In my debut novel, Hijab and Red Lipstick (Hashtag Press), the main character is a young British Egyptian woman called Sara who desperately tries to escape her controlling father by looking for a husband. You may know someone who has done this – or perhaps that someone is you.
In the novel, Sara signs up to an Islamic matrimonial website hoping that she will find a husband to be her knight in shining armour who will provide her with the affection, love, and stability she doesn’t have at home. It’s a cautionary tale of what happens when you seek marriage for the wrong reasons.
Hijab and Red Lipstick is loosely based on my own life growing up between London and Doha, Qatar. It’s an exploration of identity and life as a British Arab in the Gulf: Sara isn’t fully English and doesn’t fit in with the white British expats living in their fancy gated compounds, nor is she fully Arab and doesn’t feel like she truly belongs with Arabs. Her Egyptian father, who had been a member of London’s Egyptian community, changes after they move to the Gulf, influenced by the extremely traditional and conservative Arab men around him who wrongly mix culture with Islam.
Some readers in the Muslim community may say they are sick of the narrative of thecontrolling Muslim or Arab father, but as much as we are “sick of it” it’s a lived reality that continues until today – I lived it, and so did many of my Arab girlfriends both in London and in Qatar.
For my protagonist Sara, it wasn’t just freedom from a controlling and abusive father she yearned for – it was freedom to be able to find her faith in Islam on her own, without it being forced on her. She loved being Muslim – she just hated the men in her life who mixed their culture with religion.
This is where we come back to marriage. If Hijab and Red Lipstick teaches readers one thing, it’s that if your reason for wanting to get married is to escape strict parents you may end up jumping from the frying pan into the fire. The first thing you need to assess is whether your situation at home is “strict” or abusive. If you believe you are living in an abusive situation, I implore you to seek help – and getting married to escape an abusive home isn’t the way. This applies to all genders.
Is there a relative or close friend who you trust to talk to and perhaps stay with in the meantime? Have you got an understanding imam or shaikh within the community who can perhaps get you in touch with trustworthy brothers and sisters who can help you leave home and have somewhere safe to stay? There are also Islamic charities like Solace andImkaan that you can contact, whether it is just to have someone to talk to, or to seek practical help.
You need to be in a good place mentally – and living in a safe situation – before you can think about getting married, otherwise you may carry a lot of that trauma and be at your most vulnerable if you hastily enter a marriage – and someone could take advantage of that vulnerability.
If you are not living in an abusive situation at home, you may want to pause and reflect on whether the “restrictions” that your parents have put in place are reasonable or unreasonable. If you are an adult, you should be able to have an honest discussion about the rules at home. Oftentimes, our parents have rules in place out of caring for our safety and wellbeing and as we get into our twenties, they just need a gentle reminder that we are responsible adults now.
If you are an adult, you should be able to have an open discussion with your parents about this if you are still living at home. If you can't, you may need to take the practical steps needed towards financial independence so that you can move out – moving out if your situation at home is toxic is not haram.
Sometimes we have this notion that by getting married we will be “free” – free to go out wherever we want whenever we want, free to do whatever we want and free to wear whatever we want. But with getting married you take on a whole new load of responsibilities, and if you are just doing whatever you want without taking your spouse into account your marriage won’t last. Then there’s the fact that when you get married, you may be “escaping” your family, but you are taking on your spouse’s family and if you are getting married for the wrong reasons, the novelty will wear off quickly.
When I think back to some of my father’s rules – the more reasonable ones – many of them saved me from a number of potential dangers. I had tried so hard in my early twenties to force marriage to any man who would propose to me to escape my life at home, and only now in my thirties can I look back and say Alhamdulillah that my father had stopped me from getting married at that time – I would have literally jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
Hijab and Red Lipstick comes out on 5 th November 2020 and is available atHashtag Press, Waterstones, WH Smith and Amazon.
Follow Yousra on Twitter @underyourabaya and on Instagram @writereadeatrepeat or check out her website www.yousraimran.com.