Published Articles

For the full article, please click on the link below:

https://www.amaliah.com/post/60716/the-journey-of-divorce-in-islam-is-like-that-of-kintsugi

Through Divorce, I am a Work of Kintsugi

Divorce is often an excruciatingly painful experience for many women, especially those who find themselves on the receiving end of that momentous decision.  Once upon a time, life was a smooth single road travelled blissfully on together by husband and wife with the same destination in mind.  With divorce, that road abruptly splits and, instead, transforms into a rocky uphill path strewn with thorns. 

It is a mission to pass through unscathed.  

In my own case, my husband and I were two individuals from two different cultures and ethnicities, we had defied the odds we faced and come together with noble intentions to live a wholesome life within Islamic perimeters.  That ethos was the thread that tied us and our children together.  For eighteen years, I had only assumed we were becoming even stronger in our bonds.  Apparently not.

In the immediate aftermath of my own divorce, I watched happiness being sucked away like water sinking into sand.

  My family had been my sanctuary and my ex-husband had decided to shatter that peace. 

Try as I might, I could not prevent what I reluctantly knew was already written in my destiny.  From the depths of a dark emotional abyss, images of my life up to then flashed by like a silent time-lapse video.  The outlook on my future, as well as my children’s, seemed very bleak.  Those early days were full of unimaginable grief.  

Four years, countless tears, and many solitary conversations with Allah later, today I have arrived at a place in my mind where I never believed I could be, Alhamdulillah

With the benefit of hindsight, I now understand why my life has taken a very different route than the one I had ever imagined.

  It was, simply, a test from Allah. 

It was to remind me about the temporary nature of this worldly existence itself.  The experience was emotionally agonising and physically debilitating but, nevertheless, it had to be done.  Strangely enough, the one thing I did not experience was an overwhelming spiritual enervation – a feeling of being abandoned by Allah.  Alhamdulillah, if anything my connection with Allah, Al-Adl (The Just) was about to enter a new phase. 

I recall searching within the pages of the Quran for verses that would give me comfort and peace; I memorised specific duas or supplications to keep me buoyant during difficult days. 

What I did not realise in the thick of my sorrow, I was about to understand over time.  My conscientiousness about my Rabb, my Creator, was being roused from a lethargy which had perhaps come about when life was comfortable – when it no longer threw any real challenges which needed to be confronted head-on.

I understand that the one constant in a life of inconsistency has to be our relationship with our Creator, Allah. 

This is an absolute truism.  My divorce was about to test the strength of that relationship like never before. 

Gradually, over the weeks, months and years that followed, I began to realise what Allah had intended for me all along.  He wanted me to recognise that I had inadvertently slipped into a dangerous dependency upon another human being in marriage; that I had mistakenly equated my husband as the source of my happiness when he was only ever a means to it.  Nothing more, nothing less.  With his departure, I now had a clear projection of my future with Allah in His realigned focal position of worship.  It is not that my husband was ever an object of worship for me.  However, the unspoken reliance upon him to help navigate my path in life is something I had perhaps become too complacent about.  Becoming the captain at the helm of my own ship was not only going to be a leap of faith, it was going to be a test of faith too.  I came to accept that my new family situation was a necessary juncture in life; I had to pass through this to emerge stronger in my connection to Allah. After all, it was this relationship that was being tested.   

As a Muslim, I am aware of the ayah which translates: “Indeed we belong to Allah and indeed to Him we will return.” (Al-Baqarah, 156). 

In some cultures, this verse from the Quran is erroneously only uttered as a condolence to someone who has lost a loved one through death.  Yet its application to a plethora of situations is less understood.  Whilst reading the Quran is a practice many Muslims have mastered well, arguably its message and teachings are interpreted in a very narrow context.  Even those of us who endeavour to grasp the wider context of words or phrases, often discover a new perspective each time we return to read them.  I myself have discovered how personal circumstances in one’s life can cause new, nuanced interpretations of verses I have read hundreds of times before.  Until then, I had foolishly misled myself into believing I had discerned all the possible meanings of verses of the Quran.  Yet it took my divorce to make me aware that I needed to re-engage with the Quran with an alacrity like never before.  In doing so, amongst the many gems, I stumbled across were ayahs 152-153 of Surah Al-Baqarah.  In these two verses alone, Allah mentions three core principles of our Imaan (faith) – gratitude, patience, and prayer. 

I was beginning to see the mastery of His plan for me.  Divorce was part of a grand design to cause me to go down a path of self-reflection and self-assessment. 

What better place than to hit rock bottom and start at a base level of gratitude? 

My ascent out of the abyss had just begun Alhamdulillah.   

Of course, there are many references in the Quran to the principles of gratitude, patience, and prayer.  I mention another ayah here:

But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you.  And Allah knows, while you know not.”  (Al-Baqarah, 216). 

It is these such gems from the Quran which provided me great solace in my despair.  They were my counsel, my comfort and my confidantes.  Even though my mind constantly tossed around a tsunami of questions in those early days after divorce, Alhamdulillah, I always knew it was only a matter of time before things would settle down again.  Allah had not abandoned me.  After all, who knew me better than myself?  Of all the questions I asked, I never dared utter, “Why me?”  I knew the answer to that already. 

Allah knows who to give which challenge to because He knows what they can withstand.  

In the years that have passed, I cannot deny that my positive thoughts have not been punctuated by bouts of anxiety and despair.  Alhamdulillah, however, armed with even a limited knowledge of the Quran and the Seerah – the study of the life of the Prophet (saw) – I have come a long way.  It is the latter that has provided me with relatable anecdotes, tangible tales and validated my feelings of sadness, anguish, and even anger.  For example, I reflect on the Prophet’s (saw) period in Mecca and the Year of Sorrow in which he lost his beloved uncle Abu Talib and then his noble wife, Khadijah (RA), the Mother of the Believers.  To add to his grief, he suffered humiliation at the hands of the people of Ta’if.  I pondered on these events and took comfort that even the Prophet himself experienced overwhelming sorrow despite his unequivocal faith.  Naturally, his thoughts and actions were always circumscribed by Islam but I reminded myself that, as a far more ordinary being, I was then equally entitled to have outpourings of grief.  As long as these emotions did not descend into chaos or transgress any limits of my faith, insha’Allah, it was only normal to express myself in this way.

In essence, I have been on a journey of rediscovery of my faith, my identity as a Muslim and as a mother.  I have shifted from a faith that was somewhat inert to being more alert. 

With my own children now looking to me for their cues in life, I need to remain strong. 

There is certainly too much at stake to take brazen risks.  My test now is to manage a life with my children and be the ‘double parent’.  I am now two people embodied in one.  I refuse to succumb to the stigma of being divorced.  In Islam, the status of ‘mother’ is highly revered and I see that Allah, in His generosity, is giving me even more opportunities to do good and earn reward.  I am beaming at that prospect, SubhanAllah

Once broken, forever healed

I liken my new status to a work of Kintsugi – the ancient Japanese art of mending broken pottery with golden lacquer thereby making it even stronger and more beautiful with its imperfections.  Kintsugi is a metaphor for my life.  Alhamdulillah, one thing I have never surrendered, despite my pain, is that the vista on life still embraces much beauty.  I have learned to see with my soul and not just my eyes.  This mindset can only be founded upon gratitude. 

We must not lose today in grieving for what has already passed.  That would be a tragic double loss.  So, I have never given up on hope as hopelessness itself is an anathema in Islam.  I do recognise that I still have some way to go before I can confidently say I have totally purged myself of anger and disappointment.  But this is a work in progress and I am honest enough to concede my weaknesses. 

For now, I accept that I may have lost a husband but I have been compensated by Allah in more ways than I can even begin to imagine.   

Published Article: amaliah.com 30th June 2021

https://www.amaliah.com/post/64767/moving-abroad-as-a-muslim-mother-hijra

Motherhood on the Move: Lessons From a Modern-Day Urban Nomad

BY SABIA ALI IN LIFESTYLE ON 31ST MAY, 2022

Throughout my life, both as a child and later as a mother, I have lived across different continents, cultures and climates.  I am what I would call a ‘modern-day urban nomad’. For many, it would seem that a life of being constantly on the move – never having the chance to settle in one place for too long and get to know your surroundings – is a formula for personal ruin.  Add to that an entourage of young children and the situation suddenly becomes a lot more complicated.  As a parent, the self-questioning begins:

“Will my children be deprived of a happy life with constant relocations?

What impact will this have on their emotional wellbeing? Will they ever have meaningful friendships?” 

Any rational person would argue that financial, emotional, social and even geographical stability are prerequisites for nurturing a well-rounded child.  Whilst that may be true, the lived realities of many people often fall far short of that ideal. In particular, the desire to remain in one place long-term is sometimes overridden by practical considerations.  Having been through the process of moving over a dozen times with my young family, to different cities and countries, I share some personal reflections which might help allay the fears of anyone about to make that big leap into the unknown:

You are not moving only for your own sake.

Some families relocate home because of a new job, a better house or to be closer to extended family. Whatever the reason, you have to consider the children’s best interests too. A great job may be a wonderful career move for a parent but if there are no academic, social or health provisions for your children in the new location, then the whole idea becomes a selfish one. 

So, although the decision to move may be made by parents on behalf of the whole family, it has to include the best interests of all.

Use your childhood experiences as an example.

Trust your instincts. Personal anecdotes from your childhood may give you the confidence you need in making a decision as a parent. I myself was uprooted from London as a child and spent three years abroad in a totally alien society.  At the time, I resented the upheaval but later realised it was one of the most enlightening experiences I have ever had.  Ostensibly, my peers who I had left behind were more fortunate given they continued to enjoy a static and sheltered life.  But this dull continuity has today rendered those same people unable to cope with anything outside the familiar.  This was a key lesson I knew my sons would also appreciate in hindsight – and they did.  I just had to be patient and observe.

Despite their complaints about the real drudgery of a nomadic life, years later they finally acknowledge they also had an enviable life of adventure, Alhamdulillah.  

Listen to your children.

OK, so this seems a bit of a contradiction especially when we, as parents, make the big decisions on behalf of our children.  How can we listen to them and calm their fears at the same time? I remember having to deal with my children sometimes complaining about the abrupt end of their time in a particular place when they had just settled into a routine.  Of course, as a parent, that was undeniably painful to hear.  However, I knew we were always in search of the best options, be it education, spiritual wellbeing or social milieu – especially for them. These are conversations that must be had as a family. Never underestimate what they can understand.

If they are old enough, explain the long-term goals– worldly and spiritual–to them since they are inherently myopic about life. 

Of course, conversations with very young children will not be possible. However, rooting your intentions in an Islamic framework always makes any task more manageable and less daunting.  Give children the security of ‘family’ and the knowledge that they will be protected and kept safe wherever they are. Reassure them with a sense of continuity in their routine or extracurricular interests – and make sure you follow this promise up. If moving abroad, finding a social circle of friends with similar interests or from the same part of the world will provide a huge comfort.  For example, in Saudi Arabia, my boys enjoyed bike rides, mountain hikes, taekwondo classes and barbeques in the desert with friends. It makes life seem normal despite the outward changes around them.

Exhaustion and frustrations will exist. 

The drudgery of moving material possessions is real.  It is exhausting.  There is no denying that always being on standby, ready to pack up and move onto the next destination is also emotionally gruelling. Arriving at the next temporary stop, you never feel totally sure if you should completely unpack or just manage with the bare minimum. Doing that for oneself is a tough job in itself.  Doing that on behalf of one’s own children is incredibly more demanding. In shifting my children between homes and schools in different countries, usually not more than a couple of years at a time, they were not able to plant their feet firmly on the ground before it was time to move on again. However, it is important to make a house a home as much as possible. Live in the present and enjoy what is around you for now.

Think about the long-term gains vs. short-term inconveniences. Arguably, the experience of being immersed in other societies will make children more reflective and appreciative of their own identities.  It is these intangible, yet priceless, gains that make it all worthwhile. 

Teach your children first about who they are. 

At home, an understanding of what it means to be Muslim has to be inculcated at a young age. This is an essential preparation for children when they come to live amongst other communities whose customs and traditions may be very different from theirs. Taking that self-awareness into the public domain, where they are the anomaly, should not threaten their Muslim identity since they know this transcends all the other parts that make them whole.  It means that they can, to a large extent, discern culture from religion. They learn that ‘difference’ is not a synonym for ‘deviance’.  It’s just that there is more than one way to arrive at the same conclusion.  

For example, in Saudi Arabia, my children discovered it is the social norm for the host of a dinner party not to sit with his/her guests when food is served.  This is a way to honour the guests and give them undivided attention. The host only eats after everyone else has been taken care of. It is a social etiquette which may seem alien to many, yet it does not contradict Islam. It is simply a Saudi interpretation of hospitality.  These kinds of nuances in Islamic culture can only ever be understood from having had personal interactions with people different to ourselves.  

There is a priceless education to be learned. 

Unlike adults, young children have an innate innocence and purity of thought which helps them approach a situation with open-mindedness. They come to a new situation with an inquisitive mind and therefore fewer expectations. I have seen my sons strive to make the best of each social situation that they have been exposed to. Over the years, they have lived amongst a variety of cultures, languages, customs and even religions.  The net result is that they realise there is no singular way of living.  Even where they encountered fellow Muslims who represented different ethnic and social backgrounds, that cultural exchange was important in helping them understand the diverse composite parts of this great monolithic belief system called Islam.  As a result, today, cultural dogma has no place in their world. What they (and I) have seen is that a community is a beautiful social tapestry made of individual parts in which each brings their colourful contribution to the whole. The result is quite striking. Alhamdulillah, looking at the young adults today that are my sons, I feel the choices we made as parents were justified.

Packing up memories and not just things

Not everyone you meet will be liked or will like.

As a witness to their young lives, I will not pretend and say that the encounters my sons had with their peers have always been positive. There have been unsavoury characters too. Yet, that is the lesson in itself.  It’s impossible to like and be liked by everyone.  These negative experiences have been a character-building process in itself. I know that living in a monoculture can lead to a complacency about life, whereas interacting with a variety of people can be an enriching experience.  Children and adults alike often become more mindful of their social environment, values and belief systems. It doesn’t always have to be the case that our children will capitulate to peer pressure. As long as they are confident about who they are, they will not necessarily succumb.  It’s possible that through observation of others, they will self-reflect and understand that there are improvements they can make in their own lifestyle. 

It is an invaluable lesson in humility.

And there are those with whom a connection will continue…

In terms of meaningful friendships, some might argue that it is difficult to carry this forward through time when someone has been uprooted too often.  Whilst I do not deny this is a real issue for many people, Alhamdulillah, it is still possible to stay connected with several quality friends who all sit on that linear thread through one’s life.  My own sons have friends scattered across the world.  Although meeting up in person has not been possible in many cases, they still maintain a connection. It is proof that despite meeting and dispersing, they have found a commonality which supersedes their apparent differences and which bonds them across the miles. Thankfully, in the internet age, the task of keeping in touch is now much easier. 

For anyone contemplating a new start in another country with a young family, I would argue that this change invariably brings about self-reflection and maturity – an opportunity not to forfeit lightly.

Some of the most well-rounded and humble human beings I know are those who have allowed themselves to be immersed into other cultures and societies. 

They have surrendered the dogma of their own societal traditions and opened up to the possibility of doing things in alternative ways. In return, they exude an aura of humility and tolerance which are, in my opinion, qualities missing in today’s global village.  By the same token, it would be wrong to assume those who have not had such exposure are cultural chauvinists.  What is true though, is that an inward-looking aloofness can lead to arrogance. It is something I have consciously tried to steer my children away from.  What better way than being in the midst of a host community where daily challenges to preconceived ideas arise?  

For sure, living temporarily from place to place comes at a price.  However, the gains in terms of identity, friendships and humility, have proven why the packing and unpacking of boxes over the years have been worthwhile.

Today, I see my sons as young men able and willing to interact with a myriad of people and yet be true to their own identity.  They are uncompromising but respectful.  They are confident but humble.  They are young but exude maturity for their age.  Above all, the most valuable lesson has been that the inconveniences of an itinerant lifestyle are a constant reminder of the ephemeral nature of this world itself.  I am hopeful that this lesson is also not lost on my children, insha’Allah

Published Article: themuslimvibe.com 4th July 2022

Published Article: mymuslimfamily.org 28th November 2022

https://www.amaliah.com/post/66247/how-to-involve-children-decision-making-raising-wise-children

How We Can Learn to Accept the Wisdom of Our Children

BY SABIA ALI IN RELATIONSHIPS ON 19TH JANUARY, 2023

If asked who we would turn to for wholesome advice and trustworthy opinions, a few examples of people might come to mind: mother, father, grandparents, teachers, counsellors, religious figures and perhaps older people generally. Most of them having lived longer than us, they possess a greater breadth and depth of life experiences. Arguably, for that reason, they command respect. 

Age is often synonymous with wisdom.

For the most part, the above statement is true. However, there are usually anomalies to a general rule. It is not unheard of to find examples of older people who are irrational and erratic despite the number of years they have spent on this earth. Turning to such people for advice would be very questionable. At the same time, and at the other end of the scale, young people can sometimes unexpectedly surprise us with their maturity. Some are able to offer advice with a rationale that surpasses expectations for their years. Wise counsel might therefore be found in the places we least expect. 

I cite my own experience with my sons. The divorce of their father and I was a harbinger of immense change and catapulted them into adulthood much faster than they would have wanted. Overnight, the stability which they once knew was disrupted. The dynamics of our family were irreversibly changed. Not only did my sons and I have to relocate home but we also had to relocate countries. Our lives had to be rebuilt all over again at a time of great emotional trauma. Alhamdulillah, as young boys, they pulled through it all with a quiet dignity and determination despite the turmoil and setbacks. It is these kinds of atypical experiences that fast-track young people through the maturing process unlike many of their peers and allow them a nuanced perspective on life.

In the years since I inherited the onerous task of managing a home and family on my own, I have had many conversations with my sons where I seek their opinion or advice especially on issues to do with the family. In those conversations, sometimes our opinions corroborated and, at other times, we agreed to disagree. No doubt, to some extent, sharing my burdens caused them to grow up faster. Some might argue that this approach to parenthood is a bit risky or even irresponsible.

Why would a mother need to seek opinions or advice from her own children? Is she incapable of making independent decisions? These are valid questions. Yet, it has not stemmed from a lack of leadership on my part. On the contrary, my rationale has always been embedded in a worthy example to follow – the sunnah, or practices, of the Prophet   himself. I understand that the life of a Muslim is governed by Quranic teachings and the sunnah and so, within that, giving and receiving advice must also be done within an Islamic framework. 

In reading the seerah (the life of the Prophet ), we find many examples of beautiful behaviour with regards to how he consulted his close confidantes. On one occasion, on the brink of the Battle of Uhud, the Prophet  expressed to his sahaba (companions) his desire to confront the enemies of Quraish in Medina rather than to go out to Uhud to fight. However, the younger sahaba insisted they all go out to meet the Quraish in Uhud even though those older amongst them had agreed with the Prophet’s ﷺ plan. Finally, when the Prophet ﷺ realised their fervour and that the majority opinion had now shifted to this strategy, he agreed and retreated to wear his armour for battle.

Meanwhile, the younger sahaba were scolded by the older ones for causing this shift. As a result, they felt deep regret. However, the Prophet ﷺ re-emerged explaining it was not befitting for a prophet to take his armour off once he had worn it and until he had carried out his mission. The battle would therefore take place at Uhud. The two salient points to note here are that: 

1) the Prophet’s ﷺ discussion with his sahaba in the first place was with the intention of making them feel involved and important, and 

2) he did not chastise the younger sahaba for their persistence and went ahead with their opinion despite his authority. 

As a Prophet with divine inspiration, we know he did not need the approval of anyone. Yet, it was an intelligent and tactical move to foster inclusion and mutual respect. He achieved far more than was apparent to the eye. It is this kind of prophetic wisdom which inspires my own style of parenting.

Again, in Islamic history, we see plenty of examples of youth who were never dismissed  as insignificant on the basis of their age alone. Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA), is one such glowing example. Not only was he a paternal cousin of the Prophet , more importantly, he lived in his close company from childhood. Ibn Abbas became an accomplished scholar of ahadith at a young age. Such was his vast knowledge and wisdom, that when Umar ibn Khattab (RA) was the Khalifa of the Muslim Empire, he consulted with ibn Abbas on matters to do with governance and referred to him as the “young man of maturity”.

This is proof that age was not an automatic barrier to wisdom. Umar ibn Khattab, the second Khalifa and an undisputed giant in Islamic history, displayed total humility in seeking wise counsel from a scholarly person much younger than himself. In pondering over anecdotal evidence from the seerah, I am confident that giving teenagers or young people the liberty to express their views is not the same as allowing them to override parental authority. In fact, the examples mentioned above prove to us that this practice is neither new nor decadent. Arguably, it is even encouraged.

In my own role as mother, I have come to understand that I cannot behave like a bull in a china shop and always force my understanding of the world onto others. I realise my sons are the product of the 21st century and, as such, have to accept that their views and encounters in the wider world are going to be shaped by their unique and individual experiences. That is not to say that being of different generations we are necessarily at loggerheads. However, my perspective on things might well be ill-judged or biased.

So, whether it has been deciding on how to deal with mental wellbeing or what career moves to consider, I have sat with my sons to hear their views as much as give my own. Where I have not been able to be objective, they have been the voice of reason. I have accepted their advice on many occasions knowing they would not beguile me.  Instead, if we all can act and react to situations with an Islamic reference, I cannot ask for more. To submit to their advice does not make me flawed as a mother. It makes me human.

If our thinking is upheld by Islamic standards, it goes without saying that to consider only the secular perspective on important matters will never be enough. Nor should the focus shift to the age of the person making the point. Rather, it has everything to do with whether that person can validate their position through an Islamic lens – and that is a competency not uniquely limited to adults or parents.

It is important to inculcate Islamic values in children early on so that they have the confidence that their views have credence – they are not simply talking from a baseless and whimsical standpoint. Having invested in that upbringing for my children early on, today I feel my sons are old heads on young shoulders. 

So it would seem that I have motherhood worked out perfectly. Far from it. It is very much a work in progress. As the boys have evolved from children to young men, so too have their personalities been formed and reformed. I have tried to stay prepared but the reality is that it is impossible to pre-empt every situation. Over time though, we have all fallen into a healthy codependency, Alhamdulillah. It has been years of stressful work and many challenging episodes of teenage tantrums and mother’s sombre moods. To say we have all found our own niches effortlessly would be disingenuous. Yet, I can claim that my sons – these young men – have supported me immensely at my lowest points. They have offered advice or comfort at times when I needed to be placated or could not think clearly.

Even though I have tried to spare them from witnessing my worries, they have been perceptive enough to know when mother is not her normal self. So, despite the upheaval we experienced in the aftermath of divorce, a solid silver lining has beautified our cloud, Alhamdulillah. Today, I see a maturity in them which has occurred through facing challenges together as a family and consciously working hard to keep within Islamic boundaries. 

When I started this new phase of life as a single mother, I recall a close friend advised me to stay strong. I was not even sure what ‘being strong’ was supposed to look like. However, I never forgot her words and years later, they still resonate in my mind. I now understand that being a strong mother is not about being a heroine and carrying the burdens of the family on my shoulders alone.

Of course, the boys have needed to see a mother who is bold and determined – a trait which they could also emulate. InshaAllah, their observations have fed into their own perceptions of what women can do. However, it also takes strength to acknowledge one’s weaknesses. Now, when I call upon my sons for advice or practical help, I am not plagued by guilt or a feeling of incompetency. They understand this is my acknowledgement of their maturity and a demonstration of the trust I have in them. They feel secure that they have the right to be heard and counted on. 

Turning to one’s children for advice can only happen if the parents have instilled the correct values in them in the first place. Additionally, there must be a conscious effort to nurture mutual trust and respect amongst all those involved. Most importantly, everyone must promise to listen and not simply hear. We must aim to build one another up and not drag one another down. Wise counsel can only be of any benefit if one is focussed on the virtues contained in its message and less so the messenger. With that mindset, my sons and I strive to continue working as a team, inshaAllah. Ultimately, we know the goals we each score belong to us all.

Published article: amaliah.com 19th January 2023

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: