Being the Muslim woman
Barbados TODAY’S Muslim series comes to an end today with 30-year-old Heather Rahman, who converted to the faith 12 years ago, speaking about her beliefs and experiences.
Her name is Heather Rahman, and she chooses to be nothing else in life but a proud Muslim woman.
“I love Islam, and I love being a strong Muslim woman,” the 30-year-old declared to Barbados TODAY as she opened the doors to her life as a Muslim, speaking about her strong belief in the faith and how she has accepted and copes with being her husband’s second wife.
However, Rahman was not born into Islam.
She joined the religion at 18 after meeting a young male Muslim, her first love, who nurtured her appreciation for and devotion to the faith.
“My dad was peeved. He kicked me out. A Muslim sister let me live with her, but I needed to work to support myself. Then his [the young male’s] parents decided they didn’t want him marrying me, and they took him up the States.
“When he left, I removed my head cover, because I said, ‘I am going to interviews and I am not getting through. It has to be my head cover’. My first interview without my hijab, I got the job. I borrowed my friend’s little skirt and jacket and did my hair and make-up, and the interview was less than five minutes; and I got it,” she recalled.
After her first love left, Rahman started dating an older British Pakistani whom she married and moved to England with. She described that first marriage as a major mistake –– in which she not only suffered abuse, but attempts at diversions from her Islamic teachings and the sacred word of The Koran.
“I was 21, and he wanted the Heather that he had met –– in skinny jeans and make-up and heels –– to parade for his family, so that they could say he was married to a pretty black girl. I didn’t want to be that; I wanted to be the practising Muslim. So that marriage lasted like nine months. He went to breakfast, and I went to the airport and I came back home.”
Rahman said what bothered her most about that failed marriage was the fact the dress code of her religion was clashing with the wants of her husband. In her eyes, any woman who professed to be “a true Muslim would not sacrifice her modest way of dressing for anybody”.
“I love my wear and how I am supposed to dress as a Muslim woman. When I joined, I felt free that I did not have to be sexy all the time. I dress pretty nicely in my house, and when my husband comes by me, I’ve got on pumpum shorts.
“I don’t have to dress up for the rest of the world. Sometimes I do dress up. If you go inside and look on my dressing table, you would see I have lots of make-up because I love make-up.
“I love my hair which is red, and now I think I am looking to change it to blonde. I love dressing up but I don’t have to do it for everybody to see, which to me is a vanity. Something is wrong with that mentality,” she said.
Pointing to the beauty of her black flowing hijab (a veil worn particularly by a Muslim woman beyond the age of puberty in the presence of adult males outside of the immediate family, and which symbolizes modesty, privacy and morality), Rahman continued: “I use to model, and I use to do commercials and stuff; and I didn’t like the way I saw society. I used to always go out with men with influence and who have money because I don’t see what is the point with your going and sleeping with a man and it is pointless.
“I didn’t like that I could go out for him, have children for him, and five years still be unmarried. He could leave me. There is nothing that says he has to look after me.
“But in Islam, if you want to see my beauty, which would be my hair or the shape of my body, you have to marry me, or you have to be a part of my immediate family; and I love that. In order for you to see me –– all of me –– you got to pay a price.”
The twin says she is now happily remarried to a man of her own faith, though she and the four children she has got with him share his love with another woman and another child.
Eight years ago, Rahman met her present husband through the Internet, where most of their dating also took place. Three months later they had an Islamic marriage on the phone.
In September of that same year she moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to begin her life with her husband who is involved in the banking industry.
“I loved my husband from the first moment I saw him. Of course, over eight years we have had our highs and lows; but we trotted through it, and we are still together.
Another thing an outspoken Rahman loves about Islam is that it practises polygamy, which is not such a popular thing among those of the faith here in Barbados.
“A lot of women don’t like it. Most men can handle more than one wife and they do it whether we like to accept it or not. I am my husband’s second wife; we have been married for eight years and it has worked out very fine. When I wasn’t Muslim, quite a few times I was the outside woman, and that was nice because I didn’t have to deal with him 24/7 and I still got the money.
“But again, I didn’t like the fact that he didn’t have to look after me. Polygamy speaks to the nature of human beings. Most men can love and do want more than one woman; they can handle it easily, that’s their nature. Some woman may marry to her husband and he would have an outside woman for 20 years and she is living happily in ignorance; and he is happy and everybody is happy. But if you want to admit it or not, you are still in a polygamous situation; you are sharing your husband,” she stated frankly.
How exactly does a woman live a polygamous life? What does the process entail?
The wife’s first response was that there were Islamic rules which must be followed in order to carry out a polygamous relationship.
The first, was that for a man to go into polygamy he must to be able to afford it.
“If he is dead broke and could barely put clothes on the children’s backs he has with one wife, he should not get another one. In Islam he would be questioned on the Day of Judgment for that choice,” she said.
“When I married him as his second wife, I spoke to his first wife. We got to know each other, and we used to go on the same vacations together. But if he wanted to put me in the same house with her, it ain’t going happen because I ain’t living in the same house with no woman.
“I was in one house and she was in one house. He would be the wanderer between the two houses. And even if he wanted to to live there, he would have to ask her permission because the house is hers. You pay the bills, but the house is hers.
“When I was there, what happened was he would do every two nights with us. Some men do every other night. He has to give us equal time. If he goes on vacation to America with her for a week he has to give me back a week, because he took time from me.
“In money, he has to give us fairly; and it doesn’t have to be down the middle, because I have four kids and she has one. Of course, he can’t divide his heart equally. But I really don’t care which one of us he likes more. He pays my bills, I love him, he takes care of the children. What more can I ask for?” she added.
While living in Riyadh and meeting her husband and children needs, Rahman also taught English through which she learned more about the people and culture of the country. She came to know, for example and to her disappointment, that she could not drive as a woman. And she came to the the enlightening reality that weddings were most extravagant and elaborate.
She also operated a kindergarden at her villa after closing her recruitment company. But after living there illegally for sometime and “working too hard”, leaving nannies to raise her children –– ranging in ages from seven to one –– who could not attend school because they were not Saudi Arabians though they were born there, Rahman decided to return home early this year after taking advantage of an amnesty period in Riyadh last year.
“I missed home and I wanted my children to go to school and live a normal life. I may go back; but for now I am enjoying it here. The children are at an Islamic school and I enjoy taking care of them.
“My husband is supposed to be coming to see us soon; but we talk to him on Skype every day,” said the mother who explained her children were American nationals.
Islam has done so much to contribute to her development as a woman, she would admit to you. And while some may question her way of life, Rahman says “sincerely, because of my Islamic beliefs I cannot complain”.
“And I have great friends from Islam, and they are like that because of our teaching in Islam. There are five pillars of Islam, and to be a Muslim you have to practise these things. One of them is giving to charity; and the smallest is smiling, which is what I try to do.
“If you are having a bad day and you see me, and I smile and I give you a joke or something, your whole day is uplifted,” she explained.
If you see her at the mall or the beach, you need not be hesitant in asking her any questions on being a Muslim woman.
“When I go out, I smile and I interact with people, because I want them to know if you have something to ask, ask me. Most of the time I get asked, ‘Are you a part of ISIS?’.
“I engage them because I want them to know that they can speak to me. I will always be Muslim because everything else just does not make sense to me from the standpoint of knowing what Islam is. I can’t be anything else besides Muslim . . . ,” the woman who prays to Allah [God] five times a day reemphasized.