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Get to know our 'It Girl!' One-on-one Conversation with Ruma & Melanie

Posted on May 11, 2015
Melanie Elturk


M: So Ruma, we know a little about you from your intro post as well as your IG and a couple of the awesome posts you've written for the HH blog, but tell us a little about your background - where you're from, where you went to school, what you studied, where you work, etc.

R: My name is Mahmuda Ruma Begum. I am 25 and living in a small town within Detroit. I grew up with a very diverse upbringing as my town is very eclectic. I graduated from Wayne State University with pre-reqs for Physician Assistance. I'm asking everyone for their duas because my exam is less than a month away. As for something personal, I'm a bit reserved until I warm up to the environment. So if you ever see me, say hello! 

M: I know you're Bengali - are both your parents Bengali and have you ever been to Bangladesh?

R: I am 100 percent Bengali. Both of my parents are from Shylet, Bangladesh. I was born in Bangladesh but came to America when I was 1 and a half. My first time going back was not too long ago. Twenty-two years later I saw what Bangladesh was like. I saw the best of both worlds there and I wish I was more myself rather than so reserved. My biggest regret is not eating the meat there because I was told I would get stomach issues. Such a coward!

M: What do you mean when you say you wish you were more yourself rather than reserved?

R: Before I left, I was nearly scared half to death with all the horror stories my family in England told me. There were a lot of personal issues with both of the families so I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I didn't speak too much, I came off rude and I didn't even dress up because I was scared someone would forcefully get me married. LOL. I laugh at it now but for the first time going back and without my family was rough. My dad went with me but he's a soft-hearted guy, I thought I’d have to protect us both.

M: Ok got it. The desi culture is so rich - how much do you (or don't you) embrace your desi culture?

R: Ah culture. I have a love and hate relationship with it. I consider myself to be very cultural actually (except I am horrible with reading and writing in Bangla). Many people are usually surprised at this statement. When I did go back to visit Bangladesh, many would say how they are surprised that I am an American. They only knew when I preferred bottled water over anything else. The only thing I dislike is when culture and religion begin to compete or clash. It becomes over-bearing. When that simmers down - I love my culture and embrace it completely. I used to be ashamed of it when I was younger but as time passed; I have learned to embrace it and everything it has to offer - the food, the clothes, the family values and more.

M: I grew up in a primarily desi masjid and this sense of being ashamed or embarrassed of one's desi culture was something I encountered a lot with my desi friends - it was something they wish they could hide. I remember reading someone's away message on AIM (wow I'm old) and it said, "I didn't ask to be desi, I was born this way." and he meant it in a real self-hating type of way. I immediately felt so bad for this guy. Have you encountered this in your community, and why do you think this is?

R: Yes. Definite yes. I encounter this in my community often and when I was younger it made me think I had to feel this way to be cool as well. Self-hate prophecies... I don't know why they become this almost "hipster" or cool thing to do. Anyways, sometimes it is because of that cultural/religion clash that becomes so overbearing and that it sets a certain societal expectation. Speaking in perspective terms; it becomes heavy on anyone to carry old traditions and keep up with religious duties just to make the family and society happy. There is a lot of expectations to be met that come with the desi culture and as I said it becomes over-bearing whether its due to religion or not.

M: Interesting. So you think it has more to do with the culture vs. religion clash rather than… let's say skin color or being different or a minority and sticking out?

R: Not necessarily more. I think it’s both. They both play an equal part. When I say certain expectations; its also, same tribe, status, village...the history of the family's ancestor, skin color, demeanor... all of it.

M: Whoa! Tribe and village? That's intense! Do those things really matter still in your family/community?

R: Yes, I don't know if everyone does this but for us the wedding cards contain the name of the village where the mother and father of the bride and groom are from.

M: WHOA. Is that a Bengali thing? I've never seen that before.

R: Yeah, definitely a Bengali thing. Maybe just my community, but not too sure. Lately, I have been noticing a lot of Bengali’s marrying out of their own race which is a beaaaaauuuutiful thing. I’m all for interracial couples.

M: Is that kind of taboo in your community still? 

R: I don't think as much anymore. Maybe couple years back, yes. Then again, I haven't been keeping up with the community as much I should.

M: I want to go back to this issue of culture vs. religion. What would you say is something that's very culturally accepted in Bengali culture but at odds with Islamic culture - what bugs you most or what are you most at odds with?

R: There's something that used to bug me when I was younger. It created a lot of confusion actually – regarding hijab. Culturally it was okay for women to wear saris and show their stomachs but if you wore something non-desi and your stomach would show... it was highly taboo because it’s against religion. It never made sense to me. It still doesn't.

Marriage wise; if a man is younger than a woman it’s considered to be looked down upon. Marrying outside of the culture...there has been progress like I said but its still controversial. Where in Islam does it look down on any of this? And of course you have the rights of men and women, which always stir controversy. Islam protects the rights of women and sometimes culture can deteriorate that.

M: I totalllllly feel you with the hijab thing. I distinctly remember growing up at the primarily desi masjid and the aunties wore sari's with their stomach's showing and I was soooo confused

I think hijab in general in the desi culture is fickle - it's generally accepted if you don't wear it. Would you say that's true?

R: I'm not sure actually because in my household hijab was mandatory and most of my Bengali friends do wear hijab. I didn't wear it the proper way until I got to college but yeah culturally; I can say it does get confusing.

M: Ok so when was it mandatory for you to wear it?

R: High school.

M: Walk us through it - what happened, how did you feel, what was your hijab journey like?

R: My brother was very overprotective and as an elder brother of the household, we had to listen to what he said. The eldest 'boys' are very revered in our culture. I'm sure this happens in many cultures. Anyways, my parents thought it would be a great idea as well. So I thought I just had to wear it to school. I started in 8th grade actually with a bunch of girls. We just decided to put it on. Many took it off the next year; myself and a few others kept it on. Luckily, my mother wasn't forceful and had this soft touch to everything so I was able to understand prayer and the true foundation of Islam. But hijab was confusing in the sense that I was told to put it on. So I’d wear it to school and nowhere else. This happened throughout high school. I didn't even wear it properly.

I had many thoughts on taking it off. I even took it off for one day during the beginning of my college years. But that was the day I realized I liked it better on rather than off. The respect that comes with the hijab is so different. SubhanAllah. I remember walking down some street and all you heard was whistles or rude comments. When I wore hijab, no one said anything and if they did it was comments that are more subtle than what I heard that day. Mind you I was still wearing the clothes I would wear with hijab, which was a long sleeve top and some jeans. Nothing inappropriate. I remember wanting to take it off because I couldn't get the right outfits or I felt too hot. SubhanAllah after that day, I don't know what came over me but everything matched and even if it didn't I didn’t care - IT MATCHED. LOL. I was no longer always feeling too hot or sweaty. It all flowed. Alhamdulilah to be able to say I love wearing hijab. Alhamdulilah to the max.

M: Wow subhanAllah - what do you think is at the heart of what happened within just one day?

R: I felt empty like something was missing. I felt bare; almost naked. I felt shame.

M: The last time I ever took my hijab off was when I was in high school and I looked like I was 11 even at 16 so I never experienced that but I do know that feeling of respect just by seeing other women walk past the same guys who are so disrespectful to some women and when I walk past they put their heads down. In my head I'm always like, "That’s right!" lol

R: Yeah it gets really disgusting.

M: Ok so do you think the fact that you were forced to wear hijab without a real choice negatively impacted hijab for you in general?

R: For a while, it did because I didn't understand the true meaning behind it.

M: And now?

R: Definitely a 180. It was until 2nd year of college I think I understood its true meaning

M: Alright, so switching gears a bit, I want to ask you about......GUYS! LOL I'm interested in what the process of meeting guys for the purposes of marriage is like right now, especially with hijab. Do you think hijab holds you back? I get e-mails from girls all the time (primarily in the desi community) who say that wearing hijab might hold them back from getting married. Thoughts?

R: Ok so I don't believe hijab holds anyone back from anything. If anything, it saves you from a lot. And we are all human beings. We all have this desire to want and be loved. I think marriage is such a beautiful step and it takes a lot of thought processing and self-discipline. I'm currently in that situation where my family is telling me to get ready and I do feel somewhat ready. In the past, I did the mistake of taking things into my own hands believing I'll save my family from the pressure and I'll search on my own. I don't think this was the best route. I can say this from experience. What I am doing now is being patient and waiting for my time. I have full tawwakul in Allah's (S) qadr. But I also understand I have to work on myself to find what I want. In order to look for someone, you have to be mentally prepared. You have to have strong will power and emotionally understand what you're doing this for. I had many guys come to me with an idea of proposal but once I realized they they were going more towards a dating route, I cut it off. Completely. This took years of training though. I wouldn't even meet with them. However being a hijabi should help, not hinder the situation. No one should ever look at it like, oh man I wear hijab I can't meet a guy.

M: Do you feel as though it's harder to come across guys that are marriage material? It feels like guys aren't serious cause society has shifted toward a mentality where there's no thought process of "waiting" involved. It seems like it’s easier for guys to mess around now even more so than 5 years ago when I was getting married.

