Mental Health of Pregnant Women

Pregnancy is something that has been viewed both from a societal and cultural point of view as being central to a woman’s very being or existence. That is of course not true, but the fact remains that the instinct to have babies is a very powerful one hardwired into every woman’s brain.

The very process of getting pregnant is often fraught with anxiety and stress, especially in today’s hard paced and stressful times. When women do achieve the much vaunted milestone of getting pregnant, the euphoria does not really last very long. Instead the fact that they are pregnant makes a lot of women extremely stressed.
A recent UK study discovered that as many as 25% pregnant women have mental health issues during the course of their pregnancy. This is an incredibly high figure and necessitates mental health check-ups for pregnant women. Not doing so can have an adverse impact upon the outcome of the pregnancy, the fetus, and indeed the infant.
It is therefore important that healthcare professional proactively enquire about the emotional and mental wellbeing of pregnant women, both during the course of their pregnancy and the birth of the child. This can be achieved quite easily and seamlessly on account of the fact that pregnant women are in regular contact with their doctors.

The Impact of Pregnancy on Mental Health

While waiting for one’s baby to arrive is certainly an exciting time for women, it is quite naturally also a time of great anxiety. This naturally can lead to some amount of emotional turbulence. The coming of a baby into one’s life is a life altering event and any normal person would feel a fair amount of anxiety.
Then there is the pregnancy itself-the physical and hormonal changes that can be quite stressful. Women who have had a miscarriage in the past might have to cope with additional stress on account of the antenatal tests one might be required to undergo.
As a matter of fact mental health issues can afflict women both during pregnancy and after the birth of one’s child. These issues could be in the shape of depression, anxiety or even bi-polar disorder. One’s propensity for developing any of these mental issues depends upon the following factors:
(i) Previous mental illness.
(ii) A perceived lack of support.
(iii) Relationship troubles.
(iv) History of having suffered
(v) Drug or alcohol induced mental health issues.

It would be a good idea upon the part of the pregnant person and her partner to watch out for the signs of mental health issues that the former may be displaying. These may take the following shape-
• Feeling morose or under the weather for more than two weeks.
• One’s mood impacting one’s ability to carry out one’s routine functions.
• A general feeling of helplessness, ennui and an inability to cope with day to day life.
• Feeling tense and anxious all the time.
• Panic attacks
• Obsessive and compulsive behaviour.

If a pregnant person is displaying one or more of the above signs, it makes eminent sense to bring these to the notice of a competent healthcare professional. This could be GP or the doctor one is routinely seeing.

For someone who is generally coping well with pregnancy, it would still be a good thing to take steps that will keep their mental health shipshape through their pregnancy and beyond. These are as under:
• Not putting too much pressure upon oneself with regard to the pregnancy and taking adequate rest.
• One should avoid doing things like changing a job, moving to another house or anything that may be a cause of anxiety.
• Keeping oneself physically active to the extent suggested by the doctor.
• Eating regularly and eating healthy.
• Be with positive people.
• Abjure the use of alcohol or drugs.

The Impact of a Pregnant Woman’s Mental Health on the Fetus

New research has shown that the state of the mental health of a pregnant woman not only affects the well-being of the expectant mother, but on the fetal outcomes as well. Depression during the course of a pregnancy has been identified as a factor in causing low fetal birth weight or premature delivery.
There are a large number of studies that increasingly corroborate what is known as the fetal origin hypothesis which states that prenatal environmental exposure can have a lasting impact across a lifetime. There is a fresh body of research that endeavors to establish a direct relationship between psychological distress experienced by a woman during pregnancy with fetal behaviour as well as child development. These studies also seek to study the biological pathways that make this possible.

The prenatal period is an extremely crucial time in the development of a fetus from the neurological from point of view. This is on account of a range of exposures that causes changes to the way that the brain develops with long term implications for physical and mental health. Clinical studies have demonstrated that pregnant women, who have chronic exposure to any form of stress-death of a loved one, earthquake, day to day troubles and so on, face significantly enhanced risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children. This may lead to conditions like autism and decreased cognitive ability.

The significance of these findings lies in the fact that some of the risks that is conveyed from pregnant mother to child is not just on account of genetic illness, but also on account of a transformation of a woman’s mood based physiology having an impact on a fetus’s neurobehavioral development. As a matter of fact the impact of anxiety during the course of a pregnancy is known to extend right up to childhood and adolescence.

Is all Stress Bad for Pregnant Woman?

The thing to understand here is that being pregnant is a normal state for a young woman of child bearing age to be in. Just like a little amount of stress is okay in real life, so it is with a pregnant woman. The kind of stress that you can deal with and dissipate does not cause any harm.
But if you are in a permanent state of stress, its impact on you and your baby could be long term. The state of being in stress puts the body into a flight or fight mode. This causes a flood of stress hormones to flow inside your body to help you cope with the threat. This is accomplished by preparing you to make a run for it by making your heart beat faster.
If you are able to deal with the stress the symptoms too shall recede. But if the stress is unending-that’s damaging. Constant and unrelenting stress can alter your body’s stress management system to go into overdrive and lead to an inflammatory response. One should therefore not stress about stress during pregnancy, but view things in perspective.

