x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Raising a girl in an irreligious world

As my daughter grows up, she will need a range of role models who will spark her personality in many different directions, and who will root her belief in herself, her womanhood and her faith

I worry about the kind of world my daughter will grow up in.

Like all parents, I think about what education my child needs so that she has the skills to equip her for a time I know nothing about and which I can't predict.

I think about the love I need to invest in her so she feels secure in herself, and has strong self-esteem, rather than looking for others to validate her, or worse still, allowing others to take advantage of her.

I am already planning her financial future so that she has the resources for her education and first adult steps in the world.

But there are two additional things that make me worry: what difficulties will my child face because she is female? And how do I safeguard her spiritual and religious core in the face of an increasingly irreligious and antireligious world?

Without knowing she believes explicitly that as a woman she is a blessed creation, and a human being to be treated with respect and dignity, then I will have failed. It's not my own failure I care about - it is that she will be selling herself short.

And more than that, she will be selling short other women and society as a whole.

For me this concern translates into a responsibility to change the here and now to make the status of women more equal, and for our laws and social structures to enshrine this.

And while we must remain optimistic that the upwards trajectory of improving women's lives will continue, as a mother I must prepare my daughter with a pessimistic view of the future of women.

After all, even after nearly four centuries of western work on feminism, and even as far back as Prophet Mohammad and his work on improving women's rights, we still have a long way to go.

She will need female role models to guide her. I hope I will be one of them. But a daughter needs more than just a mother to look up to. I'm aware of the risk that I will be implicitly suggesting she grows up to be like me.

And I'm also aware that I don't always get it right. She needs a range of role models who will spark her personality in many different directions, and who will root her belief in herself, her womanhood and her faith.

Just as there are those who will seek to suppress her for being a woman, there will be those who belittle her faith as a Muslim.

While she must never impose her views on others, she will need the steel and the backbone to fight the antagonistic areligious as well as the irreligious in a way that is respectful of all. What makes me despondent is that there will be women, who claim to support other women, who will be part of this attack group.

At the confluence of these are those who claim to be religious but who are opposed to women's rights. This in my view is the hardest fight of all.

Those who are closest to her on the journey towards religious fulfilment, who claim to have her physical, moral and spiritual welfare at heart will be those who will be most damaging of all.

The efforts required to change the world to diminish these risks for her while at the same time as investing her with the ability to be her own woman are enormous.

But the only option is to win. Otherwise my daughter is the price I will pay.

 

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk