As Muslims, our journey in the dunya is braided with high and low tides, rising to test our faith. We carry the knowledge in the back of our mind that the shades of the Dunia are temporary. One day the colours will peel away like the grey sky awash after rainfall.
Recently, this moment was harshly illuminated as I walked the familiar streets of my city before meeting a friend. A warm breeze fluttered my scarf, a deep violet, as I tried to push it over my shoulder. I wonder if the intensity was too blinding to the man who attacked me, sharply contrasting with the black and white lens of his vision. As I try to recall the moment, his face is a blur, but the jolt of shock struck me as he ran, pushing me onto the road with force. His voice was strung with insults and slurs which didn’t register as I was in shock. I couldn’t move from the concrete, glancing towards the two women across the road who silently turned their backs.
I was always proud of my religious identity, the beauty of a hijab. I welcomed questions from friends, excited by their curiosity and loved talking to people. As a naturally creative person, stories intrigued me, the dove white pages of a book were a realm of solace for me to gain insight into a character’s journey and real stories provided the fruits of my inspiration. This event was one of the first times I felt unseen, a stranger suddenly in an unfamiliar space.
The few days after I felt numb, distraught each time I remembered how suddenly everything happened. I wasn’t angry but in the quiet moments, questions rose in the back of my mind: Why didn’t those two women say anything? Why did I get attacked for what I believe in, and dressing a certain way? Why did I get mocked for crying after being in a state of shock?
The rage I thought didn’t exist slowly began to reveal itself like a pale flame.
The more I pondered, the more I began to feel the burden of it weighing over me. My feelings were complicated surrounding the whole experience, and I only truly felt its impact when I left the house for the first time by myself. Thoughts I knew were irrational continued to rise in the back of my head. I felt anxious as I continued walking down a street that I’d regularly taken, afraid of being attacked again. I grew frustrated that I had to worry about my safety when other people didn’t. When I recounted the attack, it was exhausting to hear people repeat the same questions: ‘why had I been there in the first place’ ‘why I didn’t yell back and call for help’.
Incidents such as this are unpredictable; it’s difficult to explain how your brain doesn’t register what’s happening in the moment, shock takes over you for a few minutes and you feel powerless. The impact of trauma from targeted attacks also leads to negative effects on mental health, posing a risk to an individual’s overall wellbeing.
The American Psychiatric Association suggested that factors which put Muslims living in the United States at risk for mental health problems stem from discrimination, bullying and Islamophobia attacks. The constant stress causes detrimental effects on the physical and mental health of individuals in the community. In the same article, they quote Kunst et al reporting, “The daily, repetitive harassment Muslims face is the biggest contributing factor to long term mental health issues in Muslims. The younger their age of exposure to harassment, the greater the likelihood of developing depression, anxiety and Posttraumatic distresses.”
I reached out to other sisters I knew, wondering if any of my friends had experienced something similar. Each one had a story that involved them being discriminated against in one way or another; either sworn at on public transport or items thrown towards them in public settings. One friend shared her experience of being attacked by an older woman when she was as young as eleven years old, an event which left her shaken.
Discovering stories similar to mine left me feeling disheartened due to how often it occurred. However, the support of other Muslim women comforted me. Friends and others who I hadn’t met in person but knew online eased the burden of my trauma. There was a sense of comfort in the shared identity of being a Muslim woman. Simply understanding what it feels like to step outside to a world that views you differently.
Yet even with the support, my fear slowly built up, trickling into nightmares, which made me think of how abstract fear can be. I began journaling as a way to process my emotions, and the more I wrote, a pattern began to reveal itself in the pages. Each moment I reflected on the hardship I experienced, I remembered that it was temporary. Allah swt will never give a soul more than it can bear, and sometimes, while it may feel like the harsh current of the sea pulling you down, it will always pass, steadying into a lull that helps move you forward again.
I thought about the man who attacked me, wondering if his hate originally stemmed from fear. Our environment and influences can deeply impact our perspective on others, which unfortunately leads to stereotyping and painting minority communities with a broad brush.
Leena Adel analysed the impact of islamophobic comments and blatant discrimination against the Muslim community, beginning with Queensland senator, Fraser Anning, after the tragedy in Christchurch. Anning declared, without any remorse over his choice of words that, “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”
These statements are not isolated and can rapidly propel hate crimes and violence against minority communities. The perpetrator that carried out the bone chilling shooting had been an active member in fascist communities, inspired by the far-right movements. The boundaries between fear and hate here are blurred, just one example of how the weight of such insensitive remarks echoes into deadly consequences.
When people glance at me oddly now, I feel a heightened discomfort.
A friend offered me comfort through a hadith that stuck with me: ‘Islam began as something strange and will return to being strange, so glad tidings to the strangers.’ (Sahih Muslim 145)
Shaykh Yahya Rhodus elaborates on this hadith in his lecture, Glad Tidings to The Strangers:
‘If they would look at the diversity of people from all walks of life in one gathering, coming to remember Allah, they would deem us strange. For the things we do, the way we dress but our Prophet (ﷺ) told us to have honour. To be prideful. That we are servants of Allah and this where our pride lies. We are happy to bow our heads before God in a position of prostration.’
Through contemplating his words, I discovered a new angle and slowly unravelled the thread of connection between the spaces of the Dunia and the Unseen. Our journey is a path leading to the hereafter, weaved with liminal spaces that move us forward. In a literary sense, the term stems from the latin noun, ‘limen’ and marks the sphere which a person enters before going through a change from one place to the next. It is during these moments where our soul may feel burdened, but also finds renewed strength in remembering Allah’s presence beside us. It gives us a moment to widen our perspective of how life in this world is filled with trials, designed to strengthen us.
These spaces aren’t limited to physical realms, but where time is suspended, and your soul is grounded to ease back into your journey. It’s at fajr when the sky is a cosmic blue and you place your head down, in complete submission to Allah swt. A feeling transcends as you raise your hands to begin salat and everything stills. For some, this liminal space may be the open page of a Quran, or the peaceful silence of a mosque. In these quiet moments I was able to understand that this was part of my journey. It was an uncomfortable shift at first but gradually, I was learning how to find peace.
A certain surah that also brings me comfort is Surah Duha, brought down to the Prophet (ﷺ) after a long period of time where he awaited revelation. The Prophet (ﷺ)’s worry increased, thinking that Allah had been displeased with him until Surah Duha was sent down, alleviating his concern. The lesson in this verse extends to all Muslims, a remembrance that in every situation paved with challenges, Allah swt is always nearby.
‘Your lord has not taken leave of you, nor has he detested [you].’ (Qur’an 93:3)
The nature of the Dunia is intense; weaved with trials that we don’t always understand but become clearer as they pass. Each one shapes our souls to connect with Allah swt, sharpening our view towards the end of our journey. As hardship comes, they also light a space for us to evolve, moving forward while being connected with an unbroken chain of faith to others.
Al-Maqasid. “Glad Tidings to the Strangers.” Youtube, 16 June. 2022
Adel, Leena. Rich, Ben. “McGowan’s misstep demonstrates the risks of poor political rhetoric- and why minority communities are often left bearing the cost.” ABC Religion and Ethics, 29 November 2021
“Stress and Trauma Toolkit for Treating Muslims in a Changing Political and Social Environment.” American Psychiatric Association,
psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/diversity/education/stress-and-trauma/muslims. Accessed 24 February 2023
Zahina is a creative writer based in Australia, she has previously written for Portside Review, and performs poetry locally. Her writing seeks to ponder the human condition and reflect the experiences as a Muslim Woman. She loves reading and writing, in her spare time, gathering inspiration from literature. Connect with her on instagram @ghibliful_writer