10 Years Later: Yes, We Came Back From Canada, and No, We Still Don’t Regret It

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

This is a very long blog post again, more like an eBook. I am a non-fiction book author now, so what else can you expect? Grab a cup of coffee before you sit down.

This past month has been rather sentimental for me. Because it was October. October 2014.

You see, ten years ago, in early October 2004 (3rd to be exact), I returned permanently from my apartment in North York, Toronto, Canada to Karachi, Pakistan after my husband and I mutually decided that we wouldn’t raise our children there.

Forest-Manor-Rd

The apartment building where we lived in North York, Toronto. Image courtesy: Google Maps

Seasoned Toronto dwellers might be interested to know that we were situated on Forest Manor Road, near Don Mills Subway Station, Fairview Mall, and next to Forest Manor Public School. We used to go for walks in Parkway Forest Park. Iqbal Halal Foods was our halal meat stop, and Masjid Darussalam at Thorncliffe Park was our Jumuah stop.

I was two months pregnant at that time. And very sick due to excessive nausea and vomiting, which was not a famous condition back then.

Unlike it is now. Thanks to Kate Middleton’s pregnancies.

In fact, I owe Kate a big thank you, suffering as she is once again nowadays, poor thing. You see, because of Kate, the condition of Hyperemesis Gravidarum is actually something that people are now aware of, talking about, discussing, and most importantly, accepting as a reality for a very small percentage of pregnant women going through their first trimester.

Back then, assuming that I was experiencing the ‘normal’ variety of nausea and vomiting associated with early pregnancy, I got the, “But this happens to every woman during the first trimester. Why’d you come back? You needed to be pampered, didn’t you? ” too often to recount. Too condescendingly, presumptuously to recount.

So, earlier this month, as the date of 3rd October 2004 came, I reminisced much about the same date ten years ago, when I hopped off a plane in Karachi, which I’d boarded from Toronto — on a one-way ticket.

Little did that naive, 26-year-old, newly pregnant me know what she was in for.

For the rest of her life.

The Question that Still Lingers

“So, why’d you come back? It must have been just because of your pregnancy, right?”

Sigh. The number of times I have been asked this question. Bleh.

Apparently, anyone who gives up the many “benefits” that can be availed by being a Canadian citizen, in order to remain ‘just’ a Pakistani passport holder, is either crazy, hasty, or just plain stupid.

First of all, I do not owe anyone an explanation or justification for our decision to return. To each their own.

So why write this post then? Well, because I know one thing for sure: that many people still wonder whether we regret coming back, even just a little bit. This post should serve to enlighten them well about that, insha’Allah.

After all, it has been ten years. A whole decade.

And although my husband is a Canadian citizen (yawn), since he has spent 3 years living in Canada (where he landed as an immigrant to do his second MBA), me and my children are not.

I did become a permanent resident when I landed in Canada, i.e. I went to Canada as a landed immigrant (permanent resident) and not on a visit visa, only because my husband wanted me to take that option after our nikah, so that I could live there with him while he was there.

At the time after my nikah, when we both started putting together my application as my husband’s soon-to-be-sponsored “spouse or conjugal partner” (*chortle*), I was rather ignorant of the whole immigration process and what it entails. I just did what the elders and husband asked me to do.

I also assumed that, since so many Pakistani’s are constantly migrating to, and apparently seem to be happily settling down in Canada, I would too.

At this point in the story, I’d like to point out how no one, not a single person I knew, who had relatives/friends settled in Canada, told me anything about what life in Canada is generally like for married Pakistani women, except for two people.

One, a sister at Al-Huda said, “It is good that you will be going there for the first time in the summer. Else you’d have suffered a weather shock.” Which was news to me. She told me that the extremely cold weather came as a “shock” for newcomers, who got depressed because of it. Another aunty told me that I’d need to get a job, else I’d suffer from depression due to staying at home. My husband had also once told me that it was extremely cold during winters. But that was about it.

No one asked me to read up about Pakistani immigrants’ life in Canada, or to talk to immigrants already living in Canada as wives or mothers, to know what it’s like, or to prepare myself for what was in store for us in the future.

All the people whom I met between my nikah and rukhsati used to just ask me this question, “So, have you learned how to cook?”

Yawn. Cooking. The ultimate life-saving skill a wife needs to survive marriage. Right?

Actually, the truth is, that immigrants don’t talk openly about all aspects of their life abroad (especially the negative ones) with Pakistanis who are still living here (more on that below in the post).

I found out what immigrant life is like only after landing there, when immigrant families who were living there since many years candidly opened up and started talking to me about what challenges I’d face there from then onwards. But they did that i.e. became honest and open about the hard work, sacrifice and other problems we’d need to endure there, only when they thought we had come to live there for good.

That is, they talk openly about the negative aspects of their immigrant lives with a fellow Pakistani, only once the latter has permanently crossed over to their side, and has (apparently) burned all bridges of ever returning to Pakistan. That is when they become candid.

Anyhow, 3 months in Toronto, and I decided that living in Canada for 3 years, birthing my first child there (yeah, we both were very eager to have a baby as soon as we got married) and then taking an oath at the end of that term, to swear allegiance to a Queen I didn’t know, in which I would be required to promise the Canadian government that I would henceforth obey every law of their country, was just not worth it.

In my book, that is.

Taking an Oath: A Very Serious Matter

I believe that Allah will question me very, very strictly about any oaths that I take, including any oath of citizenship; any allegiances that I form (especially as an adult, sane Muslim, to a non-Muslim government that is openly hostile towards non-resident Muslims, has killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims in other countries, or has openly supported their massacre, and has invaded Muslim lands by force, more than once); or any promises that I make about which laws to abide by during my life, and which society to work for the betterment of. According to Wikipedia, the oath of Canadian citizenship goes like this:

“I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

Now, I did not choose the place in which I was born, so that is something my parents (or their parents) will be questioned about. That is, I will not be questioned by Allah about what my birth nationality is.

However, I will be questioned about which nationality I proactively chose for myself as a Muslim adult, and which one I also chose for my Muslim children, by e.g. deliberately birthing them in a certain country, or by taking them there as immigrants, and consciously choosing to raise them there.

Allah says in the Qur’an:

وَأَوْفُواْ بِالْعَهْدِ إِنَّ الْعَهْدَ كَانَ مَسْؤُولاً

“And be true to every promise – for, verily, you will be called to account for every promise which you have made.” [17:34]

Allah will also question me very strictly about how I raised my kids, and where, and why. He will also question Muslim parents about why they relocated from one place to another, and how the move(s) affected the upbringing of their children.

Raising a child is a job that takes less than two decades, but which has an enormous impact on the parents’ future generations. That is, the way you raise your child (and where, because each place has it’s own unique impact on the child) will affect your lineage decades, even centuries, down the road.

So parenting is definitely not a job that one can be laid-back about, or which a Muslim can allow to be affected by short-term, career-related decisions like where to live, especially since many studies indicate how a child’s personality is fully developed as early as age 5.

So I bailed out, because I had no intention of swearing allegiance to a non-Muslim government (especially one that legally allows homosexual marriages). No matter how “Islamic” their systems were. No matter how clean their environment/water was. No matter how “free” their public education and healthcare was. And no matter how safe and secure it was for us (and our future kids) to live there as compared to the polluted, politically unstable and wrought-with-injustice city of Karachi, Pakistan.

Secondly, though we came back primarily because we decided to raise our children in Karachi, and hence spare them any confusions, challenges and conflicts related to self-esteem, identity, race, and ethnicity as they grew up, there were several other factors too.

And no, it wasn’t because I felt marginalized in Toronto because of my hijab. Actually, I always went out in Toronto wearing niqab, hijab and abaya (even my signature black one!), but never experienced anything out of the ordinary, except perhaps a little coldness in attitude from some women whom I interacted with in public, e.g. the cashier at a store, or the government office employees where I went for formalities related to my social security card, and health card.

One of the main reasons that we came back, was probably because I do not possess the immigrant mindset. And because of this, I admit that I felt extremely out-of-place among the Pakistani immigrants that I knew there, just because of my different way of thinking. So what is “the immigrant mindset”?

The Immigrant Mindset

I have written about 3 broad mindsets related to money before. But in this post, I want to address the ‘immigrant mindset’ in particular, which was one of the main reasons why my husband and I decided not to permanently settle in Canada.

And before any Pakistani-Canadian readers here decide to take this personally, I want to point out that the ‘immigrant’ mindset applies to all immigrants, regardless of ethnicity and religious belief.

For example, this mindset could even be possessed by someone hailing from a rural village in Pakistan, who emigrates to one of the Muslim countries in the GCC to seek a better livelihood.

It would also be possessed by e.g. a Spanish/Brazilian/Mexican/Italian immigrant who decides to relocate to USA for pursuing the chances of a better life for his or her future generations.

So please do not take any undue offense if you or your parents emigrated from one country to another for the sake of a better life (or, in particular, if you or your parents have emigrated to Canada from Pakistan), because none is intended.

Characteristics of an immigrant mindset that I couldn’t see myself adopting in the future, even if I tried to, are:

→ Immense love for, awe, amazement at, and admiration of, their adopted country’s culture, level of development, infrastructure, systems (healthcare, law enforcement, education, civic), values, and society. And by that I mean, golf-ball-eyed, star-struck, gaze-affixed, speechless, how-amazing-is-this-country-and-it’s-people type of awe. Uncheck this box. I felt no such thing.

→ Love of foreign currency, especially the “daaler” (dollar). Uncheck this box again. You can show me bills totaling a million dollars in your possession and I wouldn’t feel like snatching them from you, one bit. Bless you.

→ A barely disguised contempt and disdain for the culture and people that they left behind. This is actually one of the prime reasons that immigrants run off to more developed countries in the first place: to escape the rampant ignorance, filth, chaos, injustice, disease, danger to life, political instability, and corruption that they encounter in their home countries.

→ Not being able to mentally “let go” of the culture that they left behind, despite disliking the country and people from which it originated. So Pakistani immigrants might continue to identify themselves as “Pakistani” even whilst hating their past life in Pakistan inwardly, and even after choosing to live in another country for decades, and always inwardly fearing the prospect of being forcibly sent back to Pakistan by the government of their adopted country.

Never is this dichotomy more apparent than on 14th August every year, when this day is often celebrated more zealously by Pakistani’s living in other countries, than by those living in the country itself.

They become teary-eyed with emotion as they express their love for “their country” whilst attending 14th August independence day dinners, but they don’t want to come back and live in it.

Contradiction much?

Another way that this refusal to “let go” of Pakistani habits and culture, is apparent in the way immigrants keep protecting them and holding on to them within the confines of their homes, even after decades e.g. you’ll never hear of Pakistani Muslims eating chocolate waffles or blueberry pancakes for breakfast on Eid morning, it will always have to be sheer khurma.

Or in how they conveniently keep visiting their homeland whenever they need to save their moneydaalers” (or any other foreign currency that they love to earn, but not spend) i.e. whenever cheaper products or services can be more easily availed from back home.

Examples?

Cheaper wedding banquets. Cheaper (and more servile/easier to control) daughters-in-law. Cheaper but much more exquisite and beautiful gold jewelry. Cheaper and beautiful traditional couture i.e. Pakistani wedding clothes, or office attire (even official pant-suits are so much cheaper and much better stitched by the good ol’ paan-chewing tailors in Pakland). Ah, the Pakistani textile industry – be it pretwear or unstitched cloth – there is none like it in the world, is there? (I’m not kidding or being sarcastic here).

Then there’s cheaper and organic leather products made from halal animals e.g. bags, belts, wallets, and luggage. Cheaper and much more delicious Pakistani mangoes (during summers).

Cheaper sons-in-law (for aging daughters) who can be readily imported from back home. Cheaper undergraduate/college education, especially for Pakistani immigrants who live in the GCC, where their children are allowed admission only into a few “Pakistani” colleges, if at all (thanks to emiratisation), or those American kids who want to become doctors but cannot afford medical school fees in the US.

Examples of cheaper services: massages/treatments at spas, haircuts at saloons, or henna done by professional mehndi wali’s; customized, personal tailoring for clothes; getting invitation cards for weddings printed in bulk.

Cheaper medicines. Cheaper textbooks (Urdu Bazar zindabad!). Cheaper but more compassionate and expert specialist doctors. Cheaper nannies and maids. Cheaper cooks and drivers.

You get the idea? “Cheaper, cheaper, cheaper” being the key word that keeps immigrants tied to, and returning often on visits to, Pakistan. On economy-class, no-stop, “no frills” PIA flights (more on the flights below).

Or understand it better this way: they want to earn more money, in the coveted golden foreign currency (such as the daaler), but they want to spend money only in Pakistani rupees.

They want to live physically in a cleaner, more developed country, but have left their hearts back home, here in Pakistan.

→ Thinking before every decision, big or small, personal, professional, or familial: “But if we have to live here, we must _______ | we cannot _________ | we will have to _________.”

That is, their desire and goal to assimilate, settle down in, and succeed in their adopted country/culture supersedes and surpasses all other decisions. ALL other decisions.

Below, are some of the characteristics of the way of life of an immigrant, according to my personalized experiences and interactions with them, which I could not see myself adopting as a lifestyle, not even just for 3 years:

The Immigrant Lifestyle

Please don’t be incensed now, if you are. I am openly admitting that the problem lies with me. I am perhaps too inflexible as a person, too stuck to my rigid morals and ethical principles for living life, to adapt myself to a foreign culture, or to let my head hang just a wee bit lower in apologetic servility as an outsider, in order to assimilate into another country to reap personal benefits doled out to me, or to my kids, by it’s government.

Anyhow, if you still want to read more about the way of life of an immigrant, please go ahead:

→ Penny pinching.

Saving every single dirham/dinar/dollar/euro during their initial struggling years after emigration. Which means: spending as little of it as possible, but striving to earn as much of it as they can.

Waiting for annual sales to purchase clothing and other items (or going back to Pakistan to purchase them. Did I mention that they are cheaper in Pakistan?).

The cycle goes something like this: the immigrant spends the first one or two decades post-emigration pinching pennies, cutting out coupons, and buying from discount/clearance store outlets only.

By the time they reach financial stability (after 2 decades, usually) they are buying from the better known stores and chains, but the likes of Porsche, Gucci, Prada and Yves Saint Laurent still evade them until perhaps their children are in their thirties.

Despite reaching a state of being quite financially well off, however (e.g. being the wife of a gainfully employed, practicing neurosurgeon), I have yet to come across a Pakistani immigrant housewife in the West who employs a part-time housekeeper/maid for housecleaning.

I’ve heard of backyards being mowed, floors being polished on all fours, walls/roofs being painted with bare hands. I’ve heard of them gifting $100 to a relative once in a while; but what I have never heard of, is a Pakistani housewife in the West spending $50-$120 to hire a maid to even partially spring-clean her home, not even once in a while.

Not even if she is very ill, or hospitalized, or in need of extra care.

Immigrants will ask relatives in another city, or family friends nearby, to come over (by driving 4-8 hours, never on an airplane) and provide them with urgently needed favors and services (such as cooking or babysitting), but will not pay for professional services in the same category, even if they have the money to pay for them.

→ Social drinking and eating of non-zabihah meat (this applies to Muslims who used to abstain from these, and considered them haram, back in their “homeland”). Enough said.

→ Being eligible for mostly lower-social-class and blue collar jobs (at first, at least). At some point, every immigrant faces discrimination at the workplace. Consequently, an immigrant almost always needs to “settle” for “lesser” jobs because of belonging to a minority in their adopted country.

Again, I’d like to give a local example of this. The jobs of domestic help, attendants/nurses, sweepers, cooks/chefs, and waiters in Pakistan are mostly taken up by local Christians and Hindus.

Very few from these ethnic/religious minorities make it up the corporate ladder in Pakistani companies, and that also happens only if they change their name to a more “Muslim sounding” one and/or do not openly practice their religious beliefs in public. E.g. the female nursing attendants employed for my (now deceased) invalid grandmother were mostly Christians. And they’d change their name to fit in e.g. Mary would go by Maryam, Berna went by Parveen, etc.

Another example, if I may be allowed to quote it?

In USA, most nannies, butlers and maids employed by wealthy people belong to the immigrant working class i.e. they are non-white immigrants from other countries, who usually speak little and heavily accented English.

→ Not openly discussing the things that they dislike about their life in their adopted country after emigrating to it, with anyone “back home”, except during very secret, hush-hush conversations with confidantes.

I have already experienced this personally while I was in Canada, albeit for only 3 months.

I have no idea why it seems as if immigrants sign a “code of silence” or something! Is it so difficult to be blatantly truthful, upfront, factual and neutral about all aspects of their immigrant life, including the negative ones?

You want an example? Here goes.

You know I love living in Karachi, right, and that I was born and bred here? Well, now you do.

Anyway, here are the things I dislike about my life here:

Grave/saint worship at mazar’s (viz. open acceptance of the biggest sin in Islam: shirk), bomb blasts, cell-phone-theft, shootings/killings, widespread muggings and robberies, rampant misogyny, dirt and filth, power outages, crazy road traffic; overflowing roadside gutters, street beggars, huge garbage dumps, mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, and the geckos that eat them; the excessive heat and humidity during May-June every year, paan-chewing and spitting in public places; how the whole business community in the city rises late in the mornings, and everyone sleeps in late on weekends hereby losing out on the early morning blessings/barakah (including me, I can’t seem to stay awake for long after sunrise); extravagant, wasteful, late-night wedding parties; political and civic strife shutting the city down every few days or weeks.

The above list was not difficult for me to lay out before you at all. I feel no qualms about stating the facts about a city that I love to live in.

Now, please can you tell me, whether you are an immigrant to the UAE, Saudia, USA, Canada, UK, Australia, or Europe, why you do not talk about the things you dislike about your life in your country when you come and visit us in Pakistan?

What is it that stops you?

→ Changing their definition of “modesty” and morality according to the social situation and short-term objective to be achieved, primarily that which has got to do with promoting social assimilation and integration (more on that below), or a boost of their career.

Situations according to which standards of morality are conveniently switched/changed, like gears in a car: when shaking hands with a person of the opposite gender during an interaction that is career-related; wearing a forced amiable facial expression when beholding graphic and gratuitous PDA (public display of affection), nudity on public beaches, homosexual marriages, Gay Pride parades, or Mardi Gras, or indulgent alcohol consumption (“Spring breaaaaak!”) — despite being inwardly disgusted by these and other aspects of the culture of their adopted country that they wouldn’t dream of personally acquiring for themselves or for their children.

→ Not attending their parents’ funeral “back home” because they just visited the country 2 months prior to it, and they cannot buy another ticket just yet, viz. spend $1000 on yet another return trip.

Don’t fire me for saying this. I have seen quite a few real-life cases of adults who couldn’t didn’t attend their elderly parents’ funeral because of this reason.

Maybe missing this event (i.e. being by your elderly parent’s side as they depart this world) is not a big deal in your book, but it is a HUGE deal in mine. May Allah save me from ever being in such a situation. Ameen.

→ Taking an 8-18 hour flight once year, or a few times a year, for renewing their visas (i.e. effectively being asked to exit the country and re-enter it, by law), for visiting relatives, or attending weddings “back home”.

Having to take such “obligatory” flights with little children, an infant, or a toddler is definitely not an easy task, especially if your husband is not accompanying you. But flying like this is part of life for an immigrant. And yeah, sure, they get used to it. All the more power to them.

Most immigrants do not stop taking these flights even after becoming citizens of a foreign country. Or even if they have lived for 20+ years somewhere in the GCC or the West.

As long as they have relatives, property, or other roots in Pakistan, the need for them to ‘ride two boats at the same time’ will prevail.

And they will have to take these uncomfortable, economy-class flights (which also dig a small hole in their pocket each time) for an indefinite time period.

But I couldn’t see myself doing that just for the sake of becoming a Canadian citizen. Yup, I’m not much of a long-distance traveler, you see. Rigid old me. :P

→ Socially avoiding/cutting off a certain “other” category of immigrants hailing from the same homeland as them, when they socialize at events in their adopted country.

For example, an immigrant yuppy who drinks, parties and openly lives with his/her ‘gori‘ girlfriend/’gora‘ boyfriend will never attend a religious social event where desi uncles/aunties will be present sporting the latest formal shalwar kameez outfits and talking loudly in their ‘FOB‘ accents as they discuss the latest Geo News update/Pakistani morning show episode over spicy, oil-rich Chicken Biryani and ghee-laden gajar ka halwa.

Despite hailing from the same city and country, both immigrant categories will be totally scandalized by the lifestyle and choices of the other, so they’ll socially avoid each other like the plague.

You see, the first kind of immigrant has “assimilated” completely into their adopted country’s culture and people, but the latter has not.

→ Which brings me to the creme de la creme of an immigrant’s dilemma post emigration, which hangs like a dark cloud over their lives as soon as they ‘get off the boat’, so to speak: the pressure to integrate and assimilate.

Each and every immigrant who lives as part of a minority in their adopted country, feels the pressure to assimilate.

Remember, I am not taking just religion into account here as I describe this point. It has got more to do with living as a (visibly) ethnic minority member as part of a larger, foreign, cultural majority.

The pressure to assimilate applies to every immigrant, but especially so to religious minorities anywhere in the world. E.g. even to the Christians, Zoroastrians, Shia’s, Ahmedi’s, and Hindus living in Karachi.

Because of fear of persecution, marginalization or ostracization, they live in close-knit communities, near each other, and hold on tightly to their different cultural/religious practices in the privacy of their homes, because of the fact that they are a minority. E.g. they change their names and are forced to do other things (such as call their god “Allah”, and not Bhagwan/Jesus, in public) in order to blend in/assimilate into mainstream society.

Just as a FYI: if I had been born into one of the persecuted minorities in Karachi (alhamdulillah that I wasn’t), I’d probably have left this city a long time ago.

As I said above, changing their name, wardrobe and conversational accent/style in order to assimilate and ‘blend in’, is the expected norm for most immigrants. E.g. Salman eventually goes by “Sal”, Nauman eventually goes by “Nammy”, Khalid becomes “Kal”, Shahzad becomes “Shaz”, and Abdullah adopts a new name altogether.

I can only imagine what an “Osama” would call himself after emigrating to the West. “Ossie”, or “Sam”? :\

→ Always facing the risk of being passive-aggressively and derisively told by their host country’s nationals to “Go home” as they cross paths in public. Always. We are “brown”, accented, Urdu-speaking people after all; the outsiders struggling to fit in; the ‘others’ who have come to their country from elsewhere, in pursuit of a better life/home/education/career/livelihood for themselves and their children.

Now please, take a deep breath.

There.

Now, read this: The above list is not my personal judgment about immigrants.

It is merely a list of things that I have observed in most of the immigrants whom I know.

These are all of the things that I could not envision myself doing on a permanent or a long-term basis, in my own life, by going on living in Canada.

I just didn’t think the sacrifice of my current lifestyle; and proactively changing my current goals for my children, and ‘adapting’ my personal moral values, habits, and principles to fit in to another culture/country, was worth it.

And yes, I didn’t have any desire to raise my children in Canada, as Canadians, despite knowing that public-school education is free; that one day their undergraduate, college tuition fee would be reduced to a third if they became citizens of Canada; despite knowing that I’d get “free” healthcare (there is a reason I put that “free” in quotes, by the way); despite knowing that the Canadian passport would lift visa restrictions/fees and open travel doors wide for us in many countries of the world; despite knowing that a Canadian citizen earns much more than a Pakistani passport-holder, almost everywhere in the GCC (due to discriminative salary scales, based on nationality).

I was the problem. I couldn’t change. I couldn’t see myself bending, adapting, and changing my goals, values, morals, lifestyle, and priorities for the sake of acquiring the citizenship of Canada, and for the sake of living there.

That, and did I mention that I didn’t particularly like the prospect of living in a deep freezer for 6 months a year? :)

No, I didn’t mention that, did I?

Nor did I mention that my husband, despite holding an MBA degree from the University of New Brunswick, couldn’t land a halal permanent job in Canada throughout his 3-year stay there.

Nor did I mention how the taste of the meat, vegetables, fruit, milk and all other food in North America is off-puttingly bland in comparison to that in Pakistan?

Nope. I didn’t mention any of those other points, did I?

Hmph. What does this ignorant niqabi Pakistani woman know anyway, about how wonderful other countries are compared to her loser Karachi? What has she seen of the developed world, boxed in as she is into her own self-imposed cage?”

Last, but not least, before I sign off, I’d like to list, just for your information, the places, cities and countries of the world that I have visited, prior to landing in Canada as an immigrant in 2004.

This is not an attempt to brag, please. It is actually a very humble and small list compared to the innumerable places most of you have probably visited around the world yourself.

So why am I displaying this list here? So that all the readers of this post can have an idea about how “enlightened” by international travel I was prior to landing in Canada as a FOB. :P

And I want to pinpoint that when I visited each of the places below, I wore my signature headscarf, abaya, and niqab pulled over my face (all guidance is from Allah), and I visited all of these places in 2001, at the age of 22-23, except for the last one.

  1. London, UK. Oxford Street. Marble Arch. British Museum. Rode a Double-Decker red bus (and loved it!). Paddington Station. Claire’s. Trafalgar Square. Big Ben. Selfridges.
  2. Wilmslow, Manchester, UK. Visited the largest outlet of Marks and Spencer that is located in Manchester (I didn’t like anything much at the multistory store, so I came out empty-handed). Royal Doulton.
  3. Troy, Michigan, USA. Mervyn’s (now defunct). Somerset Mall. Claire’s (again). Build A Bear. Tuesday Morning. JCPenney.
  4. Downtown Detroit (on a deserted Sunday). Monorail ride. Fed seagulls on the side of a lake that I cannot recall the name of. All I remember is that we could see the skyline of Windsor Border in the distance.
  5. Downtown Chicago. Lake shore Drive. Navy Pier. Tram ride for tourists. Sears Tower (now Wills Tower) Sky deck. Illinois Institute of Technology campus (sat down to read a bit in the library, visited their cafeteria). Payless Shoes. Chicago Union Station. Took an Amtrak train from Chicago, Illinois to Dearborn, Michigan and back.
  6. Bloomingdale, Chicago (a suburb). Dominick’s (now defunct). Marshal Fields mall (now defunct).
  7. Niagra Falls, Canada. Tim Horton’s. Walmart.
  8. Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah, Saudi Arabia (2002).

Conclusion – The World is Big Enough for All of Us

Yes, yes, I know, if a list could be compiled detailing all of the things wrong with Pakistan, Pakistani society, and Pakistani people, especially the port city Karachi, it would by far outnumber any other list of vices, evils and injustices related to all the other places on this planet lumped together.

It is probably true, that Karachi is one of the worst cities in the world, to live in! But what can I say?

Except that I am happy for you where ever you might be living, and the life choices you might be making.

It would be great if you can also be broad-minded and respectful enough to accept my rejection of Canadian immigration and of a life in the West, as a proof of humankind’s “unity in diversity”.

If my rejection of living in Canada or anywhere else in the world as an immigrant, brings any kind of awkwardness into our friendship/relationship as adults (I am 36 right now), then that means that one of us has still got some growing up and mental maturing to do.

Everyone is different, and my choice to not live in a country as a minority member or an immigrant, or to raise my children as minority members and second-generation immigrants, is not meant to be a judgment of your choice, or your parents’ choice, to do the same.

I hope that after reading this post, you will never feel the need to ask me the question, “So, why’d you come back from Canada?”

And even if you do, I’m hoping that you won’t. I think we all can live and let live.

And if you are a Pakistani who can’t wait to leave Pakistan to escape from the very real problems that we all are facing whilst living here, believe me, I wish you and your family nothing but the very best, from the bottom of my heart.

Bon Voyage! [*Waves hand vigorously*] :)

Posted in Current Affairs, Pleasing Allah, Reflections and Reminders, Retrospection, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Is Social Media Turning You Into a Narcissist?

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Click. Tap. Swipe.

That is all it takes nowadays for a random stranger to subscribe to your blog or Facebook feed.

computer-tablet-smartphoneTo “Like” your page.

To “Follow” you on Twitter.

To “Add” you to their circles.

To “Pin” your photograph.

All over the world, people are now connected to each other with their intangible, virtual persona, profile, or ‘face’ that is supposed to reflect their actual, physical identity.

But does it?

Different From Real Life

Real life relationships are different online, and vice versa.

It is always fun to connect and interact online, in the world of social media, with someone whom we have known for years in real life.

However, in some cases, we might get to ‘see’ a side of them that we did not know of during the years of our ‘real life’ relationship with them e.g. their opinions about certain issues and how strongly they feel about them.

This is even more true if they are avid readers, writers, thinkers, activists, or active professionals in any field, who like sharing their thoughts articulately online.

We might get to see a new side of them, especially if we witness their frank online discussions and interactions with people from their other circles, which did not include us during the years that we knew them in person e.g. professional colleagues, family members, childhood friends, or spouses.

In some unfortunate cases, this new ‘epiphany’ of sorts regarding our perception/knowledge of them, might start to signal the end of our real-life relationship with them.

The Reverse Scenario

Now for positive/less depressing analysis. In many cases, online social media brings together people who have hitherto not known, seen or met each other before in real life.

Rather ironically, the gelling factor in these cases is, also, exactly the same thing that I described in the above scenario, which drew otherwise close friends in real life apart once they connected online: their impassioned personal opinions, views and thoughts about issues, which they openly share and express online.

These expressions of personal thoughts started to garner them the support, love and admiration of like-minded new individuals who responded to their tweets, viewed their writings on Facebook, or commented on their blog posts.

Real life meetups were the natural result, and lo and behold! They connected instantly in person almost as soon as they set eyes on each other.

And though they met in flesh and blood for for the very time, it felt like they’d known each other for years.

A Double-Edged Sword

Thankfully, alhamdulillah, the latter case that I have described above, has happened to me with more sisters than the former one, although the few cases of my ‘real life’ female friends drifting away from me once they connected with me online, and read my views through my blog and Facebook, have definitely left a bad taste in the mouth.

You see, some of these past ‘friends’ decided to publicly challenge my views. Nothing wrong with that, although as I reluctantly took the bait and disagreed with their counter-opinions, I found myself getting drawn into a useless back-and-forth dialogue, which was clearly wasting my time and theirs.

Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be surprised to find out that those who challenge me stop hearing from me for a while if they decide to argue with me about any topic, because I detest arguments and debates with every inch of my being.

I also leave i.e. walk away from, an argument almost as soon as it starts, either by remaining silent, or physically going away. Because I believe that this action – of being the first one to leave the argument – is what would garner me the pleasure Allah in such a situation.

As for my other personal reasons, I think debates and arguments are the biggest waste of breath, positive energy and time, and they never bring about any good results. One thing that they do achieve, however, is the unveiling of the true face (and intentions) of the one who first challenges another person. In public.

And Allah knows best.

Anyhow, while the end of those real life, so-called “friendships” began soon after I added a few such real-life friends as “Friends” on Facebook (ironically dichotomous isn’t it?), I nevertheless still continued to really enjoy having discussions on social media with other sisters, for a while.

I made many, many new ‘friends’ by connecting with some amazing sisters online, and eventually met a few of them in person, and continued to have fruitful discussions with them in the virtual world.

I got to know them better personally; I shared their joys and sorrows. I saw them get married and have their first baby. I made some great new professional contacts as well, such as with editors and other bloggers. Things were great!

Until Zuck made that IPO.

Dang. That was when my “happy bubble” burst — with a loud bang!

Creepiness Galore

I have no idea whether the two are interrelated, but ever since Facebook had that IPO and then sent that conspicuously pointed email informing users about the change in their Terms and Conditions, and how the latter would affect their privacy, I have seen some decidedly creepy things that made my sixth sense tell me to cover my tracks online and proceed with immense caution whilst logged in to Facebook.

First of all, the sudden, unexpected increase in the number of ‘targeted’ ads and ‘Suggested Posts’ and pages!

I, like every other person, was in the habit of using the Facebook app installed on my smartphone. I, also like every other person, habitually browsed about something or another on my phone’s Safari browser.

That was all fine until I started noticing how the targeted ad of almost whatever I browsed about, would uncannily and almost creepily appear immediately in my Facebook news feed!

I mean, aren’t the frequent ads irritating enough as it is? I was beginning to get totally flabbergasted at how Facebook was tracking and cashing in on my browsing data from my phone!

The second thing that really started giving me the creeps because of Facebook, was about how it was tenaciously turning almost everyone amongst us, even the most humble and private ones, into unknowing narcissists, by keeping the default privacy setting for all their posts, links, status updates, and — cough — photos that they uploaded, to “Public”.

Now, that would perhaps be okay if Facebook informed them before they posted something online, that their privacy setting was set to ‘Public’ (and then asked them to confirm it before proceeding), and if it didn’t urge everyone to use tags and location data whenever they posted something online.

But it doesn’t. It also keeps throwing lists of “People You May Know” into everyone’s faces. And doesn’t leave them alone if they refuse to log in for days, by sending them email updates about what they have missed on Facebook.

You see, it didn’t take me long to figure out that Facebook thrives on a basic human need: social acceptance. The desire to be liked, admired and praised by other people. The need to fit in, be popular and considered ‘hip’.

Which is why Facebook wants every one of us to keep sharing our petty non-issues online, and it ensures that we almost always have an audience to “Like” what we share.

Result?

A LOT of (really dirty) laundry aired in public.

A LOT of occupied “virtual” soap boxes.

And a LOT of self-made narcissists.

Do I Know You?

There are so many people I used to know about, e.g. through common acquaintances at school or college. I never knew much beyond their name, or perhaps the number of their siblings. But I never really knew them.

However, as I sit writing this blog post right now, I now know (decades later) — courtesy Facebook’s “Friends of Friends” lists, tags, and location features — who these people are married to, where they live, where they work, what their (first or latest) child’s name is, where they went to vacation this year, what (or not) they wore on the beach while there, and what theme they chose for their last kids’ birthday party/cake.

Sigh. And you know what?

Having seen this kind of stuff makes me shudder and cringe with guilt. Because I do not think that these people would want me to see their photograph(s), or browse their online profile. And yet, all this information of theirs is set to ‘Public’, so what else can they expect?

You see, that is the other thing that Facebook thrives on; the other human trait that everyone of us is born with:

Curiosity.

So That’s it?

Yes, without much further rambling, that is why I am sitting here cocooned in my shell, off my soap box, and no longer active on Facebook. I could not take knowing any more.

Knowing what people (who know me and whom I know) did at a certain place with certain people, during which they allowed themselves to be photographed in (*cough*) compromising positions.

I couldn’t take knowing any more. Because while Facebook didn’t yet turn me into one of it’s full-fledged narcissists, it was gradually turning me into a grudging but stealthy stalker.

And even if I unsubscribed from Friends’ feeds, I still got to see many things that I never intended to or wanted to see, whenever someone on my Friends’ list decided to comment on something.

Now, in the end, I just have a list of questions for you, which each one of us should ask ourselves:

For the “narcissists”:

  1. Can you pass a single day without sharing something online?
  2. Can you pass a whole week without taking a selfie (and sharing one online)?
  3. When you post pictures online, is it because you want others to praise you? Or do you want to share your happiness with them?
  4. Do you like (i.e. are fond of) all of your Facebook “Friends”?
  5. Did you add every Facebook Friend because you wanted to? Or because you couldn’t turn down their request due to some kind of social obligation, guilt, or pressure?
  6. Do you check back often to see how many people have liked your update/photograph, and who they are?
  7. Does it crush you when no one does?
  8. Do you still pursue the hobbies and interests that you used to, before Facebook/Twitter existed?
  9. How much time do you spend online, as compared to connecting with people in real life?
  10. Do your family members (especially your children) complain about how much you/your eyes remain glued to a screen?
  11. If you were to go on a vacation to a remote locale with your loved ones, would you be able to stay offline from social media for a week?

And these are the questions I have for religious Muslims:

  1. Do you post more photos of yourself online now, than you did before?
  2. Is your hijab gradually slipping, as you post more photos of yourself online?
  3. Do you believe that the number of ‘Likes’ on your Facebook page (or the number of your followers on Twitter) depicts your true popularity among people?
  4. If all social media were to suddenly shut down indefinitely, would it affect your current motivation level for your da’wah work?
  5. Do you like being called “hot”?
  6. Do you like being publicly praised for your looks, by members of the opposite gender?
  7. Do you like being publicly praised for your work? Do you always retweet such praise?
  8. Have your religious views changed a lot since you started your Facebook page/blog/Twitter profile?
  9. How well you do you take criticism now, as compared to before you became a social media personality/public figure?
  10. How often do you engage in debates and back-and-forth arguments online?

Conclusion: I’m Out For Now

Currently, the situation stands like this: I log in to Facebook when I have to share something that (I have been told) most people would like me to share publicly, such as my latest articles.

I do miss some sisters a lot, with whom I loved to connect on social media. I really do miss interacting with them.

However, I cringe from ‘stalking’ the personal information that more and more people are inadvertently or knowingly sharing publicly online. And I don’t want to reconnect with these sisters whom I still consider to be among my special friends, at the cost of my peace of mind.

There is so much that people are sharing that I’d rather not know.

There are so many people whom I will perhaps meet some day with a casual nod and a half-reluctant “How are you?” as we cross paths by chance, and they wouldn’t have a clue about what I’ve seen them doing in an online photo. Nor will I be able to tell them that I know about it. Nor will they want me to do that, because they never wanted or expected me to see that photograph, did they?

Because we don’t really know each other. We never have. We just happen to know two separate people, who are each other’s ‘Friends’ on Facebook.

And in today’s world, that’s all that is needed to have someone’s nocturnal social activities broadcast halfway across the globe, in front of eyes and ears that never intended to witness them in the first place.

So which one are you: a stalker, or narcissist?

Take your pick!

Posted in Computers and Internet, Pleasing Allah, Reflections and Reminders, Retrospection, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Family Togetherness Through Worship in Ramadan

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Every year, when Ramadan is about to start, a mother’s mind starts having some apprehensive thoughts: will I be able to fast easily? Will I feel very hungry or thirsty? How tiring will it be with the children at home all day? How will I plan meals? Will I awaken in time to pray qiyam and prepare suhoor, after returning home late after taraweeh? Will I be able to pray taraweeh at the masjid at all?

It’s a wonder how Shaitan always manages to put such thoughts into our minds as Ramadan approaches, even though year after year, Allah facilitates millions of Muslims all over the world, in varying circumstances and situations, to fast successfully throughout the month without encountering any major problems.

I haven’t known anyone to have suffered because of fasting during Ramadan. And what about the fortunate Muslims, who spend the entire month in Makkah? Despite the heat and dust of the barren desert, millions of pilgrims throng Masjid Al-Haram throughout Ramadan, to perform umrah, daily prayers, and do tawaf of the Ka’bah in the intense heat whilst fasting, without falling ill or suffering any physical harm.

The blessings of Ramadan are truly amazing!

Ramadan spent with babies

I can still vividly recall the way my Ramadans used to pass when my older two children were both under 4 years of age: still “babies”. Suhoor was prepared after carefully tiptoeing out of the bedroom in the dark, so that they wouldn’t wake up because of a noise.

Diapers, tantrums, toys and my arms loaded with a child – this was how most of the day passed as I fasted in the blessed month. Feeding them and watching over them sapped most of my daytime energy, and I used to wonder if the concentration (khushoo) would ever return to my salah; if I’d ever be able to pray a full taraweeh without interruptions, the way I used to when I was single, devotedly attentive from the very first takbeer of fard salah, till the imam’s last tasleem at the end of witr.

Six years later, the onset of Ramadan has dawned upon a visible change in my life. SubhanAllah, it amazes me to realize that change is the only constant in life! Now these two children, aged 9 and almost 7, respectively, are already in the age range in which they are under rigorous training for performing the daily salah.

Alhamdulillah, that means that they really enjoy standing for taraweeh prayers with us parents during Ramadan now. I no longer have to worry about them naughtily running off during taraweeh.

My youngest, a toddler who is 2.5 years old right now, is thankfully less prone by nature than her older siblings to run off by herself in large crowds. Praying taraweeh with her this year and the last, has been much easier, alhamdulillah.

My long lost khushoo almost seems to be back! :)

This just goes to show that a mother’s patient efforts during Ramadan, of taking her babies along with her in worship, pay off much more greatly than she can ever imagine, just a few short years later!

Ramadan family meeting

It really helps to convene a small “orientation” style meeting for the whole family before or as soon as Ramadan starts. Preferably, the parents should get all the children to sit at the dining table or on the floor in a circle, and brief them about what changes to expect in the household once the blessed month commences.

Young children need to be reminded every year about the wisdom behind fasting during the day and praying at night, even if they are under the age of 10-12 and thus not fasting yet. A spirit of collective worship needs to be inculcated in the household, so that the children feel like they are a part of earning the rewards of worship even if they are not fasting every day.

cerealFor example, children in the age range of 5-9 years should be trained to independently prepare simple and healthy “do-it-yourself” kind of snacks during the day, to feed themselves whenever they feel hungry, such as cereal & milk, fruit, and butter/jam/cream cheese/any other spread on slices of bread or bagels. They can be trained to add cold cuts/deli meats to bread or pita to make cold sandwiches for themselves. The purpose of doing this would be to spare their fasting mother the toil of preparing their meal at lunch time.

When children will be thus trained, they will also not disturb their fasting mother as she naps before Asr prayer in the afternoons, by remaining quiet and feeding themselves if they feel hungry.

The parents will thus benefit by allowing the children to feel more empowered and included in partaking from the reward of their parents’ fasting.

Replacing leisure outings with nightly taraweeh

Younger children also need to be reminded that, during this month, they will see their outdoor excursions curtailed to some extent. Replacing these outdoor recreational activities with indoor games and activities (books and constructive games are a great choice) will lessen the boredom of going out less often.

With my children, I have seen that the almost daily nocturnal excursion of attending taraweeh prayers more than makes up for their supposed lack of ‘entertainment’ and leisure outings. My children enjoy going to and praying taraweeh so much, that they do not feel like they are missing out on our trips to the malls, restaurants and parks, masha’Allah.

That being said, stopping at a park for 15 minutes of carefree play after taraweeh might be a good idea to keep the children motivated to continue cooperating with their parents’ schedule of worship throughout the rest of the month.

At this point, I’d like to stress, however, that those parents whose children are very young, should be mindful of them during taraweeh, and they should train them well beforehand about how to behave in the masjid during the prayers if they intend to attend taraweeh regularly.

Some of the masajid near our home have unfortunately disallowed younger children and their mothers from attending taraweeh because of the disturbance caused to those praying because of the children’s antics, and it is sad to see this phenomenon.

It was a challenge for me to attend taraweeh when my older two children were under the age of 5, because they needed to be supervised and that meant giving up praying some of the prayer in order to keep an eye on them if I attended taraweeh. Therefore, I spent a few Ramadans just praying Qiyam Al Layl at home.

In order to maintain a balance, parents of babies and toddlers can also attend taraweeh on alternate nights or biweekly, according to their convenience.

Conclusion – children can’t wait to start fasting!

From birth till puberty, a child who is born and raised in a household in which the parents spend Ramadan in worshiping Allah in a diligent, patient and devout manner, will grow up eager to start fasting as soon as possible.

This usually happens between the ages of 8 -10 i.e. the child specifically starts asking his or her parents to wake them up for suhoor, without being forced. They want to fast in Ramadan just like they see the others around them doing.

If you are one of those fortunate parents whose child wants to start fasting before you coerce them to, know that indeed you are fortunate, because your child has clearly been positively inspired by the annual Ramadan routine in your home, to want to become a part of it themselves.

Posted in Home and Family, Parenting, Pleasing Allah | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Homeschooling Children: Accepting Their Individuality, Letting Them Grow

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

A group of young women makes its way inside a bustling cafe.

They choose a table and make themselves comfortable on the cushioned chairs around it, chattering. When the time for placing their order comes, one of the young women orders a grilled chicken sandwich with a garden salad on the side, because she is “watching her weight”, as she tells her friends.

latteAnother orders a tarragon steak with a large side of mashed potatoes, because she loves meat and skipped breakfast that morning.

The third woman orders a small caramel latte with brown sugar, because she already ate lunch and is not feeling particularly hungry.

The fourth woman orders a rich chocolate cake with tea, because she likes gooey desserts but coffee makes her lose out on precious night-time shut-eye.

As they talk about their hobbies and the latest happenings in their lives, the diversity in their interests and daily activities becomes even more apparent.

One of them loves doing daily yoga workouts to stay fit. Another one prefers sprinting on the treadmill a couple of times a week. The third one cannot find the time to work out because she spends most of her day running after two small children. The fourth one doesn’t enjoy working out at all, and she remains quiet throughout the discussion on this topic.

The same variety applies to every other aspect of their individual lives, besides food and fitness, such as academic interests, leisure activities, hobbies, their chosen education and career paths, as well as their likes and dislikes regarding fashion, relationships, homemaking, personal grooming, and money management.

One of these young women reads a few fiction books per week, and is an active library visitor. Another only reads when she needs to e.g. to send a cell-phone text, or an email; to scrutinize a bill, menu, receipt, or a recipe. She was never much of a reader.

Yet another just reads on her tablet, such as her favorite blogs, or articles published in the online newspapers to which she has subscribed.

And the fourth one reads only self-help books, because everything else such as the daily news, novels and fiction do not interest her.

Now Apply The Above Fictional Scenario to the World of Children..

Now let us switch our attention to the little children that we are raising in the contemporary world.

I want to draw the readers’ attention particularly to how we, as adults, tend to react less understandingly to differences in children’s individual personalities, choices and preferences, but more so, to differences in their developmental milestones and academic progress.

Visit any park or play area and notice the differences among the children playing there. You will notice how each child has a preference for a particular kind of play-gym or activity area, from among the variety of swings, see-saw’s, monkey-bars and other jungle-gym structures that are available for them to play on.

Some children might love just the swings, not showing any interest in climbing. Others might hang off the monkey bars in a variety of ways using their limbs, but not find the slides worth their attention. And yet others might just be content playing in the sandbox.

This is just the play preferences that children have. Be it any other area in their lives, each and every child tries to clearly communicate their preferences and choices to us from as early an age as infancy, such as their likes and dislikes regarding clothes, food, sleeping times, toys, books, and outdoor activities.

Our Reactions to Children’s Efforts at Autonomy

Most adults, myself included, especially those who tend to be over-involved in their children’s upbringing or are first-time, A-type parents, can easily begin to exhibit the symptoms of what is nowadays known as “helicopter” parenting, if they are not careful.

This type of parenting or care-giving style is depicted by becoming over-worried and stressed out whenever a small child makes even a slight diversion from his or her strictly structured and monitored routine.

Be it his or her eating habits, sleeping time, or any daily activity routine, if for some reason the child refuses to do what we want them to do, or tries to make an otherwise natural transition from one stage to another, us parents can become more anxious than necessary, based on our good intentions of fulfilling our role impeccably as the ‘perfect’ parent, and wanting our child to be the ‘perfect’ child in every way.

For example, when a teething toddler starts to refuse certain foods that he or she has enjoyed so far, and becomes generally much more irritable and prone to throw tantrums, if their parent is not pre-informed about this natural developmental stage, they can become extremely worried about why their child is suddenly becoming so apparently obstinate and ill-behaved.

The same applies to every stage a child goes through as they grow up. They might achieve some milestones very quickly, and take their own sweet time in achieving many others.

However, in a world that is fast becoming saturated by scientific studies, statistical data, and doctoral research, innocent children are coming more and more under the ‘analytical’ microscope, for not developing their abilities, talents and skills soon enough, and are being unfairly pressurized to perform optimally in every field before they are naturally ready to.

The Curse of Comparing

My first born daughter who is now 9 years old masha’Allah, showed several signs of being gifted at a very early age.

She began to talk, walk, and read much earlier than other children her age. She pursued me with baby books as early as age 2, asking me to read them to her again and again.

Eventually, she made me teach her how to read, by asking me the sound of each letter, and without my asking her to, sounding the letters out loud herself when I pronounced its phonic. I still stand by the claim that she is, by and large, a self-taught reader of the English language. I taught her only because she asked me to.

Her brother was born at around the same time i.e. when she was a little over 2 years old. By the decree of Allah, he came into this world after she did, which automatically implies, as I have learned only too well in the past few years since I have been homeschooling unschooling my children, that he has been destined to a life of being unfairly compared to his ‘whiz’ older sister.

And these comparisons, much to my dismay, more often than not make him look less smart than she.

E.g. When he was 2.5 years old, he spoke only a few words in our native mother tongue, and didn’t speak anything at all most of the time. One of our relatives began to suggest speech therapy for him.

The same goes for potty-training, tri-cycling, and other skills. Most of them were naturally and willingly mastered by his older sister at a very early age, but he chose to show little or no interest. He will turn 7 in a week insha’Allah, and he still refuses to ride a bicycle, despite being offered one by us from time to time.

Before I started to read up about, and eventually practice, the “unschooling” approach of raising and educating children, I, too, fell into the destructive trap of comparing one of my children’s progress to another.

The remarks of people around us didn’t help either, who for some reason were convinced that a child who doesn’t develop his or her skills as soon as possible is somehow ‘dumber’ and ‘slower’. Which was not the case with my son at all.

After turning 3, he automatically started talking a lot, and at a very fast speed. And this milestone – talking normally – just happened naturally, within a few days, as if a ‘switch’ had suddenly been turned on.

The same happened with his potty-training, the signs of readiness for which he showed only a little before age 3, unlike his older sister, who got trained a little before she turned 2. When he was ready for it, it took less than two months to fully potty-train him.

However, regarding each and every developmental or academic milestone that I’ve noticed with my second child, whom I’ve deliberately raised in a much more laissez-faire manner and not in the ‘helicopter’ style that I used with my first one, it was pleasantly gratifying and surprising to witness how each time he, when left on his own with minimal intervention and supervision, naturally learned most skills automatically, just like that, as if Allah flipped a switch, and that was it! Alhamdulillah!

Abilities such as eating with a spoon, drinking with a straw or sippy -cup, hopping on one leg, differentiating between right and left, identifying the times of the day, counting, talking articulately,- it all just happens one day for every child, all by itself.

This is because, just as a child learns to walk, talk and eat solid foods on their own, with Allah as the sole source of imparting them these abilities, they also similarly learn to acquire every other life skill as well, such as the ability to read a language, seek knowledge, manage human relationships, and earn a livelihood.

Conclusion: Take a Chill Pill

I’ve learned that parents are mere facilitators, not the sources of knowledge and guidance for children.

I know that it is natural for parents to worry about and desire the holistic well-being of their children, but I find it a bit odd that, while we all respect and value the uniqueness, individuality and differences of choice among adults, we do not extend the same courtesy to children.

We unfairly expect them all to conform to a single yardstick, especially when we compare them to their peers – something which we do a lot, much to our child’s and our own detriment.

So I’d like to suggest that we all learn to give our children a break, and don’t fret if he or she refuses to wear a certain type of clothing, shows no interest in a particular sport, or is apathetic towards reading books.

Believe me, it’s not the end of the world!

Posted in Education, Home and Family, Home Education, homeschooling, Motherhood, Parenting, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Define the “Qur’an Vision” For Your Family

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Every human being is unique.

What a precious gift of Allah this uniqueness is!

It enables each one of us to use our exclusive set of talents and abilities, to acquire our own little pool of knowledge, through our own distinct style of learning, and to weave our own “one-of-a-kind yarn” in life.

Almost all Muslims approach Allah’s Book, the Glorious Qur’an, in their own particular way, out of love, faith, and devotion, but – based on their individual human uniqueness,- the Qur’an has different effects on different people, too.

Take the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ), for example. Every one of them excelled, grew and flowered in their own unique way after reverting to Islam as their Deen, and taking the Qur’an as their Book of guidance in life. The Qur’an brought out the inherent good in them in different ways.

As parents of young ones, we need to realize that what we are sowing today, we shall reap tomorrow.

You might wonder, how do we apply this ‘reap-what-you-sow’ philosophy to the way our family connects to the Qur’an?

I think it is not enough to teach a child just how to read the Arabic script of the Quran, by availing classes given by a third person. Apparently, though, in South Asia, most Muslim parents seem to believe that once they have fulfilled this duty regarding their children, their job in ‘connecting their child’ to the Qur’an is done.

Is a Muslim parent’s duty of connecting their child to Allah through the Quran, really accomplished by hiring a qualified reciter of the Qur’an (Qari) to teach their child how to read the Qur’an’s Arabic script, by taking them through it once, twice or thrice, and then leaving it (and their relationship with this Glorious Book) “shelved” thereafter, or at least until a major calamity befalls?

For most Muslim parents, yes, that truly might be “it”.

But is it for you?

And for me?

What is a “Vision”?

Well, to define the very word itself, a “vision” is simply “what you see”. It is the fantastical, self-projected “picture” that comes to your mind when you imagine a particular scenario regarding the future.

Companies, organizations, political movements, all have “visions”. Their vision describes, in a few sentences, what they “see” themselves achieving in the future.

Take a Look at the Muslim Adults Around You

In order to define the “Quran vision” for yourself and your family (spouse and children), first you need to put two and two together.

By that, I mean that you need to realize and accept that the adults walking around you today (you, too, included) are, in fact, the little children of the past (who were naughtily scurrying around, playing, giggling, and just being kids 20,30, or 40+ years ago).

You have to admit and acknowledge that what your children do, learn and practice today, will affect and determine what kind of adults they will be a few decades down the road, insha’Allah, by the will and decree of Allah.

Now, leaving out the imams (religious leaders), khateebs (sermon-givers) and qari’s (qualified reciters) for the moment, please take an objective look at yourself, and all the adults around you: your spouse, parents, siblings, parents-in-law, siblings-in-law (and their other halves), your office colleagues, and your cousins. Anyone above age 20, in fact.

Now try to see what their connection with the Qur’an is like.

And then try to imagine or reflect upon what that connection would have been like had their parents adopted a different approach towards their Qur’an education/learning during their childhood.

Be Specific in Pinpointing the Details of the “Qur’an Vision” of Your Family

There are many preliminary, basic, superlative and advanced levels of connecting with Allah through His Glorious Book, the Qur’an.

You need to decide which one is the vision for yourself and your children. The vision might also vary for each child, depending on his or her unique set of talents and abilities (recall the human uniqueness I mentioned at the start?).

Please keep in mind that I am well aware that despite a parent’s best efforts, nothing can happen except by Allah’s will.

And I also admit that many a time, parents’ efforts in making their child achieve a certain level in a particular field of knowledge fails. For the better, of course. Allah always decides for the better.

However, defining a vision is still a must, in order for us, as parents, to plan our children’s journey with the Qur’an beforehand, and not undermine the level of connection they can achieve with Allah through His Book.

Quran mushafHere are the scenarios I came up with when racking my brain for all the possible ways my adult children could be connecting with the Qur’an in the future, depending on how I undertake their Qur’an education right now, during their childhood years (admittedly, a couple of the points below made me shudder with apprehension):

1. Reading the Qur’an’s Arabic script silently, the way Urdu is read, without scrupulously adhering to each and everyone of the tajweed rules. Never reciting the Quran aloud, ever.

2. Reading a fixed portion of the Qur’an daily, at a fixed time, without reflecting- with the intention of attaining barakah (blessings) and peace in the home, job/business (provision) and family, and for preventing calamities, illnesses and grief from befalling/adversely affecting the same.

3. Relating any and all current affairs and events witnessed in life (on a personal, communal or global level) to verses (آيات) of the Qur’an.

4. Studying tajweed, translation and the detailed tafsir of the whole Qur’an thoroughly, via a course at an Islamic institute, under a teacher, at least once.

5. Being able to understand the Arabic of the Qur’an directly, without needing a translation.

6. Having listened to the recitation of most of the qualified reciters in their era, and having a favorite one, whose recitation touches and moves the heart the most.

7. Being moved to such an extent while listening to the recitation of the Qur’an, in seclusion, that their soul is shaken, their heart trembles, and their eyes begin to weep hot, heavy tears that lead to sobbing and prostration (sujood) upon the ground.

8. Teaching the Qur’an to others part-time or full-time, as a da’ee or Islamic scholar.

9. Turning to the Qur’an to seek the solution to every problem; guidance in every matter relating to practical life; and answers to every doubt and question.

10. Accepting every command in the Qur’an as the final authoritative decree that decides every matter, whether one likes it or not, and which must be obeyed, no matter how illogical or difficult it seems.

10. Not being able to spend more than a day or two away from the Qur’an without feeling the heart becoming dead and rusted.

11. Going through life as an ardent student of the Qur’an. Always jumping at the opportunity to attend a talk, class, seminar, or workshop by a learned Islamic scholar who teaches, or has taught, the Qur’an.

12. Having special “endearing” aspects of specific surah’s (chapters) of the Qur’an, which make them look forward to reciting that surah again and again.

13. Having memorized the whole of the Qur’an because of being coerced to do so by their parents; struggling to maintain their memorization intact, reluctantly. Considering it an unasked-for burden that was placed on their shoulders, which they are unable to carry (*shudder*). [FYI: I didn't just make this up. The wife of a hafidh once confessed to me that her husband feels this way now, as an adult.]

14. Having only some short surah’s of the Qur’an committed to memory, enough to perform salah (daily prayers), without any desire or motivation to memorize more of the Qur’an.

15. Not wanting to listen to the recitation of the Qur’an while alone, or in a congregation. Preferring to listen to music and songs sung by pop/classical/hard rock singers instead.

16. Having doubts about the authenticity of the Qur’an. Wondering if some of it was ever changed over the years, just like the Bible?

17. Having successfully acquired accredited-university Bachelors, Masters, and/or PhD degrees in one of the branches of the sciences of the Qur’an (tajweed, jurisprudence, tafsir, linguistics et al.), by studying under several rightly-guided Islamic scholars of the era, writing and submitting a thesis, and going on to serve Islam through leading prayers at a masjid, teaching Islamic courses, writing books, and/or giving lectures around the world.

****

Depending on what your vision is for yourself and/or your family, especially your little children (if they are still young), you will steer the course of your parenting life in a manner that will depict the intentions, efforts and practical steps needed to achieve that vision using goals, objectives and strategies (tapping into a bit of my primitive knowledge regarding management there, heh!).

For example, a mother whose vision is to just enable her children to be able to properly recite the Arabic text of the Qur’an without understanding it, will anxiously await the day when they finally “finish” one such reading of the whole Qur’an, so that she can throw a huge party to announce the happy milestone to her friends and family members.

That day of celebration, to her, will mark the achievement of her “Qur’an vision” for her children, and from that day onwards, she might not even place a lot of stress on their picking up the Qur’an to recite it on a regular basis, or to study its translation or tafsir under a scholar.

This is because, since her vision for her children was limited to their just being able to recite the Qur’an, she will not go beyond that once it has turned to reality.

To Conclude: Parents, Act Now!

My dear readers, this is the case with many, many South Asian Muslim adults you see around you. The teachers at your children’s schools. The doctors at the hospital you visit when you are sick. The drivers of the vehicles on the roads. The shopkeepers. The engineers working on buildings, roads, factories and production plants. The CEO’s and managers employed by the big multinationals. The SHM’s (stay at home mothers).

These people, although they love the Qur’an and have learned how to recite it during their childhoods, are barely able to take out time during the day to recite it out loud, with (at least) 90% correct tajweed, as adults, preferring to read it silently in a corner.

Except when there is a “special” reason to give more time to the Qur’an, such as attaining a worldly blessing, or allaying/averting a distressing calamity from their lives…..that is when the Qur’an suddenly starts to come out (of its shelf) more frequently, and is connected to with greater fervor than usual.

And although many adult Muslims read the Qur’an silently on a daily basis, most of them do not understand a word they are reading.

Do you want (any of) your children to become like them once they grow up?

 

Posted in Home and Family, homeschooling, Inspiration, Islamic Knowledge, Motherhood, Quran, Reflections and Reminders, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Wearing the Jilbab as a Muslim Woman: Do Not Discard This Dress Under Duress

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

It’s no secret that I have little patience for elaborate and time-consuming endeavors when it comes to ladies dressing up.

I all but have to force my eyes not to roll whenever I behold the demands of a diva as she goes on about having a bad hair day, or worse, how the tailor ‘completely messed up’ her outfit because one particular line of flower-patterns in the floral print of her shirt is not aligned perfectly in parallel with the border lace. [*yawn*]

As a bride, I was huffing and puffing under the heavy weight of the combined duo of my blood-red, intricately embroidered gharara and it’s dupatta. Had I had my way, the beautiful but extensive kaam (embroidery and bead-work) on both would have been much more sparse and light, allowing me more ease of movement and a greater ability to breathe freely on my last night as a single woman.

The gold-colored, 4-inch, pencil-thin stilettos did not help. I am just grateful that I did not trip or fall even once that night. And I had stairs to ascend and descend at the wedding venue!

But who listens to a single girl when she wants to get married in a simple dress, and (gasp!) even think about wearing flat shoes/kitty-heel pumps on her wedding?!

I’ll tell you: no one!

Ladies’ penchant for taking pains to look good

It’s no secret (again) that most women naturally love looking good, and dressing up presentably. They also take great pains (in lieu of the above introduction of this post) for the said purpose.

Anyone who denies or challenges this claim, should just take a cursory look at the number of industries in the world that thrive and burgeon only because of their exclusively female customer base. The fashion and cosmetics (makeup and hair) industry immediately comes to mind, doesn’t it?

Walk into any mall or market and count the number of shops that cater exclusively to the needs and whims of women, as compared to those whose customer base is more generalized, and you’ll find that the former almost always outnumber the latter.

The desire in women to look good facilitates many a layman’s salary-based income, and fills many a family’s mouth with food.

Take away the female customer, and the world might as well be left facing a financial crisis!

So what has all of this got to do with the obligation in Islam, of adult women wearing a jilbab?

What is “Jilbab”?

The Arabic word jilbab, which Allah has described in the Quran (using it’s plural ‘jalabeeb‘) as the outer garment that Muslim women should ‘hang’ over their selves, literally means, ‘covering’, or a loose, robe-like garment that is worn over one’s clothes so that one is completely ‘enveloped’ by it.

I must say, going over the meaning of the word jilbab in Lane’s lexicon was quite an enlightening little treat for me. Because in the explanation of the word jilbab, several other garments were also described, using the following Arabic words: ridaa, khimar, izar, miqna’ah, mulhaqah, and mulaa’ah.

Black is Beautiful

Ah, the flak I get because my “abaya” is always black!

I want to point out a very interesting thing I came across whilst searching for the meaning of the Arabic word jilbab, which I might add, is the word also used in the narrations (ahadith) of Prophet Muhammad ‎ﷺ (in addition to other descriptive words) whenever the outer garment supposed to be worn by Muslim women was mentioned by him, or by others in his presence (more on that in a hadith explanation below, insha’Allah).

Here it is: جُلْبٌ or جِلْبٌ – “blackness of the night”.

The above ↑ Arabic word, formed by a rendition of the same 3 root letters (ج ل ب) that form the base of the word jilbab, actually means: “the darkness of the night.”

And why shouldn’t a jilbab be black? It is indeed a very elegant color, not to mention very good at ‘covering’ the clothes worn underneath it, including their bold patterns, bright colors, and prints (if any).

Black is actually rather cool in couture. Just take a look at the number of black evening gowns worn on the closely-watched, supposedly exclusively ‘A-list’ designer-fashion-endorsing Oscars red carpet ceremony every year (yes, I keep a cursory eye out on international fashion by reading articles online, not by watching the overrated, overblown ceremony that ‘awards’ paid ‘pretenders’ for being so good at playing out concocted tales on screen).

Men around the world almost always wear black tuxedos to formal events, including their own weddings. And the passing-out graduation gowns of many universities are also black in color.

Perhaps the best jurisprudential ‘evidence’ of black being the preferable color for a Muslim woman’s jilbab, are the two ahadith below.

Settle down in your seat for some fun Arabic word analysis now, insha’Allah. :)

Pre-dawn Obscurity

وَحَدَّثَنِي حَرْمَلَةُ بْنُ يَحْيَى، أَخْبَرَنَا ابْنُ وَهْبٍ، أَخْبَرَنِي يُونُسُ، أَنَّ ابْنَ شِهَابٍ، أَخْبَرَهُ قَالَ أَخْبَرَنِي عُرْوَةُ بْنُ الزُّبَيْرِ، أَنَّ عَائِشَةَ، زَوْجَ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَتْ لَقَدْ كَانَ نِسَاءٌ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَشْهَدْنَ الْفَجْرَ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم مُتَلَفِّعَاتٍ بِمُرُوطِهِنَّ ثُمَّ يَنْقَلِبْنَ إِلَى بُيُوتِهِنَّ وَمَا يُعْرَفْنَ مِنْ تَغْلِيسِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِالصَّلاَةِ‏

 `A’ishah, the wife of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), reported: “The believing women observed the morning prayer with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) wrapped in their mantles. They then went back to their houses and were unrecognizable, because of the Messenger of Allah’s (ﷺ) praying in the darkness before dawn.” [Sahih Muslim 645]

Word Analysis of this hadith:

- The Arabic words used to denote “wrapped in their garments” – مُتَلَفِّعَاتٍ بِمُرُوطِهِنَّ

- The meaning of the word مُتَلَفِّعَ (singular of the word used in the hadith: مُتَلَفِّعَاتٍ) is “wrapped”. I used good ol’ Google Translate to get that.

- And the meaning of مِرْطٌ (singular of the word used in the above hadith,- مُرُوطِ – to describe the outer garments worn by the wives of the Prophet) is: “a garment used as an izar (إِزَارِ) [i.e. a waist-wrapper] that a woman sometimes throws over her head, or any garment that is not sewed”.

- The meaning of the Arabic word تَغْلِيسِ, used to describe how the Prophet prayed Fajr prayer, is: “journeying or going forth during the غَلَس (darkness of the last part of the night)”.

Now, in order to better understand how indiscernible the wives of the Prophet were because of the darkness when they returned home after performing Fajr prayer with him at the masjid, please take a look at this photograph:

Pre-dawn Fajr[Please do not download, save or share the above photograph]

Unless your computer’s brightness is turned up to the maximum, you probably didn’t spot me, at first (or even second) glance in the above photograph, did you? :)

After praying Fajr one day up in Murree hills recently, my husband and I took a walk. And he photographed me (on request) as I sat on a rock with the backdrop of the beautiful valley and imminent sunrise over the mountains behind me.

And I was wearing – yes, you guessed it – a jet-black full overcoat (it was cold!) over my black jilbab.

When I had this photo taken, I had no idea it would become such a great photographic way of authenticating the above hadith. Because when I looked at this photograph after offloading it on my desktop computer, I was reminded immediately of how the Prophet’s wives were indiscernible in the post-Fajr darkness as they went back home wrapped in their jilbabs.

Now, a question: do you think, if I was wearing a light or brightly colored jilbab, I’d be more visible in the post-Fajr darkness?

I think I would.

Nocturnal “Hot Pursuit” of a husband by his loving wife

The second hadith which indicates that A’ishah, the wife of Allah’s messenger ﷺ wore a black outer garment when she stepped out, is a lengthy one, which describes how she followed him out once at night, and later on, he asked her this:

قَالَ ‏: فَأَنْتِ السَّوَادُ الَّذِي رَأَيْتُ أَمَامِي

“He said: ‘So you were the black shape that I saw in front of me?'”

The word used by the Prophet to refer to A’ishah, “السَّوَادُ”, means ‘black’.

Had A’ishah been wearing another color, he would not have seen her as a ‘black’ shape, but rather, the color of her garment would have been obvious to him during the darkness of the night, as light colors stick out when it is dark outside. And Allah knows best.

Lastly, I want to point out two interesting words that A’ishah used to describe her garments whilst narrating the above long hadith, in which she followed her husband out at night in secret:

 وَجَعَلْتُ دِرْعِي فِي رَأْسِي وَاخْتَمَرْتُ وَتَقَنَّعْتُ إِزَارِي

I covered my head, put on my veil, and tightened my waist-wrapper..”

She was in a hurry to follow him, yet, despite it being dark outside, she put on her head-covering (khimar) and her outer garment (izar) first. These are two of the words that were mentioned in the meaning of the word “jilbab“! Allahu Akbar! :)

She also uses the word “دِرْعِي“, a word which means ‘my shield’, and mentions putting it “in her head” (فِي رَأْسِي) before saying that she put on her khimar (اخْتَمَرْتُ). Perhaps the دِرْعِ is a hat of sorts, that helped keep her khimar in place, like the small, tight hat (topi) many ladies wear under their headscarves nowadays, to keep it in place? Allah knows best.

Isn’t it fun to analyze the Arabic words used in the Quran and ahadith to gain knowledge about that particular kind of ladies’ fashion that pleases Allah the most? :)

It is for me.

Also, before I finish, I want to point out that another word is indirectly mentioned in the above hadith!

A’ishah mentions ‘being masked’ with her izar (robe or wrapper), using the word “تَقَنَّعْتُ”, which is formed from the same root letters that form the word “مِقنَعَة” (miqna’ah) that I came across in Lane’s lexicon whilst reading up the meaning of the word jilbab.

Last but not least, the names of two garments worn by Allah’s messenger have also been mentioned at the start of this narration, using the Arabic words ridaa (cloak) (رِدَاءَهُ – ‘his cloak‘), and izar (wrapper) (بَسَطَ طَرَفَ إِزَارِهِ – ‘he spread the corner of his wrapper‘).

When the Messenger of Allah thought A’ishah was asleep, and he quietly started to go outside, A’ishah mentions that he put his ridaa on.

And Allah knows best.

Female Companions wouldn’t leave their homes, even on `Eid, if they didn’t have a Jilbab to wear

 وَحَدَّثَنَا عَمْرٌو النَّاقِدُ، حَدَّثَنَا عِيسَى بْنُ يُونُسَ، حَدَّثَنَا هِشَامٌ، عَنْ حَفْصَةَ بِنْتِ، سِيرِينَ عَنْ أُمِّ عَطِيَّةَ، قَالَتْ أَمَرَنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَنْ نُخْرِجَهُنَّ فِي الْفِطْرِ وَالأَضْحَى الْعَوَاتِقَ وَالْحُيَّضَ وَذَوَاتِ الْخُدُورِ فَأَمَّا الْحُيَّضُ فَيَعْتَزِلْنَ الصَّلاَةَ وَيَشْهَدْنَ الْخَيْرَ وَدَعْوَةَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ ‏.‏ قُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ إِحْدَانَا لاَ يَكُونُ لَهَا جِلْبَابٌ قَالَ: ‏ لِتُلْبِسْهَا أُخْتُهَا مِنْ جِلْبَابِهَا‏

Umm ‘Atiyya reported: “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) commanded us to bring out on ‘Eid-ul-Fitr and ‘Eid-ul-Adha young women, menstruating women and purdah-observing ladies, menstruating women kept back from prayer, but participated in goodness and supplication of the Muslims. I said: “Messenger of Allah, one of us does not have an outer garment.” He said: “Let her sister cover her with her outer garment.”” [Sahih Muslim]

The above narration is usually cited as evidence to indicate the stress laid by Allah’s Messenger ﷺ upon women coming out for congregational `Eid prayer.

I think it also serves as equally good evidence of the fact that all Muslim women during the time of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ couldn’t even think about leaving their homes if they did not have a jilbab to wear — even to obey his command to attend `Eid prayer!

As we know, the Prophet ﷺ performed `Eid prayer in an open plain or ground, where there were probably no physical demarcations or barriers between men and women. This meant that the women could be seen by the men, at least from afar, hence the dire need for a jilbab.

Final round-up of Arabic words used to describe outer garments in the Quran and hadith

To sum up, here is a list of the Arabic words we all should research more deeply, in order to increase our knowledge regarding the kind of outer garments that we are obligated to wear in public, as Muslim women:

خِمَار
جِلْبَاب
مُلحَقَة
مُلَآءَة
مِقنَعَة
إِزَار
مِرْطٌ
دِرْع
رِدَاءَ

Conclusion: a few reminders to help us get our facts right

- Wearing the jilbab is obligatory in Islam, especially anywhere outside the home where men are present. There is no doubt about this obligation.

- An adult Muslim woman who has crossed puberty is committing a sin if she deliberately leaves her home without wearing a proper khimar and jilbab, even though she knows that it is obligatory.

- A printed dupatta (especially that which is made up of see-through materials such as georgette, which is commonly sold as a part of 3-piece ladies’ outfits nowadays in Pakistan) that keeps slipping off the head, and reveals thick wisps or forelocks of hair, does not even qualify as a proper khimar (head covering), let alone a jilbab.

- If your husband forbids you from wearing khimar and jilbab, you have to politely disobey him (without engaging in arguments) and still do it for the sake of Allah.

- If you are a student or teacher of Islam (i.e. you either study or teach the Quran or ahadith), wearing the khimar and jilbab is even more important for you, because to many, you “represent” Islam. Many see your actions as a practical embodiment of the teachings of Islam.

- The obligation of wearing the khimar and jilbab is not waived if you are visiting, or living in, a non-Muslim majority area. If your physical safety is threatened by wearing both in public, you are supposed to move/relocate elsewhere in the world where you’ll be able to wear both safely (and believe me, Allah’s earth is very, very vast). You are not supposed to give up adhering to the obligations of Deen regarding Islamic code of dress instead. Wrong choice.

- The companions of the Prophet ‎ﷺ used to advise each other when they saw anyone apparently making a mistake or detracting from an obligation of the Deen. This is not ‘judging’. It is sincerity. Please do not accuse a sincere sister or brother of ‘judging’ you because you have stopped wearing a khimar or jilbab after you wore it for many years. You know what you’ve done is wrong. Anyone who stopped wearing a jilbab, including me (Allah forbid!), would be sinning.

- Even if you choose not to wear a black-colored jilbab, despite all the evidence of its desirability, please avoid jilbabs that are figure-hugging or overtly-embellished like fairytale ‘Cinderella’ gowns, such as this one:

pink gown

- The wide-cuffed sleeves of your jilbab should not ride up to reveal the skin of your arms during your day-to-day activities. If they do, and you are wearing short-sleeved clothes underneath (which means that your forearms will thus get uncovered), please invest in some plain “arm sleeves” to wear with your jilbab while you are out and about.

- Nowadays, some abaya’s and jilbabs come with a praise-worthily looser-fitting, cape-like ‘butterfly’ cut, which does away with the armpit juncture of sleeves and is, therefore, extra good at completely hiding the shape and figure of the woman wearing it. I endorse this style of jilbab.

These jilbabs are also long enough to cover a woman’s feet, which is even better for Pakistani ladies, because of their penchant for wearing extra-attractive shoes, such as delicate, shiny-rock-studded sandals and slippers.

Take a look:

Please note: I am only endorsing the color and cut of the abaya in the above photograph.

Perhaps the following image from the muhajabat blog is better at illustrating what an ideal abaya/jilbab shape should be like, although for some reason the model’s khimar is totally missing in this photo (below):

The “butterfly cut” style of abaya. Image courtesy: muhajabat.wordpress.com

- Lastly, a final reminder: your head-covering or khimar should be long enough to easily hang loosely over your chest, in accordance with the command of Allah in the Quran, to effectively conceal the size and shape of your shoulders and bosom. Tucking your khimar inside the neckline of your jilbab so that it doesn’t cascade loosely over your shoulders down over your chest, is not correct.

To tie in the above analyses and discussion with the introduction of this blog post: I have little patience with ladies who go into tremendous nitty-gritty about their appearance, clothes and accessories, especially if they are not putting in an equal amount of painstaking effort to find out and adhere to the ‘fashion guidelines’ regarding the Islamic code of dress that Allah and His Messenger ﷺ have made obligatory upon them, as Muslim women.

Allah is the Most Deserving of our hard work, our fret, and our sweat. We should worry and dwell the most over how He wants us to dress; where we can find the kinds of dresses that will please Him the most when we wear them, and how we can avoid ‘slipping’ regarding the limits and restrictions we have to adhere to, while wearing those dresses.

If you can spend hours shopping for your everyday clothes, but are negligent about wearing the khimar and jilbab that fulfill all of the requirements of Deen as outlined in the Quran and ahadith, you need to acknowledge that something is wrong, and you need to do something quickly and urgently to set it aright.

Sister in Islam, I am willing to accept your turning away from me as a friend because you found my above advice hurtful or “judgmental” (or both, heh!) – if it means that whatever I’ve said might cause you to rethink your religious practice, and consequently, it just might also become the cause of your salvation and success in the Akhirah.

The betterment of your Akhirah (and mine) over a (supposedly) close worldly friendship that requires remaining silent when seeing each other move away from the obligations of Deen?

I’d take it any day!

Posted in Islamic Knowledge, Muslim Women, Pleasing Allah, Quran, Reflections and Reminders, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

The “Larger Than Life” Wife

‎بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

An edited/abridged version of this post was first published in SISTERS Magazine.

Over the hill.

Has-been.

Past her prime.

Off the shelf.

Used goods.

And the worst: “hag!”.

How many subtle and direct titles and tags does modern media and journalistic chick-lit use nowadays to remind a woman who is approaching, or has already passed, the 35-40 age range, that she is no longer young and beautiful, and hence, by some fallaciously presumed and mass-endorsed correlation, not that desirable any more, especially as a wife?

When you hear or think of a woman past 40 today who has been widowed twice, what picture crops up in your mind? Perhaps a lady who is rotund, portly, loud, irritable and cranky; a woman insecure about her physical appearance, struggling to get back into, or establish anew, a fledgling career in order to make ends meet?

Someone sharp-tongued and crabby, who is angry with the hand fate has dealt her? Someone whose innate insecurities fuel her bitterness and jealousy towards younger, happily married, successful and productive women? Someone who has lost all hope of getting married again to a righteous, noble man; of attaining marital bliss and enjoying the rewards of motherhood?

The history of Islam provides examples of amazing women who were not just strong in faith, spotless in character, and righteous in deeds, but were also successful in areas of worldly life, such as education, marriage, business and motherhood.

Reflecting Upon the Effect of Aging Upon Women’s Self-Esteem..

As I traverse my mid-thirties, I find myself pondering on the self-depreciating psyches and self-esteem issues that contemporary women my age adopt and experience as they grow older, primarily those related to physical beauty and self-worth, both of which are, – for many of my feminine counterparts, – two sides of one coin.

Farhat-Hashmi

One of the most righteous, productive, empowered, secure, and beautiful (inside & out) older women I know today

I wonder why some (rarer) older righteous women do not attempt to hide their age in public, nor resort to using loud, tarty makeup, nor hide from view the white hairs on their heads when in the company of younger women and girls, like you’d expect most older women to do (and yet they look more beautiful)?

Why do they not hide their year of graduation, or date of birth, in an effort to obliterate their older age?

Why are some women secure, while others are not?

The human mind is a complex piece of work, I must say. Which is why it baffles me why perfectly talented and efficacious women sometimes tie their feelings of positive self-esteem and level of self-worth to their relationship with, and the approval received from, other human beings, when they should be doing so solely with their relationship with Allah?

Wives are no exception. In fact, I often find myself wondering, especially after I behold an oppressed, ill-treated, servile, and docile wife, who may otherwise be a decent and righteous woman, continue to allow her husband to treat her unjustly, all in the name of “sabr” (patience)?

Surely Allah has not allowed any believer to lose their self-respect in the name of honoring and serving a higher ‘authority figure’, not even the leader of a family, namely the husband?

And as I muse, I find myself admiring with more and more fervor the lovely Khadijah Bint Khuwailid (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنهَا).

Posthumous Envy in a Younger Co-wife

The much younger girl who became Khadijah’s third husband’s wife after her demise – the only nubile female virgin he ever married – felt pangs of envy stemming from natural, territoriality-based “gheerah” because of the way he remembered, mentioned and praised the much older Khadijah, long after the latter was gone. This girl had never even met or seen the much older woman whom her husband found hard to forget:

A’ishah (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنهَا) reported:

I never felt jealous of any of the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) as much as I did of Khadijah, although I have never seen her, but the Prophet (ﷺ) used to mention her very often. Whenever he slaughtered a sheep, he would cut it into pieces and send them to the women friends of Khadijah. When I sometimes said to him: “You treat Khadijah in such a way as if there is no woman on earth except her”. He would say, “Khadijah was such and such (commending her and speaking well of her), and I had children from her.””

[Sahih Al-Bukhari]

Another similar hadith in Sahih Al Bukhari mentions how Allah conveyed glad tidings to Prophet Muhammad via Archangel Jibreel, of a special palace reserved in Paradise for Khadijah:

image courtesy: roxanneardary.com

Narrated Aishah, “I did not feel jealous of any woman as much as I did of Khadijah, because Allah’s Messenger used to mention her very often.

He married me after three years of her death, and his Lord or Jibreel ordered him to give her the good news of having a palace of ‘Qasab’ in Paradise.”

And yet another similar hadith narrated by A’ishah that occurs in Sahih Muslim ends like this:

“….I annoyed him one day and said: (It is) Khadijah only who always prevails upon your mind. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “Her love has been nurtured in my heart by Allah Himself.””

The Arabic words in the latter hadith are رُزِقْتُ حُبَّهَا (“ruziqtu hubbahaa”) – which mean that Allah Himself had given Prophet Muhammad the “provision” (rizq) of the love (“حُبَّ ”) of Khadijah. In other words, it was Allah who made the Prophet love his deceased first wife years after she was gone from his life, even after he married a beautiful girl who was decades younger.

Other Virtues

Khadijah was also one of the wealthiest women of Makkah at the time she married Prophet Muhammad. She was the first Muslim to accept Islam, and the first family member to support Allah’s Messenger emotionally and financially in his mission.

Her legacy lived on after her demise in the form of she ruling as “queen” of her husband’s heart; a continuing lineage of righteous offspring/descendents, and the joining of relations that she formed and upheld.

Entitlement vs Obligation: Not a Part of Healthy Marriages

As I said, the Quran and sunnah provide timeless guidance to Muslims in every arena, including the realm of marriage and husband-wife relations.

A healthy marital relationship is devoid of the love-killing duo of “entitlement” and “obligation” viz. one spouse feeling ‘entitled’ to a certain kind of treatment from their partner, even if the other cannot provide it for valid Shari` reasons, and the other feeling “obligated” to mete out this treatment, even if they cannot.

In the culture from where I hail, husbands are usually raised from childhood to feel “entitled” to unflinching servitude from their wives, with the result that some wives become no more than their husbands’ personal valets, chefs, secretaries and housekeepers, instead of soul mates, comrades, best friends, confidantes, trustees and consultants.

The spouses just live like two cohabitants under one roof, not emotionally close to each other at all. This sense of “entitlement” in the husbands is juxtaposed by wives feeling “obligated” to perch them up on high pedestals; pedestals that sometimes surpass those on which they should place Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ)!

I often end up shaking my head in dismay when I behold Muslim wives of all ages, who are otherwise righteous, consistently think and act insecurely on the basis of worldly fears and apprehensions regarding their husbands’ love for them.

For example: fearing his hatred or indifference if they do not beget a son to carry on his family name. Fearing not being attractive enough to prevent him from looking elsewhere: at younger, more readily available ‘specimens’. Fearing not being needed by him any more, even if his ‘need’ of her reduces her to no more than just a personal assistant performing his domestic chores.

Fearing financial insecurity in old age with the curtailment of his career or life, but not using their brains and spare time to attain financial independence via halal online or home-based business, despite being highly educated and otherwise enlightened. The list goes on.

With age, women’s fears and insecurities not only get more set into their psyches, but also increase in variety.

Set Aright Your Intentions, Witness Wonders Unfold

When a wife has her intentions and loyalties in the right place – aiming for the highest goal: the pleasure of Allah, supplemented by the love of His last Messenger (ﷺ) that supersedes the love she has for any other human being – she automatically achieves the much lower goal of pleasing her husband as well.

Khadijah had it all: she pleased Allah so much so that He sent her glad tidings through His special angel, of an abode reserved just for her in His Paradise.

As a result of Allah’s pleasure with her, she also acquired the undying love of the most exalted human being who ever walked this earth, not to mention the most noble of husbands – Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ);- a love so strong, that it did not die with her death.

She was also blessed by Allah with righteousness of progeny;- children/bloodline descendents who were chosen by Allah to not just propagate the legacy of Islam, but who also attained ultimate success in the Akhirah.

It really makes me wonder then, how we modern women can become like Khadijah, whose successful and prosperous Muslim life literally started at 40 – an age at which most of us women consider ourselves “past our prime”?

I say: when you aim for a score of 1000, you automatically achieve 50. And aiming for 1000 automatically reduces the significance of 50 in your eyes.

We should therefore make our intention in life solely the acquisition of the pleasure of Allah, and stop associating – even slightly, – anyone else with Him, even our husbands.

Only then, we can hope to watch Allah’s wonders unfold in our marital lives, as He turns our husband’s, in-laws’ and other people hearts towards us, granting us higher levels of honor, respect, love and self-worth that will hopefully leave a trailblazing and lasting Islamic legacy behind us too, long after we are gone from this world.

And even then, the abode waiting for us at the other end will be much better than the one we leave behind – insha’Allah.

Lastly, here’s a thought: I think that young single girls, as well as young wives who haven’t yet had children, should aspire to be like the vivacious and passionate knowledge-seeking A’ishah.

As for those women who are close to hitting, or have already traversed, the age of 40, they should try to emulate the wise, generous, motherly, loving, supportive, and (not to mention) the affluent and socially well-connected Khadijah!

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Here is an article related to this topic that I’d highly recommend reading, especially to my male readers: Would You Reject a Proposal From Khadijah?
Posted in Islamic Knowledge, Marriage, Motherhood, Pleasing Allah, Reflections and Reminders, Social Psychology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments