“Were you silent, or were you silenced?”
An Oprah Winfrey quote, that yes, whilst also a sound often used to the background of funny TikTok videos, is a depressingly accurate representation of my relationship with anger.
Growing up, the difference in the way I was to present myself versus my younger brother was very apparent. My brother could raise his voice, argue, and stand up for himself, without facing a retort that his behaviour made him less of a boy/young man. When I tried to stand up for myself, similarly with a loud voice, I was told to “stop acting like a man” and to “know my place”. As I grew into my teens, my anger was labelled “whiny” and “over the top” whilst my male peers were seen as assertive.
I would look at the women in my Pakistani family, how they would remain quiet and would express their anger alone: pushing their emotions away to focus on work and caring for their families. The women showed me that our anger had to be quiet and being quiet meant that they were being “woman enough” to fit into their gendered roles. So even though I still felt anger, after realising I couldn’t express it like my brother, I grew quiet, bottled it up and eventually cried from pent-up frustration and overwhelment. Not only was I unconfident in expressing why I was angry, I was ashamed of the emotion of anger, as I believed that it made me appear less like a good woman. My aversion to anger led me to become toxic positive where I would try to make any situation positive, ignoring potential harm and choosing to please others instead.
As I grew older, I read expansively into different revolutionary people. In Audre Lorde’s ‘Sister Outsider’, Lorde addressed her relationship with her anger: “My fear of that anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also” (Lorde, 2013; 124). Lorde argues to use anger strategically to have difficult conversations in order to combat different forms of discrimination. She speaks of using anger as fuel for work to support yourself and others against, in her case, the anti-Black racism, homophobia and sexism she and other women with social identities experience(d). Lorde’s work was important in understanding that anger can be used to show love to yourself and others.
Malcolm X argued similarly that he “prayed [we would] grow intellectually so that you can understand the problems of the world and where you fit into that world” (Shahbaz, 2020). Similar to Lorde, Malcolm called to use anger to bring about change. Anger fueled me to learn about how the world has been structured and our relationship into this structuring. There are various types of violences to be angry about but Malcolm’s work specifically encouraged me to look into my positionality: to see how my different social positions of being a Muslim British Pakistani woman intersect to shape my position “in an unjust world” (Duarte, 2017; 5).
As I entered my twenties, I thought about how I wanted to reclaim my anger as an act of love to myself and others, against different forms of discrimination. To say this was difficult is an understatement: as I tried to raise my argument, my voice would tremble. As I tried to face someone, my body would shake. Sometimes tears would reappear out of years of frustration at my aversion and subsequent inability to express anger. However, as I deepened my relationship with Allah (swt) and the Quran, I prayed for the capacity to use anger for just work; to reclaim my anger to please Allah (swt).
One of the duas of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is “ اللهم إني أسألك كلمة الحق في الرضا والغضب (Oh Allah I ask for the ability to speak a word of truth when I am pleased and when I am angry)” (Suleiman, 2021; p.5). I would remind myself of Allah’s names Al Adl (the Most Just) and Al Qawi (the Most Strong) and asked Allah to strengthen me when I was scared and felt that I was not allowed to use my anger.
One of my favourite ayas in the Quran is where Allah (swt) calls us to “persistently stand firmly in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives” (Qur’an 4:135). This ayat is important for me in that it shows that Allah (swt) wants us to stand for justice in different spheres of our lives: the personal and the structural. It empowered me to realise that despite any sexist family members reprimanding me to “know my place”, Allah calls us to stand for justice and Allah’s call means more than any sexist reprimands. Allah’s call to stand firmly means to not participate in injustices unwittingly; to be cognisant of the structures of violence present in our lives and to critically reflect on how I subvert these in order to support others.
Anger can allow us to centre love and justice when used to fuel conversations on how to better love and support each other against different forms of injustices. Anger can give space to imagine more just and loving conditions; to find like-minded people who do not belittle emotions and encourage seeking knowledge to understand how we can better conditions for ourselves and others. I found this through the Quran, through revolutionary people but also through loving female friendships. Friends who understand the racialised misogyny, understand the anger and continue to hold me and push me to express it for myself and others against discriminatory conditions, whether they be in or outside of my family. The following hadith recorded by Abu Saeed reminds me on how to support each other and centre Allah:
‘The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) once said, “Let not one of you belittle himself” (Suleiman, 2021; p.5). The Prophet said belittlement could be “A person sees something that they should speak about, but they don’t speak about it. Allah will say to that person on the day of judgement, “What stopped you from speaking about such and such?” The person will say, “Fear of people.” And Allah will say, “And I am more deserving of being feared than people.”’ (Suleiman, 2021; p.5).
In the end, to answer Oprah’s question, I was silenced, but with the grace of Allah (SWT), I won’t be anymore.
Duarte, M.E. (2017; p.5). Network Sovereignty: Building the Internet Across Indian Country. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Lorde, A. (2013) Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley : Ten Speed Press.
Shahbazz, I (2020). ‘I pray that God will bless you and everything you do’ [Instagram]. 29 May 2020. Available at: https://www.instagram.com/p/CAx9vofhv20/
Suleiman, O. (2021) “Hadith #6 – A Word of Truth in the Face of An Oppressor,” in 40 Hadiths on Social Justice . Leicestershire , UK: Kube Publishing Ltd, pp. 2–5.
Suleiman, O. (2021) “Hadith #7 – The Ruling on Silence and Injustice,” in 40 Hadiths on Social Justice . Leicestershire , UK: Kube Publishing Ltd, pp. 2–5.
Suleiman, O. (2021) “Hadith #16 – A Show of Strength,” in 40 Hadiths on Social Justice . Leicestershire , UK: Kube Publishing Ltd, pp. 2–5.
Salaams, my name is Sidra, I am 25 years old and I love to Quran journal, boxing and enjoy canal walks with coffees and pastries. You can find me on IG @mahfoozrakhna