There is allot of sadness, lethargy and despair around for many right now it seems. I don’t know if it’s the winter setting in, the post ramadhan blues, or just the general world condition, but every one seems sad, and every one I speak to seems to have a foreboding sense of the world closing in around them. Unfortunately, I myself am no exception! Life has been tough for the past year or so, and seems only set to get tougher. I am still without regular work, and in a financial crisis, and I am without my husband, who works tirelessly on the other side of the world to support us both. Because I am not working my husband’s visa hangs in the balance, and the cycle continues. In addition, some past issues have sort-of returned to haunt me of late, not something I feel I can write about here, but I guess there are some items of baggage you can’t dump too easily, and every so often, tiny wholes appear in the bags that you have to franticly patch up! Thus wasting allot of your time, and above all, your emotional reserves!
I was talking to a close friend about this earlier on today, and we both came to one conclusion: sure, we’ve made a few mistakes, we have some regrets, and some fears too, both for the present, and for the future! But when you analyse it, so much of our baggage has to do with others: external forces: people who are close, and some who are less so. People none the less, who somehow feel qualified to pass value judgements on what we do, what we wear, how we act, how we raise our kids, how/who we marry, …, the list is endless! And its frightening because, ever since my childhood, I’ve been obsessively phobic about not falling in to that trap! My parents, both of whom hailed from extremist Christian families, lived in a strange dichotomy, lost between 2 worlds: faking the religious bit, but all the while, dipping curious toes in the world beyond the blinkered cocoons of their youth. Any step too far utterly petrified them, so that they still read the Daley mail, and my mother still has to take mood stabilisers whenever I travel to the East! I hated their life and their attitudes with a passion! I yearned to break free, and I did it! I fought for my rights and established my freedom, though I can’t lie, it wasn’t easy to break free from the barrage of guilt they loaded upon me: guilt, a destructive emotion, yet one that was more familiar to me than the lack of it, pervaded every thing that I did, so that I rarely trusted my own judgements, and took the risks I knew I needed to with excruciating knots in my stomach, and an almost psychotic fear of failure!
The second problem was, I moved from one guilt culture to another! Muslims also often find themselves living between 2 worlds: culture and Islam, the West and Islam, the spiritual self and the physical one, etc. This guilt was easier to manage, as much of it was external to me in the beginning, but I soon began to feed off that of others: i.e., the stupid young girls who tried to ruin my marriage by stirring up my parents, and the molvi neighbours who didn’t so much as let us pee without enquiring as to our output! Living in the heart of a Muslim community as I did then, I soon became overwhelmed by the need to fall in line: wear my salwar kameez, cover my hair, be seen to pray and fast and be a good Muslim wife: these points earned respect! (or so I thought!).
When my husband ultimately left, I realised how pointless the whole thing was, and how, in reality, these double standards were no different to those of my parents: a world beginning and ending on an engineered version of Islam will always end in failure, that’s why dear readers, we have terrorists, wahabis and salafis, because the box is more comfortable than the responsibility of truth! Whether a niqaab or a bomb, the end is the same: a mask to hide behind, and an object through which to justify one’s existence! In hindsight, I do regret throwing Islam out with the bath water back then, but it would take me years to finally make sense of this, and reinvent Islam, not only based on truth, but on my own terms as well, with all the warts and all that constitutes real life!
I always thought I’d shed the guilt as well, that somehow the divorce signified liberation from all of the shackles of the past, but some of them I learned run way deeper. When I finally faced my fears and sought counselling to deal with my past abuse, I did not disclose to family, to friends, to any one for fear of their reaction, and the extent to which I’d have to carry them through it. When I started wearing hijaab, I had panic attacks every morning for 2 months because of the way my manager treated me for it! When I lost my employment tribunal, I worried continually over how every one I knew took the manager’s side, despite the weight of evidence in my favour. Then, when I met Reza, I fretted over my family reaction, and how others in the community would view him: i.e., a visa hunter out for his own gains! Yet rarely did I question the guilt I felt. I became reconciled to the fact that existing for me would always equal degrees of guilt, and so long as I kept them under wraps, no one need know or be affected! But people were! My husband got tired of it, and friends couldn’t understand the ridiculous restrictions I placed around myself, especially when I always spent so long encouraging them to do the precise opposite! See: I could talk the talk, but knowledge is not knowledge if it is not applied: and that is what I’ve never done: applied it! And today, I watched my past as never before, as though looking in a mirror and seeing a 13-year-old Roshni, the young girl going through a breakdown because she’s trying to take her exams, and hide the fact she is being sexually abused, spending her days in bed because its easier to hide than talk! I hadn’t been brought up to fight, to face the truth, to embrace reality, so couldn’t deal with trauma, and today I watched my friend’s son in the self same place! He talked to me about family, juggling those who care and those who don’t! how his dad’s liberated world view is not in sink with that of his mother’s, and he doesn’t yet know how best to divide his loyalties, how to keep every one happy: who was right and who was wrong?
I didn’t have the answers for him, but I did have the self-same questions when I was his age, and couldn’t let another child go through the same thing! I had a few words to say to his father (my friend). Demanding to know why, this beautiful child was being racked with guilt about people who wouldn’t so much as spit on him if he were on fire! Keeping up with the ‘Sharma’s, the Ahmed’s: whoever! The community: will not, and cannot, ever get you ahead! This 13-year-old boy, was being told to attend family weddings, so that when his time comes to marry, he’ll have networked sufficiently and be known/recognised by prospective partners when the time comes!!! He’s THIRTEEN GOD DAM IT!!!
You’ll never please every one, so why not begin with pleasing yourself! No one can, or should, live as an island, and surely real love is to take those you love along with you! But why raise your children with your own baggage, why not have the courage to identify cycles and break them down before others become drawn in without your intending the same. Tonight I not only said it, but promised my husband and my creator that I’d do the same! My kids can protest, get angry and make stupid mistakes! They might fall down and mess up, and the community might think I’m a bad parent for doing so! But they’ll learn that there is no such thing is failure: there is only learning and evolving. There is no such thing as guilt, there is only putting the past down to experience and having another try! They’ll come to see the infinite beauty, and learning that Allah (SWT) blessed them with through their so-called mistakes, and they’ll realise that those who really love them, will stand along-side them in good and bad times, will laugh with them, and hold them when they cry. They’ll see that when the world doesn’t live for you, rather it lives by feeding on your misfortune, then its better to live for yourself, and not let your life become bitter, twisted, the graveyard of buried hopes that your parents held on to. Remember, the only validation you need is from your creator (SWT), and let iman be the measure by which you assess yourself rather than the empty venom from the tongues of others! Maybe, just maybe, if we really do this, some of the undefined morose hanging around right now will fade, serenely away, Insha Allah!