Filsan is a devout Muslim who was born and raised in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. From her appearance---a modest head covering, hijab, and full dress, this 20 year old Somali girl outwardly exhibits her beliefs in modesty. Her warmth and openness to talk, leaves you feeling that she is more modernized, intelligent and globally aware than you might assume.
After she studied to be a nurse at the university in Dire Dawa, the government wanted to place her working in a rural village outside of the city. With the help of her family, she was able to bypass the rough conditions. The family stepped in without hesitation to support her. If accepting the job were only about the need for money, they would pay her to not work.
This is one of the privileges of the Somali community—the way they view family. Though Filsan’s parents do not work, they still receive support monetarily from her brothers who work hard in countries like South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland, staying connected through modern inventions such as Skype. “The money is given freely,” Filsan says, “This is the command of God: If someone is in need, you give.” They give freely without the Western individualistic hurdles that say, “my money is my money.”
Along with her close knit family, Filsan daily welcomes a teacher into her home to teach her the Qur’an in Arabic. “He never makes eye contact with the women in the room. He greets us with peace from Allah.” She talks about his respect for her by focusing his eyes on the Qur’an, and not her. Along with daily teaching in the home, Filsan, as a woman, has the ability to fulfill her daily Islamic prayers made five times a day, in her home or at the mosque. While she enjoys praying at the mosque, she has the freedom to pray wherever she is.
“This is the privilege of women, since many of them must take care of their children in the home,” says Filsan proudly. She beams at the way she is honored by the Islamic tradition and culture.
Filsan elaborates how this carries over into courtship and marriage. “The man asks the father of the woman if he can marry her, and then the father asks the daughter, ‘Do you want to marry him? Do you love him?’” A modern Muslim Somali values love in marriage, “If you do not love him, you do not have to marry him,” she describes.
She is engaged to a childhood friend who is like family to her brothers and father. Filsan has known him all her life and now loves him. Though he is living in Sweden currently, as part of the Somali diaspora, he plans to move home to Dire Dawa to marry Filsan before eventually moving back to Sweden to take care of her.
Marriage is not just about love; it’s about providing for the women in the community. Every time Filsan is asked about her future with her fiancé, she sheepishly smiles and recites, “Insha’ a Allah”, which means, “if the Lord wills.” Her hope of a wedding one day is dependent on God making it happen. The centrality of God in her life deepened when she was hit, unfortunately, with the reality of death a few years ago.
She lost a close friend who battled with a stomach disease. She passed away at the tender age of 18. This shook Filsan up a bit. “I was very sad, but I learned not to cry and cry about the loss of my friend, because I know it was the will of Allah. Allah brings us to earth and then takes us away.” Death awoke her to see the importance of doing what is right in this life—reading the Hadiths, a book of sayings from the Prophet Muhammad, and the words of God recorded in the Qur’an, and obeying them.
“I believe the purpose of life is to worship God,” Filsan says confidently. Without much thought she knows the answer to the question all humans ask themselves at one point or another: What is the purpose of life?
Filsan shares her belief in Allah and how that affects every aspect of who she is—a daughter, fiancée, and friend. She embraces modern life, and holds fast to her culture. Filsan brushes with Colgate, but also uses a Somali stick as a toothbrush. It’s the mixing of the Islamic, old Somali tradition with the new educated Somali customs that Filsan embodies so well, representing a growing subculture of modern Somalis throughout the world.
Written by Melissa Smith. Illustration by Manal Fashi.