Stress Is Bad for Development of Baby’s Brain in the Womb

Stress experienced by a woman during the course of her pregnancy can have a detrimental impact on the baby’s brain as early as the 17th week of pregnancy. It appears that maternal stress does impinge upon a developing child to the extent of even having an impact on his or her IQ. Of course more research needs to be carried out to arrive at a definitive conclusion about the extent to which maternal stress of any kind can impact upon the development of a fetus.
In the meantime it is imperative that every step be taken to ensure that pregnant women have no cause to experience inordinate stress. In fact all the people in such a person’s life-family, friends and colleagues should provide her with every support and reassurance. A study carried out on the basis of the measurement of IQ levels of children whose mothers had experienced excessive stress during pregnancy discovered that their IQ levels were 10 points below average. The importance of a stress free pregnancy cannot be emphasized enough.

What to Do To Ensure a Healthy Development of the Unborn Child

Now that it’s evident that stress during pregnancy can impair the healthy development of an unborn child, every precaution should be taken to avoid situations of any kind of stress for the pregnant mother. This means that activities like smoking, drinking and doing drugs that are associated with stress are strictly to be abjured.
Not exerting oneself at work and resting adequately will help one stay relaxed and happy. One should avoid low fat diets as these are known to cause depression and go for food that contains ample healthy fats. Another thing that pregnant women can do to stay happy and relaxed is to listen to music. It apparently also has a positive impact on the unborn child’s mental development.
Staying active and doing light exercises like swimming and yoga helps relax you and keep you in a positive frame of mind and better equipped to deal with your pregnancy. This happy frame of mind has a beneficial impact upon your baby’s development. Staying stress free during pregnancy is definitely something that will definitely aid in the healthy development of your baby during pregnancy and afterwards.

Islam: Diversity and a Religion for Women

Social media has had a tremendous impact on spreading knowledge and awareness on just about any topic. The way a message is conveyed and how they can go “viral” reflects the evolution of communication in more ways than focusing on just the smartphone or newest tablet alone. It is no surprise that celebrities and other influencers are taking to the internet to spread their messages. In her most recent blog post, blogger Habiba Da Silva focuses her campaign “SKIN” on highlighting both women and men of different ethnicities and cultural traditions. For Habiba, “The SKIN campaign was inspired by many things. Firstly for my passion for cultures and traditions, secondly to break up the trend of having brands with clothing dressed on only lighter skinned models.” Habiba and other bloggers and fashion designers around the world are finally bringing to the light the issue of diversity–whether it be ethnic, linguistic, or even religious.
As discussed in the previous blog post, Islam is a religion not just for Arabs or people of the Middle East. Indeed, Muslims come from all ethnicities and is growing still among inhabitants in Europe and North America. Stereotypes would tell us converts to the religion favor males, as the assumptions about Islam lead us to believe the religion oppresses women. However, evidence suggests that high rates of women are converting to Islam as well. According to the Pew Research Center, Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion and a study by Swansea University indicated that 75% of converts in the UK are women. A quick Google search will also yield blog posts and news articles from female converts to Islam discussing their decision to change religions and their journey through learning about the religion.
So–why the conversion? It is unfortunate that stereotypes about Islam would tell us that women convert to Islam because they are “brainwashed” by others, such as their Muslim husbands, friends from university, or even neighbors. If we turn this narrative upside down, we realize the stereotype does exactly what naysayers say about Islam: it removes agency and the ability to choose from the woman. When those critics of the religion claim women came to Islam because others convinced them, they are essentially claiming women are too weak-minded to make their own decisions, especially one so critical as a change in religion. Why does this happen? For starters, a reinforcement of negative stereotypes of Muslim men contributes to the problem. The idea that Muslim/Arab (often used simultaneously without regard for the difference between religion, ethnicity, and language) are tough-willed, brutish, and “wild” contributes to the notion that these men would force women to do something, such as convert to Islam. Another and related stereotype has to do with the view of Arab/Muslim women which sees them as weak, powerless and incapable of understanding reality.
Edward Said, without a doubt one of the most important scholars of the 20th century to discuss stereotypes about the peoples of the Middle East, claimed that orientalism is what created these stereotypes. The idea that the “Orient” or East was uncivilized was reason enough for the Europe (read: West) to “save” the people from themselves. This obviously resulted in colonialism of the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia. We don’t have to look far to see these stereotypes playing themselves out in the media, entertainment and in the words of world leaders. These stereotypes trickle down to everyday discussions among people and these words have impact, particularly among converts to Islam who are constantly faced with accusations of brainwashing and association with extremism.
So, again, why the conversion? Why does anyone convert to a religion? It’s a personal feeling of course, and when it comes to women, a personal choice about liberation is part of the mix. When you break through all the negative stereotypes about Islam and its treatment of women, what you find is a group of believers who truly feel the religion has opened doors for them that nothing else could and that they are reclaiming what it means to be a feminist. Theresa Corbin, an American Muslim author, wrote: “I learned that Islam is neither a culture nor a cult, nor could it be represented by one part of the world. I came to realize Islam is a world religion that teaches tolerance, justice and honor, and promotes patience, modesty and balance.” Others have claimed that Islam brought meaning to their life because it freed them from having to stay concerned with appearances, displays of wealth, and concerns for other shallow topics. Indeed, modesty is the appeal. If I don’t need to be concerned with society’s expectation to show my body, show my fashion sense, show my sexuality, then I can concern myself with more important issues, such as helping others, personal development, and devoting my life to what is good and wholesome. This is not to say that non-Muslim women cannot do this–of course they can! Rather, the appeal of Islam to female converts is that they are able to find meaning and liberation through Islam’s teaching about life and their place in the human-constructed society around them.
It is very difficult for Muslims and those concerned with their treatment to break stereotypes. Day after day, media and political pundits remind us that the religion of terrorists in the Middle East is Islam and that they are recruiting from among young people who don’t know any better–especially young women. Since a majority of the world seems to accept the notion that female converts to Islam are incapable of making their own decisions, people who watch the news and consume negative information about Islam would have no basis by which to judge whether or not conversion was forced or embraced. It is a tough situation, but the more bloggers and celebrities speak out and celebrate the diversity and exclusivity of Islam, the more the world will see the religion for what it really is.

