The Funny Thing about Laughter

You're never too young to laugh: Benefits of Laughter Yoga for Children -  Penguin Random House India
Sometimes a contagious thing is not a bag thing

Today, I want to express a few words regarding this ambiguous thing called ‘ a sense of humour’.  Not everyone has the same definition of it but, for the most part, I’m sure people would agree it’s about having the ability to laugh.  In doing so, we let go of stresses especially when there’s a need to release pent up pressure in our lives.  Given we oscillate between times of great worry and times of ease, it’s important to stand back, look in from the outside, and learn to deal with all these situations with a healthy detachment.  It allows us to be better prepared for any potential inevitability as life goes on. 

There have often been times I’ve been in a social circle of fellow Muslims and noticed that some have lost the ability to practise or understand humour.  They don’t appreciate those ‘let your hair down’ moments.  It’s almost as if an outward sign of religiosity is the need to be ‘proper’ and serious at all times.  Of course, there is no escaping that the very purpose of our lives here is to worship Allah only.  It’s also true that it would be really inappropriate to humour someone who is experiencing a bereavement or some sort of grief.  Feeling frivolous or light-hearted should happen at the right time and place. 

However, I believe that finding moments not to take life too seriously is not the same as compromising on one’s faith.  That latter duty should always be our ultimate focus.  But we all have our unique methods on how to negotiate difficult situations.  For some, it is to retreat to a solitary space; for others it is to travel and meet people; and for some others it is simply to be and feel positive.  But for all of them, we can see that beseeching Allah can be achieved through all these means.  No one type of personality has exclusive rights to Him. Alhamdulillah for the myriad of personalities that exist under the banner of humanity.  It is because of these vibrant differences that we have woven together a wonderful fabric called the Ummah – a bit like a patchwork quilt.  The net result is stunning.  If we were all cast in the same mould, life would have become infinitely dull.

Wise Words

I, for one, can’t be too serious for too long.  Even in my challenging times, I have made sure laughter has punctuated the monotony.  Without that release valve, I would surely have imploded by now.  Whether it’s an amusing anecdote someone else has shared or even I myself who has found a quick quip to lighten the mood, I’m grateful that I am still able to appreciate the blessings such moments offer.  Indeed, bringing a smile to someone’s face is an act of charity itself.  It is a profound prophetic teaching. What an amazing fact! It is part of the innate human condition to want to find happiness or joy and denying that is denying a blessing we have been endowed with.

Finding humour is so cathartic!  In a very curious way, it actually makes us put everything in life back into perspective.  That’s because at the end of the day, we must remember that we tarry on this Earth for a relatively short time.  There is nothing we take to the other side except our deeds, good and bad.  Whatever anguish we experience, even that will pale into insignificance once life is over.  So, whilst we find our paths to healing, we need to remind ourselves to step back and try to look objectively at everything.  Think about a grain of dust: it is always going to remain that insignificant little thing until it enters our eye and causes so much irritation and discomfort.  The grain itself doesn’t change its form; what changes is the fact that it is much closer to us and so its relevance has also shifted proportionately.  Keep it at bay and notice how irrelevant it becomes.  The same can be said for our problems.  Hold them at arm’s length and don’t let them consume you. 

And so it is that I sometimes despair at the encounters I have had with Muslims who believe their ability to imitate a lifeless stone is far more honourable than participating in a moment of frivolous, but harmless, joy in the company of others.  When did this become a spiritual goal?  When did they take leave to occupy the higher moral ground?  It’s important to understand that having a sense of humour is not decadent.  It is not an unguarded recklessness leading to potential ruin.  As long as rules of decency and respect are maintained, spending time laughing and joking with others can actually be an act of ibadah (worship) itself.  Helping a distressed fellow human to find relief, however fleeting, is a great act of generosity. 

I know some people reading this might feel my entire blog is based on imagined experiences.  However, I know I refer to real past encounters.  When meeting such people, I have sometimes even decided whether to pursue friendships or not based on their inability to respond to humour.  An invariably serious person is a heavy burden to carry in life.  They need to understand it really is possible to take the finger off the pulse of life without becoming heedless.  It’s absolutely necessary to have periods where we can ‘switch off’ only to reset ourselves again for the next round of trials and tribulations.  Because, for sure, they will be there and respite from them is not a crime.  It’s a must.

