Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Fractured Wombs: The Trauma of Motherhood

Motherhood is so beautiful, women are told, even before they have become women. Motherhood is what we are meant for. Motherhood is part and parcel of our womanhood. Motherhood will, sooner or later, define us.

What they do not tell us is that for so many of us, motherhood is trauma. It is the loss of ourselves as we are subsumed by the creature growing within us. It is the loss of control over our own bodies, the loss of sleep during pregnant days and colicky nights, the loss of our intimate selves in exchange for cracked nipples and wombs that never stop aching. It is the loss of safety in being able to confide to our loved ones, who stare at us in horror at our ugly confessions.

We are the walking wounded, the mothers with bleeding hearts and emptied wombs, the mothers whose minds are on the verge of breaking. We are the women whose souls are frozen in fear - for we are told that we are weak, impatient, failures as believing women.

Only Allah knows our agony, when everyone else refuses to see or hear our pain.

{And We have enjoined on humankind [goodness] to their parents. Their mothers bore them in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and their weaning takes two years. Give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.} (Qur'an 31:14)

{And We have enjoined upon humankind, to their parents, good treatment. Their mothers carried them with hardship and gave birth to them with hardship…} (Qur'an 46:15)

When the Qur'an speaks of motherhood, it is not with words of false sweetness, nor promises of unbridled joy. Instead, Allah speaks to us with the rawness of our own experiences: wahnun 3ala wahn; hamalat'hu karhan wa wadha3at'hu karhan… weakness and pain upon weakness and pain. The word "karhan" shares the same root as the word "karaaha" - something that is hated. The pain that a mother experiences is unimaginable, a pain that anyone would hate to experience - and yet, it is what women endure, over and over again.

The greatest of all women, Maryam bint Imraan ('alayhassalaam), cried out during labour, "Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!" (Qur'an 19:23)

The burden placed on Muslim women to experience motherhood - to perform motherhood - as the completion of her feminine identity and epitome of self-worth, as the measure of her womanhood and of her spirituality, is a burden that we do not find in the Qur'an and Sunnah.

How then do we have the audacity to place this burden on women?

Read more: https://muslimmatters.org/2020/06/20/fractured-wombs/

Friday, May 29, 2020

Torment, Tears, and Tawbah

Have you ever had that moment where, all of a sudden, you remember something that you said or did in the past, the severity of which you only realized later on?

That sharp inhalation, shortness of breath, the flush of humiliation, the sick lurching in the pit of your stomach as you recall hurtful words, or an action that was so clearly displeasing to Allah... it is a very physical reaction, a recoiling from your own past deeds.

It may not even be the first time you think about those actions, it may not even be the first time to make istighfaar because of them... but sometimes, it may be the first time that you really and truly feel absolutely sickened at the realization of the gravity of it all. It might not even have been a 'big deal' - perhaps it was a cruel joke to a sensitive friend, or not having fulfilled a promise that was important to someone, or betraying a secret that you didn't think was all that serious.
And yet... and yet, at this moment, your memory of that action is stark and gut-wrenching.

It is a deeply unpleasant feeling.
It is also a very necessary one.

Tawbah - seeking forgiveness from Allah - is something that we speak about, especially in Ramadan, the month of forgiveness. However, it is also something that we tend to speak about in general terms, or write off as something simple - "Just say astaghfirAllah and don't do it again."

In truth, tawbah is about much more than muttering istighfaar under your breath. It is a process, an emotional experience, one that engages your memory, your soul, and your entire body.
The first step of tawbah is to recognize the sin - whether seemingly small or severe - and to understand just how wrong it was. Each and every one of our deeds is written in our book of deeds; each and every deed will be presented to us on the Day of Judgment for us to be held accountable for. There are times when we say things so casually that it doesn't even register to us
how we could be affecting the person we've spoken to.

As RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) once told A'ishah (radhiAllahu 'anha), "You have said a word which would change the sea (i.e. poison or contaminate it) if it were mixed in it." (Sunan Abi Dawud)

The second step is to feel true remorse. It's not enough to rationally acknowledge that action as being sinful; one must feel guilt, remorse, and grief over having committed it.

Tawbah is to feel that sucker-punch of humiliation and guilt as we recall our sins: not just the mildly awkward ones, like a petty fib or mild infraction, but the genuinely terrible parts of ourselves... ugly lies, vicious jealousy, violations against others' rights, abuse.

Some of us may be actual criminals - others of us may seem presentable on the outside, even religious, maybe even spiritual... and yet have violated others in terrible ways. Abuse comes in so many forms, and some of us are perpetrators, not just victims.

Facing that reality can be a gruesome process. 
It is a necessary process. Token words, glib recitation of spiritual formulae, those do not constitute tawbah in its entirety. Rather, it is a matter of owning up to our violations, experiencing genuine emotion over them - true humiliation, true regret - and striving not to be that person ever again. 

Much as we hate to admit it, we have our own fair share of red flags that we create and wave, even before we get into the nasty business of committing the worst of our sins. Tawbah isn't just feeling bad for those Big Sins - it's to recognize what led us to them to begin with.

It requires us to acknowledge our own flaws of character, of the ease with which we fall into certain behaviours, the way we justify the pursuit of our desires, the blindness we have to the worst parts of ourselves. Tawbah is to sit down and face all of it - and then to beg Allah, over and over, not just to forgive us and erase those specific actions, but to change us for the better. 

This experience is so much more powerful than a mere "I'm sorry," or "omg that was awful"; it is an act that embodies our submission to Allah because it requires us to make ourselves incredibly emotionally vulnerable, and in that moment, to experience a deep pain and acknowledge our wrongdoing. It is to hold your heart out to Allah and to beg Him, with every fiber of your being, with tears in your eyes, with a lump in your throat, wracked with regret, to please, please, please forgive you - because without it, without His Mercy and His Forgiveness and His Gentleness and His Love towards us, we have no hope and we will be utterly destroyed.

{Rabbanaa thalamnaa anfusanaa, wa illam taghfir lanaa wa tar'hamnaa, lanakunanna mina'l Khaasireen!}
{Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers!} (Qur'an 7:23)

This experience of tawbah is powerful, emotional, and heartbreaking. It is meant to be. It is a reminder to us of how truly dependent we are upon our Lord and our Creator, how nothing else in our lives can give us joy or a sense of peace if He is displeased with us. It is a reminder to us of how deeply we crave His Love, of how desperately we need it, of how His Pleasure is the ultimate goal of our existence.

Finally, there is the step of resolving never to commit that sin again, to redress the wrongs if possible, and to follow up the bad deed with a good one.

The vow is one we make to ourselves, asking Allah's help to uphold it - because we are incapable of doing anything at all without His Permission; the righting of wrongs is what we do to
correct our transgression against others' rights over us, although there are times when we may well be unable to seek another individual's forgiveness, whether because of distance, death, or
otherwise; and the good deeds to undertake as penance are numerous, whether they be sadaqah or increased 'ebaadah.

But it doesn't end there. And it never will.

Tawbah is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. It is not even a once-a-year event, or once a month, or once a week. It is meant to be a daily experience, a repeated occurrence, in the earliest hours of
the morning, in the depths of the last third of the night, during your lunch break or your daily commute or in the middle of a social gathering.

Tawbah is a lifelong journey, for who amongst us doesn't commit mistakes and errors every day?
All we can do is beg of Allah not only for His Forgiveness, but also:

{Allahumma ij'alnaa min at-tawwaabeen.} - O Allah, make us amongst those who are constantly engaging in repentance! Read and comment at MuslimMatters!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Make Haraam Policing Great Again

“Watch out for the Haraam Police!”

It’s only half a joke - where even just recently the term “haraam policing” applied to over-zealous masjid uncles and aunties, and obnoxious wallah bros, it is now the first thing hurled at anyone who dares remind anyone else that Islam does, in fact, consist of certain rules to follow and that there are indeed such things as ‘sins.’ Whether one is talking about LGBTQ issues, hijab, music, or mixed-gender relationships, it is no longer considered acceptable to bring up the fact that Islam itself is a faith that is very much structured based on what is and is not permissible according to our Creator. The call to enjoin the good and forbid the evil is repeated throughout the Qur’an, yet the second half of that prescription has been almost completely neglected today.

The consequences of not forbidding evil are clear today, most obviously amongst youth, and especially on social media. Islam itself is seen as a cultural identity marker, with even outward symbols such as hijab seen as almost entirely divorced from the concept of obedience to Allah and instead viewed as a form of identity politics, faux-rebellion, and interpreted “personally” in such a way as to make it spiritually meaningless. Salah itself has become the butt of TikTok jokes; calling out foul language, vulgar music, sexualized behaviour, and more is seen as laughable, because who cares anymore? None of that’s a big deal anymore, after all.

An extremely concerning aspect of all of this is not that those who are engaging in these spiritually damaging behaviour are merely ignorant laypeople; rather, is it that those who exhibit signs of some religious literacy, who have the outward signs of some religiosity, who do, in fact, engage in some level of religious learning or dialogue, are actively participating in these behaviours. It’s a matter of people who should know better - who do know better - and yet have chosen not to do better. For some, it may not be a deliberate choice to disobey Allah, but that the understanding of the limits of Allah’s boundaries has been so downplayed and undermined that it barely registers at all in one’s conscious decision-making. So many sinful actions have been normalized, to the extent that even those who would identify themselves as “religious” and “practising” find it difficult to be cognizant of just how seriously wrong those actions are, and what the deeper spiritual implications of those behaviours are.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

The Trauma of Motherhood

Motherhood is so beautiful, women are told, even before they have become women. Motherhood is what we are meant for. Motherhood is part and parcel of our womanhood. Motherhood will, sooner or later, define us.

What they do not tell us is that for so many of us, motherhood is trauma. It is the loss of ourselves as we are subsumed by the creature growing within us. It is the loss of control over our own bodies, the loss of sleep during pregnant days and colicky nights, the loss of our intimate selves in exchange for cracked nipples and wombs that never stop aching. It is the loss of safety in being able to confide to our loved ones, who stare at us in horror at our ugly confessions.

We are the walking wounded, the mothers with bleeding hearts and emptied wombs, the mothers whose minds are on the verge of breaking. We are the women whose souls are frozen in fear - for we are told that we are weak, impatient, failures as believing women.

Only Allah knows our agony, when everyone else refuses to see or hear our pain.

{And We have enjoined on humankind [goodness] to their parents. Their mothers bore them in weakness and hardship upon weakness and hardship, and their weaning takes two years. Give thanks to Me and to your parents, unto Me is the final destination.} (Qur'an 31:14)

{And We have enjoined upon humankind, to their parents, good treatment. Their mothers carried them with hardship and gave birth to them with hardship…} (Qur'an 46:15)

When the Qur'an speaks of motherhood, it is not with words of false sweetness, nor promises of unbridled joy. Instead, Allah speaks to us with the rawness of our own experiences: wahnun 3ala wahn; hamalat'hu karhan wa wadha3at'hu karhan… weakness and pain upon weakness and pain. The word "karhan" shares the same root as the word "karaaha" - something that is hated. The pain that a mother experiences is unimaginable, a pain that anyone would hate to experience - and yet, it is what women endure, over and over again.

The greatest of all women, Maryam bint Imraan ('alayhassalaam), cried out during labour, "Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!" (Qur'an 19:23)

The burden placed on Muslim women to experience motherhood - to perform motherhood - as the completion of her feminine identity and epitome of self-worth, as the measure of her womanhood and of her spirituality, is a burden that we do not find in the Qur'an and Sunnah.

How then do we have the audacity to place this burden on women?

The trauma that so many Muslim women experience from motherhood is exacerbated by the lack of empathy, compassion, and mercy shown to them. There is a culture of romanticizing motherhood in a way that even our foremothers would not recognize - a demand that all pain be willed away, that no sign of discomfort be shown, that a mother should smile and express only joy and radiance.
There is no place for women who struggle with pregnancy, who spend each second overcome by sickness that is more than just physical; for women who find themselves impregnated against their wills, for women whose bodies treat the fetus within them as a parasite rather than a gift; for women who hold their newborn infants and feel nothing but emptiness; for women whose despair blocks out any other emotion.

In the face of this pressure, so many Muslim mothers find themselves even more overwhelmed than they already were. The struggle to perform motherhood 'the right way', when they don't have the basic support that they need, leads to trauma being magnified. Many mothers find themselves trapped with imposter syndrome, despairing at their lack of maternal competence, convinced that at any moment, the full extent of their perceived failures will be revealed - and their shame made public.

When women are going through wahnun 3ala wahn, our role is not to judge them, to shame them, or to tear them down. Our role - men and women alike - is to recognize in these struggling mothers the Words of Allah, to honour them, to support them, and to provide them what they need to regain their strength in every way. Our role is to be their awliyaa, their companions and their comfort; our role is to give them the love they so desperately need, in this time of pain and hardship and difficulty that we cannot even begin to fathom.

ArRahman recognizes the pain that every mother's rahm feels - and so should we.


In Canada, 23% of new mothers reported feelings consistent with either post-partum depression or an anxiety disorder. Those under the age of 25 had the highest rates of such feelings compared to any other age group. In various Asian countries, such as Pakistan, the percentage of mothers experiencing postpartum depression can be as high as 63%.


https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190624/dq190624b-eng.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3939973/ 

Muslim Literature: The Pros, the Pitfalls, and the Progress

Once upon a time, it was extremely difficult for English-speaking Muslims to find good books – fiction and non-fiction alike – that was catered to their demographic. Fiction, in particular, was scarce, for both young children as well as teens. Much of it was poorly written, filled with atrocious spelling and grammar, and stilted from beginning to end.

It was not an enjoyable reading experience.

Alhamdulillah, the Muslim literary scene has evolved significantly since the early 90s. Today, we have award-winning Muslim authors such as Na’ima B. Robert, whose excellent YA novels have been published through mainstream publishers and numerous emerging writers whose debut novels are wonderful contributions to the existing body of modern Muslim literature.

Muslim publishers such as Kube Publishing, Daybreak Press, and Ruqaya’s Bookshelf are taking the lead in producing and distributing stories by and for Muslims. In addition, the publishing company Simon and Schuster launched an entire division dedicated to books by Muslim writers. Hena Khan, S. K. Ali, Karuna Riazi, and Mark Gonzales are just some of the authors whose Muslim-centered stories have been published through Salaam Reads and made accessible to schools, libraries, and the general public. The We Need Diverse Books movement has also played a significant role in promoting multicultural and marginalized voices within mainstream publishing, and the results are wonderful.

Within the Muslim community, however, work still needs to be done...

Read more here.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Little Madrasah on the Island

Last night, we held the first-ever student recognition ceremony for our madrasah - specifically, for the twenty kids who had made huge strides in the span of just under two years. We had children who came to us not even knowing their Arabic alphabets, and now, they’re already reading fluently from the mus’haf! Others came in having memorized only Surah al-Fatiha, if that; today, they have completed Juz ‘Ammah by heart and are well on their way to completing Juz Tabarak as well. Some of these kids are as young as six years old, while the older ones are around thirteen or fourteen. In every single case, it has been a journey of blood, sweat, and tears (and only the blood part is metaphorical!)... but also of laughter, pride, and affection for these kids. 

This student recognition ceremony was a historic moment for our small community, which has never before held such an event. My father, Shaykh Younus, first began teaching the children and adults of this community over 30 years ago - literally before I was born. Though my family came and went from Victoria several times since then, each time, we have found ourselves drawn back to what we consider a very basic community obligation: the duty of educating the younger generations of this Ummah, upon whose shoulders the future of this Ummah rests. It is an extremely unglamorous undertaking, without a fat paycheque to show for it, very little credit given, and more time and effort than one can imagine. Nonetheless, it is done for the Sake of Allah, and it is this alone that motivates every teacher who takes time every day to show up to our Islamic center and spend hours patiently teaching young children.

Seeing our students up on stage and demonstrating what they’ve learned over the last (almost) two years was more emotional than I expected. When we first told them that we were going to have a party for them, they were incredibly excited, and wouldn’t stop asking when the party was going to happen - and about the cupcakes that we’d promised them! Every week, they eagerly practised what they would be presenting. Indeed, just moments before they were to go up on stage, they huddled at their tables with their qaa’idah and their masaahif, heads bent as they practised intently. When they finally got up on stage, they did us proud - perhaps even prouder than their own parents were. For us as teachers, sitting with them for days every week, it was truly incredible to see them sitting with their heads held high and their voices unwavering as they recited the Words of Allah for the crowd. 

Witnessing the joy and excitement that our students had for this event, that was centered on them and their education as young Muslims, was inspiring to even the most grizzled of adults. As long as our children have the love of Allah and His Messenger in their hearts, our Ummah has not lost hope. 

(See our pictures here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B9QCwRvAGQI/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link )

Monday, February 10, 2020

#ValentinesDayIsHaraam

Roses are red, violets are blue,
You need to do wudhu.
Because you stink.
...
I dream about you every night...
When I forget to recite Ayatul Kursi to ward off Shaytan.
...
Roses are red, violets are blue,
Shaytaan disgusts me
And you do, too.
...
Whenever I see you, I lower my gaze
Because you're ugly and I don't want to do dhulm on myself.
...
Did you fall from Jannah?
Because boy, you look like Iblees.
...
I love you like Salafis love the Mawlid.
...
I love you like a Sufi loves reading Kitaab at-Tawheed.
...
I love you like a Sufi loves the three categories of Tawheed.
...
I love you like Jamaatis love cleaning up after themselves at a masjid.
...
I love you like desi aunties love hearing that their beti is going to marry a Black Muslim man.
...
I love you like Khaleejis love hearing that their beloved eldest son is marrying a desi girl.
...
I love you like converts love telling their conversion story to random strangers at the masjid.
...
I love you like Muslims love being "randomly selected" by airport security.
...
I love you like proggies love traditional Islamic scholarship on hijab, gender and sexuality.
...
I love you like masjid boards love having transparent, non-corrupt elections.
...
I love you like Madkhalis love hearing criticism of the Saudi government.
...

Monday, February 03, 2020

The Shards of Motherhood

Over the last year, I have finally been slipping into motherhood proper, the term feeling less awkward, my heart feeling surer about itself, aware of my child and attuned in a way that I had struggled to achieve for years.

It is a relief to feel this; I no longer feel fraudulent when declaring my maternal relationship to the bright-eyed, startlingly sarcastic girl whom most assume to be my younger sister.

And yet.

And yet, these days, even as I am more fiercely dedicated to doing motherhood right, even as I feel the tug of her flesh and blood to my own, I struggle.

I struggle with my own memories, my own shame, with the panic and fear and pain that swamped the earliest days of her existence and lasted for years later, clouding my heart and my mind.

I flinch at the memories of my own selfishness, of the overwhelming loss of myself, of the strangeness that I felt between her tiny body and my own. I feel sick, often, remembering the twisting of my womb, of how horrified I was at what grew within me. I feel even more sick remembering who I was after she was born, of my weakness, of the tears she wiped away with toddler hands, of the emptiness I felt in place of maternal instinct, of my sharp words borne of frustration at her very existence.

I hate remembering my own thoughtlessness, and worse still, the lack of remembrance of most of her earliest years. I cannot remember the day she first called out for me clearly, or what she looked like fresh out of the bath. I look through pictures of her, often, and desperately grasp at wisps of recollection, unsure of what is true maternal memory and what is a clumsily constructed history.

I am ashamed of who I was, of whom I have been for so long.

It is hard not to want to undo it all, to take it all back, to create a better story of motherhood than the lopsided, rough pieces I hold within me now.

She deserves better, I tell myself, but uneasily, I wonder if I mean that *I* deserved better. I don't know if I will ever know the real answer to either thought.

For now, I try to swallow back the shards of past memories, and curl my fingers around the softer memories that I have created today.