Exiting The Emotional Rollercoaster

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Emotions are something everyone experiences, even if we prefer not to advertise them. Contrary to popular belief, internal emotional conflict is not specific to one particular gender. Emotions stem from chemical hormones in the body – something all of mankind were created with. What sets us apart, male or female, is how we process them. It is often assumed that there are only two ways to face these feelings –

  1. practically and rationally
  2. succumbing to the emotions without logical thought

However, is it really this black and white? Or is it possible to handle situations rationally whilst also nurturing sensitivities?

I used to think that there was no way to do both. I was a young creature of feeling and constantly allowed my hormones to guide my actions, wishing I could be logical but believing it to be impossible. Exposure to certain ideas, whether reading books or watching movies, had convinced me that there was no alternative way to handle my problems other than to “follow my heart” and do what “feels right”. This methodology obscured my judgement and lead me into many unnecessary conflicts, purely because I was acting on my feelings, rather than the facts at hand. And that is how I lived for most of my life. That is until I got married. The natural and expected discord I experienced in those early days encouraged me to approach problem solving in a different manner. I learnt to take a step back from my emotions to look at a problem logically, whilst still accepting and coping with any emotional turmoil that came my way.I have learnt to recognise whether my reactions are based on an emotional trigger or a logical one. When about to start a heated discussion, my husband will often hear me say, “I’m all hormonal at the moment, sorry!” and I will give myself some space to work through my emotions.

Keeping emotions in check

“How do you know the difference between a logical reaction and a physiological one?” I have been asked. I’m not saying I always make the correct judgment call, not by a long shot, but I tend to realise when I am being irrational once I sit down and think (or write!) through my problem. Once I see there is no logical reason for my level of upset, I can put the issue down to my emotions. Sometimes I find I have a genuine concern and the problem needs to be addressed, but my response has been an overreaction and has even hindered the solutions at hand. This is when a logical approach is imperative. When this happens, I give myself a day to cool down and choose something to help cheer me up. When I am no longer stressed by the problem, I think it through again. This usually has two outcomes – either I am no longer bothered or even see it as a problem, or I have a greater clarity of mind to engage in a productive and useful solution.

Don’t suppress!

I am by no means encouraging the habit of ignoring our emotions or suppressing problems. Just because we are attempting to control and manage emotions, does not mean we are denying their validity. You must still acknowledge that you are upset and allow yourself to feel that emotion, without adding guilt or shame into the mix. Whether the problem is the situation or your reaction, something needs addressing and deserves equal attention. Learn to accept that being unhappy and distressed is ok, and sometimes we even need to cry for no reason other than to detox our minds. Feeling guilty for crying can sometimes fuel negative emotions and pull you down even further, magnifying your problems. Even now I still fall into the trap of scolding myself for “unnecessary crying”. This self-abuse intensifies the calamity and even destroys the strength you need to pick yourself back up.

Managing emotions effectively

Like anything, there are clear steps you can take to solve a problem you have. It is recommended to practice these steps whilst calm and with a clear mind. Just like breathing exercises should be mastered in order to be useful during times of stress, these steps must be practiced to help you follow them through smoothly when they are truly needed. Remembering these steps structures your thoughts during a time when emotional upset is attempting to cloud your judgement. Dr. Darlene Mininni addresses appropriate emotional management in her book, The Emotional Toolkit. Dr. Mininni explains the importance of identifying your exact emotion before tackling it. To do this, she divides emotions into four categories:

  1. Anxiety – often accompanied by thoughts of “what if…?” as you worry about things that could go wrong.
  2. Sadness – includes negative thoughts along with a heavy, tired feeling. Often you might cry or have trouble concentrating.
  3. Anger – angry thoughts are usually focused on ways that you or even your values have been attacked.
  4. Happiness – when you’re happy, your mind is focused on things you have gained and you’ll feel light and calm.

Once identified, you can then address the emotion by asking yourself what the message of the emotion is.

  • Anxiety – What am I afraid of?
  • Sadness – What have I lost?
  • Anger -How have I/my values been attacked?
  • Happiness – What have I gained?

Once you have calculated an answer to these questions (again, writing would be massively therapeutic and help to focus your thoughts) you can begin to work out what actions you wish to take in order to manage the problem you find yourself with. Sometimes, you might even find that there is no way for you to handle the situation – there is a chance it could be completely out of your hands. In this case, you can focus your attention on coping with the emotion you’re feeling and working through it.

The techniques you will use to cope with your emotions will be completely unique to yourself. Whether you prefer to read a book, go shopping with a friend or just tuck into a slice of cake, there is one extra technique that we should all utilize relentlessly. The Mercy, Majesty and ultimate Power of Allah SWT is a blessing we should never ignore. There are numerous verses in the Noble Qur’an where Allah SWT provides beautiful words of comfort for painful or upsetting situations. It can be hugely uplifting to reflect on these verses, research the tafsir (explanations) and gain a deeper understanding of the words of our Lord. After all, Allah SWT is the One who has presented us with our trials and problems, and He is the only One who can bring us safely out of them again.

For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. (Ash-Sharĥ: 5-6)

Is He [not best] who responds to the desperate one when he calls upon Him and removes evil and makes you inheritors of the earth? Is there a deity with Allah? Little do you remember. (An-Naml: 62)

And your Lord says, “Call upon Me; I will respond to you.” Indeed, those who disdain My worship will enter Hell [rendered] contemptible. (Ghāfir: 60)

“Peace be upon you for what you patiently endured. And excellent is the final home.” (Ar-Ra`d: 24)

Those to whom hypocrites said, “Indeed, the people have gathered against you, so fear them.” But it [merely] increased them in faith, and they said, “Sufficient for us is Allah , and [He is] the best Disposer of affairs.” (Ali `Imrān: 173)

And those who disbelieved say, “Why has a sign not been sent down to him from his Lord?” Say, [O Muhammad], “Indeed, Allah leaves astray whom He wills and guides to Himself whoever turns back [to Him] -Those who have believed and whose hearts are assured by the remembrance of Allah . Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.” (Ar-Ra`d: 27-28)

So remember Me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me. (Al-Baqarah: 152)

Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? They were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said,”When is the help of Allah ?” Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near. (Al-Baqarah: 214)

O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient. (Al-Baqarah: 153)

Khadijah Stott-Andrew is a freelance writer and editor and is currently managing the newly launched website, www.lexical-scribe.com. Khadijah is the Reflections Editor for SISTERS Magazine and you can find her on Twitter, @Khadalina, or check out her personal blog, www.scribebehindthecurtain.blogspot.com.

This article was originally published in the August 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

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Hijrah Diaries 2.0 Bittersweet Nostalgia

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Khadijah Stott-Andrew offers advice on maintaining positivity  while suffering painful and isolating homesickness.

After a big move abroad, it is normal to become caught up in the whirlwind of organisation as you try to find your feet and routine. Once the adrenaline dies down and your routine settles into habit, you are given little respite before the next challenge sets in – homesickness. Regardless of what and who you left behind, there will be something you miss. Adapting to a new environment will contrast with your old life, sometimes quite drastically. The challenge of being without friends and family aside, the main cause of homesickness is the yearning for familiarity.

