Strong Girls, Superb Wives

08 strong girls

“Waah,” my baby’s screams woke me up with a jolt. “What? Who? Where? What happened?” I fumbled to the cot, groggy with sleep.

Life was chaotic. I had hardly slept. The baby was up all night crying for no apparent reason. The laundry was piled high. I had no time to cook, and my husband preferred take-outs to my cooking anyway. I hardly had time to shower, and he was tired of a home that had no semblance of order.

Life wasn’t meant to be like this. I had been an outstanding student, a star intern, and a brilliant MBA graduate. However, I was barely able to cope with real life now. No one warned me about this. No one prepared me for child-bearing or giving birth, or taking care of a tiny life that was entirely dependent on me. Such big shoes to fill and I had had no time or will to prepare for them all these years.

My grandmother’s words rang out in my ears now: “What will you do after marriage, Nadia? You can’t even take care of your own self!” I would always brush her off with an affectionate hug, saying: “We’ll see when the time comes, Nani – don’t worry.” I was always too busy studying for school and then college, too busy going out with friends, and then working nine to five. Even when I got engaged, all I was really preparing for was the grand wedding day. In retrospect, I wasted so much time, effort, and planning for a few hours of limelight. All of that didn’t do me any good today in this mess I had landed myself in.

Nadia’s story is not an uncommon one. Many girls find themselves in a similar situation when they step into practical life. Marital bliss turns into a nightmare all too quickly. This has many devastating outcomes that we see around us more and more frequently:

  • Quick and all-too-easy divorces soon after marriage.
  • Strained marital relations, where partners are deeply unhappy with the marriage.
  • Severed relations with extended family.
  • Poor family nutrition and other health issues.
  • Women completely consumed by household work to the point that their own physical and mental health, intellectual, and spiritual growth suffers.

The problem may seem insurmountable, but the solution is a simple one: inculcating good habits in girls from an early age to prepare them to excel in their vital role of nurturing future generations.

Charles Duhigg in his book “Power of Habit” says: “One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.”

Habits are the key. If inculcated from an early age, habits will become second nature and leave a woman’s mind free to pursue other matters that require actual decision-making. However, if ‘what to cook daily’, and managing other daily chores takes up all of her time and decision-making skills, she will be left with little to contribute to her own or her family’s development.

You might argue: why do we need to prepare only girls for this role and not boys? This argument, I’m afraid, was biologically settled for us much earlier. Every mother is honoured with the task of bearing her child for nine months and then nursing him or her for around two years. She is physically and emotionally attached to the baby for an extended period of time in a way that a father simply cannot be.

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Promoting Collaborative Dialogue in Marriage

collaborative dialogue

“And they lived happily ever after.” This statement is, arguably, the most common modern myth about marriage that we are conditioned to believe. However, popular media fails to show us what actually happens afterwards. The reality of successful marriages is that they are neither trouble free, nor effort free. The Quranic objective of the marital relationship is to cultivate an environment of tranquility, love, and mercy among the spouses. It is unrealistic to think that these blessings of marriage can come about by chance.

Marriage is a contract, a commitment to a new relationship, and a fulfillment of half your Deen (religion). The newly-formed connection is not just physical – it extends into your emotional and spiritual worlds. Therefore, it is crucial to make a conscious intention to take this bond as seriously as a collaborative project. A study on arranged marriages by Dr. Robert Epstein, former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, found sacrifice and commitment to be the most powerful factors that strengthen love.

Allah (swt) says about the spouses: “They are Libas (clothing/covering) for you and you are the same for them…” (Al-Baqarah 2:187) This implies that they assume protective, intimate, and expressive roles for each other the way clothes do for our bodies. Zauj – the Arabic word for spouse – itself indicates the complementary nature of the spouses. Nouman Ali Khan, founder and lead Arabic instructor at Bayyinah, explains that the word Zauj (pl. Zaujain) actually means ‘counterpart’. This is why the sun and the moon, day and night are also called Zaujain in the Quran.

Some therapists and psychologists agree that there is a direct link between the quality of your talking and the quality of your marital relationship. Improving your communication skills can contribute greatly to satisfaction, growth, and conflict resolution in marriage. A key skill for successful marital interactions is learning to hold a collaborative dialogue. Let us look at what such dialogue is like and ways of incorporating it in your life.

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Expectations vs. Reality of Marriage

16 ground realities

Take a deep breath. Ask yourself: “On a scale from one to ten, (with ten being fully and completely), how fulfilling is my marriage right now?” Write down the number that comes to mind. Next, ask yourself: “What are some of the expectations that I have for my marriage and my spouse?” Write them down. Notice which expectations are being met, and which ones are not. You may notice that the areas where you feel a relationship can be improved have an unfulfilled expectation attached to it.

Expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future”. It is different from hope because it implies that we definitely want or need this, otherwise there will be disappointment. So if we have unrealistic expectations, they will inevitably lead to disappointment, if they aren’t possible to meet. Let us explore three common yet unrealistic expectations about marriage and ways through which we can break through them in order to create a more fulfilling marriage.

Unrealistic Expectation 1: My spouse will complete me

A lot of women grow up having fairy-tale like expectations of marriage. It is not really our fault – it is all the conditioning we receive while growing up. It feeds off the idea that a damsel is in distress, and her prince charming will come and sweep her off her feet. This is fine for fairy tales because that’s where the story ends. Life is, of course, a different story.

Expecting our spouse to complete us is one of the most detrimental expectations we can have. First of all, it implies that we are incomplete as a person without our spouse. Marriage is recommended in Islam to complement one another, to be a ‘libas’ for one another. This essentially means that our spouse is meant to be our safe space, but it does not imply that we cannot be happy and whole if we aren’t married.

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Divorcing an Atheist

torn piece of paper with divorce text and paper couple figures

Khula and Talaq have become common terms today. One of the reasons for annulling marriage in Islam is when a spouse turns atheist. Anyone, who steps out of the fold of Islam, is not considered to be a worthwhile life partner or a responsible parent. Hiba interviews a single mother, who bravely bore it all by Allah’s (swt) will.

Do you ever have any regrets for taking a Khula?

Since my ex consciously abandoned his beliefs, I got a Fatwah on his apostasy, according to which our marriage was over. Thus, I never felt the need to go for a Khula. By law, he had to divorce me, which he did. It has been almost five years, and I don’t have any regrets.

What problems do you face as a single mother?

Being single has its pros and cons. I believe if I stayed with a man, whose beliefs differed from mine, our marriage would always be rocky. Woman divorcee has to face a lot of challenges in our society. Juggling through emotions is difficult, and when you have to take care of your child’s emotions as well, it can become extremely challenging.

It took me almost two years to gain a clearer perspective of realities of life – I had to deal with everything on my own, with little support from my near ones.

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Slowing Down the Propellers

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Mr. Zafar, a concerned father of a three-year-old, has arrived at his office, completely distressed. His daughter was not admitted into a prestigious preschool. His wife has already filed a complaint at the institution where the toddler underwent a six-month-long programme supposed to prepare her for the pre-school admission test.

Mr. Hassan, Mr. Zafar’s colleague, has other worries on his mind. His teenage son is bluntly refusing to work with the chemistry teacher, whom they have hired for tutoring him in late evenings. He is also not interested in Mr. Hassan’s proposed extra-curricular activities, which would look so good on his resume for college application.

Although the scenarios of Mr. Zafar and Mr. Hassan are to be taken with a good dose of humour, many parents nowadays find themselves in similar situations, micromanaging and over-analyzing the lives of their children. The recent decades have witnessed the rise of a distinct style of parenting, which has come to be known as ‘helicopter parenting’ – paying extremely close attention to experiences and problems of children, particularly at educational institutions, or, in other words, hovering over their heads much like helicopters. It is believed that some of the factors contributing to the rise of helicopter parenting are the increased academic competition, the exposure of child abduction stories in the media and the highly competitive environment of the global economy.

While a healthy parental concern about children is a positive phenomenon, over-parenting can result in such unwelcomed developments as lack of problem-solving skills and self-esteem in children. Some children might become so dependent on parents that they would require ‘helicoptering’ well into their college and beyond, while others might simply rebel against the tight grip of their parents, as they get older.

What are helicopter parents like? Here are some key characteristics:

  • Obsession with their children’s education, safety and extracurricular activities;
  • Over programming the lives of their children, allowing them no free time for playing and exploring on their own;
  • Inability to tolerate that their children might have painful or negative experiences;
  • Conviction that their children can be happy only by proceeding through their lives smoothly, and that it is the duty of parents to facilitate it.

As well-meaning parents, we all have the innate wish to protect and provide for our children. However, at some point, we should ask ourselves whether we are doing too much for them. Here are some healthy ways of slowing down the propellers and avoiding the trap of over-parenting:

  • Let your children deal with their own problems. Often, in an attempt to save children from negative experiences, parents swoop in and fix the problems kids are facing. By dealing with their own problems, children become stronger. Making poor decisions and learning from natural consequences will help them make right decisions in future.
  • Do not overprotect your children. While parents should provide a reasonably safety environment for their children, overprotecting can prove to be counterproductive. Knees will get scratched and the cricket game will have only one winning team. Life holds many valuable lessons to be learned.
  • Let your children take risks – within reason. Kids are able to handle more than we think. If the situation at hand has acceptable risk level, let your kids face it head on; however, stand by and be ready to jump in if the potential damage exceeds the lesson to be learned.
  • Talk it through. Leave the fix-it practice; instead, teach your children to address problems themselves. Coach them on peer relationship problems or academic issues and allow your kids to mature by experiencing the full range of emotions.
  • Encourage your children to try. No amazing adventures or great discoveries have happened without some anxiety and fear in the background. When your children face something scary, put a positive smile on your face and encourage them to try it, instead of empathizing and allowing them to back out of it.

Slowing down the propellers and giving the children space might not be easy. Today’s society loves high achievers and believes in pressure-cooking success. It’s time for human parents to get back to the basics and learn confidence from the instincts of mama-bird, who knows just the right time to kick the babies out of the nest.

Have You Written Your Will Yet?

Reasons for Preparing an Islamic Will

In the Quran, the Islamic will (Wasiyah) is discussed soon after addressing the law of Qisas. It shows the wisdom of the non-chronological order of the Quran. Can you infer why the will was discussed right after Qisas?

What happens when someone passes away? In the midst of mourning and distress, the issues of inheritance come up. As sordid as the thought is, it is something that many families witness. The burial might yet be awaited, but arguments over wealth and property have already started.

In Surah Al-Baqarah verse 180 Allah (swt) says: “It is prescribed for you, when death approaches any of you, if he leaves wealth, that he make a bequest to parents and next of kin, according to reasonable manners. (This is) a duty upon Al-Muttaqun.”

Allah (swt) abhors Fasad (mischief). He wants us to live in mutual agreement, where no one’s rights are usurped and matters are dealt fairly. Therefore, in the verse, Allah (swt) says: “It is prescribed for you.” He stresses the prescription by calling it a ‘duty’ upon the Muslims.

While this verse was later abrogated and replaced with the verses of inheritance, the duty to leave a will for non-heirs still remains. Two-thirds of our inheritance will be distributed as per the terms stated in Surah An-Nisa; we have absolutely no control over who gets what. But for the remaining one-third, we have a choice. This is a favour of Allah (swt) that we must acknowledge.

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Dunya Versus Akhirah – Who’s the Winner?

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In the story of the blind men and the elephant, each of them was touching different features of the animal and had a different description for what an elephant looked like. Similarly, we humans may have various perceptions about life, based on our knowledge and experiences. However, our knowledge is too limited to grasp the entire concept of life. Our only source for knowing the ultimate truth is the revelation sent by our All-Knowing Creator (swt).

In the Quran, Allah (swt) has repeatedly reminded us about the true nature of this world and the next, so that we may live and act accordingly. Allah (swt) describes the life of this world as ‘deceiving enjoyment’, ‘fleeting pleasure’, ‘play and amusement’, and ‘temporary abode’. Whereas the hereafter is ‘better, eternal, and lasting’.

Allah (swt) mentions in the Quran: “Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the hereafter (there is) a severe torment (for the disbelievers, evil-doers), and (there is) Forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the believers, good-doers), whereas the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment.” (Al-Hadeed 57:20)

He says in another Ayah: “…Are you pleased with the life of this world rather than the hereafter? But little is the enjoyment of the life of this world as compared with the hereafter.” (At-Tawbah 9:38)

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The Ashab-e-Kahf For Today’s Youth

Ashab e Kahf

Transcribed for hiba by Asma Imran

I would like to highlight some lessons from the story of the Ashab-e-Kahf (People of the Cave) which I feel are significantly missing in Muslim discourse especially those related to our youth.

Withdrawal from Mainstream Culture

The first thing I want to talk about is the cultural onslaught. The People of the Cave drew themselves away from the dominant culture when they observed that it was overwhelmingly evil. Actually, a verdict was passed against them according to which they were to be executed as a result of their faith; so they pulled themselves out.

One of the most important lessons to draw from this is that until our lives are in danger, we have to engage with the society. As Muslims, we cannot have the attitude that we are not going to mingle in the society because everything outside is a Fitnah from which we have to protect and shelter ourselves, and the only way we are going to preserve our faith is by totally shutting ourselves out from the outside world. This means that we’ve already accepted defeat. It says that everybody else is attacking us, and we’ve got to save ourselves by pulling back and staying strong within our fort.

However, the entire idea of Islam and the imagery that Allah (swt) presents of Islam is that of truth being hurled against falsehood. Allah (swt) gives the image of truth being like a weapon and falsehood being the victim and running away. Thus, the truth is attacking falsehood, and falsehood is on the run. So who’s on the offense and who’s on the defence? Who’s actually questioning the wrong happening in our society and engaging with it and saying: “We are here to change things?” That’s the truth. And who’s actually supposed to go into hiding? That’s supposed to be falsehood.

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Face it or Fake it

face it or fake it

People don’t fret too much about the amount of fabric covering their bodies. But they do worry sick about the make-up that conceals their face.

The billion dollar industry of cosmetics and dermatology products rests on the self-consciousness of women in particular but men are fast catching up as well. What are the common tag lines?

  • “Enhance your beauty.” (If I am beautiful, why do I need to enhance it?)
  • “Look naturally beautiful.” (So you mean to say I am ugly otherwise?)
  • “Feel confident.” (My confidence is wired to your shampoo and lipstick? Heaven help me!)

But the problem is that the standards of the world keep changing. Light is in, dark is out. Ultra-thin is in, normal thin is out. Wavy is in, straight is out. Phew! It’s impossible to catch up, let alone enjoy the moment.

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A Meaningful Life – Is it Really an Option?

1 meaningful life“A time will come when your life will flash in front of you. Make sure it is worth watching.” For a man, this might happen thrice. Once, when he is ripening in age and occasionally going down the memory lane. Secondly, when he is on the death bed, and his entire past reels before his eyes. Lastly, it will be on the day of standing, when he will account for his worldly life before his Lord (swt). Fifty thousand years of standing and waiting will turn a child into an old man.

How many of us even think about this amidst the frenzy of undertaken tasks or, conversely, when having nothing to do? Quite amusingly, we find people ranging from those for whom twenty-four hours are not enough, as they are madly dashing from one finished business to the next unfinished one, to those who have ample time at hand to waste and still the day is not done. Both categories have one trait in common. They will stand before Allah (swt) and account for every second they spent.

It all begins with the need to lead a meaningful life. What is it? A meaningful life is a life with purpose. Suleman Ahmer of “Timelenders” explains that it has the following four elements:

  1. Vision
  2. Time management
  3. Leadership
  4. Additional required competencies

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Important or Urgent – The Forked Road

2 important or urgentShould I finish my report first or take care of my emails at the office? Should I attend to my sick mother-in-law or go to my child’s parent-teacher meeting? Is it more urgent to do the laundry or to cook the lunch? Life tosses at us choices to be made round the clock, and we find ourselves continuously deciding what to do. Some of us prioritize in terms of value, while others arrange items to do in terms of time. Nevertheless, all of us would benefit from learning what we need to do first, what we need to do next, and what we do not need to do at all.

It is helpful to understand that most of our daily prioritization springs to action from our discretionary mental routines (DMRs). We develop our DMRs over a lifetime, depending upon our education and experiences. Hence, our choices are automatic, unless we consciously reflect before coming to a decision. For instance, you may know three people who either live with you or work with you. One day you notice that all three make the same mistake, and you decide to help them out by offering sincere advice.

You approach ‘A’ and correct him gently. He not only listens to you carefully but also seriously assesses his mistake, and eventually thanks you for helping him grow. Next, you offer the same piece of advice to ‘B’. He immediately becomes defensive, and starts explaining himself, without listening to you. At the end, he thanks you ceremoniously, and you feel highly uncomfortable following this incident. Lastly, you talk to ‘C’, who blows up in your face. He reacts bitterly to your counsel, and you regret bringing it to his attention to begin with.

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But Why Arrive on Time?

3 why arrive on timeSome people do not give any importance to arriving on time. And we are not referring only to Pakistani weddings (we will address that later)! It applies to any event, be it a business meeting, an appointment, a casual get-together, or a formal dinner. It is a principle for such individuals to walk in late, regardless of the inconvenience caused to their host, friend, or business associate. They disregard it with the flick of a fly.

Such individuals offer three common arguments to defend their practice:

  1. What will happen if I arrive early or on time, and everyone else is late? What will I do with my spare time? I will be wasting it anyway! So I cautiously delay my arrival to save my own time.
  2. What is the big deal if I was detained and have arrived late? It’s not the end of the world. Everyone is alive and kicking. Why does everybody have to make such a hue and cry about being punctual all the time?
  3. I am worthy of being waited for. Of course, all dignitaries and luminaries never make timely arrivals to grace any occasion. If the best showman will arrive on time, perform and then leave, how will concerts last until the wee hours of the morning?

