Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Toxic: A JourneyThrough Emotional Abuse (Part 2)

Last month in part 1, we heard from brothers and sisters who had suffered emotional abuse at the hands of their spouse. This type of abuse is a troubling but all-too-common phenomenon - both amongst Muslims and in the world at large. As Muslims, however, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard of what we consider acceptable behaviour - a standard determined not by culture or arbitrary opinions, but by the Qur’an and Sunnah.
In order to better fight off this poisonous cancer in our Ummah, we must educate ourselves about both its signs and the effects it has on those it afflicts.
Are Abusers Evil?
One of the most difficult concepts to grasp is that abusers are not necessarily evil people. Often, they are completely unaware that their behaviour is manipulative, abusive and harmful, and are shocked to know that their victims feel abused - if they are ever able to acknowledge it at all. Their behaviour stems from their own issues: insecurities, troubled childhoods, mental illness or having witnessed abuse in their own families while growing up. Worse still is when they use the deen as a way to justify their attitude and their behaviour, even when provided with clear evidence that their ‘religious’ excuses are baseless.
The term ‘emotional abuse’ carries with it vivid connotations of screaming, name calling and intimidation. It can be hard to reconcile this image with someone whose actions are not loud and angry, but cold and even calm. It is even more difficult to recognise or acknowledge an emotional abuser when that person displays good characteristics or actions that appear to conflict with the stereotypical profile of an ‘abuser.’
We are often taught, if not explicitly, then implicitly, that abusers are evil people, but we sometimes lose sight of an abuser’s humanity - because they are human, just like us.

At the same time, however, recognising that they are flawed individuals who have allowed themselves to hurt others does not mean giving them a get-out-of-jail-free card. It does not mean making excuses for their behaviour, or allowing them to escape the consequences of their actions.
There are also different levels and types of emotional abuse, from the subtle (which is most difficult to detect and recognise as being emotional abuse in the first place) to the obvious extreme (where the behaviour is blatant and no attempt is made to deny or hide it). Some individuals, whether unconsciously or deliberately, are masters at emotional manipulation and emotional blackmail; they have the ability to appeal to their victims’ affection for them as a means of controlling them. Many victims of emotional abuse don’t hate their abusers, but love them or at least care for them deeply. It is precisely this love, and their desire to save their relationship, that keeps many men and women trapped in abusive marriages despite the fact that they know deep down that it is an unhealthy situation that is affecting them (and their children) negatively.
Leaving Abusive Marriages - The Challenges
Many people question why those in emotionally abusive relationships don’t leave sooner. The truth is that it is often very difficult for them to leave, for a variety of reasons.
For women, the obstacles are overwhelming: cultural stigma, misconceptions about whether Islam allows men to wield such ‘authority’ over their wives, family pressure, financial constraints, fear regarding their children, access to resources and an Islamic leader who will support them - these are just some factors that play into how difficult it is for many Muslim women to leave an abusive relationship.
However, men too face extremely difficult challenges of their own. Contrary to what many believe, male victims of abuse experience many of the same issues that female victims do - a destroyed sense of self-esteem, a sense of self-loathing or even blaming themselves for whatever issues their abusers may have. For some, it is that they don’t even know that a man can be abused by a woman. For others, a deep sense of shame about being perceived as weak or unmanly prevents them from confiding in others. It is difficult to find someone to turn to for support as there is a real problem of being mocked and humiliated rather than being provided with assistance.
Sadly, there are also cases where it is fear that keeps them in the marriage - there are women who threaten to take their children away, or even to report their husbands to the legal authorities for being ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists.’
One particular point to be cautious of as well is that when discussing emotional abuse, it is all too common for people to start arguing about ‘who gets abused more.’ It should go without saying - yet, alas, must be said - that in the Sight of Allah, injustice and oppression have no gender. The harsh reality is that abuse does take place at the hands of men and women, towards other men and women. Our role as an Ummah is not to play the blame game, but to be aware of the facts and to act in accordance with Islamic principles of upholding justice and supporting the oppressed.
Taking Action
Anas reported: “The Messenger of Allah said: 'Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or is oppressed.' A man asked: 'O Messenger of Allah! I (know how to) help him when he is oppressed, but how can I help him when he is an oppressor?' He said: 'You can restrain him from committing oppression. That will be your help to him.'” “(Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
Many Muslims are hesitant to discuss or take action against issues such as emotional abuse because they don’t want to ‘cause problems’ or get involved in things that ‘aren’t my business.’ There is the idea that stepping forward to help a Muslim sister who is being abused (in any way) by her husband is a betrayal to the Muslim man, or that his honour will be tarnished, or that it is better for a Muslimah to suffer in silence than to ‘expose’ a Muslim man.
What we forget is that preventing a fellow Muslim from causing harm - any type of harm at all - to others is, in and of itself, a praiseworthy deed. Rather than allowing injustice and oppression to flourish within our Ummah, it is the duty of every Muslim to stand up for what is right, even if what is right contradicts deep-rooted cultural ideas and beliefs.
One way that Muslim communities can work to take action against emotional abuse (and other types of domestic violence) is to actively provide support for victims and to stigmatise the abuse itself.
Community leaders, imams, speakers and indeed the average person can all cooperate in fostering an environment where support for abuse is called out. Those of knowledge and in a position of authority can and should use the minbar to emphasise the Islamic impermissibility of such abuse. Leaders should make it clear that anyone who comes to them with stories of abuse will not be turned away, rejected or made to feel unsafe (or forced to go back to their abusers). Community members can start within their own homes by educating themselves, children and other family members about what abuse entails and how it is Islamically unacceptable. Should someone share a story of abuse, they should be directed to the appropriate resources and supported in their search for a solution.
In essence, the masjid and the Muslim community should be a place where abuse of all types is stigmatised and a safe space for those who are going through it.
We cannot allow our misguided cultural mentalities to influence us into keeping silent about the emotional abuse, or physical abuse, or sexual abuse - or any other injustice - that takes place within our families, our communities, our Ummah. Taking a stand against these issues does not mean turning against your brothers or sisters in Islam, but in fact is a means of assisting them in leaving behind behaviour that is displeasing to Allah.
{You are the best of peoples ever raised for mankind; you enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, and you believe in Allah.} (Al-A'raf:157)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Glorified Self-Sacrificing Martyr Woman

Whenever I listen to talks and lectures about women in Islam, or read books on the topic, there is one particular sentiment that is constantly mentioned and echoed - that women are somehow mystical creatures who are able to endure all of life's difficulties and calamities without complaint; that women are, by nature, not only capable of being mothers who happily suffer for the sake of their children and families, but *enjoy* this suffering; that they would prefer to give up their entire lives for the sake of their loved ones rather than pursue their own endeavours; that men could never have the strength or patience to endure these challenges.
On one hand, this sentiment is understandable - a recognition and acknowledgment of the difficulties that women go through, and of their contributions to society via raising their children.
On the other hand, however, I find it dangerous. The lauding of women tends to end with the phrase "I (a man) would never be able to do this!" The question is... why not? Pregnancy and breastfeeding aside, almost every other aspect of child-rearing could be undertaken by a man, from changing diapers to staying up with a baby at night to doing activities with older children.
There is literally nothing whatsoever preventing men from doing these things - and nothing at all to indicate that a man's "nature" renders him incapable. More and more, we hear stories of stay-at-home fathers who completely shred the stereotype of the hapless, bumbling father. Yet amongst Muslims in particular, there seems to be an aversion to the very idea that men can be capable fathers in a sense beyond that of financial contribution.
As well, the wifehood/ motherhood excuse is used all too often to marginalize women and prevent them from pursuing further studies or work - for the sake of this piece, Islamic studies and work in particular. How can we talk about female scholarship of the past when we do so little to encourage and facilitate it today?
That's not to say there *aren't* female scholars today, for they certainly exist and are of great benefit to this Ummah, but rather, that we do not see them and recognize them as female scholars of the past were. We complain that the only women who are publicly known as speakers and teachers today are 'liberal' or 'progressive' - but what are we doing to encourage and facilitate classically trained, orthodox female scholarship?
We mention female scholars of the past, but we neglect to mention that for many of them, their 'urf (societal custom) was to have extended family and a great deal of domestic help (whether from slaves or servants); we complain that women today aren't as pious or dedicated worshipers or dedicated students of knowledge, yet ignore the fact that according to some mathaahib, a wife is not obligated to even cook food for her husband - so how can we expect the average woman today, who doesn't have her family around to help raise four kids, or domestic help to take care of the daily humdrum of cooking and cleaning, to somehow spend her days in study and her nights in worship?
It's high time that we recognize the backhanded ways that we 'compliment' women, only to use those same phrases as a way of perpetuating the marginalization of women in spheres of Islamic knowledge and authority. It's high time that we stop acting so hypocritical and to go beyond mere lip service and praise of women's domestic efforts, to easing their daily burdens and facilitating opportunities for scholarship - whether teaching, writing books, or other such endeavours - and helping bring about an environment of Islamic learning that not only recognizes the role of women teachers in theory, but encourages it as a practical reality.
And for the record - no, women are not imbued with some magical 'patience' that makes them *want* to stay up nights with colicky babies and demanding toddlers; women are not, by nature, purely selfless beings who are overjoyed to sacrifice their entire lives for the sake of others. We are human beings with spiritual and intellectual needs - needs which all too often we compromise and sacrifice out of necessity, for the sheer fact that if we don't stay on the ball with the other responsibilities, there won't be anyone else around to ensure the survival and well-being of our own children.
Don't ever make the mistake of assuming that service to our families - which we do to some extent enjoy and are willing to do - is equivalent to how we want to spend the entirety of our lives.
Because we don't.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ashura: the Victory of Musa & the Victory of Hussain

- The month of Muharram has begun, but rather than jumping on the 'happy Islamic new year' bandwagon, we must always go back to the ultimate source: the Qur'an and Sunnah.

It is Allah who created the months of the year and it is He alone who chooses which of those months are sacred, and which of those days are meant to be days of celebration and commemoration. In the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), we have ample evidence of specific examples: the month of Ramadan, the last ten nights of Ramadan, the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah (including the day of Arafah and the day of Nahr), and so on.

Muharram is one of those months, but never did RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) or his Companions take the first day of the 'Islamic new year' as something to commemorate or make special note of. Rather, it is the day of Ashuraa' - the 10th of Muharram - that is marked as being of significant importance in Islam.
(In short: "Happy Islamic New Year" is not a Sunnah.)

- Ashuraa', the 10th of Muharram, was specifically mentioned by RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) as being a day to be remembered.

When the Prophet arrived at Medina, the Jews were observing the fast on 'Ashura' (10th of Muharram) and they said, "This is the day when Moses became victorious over Pharaoh," On that, the Prophet said to his companions, "You (Muslims) have more right to celebrate Moses' victory than they have, so observe the fast on this day." (Bukhari)

"Fast the Day of Ashura, for indeed I anticipate that Allah will forgive (the sins of) the year before it." (Tirmidhi)

Hafsah said: ""There are four things which the Prophet never gave up: Fasting 'Ashura', (fasting during) the ten days, (fasting) three days of each month, and praying two Rak'ahs before Al-Ghadah (Fajr)." (Nasa'i)
- The 10th of Muharram has significance in later Islamic history as well. Though we must first and foremost understand that the act of 'ebaadah specified for this day is as described above - a practice of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) related to the victory of Musa ('alayhissalaam) over Fir'awn - we must never forget the rest of our history as well.

The story of Hussain ibn Ali (radhiAllahu 'anhu) is not one that belongs to only a certain group of people; it belongs to the Ummah as a whole, and in particular, those who profess to be of Ahlus Sunnah wa'l Jamaa'ah - those who must, by necessity, love RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and his Ahlul Bayt.

It is one of the sad aspects of our community that we tend to shy away from speaking about the story of Hussain (radhiAllahu 'anhu), perhaps out of an exaggerated fear of being associated with the Shi'ah and the many bid'ah that have arisen related to the incident. Rather, we have an obligation to be honest to our history, to be true to it, and to learn from it - for verily, Allah is al-Qaadir, the One Who decrees events to take place, and it is we who must understand the ayaat (signs) that He has placed in those moments.

- The story of Hussain is not one that is in opposition to the story of Musa ('alayhissalaam), but in fact confirms it, and confirms the spirit of 'Ashuraa. That spirit is one of struggle against falsehood, oppression, and injustice; and of victory.

Musa ('alayhissalaam) stood against Fir'awn; a humble Prophet with a community of former slaves facing the most powerful ruler of the time and his vast army of brutal soldiers.
Hussain ibn Ali (radhiAllahu 'anhu) stood against Yazeed ibn Mu'awiyah; the grandson of the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and his family members facing the ruler of the Islamic empire at the time, and his vast army of soldiers loyal to his cause.

Neither Musa nor Hussain were military leaders or set out with military intentions. Their only intention was to speak truth to power; to stand against the oppression of the innocent; to remind those in authority of the One with true power over all.

Whereas Musa ('alayhissalaam) was given a clear victory against his enemy, little do we realize that al-Hussain was also given a victory of his own. Though he may have perished, though his family was captured, and though it was perceived that the political influence of Ahlul Bayt was destroyed, Allah brought about an even greater victory through all of that: recognition for the rest of the Ummah, and for hundreds of years to come, that Allah returns to Himself those whom He loves. Al-Hussain died as a shaheed for the sake of Allah, and he remains a symbol of courage, determination, and justice to us all.

In a time when we are seeing Muslims across the world being destroyed almost effortlessly, the story of al-Hussain and the seventy-two members of his family being massacred and captured is a story which we must remind ourselves of... not that we lose hope, but that we hold strong to it.
{And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, "They are dead." Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not.} (Qur'an 2:154)
Injustice and oppression may seem to be powerful today, just as they seemed to powerful when al-Hussain was killed, but Allah alone is the Most Powerful.

Thus, even the story of al-Hussain ibn Ali should not be a cause for us to mourn on Ashuraa', but to rejoice: to remember his predecessor, Musa ('alayhissalaam) and his victory, and to remember that victory in the sight of Allah does not always mean that the enemies of Islam are immediately destroyed with a miracle, but that their destruction in the Hereafter will be eternal and all the more painful.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Requiem of a Marriage (Part 1): Struggling with Divorce

Divorce is a hard word to say – sometimes it’s difficult to even say the word aloud due to the stigma associated to it, and it’s even worse for those who are either going through it or considering it.

For women in particular, seeking divorce can be a nearly impossible task… both emotionally as well as in terms of getting the Islamic and legal divorce pronounced. Choosing to get a divorce is, in and of itself, overwhelming and a painful decision to make.

Many people are quick to remind Muslim women of the hadith: "If a woman asks her husband for a divorce, for no reason, then the smell of paradise is forbidden for her." (Tirmidhi) However, for most women, the word ‘divorce’ evokes depression, guilt, and fear. Not only are there serious social consequences to being divorced – whether the woman was the one who asked for it or otherwise – but there are other numerous challenges that divorced Muslim women face, such as finances, living arrangements, single parenting, and more.

Why Would a Woman Seek divorce?

With this in mind, why would a Muslim woman seek divorce in the first place? Unfortunately, too many Muslims make the assumption that women are so ‘emotional’ and ‘irrational’ that they will demand divorce at any given opportunity.

Reality, however, is quite different. Few women want to end their marriages and cause themselves and their children a world of pain; few women want to be left picking up their pieces of their lives. Most women in unhappy marriages struggle to keep those marriages going even when they themselves feel as though there is no joy or benefit left whatsoever.

It is important to remember that the right to divorce is something actually granted to women in Islam; the procedure of woman-initiated divorce is referred to as khul’ (divorce initiated by the wife). There are several narrations that refer to this, with the most well-known and explicit hadith being the following:

The wife of Thabit bin Qays came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said, "O Allah's Messenger! I do not blame Thabit for defects in his character or his religion, but I, being a Muslim, dislike to behave in un-Islamic manner (if I remain with him)." On that Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said (to her), "Will you give back the garden which your husband has given you (as Mahr\dowry)?" She said, "Yes." Then the Prophet (PBUH) said to Thabit, "O Thabit! Accept your garden, and divorce her once."[1] (Bukhari)

This incident was a clear-cut case of where a Muslim woman sought a divorce from her husband and was given it by the Messenger of Allah himself – in direct contradiction to the culturally enforced belief that women are not allowed to ask for divorce at all, or that it is haram for them to do so.

Considering the first hadith warning women against seeking divorce for ‘no reason,’ what does constitute a legitimate reason for women to seek divorce? Almost all scholars agree that being deprived of her rights – whether they be financial, sexual, or otherwise – are legitimate reasons for a woman to ask for a divorce, as is abuse. If a woman’s husband takes on a second (or third, or fourth) wife and she feels that she cannot accept it, that too is a permissible reason for khul’ (divorce initiated by the wife).

However, what about cases where there is no deprivation of Islamic rights, no conflict related to polygamy, and no abuse? What about if a couple is simply incompatible; if their personalities clash and they aren’t able to live with each other in peace?

A divorce is better than a toxic marriage

The hadith of Thabit ibn Qays’s wife once again becomes a point of reference. She explicitly mentioned that she had no problem with Thabit’s character or even his religiosity; rather, she found herself unable to live with him because of incompatibility. This was considered to be an absolutely rational and legitimate reason to seek divorce in the eyes of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Another famous case of incompatibility leading to divorce is that of Zaid ibn Harith – the adopted son of the prophet himself – and Zaynab bint Jahsh, the prophet’s cousin.
Their marriage was a tumultuous one, and it is recorded that both Zaid and Zaynab went to the messenger of Allah repeatedly seeking an end to their marriage. Their personalities clashed without abatement, and eventually, they did indeed resolve their issues… through divorce.

It is sadly very common to find women who are struggling in their marriages and who are deeply unhappy due to issues related to compatibility, and yet feel trapped and as though they have no escape.

Many times, they are told that they are simply being ‘ungrateful’ and warned that if they ask for a divorce, they will be denied Jannah itself. Yet what many people selectively overlook is that the marriage bond in Islam is supposed to be one of emotional safety and security; the Qur’an explicitly describes a relationship of mawaddah and rahmah – love as well as mercy and compassion.

{And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy.} (Qur’an 30:21)

A toxic relationship is stripped of these qualities and harms both parties, rendering the Islamic purpose of marriage to be moot.
Matters become even more complicated when there are children involved. A woman who chooses to leave a marriage can very well risk custody of her children or access to them entirely, let alone the regular emotional turbulence of divorce.

Islamic legal rulings aside, however, one must recognize that toxic marriages can sometimes be even more harmful to young children than to have happily divorced parents.

A married couple who lives in bitterness are showing their children that marriage is not a source of comfort and love, but a type of torment.[2] Watching fighting parents who have no escape from each other is infinitely more painful than having parents who are separated from each other but on their way to healing emotionally and moving on positively with their lives. Thus, leaving a harmful marriage could in fact be a blessing for these children.[3]
 Divorce is not necessarily as evil a thing as many of us envision it to be. Certainly, it would not have been made permissible by Allah if it was a truly terrible thing.

Nonetheless, we must recognize the difference between cultural attitudes and the Islamic teachings regarding divorce. We need to understand that even the Companions of the prophet (PBUH) had unhappy marriages and sought a legitimate way to leave those relationships in favor of a happier future, and there is nothing wrong in Muslim men and women also seeking a halaal resolution to their unresolvable marital issues.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Requiem of a Marriage (Part 2): Recovering from Divorce

Cognitively recognizing the validity of a woman seeking divorce – whether due to incompatibility or otherwise – is one thing, but the emotional reality is a painful struggle on its own.

It can take months, if not years, to reach the point where one finally decides to seek a divorce, but in the meantime – as well as during and after the process – the challenges can feel overwhelming. As a woman who was in a toxic marriage and sought khul’, here are a few pieces of advice and points of reflection from my own experience.

-Turn to Allah

Every time you feel alone, every time you feel that your marriage is getting worse, every time that you feel that no one understands what you are going through – turn to Allah. He is Muqallib al-Quloob, the Turner of Hearts, and He alone can either soften your hearts or facilitate an end to your marriage and the beginning of something better.
Know that an unhappy marriage and divorce are tests of this world, and how you pass those tests will determine your rank in the Hereafter. Will you lose hope in the Source of Divine Mercy, or will you strive to grow closer to Him?
Make an effort to pray even two rak’aat of qiyaam al-layl; try to fast on Sunnah days, or give extra in sadaqah. Moisten your tongue with the remembrance of Allah and sending salawaat (prayers) upon His Messenger.
Every good deed you do to seek closeness to Allah will Insha’Allah be a means of increasing your reward and easing your difficulty.
{Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.} (Qur’an 13:28)

-Abusive relationships are real

Muslims have an unfortunate tendency to deny the existence of abusive relationships in our community. There are various factors behind this; some are due to cultural attitudes in which physical violence is considered ‘normal’, and others are due to pseudo-religious mentalities that don’t consider verbal or emotional abuse to ‘count’ as abuse.
It is necessary for us to learn about different types of abuse – physical and emotional – in order for us to be aware of unhealthy behavioral patterns that may emerge in our marriages, whether it’s coming from us or from our spouses.
It’s important to note that women as well as men can be, and are, abusive. We should never fool ourselves into thinking that we are the ones who are always correct, and that it is only ever the other party at fault – sometimes, it’s all too easy to fall into error and, in fact, be the oppressor ourselves. As always, we must also remember that we will be held accountable for our words and actions on the Day of Judgment.

"The Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand other Muslims are safe.” (Bukhari)
{That Day shall We set a seal on their mouths. But their hands will speak to us, and their feet bear witness, to all that they did.} (Qur’an 36:65)

- Pray Istikhaara

No one can decide for you whether you should get a divorce or not. It is something solely up to you to choose for yourself. You alone know what to expect from your future, what your options are, and what you plan on doing with your life.
You also need to be aware of how the divorce will affect your children, not just emotionally, but in terms of living arrangements and so on. At the end of the day, it is you who will bear the consequences of either staying or leaving.
While others can give you advice or provide support, you are the one who must make the ultimate decision. Do your research – both Islamic and legal, as well as what to expect emotionally – and ultimately pray Istikhaarah before making your final choice.
Learn the meanings of the du’a of Istikhaarah as well, and you will learn how truly beautiful it is and what it means to place your full trust in Allah alone.

“O Allaah, I seek Your guidance by virtue of Your knowledge, and I seek ability by virtue of Your power, and I ask You of Your great bounty. You have power, I have none. And You know, I know not. You are the Knower of hidden things.
O Allaah, if in Your knowledge, this matter is good for me both in this world and in the Hereafter (or: in my religion, my livelihood and my affairs), then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. And if in Your knowledge it is bad for me and for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs (or: for me both in this world and the next), then turn me away from it, and turn it away from me, and ordain for me the good wherever it may be and make me pleased with it.” (Bukhari)

 - It will hurt like hell

 It doesn’t matter if you’re the one initiating the divorce or not – it’s going to hurt. Except in certain cases such as extreme abuse or forced marriages, I would say that there is almost always going to be a huge sense of loss.

Let’s face it – being married to someone, whether for four years or fourteen years, is a unique experience that brings you close to that individual and bonds you together in a way like no other. You have gone through both good and bad, witnessed both small achievements and life-changing goals, you have slept next to them almost every night for years. It is going to hurt.
"How amazing is the affair of the believer! There is good for him in everything and that is for no one but the believer. If good times come his way, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him, and if hardship comes his way, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.” (Muslim)

-Being flawed doesn’t make you evil

It can be very tempting to view your partner as a villain who is out to destroy your life, but the truth is that they are simply flawed human beings – just like we are. They are usually going through a great deal of emotional turbulence themselves, and feeling just as alone and hurt.
Sometimes they have their own baggage and are struggling with their own demons, and we should be mindful not to conflate their flaws and weaknesses with their entire worth as a person.

-Display good manners

Whether you have already chosen to divorce or not, it is easy to let your frustration and your pain get the better of you. However, remember that the believer’s character is revealed during times of difficulty – how you conduct yourself, how you control your temper, and how you speak will all reflect the true level of akhlaaq (good manners).
After years of being together, of a relationship that was unique despite its turbulence, it’s impossible to just throw out the feelings of tenderness and compassion and to feel apathetic.
That’s not to say that you won’t make mistakes and stumble, or that you won’t continue to feel extreme hurt and emotional turmoil, but simply keep in mind that you should try to be the better person for the sake of Allah. Even and especially when the other individual is trying their best to get under your skin, know that you will be held accountable for your behavior, not theirs.
{Indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of the doers of good.} (Qur’an 9:120)

-You will make mistakes

There will be times when you feel like your entire world is crumbling around you. You will sob yourself to sleep; you will wake up feeling absolute rage towards the other person; you will feel resentment towards the years of your life that you feel were ‘wasted’; you may find yourself saying cruel or hurtful things.
Your emaan (faith) may become so weak that even praying your fara'id (pl. of faridah; Arabic for obligatory acts of worship) on time will feel like an impossible task. And it’s okay, because we are all human and bound to slip up.
The important thing is to recognize that making mistakes is a normal part of human life, and that we simply need to turn back to Allah seeking His Forgiveness and Mercy, and that He will always be there for us.
{Indeed, it is He who is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.} (Qur’an 2:37)

-Remember the good, not just the bad

There is an infamous hadith that mentions women who become so upset that they forget the good that has happened to them. Having been in a situation where it was tempting – and easy – to overlook the bright spots in favor of brooding on the dark times, I can say that gratefulness to Allah goes a long way in healing painful hurts.
Even in deeply unhappy situations, there can still be moments of small happinesses, little joys and pleasant memories; things to think back to and smile about (even if that smile is a little sad). Don’t let the bitterness completely overcome the traces of sweetness left.

-You don’t stop caring just because you’re divorced.

Many marriages end slowly and agonizingly, and it can be more painful for one side than the other. Yet although you can be happy to finally be divorced, it doesn’t mean that you will automatically stop caring for the other individual entirely. After years of being together, of a relationship that was unique despite its turbulence, it’s impossible to just throw out the feelings of tenderness and compassion and to feel apathetic.
Even though divorce renders you non-Mahram to each other, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t want the other party to find happiness, or that you won’t worry about their future. In fact, it is the mark of a believer to want for their fellow Muslim what they want for themselves. The heart doesn’t have an on/off switch, so don’t expect it to.

-It won’t always end well

Sometimes, even if we really want to have the kind of amicable divorce where everyone conducts themselves with politeness and respect and maybe even friendly cooperation… it’s not so easy for the other party to share that vision – and sometimes, it’s just impossible.
Whether you’re the one who initiated the divorce or the one who received the news of it, the pain and inner torment of it all can be too much to shelve away neatly and go on as though none of it matters. Some of us are able to acknowledge our emotions and move on, and some of us aren’t.
It can get nasty, it can get even more painful, but at the end of the day, we have to realize that as much as it would be much more convenient for things to go smoothly between you and your former spouse… it just might never reach the point of being an amicable divorce.
Once again, this is a time to turn to Allah and make du’a for the other person (even if we really, really don’t like them right now) that He ease their pain and yours.

- Divorce can make you a better person.

The struggles – and the good times – that you shared with your ex-spouse all took place for a reason. Allah tests those whom He loves, and divorce is just one of those trials and tribulations in life that we can emerge from as stronger Muslims and better people.
Not only are we given the opportunity to turn to Allah with a broken heart and find healing in the Words of al-Shaafi, the Healer, but we are now equipped with life skills that will help us recognize our own faults and shortcomings.
We are also, Insha’Allah, better able to understand and empathize with the ex-spouse, which is an excellent reminder of the importance of humbleness and forgiveness (and how hard they both are to truly embody).

{But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.} (Qur’an 2:216)

Divorce is undoubtedly a difficult, unpleasant life experience and there’s no way to really put a positive spin on it… but there are ways to recognize the blessings that accompany every fitnah in life and to benefit from them, knowing them to be a part of the journey to Jannah, Insha’Allah.

{Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you?} (Qur’an 2:214)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Toxic: A Journey Through Emotional Abuse

“Emotional abuse” is a term that evokes looks of discomfort and feelings of panic amongst Muslims; kneejerk reactions and defensive declarations of “that stuff doesn’t happen to Muslims!” or even “there’s no such thing!”

Before we discuss the issue further, however, we must first know: what is emotional abuse?

Emotional Abuse: A form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxiety, chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.[1][2][3] Such abuse is often associated with situations of power imbalance, such as abusive relationships, bullying, and abuse in the workplace.[1]

Signs of Emotional Abuse[2]:

·        Humiliation, degradation, discounting, negating, judging, criticizing.
·        Domination, control, and shame
·        Accusing and blaming, trivial and unreasonable demands or expectations, denies own shortcomings
·        Emotional distancing and the “silent treatment,” isolation, emotional abandonment or neglect
·        Codependence and enmeshment

Emotional abuse is, arguably, even more widespread in Muslim communities than physical or sexual abuse is. In fact, many emotionally abusive behaviors have long been considered culturally ‘normal’ in both the East and the West, and continue to be implicitly accepted in many so-called Muslim societies. As a result, many Muslim marriages have and continue to suffer in a deeply unhealthy manner that runs in opposition to the Islamic injunction to live together in love and mercy.

It is important to note that all abusive behaviors, whether physical or emotional, are in direct contradiction to the adab and akhlaaq of true Muslims. The Qur’an and the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), who was the best of creation and was sent to perfect excellence of character, directly prohibit the appalling behavior displayed by emotional abusers.

The signs and symptoms of emotional abuse are easily written off as someone simply being “oversensitive” or unable to handle the “normal challenges” in marriage.  However, there is a huge difference between the natural friction and misunderstandings that occur in a marriage, and consistent long-term behaviors that strip away someone’s identity and self-worth, leaving them internally broken and battered.

Unfortunately, cultural norms and allegedly “Islamic” double-standards have ensured that emotional abuse is rarely, if ever, discussed or even taken seriously by members of the Muslim community. Men and women alike are both perpetrators and victims of emotional abuse, although amongst Muslims, men have the distinct advantage of being able to pronounce talaaq if they wish, without the legal difficulties that women face in requesting a khul’ divorce.  The role of emotional abuse as a legitimate reason for divorce is an even more sensitive subject, with few imams amongst the vast majority of them accepting it as a reason to grant women khul’.

A Journey Through Emotional Abuse

Due to my own experience in a toxic marriage, and to work towards eradicating the stigma and many misconceptions surrounding emotional abuse, I have chosen to share the stories of others who have experienced emotionally abusive relationships.

Isolation & Abuse

It took me a few years to realise [the emotional abuse], as it started very gradually, and built up, and got worse as the years went on. I think it must have taken around 4 to 5 years for it to finally hit home, after the birth of my second child.
By the time I fully realized how he had taken the emotional abuse to such a level, my second child had just been born. I was suffering from post-natal depression. My (now ex-) husband had had an argument with my parents, over something really trivial, and took it out on me. I ended up more or less locked in the house, nowhere to go and nobody to speak to, except his family. Looking back, at the time, I realised that he had already cut me off from so many people. I had lost all my friends as I wasn't allowed to keep in contact with them, and he wouldn't let me make new ones. Visits and phone calls to my family were limited and monitored, so I could never talk to anybody about how I felt or just generally talk about things that mattered to me. If I tried talking to him, he would interrupt and change the subject, so my voice was never heard, my opinions never mattered. I was only 'trusted' with his family. – R.S.

I can’t say when exactly I realized he was emotionally abusive. I was in denial and blamed myself for the problems for a while. I knew something was weird when he would go for days without speaking with me.
My ex had severe mood swings and a horrible temper. He could go for weeks without speaking with me, looking at me and definitely not touching me and nothing I did would soften his heart toward me until ‘he came back.’ That’s how I described it, it’s like he would leave and then come back. He once smashed his fist through a glass door because he was upset with me and when I was away at school, I’d go for up to 5 months without him visiting or picking my calls. He eroded my self-confidence and would scold me, call me names, threaten me and say all sorts of negative stuff to me. Then he would wake up the next morning and hug me, almost in tears, saying how much he loved me and pleading with me to stop doing things to hurt him. – H.M.

I actually didn't realize my ex-wife was emotionally abusive until after our divorce. The entire time I was married to her she had me convinced that I deserved her abuse because I made her do it by not being good enough to her.
I tried many times during our marriage to reason with her, acknowledge her feelings and even begging her to stop. We went to a marriage counselor but she quit when the counselor tried explaining to her that she had to change behaviours. She would change behaviour for a day or two at most then revert to screaming, yelling, controlling my movements, communications, etc.
My ex accused me at various times of molesting both my children(one daughter, one son) She informed me a few times that she was certain I was homosexual (alhamdulillah I am not) but it was all done to break me down. Every wrong number phone was a woman I was sleeping with, every woman in the street was someone who I lusted after and would leave her for. – C.R.

‘Religious’ Justification

Everything he did, he'd tried to justify by finding a hadith or some kind of quote from somewhere that somehow supported him. So, because he was too lazy to find a job he managed to find a hadith that said something along the lines of, if your salaah suffers because you're working, then you should reconsider your job. So he'd use that an an excuse not to work, saying that by being in an office, he wouldn't be able to pray at the masjid.
I once asked him to ask the local mufti, is it halal to [remain] unemployed, not helping in the house or with the children, whilst your wife earns the money, looks after the kids, [and] runs the house? Is it halal to live off your wife's earnings? We all know the answer to this. He spoke to the mufti and came back home and said "Muftisaab said, as long as you're happy to spend your money on the family, then that is fine. And you're happy to do so, aren't you?" And out of fear, I couldn't argue the point. – R.S.

Disagreements were not tolerated. I would often find that a single innocent word would result in him turning his back on me for days on end, and if I did not scramble to figure out what I had said or done wrong and subsequently beg for forgiveness, I was reminded that ungrateful, disobedient wives made up the majority of the inhabitants of Jahannam.
I would break down and wonder why I was such a terrible wife, why it was so impossible for him to be pleased with me. My eman dipped so low that I wondered if I would truly burn in Hell for being unable to ensure my husband’s emotional satisfaction with me. 
I seriously considered counseling and brought it up several times to my husband – only to be denounced as letting Shaytan whisper to me, that counseling is ‘ayb and haraam, and that I was allowing my corrupt Western upbringing to influence me even more. – Z.K.

He said that I was the devil and he used to call me names in Arabic, like 'hypocrite'. He said if I tried to be a Muslim, I would bring bad luck to the religion and he told me not to dare to wear hijab or to ever teach or tell him anything about his religion; that he was born into it and knew more than me about how it should be practised. SubhanAllah. – D.S.

My ex-wife used Islam as an excuse for her abuse constantly. Her favorite was the topic of lowering the gaze. If she had even a twinge of jealousy, I was subjected to a barrage of questioning. When we went out she would only be satisfied if my eyes were on the floor constantly and if she thought there was even a remote possibility of me having noticed a woman, she would berate me in public and force me to take her home immediately so she could scream at without anyone seeing. There were also many examples of physical abuse that went along with this.
If I had turned my head and a woman happened to be there, she would either scream at me or tell me in hushed whispers that "you're a pervert", "you're sick", "you disgust me" and so on. One of her biggest things was using ahadith about kind treatment of wives. If I tried to make her stop, I was being oppressive and so on. I was forbidden from watching TV and was constantly suspected of hiding pornography around the house(I never did). While I was being accused of lusting after women and so on, my ex-wife was herself indulging in pornography on a near daily basis which I didn't find out until much later. – C.R.

Impact on Children

I see that the children have very low self-esteem and confidence and my eldest daughter seems to want to be with boys who show worryingly similar characteristics to her father.
My eldest daughter, who was 7 years old when we left, suffered guilt, because she often used to ask, 'why don't we just leave'? So when I finally managed to start to escape, she tried to stop me, because she thought it was because of her suggestion. He used to get her up in the middle of the night to ask her who was better - him or me? she used to apologise to me in the morning when he was not around, for saying 'him.'
We had to keep the curtains closed during the day and be sure not to make any sound so as not to disturb him. He would get very angry if we disturbed him. Sometimes he refused to let the children go to school in the morning, so we would sneak around and try to get out the front door without waking him. – D.S.

We have a daughter and his two sons from his previous marriage lived with us. My daughter was still little when I left but I felt his first son was affected. He would always cry when one of us was going somewhere, he always asked if the person was coming back. Leaving those two boys behind was very hard for me. – H.M.

I have two children, mashallah. [My daughter] was only 6 when we left him, [and my son] was 3. But they still remember incidents. Emotionally, he abused [my daughter] a lot - he was fixated on making her a hafidha, to the extent that he would threaten her (for example, "I'll light a match in your mouth if you don't pray"). He also caused conflict between them - so for example, he once told her, "You don't like [your brother], do you? Let's put him in a bag, tie him up and throw him in the river." She went through counselling as she was really badly affected by him. She hated seeing him after the separation and would get nightmares and would get really upset or angry. It's taken a long time, and a lot of professional help, to get her back to normal. – R.S.

I have two children with my ex, they were definitely affected by the emotional abuse, especially my five year old son. He watched his mother tear my shirt off me when I was trying to leave our apartment when she was screaming at me. My ex-wife has turned a lot of her abuse on my son especially, allowing her boyfriend to beat him.
I really scared myself as to how much abuse I put up with. My children meant more to me than anything and when I was by myself I would cry for them and myself. – C.R.

[1] Wikipedia; the British Journal of Psychiatry and the book ‘Psychological Abuse in Domestic Relations’ (by Daniel K. O’Leary and Roland D. Maiuro).

[2]; Maria Bogdanos.

Book Review: When Wings Expand

“I am Nur, daughter of Firdaus and Yusuf… I live where I was born, in Toronto, Canada, with my Turkish-Muslim mother.” These are the first words penned into Buraq, a young girl’s diary – and so begins a novel that is as gentle and beautiful as the butterflies that flutter across its cover and through its pages.

When Wings Expand is a story told through young Nur’s diary entries, telling us about her mother’s increasingly severe cancer. Nur’s voice is earnest and innocent, her thoughts occasionally juvenile and often surprisingly deep and reflective.

Mehded Maryam Sinclair does an incredible job of drawing us into Nur’s life through her journal entries. Though many of the ‘chapters’ are short, the imagery and emotion in them make up for their brevity; if anything, it is a sign of the author’s eloquence that she is able to so poignantly evoke such sincere emotions with so few words. The butterfly motif that spans the book is skillfully interwoven through small drawings and religiously-inspired musings, without ever coming across as too overdone or heavy-handed.

I will admit that when I first picked up the book and started reading it, I was impatient and somewhat annoyed. I haven’t been a fan of the diary-entry technique of storytelling since I was a teenager myself, and I kept waiting for the story to take a more dramatic yet.

However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the problem was not with the story, but with myself and the expectations I had before approaching it. Leaving it aside and picking it up again later which a different attitude, I was soon drawn into Nur’s chronicling of her life, emotions, and short but thoughtful spiritual reflections. Whereas I initially found her narrative voice to be childish, it grew on me and was in fact not all that childish at all – young, yes, and with a youthful outlook, but one that is wonderfully suited to younger readers. Even so, it is a testament to the author’s skill that we are able to detect Nur’s growth as a person through her words alone. By the time one reaches the end of the book, it truly feels as though we have watched her grow up and mature into a young woman of surprising wisdom.

When Wings Expand is the type of story that requires the reader to put aside expectations of action and adventure, and to appreciate a softer, more subtle narrative. After all, not everyone’s lives are raucous and dramatic; sometimes, the most beautiful tales are ones of quiet sorrows and private joys.

As critical as I am as a reader, I found myself unexpectedly enjoying the book far more than I would have ever thought. It is definitely the mark of a great writer to be able to draw in readers accustomed to different styles and genres, and leave them longing for more.

Rating: 4 out of 5