My Child, My Teacher

In the last few years, I have found that being surrounded by young people, namely my sons, has been a blessing that even I can’t begin to appreciate fully.

Although right now they are away from home (minus my youngest), Alhamdulillah, we keep in touch through video and phone calls.  The support that this regular communication offers does not simply flow in one direction – from mother to sons.  They have often been my source of strength and support and given me advice when rationality eludes me.  So, I’d like to think we have a healthy interdependency. 

One stark example of that is when I climbed Snowdon with them last summer.  All along they gently coaxed me to continue the ascent till we reached the top.  I capitulated to their advice as I trusted their judgement. I knew they knew my limits as well as my own self-doubts.  Climbing Snowdon was one of many occasions where my sons have taken responsibility for me.  I know that would perhaps make me seem irresponsible or even immature.  However, I know it’s neither of those things. The reality is that when a person suffers trauma of some kind, be it a relationship breakdown, a degenerative health condition or an irreversible financial loss, self-confidence is dealt a huge blow. I was no exception.  So it is that over the last few years, I am still figuring out the difference between my actual physical and mental limits and my refusal to believe in myself.  

More often than not, I am discovering that I can sometimes be my own worst enemy.  I have told myself that some goals will never be attainable and therefore should not bother try. The truth is a lot of those goals do not require supernatural abilities or superhuman strength.  I acknowledge that I have sometimes quit an idea before even giving it any serious consideration. That mindset needs to be knocked on the head.  I have often admonished my own sons for focussing on obstacles before they even have a shot at something.  Yet, I am guilty of that same peccadillo.  In my defence, I tell myself that I am older and the best part of my life has passed; the opportunities have come too late.  But I know this is often a ridiculous excuse and not truly defensible. I have read too many inspiring stories of people who have had personal comebacks to know that where there is life, there is hope.

Look Beneath the Surface

Whatever time I have left, I hope to use it wisely inshaAllah.  I know it all starts with niyyah, the intention.  That is one of the most uplifting and motivating principles that governs the life of a Muslim.  I was discussing this with one of my sons recently, where he was reminding me about it in the hope it would inspire me to push on with my personal goals.  He pointed out that in this life, we do a job and upon its completion, are rewarded with money or payment of some kind. What was our motivation or goal? Money? Status? Praise? To please Allah or to please someone else? The job is usually a means to an end. Yet, in our parallel spiritual existence, Allah does not ask about the result or completion of a task but about the mindset with which we started it.  In other words, irrespective of whether we completed the task or not, the niyyah (intention) is what matters most.  More importantly, Allah being Al-Kareen (The Generous), He is ready to compensate us without the task necessarily having been completed. That is such a profound concept. It is actually very reasonable since some people will always be at an unfair disadvantage no matter how hard they try; they have great intentions but may simply be unable to produce the results because of insurmountable problems.  

In the material world, we are simply focused on perceivable outcomes and yet not everything is as it seems. For example, an individual may donate millions of pounds to charity and benefit others in many ways.  But the hidden intention may have always been to win favour from a vested interest or to be adorned with public praise.  So, whilst the end result is honourable, the niyyah (intention) tarnishes it all.  In the spiritual dimension, traditional thinking is sometimes turned on its head. A completed task per se does not necessarily bring about rewards from Allah.  If all our motives are wrong, then the task alone is fruitless.  This concept is a serious game changer.

So it is with this reminder from my son that I am trying consciously to seek out the best of what life has to offer and stop making excuses for not grabbing opportunities.  The dusting off of the old and bringing in of the new is quite timely.  Spring is in the air and I have cleaning to do within my own mind.  I feel a renewed vigour and determination that despite all the drudgery in the world right now, I must remember that my affairs are in the hands of Allah.  It is He who put me here.  It is He who causes the sun to rise again after it has set.  It is He who brings summer after a long winter.

My thoughts frozen in fear are also thawing…

Anticipating the springtime thaw: How it's different this year and what to  expect | wgrz.com
It All Starts with a Trickle…

Marriage Wows

…at least it does for some.

