There are several lessons I have learnt in the last few years since I started life out on my own with my children. All of them have been rude awakenings and the one I want to focus on today is no exception.
Despite my best efforts to tell – or rather, show – the world that I am a whole person and do continue to exist as such after divorce, it seems some people simply can’t accept that fact. The world is a cruel place no matter how you choose to define yourself. Your self-perception doesn’t seem to matter. A woman is only viewed by others in one of three categories: 1. waiting to get married; 2. married; 3. divorced. It is definitely true in Asian culture and perhaps others too. Even if she aspires to be anything more than one of those categories, it will be overshadowed by her marital status. This is what defines her.
That kind of misconception or preconception is especially more irksome from those who should know you better. At least, with the public at large, who do not know you personally, they can be forgiven for their ignorance. However, I can’t afford the same excuse for those who know me. For some reason, I feel some people in my inner circle can’t get past the official label that says ‘divorced’ and insist on viewing me through that lens – and that lens only.
So, what has all this got to do with the title for this week’s blog?
A lot. That’s the short answer.
The longer answer is that since I came to be on my own, I’ve learnt to make decisions for myself and sometimes on behalf of my sons. Just because I am no longer married, that does not make me a whimsical, flippant or frivolous person.
I have a new kind of independence now but that is not a synonym for recklessness. Independence comes with a huge responsibility. For that reason, I don’t say ‘yes’ to everyone or everything. My primary aim is not to please people. If they happen to approve of my decisions or actions, that is simply a coincidence but has no bearing on my life choices. Ultimately, my reference point is Allah and His acceptance. Alhamdulillah, my independence has not made me delirious with all the freedom that I now have. I have my feet firmly planted on the ground. In fact, I have become even more conscious of maintaining a lifestyle that is in keeping with Islam. That is essentially because I alone serve as a role model for my sons. I feel accountable to them as much as anything else.
A healthy spiritual lifestyle is not just about observing the absolute basics such as the five daily obligatory prayers or wearing hijab. It’s also about the more subtle things interwoven in our daily routine such as social etiquettes and Islamic financial matters. The fact that I never relied solely on my ex-husband to inculcate these principles into my existence is something I wonder if people actually understand. Even after his departure, I never sacrificed my faith at the altar. Alhamdulillah, I never surrendered my soul to anyone or anything which is why I managed to get back on my feet again after divorce. I aim to adhere to the truth even if I lose favour with others in the process. (It wouldn’t be the first time). I have ruffled feathers before but now it feels that people are asking themselves what credibility factor I dare have given I am a divorcee?
Unlike many women who I have seen blindly towing the line of the majority trending opinion (mostly in error), I refuse to be a sycophant. I have observed how these women hold their silence ostensibly for the sake of peace. But it is more sinister than that. They are not in control of their own lives. More often than not, they have surrendered their mental or emotional independence to the men who control them. They refuse to admit that their mind and freedom have been sold down the river…
The disparaging attitude of others towards me does not dent my confidence. In fact, it gives me even more resolve to stand my ground. Even when I was married, I never identified with being “the wife of Mr. So-and-So”. I recall one occasion years ago at a dinner party where I was asked who I was. Of course, I knew exactly that I was being asked to introduce myself as “The wife of……” Instead, I simply stated my name. I sensed the irritation from the questioner but I did not care. The question was about me and my status should not have been derived through my links to my husband. Throughout my life, I have always maintained that a woman does not exist simply in terms of those three categories I mentioned at the very beginning of this post. She is much more than the appendage of her husband. Now that I am divorced, I feel even more justified for having that viewpoint.
Today, as a fully independent woman once again, the need to hold my own is even more paramount. I want society to know that I am not concerned with aligning with popular opinion. I may be divorced but I am not weak. Let’s clear that confusion up right now. My principles are inshaAllah aligned with Islam which is an independent, timeless paradigm. This is my source of strength, Alhamdulillah. So, people can gawp at my audacity to go against the grain and disagree with their baseless views but that’s fine. They are not my shepherd and I am no sheep.
I know this blog post exudes a lot of defiance. But this is a justified defiance against ridiculous people-pleasing behaviour which in itself serves no purpose except to pacify our aggressors. The right decision is not always the most popular one. There are enough parables in the Quran which remind us of the ultimate success for those who dared to stand up and fight. For that reason, my concerns will never be what the majority thinks. Even if I die today, I hope to be remembered for being true to my Islamic principles whether others understood them or not. At least I have never hid behind a smokescreen.
So, especially to all my divorced Muslim sisters out there, let my story serve as a warning to you. Whether you like it or not, you have a fight on your hands. Be bold and be principled. Do not succumb to bullies and do not be a pawn in their hands. The envy out there is real.