Thursday 24 November 2016

Lacking Confidence as a Muslimah at Work

I recently asked colleagues for some 360 degree feedback. This involves my work peers rating me on a number of competencies such as leadership, team working and effective communication, alongside some feedback on what they think I do well and what I could do better. I got some really useful feedback from colleagues, but one person’s assessment really stood out. She mentioned lots of good qualities but suggested they were hidden because I came across as lacking in confidence and holding back in meetings and in front of managers. Her words rang true and it was painful to have a light held up to the flaws that have been plaguing me.

Over the last year I have been thinking a lot about what I want my next step to be at work. But whatever career path I think about, the same issues come up. I have guilt about leaving home to work in an environment with mixed genders. I have a number of friends that wear niqab and stay at home and disapprove of Muslim women working, I think over time, their stance and the things they say has affected me more deeply than I care to admit, with a lot of guilt and anxiety resulting from this. 

I hate expending the energy that goes into trying to avoid shaking hands with men, trying to sit away from men, trying to go to a different site and decline a lift with a male manager or colleague (I always insist I will meet them there and take the train). I struggle with the effort of making wudhu at work and the worry when I have meetings through prayer time and I have to try and find time to get away and pray. 

These things have made me think long and hard about work. How can you strive to do well, when deep down you have doubts about whether you should even be there or whether you should be wearing niqab to be there? How can you network and speak up in meetings confidently when you spend time avoiding handshakes and physical contact and even end up hiding behind your monitor every time a manager comes by?

I decided a long time ago I would not chase money and make do with what I earn. I would try to do work that adds value in some way rather than chase promotions for financial gain. But I found over time, that the sense of ambition never went away. If I want to do something, I want to do it as well as I can. 

After months off anxiety and guilt building up, the feedback from my colleague, really brought all of these things to the fore for me and sent me into a tailspin all day. As always, writing has been the best way to deal with the anxiety and I have been emptying my mind of all of my thoughts into my journal to review. Some truths have been inescapable:

Staying at home would mean more time and concentration for ibadah (worship) – and isn’t that our purpose in this life?

Staying at home would mean a more measured and slower day and less exhaustion.

Staying at home would mean more time for myself and to do things I enjoy.

Not working would mean a massive struggle for us financially in the short term. I believe that many of the sisters who stay at home manage to get by because they claim benefits from the government or are provided with housing or housing benefits. I don’t think many of them are eligible, either because they are able to work or their husbands are working but not declaring it. Which is the bigger sin – benefit fraud or going to work and not wearing niqab?

Working means I have money to contribute towards the household bills and my daughter’s Islamic education. I have money to help others and my parents if the need arises.

I am fully aware that money is not the whole story. When I reduced my hours from five days to four days, it was still enough to make do. I believe that Allah (SWT) provides in one way or another. Perhaps I could leave work and my husband’s business would grow to fill the financial gap.

My fear is that I will step away one day and look back over the years and think, why did I not do that sooner? Why did I waste all those years doing something that does not fulfil our purpose for being here or took up my time and stopped me from reaching out to fulfil another dream?

What If I stop working and feel directionless and bored? If it turns out to be a mistake, how easy would it be to start again?

Is this just a first world problem being blown out of proportion? My mum worked from home as a seamstress doing piece-work for factories. This required long hours on low pay and led to her developing arthritis in her hands. In her view, it is much better to go to work in an office, sit down and do work that uses your mind and get paid properly or it. Both she and my mother-in-law value the independence and choices that your own income can bring and have known what it is to not be able to make ends meet.

How do I reconcile prayer and work so that I can do the first but also do justice to the latter?

All of these questions have been on my mind for a long time. Writing them down made them easier to try and look at objectively. I want to work, but I want to do something that adds value and helps others. I want to gain some expertise in one area, such as health, women or minorities and become an expert on them – when I know what I am talking about I feel confident and speak up comfortably.

I will try to work flexibly, so that I can do more prayers at home.

I want to help my husband develop his business, once our home refurbishment is done he has some ideas to diversify his business that we are really excited about. That will give me leeway to reduce my hours further if I choose to.

Truth be told, I have been feeling overwhelmed and exhausted on some days recently. Cooking and cleaning up after builders after an intense day at work, helping kids with homework and keeping the babies occupied. Listening to my six beloveds (hubby and the kids) tell me about their day as they need to process or share everything that has happened to them that day. At the end of some days I have asked myself if I was foolish for trying to do everything and being left shattered, when there are some women that sit at home all day and get their bills paid for them by their husband or the government or both.

Setting things down on paper and thinking them through has helped me find a little clarity. Now to try and understand how I can get from where I am to where I need to be.

