Emotional distress does not discriminate; discrimination causes emotional distress. Meanha courageously shares how being in a cultural minority has led to her being the victim of mindless attacks, and how these acts of ignorance led to her questionning herself causing mental health struggles.
Emotional pain connects us, it is the same whatever race, culture, gender or sexuality we are. Pain unites us in our shared humanity… and from that connection back to Self and others we can rise into our mission, as Meanha is now unapologetically doing;
Self-Esteem + Islamophobia = Mission
My experience is a conundrum of various different issues that have contributed to my journey with my mental health and self-respect. I don’t think anyone would be able to identify and blame any one incident or event, rather it is a concoction of multiple events and social-cultural factors that lead to the disintegration of my mental health. Followed by a venture of growth, discovery, resilience and being unapologetically me.
Growing up in an all-white community, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Being on the larger side and never fitting in clothes made for girls my age didn’t help my self-confidence. As the years went by, I became more and more obsessed with the way that I looked, and how much I weighed and “would people think I’m too brown” if I ate that, wore this, or did/didn’t do that. Identity crisis was an understatement.
Around 13/14 I became desperate to just be like everyone else, and it was a bitter taste every time I failed to fit in. Something always made me different, no matter how hard I tried to leave my religion, culture, norms and values behind. I always tried to make myself feel better about my friendship circles despite being the friend with the “exotic attitude” eating the “foreign food” with the “Asian hair and skin”, and of course the passive racism which I just swallowed with laughter. I had reached absolute rock bottom, and this was my earliest memory of experiencing feelings of worthlessness. I had the intense desire to just disappear.
After reconnecting with my faith around 15/16, I began to find peace in knowing that my purpose in life was not to serve societies ideals of how I should be, and Islam was the one thing that kept me anchored during these turbulent times. After I left school, I put on the hijab as I still feared being “different”. When I donned the hijab, I felt so powerful and beautiful and I felt like no one could take away my shine and confidence. A few weeks later I received a few comments from “friends” whom I later realised were not worth my time and energy, but their comments triggered something. “Am I making myself more different?”. I planted those thoughts to the back of my head, my hijab brought me more happiness in just a few weeks than it had in all my years of existence when I was living for other peoples and their preferences.
After becoming more and more closer to Islam, I wanted to gain better God Consciousness and whilst studying various things at college, I realised just how much our media and government capitalise off their consumers lack of confidence and ability to be comfortable in their own skin. I did not want to be part of that. I decided to wear the Niqab (face veil), and I remember the first day I did. I felt so empowered and invincible. However, overtime, my intentions changed. It became a way for me to be forgotten about and disappear in the back of the classroom. It became a way for me to be socially isolated as people refused to make eye contact with me or ask me for my opinions. It became a way for me to be silently judged in people’s awkward glances which could be so loudly felt. I began to wonder again, “had I done this to myself? Did I deserve this behaviour for being different again?”
In April 2014, I was verbally attacked by a man who claimed I was arrogant, and he was disgusted in what I stand for. He backed me into a shop corner and spat harsher words. I wasn’t angry at him, he was ignorant, I was more upset and embarrassed at the fact that no one defended me. Not even the other Muslims who were standing and watching. I was disappointed and couldn’t help wondering “was I too different for them to stick up for me?”.
In May, myself and a friend were physically attacked on the way home. It was broad daylight on a busy road. The woman who attacked us repeatedly said that we couldn’t be trusted, and we should go back to where we came from. I wasn’t angry at her, I was angrier at the people around us. Opposite was a busy pub where people were laughing, and people were pulling up in their cars to record what was happening on their phones. Eventually, a heavily pregnant Lithuanian woman with broken English came out and helped us, not the perfectly healthy, full English-speaking men who were just watching. I make the point about English speaking, because this woman had 10x the bravery to stop a physical fight whilst being pregnant than all the cowards that had their hands in their pockets. Again, I was disheartened and had begun to lose faith in humanity.
A few weeks later, I was verbally abused by a man in my local shop who claimed that I was oppressed, and “my book” taught me to be a terrorist. I was ignored so much to the point that when I asked the store manager for help, he responded with “you can take this outside, I don’t want any trouble in here”. I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole.
At this point, I experienced agoraphobia, PTSD with night terrors; triggers included news articles of similar attacks or anyone who looked like these people, and depression with voices that told me I was not worth helping which is why no one stood up for me, and I was the one to blame for what happened because I was too different. Not only did this affect me, but my family were on edge about all the women’s whereabouts at all times, and who was next?
I was without education and work for a long time, and even now I still find myself hesitating when going into new places or accepting new opportunities with the fear of “What other types of islamophobia could I face?”. 5 years later, and the effects of these attacks still stay with me. I’m vigilant whenever I’m out, making sure I know the time and exact location of where I am, making a mental note of people’s height, what they are wearing, eye colour, and registration numbers in the occasion that something does happen. It is exhausting. However, I’m in a much better place than what I was 5 years ago, and I can actively respond in the face of hate with goodness and love.
It is with a heavy heart that I no longer wear the Niqab around Norfolk or when I am on my own as Islamophobia has increased, however I still wear it proudly when I am travelling, at events or when public speaking. I’m still raising awareness and if anything, these events have fuelled my drive to continue with my mission.
Please bear in mind, this is just scratching the surface of what I have experienced as I have not mentioned the daily hate myself, and other Muslims face, and there are many other women and men who have experienced far worse on a greater level of hate and violence. I’m very grateful and blessed to not be a victim of any other form’s terrorism such as acid throwing, gun and knife crime, or vehicle violence. I’m also grateful to have recovered from my eating difficulties and become a more content version of me as well as growing every day, but experiencing mental distress is harrowing and I wish nothing but peace for those in distress.
You can find out more about where I work here: www.inspiritedminds.org.uk and you can find me ranting daily on Instagram: minha_of_norwich
Meanha with her cat; a vision of unconditional love ❤
Meanha’s raw poem gives us a peek at her Warrior power behind her niqab…
It stops me from cutting, smoking and unnecessary hating.
It stops me from doubting, tripping and unnecessary sinning.
It stops me from greed, so I take heed and therefore I am freed.
It reignites hoping, helping and necessary loving.
It’s rejuvenating, enlightening and absolutely voicing.
It is my own deed, that I desperately need and therefore I am freed.
A veil of honour, a piece of Armor
Protecting a wild flower that holds superpower
Strong enough for a stampede, promised to succeed, and therefore I am freed.
What is it that you see? Oppression to a certain degree? Would it be crazy, to say that, the thing that oppresses me is the very thing that sets me free?
It’s more than just modesty, beyond bodily, above policy, and in all honesty, I’m saying this politely, this is no apology.
For I am a woman that is no wannabe, I refuse to play this monopoly of terrorism and sexism, feminism and fascism.
I am not to be used as a euphemism.
This dogmatism is part of a larger mechanism, but I do not participate in this escapism.
My identity that I have been beaten for, spat at and ashamed.
Yes, I have pained, but I will not be trained to be chained to the ideals of this society.
Based on vanity, silently, unjustifiably causing anxieties.
For I am a woman of La Ilaha Illa Allah, a statement that is engraved, and allows me to be unscathed.