Sunday, November 13, 2011

Single Invisible Muslimah, Part II

 As salaam alaikum,

Just a reminder of the backdrop of this piece:

"[...] as a community, we are so focused on grooming our women to be wives and mothers that we lose sight of the fact that this is not even our number one role.

"Servitude to Allah (swt) is our number one role. We need to use what He has given us, the means that we have at the moment we have, to worship Him in the best of ways." - Wifehood and Motherhood not only ways to paradise.


Through much of this time, I have lamented being single. Through much of those phases of my life, there was some sort of emotional drama going on where I was depressed for some reason or another, or longing, or something. I chose medicine because I saw it as a most excellent way to serve God, to aid my fellow human beings through life (also service to God), to use some of the gifts that God has given me (academic and intellectual prowess with the love of science) and to have financial stability in this life. At some point, maybe not recorded in one of my many journals, I made this definitive decision as my form of worship outside of family life.

I grew up taking marriage and children for granted. As a three year old, I was asked if I wanted to learn how to drive. I said, nope, the daddy (my husband) will drive me. By fifteen, however, I dismissed that as I got behind the wheel of a car for the first time to practice in the parking lot of the local movie theater and as I navigated the winding roads of Ann Arbor. Even then, though, I just assumed that I would marry and have children someday. I didn't doubt it. My biggest worry at fifteen was that no boys that I wanted to be interested in me were interested in me at the time, but I didn't worry about never marrying.

I'm not sure when that started. I think it was in medical school, as I found myself upon the age that I imagined I would meet my husband and it didn't happen. Compound that with my trying to do things the halal way and not knowing how to go about it, the small pool of Muslim men and beginning to realize that my identity and my standards were more complex than most...and I continued to age...

And thus it has been. I think college was marked by wanting MQ specifically, and I didn't worry so much about being single. I think even more than being lonely, I began to doubt that I would find someone because of the different person I was becoming...or at the very least I realized that the road was going to be harder...

The problem I realize is that I never wanted my life in medicine to be the main dish. I took forming a family of my own for granted. I didn't even think about it. Everyone in my family had at least one child and had at one point been married (when I was young) (a point I haven't thought about, actually, in a while), and all of my friends obviously were family for their parent(s). Until and after I was married and started a family, I would become a physician and make that a mode of worship. I always assumed it would happen. Most people do. Who doesn't?

Those for whom it starts to take longer, like me. Those who are exposed to stories of women who "never." (There are no popular stories about men who never marry, although they are certainly out there and not all gay.) When I came into Islam and began hearing stories of Muslim women who never marry, then experience negated my somewhat naive belief that Muslims disregarded ethnicity as an absolute when choosing spouses in following the Qur'an and Sunnah (hahahahahahahaha!), then rereading the monthly issue of Essence or Ebony talking about the 74% of unmarried black women over the age of 25, the difficulties of professional black women to marry, the black men in jail...and putting those together, that black Muslim men prefer women who can speak Arabic, thus leaving many black Muslimahs behind, the shortage of black Muslim men, issues with Muslim men of quality in general, let alone black Muslims...

And this is where my "never" mentality came from. This is one of the ways that Satan can get me...whipping me into despair, catching me when I'm vulnerable and making me feel hopeless when in fact God is blessing me beyond measure.

Along with my delving into Islam and discovering some of the ugly realities about Muslims in America and the world at large (all of this done after 9/11, so I was already aware of some ugly realities), I adopted some maladaptive beliefs. I read about Jannah at the feet of mothers and fortified my lifelong interest in (or more aptly expectation of) having a family of my own with the belief that it was the most worthy thing that human beings can do.

Not just women, but men, too. Men, of course, can form families at any time. If men take care of themselves and are otherwise already able (thus barring primary or unforeseen secondary infertility), they can father children until they are elderly. We women have the window...the window I didn't start worrying about until I was 22 and when I was 23 when my endocrinology professor informed us that we had already passed the optimal age of childbearing (why would you tell women in medicine that, especially young, formative women?).

The most noble, the most honored thing for us to do, I believed was to marry and have children, raising those children in Islam. I began to believe that everything else paled in comparison. What had been a desire for companionship that I've had since I was that 12-year-old girl aspiring to go to graduate school had become a matter of religious importance, absently, combined with an unchecked desire that evolved into desperation because I thought I was entitled to do so.

And it all started with taking marriage and family for granted.

I have not loved the stage that I am in. That has to change.

If I can love the small sparrows that hop about on two stick feet, perch on branches as I walk to class and rub there beaks against the branch, cocking their heads from this side to that to gain the fabled birds-eye view they need to take flight...why can I not love the more complex and multifaceted entity which is my life? They are both God's creation, carefully, painstakingly and purposefully crafted into a greatness that is beyond our comprehension. But this bird is one of many that is hatched and dies several times over in my lifetime, whose instincts are simple, whose body is small and energy is compact. If I love so many other things to this detail about creation, why not love my life, where I am now, as I loved my childhood. As I've always loved being black. As I love being Nigerian. As I love being in medicine. As I love family medicine. As I love my classmates. As I love my hair. As I love my face. As I love my skin. As I've grown to love my body. As I love my writing. As I love my voice. As I love my eyes. As I love my feet. As I love my mother. As I love my father. As I love our family history. As I love my brother. As I love my relationship with my brother. As I love my grandparents. As I love my cousins, all hundreds of them. As I love the character that came out of our familial hardship.

As I love that plaintive feeling that comes from lyrical memories of trial, longing and pain. As I love soul and samba music.

God knows I will love when I am married, and I will love each moment of life with my children. Those two will be the greatest love I'll ever know, I know it. I feel it in me. God made me a nurtuerer, and it's true for my patients, family and friends and it will be true of my family. I am going to be the best wife and mother I can imagine, insha'Allah.

But that's not my stage right now, and it's not my place to throw myself into that, to love that just yet. It will just leave me longing, as one who fasts the day and thinks too much of iftar longs painfully for that food.


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