I would sincerely love to hear from sisters about their experiences in this regard, whether working, staying at home or transitioning between the two.


  1. I am currently working as a live in caregiver so I stuggle to manage the things I have to do with my prayer time and I find it difficult for me to adjust to so many changes for the daylight time difference since in my country I have never experienced 4 seasons and days getting longer or shorter. As a convert muslimah there have been so many changes in my life and moving to a different country having my husband still away from me, in pakistan makes me think about the future and your post makes me consider the opinion of someone who is already living one of the options i consider for my life inshaAllah. I could work teaching english as a second language since i live in a country where spanish is the first lamguage but wonder if any academy would hire me if I go to an interview wearing jilbab which i started wearing since july of this year alhamdulillah. I could also try giving private lessons so i can choose to teach only girls or children but i would love to be a housewife and spend my days raising my children if i can have one day inshaAllah, learn more about Islam, learn more arabic, urdu, punjabi... life seems still uncertain but I know Allah will help me to do what is the best for me and my family inshaAllah...
    Not sure my comment can be of any help but I needed to tell anybody what I just said and it's exactly the reason why I read your post, to learn about how you manage your life and imagine if I could do it as well inshaAllah...
    Jazakiallahu khayran for writing, you inspire me like the older sister I never had.
    Allah hafiz

  2. Assalam Alikum sister...I left my working career in the civil service of 16 years to care for my children full time and be's the best decision I made. We don't live off any benefits and it's not as if my husband is a high earner either. ALHAMDULLIHA for me personally some things mean more than having extra cash of my own to spend. I was in the exact dilemma that you are in now, which is what has lead me to reply to your post. Like you I did reduce my hours but I struggled to feel satisfied in my career because I was missing meetings and other crucial aspects of work commitments due to being part time and having to attend to the needs of my family. I am an individual that strives to do the best in any task given to me. I felt I was letting myself down because I couldn't progress further in my career when compared to peers who worked full time. I was basically there to earn money at the same time having guilt of not being with my family. Yes, financially we are worse off but am there 24/7 for my kids. I get to spend valuable time with my children without feeling like I am some kind of machine that gives out robotic instructions etc and goes through the homes tasks rather than just being a mom. I remember when I was younger and having my mother always at home waiting for me, having dinner ready, and just being there to listen to whatever problems I had of the day meant far more to me. I didn't recognise her efforts at the time but now being a mother myself I am so grateful my mother was there for me at that time. Am not against sisters that work but I know for sure that when you have a family, why waste all this energy worrying if I am doing the right thing or not. ALLAH SWT has given the main responsibility of earning to the head of the house which is a husband. Yes the wife can work if she wants to but at what cost would that be to the family? This is think you would only be able to answer many years down the line, but time and time again it's proven that there is a Allah swt blessings in being a homemaker. I hope by sharing my story this might help you in some way. Maybe you could do istekhera dua and see what guidance you get from this. I haven't regretted my decision. Walikum Assalam

  3. Assalam Alaykoum dear Sister
    I truly understand your struggle and points they all make sense it is not easy to decide.
    I myself have kind of the opposite dilemma and experience as I am at home with two kids- the bigger one is in nursery 3 hours daily though, the baby is 10 months now.
    As much as i love being with them feel as I dont have enough adult conversation and feel like I haven't really use my brain the way I like it to be challenged..I am thinkin about studying something or starting part time work perhaps..but then the same things crosses my mind like yours; wouldn't it be more "halal" or more sunnah to stay at home? Isn't it more proper for women? Maybe I should just be grateful for those benefits(we r entitled though :) husband works full time but on minimum wage-and time to pray always when I have to.
    Also I truly respect sisters who can manage all - work, worship and family, as I try my best to make a daily schedule which helps me keep up thigs with kids shopping cooking housework but sometimes just feel like it takes up my whole time and maybe I am not using it all well...?
    How about your husband, what does he think about all this? Maybe his ideas can help you to decide what is best for you all as a family (strictly including you sister :) )
    Have a blessed Jumua day and a beautiul weekend with your loved ones.


  4. Mariam Kiani25 November, 2016

    Assalamualeikum darling sister Umm Saliha :-) I will share with you my personal view on being muslimah & a working woman. I am a practicing muslimah AlhamdulilLAH, soon to start medical School. Islam teaches us to avoid mixing freely with men and to have a respectful, reserved behaviour with the opposite gender. I think we sometimes are stricter with ourselves than we need to be. I think Islamic teachings are not that we must completely avoid all contact, any dealing at all. When we speak to work colleagues about strictly work matters and sit together in a respectful way for a limited time in for instance work meetings, this must be ok. This is my personal opinion. I feel we should be confident and contribute with the skills, intelligence and willpower to do good that Allah swt gifted us with.
    We should not feel guilty when Our intention is to contribute positively.

