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Marriage and Other Works in Progress

Author’s note: Writing on marriage always carries a certain burden of responsibility towards the audience. The writer is never sure who out there is reading under what circumstances the apparently sage and often flippant “advice”.

This here then is my disclaimer: All of what I say applies only to your every day, run of the mill reasonably happy marriages between two good people. Any and all of the below is complete garbage if there is infidelity, criminal activity, haraam tendencies or genuine physical, emotional or sexual abuse taking place in a marriage.

No amount of positivity, good intentions or light heartedness can remedy unions damaged by these things, except by the Will of Allah. May He protect us all from the fitnah of difficult marriages and bless our good unions with His Mercy.

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Drama Mama

 

We were supposed to be in Istanbul. That was the plan. We were last there in the first year of our marriage and the pact had been to return in the tenth year. Except, we plan and Allah plans and He is the Best of Planners. So now Hums lives in Dubai for work and I am in Karachi with the kids and the ten year mark came and passed a couple months ago in as ordinary a fashion as most of the days preceding.

Nevertheless, to commemorate this supposedly momentous occasion somehow, I brewed myself a cup of Turkish coffee and sat down to write the first ten things which come to mind that I consider knowledge earned in the last ten years. Nothing says love like a list, don’t you think? So! Bismillah!

  1. Rinse, rest, repeat

Many a things are made better or cured completely by a few tears, a little sugar, a long shower, a good night’s sleep or, ideally, all four. You know how everyone says don’t go to sleep angry? I say boo to that. A smarter strategy: Cry in the shower, eat some chocolate, head to bed. Do not stay up to fight. Anger + sleepy fatigue = Bad news. It much wiser to call timeout, establish a temporary peace on whatever the issue of the hour is so that there are no angels cursing you all night and go to sleep.
In the morning, the sun will stream through the windows and through the dark recesses of your mind, and everything will seem brighter. You might just pick up where you left off but there is also a really good chance that you can’t be bothered any more and would much rather concentrate on the scrambled eggs with chives that you’ve just cooked up.

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  1. Expect the unexpected

Marriage is a lot like parenting in that it’s always something new. In parenting, just when you have mastered the infant stage, your child becomes a toddler. Just when you figure out the basics of bedtime routines and potty training, your kid turns around and tells you he wants to major in Theories and Subcultures of Aztec Dance.
Marriage is exactly the same. Odd and unpredictable. Every couple is forever a work in progress. The spouses will grow and evolve as individuals and the only job of the marriage is to make sure that growth is, on the balance, more towards each other than apart.

In my own marriage, Hums has been a surprise to me at every single turn of our life together. There’s been many disappointments. But I keep the faith because the surprises haven’t been all bad. After years of buttering his toast and making sure his shirt collar was ironed just so, I had boxed him into the tidy category of “good hearted, slightly feudal, blissfully unaware of feminism and the ensuing equality of the sexes and division of household chores that entails”, to my utter disbelief and unbridled joy, one fine morning in our seventh year, Hums turned around and began making me dinner every Friday and Saturday night. That he, with his roasted fennel stuffed sea bass, and perfectly fluffy crème brulees, turned out to be a far superior cook than I had ever been, was the icing on a very sweet cake and has definitely brought us closer. I mean, how could it not?!

  1. You are far too complicated for one person 

The ideal soul mate spouse is one who shares every interest, gets every joke, hangs on to every word that drops from our rosebud lips, wants to spend every waking minute with us and fervently desires for us every last exact thing that we desire for ourselves no matter to what personal cost. Unfortunately, the actual spouse is too busy flossing his teeth while watching a televised sport you loathe and Whatsapping a friend you consider totally lame to pay much attention to your totally hilarious chicken joke.

Marrying Hums gave me a partner, a provider, a dinner buddy, a shopping bag carrier, a weekend movie companion and my most favorite secret keeper. We’ve really nailed the being each other’s garment. But there’s lots and lots it didn’t give me because there’s no such thing as one soul mate.

My soul (and anyone’s soul) is too multi faceted for any one person to satisfy. Fulfilling every part of my personality is too great a burden for one person to bear. Hums fills the husband shoes pretty okay. But thankfully, I’ve got my siblings and cousins and friends and professional colleagues for everything else. God is Great.

 

dubaimall

 

  1. Love is a language

And just because you’re living together doesn’t mean you speak the same language. I spent the early days of my marriage wondering if I would ever get the grand gestures and surprise gifts that felt to me the epitome of romance. Now, I relish Hums’s small expressions of tenderness and I derive great satisfaction from knowing that only I am privy to his careful and particular demonstrations of thoughtfulness. He has his own way of speaking love and through time, I have learned to listen, to distinguish his vernacular from the noisy chatter of my own expectations.

Marriage demands you be willing to accept love in the way it is offered and give it in the way that it desired and meet halfway between expectations and abilities. Sometimes you will be lucky and the way you want love is the way your spouse gives love but more often, over the years you slowly craft your own gibberish and with practice, it becomes the sweetest song you ever did hear.

  1. Look at the bigger picture

The trick to surviving and thriving in your marriage is to always take the long view, not the immediate one.

There have been days in which I have spent a good hour or so of my life imagining, in great detail, life without Hums. Sometimes, because, if he hasn’t answered three of my phone calls, I am convinced he is lying dead on the side of the highway somewhere. But other times, because after a particularly tense conversation, I decide I want to leave him. I tell myself, Allah is my witness, life with this man is completely unbearable, he has never once understood me, I am far better off alone, living and working on my art, in some secluded little town in the south of Spain where nobody knows my name and they refer to me as that “mysterious woman writer with the sad eyes and brave smile.” A couple of hours after chalking out an elaborate exit plan, complete with dramatic grabbing of the passport and sweeping out the door without a backward glance, Hums comes home, pats my hand like an absent minded professor, winking as he compliments the chicken curry, and with a whoosh, I am back, physically, emotionally and spiritually, thanking Allah that the overly zoomed in moment has passed and no life altering decisions had been taken in it.
raindance

 

When I keep my eye on the bigger picture under formation, I know Hums and I have joked and laughed and jumped around in the pouring rain. We’ve been to Umrah and every Muslim wife knows that their man in an Ihram, standing, at night, under the glittering lights of the Haram courtyard is a heartwarming sight that can fill you up with gratitude for days. We’ve held hands lightly, barely grazing palms, while strolling through parks and we’ve held hands tightly, almost crushing each other’s bones, when the doctor diagnosed our son with multiple delays, when our daughter went in for eye surgery, when the news came that my father was seriously unwell.

In all reasonably functional marriages, the good times far, far outweigh the bad times but that clarity only comes with stepping back from the canvas of your life and gazing, awestruck, at the masterpiece that is slowly taking shape.

  1. Dua helps and heals

Even if your duas are not answered, in a way or shape that you prefer, there is something creatively self fulfilling about the very act.

When you let yourself be weak and you empty out your heart in dua, your heart feels full and strong again. When your heart feels full and satisfied after dua, you remember that only the remembrance of Allah, not your spouse, can give your heart satisfaction. Thus you remember Him more. Praying for my marriage has made me more appreciative of it. Praying for Hums has made me more grateful for his presence in my life. Feeling grateful and appreciative has made me pray more and happily so.

It’s a lovely little circular thing which grows bigger in scope over time and great for any marriage. A little dua every day keeps the doctor, the doldrums and the desperate desire to escape away.

  1. All conversations are not created equal

Contrary to what most people advise about talking it all out, I don’t think that every conversation needs to be brought to it’s reasonable and complete conclusion. Some things are better left unsaid.

Ten years of being missus to the very quiet Hums has shown me the power of the unuttered. Many, many things self resolve. Situations that seem concrete often turn out theoretical. Talking about the what-ifs, the future, anything but the precise present moment can sometimes be a great bonding exercise and other times a ticking bomb best left untouched. Learning to recognize the difference took me the better part of ten years but I’m glad I’m finally there.

