Family Rule №1: Remain at the table.🏡

After coming across Alaa Murabit’s TED Talk on ‘What Islam really says about Muslim Women’, I decided to write this blog post. An amazing talk highlighting the importance of staying seated at the table if you want to be a part of the discussion and most importantly, be heard.

Although Murabit’s speech was directed at how to empower Muslim Women to make a change in their community and amongst their institutions, she also spoke about the first ever institution she came from, her family, and what having a seat at the table really means.

Your family, your siblings (if you have any), your parents, anyone who makes up your household. They are your first ever institution. Your first ever place of education, discipline and moral compass. Your first insight into justice and harmony, or maybe lack of.

What does having a seat at the table even mean?

We’ve all heard the phrase, right?

Let me further elaborate…

Getting a seat at the table is a phrase typically designated for people in power. Only the influential get to make the decisions therefore earning themselves, yep, you got it… a seat at the table.

The table is a symbol of negotiation and conclusions regarding the discussion at hand. Being able to pull up a chair is a symbol of opportunity to put across your view, as well as giving you a personal sense of recognition.

Lonely bench on a mountain hill in black and white
Photo by Jan Huber / Unsplash
In my opinion, there’s a lot of things that your first institution, being your family, can teach you which takes you all the way through your life stages. ‘Winning a seat’ is definitely one of them.

I was fortunate enough to come from a large (though awfully loud) family.

Growing up, there were 4 of us children and, shortly after I was born, my parents separated. The dynamic shifted so much during the first five years of my life, and times could be anything but simple. Our dynamics were different to what maybe our South-Asian culture accepted around that time.

Think of it like a weird architectural building where everyone (i.e. family members) still plays their part no matter how it may be perceived on the outside. I loved it.

I count my blessings for each and every one of my siblings because, even though our surroundings were spinning, we kept our feet firmly on the ground and, more importantly, kept them next to each other. Alhamdulilah.

As any normal bunch of kids growing into adolescence, we faced our challenges individually. We had our own ‘outside world bullies’, we had our unfair trials and moments of social fear. But I guess you can say our biggest ‘flex’ was knowing that no matter what the world threw our way, the home was a place of moral direction and comfort.

Walking through the front door meant our voices were heard and more importantly, they held sentiment. I quickly learnt that communication was more important than caring about how ‘aib’ (culturally harmful) the topic may be.

Being the youngest child in a loud family, I picked up two things:

1. The skill of talking really fast to get your words in, before someone tells you you’re taking too long.

2.  And having a ‘low-volume voice’ was never going to get you anywhere!

But what I was also conditioned to (rightly) believe was that everyone deserves to be heard, you just got to want to sit at the table.

Thankfully for us, even though our time with both Mum and Dad had to be split, they never let us forget our position within this little institution of ours. We knew that if there were big discussions taking place within family, we were not only allowed to be involved, but we were also wanted. There really is a difference.

My parents were intuitive which meant empathy was always present within conversations.

They were limitlessly patient. The kind of patience that I thought everyone had until I grew up and realised how rare of a trait it actually was.

They always had time, no matter their own pursuits and goals.

The humane approach we received as kids perhaps separated us from many within our community whose parents/guardians had subjected them through a cultural lens.

The damage of being subjected culturally is when you start to believe that this is what Islam expects of you.

You can fall into the trap of thinking Islam expects you take injustice, disrespect or any sort of harsh treatment inside and outside of the home. And only when delving into your own research, and stepping away from certain family 'values', you realise that Islam is actually the exact opposite.

Being silenced because things are ‘culturally inappropriate’ can actually steer you away from understanding what Islam accepts and gives room for. The endless possibilities that are there for us through our religion, as well as the rights we have, perhaps, culture thinks it has the authority to take away.

What did sitting at the table teach me about real life?

Being given a seat at the table by my parents from a young age and understanding the impact my voice had, really amplified the teachings of Islam for me.

The first foundation I came from taught me that mistakes were okay to make as long as honesty was present. From our religion, we stand by the knowledge of how merciful Allah is when we feel we have wronged ourselves or even those around us. If Allah is the most forgiving, how can the people simply shun us?

I had the blessing of understanding ‘empowerment’ through both my family unit and Islam. When we understand  the status of Muslim women of our faith, the cultural angle of this matter can be beyond frustrating and untrue.

Khadijah (RadiAllahu Anha) is the best example.

A woman of integrity and significance in her own right before even marrying our beloved Prophet (SAW).

Her centric role in funding and supporting Islam as a movement of new faith is what aided our religion to grow and prosper. A leader, a businesswoman, and politically aligned.

She was included amongst those who had perfected their faith. A well educated woman who carried immense wealth and has been recognised to be “ahead of her time”, hence the name ‘Khadijah’, meaning premature. The leader of the woman of Quraysh. Every characteristic that would lead any human to extreme arrogance was only added to her humility as a leader.

Khadijah (radiAllahu anha) being a woman of nobility, proves to us how being a female and being someone of amazing strength and intellect can easily co-exist, despite what some cultural views may suggest.

Where is the best place to reignite this notion?

The First Institution of the Family.

If you’re currently raising a young family, if you’re the eldest member, if you’re the youngest child, whatever your status may be – do your part in creating a home that exemplifies the teachings of Islam when it comes to justice.

Encourage a notion of independent thinking, and everyone voicing what they feel matters to them.

Invite each other to the table.