    When it comes to the question of prayer, does it help if everyone knows that you will be out for a 5-10 min whenever you need to pray. That is is communicated clearly to everyone. I see this as our right, we should not feel any guilt in this matter.
    May Allah swt guide all of us to what is right.

  5. * forgot to mention, I think the workplace must be a great platform for dawah, whether with our character or even direct dawah.

  6. Is there any way you could do any kind of freelance work so that you could choose your hours and work around your family's needs. You sound as though you have quite a lot of skills.

    One final point I'd like to make - it's not 'the government' which would be paying your bills, it is all the other people who are working and paying tax to the government.

  7. Salaam sister. Have been following your blog for the last few months and feel my life parallels yours in so many different ways. Five kids, similar age, same ethnic background. I married very young and so studied after my marriage with my first baby. I then found a job which would lead up to what I really wanted to do but had 4 kids subsequently. I went part time after no.4 and left completely after no.5. I have been going through the same guilt and angst as you have and it was a very difficult decision.
    I left because I feel I've been so focused on what I want to do in the future and what direction I should take that I wasn't enjoying motherhood to the full extent. Life's much easier now. I'm a lot more calmer and, to my surprise, feel fulfilled and content. Having said all this I still feel I have wasted my potential and that if I wait until my youngest is at least 16 (I think this because I know kids need you more when they're older) I'll be too old and lose my motivation. For a long time I've been afraid of this and still am. I'm clinging on though and plan to update my skills through some form of study and work very part time soon. What I have learnt over the years is that everyone has a fear of the unknown and the less familiar. If you're a working mother you're afraid of letting go of your financial independence, your social network and your skills. If you're a stay at home mother you fear your children will suffer somehow and that you'll be too stressed and frazzled.
    I think you are an inspiration to a lot of young women who do want to work but also raise a family. You definitely are to me. The most important thing is that YOU are happy, healthy and relaxed. I think like me you work because it's an extra dimension to your life and it is enriching. However, your heart belongs at home. If the former negatively effects the latter then their is no equilibrium and that's when you have to make tough choices.

  8. Assalamualaikum dear sister.. all the sisters have given beautiful perspectives and I absolutely agree about you being an inspiration to me too. Jazakillahu khairan. I feel Allah has bestowed all of us with unique situations and personalities and none of us can judge anyone on any matter..we can only opine and exchange perspectives and the ultimate decision for each one of us will be unique too. I am also a working taking a small break due to change of location. I started my medical post-graduation when my child was a few months old .. I cleared the entrance exam only then and truth be told..more than me..all my family members wanted me to go ahead with it.. it was a tough time but Alhamdulillah I completed it..I used to have pangs of guilt and still do not think it was the ideal decision due to my living condition then. But that is one way of looking at it! When I ponder more, I realize, Allah had given me a unique opportunity and when I joined, Alhamdulillah, He provided for me help from different sources and it was a learning experience too! Now that I have a support system and stay at home..I realize I belong to the category who functions well as a wife, mother, etc when I have other roles to contribute to the society ( it can be social work/job..anything where I can do something to help others) and have 'me-time' too! About parenting..I have come to realize the quality of time spent together is far more important than the quantity of time (not totally unimportant though!). We have to accept that none of us are perfect or ideal..we can only strive to better ourselves each day. If some of us stay at home full time, they may become frustrated doing only the daily chores and crave more intellectual stimulation in other fields of interest..whereas some of us would become homemaker(a tough job by itself!) and find complete peace and happiness in that. There are a few lucky ones who get flexible timings too! Ultimately it is you, dear sister, who has to take a decision, taking a frank look at what you will be happy with and probably even trying various options out too if possible. Islam places great importance on Niyyah and that is where even if each of us were doing the same job, our earnings for Akhirah will be different based on our Niyyah. I heard a speech of Usthad Nouman Ali Khan on youtube about being people of impact(Quranic mind vs ordinary mind..the title). All of us have been given unique skills and potentials by Almighty and if we use it in a 'halaal' way to contribute to the society, when our situation allows, it will indeed be fulfilling and rewarding, In sha Allah. Personally, being in the medical field.. I hope to do justice to the talents and opportunities Allah has given me along with fulfilling my primary roles well (with the support of my wonderful parents and in-laws) In sha Allah. May Almighty guide all of us to make the right decisions to perform the duties and roles assigned to us well in this duniya for His Sake and and make us of those whom He is pleased with.Aameen
    (p.s.: sorry for the long comment!)