Category Archives: Islam

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.

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. 

The Autopsy on my Marriage

One of the things that I have had to admit to myself in recent years, is that I had often mistakenly handed over the responsibility for my happiness to another human being, namely my other half.  BIG mistake.  

Today, I have that wonderful thing called ‘hindsight’ which allows me to answer some stark questions which I had asked myself back then.

For example:

  • Now that I was no longer a wife, what status did that leave me?  
  • Who would be responsible for me, my children, my happiness, my safety, my wellbeing?  
  • How was I going to face the world as a deemed failure?
  • Would society pity me or blame me?
  • How does someone move on?
  • Had the role of wife really subsumed everything else I had ever been?

That last question was perhaps, surprisingly, the one that resurfaced frequently in my mind.  Not so much because I didn’t know the answer.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I always knew I had an identity before marriage.  I existed in my own right before, during and after and it was that conviction that sustained me in my otherwise chaotic mind immediately following my divorce.

The fact that a Muslim woman should not take on her husband’s surname upon marriage speaks volumes about her right to exist alongside him and not become a part of him.  Perhaps it even hints at the impermanence of marriage itself.  Great female figures in Islamic history have not only been wives and mothers but they have simultaneously occupied so many other labels such as entrepreneur, warrior, educator and public orator.   These are not post C20th Muslim women but women around the prophet (peace be upon him) himself! 

The irony is that modern Muslims have forgotten the amazing legacy they inherited.  I now see that, like so many other women, I had fallen into an emotional dependence where my husband had become the source of my spiritual wellbeing.  Had I really pondered deeply over what those early Muslim women taught me, perhaps I would have had a healthier outlook on all the trials and tribulations of life.  However, the status quo of 18 years of marriage had inadvertently led me to give responsibility for all aspects of my wellbeing to someone else. It had blurred my vision of reality.  What was that reality?  That we encounter people along our own journey of life.  Some stay for the whole ride, some join us midway but many get off.   It is a fallacy to think that the route to bliss lies in the hands of another human being.  Maybe it is even a sort of arrogance on my part to expect them to want to commit their whole lives to me.  It is a lesson which many daughters would benefit from being taught by their mothers.  The book of life can end with “happily ever after” but the narrative that precedes that ending does not have to be the same each time.  

From my own experience, I have learnt that contentment in your lot is found only through knowing Allah.  In the vicissitudes of life, He is the only unwavering constant.    Human interdependencies are very much like spiders’ webs – complex but tenuous.  It doesn’t take much to dismantle them.  Our ties to any person, especially our spouses, are inherently tenuous not simply because of mortality itself but, because individuals themselves are always evolving in their own desires and aspirations.  Quite literally, it is a process that may lead to ‘uncoupling’.  I have learnt that post-divorce, I must not voluntarily throw myself onto the scrapheap of society.  There are a myriad of reasons to live even beyond a failed marriage.  Alhamdulillah (praise to Allah), I look forward to watching my children grow into young men and be part of their journeys and achievements.  Then there are my own personal goals, however big or small.  Where one door has closed, I have been able to walk through many others instead.

Islam teaches us that we belong to nobody except Allah, our Creator. That Quranic ayah (verse), like so many others, can only be understood in its entirety when life puts us through the grinder and delivers us on the other side of tribulations, wretched but strangely purified.  It is usually associated as a condolence to offer a grieving person after the death of a loved one.  Yet it is a truism that we should be mindful of at all times.  We were only ever destined to return to Allah.  We do not own anyone nor are we owned.   

So, whilst I no longer exist as a wife, I still exist nevertheless.  I am a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt and a friend.  I am still me.  With or without any of those labels, Allah has put me on this earth to live in a multi-dimensional way.  He created all of us as wonderfully complex and creative beings; it has always been our choice to exploit the best of us in any given situation.  So, as the pain of divorce ebbs and flows over time and the realisation that I actually have so many reasons to embrace this beautiful life, Alhamdulillah, (all praise be to Allah), I find myself silently carving out a new niche for myself.

In the post-mortem report of my marriage, records may point to natural causes for demise.  The truth is that sometimes we don’t have the answers we are looking for.  Nothing in life is guaranteed. 

Yet from the embers of that past life, I learnt the most valuable lesson of all – I needed validation from nobody but He who created me.   There are opportunities in every situation we are in, however seemingly difficult they may be.  However, recognising them must come from a place of gratitude first.   If we start from this base point, the only way is up.

The name, Mymotherhalf, is clearly a deliberate departure from ‘my other half’.  For me, motherhood forms a hugely significant part of my life; it is a label I cherish.   As it is, there is no longer ‘the other half’ in its commonly assumed sense.  I understand now that the other half always lay within me although I was searching for it in someone else.  I am my other half.  How I wish to express that part of my identity is for me alone to decide.