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Homeless in Hijab

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.

homeless in hijab

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

Transvestites, Lesbians

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.”

“Drop-in” Shelters

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.

Or not.

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? We are not thieves, and contrary to what we’ve overheard, we won’t steal your husbands.

Last, put your money where your mouth is. Use that sadaqah to help your fellow muslims, both men and women, who are struggling for the most basic human need: shelter.

For the sister we know who is currently in a shelter, we have started a gofundme campaign for her here. Imagine being homeless in hijab and if you have a little extra, please help out. If not, please share with those who might be about to help.

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20 thoughts on “Homeless in Hijab

    1. SubhanAllah.I am sorry for your struggles. Alhamdulillah, you were able to recover. The young lady we wrote this article for doesn’t have any connection to help her or even money for a motel. Please spread the word so we can raise money for her to get access to safety and security InshaAllah.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It is a painful story. New Muslim faces many difficulties, the financial problem considered minor compared to social and family hardship they face because of accepting Islam. Managing life after conversion need skills and knowledge should be taught to our new sisters and brothers.
    Thanks sister Um Dayo for sharing this story.

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  2. Such a sad yet eye opening story. I’m a convert myself and I have been blessed to have supportive family. They don’t always get it but they accept me and love me anyway… I sometimes don’t think about the converts who don’t have the same experience I have. This makes me want to do something about it! I’m going to look up homeless shelters for Muslims in my area.

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  3. This is so sad to read and the saddest part is the lack of help these reverts are receiving from fellow Muslims. I’m a convert as well but have been blessed with a very supportive family alhamdulillah so I can’t imagine my own parents turning their back on me =(. May Allah (swt) ease your suffering and make your journeys easy. Ameen

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  4. I really do not know what is the sadder part: Muslim sisters having to accept being homeless and face that struggle and humiliate themselves by asking for charity, or women’s shelters filled with domestic violence victims!
    This really breaks my heart. I mean we should be a one body! That’s how the prophet -salla Allah aleih wa sallam- told us that Allah wants us to be!
    This needs an effort… how much effort is spent on building fancy Mousques in the west? How much money and effort is spent to preach people about the necessity of sex segregation and the necessity for women to get married and to be “good wives” and to submit to their husbands? Isn’t creating businesses that target the employment of new Muslim sisters a more urgent necessity? Do not those “wealthy” immigrants think of establishing -say- Islamic clothing business and employ sisters? And offer -for example- housing complexes for employees?
    Cannot the Muslim community think of them as just vulnerable human beings in need for empowerment (not through a husband, though!)?
    This is sad. Really sad.
    (Oh, and may I add: It is not the new convert sisters that steal the husbands, no. It is that the husbands’ noble knight just comes out and decides that the best thing to help this “sister” is to marry her. Isn’t this the reason behind polygamy in Islam? Isn’t this his entrance to jannah? Duhhhhh! What a noble coating for greed and exploitation!…)

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    1. Noble coating for greed and exploitation- so very well said. I am not sure if it is difficult to relate and understand a person’s situation if you have never even imagined missing a meal, or if they just want to think it must be their own fault, but so many of the people in charge of masajid in the West to my mind cannot be describe as a place of worship but a men’s culture club. It’s sickening. There are some amazing masajid, but they are few and far between. We have become the foam of the sea.

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      1. Well, as long as she is a woman, then it SHOULD be her fault.
        Empowering these women and enabling them to lead a self sufficient life will deprive men from being in control. It is a game of power allocation.
        The problem is, some women here are really brainwashed with this male-oriented ideology. You should have listened to what I once listened to: a PHD holder with a very western name on an Islamists’ local radio channel fiercely attacking the concept of “women empowerment” and calling it a “western globalized propaganda”, and arguing that the word “empowerment” translates in Arabic to “encroachment” of women, and that the human rights institutions are trying to take women out of their natural “family” context and push them to have financial independence (look how criminal this is!) in order to “breach the fabric of the conservative Islamic societies”!!!
        Oh, and did I mention that this lady is a holder of PHD from an American university?
        Just sarcastic!…

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      2. Dear God, help us!! That is just so sad. So what she is basically saying is that women should have no choice in how they live their lives and should be forced into marriages for financial stability?! How absurd. That is just slavery then. And you can’t build a strong, happy, and healthy family upon force and coercion. We are truly taking the paths of those who were misguided before us in every way. May Allah guide us. And please make dua that I can get my PHD in order to counter this kind of insanity and unjust rhetoric. I am working on getting into a good university to study classical Islam and how women’s rights have been repealed since the time of the Prophet (SAWS).

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