For all those who have wondered where my fascination for Muslim women comes from. This is it! My first impression of what people stereotype as the ‘Muslim Woman’ comes from Afshan Japanwala.
I was a painfully shy creature who if probed would snap or retreat into a shell. The first classmate who drew me into a long conversation about religion was she.
Afshan and I were poles apart. She was independent yet very proper, forward thinking yet conservative. There were many contradictory traits to her extroverted personality. I guess it was the contradictions that drew me to her or maybe it was just her maturity. After all she was the only twelve year old who noticed I had sad eyes!

Those contradictions in her personality can be seen more blatantly, now. After getting a Degree in International Hotel and Tourism Management from Switzerland, she immediately got married to an M.B.A from London; Samir Iqbal a renowned businessman of Delhi. She was just 21! At thirty-four she manages the properties her father left for her mother and is herself a doting mother to three lovely children. Fiercely independent, the most important person in her life has been and will always be her gorgeous mother, who has been an emotional anchor to her, as well as her children.

Afshan with her mother and her kids.

Afshan with her mother and her kids.

Here are excerpts from a discussion about religion, marriage and so and so forth.

Did you have a religious upbringing?
I follow Islam. I’m not a very conservative person. My parents brought me up in a forward manner but yes! in a religious manner.

Afshan Japanwala

Afshan Japanwala

So would you say that your parents were progressive Muslims?
You can say they were progressive Muslims.

Do you have any siblings?
No. I’m a single child.

So what was it like being a single child living in a progressive Muslim household?
My father Mohammed Suleiman Japanwala (he’s not there anymore) belonged to a well-known business family of Delhi. He married my mother who was an M.A in Urdu and came from a business family from Lucknow. My parents bought me up in a very special way. On the one hand they inculcated a set of values but they never imposed anything on me. They gave me my own space but they suggested in their own sweet way what was right and what was wrong.
It was amazing being a single child, Saadiya . As a child I obviously missed not having any siblings but later on my father either consciously or unconsciously took the place of an elder brother and a friend. Even my mom became like a sister/guide. When I look back now I don’t miss not having any siblings. Being the only child makes you the epicenter of your parent’s expectations. They wanted the best for me and from me. It was difficult to satisfy both of them so I took the midway path. Hopefully, I’ve managed to satisfy them both.

The loss must be very hard to deal with since it was just the three of you.
Definitely! Ours was a very close knit and attached family. I was barely 22 and had recently gotten married when my father expired. It was very difficult for me. Actually for both mom and me it was harder because it was an untimely death. The suddenness of it has scarred me greatly.

When your father passed away were there any issues about inheritance? According to one of the sects of Islam, (if I’m not mistaken) if there is a single female child the property has to be divided amongst the father’s male relatives as well.
There could have been issues. But since my Dad was a foresighted person, he took some precautionary measures. He converted to the Shia sect to ensure that that my mother and I would be secure. Therefore, only we inherited my father’s estate. If I was in his place I would have done the same thing for my daughter.

Is it easy being a Muslim Woman in today’s day and age?
Initially, people do have a preconceived notion about me. But once they interact with me they realize where I’m coming from. Personally, I believe that irrespective of what religion you may follow and irrespective of how well educated you are; after a ten-minute conversation your upbringing and your value system start showing up. In my case people realize that I know what I’m talking about. Thank God! I’ve never faced any prejudice, anywhere in the world.

So how come you went to Switzerland to study but never had any wild days?
When I had to leave, people told my father that it was the greatest mistake of his life. But both my parents had a lot of faith in me. Their faith was pressurizing so while my batch mates were having a great time I didn’t! But I have no regrets.

Considering how young you were when you got married did you ever feel like calling it quits?
I’ve been married for twelve and half years and all couples feel like calling it off at some point because of the pressures of life. Not because you don’t love each other anymore but because some times things become hard to handle. In my case I got married to a stranger, who was older and whose personality was absolutely different from mine. Though we were very different he was very supportive of all my professional decisions, unlike many Muslim men. That made me respect him a great deal. We also got into the marriage knowing that we had to work it out and quitting wasn’t an option. That made us get through the tough times: the commitment to work it out. So now despite the fact that we are poles apart we have a great understanding. He knows exactly what I’m going to say and I know exactly how he’s going to react!