Readiness for Ramadan

A month like no other

The blessed month of Ramadan is almost upon us and my phone has already been exploding with notifications of upcoming webinars, lectures and tips for a productive month of worship and reward. As well-meaning as all of this is, I actually find it sends me into a state of frenzy and anxiety.

In an age where religion is easily dispensed through online platforms and is available at the click of a button, I am also cynical about being overwhelmed by it all.  It begs the question that if I watch one video after another, telling me how to use my time in Ramadan wisely, then surely the first step is to cut back on the videos themselves?  Too many scholars with too much advice and too much screen time can sometimes feel like binge watching in itself.  Passive learning on this scale leaves little time to get up and actually do something myself. 

I guess I want to go back to basics and try to fulfil the rights of this month without the intervention of the internet.  Like how an armchair traveller can claim to have seen the world without ever having left their seat, so too, we live in a time where people can have religion delivered to their fingertips without ever having to interact with a teacher face to face.  This isn’t to dismiss the positive outcomes that online platforms can offer.  However, these days it all seems too easy.  Islam is now delivered at our doorsteps like a pizza through Deliveroo.  We have become detached from the process of its making and are only interested in the final product if it is palatable to our tastes.    

Back to the Original Source

I sometimes wonder how the earlier generations of Muslims managed to motivate themselves through Ramadan without the advent of the internet.  They did not face the challenges of detoxification from social media and 24/7 newsfeeds on their phones.  Perhaps they had other challenges like finding clean sources of water just to function with their daily chores.  Whatever their challenges may have been, surely, scaling back from a fast pace of life was not one of them. 

Quite frankly, I do not wish to receive any more prescriptions for a successful Ramadan.  We all know that too many medicines can do more damage than good.  This year, my plan is very simple: I want it to be a month of conversations between myself and my Creator.  He will speak to me through the Quran as I aim to read it, inshaAllah.  Similarly, I plan to speak to Him through prayers and supplications.  I look forward to an extended period of stillness and quiet where I can enjoy hearing my own thoughts in my head which I pray will lead back to my Creator.  To accomplish this, I do not need another medium to intervene.  It will require my own personal effort and sacrifice.

So, as Ramadan approaches, I make no apology for not having prepared a food menu for the month.  It is enough that I know I can open my fridge an hour before maghrib and find things to put a meal together, Alhamdulillah.  I have no demands on me as mother to cook particular foods.  I would never accept that anyway.  In fact, I have never understood why households prepare fancy items in culinary terms when this is not the focus of this month.  

InshaAllah, this will be a quiet month away from any high drama of the world beyond my four walls.  It is the simplicity of the routine that I relish the most.  It is, no doubt, an exhausting time especially as we near its end but the rewards we hope to accrue are more than worth the sacrifices we make to achieve them.

I wish my fellow Muslims peace in this blessed month and pray we take the harvest of this month to sustain us through the time beyond. Ameen.

Less is More

No Present like Time

The best present is the present

It’s a gift we are all given yet most of us are unaware of.  Time.  We squander so much of it either living in the past or worrying about the future.  We’re often not content with just being in the moment and enjoying what we have now.

I have witnessed my own mother stagnate for the last 40 years or so since she separated from my father.  Unable to mentally move on, her life has always been anchored to – and weighed down by – her past.  If I could compare it to a ship, I would say there have been many times she has let herself become submerged with sorrow and gone under; she has let the bitterness overwhelm her and cripple her ability to move on.  What is both bizarre and frustrating for me, is that she tries to mirror her own reality onto me.  She has convinced herself that I have entered a similar state of emotional paralysis and am unable to free myself from the fetters of my past. 

Alhamdulillah, nothing could be further from the truth.  Yes, I had to go through the necessary dark period of shock, denial then acceptance.  However, I can confidently say that I am out of that tunnel and soaking up the sun.  I will not give my life over to someone else twice and especially not in their absence.  Time is a gift I do not want to surrender without using it wisely.

I enjoyed many happy moments and experiences in my marriage but those days are over.  Now I have to create a new definition of ‘happy’.  Isn’t it a curious coincidence that the word ‘time’ means  ‘the present’?  A synonym for ‘gift’.  It surely is something to marvel at.  A gift given for free by Allah.  He determines the longevity of our lives and as much as it is a gift, it is incumbent upon us to take the challenge to use this gift sensibly.

As much as I don’t wish to get stuck in the quagmire of the past, neither do I want to look with hopelessness at unattainable future goals which will never be met.  Take, for example, the dream of buying a large family home. Rather than wallow in self-pity, I’d be far more productive if I target shorter-term goals within my reach.  It’s not that I dare not set my sights too high for fear of failure.  It’s just that I understand being kind to myself, giving myself workable goals, is part of the longer journey to recovery.  Setting and achieving goals do not always move in a linear dimension in sync with time but move they will, insha’Allah.

As long as you keep moving with time….

I have heard of the adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.”  SubhanAllah, I could not agree more.  I have been most productive when under pressure to do many things at once.  It’s taken me these four or five years to finally realise that Allah wanted me to find my own way in life.  Since I have been on my own, I have been the master of my own time.  With Allah’s help, I get to determine the course of my day, my week and even year.  Having that responsibility has made me more accountable to myself about how I use my time.  Not only do I get to prove to myself I can do things on my own but, more importantly, I am learning and honing my own personal skills in time management Alhamdulillah.

Sometimes gifts don’t come wrapped in boxes with pretty bows. Sometimes they can’t even been seen or touched.  But too often, they go unnoticed.   In recent months and years, I have preoccupied myself with trying to get more out of my time than ever before.  I have seen too many people waste their lives lamenting on the past they had or the future they never will.  If I can get through each day without any major drama, having been able to have met my basic needs, I can say it was a successful day.  I have exhausted the ‘if only’ scenarios and I know that kind of talk is only from Shaytan himself.  I trust that Allah knows that where I am right now is the best place for me.  With that, I accept His gift of time graciously.

Should I Forgive to Forget or Forget so that I may Forgive?

Questions constantly move back and forth in my mind

This is one of those conundrums that I have often found myself in when pondering over the sense of having been wronged.

For the most part, I think I forgive so that I may forget.  I have forgiven all those who have hurt me knowingly or unknowingly.  To be honest, the only impetus for that is my own selfish need to be forgiven by Allah.   Take this analogy:  If a pilot knows he is in danger and needs to land his plane safely to save his life, at that point he is not meticulously counting or fretting about every individual passenger on that plane.  They will inevitably benefit from a positive outcome if he makes a successful landing.  They are simply accessories in the bigger picture.   Similarly, the focus of my personal dilemma is me and the need to purge my own self.  It is not about other individuals per se.  I know my faith teaches me to forgive my aggressor if I wish that Allah would forgive me in return.  If I wish to receive Allah’s mercy, then I need to learn how to show mercy too towards others, even when they did not necessarily deserve it.

To forgive first, unequivocally, is a huge step towards helping oneself forget the unpleasant past.  My own theory is that recognising this link comes with understanding the ego.  I do not believe it is the instinctive thing to do for many people. I believe the ego is very much a dimension of us that belongs totally to this world.  As such, it is extremely difficult to keep it in check.  It is one of many worldly pursuits and concerns which are often the downfall of us all.  Although the ego is not a tangible thing, that does not make it any less real.  We all need to be aware of its existence.

It is for precisely this reason, that I have been training myself to try and forgive first.  Fight the ego. Bury the past.  Draw a line under it and leave it there.  The surprising result in doing this is that I can then learn to forget.  Once I can distance myself from previous events, then perhaps the memories will fade like a sepia photograph, to the point where one day they will completely disappear.  Then, as I forget a bit more, I can accommodate more forgiveness.  It is a repeating cycle.

Some people believe a precursor to forgiving others is to try forget the harm they have caused.  Thus, there is no forgiveness until that negative experience has been completely erased from their memory.  Arguably, to try and forget something ever happened can be viewed as a form of emotional suppression.  Some may even say it is unhealthy.  Surely, being open about our feelings and emotions is cathartic in itself?  Yet, I would also argue that if I suffocate the bad memories long enough, maybe I will deprive negative thoughts the opportunity to develop and wrap their tendrils around my mind. 

The simple truth is, we are an embodiment of contradictions.  It is only Allah that can guide our hearts to peace.

We all have egos and we know ego is often a synonym for arrogance, vanity and pride and it’s for that reason I cannot let it win.  However, where I find myself seeking forgiveness for others, I also have found that it does cleanse my own heart and a certain peace occupies the ugliness that once lingered there.  In turn, I can actually go for long periods where I forget the cause of that pain and move on and live in the present where I would very much like to be.  So, in that sense, yes, I do forgive in order that I may forget too.  But it is a work very much not complete.

When I say “I think I have forgiven”, I make no mistake about my choice of words.  That is because over the months and years, I have often vacillated about where I stand when assessing past incidents.  I am a mere mortal; I don’t wear a seraphic halo around my head.  I am in constant battle with my ego and my intellect.  Emotional pain can be buried but, like a weed, it can also erupt from the depths of a dark place and find its way to the surface again so soon.  It does not take much to be catapulted back to the past.  The memory of a conversation, a photograph, a favourite dish, a place previously visited…  These are all fiendish reminders of the past. 

So, in a very convoluted way, to answer my own question at the beginning of this post, I cannot say I subscribe to one or the other.  My views are very much connected to my circumstances and emotional state and it is a cycle that keeps going round.  The only one thing that is clear is that the process of inner cleansing is a long, arduous one.  I know for some, it has taken years before they can finally say they have sealed the past and moved on.  I am not quite there yet though, Alhamdulillah, I can see a lot of progress has been made.  However, Alhamdulillah, I am at least always conscious of the need to rise above my own short-sighted pride.  Instead, I must learn to appease the soul. 

A Lesson in Emotional Self-Defence

The ingredients of a successful marriage

If there’s one thing that I am grateful for since my divorce, it is the return of total independence in my life.  I mean independence from another human being.  That is not to suggest that I suffered miserable subjugation at the hands of another.  However, it is true that whilst I was married, I gave up a huge part of myself and let another person lead the way and dictate our direction in life.  Perhaps that is not unusual in any marriage.  It is called compromise, though, arguably, women do it more than men.

Since my former husband and I parted ways, I have learnt to restore control over my own life and major decisions.  To the best of my abilities, those decisions are circumscribed by my faith and identity as a Muslim.  The consciousness with which I need to be aware of my relationship with Allah has been heightened, Alhamdulillah.  I can no longer rely on someone else to steer myself and my children into the realm of religiosity. As a by-product of the new situation I find myself in, I have had to protect my emotional state too.  This is because without a sound mental existence I would be unable to make financial decisions, support my children through their spiritual and academic journeys and learn to run a household at all levels. 

I no longer have the protection of and reliance on another person – the one person who I never expected to disappoint so many people so extraordinarily.  Being left exposed, as such, I have had to raise my emotional defences even higher.  The drawbridge has been lifted.  The fortress of my mind is under guard. 

Divorce has brought with it cynicism about many (but not all) Muslim men.  I am aware that is an unfortunate stance but it is born out of too many negative experiences and encounters.  No doubt, people will say I am simply bitter.  On the contrary, my opinion is the result of personal empirical evidence garnered over years. 

Perhaps the worst offenders are those men who purport to serve as bastions of Islam.  They are all too ready to educate the rest of us about religion.   However, these same people are not able to stand criticism of their own actions.  Religion is something they dispense to others.   At best, when they speak, it proves their oblivion to the innate female disposition. At worst, they have utter contempt.  Sadly, they have hijacked religion to suit their own male agenda and needs.

When I was notified of divorce through an emotionless email, I realised I was never, not once, given the opportunity to at least express my version of events.  My right to at least be heard by the two male witnesses, even if the outcome would not have changed, was never offered to me.  This is the least courtesy that I could have been afforded before the gavel came down upon my marriage.   It begs the question: “Is the singular perspective of a man, on his own marriage, all that is required for the portentous decision to allow it to be dissolved?”

Reverberations of the gavel still resonate now

As such, I felt like I had been taken to a slaughterhouse and thrown out as a carcass to rot.  I may as well not have been a human.  However, I do not decry my fate of divorce.  Alhamdulillah, I accept Allah wants the best for me.  I do, however, complain to the men about how it was delivered.  Given the gravity of such a life-changing decision, it is important for others to recognise that sometimes the end does not justify the means.

This brings me to another thought…  A lot of publicity is given for women to be trained in physical self-defence in the event of an attack.  However, less is said about the emotional self-defence a woman must prepare herself for in life.  I learnt this lesson late.   Too many women are not taught their right to speak or to politely dissent.  To compromise no end or be silent are the alleged hallmarks of a great woman.  The corollary is that to go against these traits must be a sign of deviation from Islamic teachings. Right?   

In the years since my divorce, I have taught myself emotional self-defence.  I have begun to discern the difference between male bigotry vs. altruistic concerns. Women – you need to protect your mental state.  A good place to start is to know the tenets of your Islamic faith.  Weed out the cultural nonsense.  Find your voice.  Be masters of your own financial status.  Know that your own dreams are worth pursuing.  Your goals are just as important as anyone else’s.  Sacrificing it all for the sake of others, even the children, can create resentment that manifests itself years later.  It is so important that a woman’s personal goals remain alive and run parallel to everyone else’s.  The myth that it’s OK if she stagnates as the ultimate act of altruism is absurd.

No more excuses!

The beauty of living independently is that I now govern my own life – from the everyday tedious things to the larger, longer-term decisions.  The only person I need to please is Allah – not the irrational whims of another human.  Using my own experience, I would like to educate women to let them know that life is not a guaranteed straight road.  Around every bend, there will be a surprise.  Chances are you will run into a head-on collision with the very person you put your total trust in.  Be prepared.  Always. 

Every Day is Mother’s Day

It is a curious Western tradition that today sees many people around the world celebrate their Mother.  There is no doubt that the intention behind the idea of singling out a specific day to dedicate to all mothers, in recognition of their unconditional love and service to their families, is a commendable one.  However, I am a cynic.

The status of Mother is, unquestionably, the highest platform that any woman can hope to achieve.  I would argue it is nobler than any paid job.  A mother takes on her role with a dignified sense of duty and knows this is a responsibility for life.  She has committed herself to the most difficult job in the world without any previous experience – a meeting of two extreme situations.  Yet, more often than not, many wonderful women take the role in their stride and flourish. 

As individual as we all are, so too are the ways in which we raise our children.  There is no agreed formula with which we work.  There is no parenting handbook.  There is no guarantee things will turn out OK.  It is a pure labour of love which leads to a constant tussle of decisions of the heart vs. the head on a daily basis.  No other job in the world calls for so many ad hoc decisions.  There is no written contract for guidance, no remunerations and no chance of promotion.

I understand Mother’s Day does not undermine the other 364 days of the year where women also wear the label of motherhood.  I acknowledge the day is an opportunity to highlight the noble position and sacrifices a mother makes on behalf of her children and family.  Yet, to be honest, this is a sentiment that should be consistent and pervade throughout the year.  At no time should this fact be forgotten. Ever. 

In my observations of Western society, however, I see that Mother’s Day, (like so many other man-made, farcical celebrations such as Valentine’s Day), is a very disingenuous display of affection.  Ostensibly, some fuss is made for mothers but this is a lamentable tribute to the uncountable days, weeks and years a mother invests in her entire family and not just her children.  When Mother’s Day is over, weary mothers put their apron strings back on and return to the dreary routine once more.  They are taken for granted yet again.    Meanwhile, their children can feel pleased with their own meagre efforts of repayment.

In stark contrast, a Muslim knows that every day is Mother’s Day.  Kind gestures to our mothers, such as giving flowers, serving breakfast and just being there, are ones which a Muslim mother should be able to take for granted.  Always.  These are some of the most base level things a mother can ask for.  Never, in a functioning Muslim household, is there a moment where a mother is displaced from her pedestal and set down elsewhere.  As long as she respects and honours her own position, she can safely assume the reciprocal relationship follows naturally.

Islam acknowledges the sacrifices a mother makes from the moment of conception of her child to the responsibility she embraces for the rest of her, or her children’s, lives.  In a previous blog post, I quoted the famous Prophetic hadith (saying), where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), when asked three times about who is most deserving of good treatment, replied on each occasion, “Your mother”.  On the fourth occasion, he replied, “Your father.”

There is a very interesting point to note here.  I read the hadith as a stark warning for men to beware of their own lesser position relative to women.  It is a tragedy that too many Muslim men walk the Earth with puffed up pride and seek to undermine their womenfolk when Islam does exactly the opposite.  Isn’t that an irony?  Whilst it is important for mothers not to abuse this divine favour upon them, it is equally important for husbands and fathers to understand that the hierarchy has already been set.  Alhamdulillah, a mother’s honorary position, in the eyes of Allah, and even her children, is unwavering.  This is very much nature as it is nurture.

And the other way around too…

So, for me, Alhamdulillah, every day is a day in which I celebrate motherhood with my children.  We have our angry outbursts, our disagreements and even moody silences.  However, Alhamdulillah, these are the rarer moments that punctuate the mutual respect and love that flows between us.  I may not get served breakfast in bed but I am served respect and love on a daily basis, Alhamdulillah.  The intangible items speak volumes compared to the tangible ones.

Anyone reading my post may totally disagree with me.  But I accept that.  Life teaches us to have different perspectives on any one theme.  I prefer consistency in expressions of affection rather than short-lived, fake outbursts.  The longer-term consistent actions are testimony to a deeper respect than the shallow, temporary gestures.  Am I too demanding?  For the selfless sacrifices I have made for many years as a mother, and now as a mother on her own, I believe I am well within my rights.

Compassion through Computers?

In this digital age, most of us are compelled to conduct our personal and professional transactions through the faceless and soulless online frontier.  We have been sucked up into a voluminous vortex from which there is no escape.  Though it has its advantages, it comes as no surprise that a lot of people lament the loss of real human interactions in everyday life.  Unfortunately, trying to resist modern changes is like rowing backwards in a canoe on the edge of a waterfall.

