It’s not Just the Kids Taking Flight

Home is a feeling, not just a place

I am at that point in my life where the family nest is slowly emptying out.  The boys are flourishing into young men and I am watching them reach each pending milestone.

Ah, to be young and carefree again!  I am excited for them almost as they are.  I see their eager anticipation to grasp opportunities for their own betterment, be it academic, financial and spiritual.  I am reminded of my own blithe youth and the innocence of expectant dreams.  Some of those dreams did materialise, Alhamdulillah.  Dreams of travel, education, marriage and having children.  There are those that started well but didn’t end anywhere near the target I had imagined.  Clearly, divorce was one of those unforeseen outcomes.

The end of a marriage is a bereavement no matter who tries to convince me otherwise.  It is a death of a union; a cruel amputation of a part of a once healthy whole.  Yet I have had time to learn to manage my grief.  Only yesterday, I heard a Muslim scholar describe the journey involving grief as something one “gets through” rather than “gets over”.  To me, that is such a profound statement.  It correctly suggests that it is a state that perhaps we may never completely forget but simply learn to live with it as it ebbs and flows during the course of our lives.

For me, Alhamdulillah, I have started to invest into my own future (as well as my boys).  The preoccupation with that collection of things has helped me immensely.  I have little time to be still and be overcome by sadness.  Being busy for most of my waking life enables me to keep negative thoughts well beyond arm’s length.  When those unguarded moments do threaten to creep up on me, however, I remind myself of all the positive experiences I have had since being on my own.  I have been the master of my own life; I decide where I want to go today, or not; I decide who I would like to see today, or not.  The one major positive aspect of being alone is not to have to justify my actions to anyone else.  Of course, except Allah.  To be honest, I do also remind myself of all the positive experiences I had when I was married.  I recognise it was an overwhelmingly happy episode of my life.  Even though it was abruptly dealt a cruel end, I can’t deny the good that came from it.  To lose sight of that too would be an ingratitude.

The Generosity of Allah is often not immediately apparent

Having said that, the phase of life I find myself in now, without a husband, has actually been edifying.  I have mulled over the purpose of my life in all the roles that I occupy at once – mother, daughter, sister, aunt etc.  These are the roles which I have inherited. But I have also created new roles for myself outside the home.  Teacher, for example. One of the most gratifying feelings in my role as teacher is knowing that I have made even a modest difference to someone else’s life, however small it may be.  Rather than wallow in self-pity, I have made a conscious decision that I would try and leave an indelible mark on this world; I strive to be a positive influence on others and direct my energies there instead.  It has been a fantastic form of rehabilitation.

Negative self-indulgence of any form, be it nursing our wounded pride, or material excesses, is damaging for the soul.  Therefore, I try not to entertain it.  My coping mechanism is to keep myself occupied in constructive things.  As intellectual creatures, we are commanded to work hard.  The beauty in Allah’s demands is that He asks us to continue to strive for our goals but to keep our niyyah (intention) correct.  Even if I die trying, that is sufficient for Allah.  How Generous is He to not hold us accountable for the end result?  It is a great burden of responsibility lifted from our shoulders. 

I have a personal philosophy on life which states that a day in which something valuable has not been learned, is a day wasted.  It could be a new word, a new recipe, a hadith (Prophetic wisdom), an ayah (verse) of the Quran or even something banal as a new and efficient method of storing clothes.  Every day is a gift to be in awe – yet again – of the splendour of this world.  Switch off the news.  Shed the negativity.  Enjoy the wonders of life.  Breathe.  It feels amazing to be alive, Alhamdulillah.

Opportunities not to be wasted

So, as my boys look forward to their future, I hope to always remain a part of it too inshaAllah.  I will not clip their wings in order for them to acquiesce to my own situation in life.  However, if I have done my job well, I would like to believe they will always reserve a space for me in their adult lives.  They will need to look over their shoulder as much as look ahead.   Mothers are self-sacrificing and I know that no child can ever reciprocate what a mother does for them.  To be fair, I would be setting my own children an unrealistic and unobtainable goal even if I demanded it from them.  I never wish to be the hindrance to their aspirations.  Instead, I wish to be the protagonist that fires them with the passion to embrace all the opportunities out there that will nourish their souls.

My life has not been unusual in that I have had my share of challenges and obstacles.  Would I have done anything differently?  Maybe.  However, I am aware that those bottlenecks, whirlpools and storms I have come through have all collectively worked to bring me where I am today – and that place is one with which I am deeply humbled by and content with, Alhamdulillah.  I have found peace.  Peace in knowing where I am now and where, I pray, I will find myself on the other side of life, inshaAllah.  Grief will not win.

Me, Myself and I

Unscrambling all the key components to try and make sense of it all

Narcissist? Megalomaniac? Egoist?  The very mention of the phrase, “me, myself and I,” suggests self-indulgence and a kind of selfishness at the expense of everyone else. 

As a mother constantly in the driver’s seat of life, steering my children through their academic, emotional and spiritual journeys, I know it is not only recommended to take time out, it is actually necessary.   To always be strong and dependable takes its toll.  With a relentless routine of monotonous household chores punctuated by a working life, sometimes it all gets a bit too much.  Every now and then, my mental energy begins to wilt closely followed by a decline of physical energy.  The two are inextricably linked and it is a cyclical sequence which I can’t break free from.  Inside, I can feel the cogs of the wheel beginning to grind to a halt.  That’s when I need to step off the carousel of life and be still.  Time out.

