When I was nine years old, my mother gave me an abaya and a niqab and said they were my token of honor. She said every honorable woman wears them, to let the world know she is protected by Allah. I wore them with pride.
My brothers went to school. My parents kept my sister and me at home, using the permission to home school that many muslims use in my state. My parents told me it was a privilege to be able to stay home and learn only what’s important, my sister and I were hidden pearls, too valuable to be allowed to go to school. I thought it was wonderful to be so precious.
When my brothers came home from school, my sister and I always had to prepare food for them, serve at table, and afterwards we did the dishes and the laundry and brought our brothers tea and cookies. I asked my mother, since my sister and I were more precious than our brothers, how come we had to wait on them and not the other way around. My mother told me that it was another kind of precious. My sister and I were precious as gems for our future husbands and mothers of our future children and being obedient and modest was our value, while our brothers were precious because they were men, leaders and our protectors. My mother told me never to want anything other than what a woman should want, to be pleasing to my husband anda modest and good mother.
When I was 16, my father and mother told me I was to be married. I should be proud because my husband was a scholar, a respected man in the community. He gave me a heavy gold necklace. I felt proud. And I hoped that this would mean new experiences, a new world opening to me. We were married. The women celebrated up stairs, the men downstairs. In the evening, I was taken to my husband’s house. We spent two hours praying. Then, without speaking a word to me, he made me his wife.
My husband is a very religious man. We have no radio, no TV. I’m not allowed to listen to music. We only have religious books, and my husband keeps them in his den, and sometimes gives one to me and tells me what to read. I’m not allowed to leave the house without him or my mother in law. We have talked about it many times, I even asked my father to talk to my husband about letting me go for a short walk on my own, or maybe to the shops. But my husband says no, and my father says I should be grateful really since my husband is so eager to protect me. I had a son a year ago and my life is better now since I have a purpose and something to do with my time.
Half a year ago, my husband told me he was going to marry another wife. It shattered me. I do love my husband, and he and my son is all I’ve got. And since I only see my parents a couple of times a year, and my mother in law once a week when we go shopping, my husband is my only connection with the world. I begged him to allow me to go to the masjid alone, told him the Prophet allowed it, but he answered it is only allowed when the world is completely safe and it is not. So I cant go. So every other week I sit in our apartment alone with my son. I can see the neighbors through the window but I can’t talk to them. I have nobody to talk to, days go by without my using my voice. I don’t want to call my parents or my sister, I’d break down and cry and I don’t want that. I wait until they call, and then I just tell them everything is fine.
My husband only sleeps with me those nights when he believes I could become pregnant. The rest of the time, he tells me he is fasting and can’t be intimate. I guess he gets what he wants from the other wife.
So here I am, a prisoner in my own home, in the middle of America. I live in a country that is free, but my religion has made me a prisoner. A couple of nights ago my sister called me. She is married too, and her life is very similar to mine although her husband is only talking about polygamy, he hasn’t actually taken another wife yet. My sister had seen this series on TV, called a Handmaid’s Tale. She said it was about christianity, but she said she felt it was about us. It was a story about how women were taught they had to obey their male owners and dress in modest clothes like nuns and perform ceremonies to have children with men who had wives and concubines. Women weren’t allowed to go outside without being watched, and they weren’t allowed to read. And it was all made to seem like they were respected and protected.
This is us. We are the muslim handmaids.
My sister said the handmaid in the story had said that “They shouldn’t have made us wear a uniform if they hadn’t wanted us to form an army”.
I put on my abaya and my niqab and wait for my mother in law to come and fetch me to go grocery shopping. My husband won’t be home to use me for another three days, he is making babies with another woman in the name of our religion.
“They shouldn’t have made us wear a uniform if they hadn’t wanted us to form an army”.