No faces with the online interface

There is one particular digital trend amongst all the others which leaves me a little uncomfortable.  It is the concept of the online charitable donation.  The effortless task of sending money to a charity via the click of a button, in the knowledge that it will translate into relief for some hapless soul on the other side of the world, is, of course, a satisfying one.  It eases my conscience and for a time I can convince myself I am engaged with those less fortunate than myself; I reassure myself that my niyyah (intention) was a good one.  Insha’Allah (God willing), it will be rewarded.  Isn’t that what matters?  However, soon after, I know I return to my oblivious and disconnected state again.

But perhaps the online means does justify the end.  Perhaps I am being too hard on myself.  Perhaps I am my own worst critic.  Allah knows I have had to reluctantly succumb to this dispassionate method of giving.  After all, I don’t have the means to travel overseas to the places where help is needed most and personally deliver assistance.  However, I am beginning to tire of the vacuum of emotion in the process of charitable giving.  I feel I want to do more.  I would like to pretend that the reason is inexplicable, but the truth is I know why I don’t feel totally satisfied.

It should always be more about just money

The first reason is that by seeing or meeting others less fortunate than myself, I want to be reminded of my good fortune.  This exposure would, I believe, keep me rooted in gratitude and humility.  I would hope that I could not forget Allah’s favours upon me if I had the opportunity to regularly meet those in destitution.  My inflated ego might be kept in check. 

Yet more importantly, I have recently become restless with the desire to do more than congratulate myself over a simple bank transfer.  My own opinion of meaningful charity is the type which comes at a price to myself.  Not just in terms of money, but the type which causes slight inconvenience since this is where the challenge really lies.  Charity is often narrowly viewed as donations of money.   We know, however, that it can encompass a myriad of things such as donations of food, clothes, mentoring and even just our time.  This is the kind of charity I have always wanted to get involved with ever since I can remember.  My life’s ambition was to be part of an NGO out in the field where I can see results coming into effect. 

Although I have worked for a large charity in an office setting, my heart always yearned to be personally involved in the places where the recipients are most in need.  It is not that I want to massage my own ego or to be told I am doing a great thing.  I have simply wanted to empathise directly with others and to be witness to their successes.

Cynics would say that kind of experience would become more about me than the recipients.  However, I would argue that the kind of help I would like to be part of is not a short-term, ephemeral fix.  I would like to be part of long-term grassroots projects which give people dignity and independence.  Placing a bag of rice in the hands of a poor person is admirable but sometimes it is the intangible gifts we give that elevate others which are so much more meaningful.

I have hope that I will be able to do such work soon insha’Allah.  As my time becomes more my own, I pray I can make my dream a reality.  Of course, how much of my life remains is an unknown but this should be more reason to push on rather than give up.  Like many women, I have surrendered a large chunk of my life to being a wife and mother.  Though the first role no longer exists, the second, more important one, remains and always will. 

Last year, I made a vow to myself to step out of my comfort zone and BE the change that I wanted to see in this world.  I started with this blog – my lifeline to sanity, my soliloquy on a very public stage.  It has brought me more healing than I care to imagine.  I also started a new job in teaching where I see my work underpinned by the concept of humanity.  This is the kind of sadaqa (charity) which I can do from my own home.  The human and personal transactions are absolutely core.  

Be The Change' Mahatma Gandhi Motivational Quote Poster
Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you

Whilst right now I cannot be out in the field pursuing my dreams of educating children in far-off places, or building a shelter, or helping women become masters of their own financial well-being, I know all hope is not lost.  I can incorporate charitable deeds in my daily interactions right now, right here.  Those deeds are not limited to humans. They involve animals and even plants.  Online transactions often lack the presence of all aspects of our being.  Long after the bank transfer has been made, the compassion needs to live on.

One of my greatest wishes is to have my sons accompany me should I have the opportunity to see a project through.  I am sure it will make an indelible imprint on their young minds.  We have already experienced hardships when we lived out in Western Africa and, for that, I have no regrets.  Whether they acknowledge it or not, it has definitely shaped their personality to some extent today. 

My utmost belief is that travelling is the best education as it gives us exposure to things we could only ever had read about from a safe and detached distance.  Having seen and lived amongst some of the poorest people in the world, I am grateful to them for teaching me what to value in life. 

The truth is, I have come to learn that the poorest people are, in fact, often some of the richest.  I will let the reader figure that one out for themselves…

Unsticking the Stigma

Looking at the blog title, it should not come as a surprise that my topic today is about Divorce.  Yes, I say Divorce with a capital ‘D’.  This is because the impact of it can’t be overemphasised. Why am I still dwelling on this topic given it’s been almost five years since that decisive turning point in my life? 