I make no apology for taking care of me.  If the foundation of a building is precariously poised, it is only inevitable that everything built upon it will be unstable.  Therefore, when I detach from the humdrum of life and deal with my own well-being, I know that it is essential, as others are also depending on me to be there for them.  Alhamdulillah, I wouldn’t want it any other way.  It is a deeply satisfying feeling knowing that my existence makes – and has made – a positive impact on the lives of others, even if they are my own children. 

However, I consciously acknowledge the times when I cannot go on.  It is not that I am anticipating an internal breakdown.  (Alhamdulillah, by His grace I have not reached that nadir yet.  Perhaps that is testimony to the strength I have – more than I care to admit.)  The low moments usually emerge when I am floundering in the midst of trying to manage too many things at once.  Something has to – and often does – give.  There are days when multitasking simply does not work.  For example, a trip to do the grocery shopping, though necessary, will delay my cooking which will, in turn, delay other responsibilities within and without my home.  It isn’t that I haven’t taught my boys household chores but sometimes it is not realistic to ask them for help when they are bogged down with their own work.  To be perfectly fair, they are largely forthcoming whenever I do ask for help. For the most part though, I simply push on and as a result there are occasions when I become overwhelmed.

So why am I unpacking seemingly irrelevant details about my life in public?  The purpose of mentioning all this is to help others understand that self-preservation is an absolutely necessary thing.  It is precisely because I remind myself to reward myself, that I am able to recharge, reflect and return to the grindstone.  To achieve that goal, I need to surrender the reins on life sometimes and let events unfold for themselves.  It is exhausting to always try to have the answers and pre-empt every inevitability.  It is an impossible task and likely to lead to a sense of failure.

When life moves at a maddening pace, it is so easy to become swooped up in the whirlwind and become breathlessly lost in the myriad of things that constantly need doing.  I consciously try to allow myself a regular detox from all my responsibilities and let my head empty itself of everything.  How do I do that?  I enjoy the simple things which force me to go at a slower pace.  For example, I revel in going for walks in silence.  I am truly grateful to be living in a place that is surrounded by beauty.  The river runs just behind my home and riverside walks allow me to enjoy uninterrupted silence and nature.  My thoughts unravel and the water graciously carries them far out to sea as a gesture to me to be free for that time.  I am completely absorbed in my present surrounding where I reminded about what really matters in life.  The peace which nature brings is unlike any other.  It is at these times that I am effortlessly drawn to reflect on my relationship with Allah. 

In awe of Allah and His creation

To be aware of the need to look after the physical and emotional self, is to be aware of the spiritual wellbeing.  Arguably, these cannot be separated.   In my own experience, my spiritual enervation has often been a direct result of feeling I cannot continue with the monotony of keeping the cogs of life turning.  I am constantly running between those cogs, making sure each is good functioning order so as not to lead to a breakdown of the whole machine.  I have, in recent years, trained myself to know when I must say “No” to tasks on which the returns will simply be exhaustion and more frustration.  That includes not always putting others before myself.  To respect oneself is to earn respect from others.

Alhamdulillah, I recognise that now with the boys being that much older, more independent and tuned in to my needs, I have been fortunate to have been spared an implosion.   There have been many times they themselves have persuaded me to step back and let them take over where possible.  It is these gestures that have gone a long way to allowing me to endure till now.  The reciprocal relationship is a blessing I do not take lightly, Alhamdulillah.

Throughout my life, I remind myself of ayahs (verses) from the Quran that speak of perseverance in the face of adversity, the reward for patience, the knowledge that Allah knows what I can bear.  All these things combined have helped me remain positive and grateful.  I also know that He recognises that worshipping Him comes in many forms.  It goes well beyond the prescribed five pillars which are the absolute bedrock of our faith as Muslims.  In addition, He has created a beautiful world in which we find precious moments to contemplate His greatness.  Those opportunities make us realise that we need to loosen the grip on this life just a little and even not take anything too seriously.  After all, it is only transitory.   In those moments of solitude, we should awaken our sensory receptors and appreciate the blessings we have been enjoying all along. 

Allah is indeed Great

Time Flies When You’re Being Mum

The last four years have seemed like ten.  Not because they have dragged, no.  In fact, quite the opposite, Alhamdulillah.  Together with my children, I have witnessed many milestones in their lives.    I could list those achievements here but I prefer to keep them to myself.  Suffice to say, they have evolved into young men and accomplished so much mashAllah.  More privately, I have reached many milestones of my own.  Some of them have been tangible goals; others have been more emotional victories.

Time and Tide wait for no-one

Rewind four years and I thought I was on the brink of a breakdown – that I would never learn how to take the blindfolds off and walk confidently forward into my future.  Today, if I could convince anyone else who is on the cusp of a divorce, that life can, and indeed, will, get better, I would feel I have done a great service to humanity.  Especially womankind.  (I sometimes believe that ‘mankind’ is an unfortunate misnomer since man is often anything but kind).  

