I want to check into a convent

I used to feel a little anxious around women I felt were too covered up. I can see it again with my kids, either when they walk past the nuns in the convent close to home, or in the women’s area at the mosque. It is unfamiliar, being unable to see the smile of a person in a niqab, or the shape of a person in a habit.

However, as a grown up, I see freedom in the coverings. I wish for this some days, when I am not interested in being scrutinised, when I am disengaged, with thoughts running through my mind.

More than that, every cycle-ride, and every walk past the nunnery reminds me of my singular dream of one day being a nun, despite being a Muslim. The ones who came to my school when I was a child looked so serene. They looked like they were free of the everyday responsibilities that my mother carried as the wife of a man who loved work. Every ounce of my mother’s strength was spent making her children’s lives easier, and my father’s life more comfortable.

As a Muslim girl I knew the path was certain. Get educated, find a career, marry a good Muslim man, have children while contributing to society, maybe take time off to be a more involved mother. Raise those children with care and love and, pass on the love of God, care for society and the world.

I could not see where I would have my own time to think, contemplate, or rest in all this. Nuns seem to have this made. What a lovely quiet world they live in.

I followed the path laid out for me. I have a career and children who I live for: they are my world completely utterly. Yet I still wish for the capacity to switch parts of my life to be silent, quiet.

I envied my Catholic professor who would set aside two months a year to go to a monastery to think, coming back to us brimming with ideas and thoughts. I still envy him, for being able to get away, switching off as I have seen other men do.

This all seems defeatist; sad. But writing this encourages me to look to Muslim women of the past: the intellectuals, the religious leaders. The more I look, the more I find that they secluded themselves, not in covering their bodies, but in moving away from the world mentally.

During Ramadan, the last ten days give respite to many Muslim men whose families bring them food to share with the brotherhood in mosques around the world. Women are encouraged to find that peace inside of their person while they continue to care and provide for their families. I have found this almost impossible to do, with requests and queries, and children of 13, 12 and 8 needing and wanting attention.

In many ways, Islam’s past was less misogynist, less sexist. However, even then, it was only certain women who could seclude themselves for quietude. I would like to work to have this opportunity for all Muslim women, with society changed to accommodate their spiritual andintellectual development. Women need to be heard, and to be able to take up space in the religious, political and intellectual worlds; but they also need the space to be quiet.