Written by Kaighla Um Dayo
100% of the regular writers here at islamwich are Muslim. 100% of us are women. 66% of us have been, at one point or another, homeless Muslim women.
Let me tell you: it’s no party.
Recently, I had a Muslim convert come forward and tell her heart-wrenching story of homelessness as a Muslim woman, and I could relate all too well.
Here are just a few things we wish our fellow Muslims knew about what it’s like being homeless, female, and Muslim.
1.”But where is your family? And friends?”
Need we remind you about how much fun it is being a new convert and having most/all of your friends and family turn their backs on you? You can head on over to “Convert Central” for more on that.
Common sense would dictate, though, that if a person had any family or friends to turn to, they would surely have gone that route before appealing to a perfect stranger.
2. “Why don’t you just go to a shelter?”
Not actually gender-segregated
My source who is currently living in a shelter tells me that the first Muslim person she saw in the shelter was a niqabi sister. She wondered why the woman would need to wear niqab if the shelter was segregated by sex.
“Oh, well, they are not all technically women,” she was told.
Sure, most of them are, but there are also transgender people, or transvestites, who are not quite fully women any more/yet.
And then there are the women who are same-sex oriented.
We think you’ll agree that living with people whose gender you are unaware of and/or who are same-sex oriented sort of entirely defeats the purpose of segregating areas by sex.
Public showering, shared rooms. No privacy at all. Public showering space. Imagine that scene in your head, coupled with the previously mentioned facts.
When she arrived at the shelter, my source tells me that some older women who had been in the shelter system for a while told her, “Make sure you wear headphones at night unless you want to hear all the sex and masturbating in the beds next to you.”
A drop-shelter is a lovely place where you are placed in a huge gymnasium-type hall area with men and women divided only by an invisible barrier in the middle of the gymnasium.
You’re given a cheap plastic lawn-chair to sleep in. You can even have two if you get lucky and there aren’t many people that night…
3. “Aren’t there Muslim women’s shelters?”
Domestic Abuse? No? Then no.
Although there are technically shelters specifically for Muslim women (and therefore really, really, actually segregated by sex), it is harder than one can imagine to find a spot in one of these.
For one thing, the first thing they ask you when you contact the shelter for help is whether or not you are living in a domestic violence-filled situation.
If your answer is no, 9/10 times there is simply not enough room in these very few shelters for you.
Take that in for a second: There are so many Muslim women being abused by their Muslim partners that the few shelters specifically designated for Muslim women are full-to-capacity with victims of domestic violence.
If that doesn’t disgust, frighten, and hurt you, we don’t know what will.
4. “Sister, don’t you have a husband?”
If you are a woman of child-bearing age and you are single, the first solution in the minds of all and sundry is, “Oh, sister, you need a husband!”
The only thing worse than being a woman without a husband is being a woman with a husband. Then you’re hit with, “Oh, but why doesn’t he work?! Why doesn’t he take care of you?! You are his responsibility.”
Because clearly there are no men in this country hurting for money…
And God save you if you’re a convert who has no husband, because the next thing you’ll hear is…
5. “Oh, but we can help you find a husband!”
Ladies and gentleman, we bring you the cure-all, the fast-and-easy way to heal any and all ills: Marriage!
People, no one ends up homeless unless they have had some deeply tragic thing happen to them.
We can’t think of a worse time to run off and hitch your life to someone else’s than after you’ve come through an incredibly tragic event.
No one is thinking clearly and making well-informed decisions when they are faced with life and death, period. And we are of the opinion that if there is any decision which should be made using reasoning, a sound mind, and the gift of choice, it’s that of choosing a spouse.
6. No, I am not a drug addict/prostitute/alcoholic. Yes, I am a Muslim.
Yes, each and every one of these accusations has been levied at those of us who have been homeless Muslim women. Because if you are homeless, surely it must be your fault.
7. “Have you tried going to the masjid?”
Ah, the masjid.
That magical place where Muslims are just throwing money at the poor and downtrodden, where any and all who suffer and proclaim “La Illaha il Allah!” are saved from all the hardships life could toss their way.
Try, we dare you, to walk into a masjid and request sadaqah, or charity. Depending on the size of said masjid, you will either be blown off, taken into a room to share your entire life story, or given a form to fill out requesting help.
Considering that the majority of masajid in America are owned and run by immigrants, many of whom are not in touch with what it’s like to be an American convert, good luck finding someone on that board who: a.) is not wealthy (cuz it’s helping build and maintain the masjid that gets you on the board…) and/or b.) has ever had each and every one of his friends and family walk out on him.
If you are blessed enough to be given a kind ear/piece of paper to fill out, prepare yourself for perhaps the greatest loss of dignity yet:
8. “Tell us all your private business and we can help you. Thanks for that, and sorry we can’t help.”
Repeat, ad infinitum.
Since most of the people on these boards are not the least bit familiar with the struggle of being a Muslim convert in America, you will get turned away, and often.
Sure, you may be given $20 here, $50 there, maybe even a few hundred, but forever more when you come to that masjid, each and every extended family member of the people on that board will know your story and look at you with a strange mix of pity/judgement.
But the more likely scenario is that you will have been forced to sit in a room full of people and share EVERY. SINGLE. DETAIL of your entire life, explain how and why and when you chose Islam, why you are single/why you are married but asking for help, where the father of your kids is if you have children, your blood type, least favorite color, and favorite t.v. show…ok, those last few are facetious, but you get the idea.
You will have to lay your entire life bare for these perfect strangers to critique and judge, be told to wait in a hall, and then be told, “We are so sorry, but there isn’t anything we can do. Here is a list of numbers for some local homeless shelters and the local DHS office. Good luck!”
And off you will go to begin the whole process again elsewhere.
What You Can Do
All this is good and well, but how can you help?
First, work hard to get people elected to your masjid board who are intimately familiar with the experience of being Muslim in America.
We don’t mean to sound crazy, but let’s go out on a limb and suggest you elect women on your board. Ladies, you have to make your voice, both individual and collective, so loud that it can’t be drowned out or ignored.
Next, how about offering to house a convert for a temporary or long-term time?
At the time this post was published, we ran a gofundme campaign that was hugely successful to get one sister out of a shelter and in a home. And we are extremely grateful for your contributions. This fundraising campaign has since been closed. But there is more you can do. We must be concerned with more than our own community.
There are an estimated half a million people on any given night without a bed to sleep in. Homelessness is a circumstance that nearly everyone thinks could never happen to them — and yet, there are hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children with nowhere to call home.
Here is the silver lining: we can all do a lot to help those less fortunate than us, and no action is too small to make a difference. Check out the following links to see how you can help.
Follow us (upper right of the page). Email us (email@example.com). Like our face with your face on Facebook (facebook.com/islamwich). Tumble with us on Tumblr (islamwich.tumblr.com). Pin with us (pinterest.com/islamwich). Follow us on twitter (@islamwich).
Like the post, share it, pin it, comment on it, and/or do whatever social media magic it is that you prefer. Find out more about us in the understandably named “About” page and browse other posts in “Table of Contents”.