Sully, being trained by me and wearing his new “Rabata purple” saddle pad.
I’ve never been the kind of person who could just take someone else’s word for things. I have to know, for myself, from the source. I have to have deep, internal connection to source. I want to experience everything and do everything for myself.
As a young woman and a young mother, this made me want to take charge of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, homeschooling, homemaking, making my own bread, and perfecting my own recipes for things so I don’t have to eat out.
As the years go by I’ve developed new interests in learning to make and do things. I figured out how to make yogurt quickly and easily. I now make my own pink pickled turnips. Bread eluded me for years, as did gardening. Now I can increasingly make new kinds of bread at home by hand and grow tomatoes quite proficiently. I recently got a small flock of chickens. When Pepperidge Farm stopped making a certain dessert item my family enjoyed for 30 years, I figured out how to make them myself. I also replaced several parts in my washer and dryer myself. My next thing to tackle might be cheese-making. (But probably after I graduate!)
I’m very involved in my horse’s training and development. I’m often called “very knowledgeable” about horses by fellow boarders and horse people. I find it a little strange because I don’t feel like I’m exceptionally knowledgeable, to me it feels like the learning I’ve done about horses in general, my horse in particular, and how to work with and care for him in the best way is just… natural and normal. So far I’ve still been training him on my own (although bringing a professional trainer on board is in my future plans) and it’s so much more interesting and fulfilling than just buying a completely “finished” horse and having him solely as a tool for my own pleasure or competition.
This characteristic also makes me desire deep, authentic, primary-sourced knowledge and scholarship about Islam. I HAD to learn Arabic and I am DRIVEN to study primary source texts. Stop telling me what shaykh so-and-so taught you that Scholar so-and-so said or that there’s a Hadith or a principle or a ruling or a discussion somewhere- I can’t stand it! I want to go study the whole science, in Arabic, and SEE with my own eyes where in the texts it shows me all these things and to KNOW in my bones how they work. I want it to belong to me and become a part of me- all of it.
This is a lonely way to be, as a woman. You regularly question if you’re crazy. You regularly consider giving up because the forces working against you are too great. You regularly wonder if there’s any point to doing this because nobody wants you to do it and nobody understands why you want to do it. There are hardly any women who care about these things. It might be fashionable for a woman to make her own bread or homeschool her kids but it NOT fashionable for a woman to know for herself what Imam an-Nawawi said, how the principles of usul are actually codified and discussed and applied in the texts, what the classical scholars said, what words in Arabic mean, how the 10 Qira`aat work, or anything else.
You start to get lonely because there is no one who can relate or understand. You talk about that bread and tomatoes and maybe your sewing but unless you want to become a social outcast (or worse, accused of being “ostentatious” or “self-righteous”) you keep your fiqh and your aqida and your tafseer and everything else to yourself. (And most of the horse training too!)
We’re so conditioned to take these things from someone else. ESPECIALLY husbands.
We’re so conditioned to be detached from these things. But I can’t be detached.
Still, I get tired and sad being the only woman in (online) rooms full of men. I’m tired and sad because the status quo of women always accepting to take our religion from secondhand or thirdhand or fourthhand sources. I’m tired and sad because wanting otherwise is “strange”.
It’s also strange that we women struggle with having complex, integrated selves with many moving parts. It’s like we don’t know how to integrate seemingly disparate parts of our personalities. I see this online a lot- a “hyperspecialization” (and only in things that are considered “normal” for women). So we become “the cooking lady”, “the hijabi fashionista”, “the homeschooling mom”, “the coffee drinker”, etc. As a convert counselor I meet a lot of convert women who believe they have to stuff away everything that makes up who they are in the quest to become The Very Best Muslim (TM). It is my belief that most convert apostasies are actually due to a failure to integrate one’s personality and life with their deen in a healthy way.
This is why Ribaat is important. At Rabata we are a group of diverse, real, honest, supportive group of women who take ourselves and each other seriously. Rabata is where we support each other in being WHOLE women of Deen, career, passion, scholarship, worship, home, family, community, and everything that makes us who we are. At Ribaat, the educational wing of Rabata, we take college-level world-class quality classes about Islam and related topics in an environment that is for-women, by-women- learning from teachers and with fellow students who are the most diverse collection of serious, curious, honest, reflective life companions one could ask for.
I didn’t start out writing this to sound like an ad, (in fact the first half of this I wrote years ago and I’m just now adding to it) I swear. I have been with Ribaat since its inception, and I want everyone reading this to know that if this resonates with you, if you feel lost and lonely because you want MORE out of your religious life, if you want to take charge and you want to feel like your religious life truly BELONGS to you, and you want to not feel like you have two heads, please consider joining us at Ribaat. Please consider donating to Ribaat for student scholarships. Did you know that the very first graduating class of Islamic Studies Teachers is going to graduate this summer?!
Check us out at http://Rabata.org/Ribaat
So here’s to all of us women who aren’t passive, and who want to OWN our lives and our religion and truly KNOW and DO things from deep within. Keep shining your light. 💜💜💜