The hardest part about coming out has got to be coming up with a good opening line. I haven’t got one though. So I’ll give it to you straight.
I’m not gay, but I could be dying.
As fas I know, not imminently though. I’ve known for years now that certain things in my body aren’t working properly – like my heart and a part of my brain called the autonomic nervous system, and because we all need our hearts and autonomic nervous systems to keep things running smoothly, I do have a potentially life-threatening condition. Well, technically, I have two – Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.
You look unsettled. Don’t worry, a lot of people have that reaction. You should see them when they try to shake my hand and find that it’s already shaking. They search my face for nervousness, fear, or an explanation of why meeting them would horrify me so badly. I tell them I have some medical conditions that can make my hands tremble. They look blank. Then I tell them how awesome it is – all my drinks are shakes and all of my toothbrushes are extra sonic. They laugh uncertainly.
Laughter is important
When my son was six or seven months old we were in an accident that totalled the car and damaged my right knee. My husband called me in the ER and when I picked up the phone he said, “Look, if you want me to spend more time with you, there are better ways of letting me know.” We laughed. Then he came and pushed my wheelchair around the ER in laps until the baby fell asleep and we went home and lived happily ever after.
Somewhere in the fairy tale our baby prince was diagnosed with autism, but that’s another story. While I would be hanging out the baby prince’s baby laundry, my arms would get very tired. Then we had a baby princess and if I stood up too quickly I would pass out. A second princess was born and by then my muscles cramped and twitched and hurt for days at a time. At present, I own the world’s heaviest smart phone, use both arms to carry a two-ton, 13-inch laptop, and have noted that carpenters don’t make sofas like they used to. They’re hard to get out of, and on top of that – they make this huge WHOOSH and creak when I fall – errr – daintily settle into them.
But we’ve settled. I have a full-time housekeeper and the driver takes the kids to and from school. Not because I’m the Queen, but because the last time I mopped the kitchen my legs hurt for three days. Chronic illness does have its perks – I can’t remember the last time I cleaned a bathroom. Oh, and I have country-wide parking privileges. Technically it’s called disabled parking, but I prefer to call it VIP.
I get special treatment
When I walk – because I can – slowly out of my car, people specially glare at me, wondering why I’m parking in a disabled spot when I’m so obviously not in a wheelchair. My husband says they’re just jealous, but once upon a time I too glared at people who parked in disabled spots and then skipped out of their luxury sports cars to the mall. If you gave me a little red convertible, I’d probably skip too, but just once, and then I would limp for a few days before sulkily admitting that I probably shouldn’t skip anymore.
I don’t skip.
Also I don’t do stairs.
The muscles of my mouth won’t. It’s a nerve thing, I think. I would never have known, since I’m not the whistling type, but I felt oddly insulted when my neurologist asked me if I could whistle. “Of course I can!” I huffed, and pursed my lips together to produce an indignant ffffffffffft.
He waited. I tried again. Then he made some notes and left me to mourn.
For a while I really did mourn. And by a while, I mean a good year or so. But the Kübler-Ross stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, are overrated, so I made up my own. Instead of denial, I started with terror for my children’s future, followed by appreciating every minute details of their hands, faces, fingers, and words. Then, I remembered what an idiot I’ve been for an overwhelming majority of my sentient life, and I began to beg for forgiveness before Allah called me for account.
There was never room for denial, as my creeping disability was constantly present, and finally getting a diagnosis was reassurance that I was not, indeed, crazy. Because weakness, fatigue, and pain are invisible, and POTS is hard to diagnose, I was told many times that my symptoms were in my head. Not that I was making them up – but that not being able to manage my stress was taking a toll on my body. When my eye twitched for a week, I was told to relax and consider yoga.
It finally took a biopsy to confirm that my muscles were indeed atrophying. Before that, it took X-rays, CT scans, lab tests, MRIs, and genetic testing to rule out nearly every other option before finally coming to POTS and Ehlers-Danlos. It also took several modern forms of torture – clinically known as EMGs and EEGs. In an EMG, they stab a needle an inch or two into your muscle and ask you to flex while they actually listen for muscle recruitment and response. I would like you to consider how big a needle feels to have a microphone in it.
In an EEG they jab the prongs of a vicious, hospital-grade taser into your face, arms, and legs and then shock you with it. There is also a good ole fashioned tape measure involved. The goal is to measure the speed at which your nerves conduct the shock along major pathways, and the tape measure is used to count how many inches you jump off the chair while they are doing so.
They measure the length of your limbs in order to calculate the speed at which the shock traversed said distance. So not only is it torture, it’s also math.
(If an electrical signal leaves the shoulder station at 4:15 pm travelling 30 mph, and the distance to the wrist is 60 centimeters, how hard will you punch the neurologist when it gets there?)
Are you laughing yet? Good, keep laughing. Because now I’m going to be serious. I have a seven-year old son with autism, a five-year old with exciting dreams, and a two-year old whose entire world revolves around me. And they’re all really cute, MashaAllah. In fact, they’re gorgeous, insane, challenging, and sweet. My five year old said to me the other day, “Momma, your hand is shaking!”
“Yes dear,” I said quietly, “It does sometimes.”
“I’ll stop if for you!” she said.
And then she held my hand.
My heart hurts.
Emotionally, I mean. Physically, too, sometimes, because I have tachycardia and chest pain, but being forced to withdraw from more and more of my children’s lives is a bigger pain that I had not anticipated. I can’t climb. I can’t slide. I can’t carry beach toys through the sand. I will never again take them to a water park, or have a picnic on top of a hill. I may not live to see my youngest get to first grade.
For an entire year or more my prayers were fueled with the urgency of my possible impending death, but eventually, the terror subsided. The shock value of OMG I COULD BE DYING?! got replaced with OMG I’M STILL HERE!? and I started to accept my health problems as being Allah’s decision. I changed my focus from dying with dignity to living with disability , but then I had a new and really serious problem: my duas weren’t good anymore. I wasn’t afraid anymore, and that made me… afraid.
So then I had some more learning to do. I met with one Shaykh. He told me that fear was only one door to Jannah. Gratitude, contentment, and trust in Allah’s decisions were three more. I may no longer be crying in fear, but I if I can call on Allah with contentment, gratitude, and trust, then new doors will open to me, InshaAllah.
Then another Shaykh – he asked me to focus on my family and my legacy. So if you benefit from this article in some way, make dua for him too, because he asked me to write it. This article is part of my legacy project to create things that will earn blessings even after my death. So please make dua for me, regardless of whether I’m not dead yet when you read this. JazakAllahuKhayran.
And then the third Shaykh – he talked about trusting Allah to look after my children after I died, since He was their Rabb after all. I’m only a temporary caretaker. Allah’s the one who’s been really looking out for them this whole time.
I know I haven’t been a good person, but I know that Allah is Most Merciful, Most Forgiving, and has promised forgiveness for those who sincerely seek it. If I’m going to meet Allah soon, and I am a believer, and I have accepted His plans for my self, my children, and my family – I have nothing left but excitement. Fear, yes – that I still have things to answer for, but definitely excitement.
Now, when I pray my heart is fluttery and nervous with excitement and my vision blurred with tears. I raise my hands and I whisper, “Oh Allah, please let me be among those who get to see your Blessed Face.”
There’s a naked greediness for khayr that you can only savor when you’re really, desperately, in need. Also, there’s an exhilaration when you realize that when you pray, one of only three things will happen:
- Allah gives you what you ask for.
- Allah diverts or reduces a calamity that would otherwise have befallen you.
- Allah keeps your duas and gives them back to you on the Day of Judgment as blessings in your scale of deeds, when you need them most. This, as the hadith says, will be so utterly awesome and amazing that it will make you wish that none of your duas had ever been granted in this life.
I tell you, if I hadn’t been sick I would never have fallen so head over heels in love with dua. It amazes me every time I think about it – when I make mention of Allah’s name, He makes mention of mine.
No matter how many times I remember that, it still humbles and awes me to think of the Lord who created the universes (plural) with nothing more than a word (Be) saying my name. Were He to grant all of mankind everything they wished, their demands would not diminish His bounty any more than a needle dipped diminishes the sea – and He said my name? Me? A tiny, insignificant assortment of blood, bones, and ingratitude meandering through life and remembering Him only when I need Him, but the voice that created the cosmos spoke my name???
I’m not afraid anymore. I’m excited. That doesn’t mean I’m not still asking Allah to forgive my past sins, or heal me, or protect and guide my children, or help me settle my debts before I die, it just means that making dua is a whole lot more fun than it ever used to be. Some people are high on life. Pfft. I’m high on death, it’s awesome!
Unfortunately though, like every other non-chronically ill person whose body may or may not currently be dying, my faith ebbs and flows like tides on a beach. When the tide is high, I swim out to the sweet water beyond the edge of the world like Reepicheep. But when the tides are low, I struggle with my ankles in the sand and operational sea-foam up to my knees.
On a side note, there is a major difference between chronic illness on tv and chronic illness in real life. If this were TV, I’d get a Hallmark made-for-TV special: the tragedy of the brave special needs mother fighting to convert her Christian mother and leave a legacy for her children before she bravely and stoically dies – but not before an instrumental montage of her fight for acceptance, happiness, and eventually peace, before bravely and stoically passing away.
Also, if I were sick on TV I’d probably be losing weight in the crescendo towards my glamorous, waif-like death; pale but strangely beautiful in a victorian-style dressing gown of some sort. In real life I am overweight and physically unable to exercsie, I don’t own any dressing gowns, and I might not even die early. I could just live a long, disabled life. In the TV version, I’m supposed to be dying as an inspiration to those who live. In real life I might be around for a while. And I might need you to brush my teeth for me. Thanks.
In any case, if I’m going to be sick (and die maybe) and I’m going to learn a lesson from it, then you should probably learn it, too, because guess what?
We’re both dying
You and me buddy, both of our bodies are deteriorating, but the difference is that I can feel mine giving in. And you might feel sorry for me, but consciousness of my own mortality is a gift. Even though I didn’t ask to be sick, I cannot ignore how priceless a reminder it is.
Once upon a time, I mourned the deterioration of my body, but within this failing shell of flesh, my heart has been given new life. My mental faculties have been honed to razor-sharpness against the whetstone of urgency. My fears in this dunya – of rejection, of pity, of uselessness – have no place in serving my aakhirah. I don’t know how much longer I have to live, or how functional I will be for the remainder of my life, but my sole mission it to make it to Jannah and try my best to help my mother and my children make it there as well.
My lessons are your lessons
My life is your life, the only difference being I know I’m constantly reminded of death but you’re probably still thinking you’re immortal. Just because you aren’t old or sick doesn’t mean you won’t die tomorrow; alone, unprepared, and entirely ambushed by a spiritual audit that you’ve done nothing to prepare for. So try this – set yourself a death date.
Six months from now, assume you’re going to die. Feel it, believe it, and imagine the circumstances that you’re going to die in. Think about the shock and pain on the faces of your parents, your spouse, and your children. Imagine them crying over your body. Think of the sins you never repented for, the people you never apologized to, and the regrets you’ll have then about the choices you’re making now. Circle the date in your calendar, post it on your wall and work towards it every day. Your life will change when you remember death daily, just like mine has.
And you don’t even have to be sick.
For me, I’m grateful for my illness because apparently I needed my body to start dying in order for my heart to start coming alive. There’s an appreciable irony here – now that my hands are weak and shaking, I want most desperately to raise them in prayer. Now that I can no longer kneel in sajda or even stand in prayer, my entire soul wants to swim in the depths of khushu and not worry about coming up for air.
Sometimes I extend my sujud and hope, just hope, that the angel of death will meet me in prostration. Other times, I touch my children’s faces and wonder how they’ll look all grown up and whether I’ll be with them. Allah promises us in the Qur’an that after hardship will always come ease. Sometimes though – both come at the same time. I’ve never been more tired, more weak, or less able to tie my own shoes, but I’ve never felt stronger, calmer, or happier to be Muslim.
How to Teach Your Kids About Easter
Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.
Don’t tell my dad this, but growing up, I was sure I wanted to be a Christian. It had nothing to do with the theology though, it was – really and truly – all about the chocolate.
Don’t get me wrong, I did not grow up in any sort of conservative, chocolate-deprived bubble. My mother was – and still is – a Christian. My father was – and still is – Muslim, and our home was a place where two faiths co-existed in unapologetic splendor.
My mother put up her Christmas tree every year. We children, though Muslim, received Easter baskets every year. The only reason why I wished I was Christian too, even though I had no less chocolate in my life than other children my age, was because of the confusing guilt that I felt around holiday time.
I knew that the holidays were my mother’s, and we participated to honor and respect her, not to honor and respect what she celebrated. As a child though, I really didn’t understand why we couldn’t celebrate them too, even if it was just for the chocolate.
As an adult I’ve learned that I’m not alone in this conflicted enthusiasm for the holidays of others. Really, who doesn’t like treats and parties and any excuse to celebrate? As a parent though, I’ve decided that the best policy to use with my children is respectful honesty about where we stand with regard to other religions.
That’s why when my children asked me about Easter, this is what I told them:
- The holidays of every religion are the right of the people who follow them. They are as precious to them as Eid and Ramadan are to us.
- Part of being a good Muslim is protecting the rights of everyone around us, no matter what their religion is. There is nothing wrong with non-Muslims celebrating their religious non-Muslim holidays.
- We don’t need to pretend they’re not happening. Respectful recognition of the rights of others is part of our religion and our history. We don’t have to accept what other people celebrate in order to be respectful of their celebrations.
- The problem with Muslims celebrating non-Muslim religious holidays is that we simply don’t believe them to be true.
So when it comes to Easter specifically, we break it down to its smaller elements.
There is nothing wrong with chocolate. There is nothing wrong with eggs. There is nothing wrong with rabbits, and no, they don’t lay eggs.
There is nothing wrong with Easter, but we do not celebrate it because:
Easter is a celebration based on the idea the Prophet Isa was Allah’s son, who Allah allowed to be killed for our sins. Easter is a celebration of him coming back to life again.
Depending on how old your child is, you may need to break it down further.
Allah Created the sun, Allah is not a person whose eyes can’t even look directly at the sun. Allah Created space, Allah is not a person who can’t survive in space. Allah Created fire, Allah is not a person who cannot even touch fire. Allah is not a person, He does not have children as people do. Prophet Jesus [alayis] was a messenger of Allah, not a child of Allah.
Allah is also the Most-Merciful, Most-Forgiving, and All-Powerful. When we make mistakes by ourselves, we say sorry to Allah and try our best to do better. If we make mistakes all together, we do not take the best-behaved person from among us and then punish him or her in our place.
Allah is Justice Himself. He is The Kindest, Most Merciful, Most Forgiving Being in the entire universe. He always was, and always will be capable of forgiving us. No one needed to die in order for Allah to forgive anyone.
If your teacher failed the best student in the class so that the rest of the students could pass, that would not be fair, even if that student had offered that. When people say that Allah sacrificed his own son so that we could be forgiven, they are accusing Allah of really unfair things, even if they seem to think it’s a good thing.
Even if they’re celebrating it with chocolate.
We simply do not believe what is celebrated on Easter. That is why we do not celebrate Easter.
So what do we believe?
Walk your child through Surah Ikhlas, there are four lines and you can use four of their fingers.
- Allah is One.
- Allah doesn’t need anything from anyone.
- He was not born, and nor was anyone born of Him. Allah is no one’s child, and no one is Allah’s child
- There is nothing like Allah in the universe
Focus on what we know about Allah, and then move on to other truths as well.
- Christians should absolutely celebrate Christian holidays. We are happy for them.
- We do not celebrate Christian holidays, because we do not accept what they’re celebrating.
- We are very happy for our neighbors and hope they have a nice time.
When your child asks you about things like Christmas, Easter, Valentines, and Halloween, they’re not asking you to change religions. They’re asking you for the chance to participate in the joy of treats, decorations, parties, and doing things with their peers.
