“Not loving yourself back is also unrequited love.”
Reverting to Islam was a big decision for me.
It has given me happiness and blessings, but it also came with its own challenges. I often wonder what are the biggest challenges for other revert Muslim sisters faced after embracing the religion. Was it learning how to pray, changing their diet, abstaining from alcohol or adjusting to a new dress code?
For me it was not any of these; I spent many years negotiating this decision so I was prepared to adapt to the Muslim culture.
What I was not prepared for was the task of developing a new identity; I decided to wear the hijab and other Muslima wear because I thought it was important for my journey. What I thought would be easy was actually really hard because my external projection of my faith changed the way I look at myself and how I behave towards others (and concurrently, how others behave towards me).
I felt lost.
Learning to love me
It was only much later that I realized I needed to relearn to love myself again in order to get out of this slump. Self-love sounds narcissistic, but it is something that you need to do for yourself. And since love is an action, loving yourself requires you to respect and do things for yourself.
Firstly, honour your body because it will always be your partner-in-crime throughout your lifetime. Always listen to what it needs and it will love you back; all you need to do is exercise, eat healthily and rest well. As a Pilates enthusiast, I incorporated some of the techniques to enhance the way I perform my prayers.
The second step is to acquire new or enhance existing skills, interest or abilities. Cultivating these capabilities will make you feel liberated and confident with yourself. For me it was my passion for Muslima wear and fashion in general; my decision to go to design school and harness this interest allowed me to love and admire myself more. Coincidently, this brings me to my last tip towards self-love.
Lastly, love your work even if it means you will have a hard time finding success. Your work should be part of fulfilling your life purpose on earth – for me, it is being part of the Islamic fashion for women movement. Being in a job that you hate will make you resent yourself in the long run.
Learning to assert myself
The hijab really changed the way I behave towards others. I became calmer and more patient with the people around me.
It also changed the way others behave towards me. While some have been respectful, there are others who look down on me once I put on the hijab. It was as if my opinions do not matter and my ideas are no longer invited. This really took a toll on diminishing my confidence when it comes to voicing my needs, feelings, preferences and opinions.
I worked on my self-assertiveness along with my self-love issue. It is not about being aggressive but the ability to vocalize your thoughts and emotions tactfully, justly and effectively.
One of the first things I learned before being self-assertive was respect: respect myself, respect others, respect time and respect the world. By respecting myself and everything else around me, I was able to understand myself and others more. This has enriched me with knowledge and understanding about how things work around me.
Next, I learned that I don’t need to be assertive all the time; this means I need to pick and choose my battles. Armed with the knowledge and understanding that I’ve gained from respecting everything around me, I’ll need to assess if being assertive is worth it. This can be as simple as saying “No” to my clients or as complex as my rights as a Muslim woman.
Last but not least, practice being assertive and start small. Get a friend to role play with you on several plausible scenarios and practice how you would assert yourself in that scenario. Once you have your ‘standard’ replies sorted out, start being assertive in easier and less stressful situations in real life. Build up your courage for more complex situations and self-assertion will be like second nature to you.
Once I started being more assertive, my self-esteem increases and gave me the courage to ask for what I want for myself. Being able to voice my feelings also helped me improve my relationships with people and this left me feeling more content. I was also felt more confident to help others with things that I am good at.
Famous last words
Self-love and self-assertion are essential components of growing into a better person. It is a long difficult road but it is an inward reflection process that we need to do sometimes. It may be a cliché but rebuilding your self-worth can take a long time.
I hope that my experiences can help you in your journey of re-educating and teaching you on how to heal and strengthen yourself. Remember, if you do not love and stand up for yourself, no one else will!
About the author
Sarah is a happy Muslima who is passionate about modern, yet modest Islamic clothing for women. She is always on the lookout for the latest trends and styles, and she is a proud stylist and fashion consultant at Modanisa.