The World is a Stage

A friend of mine recently asked if I was cynical about marriage given my own didn’t last its course.  I had to think for a moment.  Was I?  Do I look upon the idea of marriage as something not worth pursuing?  Do all marriages come apart at the seams in the end?  Are all married couples secretly unhappy? 

When I reflected for a while longer, I realised that I am not cynical about marriage completely.  After all, I hold a lot of hope for my own sons.  I pray I live to see them embark upon this new phase of their lives and embrace their own rights and responsibilities and help their spouses acknowledge those that belong to them.  I know there are still many successful examples of marriages out there. It would be extremely unfair to paint every marriage with the same brush.

What I do have strong reservations about is a second attempt at marriage for myself.  There are many reasons for that but a lot of them have to do with not having the will or energy to go through the palaver all over again.  Right now, at this time in my life, I am just beginning to enjoy a new freedom. I have found a niche which allows me to make choices for me and me only.  Perhaps I have become a little selfish but isn’t it about time?  Having given the best years of my life to my former spouse and my children, I now exert my right to put myself first for a change.  And even then, I wonder how often I do put myself first!

Refusing to Step Down

So, to think of a second shot at marriage doesn’t carry any excitement for me.  There is a time and place for everything.  The ‘everything’ which I am now in search of does not involve a partner’s input.  They would just get in the way.  I have just learnt how to take control back of my life and I refuse to let anyone try to steal that control away again. Also, for the things I couldn’t do when I was younger due to other commitments etc., I seek to conquer some of them with whatever time I have left.  They are very modest things but important nevertheless. 

So it is with these jumbled thoughts that I attended a wedding this weekend.  I am extremely happy for the new couple and wish them the very best for their future.  As first timers in the realm of marriage, I know they must be excited about starting a new life together and inshaAllah eventually welcoming children in years to come.  I can’t deny that is a wonderful phase of life to be in. Some of us have been there.  I was there once upon a time myself.

Now I want to be somewhere else.

Marking Out the Next Stops

The Dichotomy Women Face

To Divorce or Be Divorced?

There’s not denial that the rate of divorce has reached unprecedented levels in modern times.  An average of one in three marriages never make it to “death us do part”.  A sobering thought. Even more interesting is that this is not a Western phenomenon.  It is a sad fate that is familiar to those in more traditional or Eastern cultures too.  Muslim marriages have also succumbed.

A lot of debate surrounds the reasons as to why the number of divorces is so high.  I guess there will always be heated conversations about it.  Perhaps the reason why marriages amongst the older generations survived is because there was a deep sense of shame attached to divorce.  That burden was (and still is) invariably carried by women. A divorcee was therefore deemed a failure.  So, it’s not so much that people were happier in the olden days; it’s more the case that there was a greater social stigma involved so women (especially) simply tolerated their lot. Their reputations would be sullied whereas men would move effortlessly onto their next project.  That is why it is important to look beyond the raw statistics.  They don’t tell the full story. 

I say this having seen and heard many examples in my own life amongst family and friends.  Many women of bygone days endured emotional, physical and financial abuse simply because they had no recourse to an alternative solution.  Without a source of income, they were caught between a rock and a hard place; their only option would most likely have been to return to their father’s home – a fate which would bring dishonour to everyone in the family. 

The Writing is On the Wall

I know there are people today who would argue that things have not changed much. Yet, from my own observations of Muslim (especially Asian) families, I see a burgeoning group of modern 21st century young Muslim women who refuse to be cast in the same mould as their mothers or grandmothers before them. They dare to do things differently. They don’t hesitate to vocalise their grievances in their marriages and risk divorce.  In some cases, they find it difficult to get married at all because they refuse to bend to the demands of others, namely a potential spouse. Today, the more financially-independent and educated young woman will not stand for nonsense.  But this saving grace has also inadvertently been her own downfall.  It is a cruel irony. 

