When I was learning about Islam I was saddened by the prospect of having to give up sitting outside at sunset. I must have thought salah (ritual prayer) was a lengthy affair. I certainly hadn’t considered that an eagerness and yearning to make salah would both fit into the best of my good practice and supercede my preoccupations and longings to be in the midst of my bad habit.
I had never meant to to become an addict. I thought I could pick and choose the times I would do what I did. Preoccupation crept up on me slowly and it wasn’t until I had completely given up practising self-pollution that I truly saw that I had partly missed experiences and had neglected relationships because of a constant state of planning, counting down, and looking forward to when I would next find a good spot to inhale.
When I started looking into Islam I soon adopted a head covering and became shy about my public behaviour in case anyone mistook me for a Muslim and misjudged Muslims because of me. Alhamdulillah (all praises to Allah), this was the beginning of change. Almost two years later, I had weaned myself down to four daily pollutions when I realised two things that granted me the impetus to really change: I was enslaved to my habit yet really I should only serve Allah; there were five times prescribed for salah each day so I could, perhaps, plan for, count down to, and look forward to making salah and this would be enough to get me through quitting. I hoped so and finally took the risk alhamdulillah, thanks to the gentle prompt of a serious but non-judgemental invitation to watch a performance of salah and the following day participate with the group – my inviter knew I had just finished learning how to make salah but hadn’t used my knowledge.
Alhamdulillah, I took up the habit of practising salah from that prayer on. I did make the mistake of tasting my old habit a couple of times: it made me sick – alhamdulillah. The month of Ramadan soon arrived giving me the opportunity to embrace a detox from my general pollution that is the forgetfulness to remember Allah constantly. The habit of salah, along with other regular acts of worship, helped me to be successful over my forgetfulness, alhamdulillah
I am acutely aware that hope was not enough for me to change and gain strength in maintaining my change. I hoped to give up self-pollution for a long time before I did it, and even years later as a practising Muslim I have to keep checking my habits to see if I am inadvertently allowing small treats or temporary necessities to creep into becoming overly frequent or detrimental habits, or if I am neglecting opportunities for good habits.
When exam/work deadline times are over do I remember to re-adjust my snacky eating habits and schedule ibadah (worship) back into my day? When the cold months are over can I make an effort to drink less tea? After guests have departed can I continue as good habits some of the helpful things I did for their visit? Who within my company can help me?
It seems there is a foulness about exchanging a bad habit for the good habit of making salah – to swap one addiction for another – and it is foul to have polluted myself and disrespected my body in the way I did. I learned the hard way that I am designed to be an addict. But alhamdulillah, I grateful to have learned and to have been guided to the very best habits of all, those for which we have all be designed: acts of worshipping Allah (subhana wa ta’ala – glorified and exalted be He).
With my bad habit, I was not in control of how much I practised my habitual act – I was always wanting more which led to slowly increasing my practice. Now that worship is my habit, am I always wanting more and looking for another opportunity to praise Him thereby inadvertently increasing my habit? I hope not. I know He is in control and I hope that I am encouraging the habit of worshipping on purpose. But, as I said, I know hope is not enough. Alhamdulillah, Ramadan is almost here again to help me put detox at the forefront of my intentions within a community of Muslims I can support and be supported by. I have learned that I need other people to succeed in my good habits and I do not want to neglect my relationships and connections in the Ummah (community of Islam).
It makes me happy to know that you are in this work with me of planning, counting down, looking forward to and then practising good deeds (inshaAllah). Let’s put down the tea and chocolate a minute, imagine the fragrance of Jannah (Paradise) as we breathe, make du’a for each other, and then look out for ourselves and each other as we navigate our deen (religious path) together .
Narrated AbuHurayrah: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: A man follows the religion of his friend; so each one should consider whom he makes his friend.
(Abudawoud Book 41, Hadith 4815)
I know personally that bad experiences often trigger bad habits and this compassionate empathy is one of the driving forces behind my healing stories and poetry. These reflections were first published by Young Muslimah Magazine.
For tips on quitting smoking click here
I often read books and articles for teenagers, and about supporting or raising teenagers, even though those years are long past for me and my children’s teenage periods are several years away.
I found my teenage and early twenties years to be intense periods of self-reflection and learning, and, while I rarely need to be as self-absorbed as I was during that time, I still benefit from admitting I want to develop maturity in several areas insha’Allah.
Often times, when I newly discover that I have allowed a negative behaviour cycle to undermine my character, I look into my teenage years and find a struggle to overcome the same behaviour was present there too. Sometimes this behaviour is a small habit like biting away dry skin on my lip, other times it is more serious, like emotionally self-abusing through condescending self-talk. Some of the skills I used as a teenager can be useful skills to conquer my detrimental behaviour – I just need a little time out to focus and remind myself that I can do it insha’Allah.
