associated with my parents. They wanted me to follow it, and I didn’t want to follow what they were saying, because when you’re 15, let’s be frank: parents are just uncool. They are annoying and somehow always around when you don’t want them to be, and they think they can just run your life. (Fun fact: a few years later, I realized that they totally just could, and I was actually glad that they had strong-armed their way into everything I ever did – I’m looking at you, Mom.)

So from practicing young Muslimah, I entered Stage 2: ‘Reluctant Muslim’. This was the part where I secretly read Teen Vogue, and pretended not to have any friends that were boys, and constantly whined about how tortured I was because my parents just didn’t understand. At the same time, Mom dragged me to religious lectures, and I would make a big show of every time I prayed, to get them off my back.

Stage 3: ‘Self-Important Sinner’ kicked in towards the end of high school. Reluctant Muslim has a tendency to fade into: “Hi, I am Muslim, and you know it and I know it, but prayer and other things like that are my business and you have no right to judge me.” It became that thing that no one talked about – the elephant that everyone just refused to see. It wasn’t taboo to say you weren’t religious, and it was very easily sidestepped by “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” (I never really knew what people meant by that, to be honest.) It was okay to brazenly eat lunch during Ramadan when everyone else was fasting, and to openly date the love of your life (and subsequent loves of your life). Everyone understood why a girl might have a secret cellphone, and of course friends had to help each other sneak out and meet their boyfriends.

At one point, it even became very cool to declare yourself an atheist. It was just so easy to say that you didn’t believe in the God your entire society so openly recognized, the one your parents and relatives and literally everyone in this 99% Muslim population you were raised in acknowledged. Because if you don’t believe in God, you don’t have to deal with any real questions. Purpose of existence? Bah. Hell if you don’t pray? Bah. You’re a bad person if you treat others like crap? Not even relevant. The world is a scientific explosion thingy away from not existing and all of us are useless flecks of skin and muscle. Go with the flow, bro – and pass the weed, please.

Let me please clarify here that I respect everyone’s religious beliefs – if you identify with being a Muslim, an Athiest, or anything else that you choose to believe, I respect the decision as yours and have no intention of mocking it or implying anything negative towards your life choice. What I am describing is the way I saw things when I was younger, with a group of friends, colleagues, and students who hadn’t done their research, hadn’t deep-dived into their religious fad of choice for more than a few hours and were still in transition – not yet clear on who they were and who they wanted to be.

For those a little more faint of heart, agnosticism served as a popular option as well. This way you could believe in God, or some higher power like him (this proved very convenient), but not any formal structure of worshiping him/it/her.

I didn’t know what either word truly meant; beyond superficial definitions and a chance at relinquishing the bonds that held me back, I wasn’t really interested in what they meant, and years later, when speaking with a group of old friends, I learned that they hadn’t been either.

Then college happened, and like many undergrads, I seemed to have found my calling. I discovered what I felt passionate about, people I felt passionately about, and like every life-enthused young person, went through great emotional ups and downs. College was all about finding out who I was. Mom and dad loosened the reigns just enough to let me breathe, and I was all positivity and potential. So it seemed only natural when I found myself looking around for God when I hit a low point. Hello God, it’s me, Zainab. Remember? And I found him.

And then I lost him.

And then I needed him.

And then I wanted him.

And then I couldn’t find him.

And then I realized he had always been there.

In between all of this, I did my research. I went to classes. I interacted with people who believed and people who didn’t believe. And I learned the most important thing: believing is my choice. I can or I can choose not to, and no one else has anything to do with that. That in itself was incredibly freeing. I can pretend to be a believer so I don’t get judged and persecuted. I can pretend to be “liberal” and not believe, so I don’t get judged and persecuted. But the world will always be around, and some people somewhere will always judge and persecute. And the world will see what you want to show it. What you show and whether or not you truly believe – very separate things. This may seem like common sense, but it took me a fair bit of time to work it out.

And I realized that I do believe. I’m not a great Muslim by many standards. I still break a bunch of rules even when I am trying not to. I am not nearly as educated in religious knowledge as I wish I was and if we started a debate on philosophy and individualism and feminism and equality, chances are I would not be able to defend my religion. I’d probably find myself agreeing with you on some bits and feeling confused. But one thing I’ve never stopped feeling is that God’s around, just chilling while I figure my stuff out, and always ready to pitch in when I need him. My faith is by no means strong – it is a fragile, simple thing. I try to protect it, strengthen it, and let’s be honest  – sometimes I completely ignore it because I am focusing on my career. But it’s there. I am proud of it. I am happy about it. I would like my guardian angels to please stick around.

It gives me strength. It gives me hope. That’s what it is to me, at the end of the day. Because whether you’re praying to Allah, or Jesus, or another deity that you choose to worship, your faith is hope. Your faith is you willing to take a chance on something magical. It’s you willing to see what other people won’t. To work towards a goals other can’t or won’t envision. And all great people have faith in something or the other – themselves, science, the fact that their goals are possible. Nobody can definitively prove without a doubt that God exists. No one can prove that he doesn’t. I choose to believe in him. I choose to see faith. I choose to pray.

Call me brainwashed. Call me delusional. Call me inspired. Whatever. It’s my choice. I will always try to be good and kind to people around me and to never create any negative situations for anyone, or harm anyone. So this is my choice. And maybe this is just a random bout of religiosity and two months or two years or two weeks from now I will be a pretty substandard Muslim or I will have lost all faith or something else of that sort. But that will be part of my journey, part of my life and part of my personal development. I hope in the future I am happy with who I have become, and that I keep growing and seeking to be as awesome a person as I ever can be.

I choose to believe.

In myself.

In God.

In happiness.

In love.

In goodness.

In human potential.