The truth is, a momentous event such as Divorce lives with you forever.  Yes, you can – and do – rebuild your life in many ways, but the ramifications of it linger much longer than the actual deed itself.  However, on this occasion, I don’t wish to talk about my own personal experience.  I have returned to this inescapable subject only because I recently have been reading online stories of Muslim women who are either on the brink of Divorce or have just gone through one.  Although nobody’s experience is identical, their personal stories resonate with me to a lesser or greater extent.  My heart secretly weeps for those who are still trying to figure out what went wrong or, worse still, are still making excuses for their husbands who deserve anything but that.  I ask myself, “Where did these women lose their grip on their own identities and become subsumed by another human being?” Will they understand that life will continue and that things may even be better without the bane of their frustrations?”

Somewhere in their marriages, over the years, it is clear their main purpose in life has diminished to being a subservient entity in the service and at the whims of their husbands.  I speak not with the emotions of a furious feminist or a misaligned misandrist.  I speak from a place of being able to recognise a little bit of my past self in these women.  If only I could convince them they will be fine if Divorce is indeed the fate written for them.

Sometimes Seeing is Not Believing

This is why I write here in my personal space within this blog.  I always hope that I can elevate someone’s spirits and let them know that my conversation, though not addressing them directly, is anything but impersonal.  I am talking to all my bereaved sisters who may feel that empathy and sympathy from others have run dry. 

I strongly believe that coming to terms with Divorce is not just about the emotional and financial readjustments one has to make with life.  Some of us women, for some bizarre reason, even skip that scenario and fast forward to questions about how we are going to face society.  Culture teaches us to fret about irrelevant matters first:  “How do we explain what went wrong?  Who will have sympathy with us? Where shall I say my ex-husband is now?”  In a cruel world, we women become the victim twice.  The first is when we and our children are abandoned by our husbands.  The second, arguably even more unjustifiable, is when we are abandoned by wider society.  In the immediate aftermath of Divorce, we carry the burden of guilt or shame for not being ‘good enough’ to hold onto our husbands because, of course, had we ‘done things right’, these men would never have left us in the first place.  Right?  Meanwhile, the reputation of most men who initiate Divorce on dubious grounds, remains intact.  They were simply exercising their right to leave.  It was nothing more, nothing less.  A “Get out of Jail Free” card. 

How does one even measure the ‘immediate aftermath’ of Divorce?  I know, for myself, I perhaps have only just exited it after four or so years.  Admittedly, how I arrived at this peculiar conclusion is because I now know I can confidently say, “I am Divorced,” and do not flinch any more or feel a strange contortion of my face when I utter those words.  I have been peeling the stigma away until it has finally washed off, Alhamdulillah

I am not going to live the remainder of my life as a pariah.  I already know the discrimination I face, subtle or direct, as a Muslim, a person of colour, and a woman.  I refuse to let Divorcee be another label to be brandished with, not least by those in my inner circle who should be protecting me from any derision.  Intrinsically, I have not changed since becoming a single person again.  If a society only deals with a woman favourably through the lens of marriage, then that society has not progressed at all.  Unfortunately, it is also the reason why many women remain trapped in loveless marriages all for the sake of being able to feel validated with the title of ‘wife’.

I take comfort from my own Islamic heritage and the knowledge of the Seerah (the biography of the Prophet (peace be upon him).  I am reminded of the early Muslims and how Islam never denigrated the status of a divorced Muslim woman.  The first and most beloved of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) wives, Khadijah (one of the Mother of the Believers), was herself divorced and yet he did not let this deter him from marrying her.   There are many other examples in Islamic history too numerous to mention here.

For now, I would like to say that, on behalf of all Muslim women out there, and others, I hold my head up high.  I will never allow myself or my children to be marginalised on account of being the inadvertent victims of another man’s whims.  Alhamdulillah, I understand it is up to me to define myself and not be defined.  I also know that I belong to Allah only and to Him is my return.

Surely We Belong to Allah and to Him we will return. Quran, 2:156

Learning Not to Judge at Face Value

Diverse but One

I was recently asked, “Where do you get the inspiration to write your blog posts?”  To be honest, for the most part, I rarely plan what the conversation for each week will be.  My inspiration usually occurs during an epiphanous moment I have in the middle of a casual conversation with someone or when I reflect on an event that has just passed. 

Inspiration from introspetion

Today is no exception.  My musings arise from an online meeting I had earlier in the day with members of a small Muslim charity.  I believe I was the newest member of the team.  I was simply struck by the ethnic diversity represented in that one body of people – from Singapore to Sudan and Ireland to Iran.  I was just spellbound!  Aside from the main purpose of the meeting itself, I sat in secret awe at how wonderful Allah’s creation truly is, SubhanAllah (praise be to Allah).   My mind drifted to how I can see what amazing things humans can achieve if they break down their own stubborn stereotypes or insularities.

