Helping our Daughters Trust their Voices: The Queen of Sheba
For a large period of my life I was lead to believe that women were inherently inadequate leaders, being overly emotional with fewer logical thinking skills than men. Sometimes it was silently understood that the women were considered the workers and volunteers, while the men made every decision worth making.
I spent several years involved in Muslim organizations at various levels of leadership, and sometimes these things were actually said out loud. Other times they weren’t said, but continuously implied through people’s actions.
As difficult as it is to admit, when I was exposed to these types of attitudes, I would silently reevaluate the worth of my own voice, thinking: am I really just too emotional to make decisions? And for fear of ridicule: Maybe it is better for me to never speak.
No matter how qualified I was for a position or how excellent my work was, I distrusted my own abilities. I let these nagging doubts convince me that my voice was unneeded and irrelevant.
I see in the eyes of women and girls so much passion and willingness to contribute to the betterment of their community, and yet their voices are sometimes not welcomed. It’s only a matter of time until those girls become tired of the dismissive attitudes they’re exposed to in their own communities and move on to other places that will accept and value their abilities.
One of the ways I finally learned that my voice was valuable was through reading one woman’s voice that was very clearly recorded in the Quran: Bilqees, the Queen of Sheba.
As children, many of us learned her story within the larger narrative of Prophet Sulaiman. The story begins with Sulaiman (as) and his exchange with the hoopoe that brought news of a nation led by a Queen who all worshiped the sun. Sulaiman (as) sends a letter to Bilqees, asking her nation to accept the Oneness of and submission to One God.
In response to reading this letter, she says:
“‘O chiefs! Advise me in (this) case of mine. I decide no case till you are present with me.’ They said: ‘We have great strength, and great ability for war, but it is for you to command; so think over what you will command.’ She said: ‘Verily! Kings, when they enter a town, they despoil it, and make the most honourable amongst its people low. And thus they do. But verily! I am going to send him a gift, and see with what (answer) the messengers return” (27:32-35).
In these verses I hear a woman’s voice from many civilizations ago; a voice that is strong and unwavering, yet open and inviting. She asks for the advice of others whom she trusts. But at the end, she also trusts her own voice and decision.
She sends Prophet Sulaiman a gift instead of instigating a war. Here is a woman concerned for the well-being of her people and land such that she did not want to start unnecessary bloodshed. (Hey, doesn’t that seem like a novel idea?)
The beautiful story continues and eventually the Queen comes to see the truth, accepting the Oneness of Allah and submitting to Him.
She demonstrated a level of wisdom and foresight that would be admirable in any person – male or female. She brought to the table a skill-set that set her apart from many other leaders (both past and present). Most importantly of all, her power and wisdom did not lead her to become arrogant. Rather, they led her to be open to accepting the truth when it was clearly presented to her.
But we don’t include this point of view when teaching our children this story. We teach them about the famous hoopoe and Bilqees’ magnificent throne and the jinn who brought it to Sulaiman (as) in less than the blink of an eye (and we must teach these aspects of the story because they are miracles and examples for the believers). But we can’t teach them to the exclusion of the other lessons mentioned above.
As believers we are required to continuously self-evaluate; to examine our shortcomings and our negative inclinations and correct ourselves. But we cannot allow that self-evaluation to become paralyzing self-criticism. It took me a long time to understand and accept that I had a legitimate voice…that I had unique abilities that I should be putting to use, that I was intelligent enough to trust myself and trust what I felt and what I needed and where I was going in my life.
Think of girls as women, just tinier versions. If they don’t trust their own voices, their own intellect, their own instincts and emotions, then their voices will be replaced by someone else’s voice. They will grow to be the women who allow peers to speak for them, fashion to speak for them, politicians to speak for them, social media to speak for them.
So trust your daughter’s voice. Don’t silence it. When she has an opinion, consider it a valid opinion to be examined closely and seriously. When she decides that she wants to pursue a project or goal, don’t tell her – you won’t be able to do it. Let her do it. Help her take on responsibilities and projects that will increase her skill-set and contribute to her community.
Don’t ever tell her to be silent about what she feels or needs. Even though not every emotion or “need” should be indulged, the solution is never to ask her to change what she feels. You are asking for the impossible, and it could lead to a lifetime of her muting her own needs and downplaying her abilities. Instead, communicate openly about finding a positive and constructive outlet for these emotions and needs.
Help your daughter trust her voice. Even if she doesn’t want to lead organizations or companies or teams of people, she at least needs to be the leader of her own life.
Bilqees is just one example of a woman who trusted the strength and wisdom of her voice, and who made a permanent impact on how we understand the value of women’s voices. Islamic history is rife with examples of women like her. And the future can be rich with transformative women’s voices, too…your daughter can be one of them.