two women in heart-shaped sunglasses

(40) Mommying While Muslim with Zaiba & Uzma

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Join me and two Muslim-American moms who give such honest insight and unexpected laughs while sharing what it’s like “Mommying While Muslim” (that’s the name of their podcast). Zaiba and Uzma discuss how feminism fits into their religion and culture, along with the role expected of women and how that relates to fertility, breastfeeding, and motherhood. I ask some tough questions, and we also get into how the events of 9/11 changed their lives, and the lives of their children. They also offer specific ways that non-Muslim moms can be more inclusive, a hilarious conspiracy theory, and the one article of clothing Uzma’s dad was most fearful of raising a daughter in America. One of my favorite parts of this episode is that my two guests disagree on some things, proving there’s not one right way to do anything.

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Brandy:          Hello, Adult Conversation Podcast listeners. In today’s episode, ­I am joined by two Muslim-American moms who give me such honest insight about what it’s like “Mommying while Muslim” ­­­(that’s the name of their podcast). Uzma and Zaiba discuss how feminism fits into their religion and culture along with the role expected of women and how that relates to fertility, breastfeeding, motherhood, and more. I ask some tough questions, and we also get into how the events of 9/11 changed their lives and the lives of their children. They also offer specific ways that non-Muslim moms can be more inclusive along with a hilarious conspiracy theory, and the one article of clothing Uzma’s dad was most fearful of raising a daughter in America. One of my favorite parts of this episode is that my two guests disagree on some things proving there’s not one right way to do anything — unless of course, you’re a surgeon or a sword thrower, but you get my point. Onto the show —

Brandy:          Today on the podcast, I have with me two guests. Zaiba Hasan and Uzma Jafri are hosts of the Mommying While Muslim podcast and are here today to talk about the challenges and opportunities encountered by Muslim parents raising children in the U.S. today. With the help of guest experts, Zaiba and Uzma take on the unique issues that American Muslim moms face in today’s world. Both were born and raised in the U.S., but as children of immigrants, they are also intimately familiar with the struggles faced by second culture families. With eight kids between them and a combined 25+ years of parenting experience, Zaiba and Uzma share perspectives, resources and mutual support helping their fellow American Muslim moms to connect, work together, find solutions, and thrive. Wow! Welcome to the podcast, you two.

Uzma:             Thank you for having us. This is so exciting.

Zaiba:              Thank you so much, Brandy, because quite frankly, I’m feeling good about myself. I might have to steal that intro.

Brandy:          I know. Anytime I hear an intro about myself, I’m like, “Damn, let’s just hang onto that intro.” {laughter}

Zaiba:              {laughter} Exactly. Let me just live in that moment for two minutes before my kid comes in here and tells me to wash his butt — which we talked about before we even started recording today.

Brandy:          Yes.

Zaiba:              That’s the reality of parenthood, right?

Brandy:          Yeah, the truth is that you have kids, maybe or maybe not locked behind a basement door, and I have kids behind a door with screens in front of them. So, the only way that this happens during a pandemic is by basically caging people. {laughter}

Zaiba:              Yes. No, literally, caging and locking the door. I may or may not have a chair up against the door because they are crazy animals, and I love them. But honestly, being trapped inside the house is not necessarily healthy for anybody to be very blunt with you.

Brandy:          Yeah, no. I think we are all feeling that.

Zaiba:              {laughter} I know.

Brandy:          I’ve never had two guests at once, and I’m trying really hard not to make a threesome joke here. So.

Zaiba:              Oh.

Uzma:             {laughter}

Zaiba:              We’re okay with that.

Uzma:             All the guys are now tuning in.

Zaiba:              {laughter} Exactly.

Brandy:          {laughter} And anybody who listens to my podcast knows — they’re like, “Oh, Brandy will not be able to make it through this without making that stupid joke.” But anyway, this is going to be a new experience for me. I’m so happy to have you both here for some real talk about what it’s like to mommy while Muslim in the U.S., and how me and my listeners can better show up for you. But first, what is something the listeners need to know about you? So Zaiba, do you want to go first?

Zaiba:              Sure. I’m probably one of the most quirky individuals in the world. There’s too many to list here, but I’ll just tell you what I’ve been doing for the last week — just to tell you that because I’m just going to be blunt. I think it’s just starting to hit me with school may or may not be starting. I think a lot of moms are in the same situation, and instead of dealing with it, I decided to lock myself in my room and watch The Shahs of Sunset — literally, binge watched The Shahs of Sunset. I don’t even like the show to be honest with you, but watching other people’s craziness made me feel like, “Okay, I can cope and deal with it.” So, I actually put on clothes for the first time today in the last week.

Brandy:          Ah, huge.

Zaiba:              Granted, they’re yoga clothes, but at least I got dressed, okay? And I feel so proud of that right now.

Brandy:          {laughter} That’s more than I can say for myself. I’m wearing the oldest, rattiest, ill-fitting sleep leggings with no bra and a cardigan that’s buttoned with one button.

Uzma:             {laughter}

Zaiba:              {laughter} Exactly, don’t you love that?

Brandy:          Yeah, I’m a little tattered on the edges as it sounds like maybe you were, but yay for clothes. Yay for real human clothes.

Zaiba:              Yes.

Brandy:          So, how about you Uzma?

Uzma:             So, what do people need to know about me? I am the nicest fire-breathing dragon you will ever meet.

Brandy:          {laughter}

Zaiba:              Mm hmm.

Uzma:             And the reason I say that is because I am literally one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, and it takes very little to get me to love you. But then, when I walk away, it’s explosive and bad. It’s usually over broken trust. That’s something that I find really hard to overcome. So yeah, I think that’s pretty much it.

Brandy:          Yeah.

Uzma:             People are always surprised by my children when they’re like, “Her mom can go from zero to Banshee in, like, three seconds.” {laughter}

Brandy:          {laughter}

Uzma:             And they’re like, “We don’t know your mother like that.” And they’re like, “Oh, trust us. Trust us.”

Brandy:          Yeah, but what that speaks to is that you have deal breakers and boundaries.

Uzma:             And I hope it’s not considered too extreme.

Brandy:          No.

Uzma:             All of us need to be empowered, I think, to say what we’re willing to accept and what we feel is our God-given right to expect of other people and then to walk away when it’s not working.

Brandy:          Uh, yes.

Uzma:             And that’s a skill. It took almost 40 years for me to acquire that.

Brandy:          Many of us have to unlearn it to even get to that place, but I feel like now, more than ever, is the place where we’re being asked, “What are deal breakers for you? Are you going to sit by and allow bullshit to happen?”

Zaiba:              I try to stay on Uzma’s good side. Let’s just be real.

Uzma:             {laughter} We both try to stay on each other’s good side. Zaiba, you’ve got that side too.

Brandy:          {laughter}

Uzma:             It’s like a birth order thing. Both of us don’t take crap. We just don’t.

Zaiba:              That’s true. That’s true.

Brandy:          That’s amazing. I love you both already. So, will you tell us a little bit about your religious backgrounds? Zaiba, I believe you were raised both Christian and Muslim. Is that right?

Zaiba:              Well, I was raised Muslim because it’s not like the Jewish faith where you can have the religion and then the culture. Those two things are separate.

Brandy:          Okay.

Zaiba:              I was definitely raised Muslim. Like, Islam is the religion that I was raised with, however, my mom’s family was Christian or Catholic. I mean, some people don’t consider Catholicism as Christian. That’s a whole other podcast. We’ll talk about that some other time.

Brandy:          {laughter}

Zaiba:              I was definitely raised with my mom’s family and having the Catholic church and the rituals very much a part of my childhood upbringing. My mom would just drop us off at our grandmother’s house for weeks at a time in the summertime, and so, we would go to church with her on Sunday. She was pretty devout and celebrated Easter, Christmas, etc. So, definitely had that connection with Christianity but never felt confused by my own religious identity.