Family and Friends

Whether it’s parents, siblings, extended family, or friends, you will miss the ease of access to loved ones, no matter how close or far apart you were in the past. It is expected to feel left out of home festivities. My husband and I always felt a pang of sadness when we heard about family gatherings and BBQs. I remember feeling like I was missing so much as the babies we knew became toddlers and the toddlers became children – we were out of the loop!

Replacing experiences

Missing friends is always hard. It’s the same longing for familiarity that makes being away from family so hard. Your usual companions, your weekly get togethers and shopping trips were all part of a former life that you are no longer able to live. Whilst your friends cannot be replaced, the experiences can be. As mentioned in a previous article, my life in Qatar has introduced me to friendships I never thought I’d have. With new friends came new experiences and traditions. The weekly playgroup became my breathing space between  hectic days. My habitual trips into the city centre in the UK became replaced with trips to the souq to enjoy ice cream by the coast. All of these adventures became routine and my sense of familiarity began to change. I was settling into my new home and the new experiences were key in making that happen.

Keeping the connection alive

Technology is another sakina (small blessing)  in the life of an expat. At first it may feel strange; talking to a screen can seem like a poor replacement for actual human contact. But you will get used to it, and once it becomes a habit, you will value those times you get to relax and catch up with your loved ones. I treasure the times I can put the kettle on whilst my son naps and video chat with my mum. It became a new routine for my mom and I. So much so, that the waitress at my mum’s regular coffee shop once put her head in the screen and exclaimed, “Hello, daughter!” Everyone knew my mum was Skyping with her daughter in Qatar over toast, coffee and cake.

Document everything

Being abroad is a fantastic and exclusive experience Allah SWT has blessed you with – don’t let it pass you by without you capturing these memories. Documenting your travels and new lifestyle can be an excellent distraction from homesickness, an innovative way to discover your new home and even a gateway to a new hobby. Whether you choose to blog, use photography or even launch yourself into filmmaking, make sure you put in regular effort in order to make the most of the project. You’ll be amazed at how much you enjoy it.

Aside from this column, I also chose to document my time in Qatar by making home videos of my children. With them being so young, I didn’t want them to forget their time in Qatar and what it was like when we first moved here. Documenting children is another great way to stay connected with family. My parents and in-laws loved receiving videos and photos of the boys’ antics and it prevented them from missing out on special occasions such as my son’s first day of school and his sports day.

Let go of your reservations

The most important thing to remember is to remain open minded to new changes. It can be terribly hard to accept and adapt to an unfamiliar way of life and environment, and missing home comforts is inevitable. But you have two choices: either remain closed to change and continue yearning for a lifestyle that isn’t currently possible, or you could open yourself to all the new and wonderful opportunities that are knocking on your door. Believe me when I tell you, it won’t be long at all before these new changes become your new home comforts.

Sweet nostalgia

Another key mentality to hold onto is an unwavering acceptance that your home will always be your home, regardless of why you left or how long you are away for. One of the beautiful aspects of an expat life is the memory lane you get to skip down when thinking about your homeland. The negatives disintegrate and you are left with all the positives and fond memories, This enjoyable feeling is intensified if you ever return home, even for a short visit. For us, returning to the UK over the summer was filled with jubilation and excitement as we were reunited with family and shared our tales with friends. Even a trip to Asda was thrilling –  how can you not get excited over 69p juice?

Even if returning home is not immediately possible, you don’t have to completely turn your back on your former life. During the time of the prophet Muhammad SAW, the sahabah yearned for Makkah whilst living in Madinah. This yearning was strong, despite the torture and persecution they had suffered at the hands of the Makkans. Madinah, although it was located in the same country, lacked the home comforts and familiarity that made Makkah their home. But they had patience, and with time, were able to return to Makkah triumphant and relieved. Although, it is interesting to note, that not all the companions returned to Makkah. Some remained in Madinah out of choice.

Anywhere on Allah’s (SWT) earth can be a home for any member of mankind, regardless of their origin. It was created for us, and not with the intention for us to remain rooted to the same location our entire lives. Live as a traveller and marvel at the wonders of Allah’s creation; there is so much more to the world than the town you live in. Keep this in mind as you set up your home and build your new life – you’ll be surprised how comforting this one positive thought can be.

Khadijah Stott-Andrew is a freelance writer and editor and is currently managing the newly launched website, www.lexical-scribe.com. Khadijah is the Reflections Editor for SISTERS Magazine and you can find her on Twitter, @Khadalina, or check out her personal blog, www.scribebehindthecurtain.blogspot.com.

This article was originally published in the July 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

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Hijrah Diaries 2.0: The New Move Shine is Quickly Lost

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Finding  more changes than she expected, Khadijah Stott-Andrew explains how she adapted to new areas of her life.

Moving to a new country will come with a catalogue of various changes. Some you may expect and prepare for, but others can catch you off guard. When this happens, your creativity and patience is truly tested as you attempt to adapt to your new circumstance. There are many differences between my life in the UK and my new life unfolding in Qatar. Here are just a few areas that have changed, most I found challenging at first, but now, nearly 2 years into my move, they have become a part of my life to either embrace or manage.

Home

You’d think once all my furniture was arranged, my nice new bedding set up and my kitchen cupboards stocked, I would be done as far as the house was concerned. WRONG. Within two days of my super clean, the dust and sand blowing in from the windows and doors was extremely noticeable. Seeing this amount of dirt so soon after a Herculean clean up was discouraging. And so, the war began. It was a constant battle between myself and the dust, myself and the laundry (ever tried to get sand out of socks only to get all those little grains under your nails?) But then, the biggest battle of all presented itself – the ants. These little darlings had grown accustomed to sheltering in the house as it had been empty for a while. All it took was one grain of rice on the floor and we had the whole cast of ‘A Bug’s Life’ in my dining room.

“Get a maid,” the sisters told me. “Trust us, these houses are a nightmare to maintain! Spend your time with your kids”

Someone telling you to drop your housework and play with your children seems like a blessing. Unless you’re me. I’m not necessarily stubborn by nature, and I have always hated housework (ask my mum!) but the more people told me I was wasting my time, the more I wanted to become Supermum. The worst part was when my husband tentatively approached the topic.

“What if we got a cleaner once a week to do the floors?”

That lit a fire  my belly, and I was focused on taking on sole responsibility of the home. Now I’m not saying I always succeeded, in fact, I rarely succeeded and I am still experimenting with different strategies and routines in order to keep on top of the house. But either way, this is MY house, and I want to be the one to clean it!

Cleaning routines weren’t the only things I needed to shuffle around. After our first day in Qatar, the adhan sounded for Maghrib, the sun disappeared, and we all started to yawn. My boys were rubbing their eyes and clearly desperate for their beds. I glanced at my watch and saw we had a whole two and a half hours before their bedtime. We took a gamble and packed them off to bed. That evening was so peaceful and relaxing! My husband and I got to relax with a cup of tea, put our feet up and still have time for an early night.

