Thursday 27 September 2007

Beware! Muslimah at Work

Having fun with the air con at work, it has been blasting out freezing cold air the last few weeks so everyone is coughing and sneezing and this afternoon its suddenly turned tropical; good to sweat out the cold symptoms everyone is getting I guess.

Aside from this little hitch, the last few years of work have presented their own challenges for me as a Muslim woman. I have worn hijaab since half way through university so this was something that was there right from when I started working. I find that whenever I start in a new place everyone assumes that I must be very reserved and quiet and far too serious to joke with (I wish!). Some people presume I must be the new temp rather than their new manager and some even seem to be wondering if I can speak English. I have learnt that it is my job to manage perceptions about myself. One of the biggest issues I have had is shaking hands. A great way to make a strong first impression; with a firm handshake, only I don’t want to shake hands with a man. Usually I try to avoid this by having my hands full of files or saying hello very quickly and rushing into whatever we are supposed to be doing so that handshakes are forgotten. However occasionally I have to explain to people that I don’t shake hands and their responses vary - embarrassed, understanding, respectful or occasionally a little insulted. (When my husband worked for a wholesaler, he often met with female company reps and would just say to them the only woman whose hand he could touch was his wife - which would just make them go aaaahh!).

Another thing I do to affect the way people see me is dress as professionally as possible. Although I have worn abaya since the last two years, I co-ordinate these with a smart jacket, matching khimar and smart pumps (I know I shouldn’t wear them but I love my heels – you can tower over all your staff). Aside from that the hijab forces people to look at you as a person to be respected rather than another bird at the office with nice legs or big breasts. Plus if you see my beloved giant mock-croc bag you know I mean business.

When I first started praying five times a day, I’d miss any prayers that fell during work hours and make them up at home. However one of the benefits of working for the government is that in the last few years most government offices have put aside place for prayer/meditation rooms, so there is no excuse to miss prayers. The real issue though is making wudu. This is usually in the disabled loos (for privacy) and can be a mission at times. At my current office, the sink is high up and almost too small to fit your foot in. When I was heavily pregnant my main concern was not what if I should fall over but what if I put my fat swollen foot in the sink and the sink came off the wall (I’m serious, this has been a major fear through all three of my pregnancies). The upside though is that your prayer becomes an oasis of peace in the middle of the day. A dawah too as often people walk in and see you and are awed by the beauty of the Muslim prayer. Maybe will put up a post with my thoughts about dawah and work some time soon.

Anyway, almost time for me to escape from this sweltering human jungle.


  1. assalamoalaikum

    nice to hear all that
    do keep on posting ur dawah activities at work

  2. AoA,

    MashAllah I really admire your muslim work ethics. When I did work I found it very difficult to get round the handshakes. The worst of it was during Ramadan explaining why I had my foot in the sink to shocked female workers coming into the ladies loo's :|

    Loving your Mummy Blog hope your family is well InshAllah....

    Jazak Allahu Khairun for having this space but erm where do you find the time?!?!?!

  3. Why not have a small shallow plastic tub at work for your foot washing? More convenient, safe and hygienic...

    1. I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea of taking a tub into the ladies bathroom, which is always very busy, but see the merit of hiding it in the disabled loo for when I am too pregnant to use the sink...

  4. Im working at gov office too and, as you said, I was given a right to make my prayers at the times which they require. The office is not very big and there is no meditation room but I found little place where I can pray in calm. Regarding making ablution: if you cannot make a wudu for some reason, you can still pray and make 'dry' ablution (which is prescribed in the situation when no water).
    I wish all Muslim sister and brothers would never miss their prayers while they perform their work, no matter what kind and which country! Ameen!