My sisters, my fellow womenfolk, you will thrive insha’Allah.  Take my story as a beacon of hope.  I want to let you know that what I finally see now is that Allah had handed me the key to unlock the potential within myself.  He wanted me to experience life in its full glory, Alhamdulillah.  I am unfettered and untethered.  I am liberated, not a libertine.  I know there will be cynics who may accuse me of feigning happiness.  I mean, is it possible that a woman could be truly happy after divorce?  Who, in their right mind, could dare to say that life is good when they are left taking on all the burdens of raising a family on their own?

The truth is, life has been kind to me, Alhamdulillah.  I read of atrocities and calamities taking place across the world and consider myself extremely fortunate.  The loss of a man in my life pales into insignificance compared to those stories.  It is not that I did not suffer immeasurable trauma in those early days.  But today, I am no longer dependent on any person to support me financially or emotionally.  Alhamdulillah, that is an exhilarating emancipation like no other.  I have learnt to let go of people who have misunderstood me and seek to severe ties.  I will not fight to keep them in my inner circle.  I already saw how trying to convince my ex-husband to stay was a miserable failure.  Therefore, I will never allow myself to be humiliated like that again.  I will never be someone’s ephemeral pastime or whimsical desire, again.  People are now free to exercise their choices.  Stay or leave?  My life will be moving on whilst they decide.  Time is too precious.

Learning to let go

I have learnt about the relationships worth fighting for.  The most important of those are with my own children.  Alhamdulillah, the last four years have brought us even closer together.  They have supported and comforted me in a reciprocal way as I have them.  It is that bond which has allowed me to flourish as a person in my own right, not simply as a mother.  They have helped restore my faith in my own self and have often been the impetus to set goals for my own personal development or self-fulfillment.   They are partly why I am able to say I finally took the plunge and started this blog.  They have spurred me on with encouragement knowing I needed a gentle nudge to get going.  I liken my situation to a rock teetering on the edge of a slope.  We all know what happens once it starts to roll.

Of course, had I remained married, I would not have known any different.   To be honest, I would probably have been content to continue inhabiting that previous existence because, after all, I was also at peace with my previous life as well.  Yet, the lesson I have learnt is this:  we need to be able to adapt to new circumstances in life as nothing remains constant.  Being content with whatever we are handed in life is the key too.  Easier said than done, I know.  But this is a skill that comes with patience and conscious perseverance.  Rarely is it an innate attribute.

Knowing that the better part of my life has most likely passed, it seems a futile waste to let others consume it any more than they selfishly have.  I have reclaimed it now to do with it, not as I please, but inshaAllah, as Allah pleases.  He owns my life and I owe Him.  For whatever of it remains, I hope I will always smile and be thankful.  Lately, I have experienced uncanny waves of complete contentment.  They are indescribable and yet when they wash over me, I know I am exactly where I need to be in my life.  Everything I want or need is right here, right now.  Alhamdulillah, to be content is to be the richest person imaginable.

Praying for Patience and Patience in Prayer

And the Winner is…..

Winning is not always measured in medals and trophies

OK, so you’re probably expecting me to announce here that Joe Biden has been declared the successor to the White House.  Whilst the world’s attention has been focused on a contest that has been played out on the world’s stage, I’m not here to discuss politics.  My announcement about winning is of a much more personal nature and, therefore, also much more relevant to me.  

It’s coincidental that the time in office and the ousting of Biden’s predecessor, is almost congruent to this latest phase of my life that I find myself in: four years, 2016 – 2020.  I would say it’s been a watershed for me as well.  I am poised to welcome in the New.

I know I have spoken many times about the emotional abyss I had stumbled into in recent years, and the subsequent climb out of it.  But unless one has been in that desperate state, it is almost impossible to empathise with that situation.  I knew I wanted to be unstuck from the quagmire but was not sure what the plan was.  Before I could begin to devise a plan to realign my thoughts and my life, I had to first elevate my own self-esteem.  I had to remind myself – not tell – that throughout my life, I had always existed in my own right.  The only difference was that I was now stepping out of obscurity, away from someone else’s shadow. 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I can’t reiterate enough the courage and stamina it takes to dust oneself down and say, “I can and I will.” It is no easy feat.   It is like trying to ski down a slope but facing backwards.  However, Alhamdulillah, it was only by the grace and mercy of Allah, that I never lost my footing on the climb up and out of that dark pit of despair.  Can I even claim I have climbed out?  I believe so, insha’Allah

I make that bold self-assessment because I supplanted my former self and am no longer perturbed, as I was before, when I happen to hear about something connected to my past.  The emotional and spiritual distance I have garnered with each day, week and month, surpasses my own expectations of what I could ever have anticipated four years ago. 

All praise is to Allah.  He put me in a competition unlike any other.  The format was unlike any other.  The contestants were unlike any other.  The reality of it was that I was engaged in a battle with myself.  There were no other players except my nafs (soul) and my ego.  It was a wrestle between my higher aspirations and a hurt pride.  The inner struggle was taking place within the constraints of time – for time, I have learnt, is one of the most precious things any person has been gifted to them in this life.  My mission was to fast-track the skill of introspection and thus prevent any more valuable time from slipping through my fingers. I asked myself tough questions and sought answers, however unpalatable they may have been. The best counsel through this was my candid conversations with Allah.  I came to know that He is never silent.  He carries us through the torrents of turmoil and delivers us safely on the other side.  He had given me the tools and it was my job to pick them up and use them.