And so that became our new evening routine. It is worth noting that “early to bed, early to rise” is definitely a cold hard truth when it comes to kids, and my munchkins graced us with their presence at a glorious 5:30am. But the truth is, this didn’t seem as early as it used to. Our perception of the day was slowly changing and over the next few weeks we adapted to the early mornings (I say “we”, but I’m still not a big a fan!) and rejoiced in our child-free evenings.

Another jumble of our internal clocks came with the weekend. In this part of the world, Friday is the first day of the weekend. Whilst this is a lovely change, it comes at a price: Sunday is a weekday. Two years on and I am still not used to the idea of being up and ready for school at 6:30 on a Sunday morning! But then again, being up at 6:30am on any day of the week still leaves me disgruntled for a few hours.

Schooling

In the UK, my plan was to homeschool my eldest son. There was no question about it, and I started early with him at the age of three. When we got to Qatar, we decided to take advantage of the school place being offered to him. Being an International school, it held the familiarity of home without a lot of the drawbacks that prevented us from sending him to school before. Also, with my husband working for the same school, albeit in a different building, it provided a little more comfort having an inside glance to the workings of the school.

Don’t get me wrong, I still homeschool, and if we were to ever return to the UK I would resume the position of my child’s only teacher! As I started early, my son was a little ahead of his classmates, and in order to remain at a consistent pace, his teacher advised me on some resources to use with him at home. Working with his teacher has opened my eyes to more areas of education than before, and I am happy to admit it has even helped to improve my homeschooling skills!

Healthcare

Before my munchkin could attend school, he was required to go through a medical assessment, as were we all when we arrived. This became my first encounter with the healthcare available to us. Before I unveil my experiences, it is important to know that I have only received care from the medical centre in my little piece of desertland. The other hospitals in surrounding towns and cities may have different practices on offer.

My first mistake was admitting to my natural living philosophy! Lesson learnt: don’t admit anything unless you have to! Unaware of even the most common controversies of Western medicine, my doctor was horrified at my stance on certain medications. Well, I haven’t owned up to anything since, unless I’ve had to!

My second disturbance struck when I burnt my hand, although ‘burnt’ doesn’t quite cover what I went through. Attempting to adjust the rings on my stove, I pressed my palm down on the surface of the ring – forgetting that I’d switched it on 5 minutes earlier. The pain rivalled childbirth, and after 3 hours on ice and still no relief, I had no choice but to hit the medical centre and see what they had to say. They attempted to bandage it, but I couldn’t keep my hand off the ice long enough for them to actually wrap it. So I was prescribed two forms of pain relief. One I recognised, the other I didn’t. I went as long as I could and then took one of the pills I recognised. Feeling the pain subside slightly, I decided to take a photo of my medications and send them to my friend who had just received her Pharmaceutical degree. Well, her response was rather alarming: “DO NOT take those two together,” she insisted. “You’ll be throwing up all night.”

Well, thanks for telling me, doctor! I quickly threw the unfamiliar pills away and stuck to what I knew!

It seems this isn’t the first time medication has been loosely handed out like sweets. Another friend was accidentally given a rash cream with steroids, and it made the rash flare up with a vengeance. All because the doctor felt uncomfortable saying, “I’m not sure”!

Being here has highlighted the fact that I must always check the facts and research the ‘whys’ before committing to a diagnosis and, more importantly, to treatment!

Customer Service

Although, doctors aren’t the only ones I’ve noticed who don’t like to admit they don’t know. Sales staff are fabulously helpful and polite – something I am not accustomed to! Shopping can be a pleasure with such friendly and helpful staff. But again, they seem so determined to be helpful, that they avoid admitting when they don’t have the answer. Walking into a baby shop, I asked the assistant if they stocked any cloth nappies. After having to explain their use to a clearly confused man who had never heard of this strange phenomenon, he then handed me a pack of Muslin cloths.

I left the shop feeling stunned and hit Amazon as soon as I got home!

You see, there are many pros and cons that you will come across when moving abroad. Not all the pros are mind blowing but, more significantly, not all cons are devastating. It is different, and different is ok, you just have to develop new ways to manage the challenges that come your way. You may even find that you prefer the changes! I find a lot of people complain endlessly about the inconveniences they are not accustomed to. Just hit the expat Facebook groups to see the mountains of comparisons and disgruntled rants about their new homes. The critical thing to remember is that your home country wasn’t perfect either. So much so that you left! Remember those reasons and focus on the positives.If you don’t, you’ll be unnecessarily and unhappily stuck in the “resistance” stage of expat adjustment … believe me!

Khadijah Stott-Andrew is a freelance writer and editor and is currently managing the newly launched website, www.lexical-scribe.com. Khadijah is the Reflections Editor for SISTERS Magazine and you can find her on Twitter, @Khadalina, or check out her personal blog, www.scribebehindthecurtain.blogspot.com.

This article was originally published in the June 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

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Hijrah Diaries 2.0: Finding My Feet

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From new friends to no internet, Khadijah Stott-Andrew shares her first experiences in Qatar.

My first few weeks in Qatar sped by. I threw myself into my surroundings; I was exploring the area with my husband and focusing on furnishing the house to my liking. I didn’t want to dwell on the amount of time it would take to see my family again. Truth be told, the week leading up to our departure was such a whirlwind of chaos that it was a relief to finally arrive in a quite, spacious house and just breathe. We had a few days before my husband started back at work, so we enjoyed some quality family time together for the first time in two months. It truly was a sakina (small blessing)from Allah SWT.

Feeling safe and finding friends

However, being in the house without my husband was where things got a tad lonely. Now, unlike a lot of expats travelling to Qatar, we aren’t residing in the capital. We are about 40 minutes from there in a dusty desert-land area. Needless to say, the silence is beautiful and the views are breathtaking, but the local activities and human contact can be limited. I remember my first evening alone in the house (except for my children who were sound asleep). My paranoia skyrocketed. I was used to having my sister-in-law a couple floors above me in our building of apartments, my mother and father in law living two2 minutes away and my own family only half an hour’s drive. What would I do if someone broke in? I didn’t know anybody, didn’t have a clue how emergency response worked in my new environment, and I felt extremely vulnerable. That first night, my husband was on an errand in the capital, picking up some baby items for my youngest, and he found my anxiety incredibly funny. In contrast, I now feel extremely safe, safer than I ever did in the UK. With friendly neighbours and a surprisingly low crime rate, I feel comfortable and protected.

As the week wore on, my new mobile number got passed around to the wives in the neighbouring houses, and I made a point of getting to know as many people as I could. Having a beautifully varied circle of sisters in the UK, I was determined not to become a recluse in my new home! You see, the support network is where the blessing lies in a move such as this. All these women are in the same boat as me – we moved here for a better life, we don’t know how long we’re staying, we miss our families, are incredibly homesick, but still extremely grateful to have this opportunity. It was also extremely helpful to speak to these women and gain as much advice as possible about how to make my life here easier. It wasn’t long before we arranged a weekly study circle and got together as regularly as we could!

