I grew up in a moderate-to-conservative Muslim family. I was naturally influenced by my mom, Shadia, and her six brothers, who all raised me and my sister. On the one hand, my mom has always been an elegant, sensitive and modest person, and on the other, she's always been tough, assertive and fair. Her brothers wouldn't dare mistreat her because she's a woman.
She has always been excellent at maintaining that balance, and I studied it carefully.
Growing up, I clashed a lot with my Uncle Beautiful, who was the most conservative and closest male figure to me. We mainly clashed over how he wanted me to dress.
But it was never about gender. In fact, he too instilled this sense of equality in me.
I wasn't even a teenager when Uncle Beautiful once saw me walking on the street, and I must have looked uncomfortable or afraid for some reason, because when I got home he said to me: When you walk, walk with confidence. When someone speaks to you, man or woman, look directly at them, make eye contact, be respectful and be modest, but speak clearly and assertively.
He never told me why. I have never forgotten his words. And I have to say that I was a little bit surprised with them.
You might wonder why a conservative Muslim man would instill in me these values.
I wondered, too.
It all became clearer this past weekend. I spent it attending an AlMaghrib Institute seminar about women in Islam. I always knew that when it came to women, Islam was ahead of its time. Khadija, the prophet Muhammad's first wife, was 15 years older than him. She sought him out, and she was the one who asked him to marry her.
When Imam Waleed Basyouni, the seminar's instructor, addressed the status of women during the prophet and his companions' time, it blew my mind, especially when I compared it with the present day.