For me this book has facilitated a welcome period of reflection. Although I especially recommend it to teenage and twenty-something Muslimahs, I also recommend it to anyone older who is experiencing relationship troubles because its relationships analysis has life long relevance. This book isn’t just for teenagers or people in marital relationships.
Hameen takes the reader through important material about treating ourselves and others with responsible humanity. By answering her simple comprehension exercises at the end of each short chapter – even in your head – the reader can access awareness of how much of this information she has already learned, what is new knowledge, and any points she feels uncomfortable to admit. So the workbook process helps you know your strengths and weaknesses. And the content teaches you, plainly, that yes you do need to maintain self-awareness as well as awareness of what humanity looks, sounds, and acts like, in order to maintain good relationships.
Latifah Hameen is very clear about how to recognise abuse and its dangers and that a victim must strengthen herself with inner resolve to rise above helplessness and choose to end abusive cycles. This stopped me for a while. A shaky pause of temptation to regress from thriver to survivor to victim. I kept momentum, however, and read on and on, letting Hameen guide me to where I want to stand firm – a place of accepting full responsibility for my relationships alhamdulillah.
I asked my husband to join me using two tables from the book to review our relationship in terms of ‘equality’ and ‘abuse’. We discussed each point, voiced concerns, celebrated achievements, and made some solo and duo goals. We then brought the session to a close by agreeing to meet again for relationship discussions and by simply reading out the lists of dating rights and responsibilities to help us consolidate our good intentions.
I had thought I’d read this book, note it for later use with my teenage children insha’Allah, and then pass it on to someone else. I don’t like to hog things that others could use. And I have a weakness for keeping books. However, insha’Allah I plan to get a lot of use out of this book while my children are too young for it. So I’m just passing on a recommendation.
Masha’Allah, something great about the book is that its advice never judges the decision to have a relationship, since it is not targeted at Muslims. It is not only about ‘love’ relationships. So I think it would equally be an excellent gift for someone considering marriage as it would be a non-judgemental, ‘concerned’ gift to a young Muslimah in any stage of her iman journey. It would also make good learning material for someone who has experienced bullying, as the victim or the oppressor…. We all have the capacity to make abusive mistakes, and to overcome them insha’Allah.
If you are looking to avoid abuse, and to develop numerous life-long positive relationship skills insha’Allah, I can’t recommend Latifah Hameen’s Teens/Young Adults How To – Not Relationship Abuse Workbook highly enough masha’Allah.
And [recall] when Moses prayed for water for his people, so We said, “Strike with your staff the stone.” And there gushed forth from it twelve springs, and every people knew its watering place. “Eat and drink from the provision of Allah , and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption.”
The Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah (the cow), 2:60
One foot in front of the other I found my way home
Writhing through dark, pungent thorns and false inferences
And came to find the friendship of women who keep me safe;
They are more beautiful,
More dear to me,
More light and delightful,
Than the flowers that were taken from me.
© Maria Limehouse 2014
When someone hurts you
And you are angry
Allow your anger
And release it
For from its compost
You can grow courage
To be better than them.
I won’t ask how you are, though I hope you are in good health. I won’t ask for a direct response after so many years; I am asking you to please forgive me.
My teenage relationship with you was a dream come true and I ran away and hurt you and I am sorry; please forgive me.
I’m afraid I entered my teenage years with my second kiss and first sexual assault upon which I froze and then ran away. I repeated that cycle for a decade. I told myself I deserved it.
So when you were my perfect gentleman I allowed myself to hope and aim for my happily ever after for a while. But soon some people teased me for liking you and I froze. I didn’t stick up for you. I was used to not sticking up for myself and later running away to tell myself I deserved it. But I couldn’t look at myself for not sticking up for you. I felt I had to run away from you so that I could avoid dragging you into my world.
A year later I was raped.
I know that, had I been strong enough to break the negative cycle I was caught up in, you would have helped me. Or if I had been brave enough to ask you for help you would have helped me. Or, even if I had simply talked to you, you may well have offered to help me. I thank you for that.
Over a decade later I am healing, gaining perspective, and letting go, and I am concerned about the pain and damage I caused you. Please forgive me.
With sincere best regards,
He shook his head when I mentioned it.
So he knew it was inappropriate, then?
Why doesn’t that recognition give me peace?
He shook his head to deny it.
I am still conflicted between wanting recognition
And wanting to believe he always meant well –
That he would never do anything inappropriate.
She nodded her being when she agreed with me.
“I think that was inappropriate,” she said.
“So do I,” I gushed, relieved, grateful.
“It’s not surprising you were confused,” she told me
A line it seemed she’d said to girls before.
I can smile and sit still.
I can let go of that anxiety.
I don’t care what he thinks.
Dark black, he wanted, he told me,
in phrases and silent dismissals,
Dark and flowing.
I was a flowing midnight river
– gushing, glistening and giggling,
Ready to play, to run and chatter.
No, he wanted treacle –
Lingering on his lips,
Listening to his direction,
Heavy on flavouring him.
Dulled by heat into something palatable
I lulled my rushing stories into a pool,
I collected characteristics and sank others;
I quietened my glistens into slow swirls
And revolved to avoid any accidental reflections.
I was quiet. I turned grey. Not what he expected.
I am dark black;
My colour is in my motion;
I am a midnight black river.
You can see and hear my tastes,
But I won’t let you grey me with yours.
An excerpt from my work-in-progress YA novel insha’Allah, first published in Young Muslimah Magazine.
“Sister, if you want to break into the market, you should do reclaimed stuff. I’m only buying this ’cause it’s for charity.” Her bracelets chink together as she rummages around in her pink sequinned bag. I check my display of handmade jewellery. Except for the necklace clasps, everything I’ve used is reclaimed – the metal, the jewels, the beads. But she didn’t ask me and I can’t advertise this fact because people will question my source.
She finds her purse: a tired pink leather that clashes with her hemp bag. “So, how much goes to charity, anyway?” she asks, raising her eyebrows and tilting her head down to me over her money.
“All of it.” I answer, trying not to look at the protruding bank notes.
“Half to this one, and half to another,” I answer. She slightly closes her purse.
“Not some terrorist organisation!” She laughs at her own awful joke. I put on a smile, lips twitching at the edges with the nervous demands I’ve embodied from train travellers wanting to know the contents of my bag.
“To a sister in need,” I reply, “in the community.” I look around the hall at the clusters of sisters standing above the other stallholders. Lots of black abayas topped with gaudy, glittery scarves that can incite a migraine like over-pungent cheese. Gosh, where’s my kindness? I am a part of this interwoven spiral of souls, clothed by a diversity of interpretations, modesty and tastes – a mere flavour of our personal spectrums of earnestness and privileges. That’s a bit better.
The pink sister pays me and moves to the next stall that sells children’s books. “My toddler group would love these,” I hear her remark. I hate my own thinking, stare at the floor and defocus the marble effect into heavy clouds that could maybe rain me kind. Astaghfirallah.
Tasneem knows I’ve already done ‘Isha’ so I can’t ask for a prayer break to go and make more repentance. I shunt some pairs of earrings along the black velvet display cloth to fill the gap. Should I get more earrings out of my rucksack? No. Don’t get stressed again about what to display. None of my jewels match the hijab colours in here.
I concentrate on the entrance where the head scarves are most congested and try to change my focus to blend the different colours into something earthy.
“Er-salaam alaykum,” someone blurts, a little high pitched, and I sweep my display as I turn to look. “Er,” she says again. Her scarf matches the purple beads in the unfinished necklace on my desk at home. Like me, she’s wearing a baggy patterned dress and long cardigan. Her dark brown eyes looked grounded.
“Wa alaykum salaam,” I say quickly. “Can I help you?” Then I distract myself with the earrings.
“Are you Asma Deen?” she asks. I look straight back up.
“What can I do for you?”
“Oh, umm. I’m in your college. I …” She stops talking but holds her gaze. Unusual. People mostly avert their eyes when they falter over their words of condolence. Embarrassed of my mechanical sales-assistant question, I resist saying it for her: Innaa lillahi wa innaa ilayhi raji’oon. I gratefully accept her soft, moist, dark brown recognition of sorrow and connection. I can’t help but smile into her glow. Be my neighbour in Jannah, I want to scream. She smiles back.
Tasneem pulls my sleeve. “My brother just texted me.” Standing up, with her phone in hand, she flashes me a playful grin. “See if you can sell one of my bags while I’m gone.”
“Yeah, right, they never sell,” I reply.
“Never say never!” she calls behind her, and chuckles. “Ma salaama.”
“Ma salaam.” Her black scarf is easy to watch in the crowd but I feel the girl waiting. Infused with a little playfulness, I turn. “So, what’s your name?”
“Oh, umm –” she starts. But a sister who I have seen around college stops her with a smack on her shoulders with her hands.
“Come on,” she cajoles. “Talk’s starting.” She flings herself over her friend’s purple scarf, laughs and turns her away.
I’m alone at the stall table in a hall with only a handful of seated stallholders. A hanger crashes to the floor on the other side of a rail of black abayas. I flinch.
I replay the purple sister leaving and realise she flinched too – when her friend arrived suddenly. Is she scared like me? I imagine skipping across the hall after her to get her number while I sit motionless in my seat.