As Muslims, we are united by the commonality of our faith.  We understand that Islam is the way of life that abrogates all other previous Abrahamic dispensations.  We do not deny the previous prophets.  In fact, we revere them and the validity of the core tenets of those faiths.  What Islam achieved, however, above and beyond any other religion, was to teach that there is no superiority of one race over another, of man over woman, or one tribe over another, except in piety and obedience to Allah.   We know this is true as it is a statement that formed part of the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) final khutbah (sermon) during the Farewell Pilgrimage or Hajj.  No other prophet had singlehandedly delivered a message that was universal to all humankind.

From my own experience, having married into another culture altogether, I knew I had been freed from the stifling shackles of my own.  Aspects of any culture which discriminates against other people based on superficial criteria, such as appearance and social status, is in direct conflict with Islam.   Although culture per se as a manmade construct is not inherently in conflict with religion, it is true that the undesirable parts of it have to be weeded out.  Weeding is a regular process.  It takes constant introspection to remind ourselves not to succumb to our own prejudices and preconceptions.

Regular maintenance to keep the balance right

Upon learning that my marriage did not survive, I heard others insinuate that it was precisely because I was naïve or had too much of a lofty ideal about crossing cultures; I was trying to pretend it was not a contributing factor in the death of my marriage.  I take a strong stance against that view simply because I know a good many monocultural marriages that have also not stood the test of time.  There is no rhyme or reason to these things.  Whatever my own personal story is, I will always maintain that Islam has taught me open-mindedness and tolerance towards others – even those who are not Muslim or of any religious disposition.  Faith should not beget arrogance or any kind of complacency.  I know it is only Allah’s mercy that keeps me tied to my faith.  It could all change in the blink of an eye if I take my finger off the pulse for even a brief moment.

Having lived on both sides of the fence, so to speak, I can confidently say that finding my faith and trying to delve deeper into understanding it, has actually liberated me of so much nonsense in my life.  Today, I have friends who are Muslim and of such a beautiful array of ethnicities and colours.  I have friends who are not Muslim too and we respect one another and agree to disagree.  We all add to each other’s nuanced perspective on life itself.  My world is not the distorted and ugly picture played out on the media – of Muslims constantly in a default position of hatred towards everyone else.  This is absolutely the antithesis of what I have come to learn and love.

From my tiny platform here, I hope I am heard loud and clear by all that I have learnt to see beauty in all things – in people, in nature and in Allah Himself.  I could not have done this had Allah not taught me how.  Insha’Allah my voice, with many other rational Muslims, will drown out the pitiable moans of the antagonists, those who claim to speak about Islam without even ever having lived it.  Unfortunately, that group extends to even those who stand reluctantly under the banner of Islam because it is a spot they inherited from their parents, rather than earned it for themselves. 

Alhamdulillah, I have seen critics of my own life choices finally eating their words.  It has been a great test of my patience to have had to wait for that day but I can testify that the fruit is very sweet.  And it is not a question of victory for me. It is a victory that belongs to Allah alone.

Patience For and With the Good

Patience is Beautiful

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

We also believe, as Muslims, that any suffering endured with grace and dignity in this life is a means of purification and redemption on the other side of this life, insha’Allah.  To summarise, we have often witnessed that whilst going through a negative life experience, it is encumbent upon us to have patience.  Whilst that is an admirable goal, I have recently become more aware of how it is only part of the whole picture.

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

To be honest, I never gave the idea of being patient in good times much thought.  However, the COVID-19 pandemic has opened my eyes to such a nuanced perspective on life, I cannot possibly encompass it all in one blog post.  For now, I want to mention how I realise I am extremely fortunate with my lot in life, Alhamdulillah.  Good fortune itself is not always a tangible entity.  It is not always measured in commodities or cash.  Sometimes, it is simply a state of peaceful inner acceptance of one’s circumstances.  With good fortune follows the need to bear patience in the handling of these blessings.  You see, it is possible that a person is blessed with wealth of different kinds but, in haste, squanders it on fruitless or futile pursuits.  In extreme cases, wealth may even be spent on haram (forbidden) things such as a gambling habit or alcohol.  Rash decisions are invariably a consequence of impatience.  It’s this type of situation that requires a heightened awareness of patience as comforts in life often bring with them a certain heedlessness as well.

Surah Ar-Rahman, Ayah 23

Coming back to today, I sit here in my home and wonder about the human suffering which exists across the world – be it physical, financial or emotional.  I admit I feel a sense of guilt for not having been tested to such an extreme as others have.  I wonder what did I do to deserve to escape such painful challenges?  And yet, I console myself by reminding myself that Allah did not choose those particular trials and tribulations for me.  He has given me my own personal challenges. He knows how and when to give everyone their share of grief and their share of calm.  Yet in all those situations, the unwavering constant is the need to remain patient.  Arguably, striving for patience in our quiet phases of life is an even bigger challenge since the smokescreen fools us into thinking there is nothing left for us to do.  Life is good.

Do I, therefore, wish to swap my current peace for upheaval just so I may always avoid complacency and be kept on my toes?  I think that would be foolish.  However, I need to remind myself that comforts in life are as much a test as they are a blessing.  We can easily become lost in moments of unguarded arrogance.  On this Earth we tarry for some time but the amusements are as consequential as the hardships. 

In truth, the question we need to ask ourselves is this: 

Do we need to learn patience or must we have the patience to learn? 

An infinite lesson

The Secret of Insouciance

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about longevity.  I guess when the prime of life has passed, this is the inevitable phase that the mind enters.

Coronavirus, lockdown, vaccines, isolation, death…all pretty grim words that have become part of the vernacular of front doorstep conversations and political debates across the world.  Glancing at news headlines, I vacillate between cautious optimism and downright despair.  Recently, my stress has piqued over the last few days because of a new personal situation that has arisen.  Alhamdulillah, it has nothing to do with my health or my children’s wellbeing although the very nature of stress itself is that it will – and does – impact the peaceful status quo of life. 

Whilst I don’t need to divulge the details of my situation, I confess it has made me check the balance of my mind and its workings – again.  It has served as a test of my faith.  I have found myself doing a bit more introspection and asking difficult questions such as: How strong is my resolve to remain calm and dignified?  Will I focus on the empty half of the glass or the full half?  Have I mastered patience in the face of adversity?  Who do I call upon for help?

Recognising stress is the path to managing it

I recognise life’s tests now since I have recognised when my stress reaches a tipping point – something many of us can identify with.  By far, my biggest test in life remains my divorce.  Till now, I have not suffered anything more soul-destroying than that.  Alhamdulillah, it was nothing worse.  However, no other event has pummelled me so much in terms of my confidence and self-worth.  Yet even then, I did not throw an outward tantrum or kick and scream.  Instead, the storm raged within whilst I learnt how to quell it.  I did that only through conversations with Allah and striving to be patient with my lot.  With that experience, I hope I will handle future crises with a similar sense of calm insha’Allah.

Back to today and it would appear from the outside that I don’t care about what is going on around me.  In fact, far from it.  I care very much about the circumstances I am in.  However, with age comes a certain wisdom which one can never grasp until they have been through all the motions of life themselves.  Having ventured out into the world and come full circle, like many people, I realise now what matters most.  I am mastering the art of being calm.  Faith in Allah is the secret of my insouciance.  Therefore, when circumstances change, when other variables exit and enter, if my faith never wavers, I am already on a road to success.  It will not allow me to succumb to the transient nature of life itself.  So, you see, insouciance is not necessarily a negative thing; it is not the hallmark of a flippant or frivolous person.  It is an inner state of being in control of one’s own emotions and not being overwhelmed by worldly concerns.  To remain unflappable is an enviable trait especially when all around you are losing their heads.  I admit it is a work in progress but one that I am increasingly striving for. 

Balancing stress and calmness is delicate but achievable

Alhamdulillah, I am truly blessed to have my sons help me when my own perspective on things becomes blurred.  I know their youth is not a synonym for naivety.  When I related to them about my feelings of unrestrained anxiety over this recent situation, my eldest reminded me of a very valuable lesson from the Seerah – the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  It was of the incident in the cave when the Prophet (peace be upon Him) had been commanded by Allah to leave Mecca to save his life.  His enemies, who had rejected Islam, were hot on his trail and determined to kill him.  With him was his devoted companion, Abu Bakr.  As the two men remained hidden in the cave, they heard the tribesmen outside, knowing full well how close to death they were.  Whilst Abu Bakr feared the worst, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prayed and reminded him that the third amongst them was Allah so they had nothing to fear.  What a profound comment!  And I am eternally grateful that my sons have the maturity to help placate me in crucial moments of stress before things get ugly.

Allah knows, with the challenges I have faced in life, that I have had many opportunities to practise inner calm.  If I do not strive to master this skill at this stage of my life, I should be worried.  No doubt, I have lived the best part of my life already (if I am counting the years).  Therefore, insha’Allah, I know that whatever happens to me outwardly, the core of my being needs to remain firm and strong.  That core is an intangible one and relates to the spiritual dimension of my existence.  I may not be able to see it but I know for sure it is there.   Moreover, Allah knows it too.

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