Each Ramadan I learn the skill of fortitude again. I learn how to say thanks to physical pain as it aligns me with the pain of so many suffering with no hope for food after a long, hot, humid day. I learn how to tame my cravings like so many others who still have to engage in manual labor during a fast because that’s what they do for a living. I learn to be that person who welcomes Ramadan not for the feast that happens after the fast ends but for the patience, grit and fortitude it demands of me while the fast is on.
Fortitude is one of Allah’s favorite virtues. He expects it and demands it. Islam has a very compassionate definition of fortitude. Fortitude is loved by Allah and rewarded by Allah. Islam extends its definition to include its implications on fellow human beings also. Our fortitude should be exemplary and should lead us to improving and almost revolutionizing our inherent entitlement. It opens our eyes to steadfastness and courage in the face of adversity.
But then I see a societal and domestic definition of fortitude and particularly amongst Muslim women. That fortitude is suffering against a negative energy . That it’s not standing up for ourselves. That it’s something that a woman should always adopt when she is met with marital discord, in-laws cruelty, or her children openly adopting a vile behavior towards her. A woman is taught this virtue with the expectation that it will make her the meek role model that future women will take inspiration from. That this virtue or an inbuilt feature of it in a woman will fix everything. And that if ever anything goes against what society considers the straight and narrow, it’s because not enough fortitude was employed by her.
Can I say that that’s not what Islam teaches us? Islam teaches us to call people out when they’ve been blatantly out of line with women. The ability to practice fortitude isn’t a weakness but actually a strength. It’s purpose is to make us strong and remove the weakness. It teaches us how to take the right path, even if the one less travelled, and stick with it with fortitude.
I wanna teach my daughter fortitude. Fortitude when her loving and trustworthy husband cannot bring her loads of money or new shoes or a new car. Fortitude when her well-meaning mother-in-law (who is in the trenches with her when it comes to childcare) gives her a suggestion on formula versus breastfeeding. Fortitude if she has to go out and be the provider for her family because her husband, try as he might, can’t make ends meet.
But my daughter’s fortitude will never be in the face of abuse. That’s not why Allah sent the gift of this most precious human trait. It’s not a survival skill. It’s not a way of life in the face of blatant misogyny. It’s the gentlest, most kindness-inducing, most vulnerability-provoking human quality that my daughter will reserve for the people who can benefit from it while she benefits from it too.