Saturday 8 October 2016

The Real Muslim Mama's Manifesto

What a horrid morning. I woke up feeling so miserable today and spent the whole morning veering between rage and sadness, with everyone feeling the brunt of it. The house is still being refurbished and we are still living in two rooms. Everyone has colds and coughs and keeping everyone organised and with a routine seems like an uphill struggle. This morning I lay in bed for a long time with the sound of builders banging and sawing, Little Lady shushing everyone so that I could sleep and the door bell ringing every 5 minutes. For the life of me I could not think of why I should get up. I felt purposeless, pointless and utterly powerless this morning.

I kept telling myself the reason why we are here:

And I created not the jinn and mankind except that they should worship Me (Alone) (Quran 51:56)

But this morning the words were not connecting, the anger kept pushing through and tears kept flowing. In the end I did the one thing I always do when I feel anxious or sad. I tried to move and do something. I believe that action of any kind is a powerful antidote to negative feelings. I started the task of getting breakfast served, getting bedding folded and mattresses put away and start organising and meeting the various people passing through my home during the morning. Throughout the morning, I continued to feel angry and sad. In the end I spent two hours cleaning so that my mind could be freed up to think and tried to think through what was making me feel like such a miserable train wreck.

By this time my family had had enough, my husband took the boys to the builders merchants to buy supplies, Little Lady went with my sisters to “The Cake & Bake Show” and Mum-in-Law got fed up of my moaning, donned her abayah and fled the house, to my mums house I suspect. It finally gave me some headspace to think and reflect instead of rage. It dawned on me that as ever a big part of the trouble was from the internal dialogues I have going on, some that I am barely aware of. 

I felt powerless despite being the strongest person in the house and having the most central role. I felt like my time was not my own despite no one telling me what to do. I felt like life was too short, that I didn’t know what to do and that it was just flying by. This despite being in a place and with a life that meant I could make choices and pursue avenues that are not available to most of the people in the world. It’s strange how we disable ourselves with the stories we spin to ourselves.

The thing for me to do was to take each one of those little internal conversations and turn a spotlight onto it. To decide if it was right or if it needed to be wiped clean and replaced with a more positive way of thinking. This systematic dismantling of my beliefs proved a massive eye opener and left me feeling empowered and as if a burden had been taken away from me. I think we all do this to ourselves, talk ourselves into a corner with doubts and negativity. I share the negative self-talk I had internalised here along with the positive response from myself, because I suspect this kind of thinking affects so many sisters:

Negative Self talk: You don’t need to find your purpose, your purpose is to worship Allah (SWT) and take care of your children and home; everything else is a worthless distraction. This is a first world problem anyway, think of all of the people starving and fleeing from war, they have much bigger problems to deal with.
Response: Every single one of us is born with a purpose, whether to take care of our homes raise the next generation or serve the world in a different way. With the right intention, every single one of these is a form of worship. Every single one of these can help and serve a world full of so much pain and suffering.

Negative self-talk: Your writing is just a distraction. Any action that distracts from your main duties is a waste of time. You won’t make any money from it, you will steal time from your family to do it.
Response: A balanced life requires you to honour and take care of all of the facets of your life: spiritual, family, self-care and development and your life’s work. If you neglect some areas and feel obliged to dedicate yourselves disproportionately to others, this will create resentment. You can’t give of yourself to others if you have let your own reserves run empty

Negative self-talk: I have no control over my time, it is all spent cooking and cleaning up after others, making sure they are taken care of and making sure everyone’s lives run smoothly. I and up doing what my mum-in-law wants, my husband wants or what my kids need to get done.
Response: Errrmm…don’t spend all of your time doing it then. As a mother I am a leader in my home. I can choose how best to spend my time and I can delegate activities to others too. I can choose to let my home get messy or do nothing if I want to. I can choose not to feel guilty and step aside from the anxiety that doing nothing creates. Besides your husband or mother in-law haven’t said a thing, stop imagining what they might be thinking and putting words in their head
Negative self-talk: Life is so short, you will never get to do all of the things you want to. The days fly by so quickly. By the time the kids are older you will be too old to enjoy things like travel anyway. What’s the point?
Response: Yes life feels short, but it has been a long journey getting to today. You may have another day, but you may have another years, only Allah (SWT) knows. But my job is to make each day count by waking early to do something I love, by serving others, by making as much of my life an act of worship as possible and by being mindful and conscious as much as I can each day. Besides half the joy in realising the wonderful things you want to do comes from the dreaming and planning. Then we can take the small steps each day towards our goals in the time and resources we have.

The Real Muslim Mama's Manifesto:

My time, focus, energy and money are mine to spend and invest as I see fit. These things are in my control. Others may have an opinion, which I will respect, but I will choose according to my own priorities.

All of the facets of life deserve to be honoured and attended to in order to live a fulfilling and balanced life: worship, marriage, parenting, self-care, self-development, health, rest, our creative life and yes, even pleasure. There I said it. We can own our pleasure, make time for it and refuse to feel guilty. This will leave us able to invest the time we do in marriage and parenting as healthier, happier people, perhaps even more interesting people. After all, if we don’t respect ourselves, why should those around us respect us?

I will treat worship as a source of connection to Allah (SWT), as an opportunity to recharge and reinvigorate myself. I will spend my life working to improve this worship. At the same time I recognise that worship comes in more than one form and for each of us the spiritual path is unique. Some of us are born to be da’ee (one who propagates the faith), some are naturally inclined to quiet worship and reflection during the night. Some of us serve and help our brothers and sisters and others still fight for the rights of the poor and vulnerable. We all have unique gifts and qualities that we can use to connect to our Creator, the key is to do so with sincerity and the best of intentions.

We will put aside our needs and wants to fulfil the rights others have over us: our parent’s spouse, neighbours and children. But we will be realistic about how far we can do this. We will not serve to the point we become ill or resentful. We will not give up our voice or dreams, but strive to find ways to balance our responsibilities with our needs. The care we mete out to others, we deserve to receive back also.

We will be realistic about our expectations of ourselves as parents and of our children. We will work to inspire those around us through our good example and passion for our faith. We will encourage the best of behaviour from our children but we will keep in mind that the world we live in is a very different place than the ones we or our parents grew up in. The expectations our parents back then will not hold today. The world is violent and oversexualised, we deal with being online and connected 24/7, information overload in soundbites that get shorter and shorter. Materialism and commercialisation is shoved in our children’s faces and the pressure on them to fit in and confirm is unbelievable. We will be their rock, anchor and refuge insh’Allah. We will learn to communicate with our children, to comfort them and teach them to be strong in their faith and values in a messed up world. We will teach them do the right thing when under pressure to do what everyone is doing. But we will also be firm and demand respect – we are mothers before friends.

We will not compare our children to others. We may pray for our children to be scholars or huffaz, or to be Doctors and engineers and work hard to encourage them, but we will accept that our children have their own purpose and journey and that it has nothing to do with anyone else. I have met enough sisters to understand that sometimes what looks like a perfect upbringing on the outside can belie the truth of a household: dysfunctional families, empty marriages, spoilt children, mental illness or domestic violence. Your child may not be born to be a scholar or Doctor, maybe Allah (SWT) wishes for them to live their lives beautifully in some way we have not envisaged. Maybe that perfect child is on the way to self-destruct. 

We will not compare our marriage to others: not to the perfect weddings, honeymoons or dinners that appear on our social media. Not to the siblings spouse who looks like a model or whose husband showers her with gifts. We are less than perfect, our spouses are less than perfect. We will work on taking care of each other, strengthening our communication and taking care of each other’s happiness. At the same time we deserve love, attention, kindness and understanding and it doesn’t hurt to receive a gift now and again, after all: Abu Huraira reported: The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Give each other gifts and you will love each other.” (al-Adab al-Mufrad 594). 

We will be diligent in fulfilling our duties to our Creator, our families and our communities to the best of our abilities. We will be sincere in our efforts. But we will not sacrifice our health and sanity: “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…” (Qur’an, 2:286). We will make time to rest, to dedicate to play as well as work. We will invest in our own development and find space for our creativity to flourish without feeling guilty. A mother who is happy and fulfilled benefits everyone and her development means her families development and growth.

Finally, as Muslimah’s we try to be humble, modest and disciplined in our lives. But this does not mean that we should be cold, bored or boring. It is in human nature to enjoy the company of friends, to enjoy romantic love and to take pleasure from beautiful things. We will make space for self-care, play and pleasure in ways that are balanced and halal and that make us happy to be alive and get up in the morning insh’Allah.