An open letter to Muslim girls about why mothers make the best of friends.
You may have rolled your eyes a little at the title. I know, beta. Mom doesn’t understand what it’s like being a Muslim-American in a world where we’re constantly having to choose between two entirely different cultures. Where the simple act of walking down the street gives us hot flashes because somewhere, some Aunty is waiting for us to slip up and snitch to our mothers that we were shamelessly wandering around in our pajamas, when, really, we were just trying to make it to Chick-fil-A before breakfast ended. Where we weren’t allowed to go to homecoming because of the dancing and boys but are coerced into flailing our arms wildly on the dance floor at our extremely distant relative’s wedding. I mean, whose side were we even on at that wedding? It’s okay, the food was the only thing that mattered, anyway.
I was born into a practicing Muslim household, told at an early age that there is right and wrong and it’s going to be easier to do the wrong. I was raised in a town where I was one of two Pakistani girls in my graduating class. Where my friends “didn’t get” why my mom was so strict. Where the line between right and wrong was blurred because of the people I chose to surround myself with.
My mom and I are different in a number of ways. She came to this country from Pakistan in 1988 and began her life in a world completely unlike her own. A world where not all McDonald’s restaurants are zabiha and the lack of Pakistani dramas airing on American television was appalling. Soon enough, she married, started her family, and settled down in the place I’ve called home for the past 21 years. But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. My mom suffered the loss of her mother just years before she arrived, spent the first few years of her marriage supporting my dad, and developed a health condition in which her body became unbearably weak—but that didn’t stop her. She started to fight back, got her first ever job well into her 30s, and continued to raise my older sister and I. She became my role model.
I, however, haven’t been through much hardship in my life. I live in Northern Virginia, where the notion of privilege is alive and well. I have never been thrown into a different world and had to adapt with an admirable level of confidence. Goodness, I never even had to grow up without a cell phone. Mom, how in the world did you do it?
As many times as I slipped up, went the easier way, did the wrong thing, my mom was there to pick up the pieces. Not in a pat-on-the-back, don’t-do-it-again-beti type of way. No, no, no. That’s not how Mama Faheem rolls. At first, I’d be on probation. Then, I’d lose phone privileges. After that, Internet privileges. So much taken away to the point where I had become an expert at evading my mother’s radar.
But in the end, what happened?
The social life I had fought so hard for had crumbled when I lost the friends my mom had warned me about from the start. The saying “mother knows best” rang in my ears, echoing its truthfulness so loudly that I had no choice but to run to her, like I had many times before that, into her open (and often, waiting) arms. At times, she was the only friend I needed.
And, to put it simply, that’s how mothers are. Calming, unpredictable, all-knowing. I mean, it’s called Mother Nature for a reason, isn’t it?
But Muslim mothers are a category unlike any other. They often straddle the line between wanting to be an Islamic guide, confronting our curiosities and steering us in the right direction, or being a confidant, when you have your first crush and need someone to effectively tell you to “stay away from boys until you are married,”—which, to this day, still does not make any sense to me. Muslim mothers try their best to make sure we have a good head on our shoulders. That, in time, we learn from our inevitable mistakes and then, make even more mistakes because we’re young and we’re human and they will always, without fail, be there to pick up the pieces when we fall apart. And they hope that we will never, in a million years, vote for Trump.
Apart from my inability to speak a full, coherent sentence in Urdu and her disinterest in “Grey’s Anatomy” and McDreamy, we both have our similarities as well. I’d like to credit much of my personality to my mother. I know without her, I wouldn’t be an empathetic, caring, sometimes stubborn and overall honest person. Oh, and a freakishly good player at Ludo.
My mom is my best friend. There is no uncertainty, exaggeration or over sentiment in this statement. She is a Muslim mother to a T. She laughs at my inappropriate jokes, then scolds me for making them. She winces at my (what she thinks is) poor fashion sense, but admires my scarf collection and undoubtedly steals a bunch for her own hijab collection. When I talk to her about boys, she warns me about them, then tells me she should just pick someone out for me. But she is my best friend because she is the one person who remains, when many others have left. Because mothers are the only ones who, through years of evasion, near isolation and perspiration (seriously, I’d get a case of the sweats any time I’d get into trouble with my mom), love and care for us regardless. Which one of your best friends would put up with all of that?