So, what has gone wrong? I think the problem stems from two root causes. The first is that for those older mothers who suffered silently in their hollow marriages, they have unknowingly taught their daughters that such a life for themselves simply won’t do. We now have smart, articulate and educated women who refuse to live the same torment their mothers and grandmothers endured.  Thus, they are not entirely dependent on their menfolk like the previous generations were.  For some men, this boldness is intimidating and their masculine pedestal now stands on shaky ground. Let’s face it. Most women are adept at multi-tasking.  When she can hold down a job and run a home with a family, a woman becomes a formidable force.  The man is now not as indispensable as he would like to believe.  I think deep down the male ego takes a silent beating.

To complicate matters, despite their academic and financial achievements, young women still need to meet the timeless definition of ‘wife’ – a definition which have been immortalised by culture. A good wife is one who acquiesces to her husband’s whims and plans; she sacrifices her own wishes and lets him ultimately decide the big decisions about family and future.  This is confusing.  She must be independent and dependent at the same time; she must make decisions but waive her choices in preference of someone else’s; she can be disappointed but she can’t voice her disagreement for the sake of peace. I wonder how anyone can embody the contradiction of independence and cultural conformity without going insane?  A young Muslim woman has become her own worst enemy, it seems.

Meanwhile, the second root problem is that our menfolk have not been taught life skills pertaining to harmony in a marriage.  There are so many prescriptive measures for women to have successful marriages but much less is laid out for the men. Yes, they are the traditional breadwinners but beyond that, how many are in tune with their wives’ emotions or needs?  For some men, women are simply a neurotic species that need to be tolerated.  This is an unfortunate position to take. Mothers have seemingly spent more time training their daughters for marriage yet have conveniently overlooked the lessons that their sons desperately need too. It is not a one-sided coin.  As long as men refuse to compromise or try to understand their wives, a successful marriage is not going to happen.

To be honest, this whole topic about why divorce is rife even amongst Muslim communities is one which can’t be explained in one short blog post.  There are just too many layers and factors to consider.  I have risked the wrath of many (Muslim) men by ignoring those who really do go out of their way to do right by their women.  I acknowledge that they do exist.  However, they are a rare breed.  I actually was fortunate to have had that experience in my own marriage.  One thing for sure is that whilst religion does not need updating, cultural attitudes need to shift.  And if they refuse to shift, Muslim women of today will choose themselves over society.  This trend has already started.  I can already hear the words ringing out…  

The Company You Keep

The end justifies the means

Sometimes we all get a little distracted with life and its highs and lows – especially the lows. The stresses we face can force us unexpectedly and relentlessly down a twisting flume whilst we hang on desperately trying to catch our breath.  But even then, after all the twists and turns, we are more often than not safely deposited into a pool of relative calmness and relief.  The ride may have been unnerving but the end result compensates for it all.

That’s the best analogy I can think of right now for my present reality.  The point to note is that, all other things being equal, I believe I will get through the challenges facing me right now, inshaAllah.  It’s a matter of simply not focussing on the problems themselves.  I need to take the wider perspective and remember that Allah has put me in this situation and so He can surely get me out of it.  He has given me the exam paper and I need to write the answers with my own pen and intellectual capacity.

This is how I plan to ‘Keep Calm’. 

Life is always going to be a series of problems and some will be exchanged for others as we move through the constant of time.  The thing we need to get a grip of is our own emotions.  Not easy, I know. I’d be the first to testify to that.  Rationality often eludes us when we need it the most.

However, I can’t believe I find myself echoing my elders when I say that age does bring wisdom.  It’s true that there is a level of maturity that only life experience can deliver.  It has to be earned through living itself and going through all kinds of experiences, rough and smooth.  Arguably, wisdom can’t be earned through simply pre-empting a situation and expecting textbook answers to suffice.  I personally have never been given to reading self-help books produced by life coaches.  Quite frankly, I am very cynical of their formulae.  To some extent, others can advise but how can a blanket response to a situation take into consideration so many different personalities, cultures or religious affiliations?  The variables from person to person are so many that it negates the effectiveness of a ‘one size fits all’ solution.  Words of advice look good on a page but close the book and most of those ideas don’t transfer well into workable solutions.  That’s just my experience.  How many motivational quotes on life do we read and yet the lesson is as transient as the time it takes to read them? The stark truth is that there is no escaping the fact that we will forever be the mice on that wheel until we realise that there is a higher purpose to this temporal existence. 

Recently, I stumbled across a short lecture by Abdul Hakim Murrad, the Cambridge intellectual and professor who inspires me not least because he is such an eloquent speaker.  (He is, in my opinion, Britain’s answer to Hamza Yusuf – another awesome orator who I admire greatly).  The talk reminded the listener that Allah is with us through thick and thin.  Knowing that should be comfort in itself.  And it is.  The reminder was timely since I have been concerned lately with financial matters amongst other routine issues.  However, Murrad’s advice reminded me that Allah is indeed with me.  Even if others desert and disappoint, I know I am in the company of an infinitely superior Presence.  No human could take the place of divine company.  The only condition of being remembered by Ar-Razzaq (The Provider) is to remember He is the source and the solution – all in one.  There is no escaping that spiritual reality.

Whilst that knowledge in itself may not actually change my situation, it is a huge comfort.  It is yoga for the soul – the spiritual exercise that in turn regulates the heart when it flutters.  It is the morphine that controls emotional piques in times of mental disarray.  It is the perfect antidote to all the stresses that cause us to keel over in pain. This is no exaggeration.  I can bear witness to that experience myself.  When I have become consumed with worries about this or that and eventually return to the default mode where Allah is the centrifugal force in my world, I see that stress dissipates instantly, Alhamdulillah.

So, I write today as a reminder to myself that everything in this life will come to pass.  That is an outcome I can’t avoid. I don’t say that in a morbid or depressing tone.  I say it so as to remember that I shouldn’t let any problem consume me.  I need to step back and look at things from a distance.  Just as I have learnt to let go of those who come in and out of my life, so too the same applies to circumstances.  Nothing is fixed or permanent.  Even the darkest days will pass.  I can’t prescribe my formula for survival onto others; I am not a life coach.  However, in very broad terms, I can say that as long as Allah remains the focal point of my life, there is really nothing to fear.  That is the one lesson I would share with anyone looking for appeasement or reassurance.  There are many roads to Allah and we all travel our unique journeys but as long as the destination is the same, inshaAllah it is an adventure well worth setting off for.

A Bird Out of a Tree

Not an Aimless Ambition

OK, I know.  So what’s the title about this time?

Lately, I have been feeling restless. Like a bird, I want to fly and take off somewhere and try something new.  Migration. The economy isn’t looking good, life is becoming expensive and like everyone else, I am feeling squeezed financially.  But it’s not just money concerns.  For the longest time, I have always wanted to do something wholesome with my life beyond being a mother.  As rewarding as that role is, there is a part of me that feels the need to be out there beyond my four walls and making a difference to someone else’s life, however modest that contribution may be. That ‘something’ which I am seeking will probably never be fulfilled in the West.  Though I was born in the UK and the corollary suggests that this must be home, I have never felt it to be.  Being a person of colour and a Muslim, my entitlement to that claim is like trying to cling onto a slippery ladder and get to the top – an ever-elusive goal.  Wider (white) society will always remind me that I need to prove myself (to them).  That I am not prepared to do. 

Keeping in Touch… more with Phones than Friends

Unfortunately, the social fabric in Western society is virtually threadbare. It is coming apart at the seams.  Through the gaping holes, so many of us have fallen. The internet age has successfully connected us with others across the globe and yet we have lost the skill of connecting with our immediate neighbours and communities.  It is the other (technological) pandemic that nobody talks about and has yet indiscriminately contaminated so many pockets of different populations across the globe.  Real human transactions are lacking in the public domain so much so that many people can go a whole day without having spoken to a single soul. How tragic is that?