Another valuable lesson I have come to know is that of ‘karma’.  It is a common fallacy that when a person has been wronged, they expect karma to work it’s wonders in one or more of the following ways: their aggressor loses their job, becomes bankrupt, is stricken with a calamity or experiences some kind of colossal material loss.  Firstly, I can confidently say that I have never wanted irreversible damage of any sort to be levied on anyone who has caused me pain.  I have, however, called upon Allah, to express to Him, my distress and disappointment and to seek justice. It is the du’a (prayer) of the oppressed.  Even if I could convince my tongue not to articulate words of exasperation out loud, my heart would not belie my emotions.  I asked Allah to serve as the barrier between my spiritual self and the base-level existence that craves retribution in this world.  I also pleaded to Him to suppress any human that threatened to create pandemonium in my life as an aggrevied heart is a dangerous entity to stir into action. In hindsight, I now see He did respond to my call.  How?  By giving me every form of independence from the person/people that transgressed their boundaries with me. 

Alhamdulillah, the greatest victory is to be free of the need of other human beings to determine the trajectory of your life.  Yes, people flit in and out and some are around for longer periods.  But to know you are not in an absolute and permanent state of dependency of another person to bring you peace and contentment, is liberating.  This is karma.  It is not the karma that speaks of terrible happenings in another’s life.  It is the karma that simply tells you that You are doing just fine.  Your success in finding peace with your new life, being financially independent, determining your own future, learning how to laugh again from within the depths of your own being – this is the best reprisal anyone could ask for. 

So, you see, the winner is me.  Alhamdulillah, I have arrived at a place called Peace and done so without harming another person.   I now know that karma means to simply move on peacefully and without casting a glance backwards.

A Letter to my Former Self

Advice with the benefit of hindsight

Dear Broken Wings,

Assalaamu Alaikum. Peace be upon you. Yes, Peace with a capital ‘P’. I know you can’t even begin to fathom how that word will return to your world but return it will, insha’Allah. One day, you will begin to see it for yourself. I will say, “I told you so.” Be strong. Your ‘today’ will not always be like this, insha’Allah.

Gratitude, patience and hope. Hang on to these three tenets as they form the basis of your faith, your identity as a Muslim. Learn how to intertwine each of these threads to weave a single strong rope upon which you will climb out of your abyss of despair and sorrow. If you know you have a grip of this rope, then you have actually not lost anything in life. You will be able to face any challenge head on, with tenacity, as long as you have these three companions as your guide.

The Evil Eye and the Legend of the Nazar in Cyprus
Beware of the evil eye

Family and friends? Yes, Alhamdulillah for the blessings of people around you who will help you with a kind word, a small gesture, advice, money and moral support. However, learn to depend on Allah first. People are there to bolster you but it’s important to stand on your own two feet. After all, this is the very lesson which divorce will teach you. Take the help when it is offered but never become complacent with anything in life again. Beware of secret envy or the evil eye. It is very real. Don’t forget that this is what you suspected was the key factor in the breakdown of your own marriage even though you were so careful to keep your life out of public scrutiny. Insha’Allah, you will begin to thrive again, but some will not be able to comprehend your bravery; they will secretly expect – or wish – you to capitulate to your inner demons, not realising that your imaan is firmly rooted, no matter how much the storms of life will try to dislocate you.

Please be kind to yourself. Learn to exculpate yourself for those things in life you had no control over. Your niyyah (intention) in your marriage was to see it through to the end of your life but Allah had better plans for you. Did I say ‘better?’ Yes, better. You need to understand that whatever He wants is the best plan even though you cannot see the wood for the trees now. At this point, you can only see in myopic terms but Alhamdulillah, this seemingly chaotic juncture in your life is a means of purification for you. Take the time you need to understand that. Nobody expects you to see the true picture from behind a waterfall of tears but trust that Insha’Allah there are adventures waiting for you to grasp them. Nothing is missing in your life. It’s just upto you to set yourself onto an exciting road of discovery.

Did I mention the children? One day they too will grow up and subhanAllah, what fine young men they will be! Don’t underestimate their potential to see the pain you have suffered. They will insha’Allah continue to be a great source of comfort for you. Together, you will forge a wonderful life together and each will be as excited about the other’s goals as their own. Alhamdulillah, children are resilient and if you pour yourself into them, watch the returns on that investment. Laughter and joy will permeate the walls of your home.

Not least, there’s your own personal goals and dreams. You probably had some specific plans or ideas about where life was heading but Allah knows best. He is the best of planners. Wasn’t He always by your side? Did you say you worship Him and no other? Are you confident that He will guide you as long as you beseech him? Come closer to Allah. Get to know Him better. This is the one relationship you need to strive for, above all others. As long as you have Him by your side, nothing else matters. He is sufficient in your sorrow, your hopes, your questions and your fears. Ask Him and see how wondrous the results will be.

So, you see, inshaAllah, you are on a winning streak already. Allah put you in this situation because He knows he chose the right person for it. He will never give someone more than what they can bear. Alhamdulillah, I see you are beginning to invoke Him more already. This episode in your life has brought you to a state of absolute humility. You’ve learnt that arrogance serves no purpose. He humbled you no end so that you will bring Him back into a correctly aligned position where He is the focus of all your actions and ideas.

InshaAllah you will be soaring again in your heart. Take your broken wings and learn to fly again…….

birds flying at sunset | Sunset Bird - created by Leanord | Sunset, Bird  pictures, Bird
A wonderful vista when in full flight

Finding Zen

Look up every now and then and enjoy what you have right now

Last week I decided against posting anything as, like many situations, I needed time out to reflect. I haven’t lost the zeal to express my thoughts as I always hope someone out there will find something, however small, that resonates with them. I hope that ‘something’ will go a long way in helping them find comfort or at least bring a smile to their face.

Today, I wanted to simply mention that lately I have had overwhelming feelings of contentment wash over me. They are moments of pure joy, knowing that right now, right here, I could not wish for anything more as I feel I have found inner peace, Alhamdulillah. The most significant inaminate material possession I have in this life is my car. For many people living in the developed world, on the cusp of their twilight years, that would hardly be an achievement. However, I know the nature of human appetite for everything is insatiable. In a famous hadith, a prophetic saying, we are told that if the son of Adan were given two valleys of gold, he would want a third. The desires are endless. I don’t deny I am one of those would have loved to have owned a house, to have my own garden and to make almost flippant decisions to go on holiday when my whims got the better of me. Yet, I am not vying for these things any more. I have been constantly engaged in a silent battle within and refuse to succumb to the inherently unsatisfied condition that many of us often fall into.

The pure joy moments I have felt lately have emerged from an esoteric understanding of what matters most in life. Seeing my children progress through life, the development of their academic and intellectual capabilities, and not least their spiritual engagement with their existence, has given me the greatest pleasure, Alhamdulillah. It is priceless.

I have gauged that progress mostly with the calmness exuded my youngest son who, at the tender age of 11, went from living in one continent to another and had to contend with the new family situation we had found ourselves in – that is, without his father. The confusion, anger and frustration he exhibited had consistently manifested themselves in his school environment. Only three years ago, I recall being rung by his school on four separate days within the same week with serious concerns about his behaviour and wellbeing. I was at the end of my tether. I was not without hope.

Alhamdulillah, three years later I have witnessed a gradual calm and maturity permeating within him. Being the youngest, the state of his mental wellbeing has always been my litmus test for progress of this family as a whole. I know a chain is as strong as its weakest link and he was very much that delicate link.

The weakest link in the chain needs to be fixed first

I know we all have a long way to go still but I would argue that is moreso as individuals rather than a single entity. Alhamdulillah, we have equally come a long way to securing our footing. It is these collective thoughts that caused me to have those waves of contentment come over me lately and insha’Allah I hope to relive those moments again and again.

I must add that, as important as my children’s own trajectories in life are, I will not forget my own aspirations. I have come to realise that aspirations are not the exclusive right of young people only. We all must live with ambitions to be better versions of ourselves, to keep moving in terms of acquiring all kinds of beneficial knowledge and to never become stagnant. Alhamdulillah, I have had made modest progress in those areas and my life is filled with purpose. I haven’t stopped existing. In fact, I think I have become a more complete person now rather than living in the forgotten shadow of another.

My message to other women out there, who now find themselves picking up the pieces at the end of a marriage, is that you need to believe your Present is not a fixed and static state. Even though it is difficult to believe, the wind will pick up again and you must let it fill your sails. With an unimaginable power to propel you forward, you will find there is an adventure awaiting ahead of you still. You simply need to keep hold of the helm – as well as your faith – at all times and plough ahead.

The Rights of our Children

Allowing a platform to speak and to be heard

Any parent would know that there will come a time when their children move on from uttering a string of babbling nonsense as toddlers, to the awkward phase of the monosyllabic teenage years. This is a period of pensive moods and inner transition. Watching from the outside, we have to learn to accept grunts and groans as the metaphor of our kids’ eloquence. Like most parents, I had been bracing myself for this inevitability.  With four boys all in their teenage years, I had been forewarned of ample ‘lively’ domestic situations.

Alhamdulillah, with Allah’s help, I have been chaperoning my sons through the so-called ‘awkward phase’ and we haven’t had any high dramas….yet.  Insha’Allah it remains that way.  I do, however, have my own reasoning about why that is. It doesn’t involve any scientific research; rather, it is based on my own empirical evidence.

My belief is this: that since my boys and I have adjusted to our new lives, we have also had to redefine certain roles in our family unit.  I have taken on more responsibilities within and without the home, naturally, but so too have they had to enter adulthood at a less leisurely pace than their peers.  This shuffling around and new demarcations has sometimes happened by accident where we have all been fumbling our way along in life.  But it has also happened by design. In other words, I pre-empted some situations where I knew I would need to have frank and honest conversations about things that concern us as a family.  I would often seek their help or advice and consider a different perspective on things.  Perhaps they would see something from an angle that I had not thought about.  However, there were also many times I had secretly already made up my mind about something but wanted them to feel included in the process anyway.  In those latter situations, I always recall the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him).  Being the sublime character that he was, he excelled in the skill of discussing his plans with his closest companions, not to seek their approval or guidance, but for the sake of making them feel included and important.  In the meetings I have had with my boys about family matters, I wanted to emulate our noble Prophet (peace be upon him).  He epitomised the wonderful strategy of creating cohesion and unity amongst people and a feeling of being valued.

