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

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 8.58.48 AM

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.

Photo 24-11-2014 09 06 51

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!

10676288_1506868306221845_4448919719138021655_n

Advertisements
Posted in Book Reviews, SISTERS | Leave a comment

Crisis Analysis: Keeping it together when a marriage falls apart

CA-Divorce-banner

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.

Posted in Crisis Analysis, Divorced Muslim Women | Leave a comment

Crisis Analysis: Divorce and Loneliness

CA-Divorce-banner

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/

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.

Posted in Crisis Analysis, Divorced Muslim Women, Journal | Leave a comment

Crisis Analysis: When Divorce Brings Freedom

CA-Divorce-banner

As the opening entry to our Crisis Analysis series: The Divorced Muslim Woman, we talk to Shalina Litt. Shalina is a Muslimah who found both strength and freedom through her divorce. Unfortunately, most divorces are seen as a breakdown of marriage resulting from faults on both sides. Now, whilst this may be the case in some divorces, it is not the truth for all. 

Shalina shares her story – how walking away from her marriage lead her to start an exciting new chapter in her life…

Getting Divorced Was The Best Thing I Ever Did
Shalina Litt

If I told you he stamped on my head and I still stayed married to him, you’d think I was crazy.  What did it take for me to finally walk away? I lost my baby. For me, that was when the case was closed. I asked for my khula [divorce], full of emotion. At this point, I was surrounded by people who were full of opinions about our messy end. Nothing else mattered to me but justice. I felt like after this part of my life I had nothing but my religion to lose.  I prayed desperately to Allah SWT to keep me on this straight path.

It took a few months of denial and a persistent friend of mine telling me to dust myself off and get back out there! Eventually, it happened. I’d wake up and start thinking about myself, rather than waking up and missing his presence. I’d go to bed with Allah on my mind rather than him and how lonely I felt. Domestic Violence is ugly, but Allah never breaks His promise, and after hardship comes ease.

I’m now surrounded by nothing but love. In the week, I spend my time going to schools doing nasheed workshops. Hearing the poetry and different sounds of voices is beautiful, and I love watching the children slowly crawl out of their shells, only to spread their wings and fly with their ability to let go with the power of words.

The happy ending for me was when the man I gave my all too, the man that told me, “You’re nothing”, now tells me, “I know I messed up”. At that point, when Allah has exposed this man for who he really is, I realise, “I wasn’t in love with you! I was in love with who I thought you were!”

So here I am, in the space of 2 days, I have achieved so much! On my phone, I can now tap away and within seconds the whole world can access my thoughts –  dangerous, but beautiful when used correctly.

What did I achieve? I’ve made the decision to put a price on my passion and experience. Some of us become so experienced in life, we have to ‘bottle it and sell it’. And thats what I plan on doing. People always tell me, “I couldn’t do that”, so I decided to retell my story again and again.

My newfound career, however, means one thing – TIME MANAGEMENT. Time management is vital for success. I’ve learnt that 3 things mean the most to me:

  • Knowing my Lord/Religion
  • Myself
  • My children

I realised that while I was busy helping others, I was neglecting the things that matter most to my progress in life. So now that I’ve established these priorities, I have to divide my time between them, plus the new addition of my career.

Shalina Litt runs an exclusive Life Coaching Well-Being Service, in addition to attending schools and Colleges, delivering workshops about abuse and Identity Resolution. In addition to this, she is a Radio Presenter on Unity FM 93.5  For further details or to get in touch with her, contact:

Email: iamshalina@live.co.uk
Twitter: iam_shalina
Facebook: Shalina Litt
Gmail: ‘iamshalina’


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.

Ash-Sharh [94:5]

Ash-Sharh [94:5]

Posted in Crisis Analysis, Divorced Muslim Women | 2 Comments

Ramadan Battle Plan

LBL_SISTERS_illus_long

As the time for Ramadan approaches, everyone prepares for the blessed month in their own way. Everyone develops new ways to take advantage of the rewards available, trying to improve on their efforts the previous year.

The beginning of Ramadan is full of promise, positivity and opportunity. But as the month progresses, the fasting becomes harder and the novelty of taraweeh prayers wear off, our goals for the month seem further and further away. The spark fizzles out and the month can often end in guilt and regret.

However, there is hope that this year can be a massive improvement on the last. The Ramadan Planner was designed by the talented Maria Islam, founder of Halalify Islamic Planners. A valuable resource to help you focus on your goals and, most importantly, achieve them. This planner will ensure that you don’t lose sight of what this month is all about; a self-purification, a detox for your soul which will bring you ultimately closer to your Lord. By approaching the month of Ramadan in this structured way, you will benefit from not only seizing more opportunities for reward, but by also continuing on certain habits throughout the year. The focus is on consistency. One mistake many of us make is throwing ourselves into worship and Qur’an 200%, but when the middle of the month approaches, we begin to run out of steam. The Ramadan Battle plan will keep you on track as you record a steady progress and even feel an increased sense of achievement as you work your way through the pages.

Click the image to download your copy.

When SISTERS Magazine became aware of this phenomenal product, an action plan was quickly developed as we each challenged ourselves to take part, use the planner and share our progress. There is no need for the blessed month of Ramadan to be a solitary one. Through the Facebook page, we can encourage each other through the many tasks and challenges this month will provide.

Be sure to bookmark/follow the pages below to keep in touch with us and receive all the necessary updates to make Ramadan 2014 the most productive yet! See this blog post to have a look at how I have set up my own planner.

SISTERS Team Facebook Page
Halalify
Ramadan Battle Plan Facebook Page

Posted in Islamic Development, SISTERS | 1 Comment

Yearning to be Like the Sahabah: Uniting as One Ummah

Click the image to order your copy!

Click the image to order your copy!

From cramped prayer spaces to unfair accusations, Khadijah Stott-Andrew discusses the problem of ostracising women and explains how we should use the Prophetic example as a solution.

A common desire amongst Muslims today is a deep yearning to have been with the sahabah and to have thrived during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). At the other end of the spectrum, some people even blame their indiscretions and lack of resolve on the fact that they do not live amongst our pious predecessors. Many people feel that the times and circumstances the sahabah were blessed with were an exclusive formula that rendered the companions epitomes of perfection – a perfection that we can only dream about. However, if we were to study the authentic ahadith, we would see that the companions were humans who occasionally made mistakes. Mistakes that the Prophet (SAW) helped them to fix. Through the grace of Allah (SWT), these situations have been recorded in order to guide us in our day-to-day lives. Continue reading

Posted in SISTERS | Leave a comment

Crisis Analysis: The Divorced Muslim Woman

Khadijah bint Khuwaylid

Umm Salamah
Saudah bint Zam’ah
Zainab bint Jahash
Hafsah bint ‘Umar
Juwayriya bint al-Haarith
Umm Habibah
Safiyah bint Huyy
Maimoonah bint al-Haarith
‘A’ishah bint Abu Bakr

These were the wives of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W, the Mothers of the Believers. Excluding ‘A’ishah, they were all either divorced or widowed when they married Rasullulah S.A.W.

Fast forward 1400 years and divorced or widowed Muslim women are struggling to re-marry, struggling to cope, and struggling to break away from the oppressive stigma that plagues their every move. Men who insist they follow the sunnah, demand a virgin when pursuing a spouse. What is worse, is that this is seen as a perfectly acceptable and reasonable demand. Remarriage aside, divorced Muslim women also face a whole catalogue of problems. From childcare, to job prospects, to cultural stigmas. It is high time this issue was discussed, rather than shoved into the already bulging closet of skeletons the Ummah is struggling to keep hidden.

A year or so ago, I sent out a call to writers and women online, asking them to come forward to discuss the issues divorced women were facing in society. Initially, the plan was to compile all of these submissions into an online publication for free download. However, the more submissions that came in, the more issues I wanted to explore. I never reached a point where I could confidently say, “That’s enough, we’ve discussed all there is to discuss.” So, I went back to the drawing board and devised a way to not only publish the submissions, but also keep the process open for further submissions as well as generate discussion and feedback.

Crisis Analysis is a feature I hope will flourish on Lexical Scribe. Currently, Crisis Analysis will be focusing on divorced Muslim women. Though the Ummah is facing many MANY problems at the moment, so I am confident that there will be a lot of different issues that Crisis Analysis can explore in the future.

If you wish to contribute to Crisis Analysis, please click here to submit your proposal!

Watch this space for articles!

Posted in Crisis Analysis, Divorced Muslim Women | Leave a comment