Brandy:          When you would be dropped off at your grandma’s house and you’d be doing all the Catholic —

Zaiba:              I used to love singing. There was a lot of singing in a church, girl. That was so fun for me. And I would be like, “Why don’t we do this in the mosque? That would be so much more fun?” I do think it was confusing for some people. Even my mom’s family, obviously, had to figure out diet because we don’t eat pork. We don’t drink. We don’t do those things. She would change the way that she would cook for us, and I do have to say that we were better accepted — I know this sounds crazy — from my mom’s side of the family than we actually, ultimately were on my father’s side of the family because my mom was of a different culture.

Brandy:          Oh, wow.

Zaiba:              She wasn’t Pakistani, and she was a convert to Islam versus somebody who was native born into the religion. Though Uzma could even attest to this because our families are childhood friends, my mom was a very spiritual and religious person, and actually, she was the main reason we have the connection to the religion, Islam, that we have. It wasn’t my father. It was my mother, weirdly.

Brandy:          Wow, that’s fascinating. I wouldn’t have expected that. That’s amazing.

Zaiba:              Yeah, exactly.

Uzma:             Typically, in Muslim households, I think the culture is that the mother is the teacher of religion.

Zaiba:              Mm hmm.

Uzma:             And so, that’s why it’s so important that the mother is Muslim. It’s kind of like, you know, you can only be a Jew if your mom’s a Jew.

Zaiba:              Right.

Brandy:          Wow.

Uzma:             You’re probably going to be practicing Muslim if your mom’s a practicing Muslim. So, that burden falls on Mom’s shoulders which is why I think it was so important for Zaiba’s dad to get her mom converted and help her find Islam, and then she took over. She understood that that’s what was expected of her, and so, I think she did as much of the work of training her kids in Islam as my mom did who has generationally been Muslim. I mean, that was just my experience as an onlooker of Zaiba’s family.

Brandy:          Yeah. So Uzma, what was your religious background? How were you brought up?

Uzma:             So, we were staunchly Muslim but staunchly in identity. My parents were not practicing Muslims. They were what we call Ramadan Muslim. So, they would fast, and they would pray in Ramadan only.

Zaiba:              Ah.

Uzma:             But I don’t even remember my dad going to the mandatory weekly prayers that all men have to go to. I don’t have a recollection of that. And it was more towards when I was ten, I think, my grandmother started staying longer when she visited from Pakistan. And of course, you know, the belief is that once you hit menopause, now you can pray freely whenever you want to because it’s during our periods that we don’t have to do our five prescribed prayers. After menopause, it’s kind of like women’s lives end because if your fertility ends, what good are you for now? So, the only thing you need to do is put your one foot in the grave and now wait to die.

Brandy:          Wow.

Uzma:             So, that’s when people get religious, and they start going on their pilgrimages. They start doing all the extra additional voluntary prayers. And so, I grew up seeing my older grandmother always praying. I liked that she had this peaceful time several times a day that she would just sit. So, I joined her, and I started praying five times a day with her. And that was just something I had incorporated as a child. I guess we started then adopting some of the dietary restrictions where we would only eat zabiha food which is kind of like the Muslim kosher.

Brandy:          Okay.

Uzma:             Then, I don’t really think my parents started praying five times a day until I was in college. So, we didn’t come from that kind of a family, and in fact, my dad didn’t really force us to do any of the religious acts except during Ramadan, he encouraged us to read the Koran. That was really big. So, our holy scripture, you must read it, and then, you must complete the entire reading. That was very important, and you were rewarded. It wasn’t a punishment if you missed it or anything like that. And then, fast in Ramadan, but even that, my parents were very relaxed about it until I was well into middle school. I think Zaiba was, like, single digit aged when she was fasting, and I was thirteen when I started.

Brandy:          {laughter}

Zaiba:              Yeah. It’s funny because even though my mom was of a different faith when she met my dad, we actually grew up very opposite of Uzma’s family, believe it or not, in the sense that we were very conservative. So, like she said, I was fasting. I think my first fast, I was eight. And we were very culturally — what’s the word – strict? Is strict the good word, Uzma?

Uzma:             I think culture was very important to our dads, especially, because they were so afraid that we would become American which to them meant we would be dating and sleeping around.

Brandy:          Ah.

Zaiba:              Right.

Uzma:             And for my dad in particular, miniskirts. He’s petrified of miniskirts to this day. {laughter}

Brandy:          Okay, I have multiple questions. But I first want to just point out that you have something that proves to your kids that they can go without food or snacks for a long time.

Zaiba:              Yes.

Brandy:          So, I almost want to think about celebrating — is that the right word? Would you say celebrating or – for Ramadan?

Uzma:             Observing.

Zaiba:              Observing.

Brandy:          Observing. Oh, thank you.

Zaiba:              Some people think of it as celebrating. I do not. Per the podcast, everybody knows that is not my MO. I do it because I have to. Okay, everyone knows I’m grumpy fasting person.

Uzma:             {laughter} She spends Ramadan hangry.

Zaiba:              I really do, and I’m like mad at everybody. It’s not fun.

Brandy:          I think I would be the same way, but I love that this is a way that, you know, when your kids are like, “I’m hungry,” and it’s been an hour, you can be like, “Remember Ramadan, everyone.”

Uzma:             Mm Hmm.

Zaiba:              Exactly. Like, “Remember?”

Brandy:          “We can do it. You have done it before!” Anyway, one of my questions is — I’m just going to go right in because when you were saying, Uzma, about when you go through menopause, it’s kind of like, “You just go and wither and die because you serve no reproductive purpose.” How do you hold feminism and that sort of ideal that a woman is no longer worth something after they’re fertile — how do you hold those two things together? Or do you? What’s your take on that?

Zaiba:              {laughter}

Uzma:             I hear Zaiba giggling already.

Zaiba:              I know. Are you ready for this? Because Uzma will tell you.

Brandy:          {laughter} I am. I want to know. Yes.

Uzma:             So, I have always called myself a feminist, and people who are Islamophobic or anti-Muslim or come with their preconceived notions of what a Muslim woman is — when they come to the table, they’re always like, “There’s no such thing.” And it’s not just from non-Muslim people. Get this, it’s also from a lot of Muslim people because, you know, that liberal interpretation of what feminism is, and the bra burning is not my feminism. My feminism is that I am independent and perfect because God created me that way. I’m only reliant on Him, and I don’t need a man. And my worth is not defined by marriage, my fertility, or my association with a man, basically. I’m not going to speak for Zaiba. I’ll let her talk about this. I love my dad and always will, but it was a very misogynistic household with a very strong double standard about what is okay for boys and what is okay for girls, and that was taught to me as being Islam. I was the oldest. I was the first child born in America, and I was a girl. So, my dad talks about this on our podcast, too, about how petrified he was because again, “Oh, my God. Miniskirts and boys.” You know, that’s all he thought was gonna happen in my future if he didn’t lock me down. But at the same time, he was so conflicted because he knew that the only way I could succeed was if I was educated, and Islam mandates education for all children regardless of their gender. So, he was like, “You can do anything except go out, party, date, hang out with boys, have a social life, answer the phone. You can’t do any of those things.”

Brandy:          Right. No crop tops. {laughter}

Uzma:             Oh, gosh, no. So, at my house, as soon as you got off the bus, you came home and you changed into your cultural dress, into Pakistani wear. And I literally had to braid my hair because good girls have their hair tied up and whores have their hair open, especially, at night.

Brandy:          Wow.

Zaiba:              Aww.

Uzma:             Only whores sleep with their hair open. So, “whore” was a word I learned very early because they were like, “You can’t be a whore.” I’m like an eight-year-old. I’m like, “What? Whore?” Thank gosh I never said it out in public, right?

Brandy:          {laughter} “What does that mean, Daddy?”

Uzma:             So, it was a very cultural understanding of our religion, and that explains, I think, why they weren’t able to practice it because they felt so conflicted themselves as adults. And so, when I became an adult and I realized the freedoms that Islam gave me and that all of the oppression and the double standards I had endured and the gender injustice that I had endured was because of culture. It wasn’t Islam that was doing it. And all across the world everything that was being done to women in the name of Islam was being done by culture, never by religion. Absolutely 100% never. So, I have always stood by the mantra of feminism, and so, all through school I was a feminist. I hated boys. Once I figured out how sex happened, I really hated them.

Brandy:          {laughter}

Uzma:             That was and still is my approach today. I married a man who was born in Pakistan and left when he was three, but even he has some of those undercurrents because we’re all products of the kitchen tables that we were raised at, right?

Brandy:          Yeah.

Uzma:             So, he was still raised with a very background mentality of, “This is for women, and this is for guys.” And so, when we finally had a daughter after two sons and now that she’s old enough, what activities is she going to do? And he was like, “Are we gonna sign her up for ballet and gymnastics?” I’m like, “What? Why?” And he was like, “Well, isn’t that what girls do?” He’s an only child. So, in his defense, he really had no clue. His, like, “n” was one. So, I was like, “No, she’s gonna play soccer and go swimming. And if she wants to do that other girly stuff, then she will.” Sure as sugar, I had to eat crow because my daughter ended up doing ballet because that’s what she loves. She hated soccer, but I was very big on, “She must do exactly what her brothers do because that is equity.” We’re never going to have equality because she has a vagina, and they have penises.

Brandy:          Right.

Uzma:             You can’t have equality, but you can promote equity in the house, and whatever rules apply for our boys, whatever opportunities arise for our boys, we’re going to provide the same for our daughter, and I would argue that even people, Muslim people, who shy away from the word “feminism” because they’re so afraid of the liberal meaning of that — like, it does become kind of –what is the word for hating men? Misandry? The man hating liberal. I think I can be a feminist and not hate men. I can appreciate the allies that happen to be men.

Brandy:          Yes.

Uzma:             And I can be a Muslim woman and say, “Feminism is within Islam.” And it always has been within Islam, but when we gave the reins over to men, we let them take us down this dark path. Now, we have to take that back, and we can do that now as American-Muslim women.

Brandy:          Wow.

Uzma:             I feel like that was a way bigger answer than you asked me for.

Brandy:          No. I’m here for this. This is exactly what I show up for.

Uzma:             Okay.

Zaiba:              {laughter} That’s what I said. You have to buckle up and listen because this girl!

Uzma:             {laughter}

Brandy:          Yeah.

Uzma:             See, Zaiba won’t identify as a feminist, but she practices this in her household, too, because like me, she’s got three sons and a daughter.

Zaiba:              Yeah, but it’s not feminist. So, it’s not about feminism or not feminism. I mean, I don’t hate men, right? So, I do come from that background where feminism equates to that. I’m like, “Hello, I have three beautiful boys. I have a husband. I have brothers.” We’re lucky that we have surrounded ourselves with men that are very supportive of equality. I would actually even argue, “Why can’t my daughter be the president of the United States?” She’s probably better equipped for it than a lot of other people, and maybe, even the current people in office now, but that’s a whole other podcast.

Brandy:          Yeah, and that’s not even a maybe. That’s not even a maybe. {laughter}

Zaiba:              {laughter} I think my nine-year-old could probably run the country a little bit better, but –

Uzma:             Absolutely.

Zaiba:              Since I live by the CIA, we’re going to keep that on the down low and not talk about it too much.

Uzma:             Girl, you know they’re already recording you in your basement.

Zaiba:              They’re already recording everything we’re saying. But no, that’s the truth of it. Uzma says it right. It’s not that I don’t — I believe in feminine power, and I believe in elevating female voices. So, that’s why we’re so thankful that we’re on here because for whatever reason, we’ve been invited on a lot of male talk shows and we’re kind of like, “Where are the females? Why are we not…”

Uzma:             “Don’t they want to talk to us?” {laughter}

Zaiba:              “Don’t they want to talk to us? Because we love talking to you.” We specifically focus on (for Mommying While Muslim) elevating and highlighting amazing Muslim women — obviously, we’re a Muslim podcast — because I do think breaking those stereotypes and some of those boundaries that, I think, even within our own cultures we have developed was very, very important to ourselves. And we’re just kind of like, “This is just what we’re going to do, and this is the place, the narrative we’re going to come from.” My daughter runs the show in my house, and we’re perfectly content with all their like, “We’re scared of Zahra more than we are scared of you, Mama.”

Uzma:             {laughter}

Brandy:          {laughter}

Zaiba:              She’ll pop them in the head if she needs to. That’s the truth of it because I do agree with you. It’s, like, my daughter will get the same opportunities with my son, and there’s an argument to be made that my husband even probably prefers my daughter to his sons. {laughter}

Uzma:             My husband out and out just says it. “She’s my favorite.” I’m like, “You can’t say that out loud. Don’t say that out loud.”

Zaiba:              You’re like, “No.” {laughter} Literally, the boys are like, “Do you know how you can get that? Just be Zahra, and then you’re gonna get whatever you want.”

Uzma:             {laughter}

Brandy:          {laughter}

Zaiba:              You know, we definitely come from that perspective. Of course, we love all of our kids equally.

Uzma:             Yes. Right.

Zaiba:              My husband does cover a standpoint that women need to be specifically pushed forward because we are the hearts of the household. And so, you have every opportunity to carry that weight, and that means, you know, educating your females and highlighting them and elevating them in any way that you can. So maybe, that does define me as a feminist. Who knows?

Uzma:             It does. You just don’t call yourself that.

Brandy:          I think it does. Yeah. I think that the word feminist, it’s so touchy because it’s like, “Well, what type do you mean?” I’ve had a guest on my podcast before who was talking about her past marriage, and we were actually talking about her hijab. We were talking about, you know, “Is this an act of feminism or is this oppressive?” American feminists would think one way, but then there’s other feminists who think another way. I’ve heard both sides. There’s a standard American perspective of, “Why do Muslim women cover themselves up for the men?” And that it’s oppressive. But then, we also talked about, you know, Muslim women saying it’s female empowerment because their identity is not tied to showing their body.

Uzma:             Yes.

Zaiba:              Exactly.

Brandy:          Women who wear it do so by choice as an expression of identity or religious conviction and empowerment. And so, I think, maybe, part of the reason why you steer away from the word feminism is it’s like, “Which kind of feminism?” Even though I’m looking right now, and it says feminism — the definition is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes” which it sounds like you absolutely support.

Zaiba:              Yes. Then I guess, I’m claiming that title now. Okay, here on July 15.

Brandy:          Wait! Yeah, let her claim it. Let her claim it here.

Uzma:             Claim it. Yes! Hallelujah! That’s awesome.

Zaiba:              Yes.

Uzma:             I do not believe that the sexes are equal. As a Muslim, I don’t because I do believe that in Islam, women, particularly mothers, are honored exponentially for our ability to procreate, for our ability to carry a life, for our belief that when someone came to Muhammad and asked him, “Who amongst my companions deserves the best of my companionship?” He said your mother, and the man asked, “Then, who?” And Mohammed said, “Your mother.” And the man asked, “Then, who?” And Muhammad replied, “Your mother.” And the man asked a fourth time, “Then, who?” And Mohammed said, “Your father.” So, the status of parents, themselves, is really high within Islam, but, “Your mother. Your mother. Your mother. And then, your father.” Why? It says in our scriptures as well, like, “She bore you for period after period,” alluding to the trimesters as they get harder. And then, the throes of childbirth back in the days when there were no wonderful epidurals. (Sorry, for those of you who love the natural child birthing. I’m an epidural girl.)

Brandy:          {laughter}

Uzma:             So, for all of those pains that she takes, and then for two years in the scripture, it’s written that the child has a right to her breast milk. Breastfeeding is way harder than pregnancy and delivery. That’s a whole other experience. And then, as the first school of the child in life, in religion, in manners, and all of our first education, our first school is the lap and arms of our moms (for those of us who are blessed to have them when we’re little). So, for that reason, the status of mothers is so high that as a Muslim, I’d have to argue that, “No, the sexes are not equal because men can never get that.” And in Islam, women, it’s a lot easier for us to get to heaven than it is for men because our responsibilities are limited to our children, our chastity, and God, you know, our prayers. If we guard those three things, we’re promised heaven through any of its gates, but a guy has to jump through a bazillion different hoops before he can get in. And so, for that reason as a Muslim, I don’t believe that the sexes are equal. Again, penis versus vagina, I think vagina always wins.

Brandy:          Mm hmm. I love that this is like rock, paper, scissor. It’s like penis and vagina. {laughter}

Uzma:             {laughter} Vagina beats penis.

Brandy:          Vagina beats penis every time.

Uzma:             And I know if my mom ever hears this, she’s just gonna die. {laughter}

Brandy:          Well, let me ask you this question. So, what happens in the Muslim religion with women who cannot procreate, who cannot become mothers, who choose not to become mothers, or who choose not to breastfeed? How do they exist in this set of rules?

Zaiba:              That’s an interesting question.

Uzma:             Zaiba, do you want to take this one?

Zaiba:              Umm. Girl, no because I would argue…

Uzma:             {laughter}

Brandy:          {laughter}

Zaiba:              I’m only saying this this way because we joke, but my version of Islam is a little bit different in the sense that I agree with Uzma and everything that she’s saying. I’m not disagreeing with that, but I don’t necessarily think that you’re penalized for not being a mother. And sometimes people just can’t do it, or they can’t breastfeed. To speak about breastfeeding specifically, my first two were so easy. I was literally one of those people that patted myself on the back, like, “Why do you complain? It’s so easy.” Then, I had my Zade, and my Zade was, like, the hardest. I would cry. I was depressed. I had to go see a lactation consultant. And I’m like, “How is this possible?” But apparently, he was a thumb-sucker in utero. That’s a whole other topic.

Brandy:          {laughter}

Zaiba:              He just wasn’t latching on the way that he could. But my point is I almost gave up. So, I just have a different opinion on that. I did it for myself just because it was something I enjoy doing with my kids, but I don’t necessarily feel like you have to. It’s a choice. Uzma is a lactation, like, guru. So, she would definitely have a different opinion. I do think that God holds females specifically in high regard, especially mothers, because of all the things that we go through. But that doesn’t mean that other women are not held in high regard, if that makes sense.

Brandy:          Yeah. I’m just thinking about women who can’t.

Uzma:             Who can’t or don’t want to, you’re talking about. Yeah. Absolutely.

Brandy:          Exactly. Like, those people are they like, “I’m stuck because I have to. In order for me to have value in this culture, I have to do these things that either my body can’t do or I don’t want to do.” To me, that doesn’t sound like freedom, but it sounds like what you’re saying is, “No, there is still space.” It sounds like, what I’m really loving about you both, is that you have different opinions about this. So, Zaiba how you are saying, “My version of Islam.” So, it’s like, “Oh, this is really cool that you can each figure out your own version of this.”

Zaiba:              Yeah. There’s no compulsion in religion, right? And that’s the beauty. There’s no compulsion in religion.

Uzma:             And that’s from our scripture. If you want to follow it, follow it. It’s between you and God.

Zaiba:              It’s between you and God. I believe more in the spiritual, introspective version of Islam in the sense that, believe it or not, I pray five times a day, I do the fasting, my kids will do all those things, but I don’t necessarily do them because I feel like, “Oh, my God. If I don’t, I’m going to hell.” I don’t think that God is coming from a place of anger and malice. I think he recognizes that we’re human, we’re fallible, and taking those breaks — that’s literally how I think about it. I literally lock myself in my closet now, guys, because of COVID to quickly pray and to take a few minutes. And sometimes, I’m like, “I’m still praying,” and I’m literally reading in my closet.

Brandy:          {laughter}

Uzma:             {laughter}

Zaiba:              I feel like it’s not because, “Oh, my God. If I don’t pray, God is gonna be mad.”

Uzma:             Some people have wine, and we have prayer.

Zaiba:              {laughter} Exactly, we have prayer. And I just think that he knows we need it. There are times in the day that we need to take a break to decompress. I definitely come from it from a more spiritual perspective. Not that I’m not still doing all the things that we’re supposed to do because we’re pretty conservative in our practice, believe it or not. You mentioned hijab. Uzma physically wears a hijab. I feel like a hijab is more from the spiritual perspective and how I carry myself, and I don’t feel like I need to wear something on my head or hide my hair to still be in hijab because my intention and my being is more of a modest — like, if you’ve met me, I’m more modest, and I like to be behind the scenes. I don’t necessarily feel like I have to wear the physical hijab to still be maintaining hijab. Whereas, Uzma might feel differently. The beauty is that we can agree to disagree on our individual interpretations, but that doesn’t make the other person’s view invalid, if that makes sense.

Brandy:          Got it. Yes.

Uzma:             Maybe, it’s analogous to, like, your best friend does yoga every day, and you don’t. Like, that’s not how you relax.

Zaiba:              Yeah.

Uzma:             Maybe, you drink wine. Pick your poison. Poison is a bad analogy.

Zaiba:              Pick your blessing. {laughter}

Uzma:             Pick your blessing. Pick your blessing. {laughter}

Brandy:          {laughter}

Uzma:             And so, I just wanted to step back real quick to the fertility and breastfeeding issue. In the scripture itself, there’s no harm on a woman if she decides that she doesn’t want to breastfeed because there is a tradition of having a nursemaid.

Zaiba:              Yeah.

Uzma:             Having shared breast milk amongst women who are nursing and to hire a person to nurse your child. Muhammad, himself, had a nursemaid who he knew as his mother all of his life. So, that tradition is written into scripture. It’s there for those moms who don’t want to breastfeed.

Brandy:          Is that something that happens?

Uzma:             It does often in cultures.

Zaiba:              It does? I didn’t even know that. I’m learning something new.

Uzma:             So, the reason why it happens is because relations in Islam are built not only on blood, but also via milk. So, if you share milk with somebody — like, the milk of the same woman is fed to two children of the opposite genders, they are now milk brother and sister. If they were to get married, it would be considered incest.

Brandy:          Okay, wait a minute. So, if they’re from different families?

Uzma:             Even if they’re from different families. They shared milk from the same person. They are now brother and sister, and she will (A) never be allowed to marry him, and (B) she will not have to cover her hair in front of him because we don’t have to cover in front of our brothers, our sons, our nephews, grandfather’s, maternal/paternal uncles because those are bloodlines that are forbidden in marriage. So, that’s why when my grandmother used to watch As the World Turns, she would be flipping out because she’s like, “Oh, my God. The Father and son slept with Taylor. These people are dogs!” {laughter}

Brandy:          {laughter}

Uzma:             That’s considered incest right there. In Islam, those relations of blood and milk are so important that people will sometimes lie, unfortunately. This happens in the culture because a woman’s testimony is taken alone, at face value, without any proof. If she steps forward and says at a wedding, “I nursed both this groom and bride,” the wedding is canceled. It’s over. It can’t happen because their brother and sister. So, it’s illegal in Muslim countries.

Brandy:          I’m learning a lot here.

Uzma:             There’s no way you can prove it, and in Islamic courts of law and Sharia court of law, that woman’s single testimony by herself saying, “No, I nursed both of these kids. They’re brother and sister,” you’re done. Bye.

Brandy:          That’s so interesting because when we’re talking about feminism and believing women, this just goes in line with what you’re saying about how Islam favors women and how vagina always wins. I’m struck by the fact that a woman says something, and everybody believes it. Excuse me? So, that’s amazing to me, which proves what you’re saying.

Uzma:             In Islam, but not in cultures, right?

Brandy:          Right.

Uzma:             So, it’s just the same. The “me too” culture exists all over the world. So, for instance, Zaiba and I have roots in Pakistan, right? So, in Sharia law, if a woman says, “This dude raped me.” Period. Done. He’s getting tried. But the military martial law of certain dictators that came through Pakistan set a law in motion, and they go back to different Sharia law that says, “Rape is fornication, and fornication can only be proven by four witnesses who actually saw the act of penetration.” And so, if a woman comes forward and says that she was raped, “Well, where are your four witnesses?” You didn’t have four witnesses? Fine. You admitted to rape. You fornicated. You’re going to be jailed for the rest of your life.

Brandy:          Hmm.

Uzma:             And that was a rule set by a dictator who has since been assassinated in Pakistan, but it goes completely contrary to Sharia law. So, it kind of shows the misogyny of culture. That is, I would argue all across the globe, regardless of religion, regardless of race, women are victimized all over the planet.

Brandy:          Yes.

Uzma:             And this is a big example of victimization which unfortunately happens to be in a country that calls itself a Muslim country, but it’s not running based on Islamic law. It’s running based on the whims of men who are trying to make their penises more powerful than vaginas, but they fear them so much, they’re, you know, locking them up in cages just like men all over the world do everywhere.

Brandy:          Gosh, I think that that is such a brilliant point that you make. And I think it’s a point that people need to hear because I think as Americans who don’t look much further than what’s in front of them, they just assume that it must be the entire religion and the entire culture, and they aren’t parsing out the two separate things and the patriarchy, misogyny that is making those things happen in Pakistan exists here. Like you’re saying, it exists everywhere.

Uzma:             Absolutely. Look at the Kavanaugh case.

Brandy:          Yes.

Uzma:             It’s like you’re looking at the Kavanaugh case and there’s absolutely no difference between what you’re doing and what, like, Boko Haram is doing, what ISIS is doing, what Pakistan is doing. You are exactly the same. You let men get away with it, and you justify it. There’s an undercurrent of religious understanding and cultural bias against women that exists in America as well as it does anywhere else.

Brandy:          Yes.

Uzma:             So, the whole “holier than thou” thing, I’m just like, “Y’all just get off that pedestal, that high horse because no. I’ll cut you down to the knees. I’ll give you so many examples.” Like, let’s talk Brock. Let’s talk Kavanaugh. Let’s talk about all these powerful men that get away with it and victimize women in this country just as much as they do in third world countries. “What’s your excuse if you’re so civilized and so democratic and so equal? Show me the equality.”

Brandy:          Yeah, it’s just a total denial. Switching gears, I have a question that I was — you know, after I was doing some stalking last night and reading more about both of you. This part was so interesting, but I’m curious, how did the events of 9/11 change your lives? And I know you both didn’t have kids then, but how did those events affect their lives, or their lack of knowing a life that was being Muslim-American before 9/11?

Zaiba:              That’s a very interesting situation because I think life, even in America as we know it, changed for everybody, not necessarily just for Muslims, as well.

Brandy:          Yes.

Zaiba:              Like, by the way, dealing with this pandemic, life as we know it is going to be altered and changed.

Brandy:          Yes.

Zaiba:              These are just historical things that happen and occur and change society. So, I want to first say, 9/11 I think, obviously, affected everybody, but sadly, for Muslim people — I had my son a couple years later. He was born in 2003. We’ve been asked this question before, and always, I want to say like, “How would I change it? How would I structure it differently?” But the truth of the matter is, we were affected as Americans, like everybody else, and sadly, to use the phrase that we’ve used before, “Our religion was hijacked as well.”

Brandy:          Yeah.

Zaiba:              They’re represented by — what was it? 10 to 12 hijackers that really didn’t even have any kind of relation to Islam, if you actually look at their history before. And then, now, all of a sudden, we’re answering for it. And we’re answering for a group of people that have nothing to do with us because as far as we’re concerned, we’re celebrating 4th of July with you. Maybe, not this year because we’re learning about different types of things that are going on because we’re being more well aware of our own personal history here in the United States, but like, you know, red, white, and blue, that’s — we’re American Muslims or Muslim-American. I always say that I’m an American-Muslim. Uzma would say, “I would argue that I’m Muslim-American,” and I’m sure that’s how she would say it to you as well. My poor kids are, and our kids in general, are all pretty much carrying the weight of an event that happened before they were born and having to answer for it. And they’re watching it on TV because it’s a historical thing, right?

Brandy:          Yeah.

Zaiba:              It’s not something that they’ve experienced. So, they just don’t quite understand it. Obviously, I have older kids, and so, we’ve had direct things and events that have occurred where they’ve been called terrorists, camel jockey, sand n-i-g-g-e-r. I hate saying that word, and regardless, I don’t want to give power to it. They’re just kind of like, “Why?” We had a connection to Pakistan because that’s where our dads were from, but like, they have zero connection. They have no concept, no family members (my kids specifically) in any other country but America. So, they just don’t understand it, right?

Brandy:          Right.

Zaiba:              So, trying to constantly now carry the burden of an event that happened and give them the language to help them understand how they’re feeling, still to be proud of who they are, but not have to feel defensive because it wasn’t something that is their responsibility. So, I know Uzma probably has a different answer, but you know, that’s been my consistent answer, and I don’t think I would change it.

Brandy:          Hmm.

Uzma:             No, I mean, I agree with most everything that Zaiba said. The only thing that I think is a little bit different between our experiences is, you know, Zaiba has an American mother. So, her American identity was never in question. Mine always was, and because of the miniskirt terror, because of the boyfriend terror, it was so wrong to be American. We could live here. We could be educated here. We could work here, but the plan was not to die here. We were going to go back home one magical day, wherever home was. I think in my dad’s mind, it was India. In my mom’s mind, she was like, “What the hell are you thinking?” But she never said anything. You know, being American was, like, the worst thing you could be because these people, “They don’t wash when they go to the bathroom, they date and multiple people, they eat pork, they’re so dirty. They’re dirty. We taught them how to bathe, and they’re calling us dirty.” Like, “No.” So, being American was so bad. So, I would say the one positive thing that came out for me, mostly, after I became a mom – actually, a hundred percent after I became a mom. I was 35. People would always ask me, “So, where are you from?” And I would say, “Pakistan.” They’re like, “Oh, how long have you been here?” “Oh. Well, I mean, I was born here. I’ve never actually lived in Pakistan. I was born in Chicago.” So, I was 35 before somebody said, “Oh. So, you’re American?” And I was like, “No, no, no.” I would always argue, I mean, “No, no. I’m not American. I’m Pakistani. I was just born here.” And they’re like, “That’s not how it works. You’re American.”

Zaiba:              Yeah, girl. That is not how it works.

Uzma:             And I didn’t know that until I was 35 years old because I was always fighting the identifier of American. This person held my hand and my shoulder, and she said, “You’re an American, and your children are American.” And that’s when I finally felt I knew myself. I could finally say, “I am Muslim-American,” because I was Pakistani-Muslim before that, who just happened to be born and raised in America. But now, I had permission to be American. I had permission to call my kids American. So, it was almost a little bit of overkill on July 4 and Memorial Day where we’re going to prove now that we are so American. Goshdarnit, we’re gonna do all the holidays. We’re gonna do Veterans Day. We’re gonna do Memorial Day.

Brandy:          We’re all wearing miniskirts.

Zaiba:              Exactly. {laughter}

Uzma:             Minus the miniskirts. But like, I red, white and blue’d my family up. We used to drive to those community picnics where nobody would talk to us on July 4, and we would just sit under a tree by ourselves.

Zaiba:              Aww.

Uzma:             The funny looking Muslims in red, white and blue, but we did it. Then eventually, you know, I think it was a little bit before the whole Colin Kaepernick situation happened where I was like, “Okay, I need to study more.” Because in my zeal to, you know, accept this identity that I had for so long and was not allowed to be, I’m forgetting what burdens come with that, what responsibilities come with that, and I have to start acknowledging that. So, we actually dropped the red, white and blue. In some ways, I feel like a lot of us with a conscience have had to do because our religion was hijacked after 9/11, but I would argue that after 2016 our flag got hijacked as a country.

