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.

When The Scales Finally Balance Out

Justice – the compensation of all actions, good or bad

When I first set out as a blogger, I promised myself to post a blog once a week, usually on a Sunday when things are a little calm. 

Last Sunday, I reluctantly had to defer a new post but it wasn’t without good reason.  A significant change has recently occurred in my life which I would like to share and will also explain that aberration.

Alhamdulillah, I managed to find myself a part-time job and this week I started teaching online.  Whilst the administrative dimension of this new job is very much like plunging into the depths of an ocean, I have also managed to fumble my way onto the surfboard of hope and new adventures.  I haven’t fallen off yet and am enjoying the ride.  So, this is my reason for being otherwise preoccupied lately. 

But there are another two reasons why I mention my new job. 

Firstly, in a COVID-conscious world, where the words ‘unemployed’, ‘furlough’ and ‘financial ruin’ hang heavy across the rooftops of so many doomed businesses and indeed, homes, I understand how fortunate I am, Alhamdulillah.   The search for a stable income was always on the agenda.  In between, I have always dabbled in private tuition here and there, all of which has been great but none of which has been constant.  Although no job is ever going to be the panacea to all my problems, at least it gives me a purpose beyond my domestic roles.  For now, it is a reassurance that faith in Allah can – and does – morph itself into real change.

The second reason for elaborating on my new job is, in fact, more to do with an uncanny observation: synchronicity.

The very day I started this job, I later discovered, was the same day my former spouse finally left Saudi Arabia.  So, what is the connection I hear you ask?  Although these two events may be interpreted as mere coincidence, I see them as a direct manifestation of Allah’s delivery of justice.  Allah knows that in my early days of distress, I had repeatedly asked for retribution for the injustices I had been served.  It’s not that I had a sinister desire to see another’s downfall.  But I did want to know that the malice directed towards me would not go without consequences.  It certainly didn’t.

I always believed that the cries of a wounded soul are never lost on the Creator.  I knew my prayers and supplication were enough for I understood with total conviction that the power of prayer of the oppressed is something that should be reckoned with by the oppressor.  Whether I articulated any negative feelings on my tongue or not, my heart would not betray my thoughts.  All I needed was the patience to understand my pleas would be answered in a manner and timeframe that suited Allah, Al-Adl.  Indeed, He has responded with a resoundingly clear sign.  

Where I have just entered a modest but positive phase in my life, my (previous) tormentor retreats to a very ordinary existence having lost much more than he has seemingly gained.   The timing was pure perfection.  I feel vindicated. 

It is important to explain the backdrop against which the drama of these last few years has played out.  Saudi Arabia was the country where my ex-spouse had risen to superstar status amongst his own family and friends.  Over the years, I had noticed how that country had transformed him from a state of true humility and inclusiveness towards us (his wife and kids), to a gradual preoccupation with his singular self.   He was steadily feeding into his superior status and creating his own impenetrable bubble of emotional disinterest. I was seemingly becoming less relevant.  The culmination of all that was to detach himself and push me completely out of the frame.  Predictably, the children were always going to be an unavoidable casualty of that family breakdown. 

He was not the first victim of that societal influence.  I know of too many men who have succumbed to a similar fate out there.  The sequence of events goes something like this: a Muslim emigrates to Saudi Arabia with the allure of Islam’s holiest sites and the bonus of a well-paid job.  The intentions are noble to begin with but life becomes very comfortable; people become complacent.  The drive to work hard to achieve things is slowly lost.  So too begins the process of becoming emotionally moribund.  All the while, a comfortable life lulls the individual into a false feeling of being invincible.  Ultimately, everything become dispensable including family. 

To compound things, the country is predicated on a deeply entrenched patriarchal framework which serves to debilitate and demoralise the sanctity of womanhood.  It is important to stress that this structure has no basis in Islam where women, as wives, mothers and daughters, are honoured. It is a brave and unusual man who can remain unaffected by this endemic disease that permeates Saudi society.  The experiences I have had first-hand prove this is not the stuff of fiction.  Even the most self-conscious and self-aware individuals often succumb.  It was in this toxic environment that my ex-husband became inebriated by a desire for complete change.   The rest is history.

When I became the detritus of someone else’s life, I began to doubt my self-worth.  But I got to praying for justice very early on and knew I had to simply wait patiently.  In these last few years, there have been lots of positive changes in my life, directly and indirectly.  The biggest one is that I now use different criteria to assess my own worth – my faith and my service to my Creator.  I have also conscientiously tried to purge myself of any deep bitterness for that would be a form of ingratitude towards Allah Himself.   I liken my personal development to the phases of the moon; I have gone through a rebirth (new moon) and am moving onto a brighter phase (waxing moon).  I pray for the full brightness of Allah’s guidance to illuminate my path from here on.

  

I am a work of Kintsugi

Healed scars as a source of beauty

For many young Muslims looking to get married, the knowledge that “marriage is half their deen* is a belief that expectantly propels them forward with their mission.  What that hadith (prophetic saying) means is that marriage helps a Muslim to be emotionally stable and satisfies a myriad of needs within a legitimate structure.  Therefore, a Muslim is removed from other potentially immoral distractions in life.  Indeed, marriage is a noble aspiration and a decision which should not be taken lightly.   No doubt, in normal situations it brings happiness and security in its many forms to both husband and wife. 

I have had the fortune of knowing the security and happiness that a marriage can bring, Alhamdulillah.  Although that experience was abruptly terminated for reasons I still can’t quite understand, I do know that half my deen ≠ half my faith.  Even on my own, I continue to strive to bring together complex and composite parts to make me a wonderfully complete whole.  As much as I lament my loss, I look in hope to the future. 

Over time, I have been putting my life back together in small but positive steps.  I have read a plethora of material (to rebuild myself) across broad subjects such as narcissism, healing, personal development, mental health and, most importantly to me, maintaining faith in crises.   

Amongst that reading, I have often stumbled across some more tangential material as often usually happens when one is digging deep for answers. This included an article on Kintsugi (golden joinery) – a sedulous and traditional Japanese art that uses a lacquer typically dusted with golden powder to mend broken pieces of pottery.  Once restored, the item not only assumes its glorious past but essentially becomes stronger.   It is perfection in the imperfection.  Kintsugi is the epitome of resilience and reclaimed beauty.  The idea that something should not be discarded simply because it is broken, resonated with me deeply.  My experiences, negative and positive, had been for a purpose after all.   I knew I was going to emerge as a better version of my ‘yester-self’.  I am a work of Kintsugi.

Once broken, now whole

Nobody has ever died of a divorce”. 

Interesting thought.   As with Kintsugi, I don’t recall where I read that sentence but serendipity had struck again. I pondered on the above line for a long while and thought, “How crazily true!”  For sure, divorce causes chaos and grief in many lives but accepting that no ex-husband was worth dying for, unequivocally jolted me out of my emotional coma.  

And so all these chance encounters, of quotes, of art forms, of random conversations, of subjects seemingly unrelated, may seem accidental but I believe they were anything but that.  I mean, why had I never heard of Kintsugi before?   But I already knew the answer – Allah was choosing His means of gradually guiding me back to a place of contentment.  Loose strands were slowly weaving together to become one solid rope of hope. I was beginning my climb.

From that base level of contentment, I have been on a mission to push myself out of my comfort zone and explore my own hidden strengths.  Those strengths may not seem extraordinary but given the lugubrious apathy I had been suffering lately, it was no easy feat to get going.

One such memorable example is a trip to the Peak District in August 2019.  Having hired a 9-seater van and planned an itinerary, I took a large group – my four boys and five of their cousins – on a self-catering holiday to one of England’s most beautifully scenic locations.  We set off in two vehicles onto new adventures.  Being in the company of mostly teenagers, I had slight hesitations about how things would play out especially with ten different personalities.  Would there be silly conflicts or immutable differences?  Would we return miserable rueing the day we ever thought of such an audacious idea?  As the sole mature adult, I also secretly wondered how I would cope in the absence of a confidante to share the task of shepherding that group.  However, I never needed it.  The holiday was a resounding success so much so that we have already planned to go away together again! 

Memories from a wonderful trip to the Peak District

The success of our trip wasn’t attributable to the wonderful sights and sounds per se.  It was also largely because the ten of us brought the best of ourselves to that time and space and effortlessly made it work.  In the time we shared together, I realised I was functioning just fine as the head of this motley crew.   They reciprocated wonderfully by allowing me inclusivity into their worlds so much so there were many times I forgot my parental status amongst them.  No boundaries were crossed and yet the fraternal fluidity amongst us was seamlessly present. 

Unbeknown to the others, the planning and execution of the Peak District holiday was an ambitious goal I had set myself.  In some ways, it was a microcosm of my life.   It is quite difficult to put into words.  Suffice to say, I needed to prove to myself that I could handle new situations and not simply get through them but excel.  As a Muslim, everything I do in life is circumscribed by my faith.  Yet that faith should not be viewed as a limiting factor.  On the contrary, understanding it helps me distinguish the impossible from the possible.  That is why I am now insha’Allah (God willing) on a path to create a bigger world of possibilities  

deen* – a way of life for Muslims which encompasses religious law, character and beliefs

On a beautiful path to new adventures

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

Divorce only happens to those who are in abusive relationships or just hopelessly mismatched, right?  Or so I thought.  I never imagined that this fate would befall me.  After all, I thought my marriage was quite strong and functioning fine.  But I was given a rude awakening and my Happy was replaced with a huge Hole.   I will never forget the first time when the word ‘divorce’ was uttered by my ex-husband.  We were out walking and he casually mentioned it as something we both might want to consider.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  It was as if someone had just poured cement in my shoes.  My feet felt like solid blocks of concrete, unable to move…. 