Coming together without fear to share ideas

Too often, I have seen parents of my generation, and those before, talk at their children rather than talk with them.  The abuse of power that comes with the advantage point of being a parent is lamentable.  Ostensibly, some parents believe their years make them wiser and more mature.  They have inalienable rights.  Their voices dominate everyone else’s.  It is a narrative that runs through many families.  Of course, there are times when parents must – and should – have absolute say in stark matters of wrong and right, of halal vs. haram.  However, there are many areas where open and frank conversations with their children would not go amiss.  Not allowing young people a voice to express their emotions or thoughts is not allowing ourselves to know how to help navigate them in life.  It is so wrong to expect our children to mirror our own expectations of them or to have them live out our fantasies of their lives.

Life is never smooth sailing and I have had many occasions where I have disagreed with my sons on certain matters.  However, in giving them a platform to speak, I have done myself a service.  How is that?  I have come to understand them, as individuals, a bit better as they allow me to ramble through their minds.  Had I shut down expressions of dissent or confusion, I would never have had the privilege of knowing what governs their thought processes.  If I don’t give them the opportunity to share their ideas, then I need to ask myself, “Where are they going to offload?  Who is providing their counsel?”  I know I would much rather have them share those ideas etc. with me than anyone else.  As their mother, I will always have their best interests at heart, inshaAllah. 

So, it is with this attitude that over the last few months and years, I have managed to discuss some more delicate or personal issues with my sons.  Typically, this would involve topics such as puberty and relationships.  I take comfort in knowing that, as a parent, it is my duty to expound upon these matters as they are so central to our existence. There can be no shying away from these subjects in Islam.  In fact, there is a truism that says, “there is no hayah (shame) when it comes to seeking knowledge.”  In other words, we need to have conversations which may sometimes be embarrassing.  However, the purpose is higher than the conversation itself.  Ideally, I would have wanted my boys to have had these discussions with their father.  However,Alhamdulillah, I also believe I have been blessed with this task because, over time, we already have established reasonable and respectable boundaries between us.  We have tried conscientiously to approach sensitive topics with maturity and openness. As for me, I remind myself I am equipping my sons with knowledge that will serve as their tools to guide them through life. 

As I often reiterate to myself and to them, our thoughts and actions must always be circumscribed by our Deen – Islam.  Like two concentric circles, we are trying our best to keep the emotional circle encompassed by the larger spiritual one.  If we strive to work within that framework, then differences of opinion are completely acceptable.  To be honest, I would be extremely naïve to expect my boys to agree with me on everything and vice versa.  Alhamdulillah, despite that fact, I reflect on how far we have traversed together these past few years.  We have leaned on one another for support and I cherish their input and company.  I am also mindful to give them the space to make minor mistakes as this is when real growth occurs.  But when we digress or even transgress, this needs to be recognised and rectified as soon as possible.  My sons have also been honest and bold enough to remind me at times when I need to be reminded.  For that, I am deeply grateful.  Although my gratitude lies solely with Allah, I acknowledge my sons for giving me the honour to call myself ‘mother’.  They have made the experience a treasured one, Alhamdulillah.   I cherish the home we have created for ourselves; not the physical space per se but, moreso, the abode where love and respect flow in all directions.  It is these principles which will always remain indelible motifs on the tapestry of life.

Meliorism – noun. A belief that the world tends to improve and that humans can aid its betterment

Sharing my advantage point with others

How fortuitous that I should stumble across this new word! Since I started my blog, I have had feedback from those women I know, and those I don’t, telling me how my story resonates with their own either wholly or tangentially. What they also say is they have found comfort from knowing they are not alone – that I managed to express thoughts which they had been at a loss to articulate for themselves. I feel as if I have invited them onto the stage with me where together we have found a collective voice to share our stories of pain, sorrow, confusion but so too of hope, confidence and determination. It has been humbling and heartwarming.

Today, I want to simply take stock of the last four years and pause to acknowledge that I have not just survived, but thrived Alhamdulillah, despite the many times I have felt overwhelmed with worry, guilt and helplessness about life. The decision to commit my thoughts to paper was not an easy one. To be honest, there have many times I have almost convinced myself that some things are better left buried and forgotten. After all, writing a blog like this is to expose my vulnerabilities. Talking out loud about deeper reflections is not a decision to be taken lightly. But I knew that with my passion for writing, this exercise was going to be cathartic. I also might just be able to help another wounded soul out there too. I needed to see the words materialise in front of me as a starting point of acknowledging what I had been through lately. It was to come out of denial. Since I started to write, I have surprised myself occasionally. At times the emotions have been deeper where I least expected; other times I have only given fleeting mention to some incidents and managed to forge ahead without giving them much thought.

In all of it, I have tried my outmost best to stay true to my faith. There is no doubt that the Quran and the Seerah, the biography of the Noble Prophet (peace be upon him), are the guiding lights in the lives of Muslims. Anyone who has a meaningful relationship with those two monoliths will find solutions to their problems and also, inshaAllah, ways to cultivate peace within themselves. Through reading the Seerah. I learnt how the best of Allah’s creation, the Prophet (pbuh) himself, expressed sorrow for the personal tragedies he experienced. Like all humans, he experienced tears and anguish and consequently, deep conversations with Allah. If this was the best of Allah’s creation, then who was I? As a lesser human, I found vindication for my outpouring of grief in those early days. I took my cues from the Prophet (pbuh), learning about his Year of Sorrow, how he was struck with tragedies and grief and yet never wavering in his connection with Allah. Slowly, I was beginning to evolve. This wasn’t a Darwinian evolution; this was a spiritual awakening. Like how every mother knows the pain and discomfort she experiences in the gestation period before she gives birth to a beautiful entity, this was the metaphor for the last few years of my life. I grew confident that slowly but surely, something wonderful was about to be born.

At the same time, I also learnt to be kinder to myself for the many wobbly moments in the understanding of my faith. Islam acknowledges the struggle many people go through especially emotionally and spiritually, when a test or a tragedy unfolds in their lives. It would be foolish to assume we are perfunctory beings and have robotic responses to any given situation. Nobody is born armed with all the knowledge they need to conduct themselves in every eventuality in life. Even if textbook knowledge does exist, theories never have any true meaning unless put into practice. So one of the biggest the testing grounds for my theoretical knowledge, however limited, was to come about in 2016, with my divorce. I was about to be tested like I had never been before.

One of the greatest comforts I found in the past few years, since I have been raising my children without their father, is that Allah allows for expressions of pain, anger, frustration and confusion. He never asked us to deny the complex parts that make us whole. This includes the good, bad and the ugly. The only criterion is that He wants us to work within given boundaries and not transgress our principle beliefs as a Muslim. If I ever had questions about life how has panned out, it was not borne out of a doubt of my identity as a Muslim; it was more me trying to understand what the test was all about – for I always knew it was a test.

In all honesty, my Imaan (faith) did peak and trough whilst I tried to walk through the dark tunnel I had found myself in. I would be a liar if I said it hadn’t. There was a simultaneous guilt for I knew I was vacillating between faith and ingratitude…..and yes, I would argue those two constructs are exact opposites. To have faith is to take the rough with the smooth and be content. But I see now that I had to go through some serious self-questioning to realise that at the end of the day, there is no escaping Allah’s decree. We come from HIm only to return to Him. We cannot deny this.

So, returning to the word ‘meliorism’. I live with a confident optimism that I can make life as positive as I want because it all depends on my perspective. I have already spoken about the glass half full rather than half empty. It is an aphorism I stick by. Positive thoughts lead to positive happenings in life. With that in mind, I hope to infuse hope to those who may perhaps find themselves in a similar situation. When I see the far-flung countries where my blog has been viewed, I secretly hope that someone somewhere has been moved enough to believe I am talking about them as much as myself. Positivity can be contagious. It should be contagious. All the while, we need to be real about what lies within our control and what doesn’t. But to know that I may have touched the life of even one person, and given them hope that they can – and will – thrive again, is worth all the hours I pour into this project. Insha’Allah I want to let others know that everything is going to be OK, if only they will allow it to be.

I am therefore I think

Positive thinking flowering into a great blossom.

SubhanAllah. All great things start with a budding thought; a seed that needs to be planted, germinate and allowed to grow. Whilst we may take credit for an idea in the first place, I would argue that we need to go back even further and ask who inspired us to think that thought at all?

We may often find ourselves thrown in the deep end in life, in situations we never saw coming. It is very normal to feel overwhelmed and even want to throw in the towel when it all gets a bit too much. However, for myself, I have recently found the fighting spirit within me takes over and the demons of self-doubt are eventually overcome. I can only attribute that success to my firm belief in Allah; that nothing He wanted for me was arbitrary; that it was always His plan for the events to unfold in my life as they have.

I have resigned my fate to His mercy and yet I also know that He has given me the human intellect to go figure things out for myself. For instance, I would not sit unperturbed in a house where a fire is raging, hoping for divine revelation on what to do. Innate instinct tells me I must get out quickly! It’s important to know the distinction between accepting desiny or the will of Allah and trying to intercept where you have been given the intellectual capacity to do so. This is not to say the two are always diametrically opposed to each other. No. Yet there are occasions in life where we must resign ourselves to an outcome despite having tried our best to avert it. To know that all life’s tests are part of a bigger plan to see if we emerge a better version of our former selves, is where the proof of the pudding lies. One of the most beautiful things of Islam is knowing that we are only accountable for our intentions and efforts. The outcome per se is not what we are soley judged upon.

Overflowing with Gratitude

It is very easy, when you realise you have most likely lived more than half of your life, to fall into a state of languishment. When the outcome is not quite what we expected, it is often tempting to hang up our boots. The experience of a divorce is traumatic enough to knock the confidence out of most people. However, I have had long enough to reassess what in my life means the most to me. Alhamdulillah, I have found that I had them in my midst all along. The obvious things in that list would be my health, my children, my sanity, my family, my friends, financial stability and a place called home. What more could I ask for? Anything above that is superfluous. It is time to focus once more on the glass half full and simply watch how Allah would pour more into it if I start from a base level of gratitude.

Having liberated myself from the defeatist attitude of apathy and self-pity, I have rekindled a deep desire to set myself higher goals – to move out of my comfort zone to a place where I am now constantly challenging my own self-imposed limitations.

Armed with those thoughts, I have set about making modest but determined changes to my life. Writing this blog has been one of them! I finally understand that of all the people in the world who need to value, love and respect me, is first and foremost, myself. The result has been contagious and no, I am not a megalomaniac high on regular doses of self-adulation. What I mean is this… I have noticed how, holding my own, standing up for what I believe in, refusing to be a crumpled mess on the floor, has positively impacted my boys. Implicitly or explicitly, they have drawn strength from me knowing that they too cannot afford to put the breaks on their own lives but to keep going. Actions speak louder than words. I have noticed how finding the courage to keep moving forward has permeated across to my boys. It has been a wonderful phenomenon watching them watch me and has raised my own self-awareness about my actions and their implications. Not only am I answerable to my Creator but I see how my own children are looking for answers in my actions too. Insha’Allah hope I have not failed anyone – including myself.