Zaiba:              Yes.

Brandy:          Yes.

Uzma:             So, we can’t even wave it without some angst and some conflict within our hearts.

Brandy:          Right. Well, Zaiba, will you tell us about — there was a story that I read about your son at the airport that seemed like kind of a defining moment where you realized, or you had to help him realize, this role and this thing that he was going to be fighting against? Will you tell us about that?

Zaiba:              Yeah, exactly. It was actually the start of the podcast to be honest with you. And for me, in reading now and understanding my point of privilege, and I want to speak to that — if you’ve read the book White Fragility, like, it’s just one of those things where, if even if you’re a mixed culture, if you happen to pass for white, you’re also part of the problem. And I’m recognizing that, you know, perhaps I was part of the problem because I definitely have — until people hear my name, you know, Zaiba Hasan, and then they’re like, “Oh, wait a minute. Where are you from?” But for the most part, I can pass, and nobody even bothers me. And the beauty is being mixed, and my husband being mixed, and my beautiful kids are mixed. So, you know, there’s a whole bunch of colors that come out, which of course, I love and appreciate, but it does make other people question. And I’ve never really experienced that until my oldest son — we were coming back from Chicago because our family still lives there. Having just visited the Northwestern campus because he’s still pretty convinced that that’s where he’s going to go. So, from my mouth to God’s ears, that’s where he wants to go. He was at that stage where they’re starting to grow. Like, to me, he still looks like a baby, but I guess, to somebody else, he looks like a grown adult. And I guess he’ll always look kind of like a baby to me. Like, I just think that that’s just what happens when you’re a mom.

Brandy:          Yeah.

Zaiba:              And I usually have to, unfortunately, travel with the kids alone because my husband works long hours, and we were going through security. I’ve never really had issues. My son was ahead of me, and they stopped my son. They were just essentially interrogating him. And of course, at that point, I’m with the younger two, and I finally was like, “Oh, is there a problem?” And they’re like, “Well, where’s his ID? He’s telling me he doesn’t have ID.” And I’m like, “What do you mean he doesn’t have an ID?” He, at that point, hadn’t even turned 14. But he was wearing a Northwestern shirt, and he was probably, like, 5’ 10” at that point and filling out a little bit. So, I’m realizing they’re looking at him now as a man versus a little boy, and we were probably interrogated for 20 to 30 minutes. I’m like, “I don’t walk around with birth certificates or passports. Usually, I hand you my ID, and you ask them their names and we move on.” But after interrogating, literally, all of us and being pulled aside, they finally let us come through. And this poor kid was like, “What the heck was that about?” And I’m realizing now how they’re looking at him.

Brandy:          Hmm.

Zaiba:              He was a kid before, but now you’re a Muslim man. And our last name is Hasan. It’s a very identifiably Muslim last name, and the funny thing about is I was just googling, “What would have happened if they put us away? How would I have been able to survive?” Because you know, there are no rules for that type of stuff to be honest with you. And I realized if I was ever in a situation — now, I travel everywhere with passports, but if I’m ever in a situation like that, like, what would I do? So, in my quest and trying to find out that answer, I obviously, called Uzma. Uzma’s one of my childhood friends, and she knows a lot of people that can connect me. I, literally, was just like, “I mean, I don’t know what happened. Who could I have called?” I think she was having babies at that time, too, because all of hers are back to back. And then, the first question she said to me, “Why are you not traveling with ID?” That was literally the first question she asked me.

Brandy:          {laughter}

Zaiba:              And I was just so taken aback.

Uzma:             I was trying really hard not to be judgmental. Like, “What makes you think you can’t?” {laughter}

Zaiba:              Exactly. She was like, “What do you mean you’re not traveling with ID?” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” So, in my quest to find some of those answers myself, I realized there really wasn’t a platform for very self-identified American-Muslim moms and their children. Because my son is one of the older ones, right? He’s a 2003 which is closer to, you know, September 11, and it was just one of those things where I’m like, “There’s nothing like that out there.” And in my quest for answering questions that I had myself and Uzma had for herself (and I’ll let her answer) is what kind of spawned the idea for Mommying While Muslim, and then, created this online platform for people to ask pretty interesting questions and trying to match them with professionals that can help them. The beauty of this is that, I think, in other people’s quest to be allies, we have a lot of non-Muslim people in our group as part of our listenership because, I think, they’re just trying to understand through the commonality of motherhood, how we’re more alike, and I’m very, very appreciate have that. So, that was my defining moment to realize, “Okay, I’ve been able to pass until now, but guess what? You’re coming after my kids,” and that I have to create a world that’s better for them. And that’s what I have to do. That was my calling. So, I called Uzma. She was one of my best friends, and I was like, “Listen, this is something I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about doing this. Would you want to be a co-host?” And then, she was like — I’ll let her take over from here.

Uzma:             She was like, “Would you like to come on a podcast about it?” And I said, “Sure. What’s a podcast?”

Zaiba:              Yeah. No clue. {laughter}

Brandy:          {laughter}

Uzma:             So, that kind of started our journey. But yeah, when you’re visibly Muslim –and my advantages were– I was visibly Muslim. My parents both worked for the airlines. So, we knew like, “It’s just going to be so much faster if you always have your ID.”

Brandy:          Right.

Uzma:             And then, for me as a parent, I was offended when people would not ask me for my newborn’s ID. I’ve actually sat there with the TSA agent. “I could be kidnapping this child for all! Why aren’t you asking for an affidavit? I’m traveling by myself with this child. I could be trafficking.” Like, “Why aren’t you checking his ID?” They’re, at the same time, trying not to racially profile me.

Brandy:          Right. They’re like, “Ma’am, we’re having a hard time. We’re trying not to do this thing, but you are forcing us into this.” {laughter}

Uzma:             {laughter} Exactly.

Zaiba:              Exactly. {laughter}

Uzma:             So, it’s like, they’re damned if they do. They’re damned if they don’t. Phoenix, where I live, is literally the nicest airport TSA there is in the entire country. And I have traveled very extensively. Again, my parents worked in the airlines, so I got to do a lot of traveling very cheaply. And so, I’ve seen a lot of TSA’s, and Phoenix is super nice. So, they would try very hard never to pull me out of the line, especially because I would be wearing my babies, and that’s a big hassle. “No, no, ma’am. We don’t check ID’s.” And I gave up. It’s a child safety issue that people are not kidnapping children, but whatever. But I always carried it with me. To this day, you know. Pretty much, as soon as my kids can sit up, they get their passports done because you never know. But when you’re visibly Muslim, and when you’ve had a complete strip search at an airport, you know you’re never ever going to travel without your blue passport that shows these people you’re an American. You belong here. You were born in Chicago. Really, this shouldn’t be happening to you or to anybody for that matter because it is racial profiling that continues to this day.

Brandy:          Yes.

Uzma:             So, that’s all I have to add to that.

Brandy:          Well, and that’s a thing, I think, too, that a lot of us white people or white passing people, like Zaiba, you were experiencing is I would never even think about that. I mean, now that trafficking is more of a thing, it’s like, “Yes, that makes sense.” And you would hope that they were checking that, but it’s a privilege that we have that we don’t have to think about that.

Zaiba:              Yes. It’s a point of privilege, and I’m understanding that myself. Like, I used to get offended. Trust me, we’ve had people on both sides saying, “Who are you to sit there and speak on this?” And for me, specifically, and from the Muslim culture, they’re kind of like who are you to sit there and talk about Islam for XYZ? You don’t quite understand the full nuances of parenting all Muslim. At first, I would get offended, and now, as I’m reading and understanding, I’m recognizing I’m coming from a place of privilege. I recognize that I probably do not have the same experiences, but guess what? I’m parenting kids, that that’s not necessarily the case for. So, I do have to be better equipped in how to support them. In supporting my own children, how can I help support other people’s children in going through this journey that we like to call mommying while Muslim?