R: Yes it is definitely hard but I'm sure guys feel the same way except their mentality is not as complicated as ours! Lol. Guys and girls both mess around. And this is what I mean by having strong will power. I feel many girls even guys go in with great intentions hoping to get married but things go wrong. This is why dating is a no no to begin with. You have to mentally tell yourself I'm wanting marriage, I'm willing to not get into the dating route and test the water that way. This takes a great deal of patience and understanding. It's really hard but if you can do it, do it. You'll be rewarded. I feel our generation has the right idea but because we have so much more access, our free will is always tested.

Very true. With everything at our fingertips - snapchat, I don't even want to name the weird apps out there lol I feel like it's harder and harder not to mess around. How do you set the boundaries for yourself? Obviously Islam has set them for us but how do you stay in the boundaries?

Oh man, it took me so long to get here. They say a stupid man never learns, a smart man learns from his mistakes, and a wise man learns from others. I'm in the middle. I had to learn from my own mistakes but I did watch others too. Islam was and is my foundation. My faith in Allah is what's keeping me alive and keeps me fighting for what I want. I'm testing my own patience but that hope in Allah is all I really have. I had to understand that I am deserving of what I want. So anyone who doesn't respect that, they are basically out of the picture. I just opened up my mind and heart to start looking for a potential spouse. This itself was a huge step for me. So coming here was a process. And now that I am here, I won't allow anyone to lower my standards. You have to set standards for yourself. Not saying high standards that are completely out of this world but enough to match your worth.

Why was it such a huge step for you to open your mind and heart to looking for a potential spouse?

R: Because of my own personal experiences and watching many people go through a lot in their own lives. The idea of marriage was and is still a bit scary for me. I spoke of my mother's illness before and this always held me back in finding someone. I was afraid of burdening anyone. I had to realize this is out of my control and these blessed obstacles shouldn't make me lower my standard or worth.

M: Absolutely! Ok, switching gears a bit…what do you see as the biggest challenge for Muslim youth right now?

R: I think it's ego. We're constantly feeding ourselves the wrong "soul food." It goes back to all this access - social media, the constant need for validation, the competition youth have sometimes. We forget were all in this together. Facebook has been embedded into our daily lives now if you've noticed. Movies, books, some of our great grandparents know lol!

M: yes. #thestruggleisreal So I know this is something you've touched upon in your past blog posts - but how does one deal with this issue?

R: We have to remind ourselves, in extreme simple terms: "we ain't sh*t" lol basically we have to have nourishing conversations with ourselves, we have to give up the very thing that causes it, train yourself and once you feel ready to go back to it, if it happens again, which it will, do it all over again.

M: What is your fave go-to outfit as a hijabi?

R: Maxi dresses that are long sleeve. Omg best. One layer and a hijab. Talk about UHHHMAAZINNG

M: Nice!!! What are your fave stores to shop at for hijab friendly clothing?

R: I despiiiise shopping at the mall. If I had to pick Forever 21 is the best. They have hijab friendly clothes and it’s affordable. I love eBay though. You find everything. I don't care much for brands etc as long as it looks nice.

M: EBAY IS THE JAM! What's your holy grail all-time fave hijab?

R: So far I'm loving these viscose wraps. I find myself wearing them out because they’re so soft.

It's becoming my holy grail all time fave.

M: Nice!! Those are my go-to's right now FO SHO! They're so versatile. Ok, what do you love most about being the Haute Hijab 'it Girl'?

R: It helped allow me to express myself in a way I didn't think I could. A small dream sort of. To take photos, doll up, to speak my mind. A girl’s dream. It's been an amazing experience.

M: Aww :) that's awesome - you've been an amaaazing it girl! It's gonna be so sad to see you go!!! Ok, last question we ask - if you could go back, what's one thing you'd tell your 18-year-old self?

R: If I could go back, I'd go back and tell her to stop worrying, Allah has everything planned. I wish I believed that completely then as I do now.

M: What's the best piece of advice you would give to someone struggling with hijab?

R: Hijab makes you so beautiful. It adds noor to your face but only once you start loving it for yourself. Don't feel as if it holds you back from anything. Embrace it. Do what you want with it as long as you're not harming yourself and others. Allah truly looks at the heart so purify intentions before putting it on. Once you strengthen your iman, all else falls into place. Make constant dua that you find peace and Allah will surely guide you. Don't give into any peer pressure from society. Look at how hijab has taken over social media after all these years. The more we feel comfort with things, the better impact it'll make.

Stay updated with Ruma on Instagram @hautehijab and @amurvruma!