You can provide them these things when you up your halal holiday game. Make Ramadan in your home a whole month of lights, people, and happy prayer. Make every Friday special. Make Eid amazing – buy gifts, give charity, decorate every decorat-able surface if you need to – because our children have no cause to feel deprived by being Muslim.
If your holidays tend to be boring, that’s a cultural limitation, not a religious one. And if you feel like it’s not fair because other religions just have more holidays than we do, remember this:
- Your child starting the Quran can be a celebration
- Your child finishing the Quran can be a celebration
- Your child’s first fast can be a celebration
- Your child wearing hijab can be a celebration
- Your child starting to pray salah can be a celebration
- Your children can sleep over for supervised qiyaam nights
- You can celebrate whatever you want, whenever you want, in ways that are fun and halal and pleasing to Allah.
We have a set number of religious celebrations, but there is no limit on how many personal celebrations we choose to have in our lives and families. Every cause we have for gratitude can be an opportunity to see family, eat together, dress up, and hang shiny things from other things, and I’m not talking about throwing money at the problem – I’m talking about making the effort for its solution.
It is easy to celebrate something when your friends, neighbors, and local grocery stores are doing it too. That’s probably why people of many religions – and even no religion – celebrate holidays they don’t believe in. That’s not actually an excuse for it though, and as parents, it’s our responsibility to set the right example for our children.
Making and upholding our own standards is how we live, not only in terms of our holidays, but in how we eat, what we wear, and the way we swim upstream for the sake of Allah. We don’t go with the flow, and teaching our children not to celebrate the religious holidays of other religions just to fit in is only one part of the lesson.
The other part is to extend the right to religious freedom – and religious celebration – to Muslims too. When you teach your children that everyone has a right to their religious holidays, include Muslims too. When you make a big deal out of Ramadan include your non-Muslim friends and neighbors too, not just because it’s good dawah, but because being able to share your joy with others helps make it feel more mainstream.
Your Muslim children can give their non-Muslim friends Eid gifts. You can take Eid cookies to your non-Muslim office, make Ramadan jars. You can have Iftar parties for people who don’t fast. Decorate your house for Ramadan, and send holiday cards out on your holidays.
You can enjoy the elements of celebration that are common to us all without compromising on your aqeedah, and by doing so, you can teach your children that they don’t have to hide their religious holidays from the people who don’t celebrate them. No one has to. And you can teach your children to respect the religions of others, even while disagreeing with them.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are bound by a common thread, and there is much we come together on. Where the threads separate though, is still a cause for celebration. Religious tolerance is part of our faith, and recognizing the rights of others to celebrate – or abstain from celebration – is how we celebrate our differences.
MuslimARC Releases Guide for White Muslims By White Muslims
“As people who are both white and Muslim, we straddle two identities -one privileged in society and the other, not. We experience Islamophobia to varying degrees, sometimes more overtly depending on how we physically present, and at the same time we have been socialized as white people in a society where white people hold more social power than People of Color (POC). The focus of the toolkit is to provide resources and information that will help guide us toward good practices and behaviours, and away from harmful ones, as we challenge racism within the Muslim community (ummah) and in society at large.” MuslimARC Guide
As part of our mission to provide education and resources to advance racial justice within the Muslim community, the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC) is producing a series of community-specific guides to be a resource for those who want to engage in anti-racism work within the Muslim community.
The first in this series, the MuslimARC Guide for White Muslims, has been written specifically for white Muslims, by white Muslims under the guidance of the anti-racist principles of MuslimARC. It is a tool and resource for engaging in conversations about racism and provides guidance in how to truly be a good ally to Muslims of color in this anti-racism work.
The Guide was developed by two white Muslim members of MuslimARC, myself (Bill Chambers) and Lindsay Angelow. The experiences, approaches, recommendations, and resources are based upon our own experiences, those of other white Muslims we have encountered or spoken to, and research and analysis by others who have been cited in the Guide.
We cannot always be aware when we say or write something that reflects our own white privilege and need to be open to feedback from Muslims of color. In our own experience in developing this Guide, we worked to practice that approach when we received feedback from other MuslimARC members and incorporated their analysis to strengthen this work.
My own personal process of helping to develop this Guide made me aware of the many times I was in discussions with Muslims of color especially women, when I had to not only check my white privilege, but also the white male privilege that comes with it. It is difficult not to feel defensive when you realize you may have said too much and listened too little on a topic that is really not about you. As one behavior the Guide suggests we avoid, “Don’t assume what People of Color need and try to swoop in to deliver. Instead, ask what you can do.”
For the white Muslim audience of the Guide, in reading this you will automatically feel defensive either that others may do these things but not me or that none of this behavior is based on racism or white privilege. Our advice is to examine that defensiveness and take the opportunity not to act on it, but instead, consider some of the alternative approaches we recommend in the Guide.
The Guide provides a review of our role in addressing racism in the ummah; description of some of the ways white Muslims perpetuate racism; and specifically, how to be actively anti-racist in our work. A list of educational resources is provided including available training; articles on white Muslims and allyship; and guides to anti-racist parenting. A last and very important part of the Guide is organizations like MuslimARC that you can be involved in to do this anti-racist work.
“People, We have created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should get to know one another.” (49:13) One of our most important purposes is to really “get to know” the different races and groups Allah has put us in, all the time knowing we all come from the same source and will return together. If this Guide does anything, let it inspire self-knowledge about our white privilege as Muslims and help us to get to know how to be better allies to our brothers and sisters of color.
You can find the #AntiRacismGuide for White Muslims at http://www.muslimarc.org/
Are You Prepared for Marriage and Building a Family?
High School is that time which is ideal for preparing yourself for the rest of your life. There is so much excitement and opportunity. Youth is a time of energy, growth, health, beauty, and adventure. Along with the thrill of being one of the best times of life, there is a definite lack of life experience. In your youth, you end up depending on your own judgments as well as the advice of others who are further along the path. Your own judgments usually come from your own knowledge, assumptions, likes, and dislikes. No matter how wise, mature, or well-intended a youth is compared to his or her peers, the inherent lack of life experience can also mislead that person to go down a path which is not serving them or their loved ones best. A youth may walk into mistakes without knowing, or get themselves into trouble resulting from naivety.
Salma and Yousef:
Salma and Yousef had grown up in the same community for many years. They had gone to the same masjid and attended youth group together during high school. After going off to college for a few years, both were back in town and found that they would make good prospects for marriage for each other. Yousef was moving along his career path, and Salma looked forward to her new relationship. Yousef was happy to settle down. The first few months after marriage were hectic: getting a new place, organizing, managing new jobs and extended family. After a few months, they began to wonder when things would settle down and be like the vision they had about married life.
Later with valuable life experience, we come to realize that the ideas we had in our youth about marriage and family are far from what are they are in reality. The things that we thought mattered in high school, may not matter as much, and the things that we took for granted really matter a lot more than we realized. In retrospect, we learn that marriage is not simply a door that we walk through which changes our life, but something that each young Muslim and Muslima should be preparing for individually through observation, introspection, and reflection. In order to prepare for marriage, each person must intend to want to be the best person he or she can be in that role. There is a conscious process that they must put themselves through.
This conscious process should begin in youth. Waiting until marriage to start this process is all too late. We must really start preparing for marriage as a conscious part of our growth, self-development, and character building from a young age. The more prepared we are internally, the better off we will be in the process of marriage. The best analogy would be the stronger the structure and foundation of a building, the better that building will be able to serve its purpose and withstand the environment. Another way to think of this process is like planting a seed. We plant a seed long before the harvest, but the more time, care, and attention, the more beautiful and beneficial the fruits will be.
Sarah and Hasan:
Hasan grew up on the East Coast. He had gone to boarding school all through high school, especially since his parents had died in an unfortunate accident. His next of kin was his aunt and uncle, who managed his finances, and cared for him when school was not in session. Hasan was safe and comfortable with his aunt and uncle, but he always felt there was something missing in his life. During his college years, Hasan was introduced to Sarah and eventually they decided to get married.
The first week of his new job, Hasan caught a really bad case of the flu that made it hard for him to get his projects done. Groggy in bed, he sees Sarah appear with a tray of soup and medicine every day until he felt better. Nobody had ever done that for him before. He remembered the “mawaddah and rahmah” that the Quran spoke of.
Knowledge, Skills, and Understanding:
The process of growing into that person who is ready to start a family is that we need to first to be aware of ourselves and be aware of others around us. We have to have knowledge of ourselves and our environment. With time, reflection and life experience, that knowledge activates into understanding and wisdom. This activity the ability to make choices between right and wrong, and predict how our actions will affect others related to us.
This series is made up of several parts which make up a unit about preparation for family life. Some of the topics covered include:
- The Family Unit In Islam
- Characteristics of an Individual Needed for Family Life
- The Nuclear Family
- The Extended Family
Hamza and Tamika
Tamika and Hamza got married six months ago. Tamika was getting her teacher certification in night school and started her first daytime teaching job at the local elementary school. She was shocked at the amount of energy it took to manage second graders. She thought teaching was about writing on a board and reading books to kids, but found out it had a lot more to do with discipline, speaking loudly, and chasing them around. This week she had state testing for the students and her finals at night school. She was not sure how to balance all this with her new home duties. One day feeling despair, she walked in her kitchen and found a surprise. Hamza had prepared a beautiful delicious dinner for them that would last a few days, and the home looked extra clean too. Tamika was pleasantly surprised and remembered the example of our Prophet Muhammad .
The Family Unit in Islam
We always have to start with the beginning. We have to ask, “What is the family unit in Islam?” To answer this we take a step further back, asking, “What is the world-wide definition of family? Is it the same for all people? Of course not. “Family” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people across the world. As Muslims, what family means to us, is affected by culture and values, as well as our own understanding of Islam.
The world-wide definition of family is a group of people who are related to each other through blood or marriage. Beyond this point, is where there are many differences in views. Some people vary on how distantly related to consider a family. In some cultures, family is assumed to be only the nuclear family, consisting of mom dad and kids only. Other cultures assume family includes an extended family. Another large discrepancy lies in defining family roles and responsibilities. Various cultures promote different behavioral norms for different genders or roles in the family. For example, some cultures promote women staying at home in a life of luxury, while others esteem women joining the workforce while raising their kids on the side. Living styles vary too, where some cultures prefer individual family homes, while in other parts of the world extended families live together in large buildings always interacting with each other.
Layla and Ibrahim
Layla and Ibrahim met at summer retreat where spirituality was the focus, and scholars were teaching them all day. Neither of them was seriously considering getting married, but one of the retreat teachers thought they might make a good match. It seemed like a fairytale, and the retreat gave them an extra spiritual high. Layla could not imagine anything going wrong. She was half Italian and half Egyptian, and Ibrahim came from a desi family. Soon after the nikah, Layla moved across the country into Ibrahim’s family home, where his parents, three siblings, and grandmother lived. Come Ramadan, Layla’s mother-in-law, Ruqayya, was buying her new clothes to wear to the masjid. It was out of love, but Sarah had never worn a shalwar kameez in all her life! Ruqayya Aunty started getting upset when Layla was not as excited about the clothes as she was.
As Eid approached, Layla had just picked a cute dress from the department store that she was looking forward to wearing. Yet again, her mother-in-law had other plans for her.
Layla was getting upset inside. It was the night before Eid and the last thing she wanted to do was fight with her new husband. She did not want that stress, especially because they all lived together. At this point, Layla started looking through her Islamic lecture notes. She wanted to know, was this request from her mother-in-law a part of the culture, or was it part of the religion?
The basis of all families, undoubtedly, is the institution of marriage. In the Islamic model, the marriage consists of a husband and a wife. In broad terms, marriage is the commitment of two individuals towards each other and their children to live and work together to meet and support each other’s needs in the way that they see fit. What needs they meet vary as well, from person to person, and family to family. The marriage bond must sustain the weight of fulfilling first their own obligations toward each other. This is the priority. The marriage must also be strong enough to hold the responsibility of raising the kids, and then the extended family.
How are we as Muslims unique and what makes us different from other family models? We are responsible to Allah. The end goals are what makes us different, and the method in which we work. In other family systems, beliefs are different, goals are different, and the motives are different. Methods can especially be different. In the end, it is quite a different system. What makes us better? Not because we say we are better or because we automatically feel better about ourselves due to a misplaced feeling of superiority. But instead it is because we are adhering to the system put in place by the most perfect God, Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds, the One Who knows best what it is we need.
Each person in the family has a role which Allah has meant for them to have, and which ethics and common sense tell us to follow. However, our nafs and ego can easily misguide us to live our family life in the wrong way, which is harmful and keeps us suffering. Suffering can take place in many ways. It can take place in the form of neglect or abuse. In the spectrum of right and wrong, Allah tells us that we are a nation meant for the middle path. So we should not go to any extreme in neglect or abuse.
What are the consequences of mishandling our family roles? Allah calls this type of wrongdoing “transgression” or “oppression”. There are definitely consequences of oppression, abuse, and neglect. There are worldly consequences which we feel in this life, and there are long term consequences in the Akhirah.
Razan and Farhaan
Razan and Farhan had gotten married two years ago. Since they were from different towns, Razan would have to move to Farhaan’s hometown. On top of the change of married life, Razan felt pangs of homesickness and did not know many people in the new town. However, Farhaan did not realize what she was going through. He still had the same friends he grew up with for years. They had a die-hard routine to go to football games on Friday night and play basketball on Saturday at the rec center.
Razan was losing her patience. How could he think it was okay to go out with his friends twice on the weekend? Yet he expected her to keep the home together? Her blood started to boil. What does Islam say about this?
Mawaddah and Rahma
The starting point of a family is a healthy relationship between the husband and wife. Allah SWT prescribed in Surah 25: verse 74, that the marriage relationship is supposed to be built on Mawaddah (compassion) and Rahma (mercy). A loving family environment responds to both the needs of the children and the needs of parents. Good parenting prepares children to become responsible adults.
Aliyaah and Irwan
Aliyaah and Irwan had homeschooled their twin children, Jannah and Omar, for four years. They were cautious about where to admit their children for the next school year. Aliyaah felt that she wanted to homeschool her children for another few years. There were no Islamic Schools in their town. Irwan wanted to let his kids go to public schools. He felt that was nothing wrong with knowing how things in the real world are. However, every conversation they started about this issue ended up into a conflict or fight. This was beginning to affect their relationship.
Two significant roles that adults in a family play are that they are married and they are parents. It is important that parents work to preserve and protect their marital relationship since it is really the pillar which supports the parenting role. Parenting is a role which Allah directly addresses in our religion. We will be asked very thoroughly about this most important role which we will all play in our lives.
There is a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad reminds us,
“All of you are shepherds and responsible for your wards under you care. The imam is the shepherd of his subjects and is responsible for them, and a man is a shepherd of his family and is responsible for them. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and is responsible for it. A servant is the shepherd of his master’s belongings and is responsible for them. A man is the shepherd of his father’s property and is responsible for them”. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Islam has placed a lot of importance on the family unit. A family is the basic building block of Islam. A strong family can facilitate positive social change within itself and the society as a whole. The Quran asserts that human beings are entrusted by their Creator to be his trustees on Earth, thus they need to be trained and prepared for the task of trusteeship (isthiklaf).
Asa youth, it is important to make a concerted effort to develop our family skills so that we grow into that role smoothly. Proper development will prepare a person emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically for marriage and family life.
Mona Islam is a youth worker, community builder, motivational speaker, writer, and author. For the past 25 years, Sr. Mona has been on the forefront of her passion both locally and nationally, which is inculcating character development in youth (tarbiyah). Sr. Mona has extensive knowledge of Islamic sciences through the privilege of studying under many scholars and traveling worldwide. An educator by profession, she is a published author, completed her masters in Educational Admin and currently doing her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. Sr. Mona is married with five children and lives in Houston, TX.