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CommunityRamadanExplore Islam this Ramadan with Big Little Steps

Dubai-based author Mathilde Loujayne has written a guide to Islam for women.
Ann Marie McQueenMarch 10, 202311 min
عرض المقال بالعربية
Woman's guide to IslamMathilde Loujayne with her new book Big Little Steps. Photo courtesy Mathilde Loujayne.

For Dubai-based author Mathilde Loujayne, the sense of community amongst Muslims is always most apparent when she is travelling alone.

As a corporate communications professional, her job involved a lot of solo travel. In fact, it was her time spending Ramadan alone in Canada that made her decide she wanted to write an accessible, engaging and boundary-breaking guide to Islam for women. 

“I was at this Muslim community center in Canada and a woman came up to me and asked me where I was from and if I was okay,” recalled Loujayne.

She took me to the market to buy dates and invited me to her house to eat with her family. They all welcomed me with open arms. I’ve experienced similar warmth and generosity from many other Muslims whilst I’ve been travelling alone on other occasions too.”

Born in the South of France, Loujayne converted to Islam at the age of 18. She never expected the community to be so welcoming.

“There is such a strong bond between women; they are sisters. The brotherhood is really huge too,” she explains.

“I didn’t realize that Islam was a way of life, covering the day-to-day, how you relate to others and self-care. There was a lot to learn. So, I began to wish there was a guide for me to read that was written by a woman for women. Both for recent converts and women omen who simply want to understand Islam.”

Breaking stereotypes

Inspired by this idea, Loujayne started work on her 2018 book Big Little Steps: A Woman’s Guide to Finding a Balanced Lifestyle and a Glowing Heart in Islam almost a decade prior. 

Muslim woman and child
Faith, an illustration by UAE artist Hatty Pedder. Photo courtesy Mathilde Loujayne.

As well as highlighting the beauty of Islam, the book breaks pre-conceived notions of Muslim women in a positive and constructive manner.

Loujayne also wanted to use the book as a way of fully explaining her choice to convert to her mother. In fact, she did such a good job with this that her mother also ended up converting in 2015.

A spiritual journey

The author’s journey to Islam was prompted by the death of her 16-year-old brother, Stephane. In the aftermath of their loss, her parents decided to move the family from the South of France to Muscat, Oman. Here, her father privately converted to Islam.

“He survived cancer when he was a bit younger, so he was going through his own questions about life and so on,” Loujayne said.

“So he became Muslim, but he kept it quiet from my mom, me and the rest of our family.”

Going to an international school in Muscat then opened Loujayne’s mind as she searched for answers, grieved her brother and tried to come to terms with what happened.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, she simply couldn’t reconcile what was being said about the religion with her kind, wise father and the peaceful Muslims around her.

“It just didn’t make sense to me,” she said. “Since I was going through a crisis, I wanted to read about different religions and I started off with the Quran. I read it through the eyes of someone grieving. It gave me so much peace.”

mosque Hatty Pedder artist
Prayer by Hatty Pedder. Illustration courtesy Mathilde Loujayne.

Beautifully illustrated by UAE-based artist Hatty Pedder, Big Little Steps tackles an assortment of issues, including the benefits of fasting, animal rights, mental health and well-being. It also expands on that concept of community, an element that is particularly heightened during the holy month.

Educating and inspiring

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 5 that explores the theme of togetherness.

“Beyond the Quran and the Islamic way of life, Muslims stand together, united as the ummah. The community goes beyond borders: it’s not a nation and it doesn’t have a homeland. It defies skin color, handicaps, gender and age and makes us all equal. After all, God says that the Quran was revealed to all of humanity. Everybody is invited.

Its universal concept of oneness defies racism, division and violence. The Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said: “Do not hate each other, but rather be servants of God as brothers. Together, we can cultivate kindness, acceptance and harvest love.”

I like to think that women put the umm in ummah, since it means ‘mother’ in Arabic. I remember reading the words, “Preserve the women and you’ll preserve the nation” (unknown).

The pillars of Islam invite us to play our part in the Muslim commonwealth by paying charity and helping and supporting one another. They also invite us to regularly interact with our community through random acts of kindness, like visiting the sick or attending a funeral, to bigger community events like weddings, Eid celebrations and the pilgrimages Umrah and Hajj.

Fairness, justice and dignity are basic Islamic concepts to be distributed without discrimination; a huge responsibility for all of us.”

Big Little Steps: A Woman’s Guide to Finding a Balanced Lifestyle and a Glowing Heart in Islam is currently available to purchase in English and French, while an Arabic version is also in the pipeline.

This article originally ran in 2018. To find out more, visit Mathilde Loujayne’s Instagram page @mathildeloujayne.

Ann Marie McQueen

Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.

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