I write this as a tribute to all those who have helped me stay sane in a world which seems to have gone crazy.  I am eternally grateful for their humour and company.  At the same time, my plea to Muslims who have not learnt the gift of laughter, either as medicine for themselves or someone else, I would argue that they need to question whether they are bordering on ingratitude itself.  A happy disposition should be the default disposition.  If that is understood, then our problems would themselves become mere inconveniences.  Funny, isn’t it?

Conversations with My Mother

Listening and unlearning

In conversations with my octogenarian mother, I find I have to often bite my tongue and remind myself that not only is she my mother but also the product of another generation.

Since I’ve been divorced, she has countless times lamented the fact that I am now on my own.  She worries about my future but moreso, a future without a man by my side.  Strange, coming from someone who experienced a very similar fate in her own life.  Perhaps that’s the reason why she is concerned for me although she also knows that, Alhamdulillah, unlike her, I am savvier about the world around me and can find my way around more easily than she could.  I don’t hold anything against her – not for the outpouring of grief which she expresses at times about my current situation.  She also endured the daunting job she did raising five young people single-handedly for which I am eternally grateful.

However, despite my many attempts in trying to appease her and let her know I’m doing just fine, my words seem to fall on deaf ears.  I understand better now than to try to contest her views.  It’s not just out of respect for my mother in her revered position or because of her age.  It’s more because she is old school and maintains that as long as a mature woman is without a husband, her value in society and self-worth are almost meaningless.  This applies to both a divorcee or a spinster. However, I believe that perceptions of kismet (fate) can be sometimes skewed and attitudes in the 21st century have shifted dramatically.  I for one, refuse to ever let others define my worth.  Whilst I’m not out there trying to prove anything to anyone, I know at the same time, I am living my life according to my standards and wishes – inshaAllah all circumscribed within Islamic principles.  I have nothing to be ashamed of.

The truth is, there is also a slightly more concerning mindset which underlies the outward concern which my mother displays.  For many in her generation, they believe a woman should never opt for divorce and instead, tolerate her husband’s shortcomings.  His misdemeanours become misadventures.  Excuse him.  Forgive him.  Tolerate him.  And this is despite acknowledging that undeniable injustices have occurred.  Somewhere along the line, a silent and obedient wife becomes a noble wife – a woman who is raised higher in religious ranks.  So, it comes as no surprise that even though my mother strongly berates my ex for his decision to leave, at the same time, she would berate me if he miraculously reappeared, asked for a second chance and I refused!

I know this is absolutely ludicrous.  Even in the time of the Prophet ﷺ there were women who complained of their husbands and were unapologetically vocal in that.  So, how did we arrive at a situation today where married women are taught that to be demure, submissive and weak is a sign of piety or religious duty?  It’s a situation which is unashamedly exploited by many, including extended family members who abuse their power and cause misery for such women. 

As unorthodox as this may seem, if I live to witness any of my sons marry, I hope to have a conversation or few with their prospective wives.  To the young lady, I will offer my advice and request that she protects her financial interests and knows how to stand up for herself if need be. I would say the same to my sons. In a world where divorce rates are unprecedented and people are too blasé about ending their marriages, some awkward yet frank conversations need to happen beforehand.  It may even reveal a lot of hidden idiosyncrasies about the individuals which might save a lot of heartache later.  Call me idealistic or even simplistic.  Maybe I am.  But I am a cynic and live in a cynical world where the formula for “happily ever after” is a long-lost secret. 

I look forward to the future of my own sons and hope to see them get married and have families of their own one day, inshaAllah.  However, I will not be busying myself with endless shopping trips to find the perfect wedding outfit for the groom or girl.  I will not be concerned about healthy bank balances or their rung on the property ladder.  Nor will I be naïve thinking that a God-fearing Muslim is the only criterion for a successful marriage.  The reality is, there is no perfect balance.  Theory often doesn’t translate well when put to the test.