However, the friends that truly surprised and amazed me have been my non-Muslim friends. I was surprised to find that a decent amount of families in my neighbourhood were non-Muslim. They had moved out here for better opportunities, if not for religious reasons. Throughout my life, my main circle of companions had always been Muslim – the way I saw it, we had more in common, strove towards a similar lifestyle and experienced similar trials. But my non-Muslim friends have greeted me with kindness, welcoming attitudes and, most importantly, tolerance. Hostility and aggression from non-Muslims tends to be a harsh reality for most Muslims in this growing climate of Islamophobia, and it is one of the reasons we moved here. However, I have made some truly beautiful friendships that I will treasure even after I leave.

The challenge

Although, it wasn’t all rainbows and parties. Settling into a new home took a lot of work. But the hardest trial we were faced with was a severe lack of internet! You truly take it for granted when it comes so easily. Although my husband ordered a technician more than two weeks before I arrived, there was still no WiFi. We called the internet company (the only one available, so we couldn’t exactly threaten to take our business elsewhere!) several times to chase it up and were usually met with the same response, “It is coming, Sir/Madam. Just be patient.”

The weeks drifted by and I became more and more anxious; I couldn’t video chat with my family, I missed my mum terribly, I couldn’t check my emails, and my freelance work was piling stressfully high. My beautiful SISTERS team remained admirably patient as I struggled to complete my work. In a bid of desperation I called upon my new friends and sat in their living rooms with my laptop, flying through as many internet-related tasks as I could. I’m not going to lie, I felt very cheeky. I didn’t know these sisters well, yet I was setting up shop in their front rooms, too busy to chat! When I felt too embarrassed to call on my neighbours anymore, my husband and I got creative. There were times I ended up huddled in a corner of the golf club, hastily answering emails – not as glamourous as it sounds, believe me!

I tried different approaches to plead with the company to hurry things along. It had been 8 weeks – 6 weeks longer than they had initially promised. Speaking to managers and supervisors didn’t help as it never seemed to be anyone’s responsibility and I was always handed over to someone else – an all-too-common occurrence in many businesses over here! I tried the desperate approach by telling them how difficult I was finding it without speaking to my family. Then, I got annoyed. Nothing was working and it was getting ridiculous. Thankfully,  I stumbled on an internet-regulation company. Well, just dropping their name on the phone soon had them all in a hurry and a technician was booked to arrive in the next few days. By this point I was on first name basis with a few members of the staff. I’d made a complete nuisance of myself by calling them once, sometimes 3 times a day, never giving them a chance to blow me off, because they knew I would always call back!

Eventually, the technician arrived. Late, I might add. When I rang to find out where he was, I was told, “Don’t worry, Madam, he is on his way and I have told him how you talk.” After a good chuckle imagining what must have been said about me, I was glad to finally be taken seriously!

The wisdom behind the challenge

Now, as stressful as this series of events was, it was a blessing in disguise. When the internet finally arrived, I appreciated it so immensely, that my life became wonderfully easy. Talking to my mum became a luxury I truly embraced with gratitude – something I may not have felt had the internet been so readily available when I arrived.

Also, it is worth mentioning that TV and Internet was a combined package. Now, whilst I never thought of myself as being dependent or even appreciative of TV entertainment, I felt its absence. Relaxing with a cup of tea and a film in the evenings had become a bonding tradition for me and my husband. So, without this luxury, we came up with other things to do together. We read together, we talked, and we really connected in a way we hadn’t done since our early marital days. After all, we were in this together and we only had each other.

Khadijah Stott-Andrew is a freelance writer and editor and is currently managing the newly launched website, www.lexical-scribe.com. Khadijah is the Reflections Editor for SISTERS Magazine and you can find her on Twitter, @Khadalina, or check out her personal blog, www.scribebehindthecurtain.blogspot.com.

This article was originally published in the May 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

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Pearls and jewels and iPads – Oh, My!

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We’ve all heard them: the pearls in the oysters, the jewels in the boxes, the sticky sweets without the wrappers, the queen that won’t shake anyone’s hand… and now, the iPads in their protective cases. Yes, iPads.

Many people encourage these analogies for wearing hijab, and, for the most part, they seem to get the point across. Women are beautiful, and covering that beauty does not diminish it, nor devalue it. But is that all these analogies are saying.

For a while, I loved the imagery and used it myself when justifying my hijab to non-Muslims. I cherished the idea of being a precious pearl, an invaluable jewel, a queen of my religion. But what I didn’t realise is that playing into these analogies was only adding to a superiority and arrogance that was developing inside my heart. The doubts about these metaphors slowly started to develop when the images across social media became less flattering.

The lollipop.

That sticky, dirty lollipop all covered in flies. When I first saw it, I chuckled. I’m being honest. Good point, I thought snarkily, and continued to scroll down my newsfeed. However, seeing a YouTube rant about that image, got me thinking. What if I was a sister struggling to come to terms with the hijab? Would that image inspire me, shame me or make me defensive? Probably the latter two. Then I thought, what if I was a man looking at that image? I know we all love to pipe on about the brothers with no control over their sexual urges, but are we really going to generalize all brothers and degrade them to insects with little more than half a brain cell capable of making logical decisions? I realised that the only person that image was complimenting was a woman in hijab… or was it?

Am I a lollipop? Do I become dirty when I remove my wrapper? Would my future husband be a hungry, dirty fly, only seeing me for my appearance?

These analogies have stemmed from a sense of superiority of hijabis over non-hijabis. It screams out the idea that the cloth on your head equates to piety and worth. This idea was further encouraged by another popular image: the bar chart. This chart had small illustrations of different women steadily wearing more clothes. It went from a girl in shorts and a camisole top, to a sister in an overhead jilbab and niqab. The chart then illustrated each woman rising higher on the bar chart, reaching the sky and, ultimately, closeness to Allah (SWT). The image was captioned, “Which stage are you at?”

This was the first image that immediately made me uncomfortable. Sure, I knew which stage of hijab I was at, but who are we to claim which stage of closeness to Allah (SWT) a person is at? This image scared me. Because, despite my hijab and abayah, my teenage years were mainly a struggle with my salah. I was late with most of my prayers, and even missed a few. I was at a very low point and my iman was crumbling, yet I still held onto the idea that my hijab defined the type of Muslim I was. As a result, I wasn’t taking enough steps to improve my situation. I was living proof that your level of hijab DOES NOT represent how close you are to your Creator, and believing this lie only prevents improvement.

Therein lies the problem with our precious analogies – they boast perfection. In buying into these analogies, we degrade the state of a Muslimah to be nothing more than her hijab. We are humans with souls, desires, interests and hobbies, and our responsibilities extend to more than just our clothing. Now, I am not denying that hijab is part of my identity; it is a reminder of who I am and what I am working towards. But that is the main point that gets lost when we boast about being pearls in oysters – we are working towards something. We haven’t completed our purpose in life by draping our bodies in cloth – that is just one aspect of who we are and what we represent.

Another failure of using pearls, jewels and iPads, is it blatantly ignores the other aspect of hijab – the inner hijab. Like I said, we are more that just our appearance and clothing. We complain that the West has reduced women to nothing more than looks and attractiveness. We claim that hijab has liberated Muslimahs from this degradation, yet in the same breath, we add to it  by reducing Muslimahs to a state when their worth is defined by the clothes they wear. How is this any better than the Big Bad Western World?

I would like to highlight here, that by disagreeing with these analogies, I am not disagreeing with the value of hijab. It is an obligation from our Creator, Allah (SWT), and I will never ever dispute that, insha Allah. My point is only this: we are more than what we wear. Hijab is a symbol of submission, but we must also have that submission enacted in our daily lives and in everything we do, not just when we get dressed in the morning.

In the future, if we have to use images, I hope to see a pie chart (or a cake, I’m not fussy) split into sections that represent the different aspects of what it takes to be a Muslim – male or female. Let’s stop placing hijab as an extra pillar of Islam, depicting it as the be all and end all of a Muslimah’s life and identity. The first and most important pillar of Islam is shahadah, the declaration of faith. A declaration that illuminates every aspect of your life, every deed you perform, including, but not restricted to, hijab.

I love you, my sisters. Whether you are draped in black, focusing on your iman or just trying out your first patterned headscarf. If you love Allah (SWT), I love you.

Khadijah Stott-Andrew is a freelance writer and editor and is currently managing the newly launched website, www.lexical-scribe.com. Khadijah is the Reflections Editor for SISTERS Magazine and you can find her on Twitter, @Khadalina, or check out her personal blog, www.scribebehindthecurtain.blogspot.com.

This article was originally published in the March 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine.

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Hijrah Diaries: Taking the Plunge

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Khadijah Stott-Andrew begins her series discussing the highs and lows of moving abroad.

When it comes to writing an article about personal issues, I am the first to admit that it’s a struggle. How much should I reveal to an audience such as this? Do I praise the positives or warn you of the negatives? After several drafts, I have decided that the only option is to be brutally and unashamedly honest.

Moving abroad is not easy. It’s hard work, complicated, stressful and there are many points that have left me sobbing like a baby at the sheer magnitude of what we were about to do. Hijrah is scary; leaving behind your life, family, friends, routine and even your favourite shops can render you full of fear and doubt. I can’t remember the number of times I have broken down in sujud, begging Allah SWT to guide my husband to the right decision and to bless me with the strength and ability to deal with it.

Unfortunately, the battle doesn’t end there. You may find yourself not only having to talk yourself into the positives of making hijrah, but to also ease the minds of those around you. It is not easy saying goodbye to friends and family, and it isn’t easy for them to let you go. One of the biggest challenges I faced before leaving was unintentional negativity from other people.

Commenters started with silly questions about my destination: “Can women go outside?”, “But what are you going to do? Sit around your house all day?”, “Aren’t they a bit extreme over there?”.

They then resorted to campaigns of why I should stay: “Say what you like about this country, but the healthcare is the best in the world!”, “What if you have a baby? You’ll be all alone without your family!”, “I can’t live without Primark me. Aren’t you going to be bored?” For someone already battling with the prospect, questions like these became suffocating. Plus, whilst some people were firing their questions at me, others struggled to hide their disbelief and dismissed my announcement with implications that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, these commentators mean well. They are fully aware of the struggle you are about to face, and many just want to ensure that you have considered everything before you leave. However, what they don’t realise is that once your flight is booked and you’re packing your bags, you’ve already weighed up all the pros and cons and considered your options. At this stage you need comfort, reassurance and positivity.

Alhamdulillah, once the reality had set in for my loved ones, I received just that – comfort from my mother, reassurance from my father and positivity from my friends. I was able to enjoy my final weeks with them as I focused on preparing myself for the challenge ahead.

As Muslims, we believe that Allah’s hikmah (wisdom) is in every situation we face, good or bad. Just sometimes we don’t realise it. The situation placed before me was a tough one – we were informed that my husband would have to go on ahead without me. I would stay behind in the UK with the children until our papers had been sorted, which could take a minimum of two months. On hearing this, I was shocked and nervous. Two months without my husband? Two months without our cups of tea in the evenings and movie nights at the weekend? Now, whilst this gave me a jolt of anxiety, I also felt a pang of excitement – for those two months I could move back home. I could spend some quality time with my parents and siblings before I leave! Here was Allah’s wisdom, masha Allah.

Little did I know, Allah’s wisdom did not end there. Whilst moving back home was exciting and full of fun and laughter, it wasn’t long before I couldn’t ignore how much I missed my husband. I missed our regular routine, I missed our time together, I missed him. And I wasn’t the only one. My eldest son, only 3 at the time, became quiet and reflective, even subdued, and became very attached to any male family members; my son was missing his daddy. All of this became very heavy on my mind and my husband tried to hurry the paperwork along; it wasn’t easy for him either, being without his wife and children in a strange country.

Being a rather emotional person anyway, it didn’t take much to bring me to tears, to leave me seeking solitude with my boys, desperately trying to get the video chat connection working so we can spend some virtual time with my husband. I missed him terribly; so when the day finally arrived when he would fly home to take us with him, I rejoiced! Gone were my fears of starting out in a strange country, gone were my apprehensions about leaving everything behind – I just wanted to be back with my husband and my children with their father.

So you see, the challenges of making Hijrah come before your bags are even packed. Mentally preparing yourself for such a change is a difficult and emotional journey. Each person will get through it in a way unique to them, but here are some points to bear in mind:

  • Focus on the bad you are leaving behind

We all choose to make hijrah for a reason. Many of us are not in an ideal Muslim environment. Many of us live in a society that has foundations in complete and drastic opposition to our faith. Focusing on this can give you the strength to look forward to a change, to focus on the true reason why you made this decision in the first place.

  • Focus on the good that awaits you

Now, whilst your chosen destination won’t be perfect, it will have a lot of perks you didn’t enjoy in your home country. Keep these in mind, and even research more about the country. Join expat message boards, Facebook groups and read blogs. Find out everything you can about the wonders that await you!

  • Make friends

Whilst online, you may find many people in the same situation as you. Chatting to other expats and hijrah-seekers makes the experience seem less daunting and allows you to bounce questions off people who already know what you’re going through.

  • Communicate

Talk to your spouse. REALLY. Don’t bottle up how you feel; it’s hard when you feel like you’re on a roller coaster and can’t get off. Chances are, your significant other is probably experiencing similar anxieties to you. Talk through them together and support each other.

  • Du’a

Let’s face it, with Allah SWT looking out for you, what’s the worst that can happen? You are doing this for His sake. Anything done with our Creator in mind can only bring good. Just remember, Allah’s wisdom is in every situation you will face. You just have to hold onto that thought and use it to give you strength.

I pray Allah SWT blesses you with the strength and determination to complete your journey to Him, whether physically or spiritually.

Khadijah Stott-Andrew is a freelance writer and editor and is currently managing the newly launched website, www.lexical-scribe.com. Khadijah is the Reflections Editor for SISTERS Magazine and you can find her on Twitter, @Khadalina, or check out her personal blog, www.scribebehindthecurtain.blogspot.com.

This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine. Order your copy by clicking the image below!

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Inner Haya’ and the Judgemental Hijabi

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Khadijah Stott-Andrew questions the assumptions we make based on a sister’s level of hijab.