Brandy:          Yes. Well, speaking of which, what do you both wish that non-Muslim moms knew about you and your culture, and how can we be better allies to you?

Zaiba:              That’s a very amazing question, first of all, because it could be so layered. We do get asked that a lot, and the number one thing I would say is, “Don’t be afraid to ask the questions.” That’s my big thing because until you ask, you’re not going to know. I’ve had people embarrassingly come up to me and be like, “You’re Muslim, and I don’t understand,” and, “What do you think about this?” And I always say, “I’m not the representative of billions of people, okay? But to the extent that you feel like you want to know more, I can kind of direct you to somebody who’s more knowledgeable than me. Or if you’re afraid to ask them, you can ask me, and I can segue. Don’t be afraid to ask the question.” That’s first and foremost. I want people to know that.

Brandy:          Okay.

Zaiba:              And the second thing is, especially because we deal specifically with parenting, as we’ve talked a little bit about throughout the day that we want for our kids the same things you want for yours. From that perspective of commonality, we’re very much alike. If somebody is hurting your kid and to the extent that I can help him or her, I want to do that because we’re coming from a place of mothers and motherhood and from our heart. So, you could be sitting next to me — I always say that I’m usually at baseball or basketball, and we’d start strike up a conversation. The reality of the situation, you’d realize we’re so much more alike than different. So, that’s the three main things that I would like non-Muslim moms, specifically, to understand that we’re pretty much right there with you. I had to clean my kids butts and wake up at night. We had the same colicky babies. We all have very similar experiences. We’re just kind of approaching it a little bit differently.

Brandy:          Yes, and I think a lot of us moms — I call it “mom code” which is this is thing inside me that’s like, “I would do almost anything for another mom, regardless of who they were.”

Zaiba:              Yes.

Brandy:          A stranger, and I don’t even know them, but I just know, as them being a mom, we’ve all seen the same darkness, and we’ve all seen the same light as well. And there’s something that’s so bonding about that. Once we become moms, I think that that becomes more clear that we are more alike than we are different.

Zaiba:              Yes, I agree. Exactly.

Brandy:          Uzma, what about you? What’s your answer to that?

Uzma:             So, to be good allies, I mean, I think that’s one of the reasons why we did this was to recruit allies for our kids so that if a George Floyd situation is happening, it’s gonna be moms. I’m sure that the people on the sidewalk were not moms because I think they would have thrown themselves on his body and been like, “No, get off.” But I would argue that anybody can be a mom, whether you reproduce a child or not because it is part of, I think, our gender’s gift that we are nurturers. If we’re not mothering humans, we’re mothering something. We’re growing something, even if it’s a movement or a cause or kindness. I think that we’re just softer and able to see past our egos to get there to the most important parts of our God-created selves. And if somebody wants to be a good Muslim, yes, ask the questions. But it’s kind of that whole — I think when we were little in the 80’s, it was the Heather’s, right? But in my experience, in the 90s, it was the Jennifer’s. I had the Jennifer’s.

Zaiba:              {laughter} That’s so funny.

Uzma:             So, the Jennifer’s, because there was always, like, seven in your class, right?

Brandy:          Yes, there were.

Uzma:             And they all sit together. And that doesn’t change.

Brandy:          And the Mike’s. The male version of this is Mike.

Uzma:             Yes, Mike. There were Mike’s and there were Jennifer’s. So, in my experience, the Mike’s are always awesome. So, I got along great with the Mike’s, but the Jennifer’s, I couldn’t crack that nut. I still can’t. So, whether it’s at scout’s meetings or it’s at activities, I’m kind of sitting by myself. Or, who am I sitting with? It’s the Spanish-speaking people because I can speak fluent Spanish. So, we’re just kind of talking. We’re like eso,” or, “Goal!” So, we can find something in common with each other, and it’s usually our minority status. That’s unfortunate because the Jennifer’s are still being Jennifer’s, even after they’ve had kids. And I think in Islam, we’re not even allowed to sit in circles. We’re discouraged from sitting within circles in a place of worship. Why? Because somebody who’s coming in is not going to feel welcome. So, always keep it open. Like, you can sit in a U-shape, or you can sit in a line but don’t make a circle. And so, as moms, we tend to do that. And I’m guilty of this too. When this whole Black Lives Matter recently came to light this year, I realized I don’t really have, except for one person, a black friend. I wanted to know why. That’s kind of what we’ve been doing through the podcast is, “Who is not sitting here? And why aren’t they sitting here?”

Brandy:          Yes.

Uzma:             Because this is wrong. We need to ask ourselves why this isn’t happening? We need to ask ourselves how we can be better allies, and this is to Muslim women, you know, who are marginalized within a marginalized community. So, as marginalized people in America as per your question, I would just encourage people to open up your circle and invite Muslim people. One of the better ways, and I’m not saying for all Muslims because there are Muslims who drink alcohol, but typically wine nights are just not Muslim friendly. Living in Phoenix, there’s a huge Mormon population over here, so it’s not just me. {laughter} There’s more than a lot of us who cannot drink. So, is there something that we can find to do together or talk about that is more inclusive? Can we just not have such tight circles? Can we open up and sit together on the bleachers? So, I’ve not had that experience because I’m not white passing at all.

Zaiba:              That’s actually interesting because I never have that problem.

Uzma:             Right, exactly.

Zaiba:              Yeah, I actually have the opposite. I don’t have that many Muslim friends, believe it or not. I’m like, “Why do Muslim people not like me?” But I have so many non-Muslim friends and so many different colors and ethnicities and religions. But I actually don’t have that many Muslim friends. I mean, I’m learning so much about Uzma today, and I love that.

Uzma:             It speaks to your questions are so good, Brandy. {laughter}

Zaiba:              I love it.

Brandy:          Truly, I said it before, but I love that you both differ on things, and I love that you bring a different  perspective – that Uzma, you haven’t been white passing, but Zaiba, you have been. So, you have different takes on this, and it makes me understand. I was thinking when Zaiba called you after the airport thing and you were like, “Why aren’t you traveling with your papers or with any sort of ID.”

Zaiba:              Yeah, and I was like, “Don’t yell at me.” {laughter}

Uzma:             I was like, “What Muslim does that?” {laughter}

Brandy:          I know, and I’m thinking, like, “Well, hopefully you validated her and were nice for like a couple seconds before that,” but also, that has to be…

Zaiba:              No, she calls it as it is, and I love that about her. She’s like, “What the heck are you doing, girl?”

Uzma:             “Are you a dummy?” {laughter}

Zaiba:              {laughter} Exactly.

Brandy:          That’s totally true when you’ve had to live a certain way, and then, you have a friend who’s like, “This is so bullshit.” And you’re like, “Dude. Wake up. This has been going on. You just woke up to it,” is the thing. I love that you guys have that, and I would imagine your podcast has that same not always agreeing but having a really deep conversation about these things. So, I’m so happy to have met you guys and to have you here and talk to you about all this. When you mentioned about the not having wine nights, are there any other more social kind of choices that people who aren’t Muslim could make that would help welcome you? Like, what are some of your other rules that we might not know about? Like, I had a Muslim doula client. I used to work in the childbirth world, and I remember learning some of these things having her as a client which was so wonderful. I’m curious if there’s anything else you can speak to that’s similar to like, “Maybe, don’t have the wine night,” or what other foods or certain times of day that things have to happen. What are some of those things that we might not know?

Zaiba:              We’ve talked about it before to just have one vegetarian item. Not just for us — Muslims aren’t vegetarian. Like, we love meat, generally, but the pork gets really complicated. The pork lobby is so strong in America. Like, it’s in everything – bacon. Everything. So, if you can have one vegetarian item, you don’t just include Muslims, you include a lot of people. Just have one vegetarian item. If there’s, one day, going to be an opportunity to get together and share food and space together —

Uzma:             That’s never going to happen again. That makes me sad.

Zaiba:              It will happen. It will happen. It will just take time and responsibility on the part of ourselves.

Brandy:          Yeah. When it comes to men, that was one that was specific to when I was supporting my client.

Zaiba:              Yeah, because you were a healthcare worker. So, yeah.

Brandy:          I remember, I think, when I met her husband, I went to hug him, and she was like, “Oh, we don’t do that.” And I was like, “Oh, okay. Awesome.” And so, then I sat down and was like, “Tell me the things that I need to know to best support you.” But that was something that I learned that way. Are there any other social niceties? Things like that?

Zaiba:              I think right now, no one’s going to be hugging each other or give each other high fives.

Uzma:             Yeah, we’re not gonna hug for a long time.

Zaiba:              I think that’s a good thing. My husband jokingly said this the other day. He was like, “Now, I don’t have to deal with any of these weird, awkward potential hugs and these types of things.” I mean, he shakes hands and stuff like that. The two of us are obviously a lot more liberal, but he’s always like, “It’s always so awkward when people go in for the kiss, and you’re kind of, like, going back.” And he’s like, “Now, with COVID, I don’t have to deal with any of that stuff!”

Brandy:          {laughter} Right.

Zaiba:              So, if there’s a silver lining in the social niceties, I don’t think any of us are going to be hugging each other for a while, sadly. So, we do Chai chats. I think Chai or having tea, that’s what I do with my friends. And then, they all go out and do their drinking later.

Brandy:          Got it.

Zaiba:              So, that’s kind of how I’ve dealt with it in the past because I’m pretty open about like, “I’m not drinking, I’m not doing happy hour, but if you guys want to come for tea and sit on my porch, we can do that. Then, you guys can go drink afterwards.” That’s worked for me in the past, and that’s kind of what I even tell my kids now because they’re starting to deal with, “What do I do when I’m at a party, and people are drinking?” I’m like, “You’re the designated driver. So, claim it, be okay with it, and own it.” So, I totally interrupted Uzma.

Uzma:             No, no, no. What I was trying to say is it’s like a running Muslim-American joke since the lockdown happened – they were so afraid of Sharia law, and now everybody’s covering their face.

Brandy:          {laughter}

Zaiba:              Exactly!

Uzma:             The bars are closed. Nobody’s touching each other, opposite genders. They know they’re all practicing Sharia law, right? {laughter}

Zaiba:              The Muslims have taken over because of COVID!

Uzma:             Basically {laughter}

Brandy:          See, I don’t think we should — I’m like, “I should cut this out because I don’t think we should float this idea because everybody’s hungry for conspiracy, you guys.” {laughter}

Zaiba:              {laughter}

Uzma:             {laughter}

Brandy:          They are gonna run with this. I mean, honestly, if we just even like shopped this around the internet, I feel like people on the internet would be like, “Oh, yes! This is what’s happening!”

Zaiba:              Oh, you’re right.

Uzma:             This is it! The Right’s gonna take it.

Zaiba:              We’re, like, covering our face with masks. No one’s allowed to hug or kiss each other.

Brandy:          What next? No miniskirts. I mean this is tyranny. You guys, tyranny is on the rise.

Zaiba:              Girl, I haven’t gotten out of my yoga pants, let alone put on a miniskirt. So, we are good.

Brandy:          {laughter}

Uzma:             You’ll be happy to know that I’ve adopted yoga pants, Zaiba.

Zaiba:              Oh. See, good. She used to make fun of me for my yoga pants.

Uzma:             Yeah. Mostly because I don’t fit in anything else anymore.

Zaiba:              {laughter} I know, you’re like, “Let me roll this over.”

Uzma:             {laughter} I’ve gained, like, 20 pounds in this lockdown.

Brandy:          I feel like we have no choice but to embrace the yoga pants in this moment. There’s no other way.

Uzma:             I fought them for a really long time. I was like, “Respect yourself. Wear some pants.”

Zaiba:              I know. She used to make fun of me, but I’m like, “Nuh uh.” She’s like, “Put your pants on.” I’m like, “Not when I’m just sitting in the house. I’m not doing that.”

Brandy:          And now, when you have to put real pants on, they feel sharp and they hurt because you’ll get so used to the soft. {laughter}

Zaiba:              They hurt. Yes, exactly.

Brandy:          Um, real fast before I let you guys go, where can people find you and the podcast?

Uzma:             So, our website is We also have a Facebook page: Mommying While Muslim. Then, at Instagram, our handle is @mommyingwhilemuslimpodcast.  That is Zaiba’s brainchild name for us because that’s what we’re doing every day. So, we named everything after that.

Brandy:          Awesome. Well, you two, thank you so much for coming here today. I loved having this conversation with you. I am so happy to introduce my listeners to you, and I would love to have you back. You have opened my eyes, and I really appreciate this honest conversation and for you both being so open to answering questions that might not be comfortable for everybody. So, thank you for bringing yourselves here, like, genuinely and open. And I just really appreciate the time that you spent here.

Zaiba:              No, thank you so much for having us, Brandy. We definitely appreciate it.

Uzma:             Thanks for having us. This is terrific.

Zaiba:              So fun.

Brandy:          So, there were a couple lingering questions I had after this interview — a few things I wanted to understand better. So, I reached out to Uzma and Zaiba to get their take on hijab. During our interview, Zaiba made a comment about still observing hijab but without wearing the headscarf. I had always thought that the headscarf was a hijab, but she was using the word like it also meant a bigger way of thinking or a way of being. So yes, Uzma verified this and said, “Hijab is how we carry ourselves. It’s from the root word ‘hajaba’ which is to veil with modesty. As I believe Zaiba mentioned, she doesn’t wear a literal hijab, but she carries herself as modestly as she is comfortable without covering her hair. We have hijab of speech, action, the eyes — what we can look upon or experience without lechery, for lack of a better word. So, watching porn would violate hijab of the eyes, for example.” So, that’s what Uzma had to say.

Brandy:          Another question I had was about the rules around physical contact between people of different genders who aren’t family. I know we joked that no one is hugging anyone right now during a pandemic, but I wanted to be clear on the rules for when we’re through this. We’ll be through this one day, right? Uzma, who by the way is a doctor, told me, “Religious rule states there’s no physical contact between unrelated opposite genders. Now, does it happen? Sure. People will exercise religious rulings to the level of their comfort. I try to avoid physically touching men not related to me as much as possible, but in my line of work, I usually need to touch them a lot more at a later date. So, I open with a handshake that I initiate to establish doctor/patient trust.” Uzma then goes on to say, “I always suggest that a man meeting a Muslim woman in non-pandemic times put his hand on his chest to greet with a ‘hello.’ If the Muslim woman offers her hand, shake it. It’s a great way to receive firm exercise of agency from a woman prior to touching her, no matter how platonic his intention.”

Brandy:          Okay, I also wanted to clarify about alcohol at parties and making them Muslim inclusive. I reached out to another Muslim friend about this, asking her if the presence of any alcohol was a problem, or if she was okay to have alcohol at a party as long as there were other beverage choices. The answer she gave me was that people differ on this, but mostly making the event a dry event is the only way to guarantee Muslim inclusiveness. Even though some Muslims will choose to attend an event with alcohol, they usually don’t feel great about doing so. But, like Uzma and Zaiba showed us, there’s a spectrum and different people are at different places on it.

Brandy:          And something else I wanted to comment on is Uzma saying, “Our gender’s gift is that we are nurturers. We’re just softer and able to see past our egos.” I know a lot of women feel this is true, so I’m not here to debate that. But I also wanted to soften around it because like we talked about in this episode, cultural conditioning can override behavior. And maybe, this is a case where we women are taught that we are nurturers and that we are softer. And perhaps, if men were conditioned to be as soft and nurturing as we are, perhaps, they wouldn’t be much different than us. So, just something to think about, especially for women out there who don’t necessarily feel nurturey or soft. It doesn’t mean you’re doing the woman thing wrong. So, as always, thanks for listening.

** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.