  1. Sex: Don’t take it too seriously

It is a strange beast and it is adept as a shape shifter. The sexual intimacy in your marriage can be awesome and it can be bad. It can bring you together and it can tear you apart. It can be a constant, steady feature of your marriage, say, twice a week, every week and then bam, you have a baby and a killer episiotomy and it vanishes for months, disappearing without a trace, acting for all practical purposes as if it has never existed.

The only way to always come back into your sexual groove as a couple, is to not take any of it too seriously. Don’t let its shape shifting abilities pull a fast one over you. Laugh off the mishaps and misunderstandings, forgive the miscommunications and misdemeanors and try again. Sex is a highly essential and integral part of a healthy, happy marriage, extremely important to the sanity and stability of the individuals and the couple, powerful in it’s ability to aid reconciliation and heal growth, but at the end of the day, it’s just sex. Shrug it off and try again.

  1. One or two common interests is plenty

It takes two to tango, they say, but what they don’t say is that sometimes you can each dance to a different beat and still be in perfect harmony.

Hums and I are as different as night and day. On most things, our views are worlds apart and this may have a lot to do with the fact that we were born and raised worlds apart. But we both love good food and American politics and we’d both rather spend money on books than anything else and these few shared interests have given us ten years of great meals, terrific conversations and a book collection to be proud of, even at a time when we didn’t have enough money to pay the grocery bills. On common interests we are seamless, on separate interests we’ve each found our own outlets.

Home is where our stories begin but they don’t need to always end there. A far richer narrative is created when each of the spouses bring their own voice to the table.

home

  1. Ten years is nothing

A couple of years before I got married, I was at a bridal shower where there was a short talk on marriage by the bride’s very learned old aunt. One of the women present remarked that she had been married for ten years and felt very experienced herself and the aunt replied with a gentle laugh, “Ten years? Ten years is nothing. You need about forty years of marriage to really understand yourself and the other person.” At the time, I recall, sniffing a little disdainfully. What was this lady going on about? Ten years was an absolute lifetime with a person. I imagined myself being married for ten years and I could see the wisdom and experience practically dripping off of me. Well, now, I’ve been married for ten years and the only true knowledge that I have is: Ten years is nothing.

The last decade has been a blur of work and babies and diapers and figuring out how to work in order to afford all those diapers for all those babies. The years with Hums have rushed by and some days, when my heart is feeling particularly tender and his hair is looking particularly salty and not so peppery, I experience a sudden choking. Did we miss it all because we were just too busy? Did I allow myself to sideline the chemistry between us? Did I let the crying children drown out his voice, the voice of this man that I am, at this very moment, feeling so madly in love with? Verily by the passage of time we have been at a loss! How can I do better by him? Oh, I must do better by him, I must! A couple more of these grandly regretful thoughts and I find myself getting misty eyed and nostalgic. Only when Hums grumbles something about his undershirts always missing from the drawer and can I ever remember the laundry, do I roll my eyes and tell myself to calm down.

Because, even as I secretly vow to do better, I remind myself of the Will of Allah and how it can manifest in ways that can be so surprising. There’s so much ahead that I don’t know yet about our life together and Hums as a person.

dignity (1)

Even though we’ve been together ten years, I am just getting to know this man. I know how he was as a young man in his twenties trying to figure out his new bride. I know how he was in his early thirties as a father to three young kids. I know how he was recently during a period of long unemployment. I don’t know if he will have a midlife crisis in a few years time. I don’t know how he will be when its time for the kids to go to college. I don’t know how he will be when one of us loses a parent or is struck with a life changing illness. He is, like me, like us, a work in progress. There’s so much about him I don’t know. Every day is a brand new introduction.

Which is precisely the beautiful, God-given gift of marriage: Forgiveness. Every day, you wake up in the morning and you turn and see the same face beside you, offering in its constant and loyal presence, redemption from all the flukes, foibles and follies of the day before. Every day is another opportunity to start over, to get it right, to reaffirm that who you were as a couple the previous day doesn’t have any implication on who you can be today. Your happy marriage can begin the very morning, the very moment you choose it to. Allah is Al-Kareem and how awesomely generous of Him to give us these second chances, all these fresh opportunities to create better, wiser, lists and litanies of what makes for a happy marriage. What a gift.

You know, I wasn’t very nice to Hums yesterday. We didn’t end the day on the best of notes. But today? Today our song, our story, our work of art, is going to be so beautiful.

Because, we’re still alive and together. Alhumdulillah. We’re still growing as a couple, in love and with love. MashaAllah. And the years behind us may have rushed past, but the years ahead stretch before us with possibility and potential. InshaAllah.

Hiba Masood is a writer, speaker and teacher. You can read her daily on www.facebook.com/etdramamama

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Hiba Masood is a writer living in Karachi, Pakistan. She is the author of Drummer Girl, the founder of Ramadan Moon and is known online as Drama Mama. To read more of her work daily, follow her on Instagram @hibamasood.

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    #Life

    Mental Health & COVID-19: Light, Guidance, & Much Love | Part 1

    Insha’Allah, you and your loved ones are safe & healthy. May Allah swt protect us all from COVID-19, Ya Hafidh, and open the way for our spiritual growth, Ya Fattah Ya Rabb. No doubt, we are living in very challenges times, and many in our community are suffering. As such, my intention for this two-part series is to provide some beneficial perspectives and practical strategies that will make your emotional journey safer & easier, insha’Allah.

    And a journey it surely is. We are on a very long hike up a very steep mountain. And we have only two choices about HOW we approach this challenge: unskillfully or skillfully. If we wear flip-flops, and fail to pack water and snacks, we will have a very difficult time reaching the summit. And if we do, we will be in very bad shape. If we wear good socks, sturdy hiking boots, and our backpack is well-stocked, not only are we likely to reach the summit, but reach it in great shape. This is what I want for our beloved community, insha’Allah.

    As Muslims, it is crucial to remember that the ultimate summit is the hereafter. Truly, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our goal and pleasing Him is our aim. Truly, everything we do or fail to do here has an impact there. For many people, this haqq is much more difficult to remember and actualize when their day-to-day challenges are daunting. This is why historically and traditionally, in times of crisis, Muslims have always sought the nasiha of wise elders. Imam Muhasibi, the father of Islamic Psychology, developed this crucial, beautiful science in response to the human needs of his students. Sadly, the loss of these teachings as a widespread living tradition has contributed in large part to the widespread mental-health problems that have been plaguing our community for a very long time, which have now been exacerbated by COVID-19.

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    MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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    Here’s a good metaphor. The science of nutrition teaches us about our body, the properties of different foods, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum physical health. Likewise, the science of mental health teaches us about our heart and mind, the impact of specific activities, what to avoid to prevent disease, and the vital psychological nutrients we MUST ingest to attain optimum mental health. Lack of knowledge about Islamic Psychology and the absence of the vital psychological nutrients have taken a huge toll on our community. The stories I hear would probably shock you. They would certainly break your heart. Especially the stories of our young people, who are my top priority. Insha’Allah, the wake-up call of COVID-19 propels us to reclaim en masse this lost part of our spiritual heritage, so we can reclaim our vitality and nobility as the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

    To continue with the metaphor. Working one-on-one with an experienced nutritionist is very different than reading a book about nutrition. With the former, your nutritional program is specifically tailored to your particular problems, challenges, habits, and temperament. The same is true when it comes to mental health. So I must manage your expectations honestly and honorably by saying that it is not possible for me to do in two articles for the general public what I do one-on-one in my private practice as a psychotherapist, life-coach, and spiritual mentor. Truly, there is a palpable, powerful, fitrah-based alchemy that can only happen when two human hearts link-up in real time. That said, in the same way that reading and learning about nutrition is very beneficial, so too reading and learning about mental health, especially now.

    Working Skillfully with Difficult Emotions

    No doubt, COVID-19 has unleashed a wide range of very difficult emotions. People are struggling with tremendous anxiety, uncertainty, fear, sadness, loneliness, depression, helplessness, hopelessness, anger, frustration, confusion, grief, despair, and in some cases, a full-blown crisis of faith. So let me explain a little bit about emotions and how to work with them skillfully  

    One of the foundational principles of cognitive-behavioral psychology is called ‘reframing.’

    It is the process of deliberately thinking differently about our situation. Reframing it. The fact is, the lens through which we view our circumstances makes all the difference in the world insofar as how we feel. Thoughts are like the front wheels of the car and feelings are like the back wheels. We must be in the driver seat, steering intentionally. Whichever way the front wheels turn, the back wheels follow. So paying attention to our thoughts moment by moment, and making sure they are aligned with the Qur’an and Sunnah, is crucial. The mind is a like a muscle that MUST be trained through specific exercises, and our tradition is rich in the techniques for doing so. Truly, we must hit the spiritual gym regularly. The heavy lifting of muhasiba (self-reckoning) and muraqaba (mindfulness/meditation) are not optional. If these are not already a consistent part of your spiritual practice, NOW is the time to take them up. You will be so happy you did!

    Here’s a good metaphor. If you are a longtime couch potato, even a flight of stairs leaves you huffing and puffing. If you are in good shape, you’re able to jog around the block easily. If you’re in great shape, you’re able to leap over the hurdles like a gazelle. For many, COVID-19 has been like asking a couch potato to run a marathon. So we need to get in the best spiritual shape possible as quickly as possible. To that end:

    The Centering Exercise 

    Every time you notice that you are feeling sad, anxious, fearful, angry, hopeless, helpless, impatient, frustrated, confused, or depressed, here’s what to do.  

    • Turn off your devices and put them in another room.
    • Close your door and put a “Please do not disturb.” sign on the doorknob. Lay down.
    • Close your eyes. Turn your attention to your heart. Remember the Hadith Qudsi, “Heaven and earth cannot contain me but the heart of my faithful believer is where I reside.” Truly, Allah is closer than our jugular vein. (50:16)
    • Take some slow-deep breaths. On the out-breath, silently recite “La illaha.” On the in-breath, silently recite “il Allah.” After a few minutes, notice the shift in your state. Notice the deep connection between ‘self’ and ‘breath’, not just experientially, but also etymologically. They both derive from the same Arabic root, transliterated nfs.   
    • When you are centered, mentally review what you had been thinking about that gave rise to the difficult emotions.  Then do a ‘search and replace,’ deliberately and intentionally replacing your dark thoughts with the Light of The Qur’an or Hadith. Here is one example: Search: “I’ll never get through this.” Replace: “Allah never burdens a person with more than he is well able to bear.” (2:286)

    As individuals, we each have our own particular dark thoughts. NOW is the BEST time to fix them. I lovingly encourage you to get a blank journal, so that each time you do The Centering Exercise, you can make note of what you observed, what you learned about yourself. Write down each dark thought and then write down each Rx of Light from The Qur’an or Sunnah. Having a personal journal gives you a concrete means of reinforcing your new thought patterns. 

    We know from our neuroscience that the human brain possesses ‘neuroplasticity’, which is the capacity to be shaped, molded, changed. As such, the more often you do The Centering Exercise, the more your thinking patterns will change. This is how Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created us, mash’Allah! It’s really quite amazing to realize that the Qur’an we’ve been given provides Light upon Light from The Lord of The Worlds. And the Sunnah is that Light fully actualized to perfection, mash’Allah. The fact is, no matter how dark a room may be, if we light just one candle, it illuminates the space. Mash’Allah!

    Parents, once you get the hang of The Centering Exercise, please please teach it to your children! Insha’Allah, make it the new normal in your household, transforming discord and upset into harmony and peace.

    Say “Ameen!”

    Divine Reminders

    Insofar as reframing COVID-19 in the broader sense, I offer you this lens, this Divine Reminder, with much love. May it shift your state from embittered to empowered. My beloved sisters and brothers, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is our Rabb, our Teacher, and COVID-19 is the Test we’ve all been given. Every single human being on the planet. We all woke up one day, walked into the classroom of Life, and got handed a pop quiz. The purpose of which is to show us the places where we weren’t prepared. This is great! Because the trumpet is absolutely going to sound, and we surely want to be ready. As long as we’re breathing, we have time to prepare. This is great!

    Say “Ameen!” 

    Beloved ones, we have the incredible privilege of being students of The One Who Knows Everything, including The Future and The Unseen.  It is very bad adab to question the teaching methods of our Teacher or to complain that we don’t like the Test.

    This was the fatal mistake of Bani Israel that we are reminded 17x/day not to emulate. On the contrary, what we want to be asking ourselves is: “What must I do to pass this Test with flying colors, to ace this Exam?” Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “Not without purpose did We create heaven and earth and all between.” (38:27)  This pandemic is not some random event. It has a divine purpose. There is deep meaning in it. 

    There is also enormous rahmah in it. Our beautiful Qur’an teaches us: “…My mercy embraces everything.” (7:156) The Divine Physician has dispensed this bitter medicine to heal us. To heal the whole world from its longstanding imbalances and injustices. Surely, it is no accident, the timing of COVID-19 vis-à-vis the murder of George Floyd and the global response it has galvanized.  Surely, every human being wants to and deserves to breathe.

    COVID-19 is a wake-up call for the whole world. Ours to do as students is to be fully present in each moment, to practice mindfulness (muraqaba), so we can be deeply receptive to the Lessons we are meant to learn (muhasiba). Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (13:11) Beloved ones, NOW is the time for global tawbah (repentance). As the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), this is our Divine Assignment, individually, collectively, institutionally. 

    My vision and personal commitment is that we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of this, insha’Allah. I can say this with great confidence because first and foremost, I know that COVID-19 or no COVID-19, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is not out of business! The presence of The Presence, the power of the Names & Attributes, are as robust as ever. 

    We are being summoned to recognize our hubris and turn our hearts in humility toward The One Who Is In Charge, The One Who Calls The Shots, to The One Whose Decree we surrender. Humbly. Readily. Insha’Allah, NOW is the time to actualize the last part of Hadith Jibreel about qadr. The fact is, what’s happening around us is what’s happening, and this is always in the hands of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). HOW we respond to what’s happening is entirely up to us.

    What I want for our community is the best possible response, the most skillful and beautiful response, the response that will be of maximum benefit here & hereafter, insha’Allah.

    I can also say this with great confidence because time and again, working with Muslim refugees who have been through horrific trauma, I have seen with my own eyes how absolutely amazing human beings are. How resilient. How courageous. How creative. How capable of transforming sorrow into joy, lemons into lemonade, compost into roses. This is what I want for you, my beloved sisters and brothers.

    No doubt, on any long and arduous journey, in addition to having the right equipment and supplies, having an experienced trail-guide makes all the difference. There is dangerous terrain you want to avoid, and beautiful vistas you don’t want to miss. In my experience over decades, I have observed that human beings thrive when we are given the right tools and the loving encouragement to master them.  So let me give you now some very practical guidelines to help you navigate skillfully, so you can extract from these precious days of your life what is meaningful & transformational. 

    Practical Strategies

    When it comes to protecting our physical health from the pandemic, there are certain steps we MUST take. Likewise with our mental health. As such, here are some practical strategies, culled from thousands of pages of research and decades of experience. My focus is on parents, whose job has never been more difficult. And with the new school year right around the corner, this guidance is extremely timely. 

    Boundaries: Set clear boundaries regarding where and when devices can be used. This applies to everyone in the household, kids and parents alike. Parents, as your elder who loves you, I am reminding you that YOU are the CEO of your home. YOU are the policy maker. YOU are in charge. NOT your kids or their devices. So take charge!

    • No devices for kids 0-3. These guidelines are from the American Pediatric Association. 
    • No devices at the dinner table* or in the bedrooms.
    • No devices until after Fajr. Better yet, after breakfast.
    • All devices put away 1-2 hours before bedtime. Plugged in in the kitchen to recharge.
    • Limit on-line entertainment and socializing to 1 hour/day MAX.
    • Schedule tech fasts ½ day weekly, and 1-2 full days monthly, on a weekend.
    • An occasional family-time movie is fine on the weekend. Choose something meaningful, uplifting, thought-provoking, heart-opening. Pop some popcorn. Make tea. Engage in a special time afterward to really talk together about your experience. *Getting in the habit of real-time-face-to-face conversations is crucial. If you start when your kids are young, it will lay a strong foundation for their teenage years, when they desperately need wise, trustworthy, caring adults who really know how to listen from the heart.

    Nature: Spending time in nature is the very best thing you can do for yourself and with your family. There are reams of data about the stress-reducing effects of being outdoors, especially in the woods. There are also reams of data about the benefits of exercise, not only for physical health, but for mental health. Given all the extra sitting everyone is doing during COVID-19, regular exercise is not optional. 

    Furthermore, if your kids are schooling from home and you are working from home, everyone will surely need some breathing room, some physical and emotional space from one another, some time every day in solitude, unplugged from their devices. Spending alone-time in nature is the perfect solution. 

    For family-time activities, unplug from your devices and enjoy these delightful experiences. They will engender tremendous awe (khushu’) and deepen your heart-connection with your Rabb, The One Who Created you and all the beauty around you. Subhan’Allah.

    • Take a 15-30 minute family-walk every night after dinner before homework.
    • Go hiking, biking, rollerblading, kayaking, kite-flying, or camping on the weekend.   
    • Set up bird feeders in your yard. Learn their names and identify their songs.
    • Go out nightly to look at the stars. Learn the names of the constellations.
    • Watch as many sunrises & sunsets, moonrises & moonsets as you can. 

    As Muslims, our worship is guided by the natural cycles Allah put in place. The sun is our clock. It tells us when to pray. The moon is our calendar. It tells us when the new month begins. Sighting the moon is an act of worship, mash’Allah.

    Divine Reminders

    Our beautiful Qur’an teaches:“We will show them Our Signs (ayat) in the universe and in their own selves, until it becomes clear to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth.” (Fussilat 41:53)

    In this ayah, we are taught the two beautiful gateways into the sacred: the macrocosm of the universe, and the microcosm of the self. Both of these gateways open into the direct experience of Allah’s presence. 

    As Muslims, we have been invited to spend time in this dunya in the company of The One Who is Love (al-Wadud). The One Who is Strength (al-Aziz). The One Who is Peace (as-Salaam). And on & on. What could be more beneficial during this time of crisis? Alas, calling upon our Rabb by His most Beautiful Names, with urgency & sincerity, is one of the Lessons we must learn from COVID-19.  My prayer for our community is that people do not squander the opportunity to connect in a deep, meaningful, intimate way heart-to-heart with Allah because they can’t put their phone down or turn their computer off. Insha’Allah, I will address the subject of digital addiction in the second article, as it plays a huge role when it comes to mental health issues.

    Closing Du’a

    Ya Habibi Ya Allah. Please grant us oceans of fortitude and mountains of strength Ya Sabur Ya Aziz. May we be dutiful beautiful students who strive with all our might in jihad al akbar to pass this test with flying colors, to ace this exam. May we, the Ummah of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), love one another like he loves us, and strengthen one another every step of the way. May we wind up stronger and better-than-ever on the other side of COVID-19, reclaiming the standard of Insan Kamil as the Index by which we measure our lives. Ya Dhal Jalali wal Ikram.

    Say “Ameen!” 

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