Hijab is a topic never far from the mind of a Muslimah, whether she wears hijab or not. However, ‘hijab’ instantly implies the scarf wrapped around the hair, possibly with an abayah thrown in. Many of us forget the implications that piece of material should have on our overall character. Hijab is an act of modesty, an act of haya’. If someone is described as modest or humble, is this in reference to their outer appearance or an internal quality? Modesty comes from within; it affects the way a person carries themselves, the words they say and the way they treat the people around them. Unfortunately, internal modesty is a feature that is frequently absent from hijab lectures and study circles.

When a sister takes her shahadah, or a little girl develops maturity, the floral print hijabs come out, the YouTube tutorials are on repeat and each sister finds her own style of hijab and her own way of fulfilling the commandments set by Allah… But, how many sisters are told about the internal modesty they should carry with them at all times? Hijab is not a statement to the world; it is much bigger than that. Hijab should be a reflection of what you carry inside you. It should reflect your love of Allah SWT, your kind words, your compassion and your humility. However, many have fallen into the trap of allowing their hijab to work purely from an outer perspective, rather than it being an inside-out reflection. Allah SWT knows those who wear hijab simply because their friends do. Allah SWT knows who only wear their hijab because they think it’s fun to style. But most importantly, Allah knows those who wear their hijab with a sense of superiority over those who don’t.

I used to be a judgemental hijabi. It would frustrate me to see a sister without hijab; I was unable to understand any objections she may have to wearing it. I would make assumptions about a sister’s character, her likes and dislikes, even her level of iman based on the level of coverage she practised.

Yet all that changed when I met a sister who was newly practicing. Knowing she didn’t wear hijab before I met her, I was told she intended to wear the hijab after her upcoming wedding. I interpreted this as an empty gesture. This was an interpretation I had absolutely NO right to make and it reflected an inner flaw that I had not yet realised.

Through the grace and wisdom of Allah SWT, I agreed to meet this sister. I was reluctant due to a poor assumption that just because she wasn’t wearing hijab, we would have nothing in common, nothing to talk about.

The sister arrived at my house, nervous at meeting so many new people in such a short space of time. She was in fact wearing a headscarf. Her countenance was sweet, her manners impeccable and she relaxed enough to chat happily with me and a couple other sisters. To my complete and pleasant surprise, this sister and I were awfully alike. We had a lot in common, our sense of humour similar and our opinions on a lot of matters were identical. Even when we differed on certain topics, we were able to discuss them happily and with open minds, learning from each other. The more I got to know her, the more I loved her. Over the year following her marriage, her level of hijab did actually increase, and her beautiful personality remained the same.

What made this sister’s transition to hijab so effortless and inspiring was the simple fact that she had nurtured her inner hijab. She had developed a sense of modesty within herself and embraced the wisdom of Islam in her heart. The companions of the Prophet SAW, on hearing the prohibition of alcohol, threw their drink away until the streets were almost swimming with alcohol. The companions were able to happily make this sudden change because the foundations of their iman were solid. They had nurtured their souls with complete, unwavering conviction in Allah and love for his guidance. Similarly, this sister had devoured Islamic books, one after the other and listened continuously to lectures and Qur’anic recitation. Ultimately, this built a conviction and love in her heart for Allah’s laws and wisdom. The fact that her husband wanted her to eventually wear hijab was irrelevant to her decision. She started wearing the hijab when she felt ready to wear it for her Creator, when she had built her foundations of iman and increased her knowledge.

Meeting that sister, who is now one of my best friends in the world, was a gift from Allah SWT because it saved me from a crippling disease that was slowly destroying me. I was young and deluded into thinking hijab was merely an outer statement. Yet this wonderful sister taught me that every Islamic obligation must come from inside to then be reflected on the outside. No one is denying that hijab is an essential obligation for a Muslimah – but it must mirror what is inside our hearts.

Al-Junayd, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “Haya’ [modesty] is seeing the Signs, and being aware of one’s shortcomings. Out of these two will arise a state of hayā’. In reality, hayā’ is a character trait that encourages a person to avoid shameful things and prevents one from neglecting the rights of the One Who deserves them most.” (Riyadh Us-Saaliheen)

It will take more than one article to focus on the many, many ways someone can display haya’ in their actions, so I want to focus on a single phrase from Al-Junayd RA: being aware of one’s shortcomings.

Allah SWT did not place us on the earth to pass judgement on each other, He did not bless a Muslimah with the courage to wear hijab so she can be a comparison to those who don’t. As the past few years have taught me, a sister in hijab may backbite in the masjid and regularly miss fajr, whereas a sister without hijab could make every single prayer time, including her sunnahs, and treat those around her with kindness and respect.   

Be aware of your own shortcomings – which obligations do you struggle with? Which of your character flaws could benefit from reflection and du’a? These are the hard questions we need to ask ourselves. Just like I had to ask myself why I made unfair assumptions about a sister I had never met, just because I was told she did not yet wear hijab.

So next time you feel the need to correct a sister on her attire, take a moment to reflect on yourself. For all you know, that sister may have a purer heart than you.

Khadijah Stott-Andrew is a freelance writer and editor and is currently managing the newly launched website, www.lexical-scribe.com. Khadijah is the Reflections Editor for SISTERS Magazine and you can find her on Twitter, @Khadalina, or check out her personal blog, www.scribebehindthecurtain.blogspot.com

This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of SISTERS Magazine. Order your copy by clicking the image below!

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Book Review: She Wore Red Trainers by Na’ima B. Robert

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When I first heard that a “Muslim love story” was on the horizon, I could barely contain my enthusiasm. Knowing that Na’ima B. Robert would be taking on this task only filled me with confidence. This is the author that brought you the inspirational From My Sisters’ Lips, the heart-wrenching Far From Home and the thought-provoking Black Sheep. Unafraid of controversy and depth, Na’ima B. Robert brings you her latest novel for Young Adults, She Wore Red Trainers.

With my Young Adult years not so far behind me, I can confidently and unashamedly recall the sheer number of Young Adult romance novels I devoured on a weekly basis. With my childhood surrounded by the Disney princesses of my time, I was no stranger to drifting off into a fantasy land with my prince on his noble steed sweeping me off my feet. Unfortunately, once I hit my teens, I believed this fantasy land to be just that – a fantasy. Like most of my peers, we saw the windswept romance of movies and novels to be an enjoyment for non-Muslims. With what we saw as suffocating and almost impractical rules and regulations surrounding any attempt at finding love, we didn’t believe a heart-fluttering romance to be achievable.

Yet, when my own journey towards a halal marriage began, it was filled with all the flutterings and excitement I wanted. The limitations we faced only sweetened the freedom found after the Nikah was performed. Love flourished after the wedding, in the secure happiness of marriage.

All of this has lead me to feel very strongly about the need for a book such as She Wore Red Trainers. At a time when our youth feel increasingly restricted within the bounds of their faith, it is important to show them the halal way to actually get what they want. She Wore Red Trainers does just that; in a beautiful narrative, the reader experiences the anticipations and excitements from both Amirah and Ali. In keeping to their deen, they know they can’t mix together or chat together with the freedom they would prefer.

Described as “a modern-day Romeo and Juliet” in The Guardian, She Wore Red Trainers draws similarities with its Shakespearean comparison in the sense that the characters must maneuver the rules they live by in such a way as to achieve their desire: to be together. Unlike Romeo and Juliet however, Amirah and Ali face obstacles very similar, if not equal to the obstacles faced by many members of our Muslim society, such as family politics and limited contact with each other. Unfortunately, it has come to the point where many feel they have to choose between their deen and finding love. She Wore Red Trainers challenges this mentality.

A feature of this book that makes it a beautifully engaging read is the fact that Ali’s and Amirah’s lives do not completely (and unrealistically) revolve around each other. They both have their own lives and their own personal battles facing them each day – Ali’s recent loss of his mother and Amirah’s heavy responsibilities at home by caring for her mother and siblings. In a way, this paints a wonderfully accurate picture of married life. Once married, it is not happily ever after. There will be obstacles, there will be battles, there will be difficult situations that make life that much more challenging. The solace is in your spouse. The beauty is finding your way towards your companion amongst the trials and disappointments of life. Life is not a fairytale, but happiness, love and contentment do exist in reality.

What astounds me most about this magnificent book is the points of view Na’ima has chosen to work from. If we take a look at the famous love stories that have hit the mainstream shelves, we find the narrative either restrictive to one point of view (the boy’s or the girl’s) or void of personal touch through a third person narrative. Though subtle, Na’ima’s choice of granting access to both Ali and Amirah’s inner thoughts about the situation provides an insight that only adds to the excitement for the reader, also making this book accessible for readers in general, and not just for Young Adult girls.

For the older readers out there, I implore you to pick up this book. Let it help you understand the thoughts, concerns and humour that runs through the minds of the younger generation. I pray this book paves the way in bridging the gap between parents and children, enabling them both with the understanding necessary to successfully find a spouse.

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Khadijah Stott-Andrew is a freelance writer and editor and is currently managing the newly launched website, www.lexical-scribe.com. Khadijah is the Reflections Editor for SISTERS Magazine and you can find her on Twitter, @Khadalina, or check out her personal blog, www.scribebehindthecurtain.blogspot.com.

This book review was originally published in SISTERS Magazine, issue #61, October 2014. Order your copy here!

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Crisis Analysis: Keeping it together when a marriage falls apart

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Divorce is a life-altering decision, regardless of how long you were married or how many children you have. Not only will your physical circumstances change, but your psychological well-being takes a hit as well; it is an extremely vulnerable time. J. Samia Mair opens up and shares her thoughts following her divorce and turns to the words of Allah for comfort. 

Keeping It Together When a Marriage Falls Apart
J. Samia Mair

Everything was upside down. Unlike my colleagues who counted the days to the weekend, I looked forward to Mondays when I was going back to work. And I dreaded Fridays, knowing that the weekend was coming. I remember telling my ex-husband that home should be a place of refuge from the world, not a place of turmoil. It should be a place where spouses support, encourage, and love each other, not a place of belittlement, tyranny and fear. When your worst enemy is your spouse, there can be very little peace at home.

But I did have Mondays and four more additional days of work during which my life was “normal”. It wasn’t that I had an exceptional place of employment. I liked my job and got along with my co-workers and superiors, but work is work. It was very demanding at times and there are always office politics to maneuver. But it was an escape from my marriage and it was an aspect of my life that was under control and heading in a good direction.

My social relationships were also in order. I had friends and family members to lean on for support and ask advice. I knew that I was not alone in the terrible situation that had become my marriage. And I had no children, which usually makes divorce tremendously more difficult and complicated.

I also exercised regularly. Running has always been therapeutic for me, not just in a physical sense. I could run for miles and forget that I was running—no thoughts, no worries, just immersed in the immediate experience. I cherished those moments that I could just relax and temporarily forget about my marital troubles.

And I always had an intellectual outlet that I was pursuing. Whether studying comparative religions—I was not a Muslim at the time—or trying to learn a new language, or getting certified in some field, I tend to feel much better when I feel that I am improving.

Experience has taught me that the key to keeping it together when your marriage is falling apart is to compartmentalize—in other words, to separate the distinct parts of your life, so when one of them is presenting exceptional difficulties, the others (or most of the others) are going fairly well. Thus, when my marriage was in a horrible state, my career, my social relationships, my physical health and my intellectual growth were okay.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It takes a concerted effort to keep other aspects of your life in order when your marriage is falling apart. You are sad and emotionally exhausted. The death of a marriage is devastating, even if you are thrilled to get out of it. New challenges and responsibilities present themselves, which can be daunting. But it is crucial not to let other aspects of your life get absorbed in the pain of your divorce; you want to avoid the domino effect. Having stability elsewhere will ease your transition into your new life and give you the ability and I dare say, sanity, to heal and move on.

It is completely reasonable to be thinking at this point that I had it easy to the extent I had a job, no children and in an environment where divorce was perfectly acceptable. And that is all true. But I didn’t have Islam at the time.

Our deen is full of guidance on what to do during difficulties. For example, Allah, subhana wa ta’ala, tells us in the Qur’an as interpreted,

Allah does not charge a soul with more than what it can bear. (2:286)

If you are going through a disastrous marriage know that you can get through it and that the pain will eventually subside.

Surely every hardship is followed by ease. (94:5 & 6)

Also remember that Allah, subhana wa ta’ala, loves the sabireen, those who are steadfast in difficult times, (see 3:146) and that He, subhana wa ta’ala, is with them.

O Believers, seek help in steadfastness and in the Prayer. Allah is with those who are steadfast. (2:155)

Comfort is also found in the fact that there are many blessings in tribulations. Sins are erased; you become closer to Allah, subhana wa ta’ala; you receive blessings for being steadfast; you can become more compassionate towards others; you realise that things could be worse, as well as many other benefits.

Indeed, even the smallest tribulations have blessings in them. According to our beloved Prophet, sallallahu Aaayhi wa salaam,

No calamity befalls a Muslim but that Allah expiates some of his sins because of it, even though it were the prick he receives from a thorn. (Bukhari)

Numerous places in the Qur’an, Allah, subhana wa ta’ala, tells us to put our trust in Him. We must accept the tribulations placed in our path and recognise that there is ultimate good in them, even if we cannot see it.

Additionally, we must know the fiqh of divorce and act accordingly, because while divorce is allowed in Islam, it is not to be taken lightly.

Of all the lawful acts the most detestable to Allah is divorce. (Abu Dawud)

Understanding the fiqh of divorce should also help you deal with cultural attitudes towards divorce that have nothing to do with Islam. You may not change other people’s beliefs and they may not support you, but the knowledge that you are acting in accordance with the deen should give you more confidence in your decision. Indeed, in Islam we are not supposed act unless we know the rules that pertain to what we are undertaking, whether it be marriage, divorce, establishing a business, etc.

Knowing and acting upon your deen and keeping the other areas of your life in order, to the extent you can, will lessen the trauma of divorce. Undoubtedly, divorce is much harder for someone who cannot easily support herself or has young children to care for. But divorce is never easy. It is painful and it often takes a long time to heal and to get your new life in order.

But you will move on.

You can be happy again.

J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions (2014) and The Great Race to Sycamore Street (2013), and currently working on sequels to both. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.

If you have your own story to tell, or if this piece has inspired you to write about the issues faced by divorced Muslim women, click here to submit your proposal. We look forward to hearing from you!

Please comment to leave your views, and make sure to share this page across your social media. These are important issues, and it is high time they rose to the surface for discussion.

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Crisis Analysis: Divorce and Loneliness

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After a long Summer break, Crisis Analysis returns with our next topic: divorce and loneliness. Many would assume that loneliness is to be expected after a divorce. To have lived with a constant companion, only to suddenly find yourself without them, would leave a mark. However, one would not expect to feel completely and utterly alone. Khurshid Khatib interviews Sana and Maria, two women that found themselves isolated by the Muslim communities around them following their divorce.

Divorce and Loneliness
Khurshid Khatib

Divorce is acknowledged to be one of life’s most stressful experiences. As well as huge personal turmoil, the breakdown of marriage may also bring with it financial burdens or the upheaval of a move to a new home and where children are involved, the traumatic issues of custody and court proceedings. Divorcees may also have to consider the prospect of raising their children alone, a situation that few will have envisaged or expected for themselves.  

At this very difficult emotional time, as with many serious life experiences, a valid support system is essential. Having close friends and supportive family members to share your feelings and concerns with can facilitate the difficulties that invariably accompany the transition of separation through to divorce. Unfortunately, this support cannot always be assumed; the subject of divorce is still often regarded as taboo within some members of the Muslim community and often divorcees have found this lack of empathy to be an isolating experience.

I speak to Sana who is in her early thirties, with two young children and who has been divorced for almost four years. The impact of her divorce has not fully left her and she says that it is only recently that she has come to a point where she has gained some semblance of emotional stability.

She says that, ‘Of all the things I had expected from the breakdown of my marriage, loneliness was not one of them. I had wrongly assumed support through this extremely painful process but instead, more often than not, I found myself abandoned socially and even worse, judged because of it. I found more support from non-Muslim rather than Muslim friends and whilst I have always loved having a wide circle of friends from a variety of different religious backgrounds and cultures, it was extremely disappointing to find such a negative attitude from some Muslims’.

During her marriage, Sana was subjected to regular physical and verbal aggression from her ex-husband. Not surprisingly, the marriage left her self esteem in tatters following its nine year duration and she explains why she did not leave earlier. ‘I did not want my children to grow up without a father at home and a family unit but there was more to it than that; I was extremely frightened of my husband. He had a strong hold over me. It’s hard to explain but if someone tells you for long enough that you are not worthy of anything and that person is supposed to be the closest person to you, then you begin to believe everything that they say. Despite this, you also keep hope in your heart that one day things will get better and that things will change’.

Divorce was not something that Sana took lightly. ‘Divorce is the most hated thing permissible in Islam and I absolutely understand why. It is something that I too hate and I hadn’t at all wanted to end up in this situation and to have to raise my children alone. My loneliness is becoming more and more intolerable and my struggle against it continues. Not only does this affect me but also my children as some of the friends that they previously used to see regularly do not socialise with us anymore. I can’t come up with an appropriate explanation to them as to why this has happened without explaining to them a truth than they would never understand. On top of what has already happened in my personal life, it is as though a confirmation that I deserve my loneliness. It has left me questioning my belief system as unfortunately these attitudes appear to be more common than not, and yet I’ve always believed and hoped for a spirit of kinship with other Muslims; the sense of belonging for me is no longer there. I feel as though my children and I have been abandoned’.

Loneliness following divorce appears to be compounded by further isolation through a ‘blame culture’ and it would appear that sometimes women are behaving in a hostile and negative way towards divorcees and further contributing to a pre-existing trauma. Sana’s experience is echoed by

Maria who is also divorced and has a four-year old daughter. She says that ‘Divorce is not often talked about other than for gossip and in fact is often brushed totally under the carpet. I realise this when I have met other women going through a similar thing. It is unacceptable that women are treating one another in this way and far worse that an assumption has already been made, that it [the separation] is entirely the fault of the woman. I have a really strong sense of betrayal and feel so utterly let down from a sense of stigma’.  

She continues, ‘Suddenly, I didn’t fit into that socially acceptable mould of ‘married couple’ and the invitations to gatherings stopped quite abruptly. At first I thought it might have been an oversight but I quickly got the distinct feeling that some married women may not have ‘approved’ of my divorced status. Perhaps they did not want their children to be affected by what they perceived to be a ‘bad influence’ or negative role model? Maybe I am speculating a little too much but the tone of some women towards me became distinctly frosty. It is not as though these views are typical with all Muslim women but a lot of women distanced themselves from me since my separation and that is extremely painful to me. I have not changed as a person at all but perception of me has. It seems to me that many people are ignorant of the fact that although strongly discouraged, Islam does actually allow divorce. I’ve come to understand that support is often too much to expect but I feel almost condemned. It is as though there is an invisible stamp on my head which I can never shake off’ says Maria.

I ask Maria how she would like attitudes to change; ‘It would be nice for me to be given the opportunity to be acknowledged and regarded for my own merits. It hurts me a great deal to think that sometimes I am being defined only by the failure of my marriage. When a person makes a mistake or fails in something does it mean that they never get a chance to try and make their life successful again with someone else? There are, of course, incredibly serious implications of having children from a previous marriage, I recognise that and can see that given a choice, why would a man choose a divorced woman with children when it would be easier for him to find a woman without children? I had always hoped and truly believed in the sanctity of marriage. I still do.  My heart is still open for remarriage however the reality for this happening seems a remote dream; it has been made fairly clear to me by some Muslim women that I am now somehow tainted and am not worthy of this second chance. I don’t believe in giving up hope for future happiness and yet the little hope I do have is battling the much louder voices of reality inside me’.

Sana and Maria’s case are not necessarily representative of the treatment of all divorcees and there are talks of new friendships and support systems but the fact that divorcees are stigmatised amongst some circles within the Muslim community, significantly contributes to their feelings of loneliness. Negative opinions and attitudes can often apply to divorce regardless of cultural ideas or religious beliefs however, it is of concern that the damage felt by divorcees appears to be greatly underestimated, if considered at all amongst some Muslims. It is clear to see not only the pain and frustration in these women but also their concerns for the future and a fading hope for a second chance at a happy and fulfilling personal life.

There appears to be a need to remove unnecessary judgement and blame regarding divorce. It is extremely disappointing to hear of totally unislamic attitudes towards divorcees being deemed as acceptable and meeting women like Sana and Maria, it is clear to see the hurt caused by this stigma and how their loneliness is exacerbated by it. Having already been through the emotional process of separation and divorce, individuals are not necessarily seeking validation through society but support and acceptance within it. The real irony of Maria and Sana’s situation is that there are probably many other women who are in the same position and are experiencing similar difficulties and in that respect, they are almost certainly not alone.

Khurshid Khatib is a writer and campaigner with interests in human rights, hunger, poverty and peace. She has previously worked as a Pharmaceutical Scientist and Broadcast Assistant.

Twitter: @KhurshidKhatib
Blog: http://khurshidkhatib.wordpress.com/

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