Monday, 18 May 2009

Selfish But Happy?

One of the things me and my best friend have been talking a lot about recently has been our attempts to please others and the disabling effect this can have on us.

I realised when I was in my late teens, that getting over that desperate childhood craving for the approval of my parents in everything I did was actually every liberating. I am convinced that this craving is ingrained extra strongly in Asians/Desi’s so that you might know what you want, you might be good at what you do and you might be old enough to know better, but unless you are the doctor or lawyer your parents wanted you to be , you have failed in life. Getting beyond this thinking got me onto the path of thinking about what I want to do with my life, what would fulfil me and thinking about what my purpose here is.

A little further down that road, I became more conscious of the role of faith in my life. I was wearing hijab and praying at this time, but began to feel that this alone was not enough. I was lucky I had some good people around me at this time and that my husband was looking deeper into gaining knowledge and making dawah at this point alhamdulillah. One step I took was starting to wear the abaya. For this I really had to come to the point that I did not care what anyone would think about the way I look and that my only consideration was that Allah (SWT) should be pleased with me. Again this was a big liberating experience for me. I didn’t care what I weighed anymore, if it made me look fat, if it was trendy or not, if others were better-dressed and better looking than me or not. This attitude has stayed with me and meant that I have a very positive body-image and better confidence than I did when I was worrying about matching my hipster trousers to the right skinny-fit top.

At the same time I took muhkraj classes to correct my pronunciation of Quranic Arabic. As with the abaya there was some objection, mainly from my parents this time who were worried that I was being secretly brainwashed by Wahabbi’s. I had to tell myself that pleasing Allah and reading his Book correctly mattered and that my parents would have to get over it (of course, they did).

Now I am at that crossroads again. I have always basked in the approval of my in-laws who treat me as the favoured daughter of the house. My opinion is respected and sought and my choices praised. But my in-laws are a very black-and-white kind of family. It’s perfect or it’s no good. So recently when I annoyed the group that are currently staying with me (don’t ask me how, I manage this about once every two or three months) I felt the withdrawal of approval and a subtle collective cold-shouldering (don’t you wish you had a desi extended family too?). My first reaction was to be upset and indignant. My second was to think – I can change my behaviour and attitudes, but I cannot force change in others. My third was to think, I don’t have to care about this. So I carried on as normal, with the additional factor of keeping very busy so as not to look like I am ignoring people and sure enough, the cold-shoulder melted away very quickly and everyone was sheepishly talking to each other again (I think the chocolate cupcakes helped too).

Trying not to care what others think too much has been a battle for me since childhood and I think I am finally starting to master it - it's put me in a strange place because I don't care what my parents or in-laws or "people" think (although what my husband thinks means the world to me - but that's my choice) and that means I don't care about power, ambition or prestige anymore only about doing what feels right, what I enjoy and what I want. It's left me re-evaluating what I want in life because promotions and position don't matter anymore but enjoyment and satisfaction do. It definitely means that I have had to re-think what I want from my life career-wise, or even if I want a career at all – which is a thought that I have been resisting up until now (my generation of girls were schooled with the assumption that we will work and that our value lies in our career success, motherhood or doing nothing never figured in this dialogue).

Of course, not caring what others think of you is not the same as not caring about or ignoring people and their needs, but more about setting your own agenda and taking your cues for approval or satisfaction internally from your own standards and feelings and not from other people's judgements and opinions.

My husband once told me that a sign of iman (faith) is to care only about what Allah (SWT) wants. If we are fearful of the world everything in it will intimidate us, if we are in awe only of Allah, then the whole world will stand in awe of us. An amazing and thoroughly liberating thought.


  1. I am still at a point where I worry myself to death wondering whether I pleased my parents, this applies to almost everything I do. It does my head in sometimes...especially with me about to begin my married life, I am sure I will be judged for every little thing I do. *long big sigh*

  2. Salaams.

    Ok. I am thoroughly convinced you are the most awesome muslimah I know! How honest and forthright your thoughts are, just show me that you are true to yourself. That is something I struggle with sometimes.

    I will have to read this again tmorrow morning when I am less affected by "baby brain".

    Thank you so much,


  3. Anonymous19 May, 2009

    salaams sister,
    mashaAllah i loved this post honest about how you feel and showing the balance of not caring what others think does not mean not to care for people and thier needs,
    i too cant help wondering what people think of me,want to be liked and you've said it clearly we should set our agenda or i like to call it 'standards' soemtimes i feel like i'm conforming to other peoples agendas though. at the moment its the free mixing thing and thinking where i should draw the line as soemtimes exchanges between males and females at uni or work changes to joking!
    i'm thinking of marriage right now and i'm learning so much about myself because while getting to know prosepctive husband i need to know what i want and clearly convey it.
    jazakAllah khayr for this post it was almost like a big sister advising me lol
    take care

  4. Fantastic blog - can relate to it in so many ways!!

  5. Anonymous20 May, 2009


    Try the following site for learning Quranic Arabic

  6. Assalam-alaikam,

    Sis iMuslimah,
    ha baby-brain, do you reckon that should be recosgnised as a n official condition.
    I'm so not awesome, I just spent the last 11 or 12 years coming to the realisation that worrying all the time about what others think makes you miserable and they probably don't even know it (I'd be mortified if it was the other way round).

    Sis Alisha,

    I think it's your age and stage of life - women always say they are happier in their 30's than in their 20's because they get over worrying so much what people think.

    I'm sure your in-laws will adore you when they realise what you are like ans that your intentions are good insh'Allah. The only advise I can give is what helped me. Every time my mother-in-law said something I didn't agree with, I'd ask myself, would it offend me if my mum said it? Probably not. Is her intention malicious and does she know how this is making me feel? Very likely not. Islam says to give people the benefit of the doubt right? Insh'Allah just be yourself and do the best that you can, that's enough I think.

    Sister Anony,
    Oh that's a long-term project. If you are naturally chatty and open like me, it's hard to be in an environment where there are men also and compartmentalise your personality so that you speak to them differently.
    I have found that hijab helps, as does prayer, because you go back to work with your head in the right place.

    Big Sis,
    you always inspire me hon.

    Anony 2,
    jazakh'Allah-khairun for the link, I was actually looking for Quranic and Arabic resources.

  7. desertmom28 May, 2009

    Was going through your blog. Nice posts. Especially this one resonated with me. I think all desis are at uptill a point afflicted with trying to appease parents,in-laws, family etc.
    :) It took me also a long time to learn to say no, for things which were really affecting me negatively.
    Again nice blog :-)