An interesting thing happened to me. I got asked to write for a website about Saudi written by muslim expats. I was flattered and hadn’t heard of the site before so I took a visit. It is a very Islamic website and I am a muslim mother so I thought great, sounds like fun, I love to write! so we agreed I would submit pieces fortnightly and they told me the editors would go over it and send back any comments. Little did I know it would be deemed unsuitable for fear they will be punished by God for spreading the evil things I was suggesting in my piece.
I took a couple of days to think of a good first piece to introduce myself to their very large reader base (according to the numbers they gave me) and came up with the following piece:
As parents, we have an idea of how we want to raise our children. Of what values and beliefs we want to instill in them. We have a basic plan we want to follow (if not always clear or sometimes completely lost in the chaos) but we know what kind of people we want our children to become.
You will love your children, teach them all you know, cherish them and keep them safe. You will teach them to be good people. You will teach your children to pray, to fast, to give to the poor, to worship in what ever way you do. You will try to give them all the tools they will need to be good, productive people.
Now, lets say you did that. Lets say that they did learn and become good, productive human beings. Lets say your 18-year-old son came home one day in all his goodness and productivity and with his strong unwavering faith and said to you “Mother, Father, I have decided I want to be a performance artist* and to do this I will move into a small apartment in Italy with other like-minded people and study art for the next few years”.
Or let’s say your college age girl in all her goodness and productivity, your daughter who never misses a prayer and has great prospects said to you one day “I want to become a professional skier and compete worldwide”
Basically, what if your children turned around and did something you did not expect or want them to be doing. It is not something bad, it is not something illegal or ‘haram’. It might not even be something particularly fantastic. All it is, is what you never though or planned for them to do. How would you react?
Most men I know were raised to get jobs, get married and care for their families. They were expected to get certain jobs and not others. And marry certain people not others. They were also, of course, expected to do all this here in their country and nowhere else. They are expected to live as an extension of their father and mother for ever and that’s it.
There is not much expected of women in the way of work or education. If they went to college great, if they got a job fantastic. But more importantly did they visit their aunt so and so? did they drop everything and stay at home to care for their house and husband? did they make sure to always try to look pretty and have some makeup on for their husbands when they came home? if not then regardless of what they have accomplished they have failed.
Here in the Arab world, we have a familial network that is so strong it is the envy of many people. But is there a way to find a happy medium between having strong family ties like we have here and having almost no family support network like most places in the west? (meaning being able to make independent choices for your life while still being close to your family.)
I said the other day that I want to raise my daughter with the idea that she can eventually move out once she is equipped to live on her own financially. She does not have to, but I do not want a woman in her 30’s still living like a teenage girl. And I do not want her to feel her only way to gain some say in her life is to get married, and that is not always a guarantee anyway. Needless to say this statement made most people burst out laughing, the others said I was crazy and the most comments I got were “lets see what your husband says about that”.
At the same time I do not want my sons to feel that they have to follow some sort of formula that we have prescribed for them to gain our affection and win our pride. As long as they are decent, God-fearing muslims then there is nothing I should fear.
I think the objective of parents should be to not judge their children, to accept them as they are and to give praise and thanks when it is deserved and not withhold it ever. Children live their childhood looking to their parents for approval. This is something they should be expected to grow out of and look for approval from within.
I think we raise our children to a certain age and then we must let them go and put our faith in God that we have done our best and instilled a strong faith in them. “Tawakalu Ala Allah” (put your faith in God) and let go.
That, my friends, was the piece I submitted word for word. Now, to clarify something, the definition of Performance* art is art in which the actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work. It is not singing and dancing, not sure what they thought I meant by that. The second point is that by saying “I would raise her to move out” it would be better to say that I would raise her to know her life does not begin and end with marriage and that she does have choices she can make in her life. I trust that I will insha’Allah raise my children to be decent responsible muslims who would never turn their back on their family and always care for us as we care for them. I would simply trust to let them go and know they will always be there for us.
But here are parts from email from the editors that I got in reply to this piece.
“The article is advocating issues that need scholarly review and approval… And we do not want to advocate something that we are unsure of and be questioned about it by Allah.”
I thought I was talking about giving adults their independence so they can become well-rounded, educated people who could help advance their countries and interact with people of different cultures.
“A daughter who never misses prayer wants to be a “professional skier and compete worldwide”?…How many prohibitions are likely to occur if someone traverses that path? Traveling around without a mahram; socializing and being in an unrighteous company, etc.”
If you think that my religion is based upon having a mahrem around me or is only there if I am living with my family then you are wrong. Muslims! Have more faith in your religion! You act as though our faith is so weak that even the mere sight of something un-islamic will make us falter and lose all faith. Let me tell you something, I am not muslim because of my mahrem, and I am not less of a muslim because I lived away from home during college and socialized with many different people from christians to jews to atheists. Lo and behold, I am still a muslim.
“I know Muslims are beginning to think in this way.. alhamdulillah they are at least Muslims. But we don’t want to legitimize it by advocating it in our articles.”
God forbid muslims want to be artists or athletes! Or show any trust or faith in their children, The obvious result would be a huge “ridda” from Islam! I am constantly insulted by how weak you think our religion is and how that without your guidance and “protection” we would lose it. Nothing shakes my faith regardless of who is around me.
“Mother Teresa regardless of what she did died as a Christian. From what is apparent, she failed in the primary duty that Allah created human beings for.”
I cannot even begin to address the arrogance that the writer has in assuming they know who did or did not fail “the primary duty that Allah created human beings for”. That same arrogance is the one that will probably call me a “kafira” when this article is published!
“It cannot be conceived that the daughter be separated to be independent without marriage. The daughter really becomes independent and adult when she gets married and takes on her responsibilities. There is a significant shift in her level of maturity. Anyone will testify that.”
Ummmm… anyone? please testify. Yes, all you muslim women out there have no right to be actual “adults” till you get married. Your husbands will make you a real person, but obviously their person not your own person. Silly little muslim girls, thinking they are worthy of any kind of independence or any say in your life, your just an extension of what ever man is around you.
So what happens to the women who don’t get married? or the ones who get divorced? or widowed? Do they revert back to being children? This kind of thought frustrates me! and the arrogance behind the people who replied to my email to basically tell me that what I am saying is not Islamic enough. As my sister suggested, they should have an Islamometer and see if people are worthy of their praise and they can tell me if I have fulfilled “the primary duty that Allah created human beings for”.
“We encourage you to write on any topic, as far as it doesn’t contradict the essence of Islam.”
I answered back with a more polite version of the replies I have here and declined their offer to publish my work on their blog as it is obvious we have fundamental differences and I fear I will always come up on the low side of their Islamometer.