All this I have quietly taken on whilst the world continues to reel from the shock of the coronavirus and all the unprecedented changes it has brought to our lives. In our own microcosmic way, my boys and I have already been through and emerged from a lockdown of sorts of our own. We know the feeling of being ostracised, of being mentally stuck in one place, of having liberties taken away from us, of having to exercise extreme patience in the face of adversity and especially of not taking things for granted. We have already run that gauntlet. It has mentally prepared us for yet another lockdown should that be on the cards again.

Positive thinking is that key ingredient which every broken person needs to have before they can set sail again in life. Is there any magic formula for it? I would argue there isn’t. Positive thinking can only truly start after a lot of pain and anger is purged. That takes time and it can’t be forced. But once all that has been flushed out, thereafter we need to develop a receptacle stripped of arrogance. We need to turn to our Creator once more and ask Him to guide us. The ego must be emptied out completely in order to start from ground zero and work upwards. We must be sincere and humble in our efforts. Once those egos are emptied, we will simultaneoulsy notice a lightening of the burdens in life. We can delete, reset and focus. It is a periodic process that needs to be revisited and is necessary to keep us in check. If we hold Life at arm’s length and don’t allow ourselves to be subsumed or consumed by it, for sure we will always be able to view missed opportunities, failures or sadness with a more discerning and healthy detachment. Even if that half full glass gets knocked over and its contents drain away, we will be ready to refill it once more.

The immortal adage coined by Descartes, “Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore I am),” is one I like to turn on its head. As I exist, so I am blessed with the ability to make decisions, good or bad.

What will the Children Say?

In the time I have taken to slowly rebuild my life after divorce, I can confidently say that I have always kept my children and their emotions well within my radar.

Riding the highs and lows of life

I believe mothers have been blessed with an innate ability to go into a kind of defence mode and protect their young.  It is true of perhaps all species in this world.  Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah), even in the early days, I never lost sight of the emotional roller-coaster my children were themselves reluctantly riding.  “Roller-coaster”, though cliché, is an apt expression since it denotes the surging highs and lows and the breakneck speed with which they were trying to figure out their new reality.  It was only by Allah’s grace, they all held on to the white-knuckled ride.  Perhaps I can be bold and even dare to suggest that we have since come off the roller-coaster and have boarded a smoother ride in life Alhamdulillah.  Yet all that was not without a lot of introspection and a simultaneous outward expression of pain.

Learning to release the grip of the wild pendulum

Perhaps because I myself had experienced the better part of my life without my father, I was well-prepared to understand the inevitable challenges that lay ahead for my boys….and Woah! Challenges I did have!  As much as I wanted to reassure them life would find its balance again, I was dealing with my own inner contradictions and volatility.  I was not in a healthy place to preach to others.  I was poised only to intervene if I saw their effervescent emotions were to begin to erupt uncontrollably.  Alhamdulillah, that situation didn’t present itself very often except with my youngest son.  He was only 11 years old when life took us down a completely new road.  He suffered the most being so young.  As such, my energies were exponentially invested in securing his mental stability and wellbeing.  I cannot begin to describe the wildly swinging emotional pendulum he had clutched onto, out of confusion and anxiety.  It zapped a lot of energy from me to slowly loosen his grip and help him climb down and restore his trust in people and life.

It is an unimaginable pain of a mother to be unable to break the fall of a child into a deep dark hole.  Although my boys’ distress never manifested itself in an irreversible manner, there were definitely expressions of anger and frustration, e.g., being victims of bullying at school.  Even when they could not discern the difference between simply readjusting to life in England from Saudi Arabia, I understood they were having to deal with the added layers of readjustment to the new normal.  They had been catapulted from one continent to another; from one culture to another; from being home schooled to going to mainstream British schools; and most importantly, from having two parents to one.  It is a lot for anyone to take on.  

However, my boys have not disappointed me, Alhamdulillah.  They have dealt with their lot admirably and with a maturity not commonly seen amongst their peers. I have seen a genuine humility in the acceptance of their situation.  The best outcome is arguably that, together, we have nurtured an even deeper and mutually respectful relationship between us.  Our collective and individual journeys mean we are each able to read the other’s overall mood and know when not to transgress personal boundaries.  They have become my confidantes as I have theirs.  I have always made it a point to talk to them and with them.  I have always made it important for them to be heard and to express their thoughts without retribution.  It is absolutely necessary that they are given a safe space to air their grievances and know they have the confidence and trust to be respected.  I have never belittled their pain or grievances but I have tried to channel hurt into positive energy. This is where my role comes in.  To dismiss them (the boys) is to lose them.  

Our thoughts and actions are circumscribed by a deep faith in Allah, knowing He will not abandon us even if others have.  It is that knowledge that gives us our security and comfort – not the bank balance in our accounts, or the cars we drive, the home we have or the academic achievements to date.  My plea to any parent on a new solo journey with their children is to listen, love and learn.

%d bloggers like this: