The man got up to leave and called out to his young daughter to join him. The community elder he was visiting was startled. Had he really called her that?
Her name was “Bus karr”, Urdu for “enough already”. The bitter name was inspired by the fact that she was her father’s sixth daughter. He was desperate to have a son, like a number of parents of only daughters in many parts of the world. Her name was perhaps a complaint to God.
“What kind of name is that?!” the older man, who had four daughters of his own, said with disgust. “Give her a proper name,” he ordered. Out of respect, the man complied and ultimately decided to name her Asiya. This is the name attributed to the wife of Firawn or Pharaoh, a woman renown in Islamic tradition for her faith, courage, and strength of character. She is also promised Paradise.
I don’t know what happened to this Asiya. She is likely a woman in her 30s today, probably a parent herself. But her trajectory from being given a name of rejection to one of spiritual elevation reflects a shift many of us need to make in how we treat our girls.
Most Muslims will argue that Islam elevated the status of the girl child. We will quote from the Quran to show that Islam condemns female infanticide (16:59). We give examples of how Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, loved, cherished, and supported his own four daughters. We repeat his sayings that guarantee specific spiritual rewards for raising daughters.
Yet, we shortchange our girls in so many other ways. We may not bury our girls alive the way some of the pre-Islamic Arabs did, but we bury their spiritual advancement in countless ways. We chip away at their confidence in themselves as valuable in the eyes of God and others. We question their worthiness.
But there are ways to move from deeming our daughters “enough” to raising them to be “Asiyas”. Here are some ways we can build our girls’ courage and confidence.
1. Start off with joy - from burden to blessing.
The Quran is clear in condemning not just female infanticide, but the attitude that allows for it (16:59): one of grief at the birth of a baby girl. Whether a daughter is the first or the sixth, she is a blessing, not a burden. This shift in attitude early on can help set the stage for a more positive relationship with her. If you are blessed with another girl, don’t think of her as “another girl”. She is one, unique child God has gifted you with. She will bring blessings to your family in ways that may not be clear now.
“To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth; He creates what he wills. He gives to whom He wills female (children), and He gives to whom He wills males. Or He makes them (both) males and females, and He renders whom He wills barren. Indeed, He is Knowing and Competent” (Qur'an 42:49-50).
2. Do not favor your son over her
If you have both sons and daughters, equality in treatment is a necessity not just of good parenting, but of being a good Muslim. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whosoever has a daughter and he does not bury her alive, does not insult her, and does not favor his son over her, God will enter him into Paradise” (Ibn Hanbal)
Too many parents allow their sons privileges and liberties while curtailing them for their daughters. These are usually based on cultural standards of behavior that allow “boys to be boys” to the extent that they fall into Haram (forbidden) things while denying girls freedom within Islamic guidelines. Parents are responsible for ensuring all of their children are raised to follow the Straight Path, regardless of gender. Drop the double standards today.
3. Praise for the right reasons
At a baby shower I once attended, guests were invited to make specific Duas for a baby whose gender was unknown. While most of the women present asked for good health and strong faith for the child, one person said, “If it’s a girl, I hope she is beautiful. If it’s a boy, I hope he will be smart.”
Amazing. The child was not yet born, yet the lines it would have to cross after birth were already drawn. And how many of us have not at some point caught this attitude or been guilty of it ourselves: focusing our praise of female children solely on those who are “pretty” by personal or cultural standards, while ignoring or minimizing those who are not? Praising female beauty while neglecting to praise good morals and manners, hard work, or kindness?
When we think of the great women of Islamic history, their physical attractiveness or lack of it is not what we discuss. It is their strength of faith, character, courage, generosity, and other noble traits we focus on. Why can we not do this with our girls today?
4. Let her speak her mind...and listen!
The women in Prophet Muhammad’s life, peace and blessings be upon him, were respectful but outspoken. They did not shy away from speaking up about issues that were of concern to them or their community. Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, is most famous for this, but others like Umm Salamah also come to mind.
However, key to this outspokenness was the fact that the Prophet created a home environment where they could comfortably communicate their concerns. The Prophet’s wives and daughters were not told to shut up. They were not told their concerns were less important because they were girls or women. They were not told to waver in front of male authority so that they could not speak.
They were also listened to. The Prophet, the master communicator, was not rolling his eyes, checking a cellphone, or interrupting them as they spoke. Rather, he listened in such a way that those he was speaking with, male or female, young or old, always felt listened to and validated. This is a powerful experience a girl needs to have in the home to become an Asiya. When she is heard in the home, she learns that her voice matters and that she herself is valuable.
5. Encourage piety over passivity
Encouraging passivity over piety is another way we hold our girls back. Piety teaches a girl to respect herself and others, and to speak up in the right way when an injustice is encountered. Passivity teaches a girl to remain silent in the face of a verbally or physically abusive husband or mother-in-law after marriage, for example. It teaches girls to be weak, not to challenge a husband who may be a Firawn in his own home, instead of resolving the issue with Islamic techniques like negotiation, mediation, etc. It feeds into the lie that girls and women are powerless.
Piety is the way of the Muslim, not passivity. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; and if he cannot, then with his heart [by hating it and feeling that it is wrong] – and that is the weakest of faith” (Muslim).
Enough already. Let us truly embrace our daughters. Let us raise them to be the Asiyas they deserve to be.