I am not naïve to think that Eastern cultures have been spared from this ideological malaise.  They do not provide the Utopic antidote to the West.  They have been emulating Western values or habits for years and have now seemingly lost touch with their own rich cultural heritages.  It is indeed a lamentable fact.  Perhaps I am romanticising the past thinking life was richer socially even if not financially.  Yet I was a child of the pre-internet age and can testify to a different type of childhood compared to what I see youngsters experiencing now.  So, no.  It isn’t a romantic figment of my imagination.

I know I can’t escape the temporal reality of life and all that it brings.  I can’t run away from a situation just because things have gotten difficult.  A true strength of character is to confront problems head on and fight.  This is in keeping with my Muslim identity – to accept the challenges Allah places before us and consult the integrity of our spiritual beings to resolve the issue at hand. But sometimes, my rationale betrays my emotions and the result is that I feel mentally exhausted; I don’t have the will to go on. On the other hand, I know I have been in difficult situations before and have faith this one too will pass. 

Like the bird that flies from a tree and finds liberation in the infinite sky, I pray too that I can spread my wings and head towards a new horizon.

Self Portrait

Twenty-One Years a Mother

Looking Back and Forward All at Once

Alhamdulillah.  For everything. 

Today, my oldest sons are on the cusp of completing twenty one years, inshaAllah. Whilst a big deal is made in Western culture of reaching a 21st birthday, I don’t celebrate them as such but I do acknowledge that a year is another milestone reached.  How could I not when I am a mother and first witness to their journeys through this world?  On my sons’ birthday, I feel I am looking in on their lives with a Zoetrope. It is a wonderful show to watch.

A show that never gets boring

As I commented last year, birthdays are not just for those counting the years they have existed in this world.  In the background, are the mothers who smile on from the stage wings out of sight whilst the spotlight shines on the birthday individual.  But I’ve already spoken about that.

Today, I want to take the opportunity to thank Allah again for giving me the joyful experience of motherhood.  This cherished role is what inspired my blog in the first place.  My sons have all been wonderful companions in these past twenty plus years and of all the things I have achieved in this life, being witness to their maturity and personal achievements surpasses anything else.  It would seem logical to say that I have been able to impart wisdom onto them as they move through life especially in my role as mother.  Alhamdulillah, I’d like to think I have. 

However, it is also true that they have shared their wisdom with me.  Not one, not twice but many times.  I firmly believe that their ability to do so comes from a combination of factors but not least their firm roots in their Islamic identity and a life that has enabled them to experience much more than many of their peers.  I cherish those moments we’ve had together talking about everything and anything.  They’ve been opportunities where we have all been able to be free and unfettered and yet respectful and responsible. Is it even possible to be all those things at once?  I think so.  I’ve seen it myself with my sons.

If anyone stumbles across this post and is a parent themselves, my strong advice is to remember to learn from your children too.  Lessons to be understood are not always from older to younger or the more experienced to the less experienced.  I have had many moments when my sons have forced me to stop in my tracks and rethink my ideas or plans.  When they have done so, I’ve always been grateful for their insights, Alhamdulillah.

Of course, nobody knows their future but if we all continue to live for a good few years yet, I look forward to many more memorable experiences with my sons.  Perhaps one day they might even convince me that anime as a genre of entertainment needs serious consideration on my part.  But for now, even without them scoring success on that part, I am grateful that I can still relate to some of the things they talk about and they can too of me.  It’s nice to come off my maternal pedestal every now and then, and sit with them, so to speak, at the level they are at. And I don’t mean that in a haughty or derogratory sense.  As I find myself looking at the young men they have become, I am in awe that they are my sons, Alhamdulillah

My musings today are brief.  However, that’s not to say that lots of things are not floating in my mind. There are.  But some of them are best held at bay for fear of ruining a good thing.  For now, I will let them be jettisoned into a vortex of other emotions.

Anime Appreciation in the Making

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 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…

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