Muslim Women in the Modern World

Much of how Westerners consume information about Islam comes via the most unflattering and biased outlets. The media, television programs, and films have often focused on the plight of Muslim women by selecting stories that stand out due to their instances of abuse and marginalization in the communities. It is rare, however, to find a separation or distinction being made between the women in question’s religion, society, tradition, culture, and family. It is easier for the stories to focus on lumping everything that makes a person unique together into one amorphous entity–that is, Islam. Muslim women living in or interacting with those in the West have surely felt pressure to “fight the man,” both literally and figuratively, by leaving the Hijab behind and fighting Islam as though it were in and of itself the oppressive structure in which they live. The problem with this frame of understanding is that it takes away any analysis required of the structure in which these women live.
Countries with a high population of Muslims are often called “Muslim countries” and usually refer to the Middle East, Central Asia, and a smattering of countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. (It is interesting to note that countries with a predominantly Christian population are not referred to as “Christian countries” by Western media). The tendency to refer to this collection of states as “Muslim” causes the reader to assume that these states are entirely controlled by the religion. This is false. Nearly all of the countries in the Middle East have a mixed system of government whose civil code incorporates European tradition with particular applications of Islamic law. Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia alone claim to rule their countries entirely by Islamic law, but there are differences even within their codes and application. To note, “Throughout history and throughout the Muslim world, sharia has been shaped and reshaped, influenced by local customs, reconstructed by colonial law, and more recently by national legislatures, administrators, courts and international treaties.” Just like laws around the world, the creation and interpretation of laws for society changes over time and this reflects the negotiation and renegotiation of issues in society among members of the communities.
In regards to women and their rights, this distinction is important to make because when we assume that a country is “Islamic” we are assuming that it enacts laws and policies against women because the state has the ultimate authority and wisdom to know what is right and what is wrong. However, all of these countries are led by autocratic institutions–whether they be kings, presidents, or religious leaders–who claim they and those they employ have more knowledge or say-so into interpreting women’s roles and rights in society. Below the level of government, these issues are being negotiated among Muslim women and men, much in the same manner that men and women demanded rights and changes in their societies in Europe and North America.
Topics such as needing male chaperones, driving cars, female genital mutilation (FGM), honor killings, and arranged marriages are all topics brought up when claiming Muslim women are oppressed and without agency in their own lives. It is true that in many cases these restrictions and expectations are placed upon women and horrific violence has happened against women–this cannot be denied at all, and those who carried it out must be brought to justice. The instances of these women, however, should not be assumed and applied to all Muslim women and that all of these practices are applied across Muslim countries. In many cases, these practices that are assumed to be “Islamic” are more cultural and existed in the culture even before Islam and practiced even among non-Muslims (like FGM).
In 2013, Egypt ranked as the “worst” country for women’s rights in the Arab world out of 22 countries. Egypt, like most “Muslim” countries, prides itself on its large Muslim population and its incorporation of Shari’a law into the civil code. Two of the reasons Egypt made the top of this notorious list is due to 2 particular issues. Sexual harassment and FGM is very high in Egypt, but we cannot attribute this to Islam. In fact, most of the Egyptian women who reported harassment were wearing Hijabs or Niqabs. Sexual harassment is not condoned in Islam and FGM was actually practiced prior to Islam’s institutionalization in the Arabian peninsula. It is practiced among non-Muslims in Egypt and beyond as well, as it was a traditional practice and has been condemned by Al-Azhar’s Grand Mufti.
Egyptian women are constantly negotiating changes within their society, whether it be religious or nonreligious topics. The main thing to note is that it must be negotiated by the women themselves and not imposed and enforced from outsiders looking in. People who do not live in Egypt (or any other country heavily populated by Muslims) and judge these women as powerless do not understand the complexities of these society by merely reading news articles or jumping between Quranic verses supposedly claiming this or that. As readers and supporters of women’s rights, it is important that we be available to assist if called upon, but realize that imposing anything on anyone never works. When people demand their rights or try to change things in their culture, gradually those changes happen. When has imposing anything on anyone ever worked out–long term?

An Empire for Women: Muslim Women Under Ottoman Rule

As we continue the discussion regarding women and Islam, it would be wise to look at Muslim women in time periods beyond that of the life of the Prophet. Throughout history there have been several dynasties and kingdoms that have come and gone as civilizations do, but the Ottoman Empire sticks out as one of the largest and longest-lasting empires of all time. Indeed, the Ottoman Empire stretched from north-western Africa (modern day Algeria) all the way to the Red Sea, up into the Levant and Mesopotamia and to the top of the Balkan peninsula. The areas controlled by the Ottoman Sultans would eventually come to shape the layout of the modern Middle East as we know it today following the end of World War I. Within this large swath of land, the Ottomans ruled over various types of religious believers and ethnicities. The rules that governed the interactions among and between individuals were dictated by their religious communities and respected by the Ottoman’s laws (which were most informed by Islamic law). When we take a closer look at women living under Ottoman law at this time, what we see is a very different picture than that of women in other parts of Europe.
As with all societies, the role of men and women are constantly being negotiated and renegotiated. This was no different during Ottoman times. There is an increasing amount of research written about women in the Ottoman Empire, particularly their role in society, and how that view has been shaped primarily by Western travelers influenced by orientalism. Interestingly, however, that some Westerners have viewed women in the Ottoman times as fairly free. “This is further confirmed in the early 18th century letters of Lady Mary Wortley-Montague, in which she exclaims that nowhere else are women as free as they are in the Ottoman Empire.”
Research on Muslim women in the Ottoman Empire have revealed much. What we see are two levels of society, both defined in their own right by the power of the women in her particular sphere of influence.“Leslie Pearce argues…that women were allowed access to the public world in such instances as attending mosques for purposes of religious teachings, and that some religious leaders did approve of this type of female public appearance.” And as with most societies, Muslim women’s activities and roles varied between the upper and lower classes. For upper-class women, a sense of segregation unfortunately resulted in the Western misinterpretation of the term “harem,” which comes from the Arabic world “haram,” or forbidden. While the stereotype sees these women as powerless sexual objects, in reality, they held much influence over the wealthier men, such as the Sultan and his associates. Research even suggests that these women were the driving forces behind the development of charitable organizations and political decisions. This influence was enshrined in the position of the valide sultan (the “mother of the sultan”). Probably one of the most famous of the valide sultans was Hafsa Sultan, the mother of Suleiman the Magnificent. There are reports as well that lower-class women also developed their own charitable organizations (or, “awqaf” in Arabic). These women were able to use their personal influence via ties to wealthier subjects in society (read: men) to make their personal initiatives come to life. For lower-class women in Ottoman society, there was a sense of mobility and autonomy in public that was very different than that of more wealthy women. Many women were landholders, tax farmers, and other professions. Depending on the location that they lived within the empire, they may have been craftswomen or involved in textiles as well.
As mentioned above, Ottoman law takes into account Islamic law. In the case of inheritance, women were able to inherit land and other property. This is generally permitted in Islamic jurisprudence. In attempts to degrade the religion, critics often point to the fact that women usually only get half as much inheritance as men, but then again, there are no provisions for women to use their inheritance to support a family. Women can use it as they see fit. While arranged marriages were common practice at this time in the Ottoman Empire, women had the right to refuse a proposal. Divorce was also common and accepted and, interestingly as one scholar notes, “For non-Muslim Ottoman women whose traditions did not normally permit divorce, conversion to Islam was a common way to be liberated from an unwanted spouse.”
This last piece is very telling. How can we compare Muslim women in the Ottoman Empire to other women at this time period? In the United States up until the twentieth century, women could not easily own property unless they were unmarried. “When women married, as the vast majority did, they still had legal rights but no longer had autonomy. Instead, they found themselves in positions of almost total dependency on their husbands which the law called coverture.” This law essentially put all legal dealings for property into the hands of the man in the relationship, which was also the practice in several European countries at this time. Divorce and women working outside the home was also less common than in the Ottoman Empire at this time in Europe and the United States for reasons relating to social and religious interpretations of a woman’s place in society.
It is interesting to note the juxtaposition between Ottoman society and Western societies. While the Ottoman Empire eventually fell and gave rise to various Middle Eastern countries as we know them today, their interpretations of Islamic law varies and depends on the local context for interpretations of what it means to be a Muslim woman at that time. For Ottomans, it was women’s personal right to have access to their rightly-owned property, ability to refuse marriage if they wanted, and also to own work various crafts. This is of course different than what the more wealthy women experienced, and different still than women around the world at that time. The key is that we are able to identify examples throughout history where women were empowered due to real implementation of religious laws during the negotiations that were taking place in society at that time.

