In 1978 clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term “imposter syndrome”, referring to the experience of individuals who do not believe in their own abilities. They feel that they do not merit their achievements, and do not live up to their reputation. They believe that they are not good enough, and definitely are not as talented, intelligent, strong, accomplished, or qualified as others around them. In their initial study, they found that women are especially prone to experiencing imposter syndrome more often and more intensely.
This is exactly what I have recognized as I speak to and interact with Muslim women, and that I recognize within myself as well. We tend to attribute our successes to luck, ease of the task, kindness and support of others, or a mistake that has been made somewhere. Conversely, we attribute our failure to our lack of ability, lack of competence, and inherent weakness within ourselves.
And what’s wrong with that, many will say. True, humility is a virtue. Yes, we are urged as Muslims to be humble, refrain from bragging, and never boast our achievements. Of course, we should attribute our success to the grace of Allah (swt), and know that all that is good within ourselves comes from Him.
But this becomes a problem when we decide to sit back and hand the reins to others when it is time to take action. When we decline an opportunity to teach or talk about Islam, because we are not the best option. When we tell ourselves we will not be successful students, so why register in a class at all. When we allow the louder, more confident voices on social media drown out our own.
Too many Muslim women feel like imposters and believe they are not ready to speak for our deen, teach it, or learn it. This has caused a silence that has lasted generations, and we cannot afford to wait until we feel ‘ready’. Girls need to hear our voices, see our struggle, and learn from our mistakes. Other women need to see us in all our shattered glory, to know that they are not alone, they are not the only imperfect ones.
Islam is a deep religion and none of us are really qualified to represent it, no one is perfect. That’s ok.
Yes, we are imposters, one and all. Very few of us are actually worthy to represent the deep and vibrant tradition of Islam, as Allah (swt) shows us in Surat al-Waqi’ah. “Those are the ones brought near, in the Gardens of Pleasure, a large company of the former peoples, and a few of the later peoples.”
ثلة من الأولين وقليل من الآخرين
We are of those “later peoples”, and only a few of us are on the fast track to Paradise. This, we already know. We may not be the best to walk this earth, but we need to be imposters anyway: keep striving to improve our deen, to learn about it, to represent it, and to teach it whenever the opportunity comes to us. The Prophet (s) says:
Roughly translated, it means: Aim for the goal, and get as close as you can. Pull your ends together, even if they don’t always meet.
Because we are all on a path, we are all growing and learning. That is what Islam is. Islam was not sent for perfect people. It was sent to the rest of us, the flawed, the broken, the damaged, and the sinful.
Let us each stand up today and take that brave stride: Accept the offer to teach at that school. Go speak to the church down the road. Post positive and uplifting messages on your social media channels. Open a social media channel! Register in a class. Finish your class! Don’t quit because you’re worried you won’t do well. Just do better.
Do not allow your shortcomings to freeze you from action, because I’ll tell you right here and now: yes, you are imperfect, and that’s ok. Yes, there is someone out there who can do better, but you can do good too. You can do just fine.
Director of Education, Rabata