Tuesday 31 December 2013

Turning the Spotlight Inwards: Difficult Memories and Finding Strength

The last fortnight or so has seen me in a strange mood with my husband being his patient and sensible self and trying to quietly support me through it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my past and how it has affected my future, how it has affected my life chances and my children’s chances.  All this navel-gazing and introspection has not been very helpful and has left me anxious and worried and feeling quite down.

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that being happy is my default and the way I am made to be, so I can’t stay miserable for long.  You’ll also know that I believe that we should trust in what Allah (SWT) decides, knowing that he loves us and wants what is best for us.  But sometimes it’s just silly-season in my head and I can get caught up in over-thinking and self-pity.

Anyway, what set this off was trying to sort out Little Lady’s secondary schooling.  We really want her to go to an Islamic school and we are already finding that many of the schools are full up for next year even if you can afford the fees.  Most of the schools are boarding schools and the idea of sending her away is really hard for me.  The local ones are heavily over-subscribed

The schools in our borough are amongst the best in the country and therefore, again, heavily oversubscribed, our local catchment area school is the one I went to, a school where being intelligent was a curse and something you had to hide and where I was one of the only children in my class that didn’t smoke.  Its standards have improved over the years and it is middle of the borough’s league tables for GCSE attainment but it remains the school from which the highest number of people referred to the juvenile justice system in this borough originate.  Little Lady is tough enough to handle such a school, but why should she have to?

Little Lady didn’t get the grades in her 11+ exam to get into Grammar school either.  I feel like I have let her down, that perhaps I should have started tuition earlier, pushed her harder or perhaps put her in more classes and courses from a tiny age.

At the same time I someother things have been bothering me.  There are people around me that make me feel judged and insecure.  I know that no-one can make me feel that way except myself.  Yet every time my children behave less than perfectly, or my weight gain shows or my clothes and hair look shabby, or someone comes to my house, I feel as if they are looking down at me.  I know that this is ungratefulness for all that Allah (SWT) has given me.  But I feel that I have worked so very hard for the last fifteen years, despite starting behind everyone else.

As a child my parents struggled to make ends meet and my dad did not support my education.  He didn’t want me to study past the compulsory 16 years of age.  I went to the crappy local school and the even crappier local sixth form by pleading, negotiating and keeping a very low profile.  People sneak out to go to parties and clubs; I used to sneak out to go to school.  Getting permission to go to university was one of the hardest things I have had to do.  I had enough grades to go to the best university in the country for my chosen subject, but quietly attended the one nearest me, all the time avoiding anything outside lessons hours so that I could be home at the earliest time.  I worked part-time and negotiated my hours so that I could always avoid evening hours which my parents would not approve of. 

As soon as university finished I married my husband in Pakistan.  This was the best thing I ever did and marrying him the best thing that ever happened to me.  That didn’t mean it was easy.  I could not do any post-graduate study and had to go straight into work to be able to sponsor him to come here.  This meant that my degree was useless and I could not become a professional in any field.  I am feeling the consequences of that today when I feel stuck in a job I detest but which pays my bills and which I get the impression from my employers that I should feel grateful for.

We originally intended to move from where we live to somewhere the schools are better for my children.  After a few years of looking we were unable to find somewhere we could afford which wasn’t drastically smaller and have given up and decided to stay where we are and where we can stay close to the wonderful Muslim community around us.  But that does mean we haven’t invested in our house and the whole house needs to be done up – no matter how much I clean the bath and kitchen it looks grubby and due to the number of people living and staying here at different times the house is full of clutter.

I met a friend recently who lives in a nice part of the borough; she told me she is moving to another area for the schools.  An area I have always dreamed of living in.  It felt so unfair.  I wish her well and do not envy her life.  But I did start thinking about the fact tthatt she started in good circumstances and moved onto better circumstances.  I’m here flailing, hustling, fighting for my children and never feeling like I am getting anywhere.

I would say sorry for the pity-party, but I’m not.  I had to get it out.  I absolutely love this blog because it gives me the chance to put things on paper.  Now I have written these things down, I can see how ridiculous and ungrateful they seem.  In your head though these things swirl round and round and round and bump against every insecurity and sadness and magnify and become overwhelming.

Once written down, they seem to lose their power.  Regarding the issue with Little Ladies schooling, I know I have tried.  I don’t believe in hot-housing, or taking your child’s childhood away from them by making them work so hard there is no time left for play.  I will try my best for my child, not to be the best educated or the most successful, but the best version of herself.  I will support her in trying to grow her innate gifts and skills and make the most use of them in whatever situation we find ourselves in.

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. ~ Abraham Maslow

Regarding the house, I have to keep reminding myself that I am lucky to have my own place.  Most of our friends are renting and the rent in our area is sky-high (£1400 per month for a house in my neighbourhood and still hard to find an empty place) leaving them struggling.  I will be getting on hubby’s house to do something about the house though, because I want to live somewhere clean and comfortable at least.

With regards to my education and mind-numbing job, this coming year is the one I will have to do something to create change.  I intend to do my Masters degree whether I have the money, capacity, health and support or not. 

Regarding my self-esteem, I need to remind myself of my values and of what my faith says.  I need to avoid the shallow people who judge you by your outfit, your hairstyle, your home decor, your last holiday or your husband’s job.  I need to avoid the people who think it is okay to make rude comments or give you advice to “sort” out things, the same people who judge me as lacking in self-control because I am heavier than I was.  The same people who are four or five years younger than me and act is if I’m an old aunty because I wear hijab and have more than two children.  I also need to have the confidence to challenge those people.  Just because I am always nice to people, doesn’t mean I can’t not be (at school I was known as the girl with the nastiest, foulest mouth, I can easily dig that little madam up again if need be).

At the same time there will always be crappy people somewhere around me.  Their existence, views and opinions should not affect my life, thinking or self-esteem in any way.  That should come from my own values: my faith, my family, service, love and gratefulness. 

As to my past, I need to let go of those things and not blame others for my situation, the honest truth is that the majority of the world are worse-off than me.  As my best friend reminded me this weekend – it is wrong in Islam to say “what if?” or think about what could have been.  What Allah has chosen for us is the best for us and what was always meant to be.

I agree, I don’t believe in comparing with others.  People who are successful on the surface can sometimes be facing the most painful problems – no one knows what another person is truly living through.

So after all of the venting, moaning, dissecting and accepting, comes the being still and being grateful – for my health, my children, my husband, my home and most of all my faith.

These next few days I will work to leave all of this junk that has been in my head behind, to let go of these ridiculous little insecurities and then to move forward feeling good about myself and ready to do good things.

I am grateful to anyone that has actually read to the end of this post and I am truly grateful to my lovely husband who is patient and supportive through these occasional crazy moments (and rude people beware!!!)

And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed: “If you give thanks, I will give you more (of My Blessings), but if you are thankless, verily! My Punishment is indeed severe.” ~ Quran (14:7)

 “Look at those below you (less fortunate than you), and don't look at those above you, for this is better.” ~ Muslim

“O Allāh, make me content with what you have provided me, send blessings for me therein, and place for me every absent thing with something better.” ~ Bukhāri

“Whoever sets the Hereafter as his goal, Allah gathers his affairs for him, gives him richness of (faith in) the heart and the world will come to him grudgingly and submissively.” ~ Ibn Majah & Ibn Hibban


  1. let me start by expressing my admiration at your inner strength and ability to stay true to yourself. Many of us go through similar scenarios in life when we feel no matter how hard we try it's not good enough. To see the amount of thought and effort you put in your children's well being and education is in itself a blessing from Allah as there are many Muslims out there that live in denial in this donya. All I can say is stay strong and don't give up trying. You children are an asset to you. May Allah reward you for your hard work and ease the difficult times for you and your family.

  2. Thank you for writing this post! I think most women have days like that, feeling down about ourselves and our lives, especially when someone makes a critical comment, You are raising your kids in a happy, loving, spiritual home and that makes you more successful than most women who might have a bigger house/better neighborhood/higher degree. And good luck with pursuing your master's degree! You are going to be such an inspiration to your children, especially your daughters! Your children are so lucky to have you as their mother!

  3. Good for you sis,

    People will always have something to say and judge, do what pleases you and works best for you, you do an awesome job everyday and have gorgeous kids (I should know being their fave aunt) but stay strong and believe in what you do, you are a time model and inspiration to us all. You wi get to your goals and you will do that successfully :)
    Fashionista sis

  4. You are not alone sis...we are all having somewhat similar predicaments...

  5. Asalamu Alaikum,
    As a long-time reader of your blog, your dedication to your children and their well-being and connection to their faith is abundantly clear. MashaAllah, you are an inspiration to me, as I start out on the path of raising my daughter! Even though she is still very young, I already face a lot of pressure from my community to homeschool, as there is no good Islamic school in our area. I have always intended to work part-time, (another area of contention!) so homeschooling is a difficult idea for me. This of course leads to questioning myself as a parent, wife and Muslim- am I doing any of it right?
    I support you and admire you as a hard-working mother. Keep up the tiring, sometimes thankless, good work!
    And remember how important accepted dua'as are in making our children righteous and happy :)

  6. Don't let anyone put you down! I greatly admire your strength and perserverence AND the dedication you have towards your family MashAllah. I recently got married and I was discussing starting a family with my husband the other day and found myself mentioning you to my husband. You're a role model Umm Salihah! May Allah make it easy for you inshAllah.

  7. As salamou alaykoum dear sister,
    I would love to say the same things like the sisters before.You are a role model for me.Mashallah! I think you are a very inspiring woman and I really love reading your blog.I find always something interesting in it.May Allah reward you for your efforts.Ameen.
    I would love to have a mother like you and I think your kids must be very lucky to have you in their lives.
    May Allah guide us all and protect us from the whisperings of Shaytaan.Ameen.
    And I wish you much success with your degree inshallah.
    Lots of love and salams

  8. My lovely sister I think we've all been there or a going through it. You can only do your best.my only advice would be regarding the judgement al people around you would be to continue being nice because you find the meaner a person is the more they are in need of kindness. Love your blog sis :-D

  9. Just read your emotional post. I bumped to your great blog in 2005 and since then been an avid follower of your unique and mashAllah wonderful posts. You have inspired me to start my own blog alhamdulillah. When I figured it out that you live quite close to me, I was so excited to meet you! You have been a great support mashAllah. Through your blog , you are helping us, the Muslim women in the West, to realize our dreams and aspirations, alhamdulillah. You are blessed sis. Don't let anyone make you feel down. I think we all go through ups and downs in life but that is the way of this life, isn't it? I was thinking about it the other day. Whenever Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala mentioned about this life, He told us it will be a place of trials and tribulations. You are doing great as a wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, sister , friend, Muslimah blogger MashAllah. If some ignorant people can't see the great work you are doing, its their weakness. Ignore it and keep on going for Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala's sake. He loves you and that's why you are being tested. The prophets were the best of people and their tests were of the most severe kind. Always be positive sis. We love you very much for HIs sake and you are in our duas. xxxxxx

  10. Assalaamu 'alaikum sister :)
    I have literally just found your blog and although I have only read a few of your posts I want to comment here. I am not a parent but I have experienced both disappointment and success (alhamdulillah) in my schooling. Share your past with Little Lady so she can learn from your struggle and see education as an opportunity that she must grasp with both hands and look to you as an example of what she can achieve. Let her know that all that is required of her is to try her hardest and never give up and she needn't tolerate unhelpful comments. Encourage her to dream and tell her it can be achieved with hard work and perseverance. I know from experience that your situation at 11 does not define your future. She will, by the grace of Allah (st) mature and learn to be self-motivated. I hope that this may help affirm your resolve and I pray that Allah grants you both good in this world and the hereafter.

  11. Salam Wa Alaikum sister,

    I have been following your blog for a few years now and find it very enriching and beneficial. I truly admire how you raise your children and manage to live in an Islamic manner in a western world. You are a great role model for muslim women living in the west Masha-Allah !
    Please don't worry about Little Ladies education too much. Insha - Allah she will do very well in her exams. At the end of the day it doesn't matter what academic institution we send our children to. The child has to put in the effort herself to learn. Your daughter seems very bright from what you write- she will go far In Shaa Allah. Also she has very good role models at home Masha-Allah. She has a very sound base to learn about religion and how to conduct herself. In Shaa Allah she will excel in character as she learns from the family surrounding her. The exposure to non- Islamic practices at school will only add to her knowledge about the world and she will learn In Shaa Allah what kind of behavior she is to stay away from, and why these behaviors are bad. Please don't send any child to boarding school. We only get to spend a short amount of time with our children while they are young, and this time is very precious. In Shaa Allah, only the best will come your way in terms of deen and dunya.

  12. It sounds like you've been through some real struggles, but for you to share your story with us genuinely means so much.