Marriage, Divorce, and Women’s Rights in Islam

As we continue our discussion of women’s rights in Islam, it is important for us to pay attention to context and history in order to understand the way women’s rights were understood during the time of the Prophet. By doing this, the role of women in the religion will make more sense in modern times. Generally, this is how religious scholars and academics study religion because, while the information and practice should be applied in any time period, the context in which the different practices and principles came about developed out of a need for the community of believers at the time. If the principle is taken out of context and applied in modern times without concern for its original application, the soul and true intention is lost. Sometimes we can see this in predominantly Muslim societies of the Middle East and South Central and Eastern Asia wherein women’s rights are sometimes sidelined or the religious interpretation is out of the sync with Quranic principles. Unfortunately, this perpetuates the stereotype that women are treated as second-class citizens in Islam. In order to address this problem and create important distinctions, comparing and contrasting using the original sources such as the Quran will allow readers to understand women’s rights as they were initially intended within the religion. The best way to begin this discussion is by comparing particular topics regarding women within pre-Islamic Arabian society as well as after Islam was revealed to the Prophet. For this blog post, we will explore the topics of marriage and divorce and women’s rights and responsibilities.
Before Islam was revealed to the Prophet and his community, a women’s position in the society of the Arabian peninsula was much different. Due to the tribal basis of Arabian society at this time as well as the traditional patrilineal custom of inheritance, men’s rights and desires almost always trumped those of women. Infanticide was common for female babies and in general, women were considered a burden on the family. The pride of the family and weight of responsibility lay with the males. This led to men marrying as many women as they chose, a lack of inheritance for women, and no choice for women whether or not to marry or divorce. Women’s status in pre-Islamic society is often described as harsh and lacking in very basic rights unless the woman was of high-status and from a well-respected family within the tribe. Women were usually referred to as a type of property and an item with which to use in trade and financial transactions. Indeed, a woman’s worth was seemingly not acknowledged, particularly in relation to a man’s value.
When the Quran was revealed to the Prophet and he recited the verses to his community, it became clear that Islam had a particular focus on improving the status of women and that this issue was something of concern for the Prophet. “In Islamic marriage, a legal contract is the basis of the union, with the rights and duties plainly laid out and mutually agreed upon by both parties.” There are many sayings and stories about the Prophet concerning women’s rights and attitudes toward women in general. His relationship with his first wife Khadijah was seen as a model for the relationship between husbands and wives. As the Quran was revealed, several verses discussed women’s rights and their choices when it came to marriage. For example, in Surat Al-Rum 21, God makes it explicit that He created humanity as man and woman and they were intended to be together and provide tranquility and affection. In Surat Al-Nisaa 1, we find: “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Indeed Allah is ever, over you, an Observer.” In essence, admitting that men and women were created from one was radical–especially to even compare women with men, the previously exalted figure of seventh-century society. There are other verses of the Quran reiterating this idea about the special relationship between men and women in marriage which reflects the importance of marriage in Islam. These verses and others mention how men and women should respect each other in marriage, no doubt reflecting the idea that stability in the marriage relationship leads to the foundation of strong societies.
In those instances, where marriage does not work out, women do have options. There are various verses in the Quran dealing with divorce. They deal with topics such as parting on good terms, appointing a mediator, allowing for remarriage, providing support to divorced women, and allowing for reconciliation if they change their minds on divorce after the fact. These verses explicitly lay out women’s rights and responsibilities when she requests a divorce and the assistance she receives when this procedure takes place. In pre-Islamic societies, such a notion of supporting a woman after divorce occurs was unheard of. Indeed, divorced and widowed women were unsupported and considered a societal burden. By creating a basis by which women could obtain a divorce and be supported afterwards, the society begins to institute the normalization of women requesting the same rights that men ask for and that allow women to maintain a normal role in society instead of divorce leading to her shame in society.
As discussed, the rights of women concerning marriage and divorce are fairly explicit and further guidance can be taken from the Hadith of the Prophet himself. Much of the stereotypes about women’s rights in Islam often come from news clippings and scattered media coverage of sensationalist and unfortunately occurrences happening in the Muslim world. As Frederick Matthewson Denny suggests,
“As was suggested above, the original teachings of Islam, as contained in the Quranic revelation, may be seen to be quite liberating to women, whereas the subsequent history of the Umma saw the triumph of absolute male domination, not only of the institutions of Islamic civilization but also of the sources principles, and procedures of its discourse.”
The institutions and practice of the religion that has developed in Muslim-majority countries and societies may not reflect the aforementioned understanding of marriage and divorce when it comes to men and women, but this debate and discussion must be had by Muslims themselves since.

Muslim Women’s Rights and Western Intervention

Around 1,420 years ago a man in his twenties named Muhammad lived in Mecca located in the Arabian Peninsula–which is now considered part of Saudi Arabia–was known among his tribe as being honest and genuine. This excellent reputation afforded him many opportunities to take handle business for other people who were unable to travel for trade. One of the wealthiest business owners in Mecca was a woman named Khadijah. She had heard that Muhammad was trustworthy and believed that he could take her merchandise to Syria for trade. Muhammad was successful in his trade mission for Khadijah, and over time she saw him as a respectful man who could make a good husband. Khadijah proposed marriage through her friend Nufaysah, and when they did marry, their relationship was full of love and respect. Khadijah supported Muhammad when he began receiving revelations, and in fact was among the first believers in Islam. This relationship has had a great impact on how women in Islam have shaped their interaction with the religion and its practice. Unfortunately, stories of this relationship are not well-known among non-Muslims. In fact, women’s rights and efforts to improve them are not very well known out of the Middle East.

The various efforts being made today on the part of Western countries and international organizations sometimes feels tone deaf to Muslim communities both within and outside of the Muslim-majority countries (aka. Muslim world). This is primarily for two reasons. First, Muslims know that women’s rights are held in high regard in Islam, as evidenced by Quranic principles and various parts of the Hadith (or, the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad). Second, there is a feeling among Muslims that when Westerners attempt to discuss topics such as women’s rights, they are imposing their own understanding of what that should look like in a society which, in some cases, may not even be completely practiced in Western countries. This complex topic often brings out the Orientalist stereotypes most commonly discussed about the treatment of women in Islam which has been informed by centuries of tense relations between the Middle East and the West.

The discussion of the role of women in Islam has been a topic of conversation in the West since the first trade merchants of the region made their way into Muslim lands. The way these merchants wrote about their interactions with women–or a lack thereof–reflects a larger perception about life in Islamic cities. This has affected the very same stereotypes many people still hold today. We can see these stereotypes played out most recently in the discussion of the French banning of the Burkini. The general discussion around this topic is similar to that of the Hijab. On one hand, the media discusses whether or not the wearing of a Burkini has been forced by men or whether it’s very appearance in public implies extremism. On the other hand, Western feminists find themselves in conversation with Muslim women about whether or not modern perceptions of feminism even permits women to choose the Burkini. Women’s rights in general, regardless of the society and religion in which they are discussed, are incredibly sensitive.

One way of understanding this is by framing our perception of women’s rights in terms of a woman’s body and society. The morality of a society is played out over the role of women; the ways in which women choose to act is often a topic of conversation in societies because her actions are very much tied to perceptions about society’s morality and whether or not the society as a whole is in decline. This is one of the reasons that Western countries discuss this topic at length when it comes to Muslim women. It is part of a perception that Western societies are superior or that their ways of developing women’s rights are more modern.

The main issue here is that these conversations are already happening inside of Muslim countries and they have been for many years. There are countless NGOs and initiatives in Muslim countries dedicated to promoting women’s rights and helping women to overcome challenges that they face in their societies. Muslim-majority countries indeed have many issues, ranging from unemployment to access to quality health care. These issues–just like women’s issues–are part of larger conversations taking place in society. The fact that Western feminists are not aware of these initiatives is not surprising, since there is very little awareness of social issues that Muslims face daily. It can be frustrating for Muslims to hear Westerners discuss human rights issues in relation to Islam because they often misunderstand or misinterpret the meanings of a variety of Quranic verses or other religious literature. By taking verses out of context, the Western critic finds ways to demean the religion and its believer. Blaming religion for a society’s problems is a common tactic in secular societies. However, it is not a new or even religious phenomenon to regulate women’s dress–this has been happening a long time.

Many books and articles have been written about women’s rights in Islam–from the point of view of Muslims and from outsiders’ perspectives. The fascination with symbols of women’s oppression in Muslim countries such as the Hijab really only creates more of a division between Muslims and Westerners since Muslims believe that those living in Europe and the U.S. take these symbols out of context and make no effort to understand. Much of this has to do with the perception that the Middle East is a monolith, having no distinction between individuals (despite the fact that the region is religiously, ethnically, and linguistically diverse). By grouping all differences into a single classification, Westerners can lose the often important pieces of understanding the Middle East. Conversations about women’s rights must include the opinions of Muslim women who are already involved in such efforts in their societies. Without their valuable opinions, more constructive collaboration cannot occur.

 

Sources:

Lings, Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. New York: Inner Traditions International, 1983.

Rubin, Alissa. “From Bikinis to Burkinis, Regulating What Women Wear.” The New York Times. N.p., 27 Aug. 2016.

Ibid

Traveling Made Easy: Apps to Help You Along the Way

I love to travel! When most people think of leaving their comfort zone, they quince and shiver. I am here to assure you that it is really quite easy. Actually, it’s incredibly easy. This is the future, after all, and we have technology that can help us through anything. To ease your traveling mind, I would like to share with you a few phone apps that have helped me along the way.

 

  1. Hopper

You are probably aware that flight prices vary depending on the time of year you are
purchasing your flight, but did you know that they can vary as much as hundreds of dollars, within just a few days of each other? Hopper wants to help you save this money by letting you know the absolute cheapest times to fly to your desired destinations. This app will let you know that flying to Hawaii on Wednesday, rather than Friday, will save you big money.

 

  1. Expedia

Expedia is your one-stop shop. They will help you find the best prices on not only flights, hotels, cars, cruises, vacation rentals, and activities. Not only that, but they will help to set you up with “bundle deals,” where you can mix and match deals, such as a hotel with your flight. Expedia is ridiculously helpful and super easy to use; plan out and pay for your entire trip with just one app!

 

  1. Airbnb and Booking

Now introducing… One of the coolest ways to find accommodation: Airbnb! Airbnb lets you experience a location as if you are a local; it allows you to connect with locals in an area and stay at their place or guest house while they are out of town. It is also much more affordable, especially if you are traveling in groups, because it operates on a fixed price per night.

If hotels are more your style (which is cool too), Booking is a great app that helps you easily find and book hotel rooms in the area of your interest.

 

  1. Viator, Yelp, Foursquare, and Sygic Travel

Have you ever finally made it to a location, dropped your bags on the bed, and thought, “now what?” Luckily, for common instances like these, there are apps to help guide you. Sygic Travel and Foursquare let you know what is going on and popular in your area (using an interactive map), and what people are saying about these places/events. Yelp gives you an awesome heads up about places you are considering visiting via real-life reviews, and Viator not only has reviews, but will actually help you to plan an entire trip or set you up with a hand-picked tour.

 

  1. HalalNavi and Happy cow

If you find yourself in Japan, looking for Muslim friendly food, this app is your hero! It not only presents you with a list of restaurants in your area, but gives you directions, restaurant information, and reviews! Likewise, Happy Cow helps you find vegan, vegetarian, and healthy food in your area (not limited to Japan).

 

  1. Tripit

Do you ever get so overwhelmed with options and things to do while traveling that you actually end up doing less? This is a very common issue. TripIt is here to help by allowing you to plan out your entire trip and organize it all in one place. You can import calendars, set up directions, share with your travel buddies, and much more!

 

  1. Splitwise

You know that awkward moment after having dinner with a friend and you realize you left your wallet in the hotel room? Don’t fret, we have an app for that! Splitwise helps to ease the pain of these awkward moments of sharing bills and giving out IOUs by helping you keep track of what is owed in an organized, transparent, and professional manner.

 

  1. Google Maps

Google Maps is probably my most-used travel app of all time. It helps you figure out where the heck you are, what is around you, and how to get from place to place (whether on foot, bike, bus, or car).

 

  1. Packing Pro

Ahhh, yes, the difficult moment of staring at the empty suitcase lying open on your bed before a big trip. . . Packing Pro assists you in making a list of all that you need to bring along, using information like how many people (adults, children, male, female), destination, temperature, food prep, and much more!

 

  1. Google Translate

A life saver. Google Translate will save you from situations like having to give directions to a taxi driver that doesn’t know a word of your language, by translating words and phrases between English and 100+other languages.

 

That’s all for now! These are only a few of the wonderful apps that have made my life 50x easier while traveling. Remember though, this is the future and there is an app for almost everything. Good luck and happy traveling!

One Day in the Future at Miraikan: The National Museum of Emerging Sciences and Innovation

The future always has something that beguiles us. It can drive our imagination to possibilities that we have never seen before, or it can be an elusive far fetch vision of a world that we wish to have in our lifetime.

When I stayed at Tokyo, one of the best parts of my itinerary turned out to be a visit to a science museum. Not the old museum type, but the one that offers a fascinating view of the future! Miraikan means “Hall of the Future”, and it’s located in Odaiba, an artificial island in Japan’s capital city.

Odaiba is a fascinating futuristic place. Technically, Maraikan is labeled as the National Museum of Emerging Sciences and Innovation. It’s near the famous Gundam Statue and the iconic-shaped building of Telecom Center Train Station.

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The most desirable feature that sets this science museum from the rest is the way they’ve designed the exhibits. All of it encourages interaction with the visitors, from the robotic pets to Asimo, scale model of the space station to the geo-scope zone, and you’ve got to try the “Personal Mobility UNI-CUB” rides!

From time to time there are new exhibits, but there are the permanent ones that will impress you even at the second time around. While the permanent exhibits have English and Japanese translations, most of the temporary shows are only in Japanese.

Tip: If you see that the line is long, make sure to get your number and scheduled time of return. Some of the popular exhibits allow you to come back on that schedule and you’ll be able to enjoy other exhibits at your own pace.

Feel the Earth in Motion with Tsunagari

Once you enter the science museum, the one impressive exhibit that catches everyone’s eyes is the huge globe that hangs above. Made up of organic LED panels, it’s a rendition of what Earth looks like from space. With over 10 million pixels, the Tsunagari shows real-time data on airflow and clouds streamed throughout the world! There are times that they change the display into geographical data, statistics of people travelling and weather projections.

Tip: If you feel tired midway through your exploration at the museum, the geo cosmos zone has a great lounge area that you can rest and sit down while gazing at the earth above.    

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Asimo

Can I really evolve to human-like characteristics? Let Asimo introduce you to his world! It’s a talking, walking, and dancing robot. He can speak in Japanese and later translate it into English. What else can he do? Take a look at this video.

The Asimo show is quite popular to visitors. Make sure to check the schedule first at the information center so you won’t miss this impressive show. Come at the Asimo zone as early as 30 minutes before the show to get the best seats in front.

What Will the Future Look Like?

We’ve seen the Hollywood version of the future from the movies, how about from science itself? This exhibit propels your mind to take a peek at the possibilities of what Earth will look like 50 years from now. This one made an impact on me, making me think on what one person can contribute for future generations.

First, you choose one of the areas on the planet that you consider most important, then while in the middle of the game, you’ll receive an email from the future – specifically, from your grandchildren! This might sound like a spam email for all single people, but I assure you, it’s no marketing scam. The letter will describe to you how bad the situation is 50 years in the future, urging you to do something.

Now, considering the theories about time travel, paradoxes and possible changes in the timeline, would you just ignore the message or actually do something to change the future and make this world be a better place?

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Space Center

Ah space, the final frontier. While were grounded here on Earth, the International Space Station exhibit is a great way to learn how it is to live up and “out” there. You can walk into a tunnel which is a scale model of the ISS living quarters. They have realistic control panels, samples of astronaut food packets, and autographs by famous astronauts!

 

Stories of One, Everyone and You

Are you a nerd or an artist? An analyst or a more of a leader? This exhibit allows you to interact with personality tests and exercises and know more about yourself. Part of me thinks that this might be one way that the museum gathers information about the types of people who visit the place.

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Cells in Progress

This was one of the exhibits with more people in queue, but when you get inside, it’s not that crowded. It displays the current breakthroughs and theories in cell biology and medical engineering. There’s also a section where you’ll see the images of the brain on different physical activities.

The most interesting part among the 5 sections in Cells in Progress was on stem cell research. You’ll be presented different types of injuries that one may have and how the amazing breakthroughs and possibilities that stem cell therapy can bring into medical technology.

 

Miraikan: National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation

Open Hours:      10:00 am – 5:00 pm Weds to Monday, Closed during Tuesdays.

Admission Fee:  Adults – 620 yen

18 years old and under – 210 yen

Other fees:         If you want to enter the Dome Theatre, it has separate fee 300 yen for adults.

For more info on museum schedule and exhibits, check out www.miraikan.jst.go.jp

Japaness at home pedicure

 

It is for sure overwhelming to visit drug stores in Japan, as everything is written in the Japanese language and you could only guess the use of the product from the pictures on the package.. not kidding.

Once I like the picture on a product, I would go ahead and use google translate to get more information about how to use it and expected results.

One of the products that really stood out for me, was the SOSU FOOT PEELING SOCKS.

These socks can be used at home, which means that you do not have to visit expensive beauty salons no more to get those beautifully soft feet!

They promise to provide you with baby feet feeling!

How much is it?

We got these from Yodobashi shopping center when in Tokyo last year for ¥1,300 which is about 44 AED or about 12 $ per pack.

Each pack contains 2 pairs of socks, that means you get two pedicures per pack! (Bargain!)

On eBay you could find it for much higher price (29$!!) but hey, it’s worth it!

 

How do I use it?

It is extremely simple!

On the side of the box you could find step by step instructions as demonstrated in the picture below:

  1. Cut the top of the sock open
  2. Tape the sock to secure it on your feet
  3. Leave it on for an hour and a half
  4. Rinse with water
  5. Wait for a few days
  6. The dead skin on your feet will start peeling off (Dot not freak out.. it is really going to peel!!)
  7. keep moisturizing your feet as regular, and you will be left with baby feet

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My review: 5/5

“I have used this only once. It didn’t do anything at first and I thought that it did not work! after few days however, the dead skin on my feet started peeling off!! it was unbelievable!! I looked at my feet as they were peeling like crazy and in my mind I thought “This looks like it must hurt” but it really didn’t at all. I did not feel a thing. My feet were renewed, and I was really left with baby feet.. No joke!

I would totally recommend this product, and I will defiantly repurchase.

My mom also tried it, and she fell in love! she said “This works really good.. I do not have to go to the salon anymore.. I could do my own pedicure at the comfort of my home and it is almost effortless”.

Description:

Country of origin: Japan

Contents: 25ml × 4 Product Size (width X height X depth ): W140 x H230 x D3mm

Brand: Prime [Product Specifications]

Contents: 4 pieces 25ml × (2 times)

Ingredients: Water, ethanol, lactic acid · BG · PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, hyaluronic acid Na Hydrogenated lecithin, ceramide 3, squalane, soy sterol burdock root extract, lemon fruit extract, ivy leaf / stem extract watercress leaf / stem extract, sage leaf extract, soapwort leaf extract fragrance

 

A Victoria’s Secret Inspired Bridal Shower

I knew the atmosphere I wanted to create for my sister’s bridal shower, but I was stuck for inspiration until one morning when I realized it was literally staring me in the face: Victoria’s Secret! Fun, playful, and flirty, VS epitomizes femininity, and their signature classic pink and black color scheme made it the ideal starting point for what turned out to be a fantastic event.

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Inspiration 😉

As well as guests, there are several key elements to every fabulous party, not least the food. You can see from the buffet table that this was definitely a party for females. Having a dessert buffet gave everyone the opportunity to taste as many different desserts as they wanted, while keeping them canapé sized gave the event a relaxed, yet sophisticated feel. Save the formal dining for the wedding – this party was all about chatting, dancing, and catching up with friends.

Decor is another important criteria for a successful party. Guests have to know exactly what to expect from the moment they arrive, so we put a lot of effort into replicating the ambiance we liked at VS so much. A key part of this was the wall we decorated as a backdrop for our photos. It took two days, meters of ribbon, and more rhinestones than I care to remember, but it was worth the effort (even if it did ruin the wall – sorry Mom!)

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My sister and I were so happy with how it turned out and, when we decorated a cardboard frame to match, guests loved having their photos taken there. VS bags filled with tissue paper and balloons added to the effect.

 

Guests were given goodie bags filled with treats like homemade lip scrub, along with cute bags of popcorn and candy. Making the most of our photowall, we had a mini-digital printer to print out photos of everyone to take home with them as a memento of the party. These were especially popular.

You can’t have a bridal shower without games, but rather than make a mess handing out paper and pencils that would only add to the cleaning up, my clever brother had them added to an app the girls could download to their phones. As well as being fun and environmentally friendly, it was an easy way for me to keep track of the scores (and make sure there was no cheating!)

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How old what the bride? <3

It was almost as much fun organizing this bridal shower as it was attending it! It may have taken several days to pull it all together but it was worth it to see the excitement on our guests’ faces as they walked through the door. Our top tips for creating your party decor are:

  • Have a clear starting point. Ours was the inside of a Victoria’s Secret store.
  • Be consistent with your theme. We carried the pink and black color scheme through to everything, including food, drinks, and favors.
  • Get creative. We wanted our party to be unique and had a great time creating decorations, labels, and favors.

 

Above all, have fun. Parties are for celebrating!