Aim to create positive influence for women within the boundaries of Shari’ah: The Muslimah Network

The Muslimah Network is a website dedicated to stories and commentary on Muslim women from an Islamic perspective. Started by the UAE-based writer/graphic designer Aysha Abrar, the site is a one-stop platform for Muslim women to find gender-related resources, counselling, discussion forums and work-from-home jobs.

In this Interview to TCN’S Shaik Zakeer Hussain, Abrar shares her thoughts on the site and their goals for the future

Support TwoCircles

Can you tell us what The Muslimah Network is and how the idea of it came about?

The Muslimah Network is an interactive weblog that provides articles, resources, services and educational campaign by women for women. Our team reaches out to Muslim women, inviting them to open discussion on various issues concerning their self-development, family, education and culture. We encourage them to speak their concerns which are later addressed through our articles or social media campaigns.

While I was born Muslim, I started practising Islam only since the last five years. Experiences in my life motivated me to channelize my thoughts into creating awareness on various issues that Muslim women face in today’s world, and I believe it was possible only by Allah’s mercy and my parents support.

The Muslimah Network

I wanted to do something that can create a positive influence for women, something that is achievable and within the boundaries of Shari’ah. There are clear boundaries like guarding your salah, practising the veil, lowering your gaze etc that are directly mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah and some that are not clear and this is established by the consensus of scholars based on their ijtihad (independent reasoning). When there is no direct evidence from the text (verses or hadith) we look at the opinions of the first generation i.e. the four Khulafa-ar-Rrashideen, the Salaf (companion of the prophet (pbuh)), then the second generation including the four imams, and also the classical and contemporary scholars who state their opinion based on intensive study of the texts of hadith.

In a recent campaign, we have partnered with a counselling initiative by one of my friends and we redirect our readers to them for seeking help in their personal lives. Basically, the goal of the website is to give value to a woman’s life amidst her priorities and responsibilities and help her in being efficient.

What is your target readership for The Muslimah Network and how has the response been so far?

We target mainly women and youth, however, men can read the articles and gain knowledge as well because they are designed to cater the needs of the community as a whole. Some sections are restricted to ‘women only’ views, to maintain the code of hijab online. Since every membership is approved manually, we control who can view the sections. This enhancement in our website will make ways for women to access our business directory and take benefit of its services as well, and this is one of our future plans. We had over 500 registered users in first 3 months of our re-launch this year and we have been getting a lot of encouraging comments from sisters especially from India. Apart from newsletters, we also have WhatsApp groups through which we keep them updated about our activities.

Tell us about The Muslimah Network’s approach to its portrayal of Muslim women. Do you have a set policy you follow?

The Muslimah Network strives to present a balanced approach with respect to a woman’s stand within herself, her family and the community. By a balanced approach, we mean maintaining correct Aqeedah and foundational principles of Islam in daily life whereas in matters of Fiqh there is some flexibility. Our goal is to provide a right direction and motivate them in practising Islam.

Our articles also address the taboos and stigmas related to women predominantly in Asian culture, and our monthly editions are specifically designed according to a theme.

One of our policies is to have a strict hijab code even online. This is done by having restricted login pages for some sections like Fiqh unravelled, business directory. Since most of the registrations are approved manually, we are in control of who is signing up for the website and change their subscription status accordingly. By Hijab I mean, protecting the viewership from male viewers. Keeping a login page restricts it to registered members because there are women who sell modest clothing and put up photos on their web pages. This provides a safe and private space for those willing to sell general clothing as well.

There is a perception among non-Muslims which views Muslim women as this mysterious, veiled victim of male oppression. How is The Muslimah Network, and initiatives like yours, changing these negative stereotypes?

I and my team manage the website from home and I don’t think there is a bigger example to clarify our stand against the factor of being called oppressed. The Muslimah Network has touched many hearts and this is a proof that women can make a difference in her community from within the four corners of her home. Moreover, a woman’s veil is the command of Allah and that itself establishes her position with her creator and the society. Being called oppressed is actually a misconception of many because they are not aware of its revelation as a command in the Qur’an.

As a side point, the wisdom behind the verses and hadith that tell a woman to veil herself is for concealment of her beauty. In fact, men too have a dress code and the command for lowering the gaze is for both genders. Allah has made men, “The Qawwam” and leaders in responsibility over women. This wisdom enables us to understand the degree of responsibility Allah has placed on each one of us. All misconceptions will be removed if we just take the Qur’an and read it with the intention of acting upon it. When a believer practises something by submitting his will to Allah, it is rather easy than difficult because the laws of society are ever changing and don’t guarantee a place in this world or the hereafter. So it is wise to practise something that is certain.

On the other hand, the features of the website are designed to empower the code of veil. We highlight knowledge in social and spiritual aspects as long as it does not contradict the Quran’ and authentic Sunnah. Secondly, our social media campaigns are mainly directed towards creating awareness about myths, misconceptions and daily lifestyle of a Muslim. Our articles are designed to address issues like self-doubts, confidence, relationships and establishing a strong relationship with Allah and following the Sunnah of His messenger (pbuh).

There is a strong focus on the website to help Muslim women find job opportunities and network with each other to grow in their respective careers. How should Muslim women strike a work-life balance and also how should they respond to the resistance they sometimes experience from the community and families when trying to accomplish their goals?

We have a network of sisters from UAE and India. I often receive messages from sisters looking for online jobs and many of them are facing financial difficulties. Sahlah Nayyar, who is also a part of The Muslimah Network team suggested we come up with a Job portal just for women. Initially, I had no idea how to go about it. But as I thought over it, we discussed some additional concepts. We decided to take a survey of sisters looking for online freelancing or part-time jobs and organizations that are looking to hire online. First, we planned to start as a dedicated web-portal, but due to overwhelming responses from sisters and encouragement from the companies we thought of starting as a separate section of The Muslimah Network website. It is a simple job board with limited features, but the workflow is designed to run smoothly. We hope to start getting in jobs from organisations looking to hire women from home and connect them to qualified candidates suited for their jobs.

We have made a Facebook group for the job seekers and started to share important information regarding work at home jobs, its benefit and safety. As Muslim women, our first priority is our family and without their support it is difficult to achieve our goals. Since the work is from home, it is comparatively easier to manage both aspects of life. Work-at-home jobs are more flexible than a 9-5 that takes up time because of commuting physically. It does carry challenges as it involves being more disciplined in time management and making schedules according to requirements of the task. As far as I know, women don’t face much resistance for working from home but when it comes to maintaining a work-life balance it depends on the couple’s understanding and level of adjustment. Khadija (RA) worked from home where she assigned Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) for her business. Unlike in today’s times, she was respected for her strong business ethics and her talents. Although being a divorcee, she received many marriage proposals, which is unlikely today.

The idea is basically to connect sisters looking for online jobs to halal/Muslim organizations. In one way it will cater to the halal economy by increasing online work at home opportunities and aid in saving cost for start-ups looking to hire fresh talent. Sisters also can get experience and will be able to earn extra income. It will also ease the situation of those in financial difficulty. We want to encourage both ends in taking up this opportunity.

The job portal will offer vacancies for freelancers, part-time and even internships online. We currently have started a simple version via The Muslimah Network website and depending on the response we will shift to a dedicated domain. Companies can post their job vacancies by signing-up at the page and once it is manually reviewed viewers can also sign up to apply for jobs.