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I have to admit, my opinion of arranged marriages…or rather, arranged courting or matchmaking…has always been pretty negative. To me, it was a transaction that could only be compared to something like buying a car. Mr. Eligible Bachelor asks people he knows if they have a car for sale or know where he could possibly find one. Someone says, “Oh yes! I have a fantastic car for sale!” Mr. E Bachelor comes over and checks out the car. If he likes it, he takes it. If he doesn’t, he tells the owner he is terribly sorry, but he doesn’t like it. Wasn’t good enough. Of course, the car should just be thankful that a buyer even came along – too many cars for sale, not enough buyers. The car goes along, willingly.

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When the violence began in Gaza this past Ramadan, I immediately began donning the keffiyeh again. I’m standing up to what I believe is an injustice, and I will not censor myself despite the criticism Palestinian supporters receive, the suggestive questions about opinions on Hamas, or the accusations people make about supporters being anti-Semitic.

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There are women and men in our communities who do not entirely know what sex entails and this proves to be dangerous. Many women on their wedding night are left hurt, assaulted, and confused because of a popular cultural expectation of women being obliged to please men. Women who are broken after their wedding night, forced to smile the next day for celebratory walimas and parties. In the hope of chastity, honor, and purity, we have dodged the necessary lessons that would keep our girls safe and educate our boys and girls on what healthy sexual relationships in Islam entail.

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I remember reading something about the seventeenth-century French philosopher, Rene Descartes, who was famous for questioning everything. He even questioned his existence. He first tried to imagine that he had no body. This was fairly easy – all he had to do was pretend to be a ghost; invisible and untouchable. Then he tried to imagine that he had no mind – but that was impossible. To imagine that there was no such thing as a mind was to use that said instrument in the process. In the end, he decided that there was no doubt that he was real because he had the ability to think. He is now known for his statement, “Cogito, Ergo, Sum” which means “I think, therefore, I am.”

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Yet, through this, I came to a realization: Like many women, I struggled with my weight and the built of my body. I’ve always yearned for a ‘perfect’ slim silhouette, a dream that has always escaped me.

For all my complaining and whining about my body, I have never let my weight stop me from wearing clothes that I liked and felt confident in.

Wearing something that makes me feel good has always been important in building my own confidence and self-esteem.

Standing on the scale, eyes scrunched from confusion, the number glaring up at me, I felt pounds lighter.

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They listen closely to the boy’s recitation. Over-exaggerated gutturals. Eye contact.

The pink-wrinkled lady looks proudly at the children. Hands clasped. Scalps covered,
lopsided caps and slippery scarves.

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So, I ask one question- why do so many young Desi women accept this objectification? It is up to each of us to say no. Say no to the performance. Say no to figuratively prostituting the bodies God gave us. Say no to the incessant criticism, the pleas to be different, to be anyone but ourselves. Women often complain about the “male gaze”, the gaze that we receive from men who also have no right to appraise our bodies. But an equally poisonous culture pervades South Asian America today and that is the “female gaze.” Not only is it subjugating, demeaning, and oppressing, but it is intrinsically un-Islamic. The entire point of haya (modesty) is to lower our lustful or judgmental gazes, to view Muslims as people with intrinsically valuable minds, hearts, and souls, not as potential Mrs. Joneses or pieces of (flawed) meat. It doesn’t matter whether a woman turns her gaze on another woman, or if a man turns his gaze on a woman. The end result is the same: an Islamically unlawful invasion to that woman’s right to own her own body and personality.

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Pretty much all I’ve been hearing for the last year, maybe even the last four years, is how much your college major “doesn’t matter.” Okay, well then riddle me this. Why is it that when I tell people I am a political science major that they always want to talk about Middle Eastern politics with me? It doesn’t matter that much of the politics that I studied ranged from classes on the politics of migration to political science statistics to race and political theory. Everyone just wants to know what I think about “the latest conflict in [insert Middle Eastern country].” I just had a job interview–for a job entirely focused on local politics, by the way–and when the interviewer read my resume, he wanted to know what I thought about ISIS, “because I seem to have studied comparative politics and have an interest in global affairs.”

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When I look back at this process of trying to get into medical school , and all of the times I felt stressed and anxious about things working out, I just think subhanAllah. Even just a couple days before I found out, I felt a sense of despair, that things would never work out. It just goes to show the power of Allah (SWT), and how easily He can open doors for you. I think my experience has strengthened my faith in Allah (SWT) and that things worked out because of my persistence and my du’a. Looking forward, when I face obstacles in the future, as I am sure I will, I feel equipped to face these challenges with these tools, persistence and du’a.

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But underneath it all, I’ve been feeling like there was something missing. I feel like I am waiting for something, no – someone, to begin the rest of my life with, and until he shows up, I am stuck in limbo. Although I am young by American standards, I have reached an age where I am considered old in the traditional, Desi culture. While I feel immense pressure from my community, I also feel it from myself because I want certain things. I want a husband, I want a family, and I want someone to do things with, someone to come home to, and someone to build a home with. I do not want just a fairy-tale-like partner; yes, I want someone to have lazy Sundays with, but I also want someone to challenge me, to debate with me, to make decisions with, to squabble over finances with, to be there for me when all I need is a hug, because I want to be there for someone when they need help picking up the pieces. I want a husband, not because society tells me to, but because as a twenty-something, successful, career-minded woman, I want a partner to face the world with.

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