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Planning Ahead to Save Time

4 planning ahead to save timeAyesha was running late. She had set her alarm for 7:00 am, and actually gotten up without pressing the snooze button even once. She had estimated that she needed around half an hour for breakfast and for getting ready, and would be at the convention centre (half an hour’s drive away) by 8:00 am sharp, where she was volunteering at a seminar that day.

However, things did not go as she had planned. She hadn’t ironed her Abaya the night before. She still had a few things to put in her bag. And making and eating breakfast took longer than she had imagined. When she finally set out of the house, it was 7:45 am. Traffic signals, a bottleneck at one intersection, and a flat tyre on the way delayed her further. When she finally reached her destination, it was almost 8:45 am.

One can say that Ayesha planned ahead of time but still managed to get her timings wrong. How?

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Processed Food: Fad or Fitnah?

processed foodGo to any supermarket and you will see shelves upon shelves of ready-to-cook meals, canned food, ready-to-use fried onions, frozen vegetables and the like – all tempting you to save your time and try them out. At the same time, you might have heard that processed food is totally unhealthy, and you should avoid it as much as possible. So what should you do?

It is important to remember that virtually everything we eat is processed in some way or the other. Peeling, cutting, mashing, cooking, baking or frying is all referred to as food processing. All cooked food is, therefore, processed food. It doesn’t mean that all processed food is bad food. There is a huge difference between mechanical processing, which may be essential for making food eatable (such as peeling the bananas), heat processing that changes the texture and may change the nutritional value, but at the same time makes food more tasty and easily digestible, and chemical processing that is largely used by the industrial food manufacturers and which can turn good, natural ingredients into nutritionally worthless or even harmful products. Such chemically processed products are most commonly referred to as processed foods and must be avoided.

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Food: My Fuel for Faith

food and faithIs there a deeper meaning to our meals? Does the food we eat along with how, where, and when we eat make a difference to our health, family, and faith? We, as Muslims, must consider that any choice we make, no matter how mundane, has implications for our faith. Food, which is seemingly innocent and a blessing of Allah (swt), has a vital role to play in who we are. This article looks at food choices through the filter of Islam and Seerah. We will talk about how consumption of different types of food has an impact on our behaviour, and investigate whether or not food quality and quantity dictates our thoughts, behaviour, and actions. As the old adage goes: “You are what you eat.” We will also discuss what Shifa and Tayyab food is.

Avoiding Extremes

Before we go on, let’s ponder over what it means to eat as a Muslim. Eating is a part of worship for us as food is a blessing granted by Allah (swt). We supplicate to Allah (swt) to bless our food, and we eat only after we have recited His name. We must be cognizant of how our food reaches us, the people who are involved in it, and how its production fulfills Allah’s (swt) command for us. Allah (swt) tells us in verse 31 of Surah Al-Araf: “O Children of Adam! Take Your adornment (by wearing Your clean clothes), while praying and going round (the Tawaf of) the Kabah, and eat and drink but waste not by extravagance, certainly He (Allah) likes not Al-Musrifoon (those who waste by extravagance).”

So where do our eating habits fall, according to the above Ayah?

  1. Necessity
  2. Satiety
  3. Excess

Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim mentions two extremes regarding food.

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Manna Salwa – Simple Choices vs Variety Gourmet

manna salwa“And we shaded you with clouds and sent down on you Al-Manna and the quail, (saying): ‘Eat of the good lawful things We have provided for you,’ (but they rebelled). And they did not wrong Us, but they wronged themselves.” (Al-Baqarah 2:57)

“And remember when you said: ‘O Musa! We cannot endure one kind of food. So invoke your Lord for us to bring forth for us of what the earth grows, its herbs, its cucumbers, its Fum (wheat or garlic), its lentils and its onions.’ He said: ‘Would you exchange that which is better for that which is lower? Go you down to any town and you shall find what you want!’ And they were covered with humiliation and misery, and they drew on themselves the Wrath of Allah…” (Al-Baqarah 2:61)

I especially remember the children of Israel on the days when I have to venture into the kitchen to cook a decent meal, racing against time and juggling the multitude of roles assigned to me as a working mother. I try to imagine what it must have been like to be served the convenient and pristine cuisine by none other but the King of the Worlds Allah (swt) as His Mercy and divine hospitality. Tafsir Ibn-e-Kathir mentions that Mujahid said: “Al-Manna was a kind of sweet gum, and As-Salwa, a kind of bird (i.e., quail).” This food descended from the Paradise, and was collected by the children of Israel effortlessly.

Someone among them brainstormed the idea of ‘variety is the spice of life’, turned up their nose against the Lord’s superior bounties, and demanded from Musa (as) to arrange inferior food grown on the planet.

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