                                                             Surah Baqarah: 216

Eighteen years, four children, three thousand miles and twenty-six cargo boxes later, my life post-divorce was about to enter into new unchartered territory.  Despite my desperate attempts to avert this outcome, here I was and there was absolutely nothing I could do to reverse the course of events.  The guillotine had come crashing down on my marriage and my head was a constantly spinning top in that debris.   

Even now, the pain of those memories resurfaces from time to time.  However, slowly, over the months and years, life has surely regained a sense of balance.  I have learnt to try take back control of my life and completely remove the negative influences.   Alhamdulillah (praise be to Allah), the harmony which I thought would forever elude me, has gradually found its way back.  No doubt, my many private conversations with Allah have helped me in my darkest hours.  Whilst He may not speak to me in a way a teacher does with his/her student, I know that the peace I feel within is His way of reassuring me that He is there responding to my call.  Nothing escapes His attention.

There is one other huge element of my life which has been pivotal in my recovery.  That is my four boys, Alhamdulillah.  In any divorce, children are the inadvertent victims and have the unsavoury job of watching the drama unfold and yet have no right to talk.   I promised myself that, despite my own inner turmoil, they would be given the right to as normal a life as possible. Their tenacity has been admirable. 

In the early days, I had many moments where I had let the façade of normalcy come down and regrettably, my children witnessed moments where I became madly unleashed.  Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do to stop my emotions from peaking.  It was difficult enough to be strong for myself let alone four other young people in my care.  However, one day I was fortunate to have had a conversation with a friend who had also gone through a divorce years before.  She gave me a piece of advice which would hugely impact me.  She told me to never let the boys see a mother who is weak as they would be taking their cues in life from me.   They were depending on me as their remaining role model. I needed to be strong if not for anything but to pass that baton of strength to my children so that they could deal with the ravages of life for themselves.  It was an absolute turning point and I am forever grateful for that advice.  At that point, I told myself I was no longer a single mother but a “double parent”.  I would compensate the loss of their father.

In the most unlikely places, beauty will persist.

So, the past few years have brought joy too.  The five of us have taken a seemingly tragic situation and, together, turned it around and made something beautiful.  Of course, as their mother, I have had a watchful eye on all aspects of their wellbeing – educational, emotional and spiritual. We had always been close but in retrospect, perhaps their father bailing out was the opportunity for us to grow even closer.  Together we have ranted, asked questions and even tried to provide answers about how life panned out for us. It’s here that I must pause for a moment.

Many people would argue that I am wrong to give an audience to the rants of my children, claiming it would be encouraging disrespect towards their father etc. I beg to differ. I saw back then, and still do, that allowing my children to grieve and vent their frustrations is both a human need and a cathartic process. We have had countless frank conversations about emotional pain, confusion, anger, sadness and even guilt.  More importantly, I wanted my children to know their opinions mattered. Besides, how could I tell them to hold their silence when I myself was bursting to explode? It would have been a complete hypocrisy to expect that from them. Each knew the other was finding their own way to a place of acceptance of loss. As time moved on, we allowed ourselves to reflect on things gone by and not allowed ourselves to be stuck in the quagmire of the past.

My sons have been the best counsellors I could have asked for.  They are usually in tune with my emotions as much as I am with theirs.   I have endeavoured to make happiness a palpable reality for them and, therefore, for me.  Life will not collapse into chaos simply because their father opted out. I refuse to let them suffer the stigma of divorce and be deemed as the pariahs of society.  They have every reason to hold their heads high and demand to be counted as fully fledged members of society. Some of the finest men in history have been raised without their fathers. My own personal belief is that is precisely because their mothers have restored within them a greater sense of compassion and humility.

Happiness is not about plying our children with gifts; it is more the lesson that we are grateful for the circumstances we find ourselves in, knowing that many others are worse off than ourselves.  In my own case, rather than waste my energies on the many “if only” situations, I resolved to invest in something much more worthwhile – my present reality which includes my sons.  I have watched in awe as they mature into young adults with a nuanced perspective on life which so many of their peers do not have.  Through adversity they have learnt kindness, humility and patience – and this is where Allah’s wisdom comes together.   

It is usually in our most difficult times that we turn to Allah for help.  Therefore, I take a very philosophical view to life.  Never become too attached to anything be it people, commodities or a given situation….and yes, that includes my own children. Even though they are the focal point of my life and I am heavily invested in them, I am mindful of the fact that they too will one day pursue their own desires. I don’t expect reciprocal affection simply because a mother’s love can never be matched. Happiness has many formulae but, ultimately, it depends on us to find it and make it work.   Any adversity we encounter is an added opportunity to recognise Allah as the real focus and demonstrate our reliance upon Him and nobody else. 

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