Marriage is a rowing boat that needs a rower on each side to keep going forward and in a straight line.  As soon as one side throws out their oar, we know the boat will spin in circles and chaos will ensue.  As it is in my own life, I’ve been left to row the boat with a single oar. However, I am still managing to manoeuvre from side to side and keep moving forward.  One thing is for sure, I am not in search of a second oar.

Steering to Safety

2021’s Swan Song

Omicron Takes the Stage…

This week, I looked back at my posts from a year ago and it seems quite surreal that the Covid pandemic is still very much with us.  Arguably, in 2021 even more so.  Omicron has been the year’s last performance.  In all this time, we have lived like cats chasing our own tails.  The end goal is ever-elusive.

When a personal tragedy befalls us, we need time to take stock, let it all sink in, then go through all the different emotional stages till we can purge ourselves of the thoughts or feelings that threaten to hold us back from the future.  In a similar way, but on a far greater scale, the pandemic is something society is still coming to terms with.  Try as we might to rid it from our minds (and our bodies), one way or another, I believe it is here to stay for some time still.  This is not pessimism; it’s realism. So, like the personal tragedies that cause us to evolve as a better version of ourselves, I have hope that Covid will do the same at a societal level too, inshaAllah

Having said that, I feel slightly more cautious about society’s ability to re-emerge as a purified version of itself since I know that humankind is impatient, myopic and suffers from selective short-term memory.  Instead of relishing the good that has come out of this pandemic, such as having more time at home with the family, or respite from the environmental pillaging that has been going on, people like to focus on their frustrations.  They want everything to “go back to normal”.  I myself was guilty of those very same words when I was confronted with a new life-changing situation after divorce.  Little did I care to admit that Allah is the best of planners and His design is a mysteriously awesome one.  I too have been impatient with my own personal lot so I understand why society at large is no different.

However, there has to come a point when we succumb to one’s fate.  It’s just a matter of time.  Sometimes, we have to accept that the problem ahead is much larger than we anticipated.  Rather than fight it, it’s better to confront the reality and learn to cope with what we have been given.  A lot of time and energy could then be diverted onto more productive things.

It beggars belief that sceptics of the existence of God still prevail despite the pandemic.  I know they’d argue that a loving God would not cause so much suffering in this world.  Strange how when things go seemingly right for these same people, they never question why they deserve all the good that life has to offer.  They only question when things go wrong – proof of the notion of feeling entitled to privileges.  And if there is no supreme being, then why have these people themselves not found the mother of all panaceas for the Covid virus?  Which individual then is responsible for unleashing this situation on the whole of humanity?  So many questions which will always remain unanswered and yet which simply reaffirm the existence of Allah. I know that the life of this world is not the end game; it is just a conduit for what awaits us later.  I have learnt this on a micro and macro level.

In recent days, I have been reflecting on the following verses from the Quran:  

Surah 94: ash-Sharh – QuranOnline.net
Surah Ash-Sharh

إِنَّ مَعَ ٱلْعُسْرِ يُسْرًۭا   Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.

فَإِنَّ مَعَ ٱلْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا   For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.

Surah Ash-Sharh (The Relief, Chapter 94: 5-6)

Whilst I am no scholar, I can at least extrapolate from these ayahs (verses) that Allah promises that there will be difficulties and challenges in life but that they will occur simultaneously.  Ease will offset hardship and the two don’t necessarily come in series.  They exist in parallel.  In other words, look around you!  It’s clear that Allah brings us challenges but He also appeases us at the same time. It’s up to us to discern what good can be taken from a seemingly bad situation. What would this life be anyway if it were all smooth sailing?  The repetition of the above ayahs makes this point emphatic and is in and of itself, a comforting thought. 

So, the point of talking about all this now is to remind myself that life is full of silver linings and those silver linings that we must use to contain or circumscribe the difficulties we may encounter over time.  Trouble will always be in a constant ebb and flow.  This is the nature of the duniya (world).  Yet our faith in Allah’s wisdom is the very thing that will help rationalise our thoughts and mollify our fear, anger and confusion.  The Covid experience surely has taught us mindfulness.  We can no longer take for granted a holiday abroad, a trip to the shops or spending time with loved ones.  If we simply focus on the inconveniences that Covid has brought, we will surely sink into a depressing gloom.  What we need to do is to stand back and ask ourselves, “What is the higher lesson in all of this?” 

Coming through a personal struggle is a great preparation for something as inescapable as a global virus.  For years now, I’ve gradually detached myself from the material pursuits of this duniya (world) realising that they will never bring euphoria or Utopia.  The end of 2021 merges into the beginning of 2022.  I don’t pin any hopes on the pandemic magically disappearing.  I simply pray that we will all learn to reset our thought process, be mindful of what we have been blessed with and continue to live in a dignified manner whatever comes our way, inshaAllah.

Mindfulness and Well-being for Professional Practitioners (PG Cert) | UWTSD
The ability to understand why things happen and how to cope

The Future in Focus

Last week, I wrote about my attempts not to lapse into an emotional quagmire of the past. In a conscious effort to avoid that, this week I have busied myself in other things.

The first of those is a full focus on my own ‘children’.  I use that word ‘children’ in its loose sense since my sons are more young adults and not as dependent on me like they used to be.  As it is holiday season, we are almost all together again at home except my middle son has been forced to isolate in his university dorm having tested positive for Covid recently.  Alhamdulillah, he is not showing any signs of physical enervation and I pray he will be home in time so that we can all be together even for a short time, inshaAllah.  Although I regularly talk to my sons via phone or video calls, those can never replace seeing them in the flesh.  That’s something this pandemic has made us learn to cherish – being able to meet face-to-face with our loved ones and hug them. 

Tiny but Totally Troublesome

It’s been two years since Covid first appeared on the world stage and, no doubt, society has been forced to do some internal reflection along the way.  It isn’t just about the nature of the illness itself but the fact that it has taught us to appreciate the things in life we had otherwise taken for granted.  As I sit here, lamenting the absence of my son whilst the rest of us are reunited, I wonder about the absentee parents around the world who voluntarily remove themselves from their children to pursue whatever it is that is far more pressing than their own families. (I am not talking about dysfunctional families since it’s obvious that those toxic situations should be ended as soon as possible.)   What possesses a person to wake up one day and upset the perfect balance and say, “I can’t do this any more.  I have to get out and find a new life for myself…”? In my own case, I have told myself countless times that the derision or apathy towards me from my ex-husband was clearly the deciding factor in his departure.  There was something about me that disagreed with him enough to make it worthwhile to forsake his own children too.  That thought has played over in my mind countless times.  However, recently I actually realised that I needed to stop blaming myself.  The simple truth was that he chose himself over everyone else.  He chose not to try to fix something.  The easier and more cowardly option was to walk away.  It was also the more selfish option.

I am only separated from my sons because of their university education and now Covid; I couldn’t imagine choosing to chase my own selfish dreams at the price of not seeing them as often as possible.  Maybe I have never been as driven in my career or maybe my bucket list was never as ambitious as it should have been.  However, whatever goals I have set for myself, somewhere within them there has always been – and will always be – a consideration of my children.  All my dreams and desires are secondary to my children as long as they are not yet fully independent people themselves.  I guess that’s what separates mothers from fathers.  We forsake our own goals in the interest of our children -and sometimes our husbands – only to realise decades later that there was so much we neglected within ourselves as a result.  Of course, I know there are fathers who have singlehandedly held the fort too but I am confident that they are a very rare breed.

Different but One

Having put my own ambitions on the back burner for so long, I am now at a junction in life where I can begin to put myself as the priority a bit more often.  For starters, I have become involved in a small charity and the other day, met up with the team to plan future projects.  I was simply in awe of being in the company of such an eclectic mix of people.  Looking around the table, I noticed that although we were all Muslims, we each represented diverse corners of the world from Ireland, Sudan, Yemen, Bangladesh, Mauritania, Chechnya to Singapore.  How amazing is that?  The collective life experience we brought together in that room would have been enough to write a book on!  It’s these kinds of encounters and exposure to other cultures that has always intrigued me.  It’s because I know there is not only one way to exist and that within the Muslim world itself, the variety of ethnicities, cultures and traditions is so wide, it makes it all the more astonishing that this religion has the ability to unify us.  It’s also why I don’t believe being static in one place for too long is a fulfilling experience. I would happily pack up and move onto a new country, even for a short time, if it was a choice I could make. There is too much of the world I haven’t seen and would love to still.

Meanwhile, I will try to keep my thoughts focussed on the future.  I know there will be days when I become numb to everything but I’ve learnt to simply ride that wave and not go under.  For the most part, Alhamdulillah, I am still moving forward. I feel excited as much about my sons’ achievements in time to come as I do my own, inshaAllah.  I know they realise too that even Mother still has goals she wants to conquer in her latter years. Some I have already crossed off my list but there are a few more outstanding. Even if I run out of time, at least I can take comfort knowing I never gave up.

Always on Standby…

Aiming for Perfection

Learning to Break my Fall

Five years ago, when I was just emerging from the ashes of my marriage, I recall a few friends telling me to keep myself occupied.  The idea was that being distracted would prevent me from sliding down the slippery slope into the past and into despair. 

Easier said than done,” I thought as I silently rebuked them. 

At the time, I couldn’t understand why people were giving me impossible goals to set my sights on.  I was too crushed to do anything except deal with the day I was living in.  As much as I understood that they were right, I wasn’t quite ready to heed that advice.  I knew I needed to go through the motions of shock, anger, frustration and hurt.  There was no way that purging process was going to be rushed.  I had to ride it out; I had to allow the wounds to heal naturally before I could remove the bandage.  But knowing that in itself was how I knew I was going to be OK, inshaAllah.  I always had that belief. 

Years later, I’ve since gone back to work and become involved in other personal projects in-between.  Sometimes I feel I’m running to stand still but I relish the busy life that I have. When I do take a brief pause, it is to recharge and enjoy the peace and calm that surrounds me at that moment, Alhamdulillah

As I write today, I am on holiday for the Christmas and New Year period.  This then, is a longer break than normal.  I am on a complete hiatus from my normal routine for a couple of weeks and this is my Achilles heel.  What I’ve discovered is that my mind has already begun to feel distracted.  That monolith called ‘The Past’ has already reared its ugly head and threatens to drag me backwards.  It’s for fear of this happening – and happening too often – that I even became engrossed in different long-term activities in the first place.  To be fair, my past life was not a Shakespearean tragedy.  On the contrary, a lot of it was wonderful, Alhamdulillah and I am especially talking about my married years.  But it’s precisely for this reason that divorce was an even greater shock for me.  The writing was never on the wall, at least not my wall.  What tainted the last year of my marriage was the way in which I was served my notice and, for me at least, the unknown reason/s for it.  So, when I think back on the past, it is particularly ruminations on that last phase of my married life that totally confuse me and it’s those endless unanswered questions that I don’t want to revisit.

Running So As Not to Stand Still

In my life now, as I throw myself into my deliberately serried projects, where there is little chance to pause for idle thoughts, I am actually very content, Alhamdulillah.  I feel a sense of purpose and being valued.  That is a healthy state to be in.  I know this is where I am meant to be.  The other advantage of being on my own again is that I get the independence to choose where I want to be heading too.  Finally, I’ve learnt the sagacity of my close friends who offered their advice a few years ago.  I get it now.  

Yet there will always be that internal contradiction.  Despite the great strides I feel I have made, there is still some mental and even spiritual cleansing to be done. To be honest, even after all this time, as much as I have emptied myself of anger, frustration and shock, there is a tiny residue of all those emotions combined which will never leave.  I compare this residue to an oily sludge at the bottom of a vessel which ambushes everything it comes into contact with.  When I am not preoccupied with my daily grind, this is when the sludge resurfaces although its impact is lessening and lessening over time, Alhamdulillah.  I must confess too that listening to my own self and hearing those same thoughts whizz through my mind, can become exhausting.  I am tired of the inner battle I have had these past years especially when I know the person who is responsible for all this has long since severed ties with his past. 

How many more weeks, months or years am I going to relive things in my head, albeit less so?  I do strongly believe that having things to do, people to see, and most importantly, Allah alone to worship and praise, have helped me immeasurably.  My rational self knows that every time I question past events, I have achieved nothing but going round in circles.  But every time I go round in that frenzied circle, a little piece of my fatigued emotions comes away.  Soon, I will be the perfect stoic.  InshaAllah.

Almost there….

Sick of the Sycophant

Because some people have not yet discovered the word ‘No’

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…

Am I allowed to answer?

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.  

A diamond is just a piece of carbon that handled stress exceptionally well.

What can a Mother Teach her Sons?

Not the traditional classroom

Well, a lot actually.  Firstly, I want to debunk the myth that the gender difference would be a limiting factor. With me being a woman and my sons being, well males obviously, some might think that this lesson will be off to a bad start from the outset. Actually, I think that’s exactly where its strength lies. Getting a group of young men to think outside of their male egos (and I don’t use that phrase with derision) would be a great first challenge for them.

To be honest, when I first thought about that question, I was tempted to write a shopping list of things that my boys could learn from me as their mother.  However, I knew I had to break it down a little.  I believe there are two broad categories of lessons to impart to my sons: 1. the tangible, routine things like cooking, household chores etc. and 2. the spiritual lessons which are more implicit but talk to their higher being.

From the surface, it would appear that any attempt for a woman – a mother – to teach her male offspring anything, is doomed to failure.  Wrong.  Alhamdulillah, I have always made it a point that that fallacy is hammered on the head right from the start.  Irrespective of my situation now, on my own without their father, I continue to consciously make sure that my sons grow up to be self-aware of their actions (or even inactions) and how all this impacts those around them.  I don’t know how to measure how successful I have been, if at all, but it’s a principle that I hold dearly. 

I’ve never subscribed to the traditional Asian mentality that says that sons are to be revered and held above our heads.  That is just so wrong!  I grew up in that environment myself although I exonerate my mother for doing it.  It was all she knew and that kind of thinking was what she had inherited herself.  However, it is a potential breeding ground for resentment.  There are many cultures that favour the son over the daughter although I am not quite sure why.  (That is another discussion in itself. ) Conveniently, I don’t have any daughters but I have always maintained that my sons would learn to appreciate the role of a woman, namely their future wife, in their lives.  What better place to start than with me, their own mother?

As such, from a young age, they have not been strangers to household chores – from mopping floors to washing dishes and, more recently, cooking meals.  Some readers might gasp thinking that I must be a cruel slave driver.  Images of me sitting with my feet up in blissful oblivion whilst my children rush around like minions are maybe what come to mind.  That is not my style.  I have never shied away from housework.  Yet, now they are much older, I definitely allow myself days here and there to resign all responsibility of the house over to them.  It is not a punishment.  It is a subtle form of training for life. Rather than give them rambling lectures on how to prepare for their future, it is better to give first-hand practical experience. That kind of lesson is never forgotten.

A life of Multi-tasking

Nobody can appreciate the work of another unless they step inside their shoes.  It’s for this reason that I make sure my sons know the relentless role of a homemaker. Even down to the nitty gritty things such as knowing how much laundry detergent to use for a load of washing, or when to put the rubbish out in time for the bin collection…these are seemingly trivial, yet immensely important, skills to learn for life.  In honing them, they might just appreciate how effortless their mother -and many women worldwide – make these tasks.  This is where the deeper lesson of respect towards women as a whole will be garnered because, more often than not, it is women who take on these thankless tasks day in and day out.  So, the ultimate plan is to help them to help themselves in later life should they one day live independently but also to never take things for granted.  Moreso, I never want them to take me for granted.

As I mentioned already, in the process of understanding the dull monotony of life’s daily chores, my hope is that the future generation will be better prepared to help out their own wives should they get married one day.  There is nothing worse than having raised a young man who feels entitled to be satiated by his every whim and sees his role in the family as only a financial one.  For both the wife and husband, there has to be a suitable overlap of responsibilities and which is mutually agreed upon.  I am not a modern-age feminist who has clear role definitions for men and women. In fact, I am more a traditionalist and do believe some roles will always inherently be the domain of one individual or the other. However, respecting the input the other party makes is what my focus is here; being flexible enough to take over a task, even temporarily, when the need arises, is a mature outlook.

So, how does this all link to the spiritual being?  Unlike a job in an office, which produces tangible results, a woman’s work in the home doesn’t end up in data charts or end of year profits.  It is a wheel that just goes round and round and more often than not, there is not much to show for it.  I’m of the opinion that empathy towards the role I have in my home will automatically plant the seeds of respect towards not just me, but women/mothers overall.  If my boys get involved, they will learn to appreciate the behind-the-scenes juggling act which I effortlessly balance to keep this household ticking over. They will never consider themselves above these tasks.  It is a vital lesson in humility. 

On a personal level, I want to help this new generation of would-be husbands and would-be fathers understand that having humility is a check on arrogance itself.  Arrogance should never be given the chance to rear its ugly head.  It is, arguably, the root cause of so much self-destruction and often overspills into family disputes and even wider society at large. I can testify that if I have been dealt any signs of that from one of my sons, I have countered it by asking them to do a menial chore such as cleaning the toilet. It is surprisingly more effective than exchanging words. As the old adage goes, “actions speak louder than words”.

So, not having father around isn’t a loss per se.  Alhamdulillah, I have the spirit and determination to try and fill his shoes too.  If anything, one of the inadvertent repercussions of his departure is that he taught the boys exactly how not to treat a wife.  And those are not my words…

More Space for Me to Fill…

The Blame Game

What will be your next move?

This title needs no introduction.  At some point in our lives, we have had encounters or relationships with people and somewhere along the line, they have let us down.  Disappointment in others is part and parcel of life.  Finding perfection in others is an ever-elusive goal.  To be honest, who are we to seek perfection when we ourselves fall short of it?  It works both ways.

But it’s easy to pin the blame on other people when our expectations of them are not met.  We would never point the finger at ourselves.  And yet that’s exactly what we should be doing! Why? Because the mistake lies within us.  We are foolish to think others can offer solutions to our problems or situation.  Nobody can be expected to secure our own future.  Inevitably, at some point, in some way, they will let us down.  The responsibility of our future lies in our hands and along the way, people will show up and retreat again.  We should never place too much emphasis on another person’s role or involvement. 

Be ready to let go

I would argue that the biggest mistake a person can make is to expect too much of this duniya (world) in the first place.  As the famous adage goes, “We need to hold the duniya in our hands and not in our hearts.”  If we truly understood the depth of that line, a lot of trauma and heartache could be avoided.  We need to be cautious that the duniya does not own us.  We can’t be slaves to it.  As it is, though, we are too engrossed in competing for this and that in this life, forgetting that all of it is simply a means to an end.  And what end is that?  To meet our Maker on the other side.  Just as a workman has his tools to do a job, so is everything we encounter in this world our ticket to the Hereafter. 

That seems rather cold and detached.  Are the people we know or meet to be viewed in the same way?  Are they just tools for a job?  Well, to some extent, I’d argue, “Yes.”  One stark difference is that, unlike inanimate tools that we use to do a job, with human relationships there are obviously emotions involved.  Any interaction we have with another person will involve some kind of emotional or mental transaction on both sides.  For that reason, they cannot be treated as mere objects for our use or disposal.  But the distinction we need to make in our minds is that nobody belongs to us, be it our children, parents or friends.  At some point, there will be a few who have to – or want to – leave our side.  This is the reality we need to be prepared for and if we are, then there should be nobody to blame.  Understanding that everyone and everything, in this ephemeral life that we have, is on loan from Allah, will help us shift the blame away from others when they do actually leave or fall short of our expectations.  That’s not to exonerate those who treat us badly.  There is no excuse for that.  However, ultimately, we can only blame ourselves for expecting too much. Nothing lasts forever.  Not even life itself.

The key to accepting the loss of a friendship in a disagreement, or a spouse through divorce, is to accept that very few relationships last forever.  We need to change our mindset.  I send this message particularly to those who, like myself, have gone through divorce and are wondering, “What went wrong?”  My advice would be to stop questioning the actions or decisions of the other party.  The marriage ended and chances are those questions will always hang in the vacuum, never to be answered.  Instead, we need to know that everything and everyone in this life are on a temporary loan.  That is not the same as having social detachment.  Rather, it is a mental preparedness for things to take a different course and never to be complacent about anything. 

Looking back, I wish I had understood this much sooner. Perhaps it would have spared me the fruitless effort in trying to understand why my ex-husband chose to part ways.  Instead, I could have stepped back and viewed the situation objectively from a distance.  Had I done that, I would have seen that the mistake was mine alone – I had allowed myself to be consumed by the duniya and be enslaved by it.  To be honest, there is no point in shifting the blame onto the other person.  Given nothing is static and we are all constantly evolving ourselves, it might seem inevitable that we fall in and out of relationships with others.  The mistake is to expect the variables in life to always be the same.  To be honest, that would be even ridiculous!  As harsh as this may sound, we need to keep everything and everyone at arm’s length, ready to let go if need be.  And that isn’t always a bad thing either.  The duniya in the heart is only ever going to be a formula for disappointment.  It is far better to hold it in the hands and very tentatively at that.    

Learning to break the loop…

Blessings Are a Test Too

Chapter 70, Ayah 5, Al-Quran

We all know the need to bear patience when things don’t go to plan.  Our plan.  How many times have we heard someone give that timeless advice to keep positive, understand that when things go seemingly wrong, it’s Allah’s way of testing us to remain calm?  We need to put our wholehearted trust in Him.  I totally agree with that advice.  

We also believe, as Muslims, that any suffering endured with grace and dignity in this life is a means of purification and redemption on the other side of this life, insha’Allah.  Having patience is invariably associated with negative life experiences.  Whilst being in that composed state in the thick of all our troubles is an admirable goal, I have recently become more aware of how it is only part of the whole picture.

Humans are inherently myopic and impatient and it is rarely understood that having patience is also an essential characteristic in times of ease and comfort.  I know that seems illogical.  What is there to be patient for when life is already full of goodness in its many forms?  Isn’t having patience a waiting game that we need to master in the face of adversity only?  Wrong.

To be honest, I never gave the idea of being patient in good times much thought.  However, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened my eyes to such a nuanced perspective on life, I cannot possibly encompass it all in one blog post.  For now, I just want to mention how I realise I am extremely fortunate with my lot in life, Alhamdulillah.  Good fortune itself is not always a tangible entity.  It is not always measured in commodities, cash or a career.  Sometimes, it is simply a state of peaceful inner acceptance of one’s circumstances.  With good fortune follows the need to bear patience and have responsibility in the handling of these blessings.  In the wrong hands, blessings of a material kind can be the downfall of someone.  For example, it’s possible that a person is blessed with wealth of different kinds but, in haste, squanders it on futile pursuits.  It’s this type of situation that requires a heightened awareness of patience.  Comforts in life often bring with them a certain heedlessness as well.

Coming back to today, I sit here in my home and wonder about the human suffering which exists across the world – be it physical, financial or emotional.  I admit I feel a sense of guilt for having escaped some tests which others have faced.  I wonder what I did to deserve this privilege?  And yet, I console myself by reminding myself that, for now, Allah has not chosen those trials and tribulations for me.  Of course, He knows what each person can bear and allocates their lot accordingly.  He gives everyone their share of grief and their share of calm.  Yet, in all those situations, the unwavering constant is the need to remain patient.  Arguably, striving for that in our quiet phases of life is an even bigger challenge since the smokescreen fools us into thinking there is nothing left for us to do.  Life is good. We can simply cruise through on autopilot.

Do I, therefore, wish to avoid complacency and be kept on my toes?  Do I want Allah to put me through trials just as a reminder of my ultimate purpose in life?  I think that would be foolish.  Arguably, having comforts in life are as much a test as they are a blessing.  We can easily become lost in moments of unguarded arrogance.  On this Earth we tarry for some time but the amusements are as consequential as the hardships.  So, in fact, nothing and nobody is unaccounted for.  Being short-sighted as we are, we only remember Allah in our desperate times but the truth is, it’s a remembrance that needs to happen always. 

He wants to hear from us not only when we are at our lowest moments but also when we are soaring with happiness.  So, my blog post today is a testimonial to all the good I have witnessed in my life, the things I am aware of and unaware of and all else in-between.  Alhamdulillah.

Flying High in Spirits

%d bloggers like this: