Book review: The White Elephant

by Aishah Adams

white elephant

by Aishah Adams, published House of Ganiyah LLC (18 Sept. 2016)

Available on Amazon.

Chai rating: 4.5 out of 5 cups


Practical, insightful, and wise, The White Elephant is an essential read for anyone who is looking into settling into marriage or is going through a divorce. The author, a Public Health Consultant and Personal Development Coach, is herself a divorcee. She addresses and examines the mistakes that she made in her own personal marriage journey and uses them to teach others how to avoid them. Using the teachings from the Quran and the Hadith as foundation for her writing, Ms. Adams provides compelling arguments on how to navigate marital relationships complicated by extended families and culture in the 21st century.

The book is broken down into 3 distinct parts. The first part addresses what too look for in a spouse and the things to consider when you are ready for marriage. The second part talks about the realities of a marriage: the day to day issues such as sex and communication , dealing with in-laws, and defining your identity within a relationship. The third part, which is is a personal big one for me because it was so painful, is divorce. It discusses complex questions such as how to know when to call it quits, how to manage societal expectations and judgements, and how to manage yourself when your marriage ends.

Finally the book addresses domestic abuse within the Islamic context, an issue that I feel is not spoken about enough within Muslim communities. The author makes a strong case for identifying, and leaving, abusive marriages.

“When you stay on in an abusive relationship – whether verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive – it’s almost as though you are teaching those around you to embrace the oppression, especially when there are children present.”

This section also includes interviews from real-life women who share their post-divorce experiences so that readers may learn them.

The Good

Many relationship books that I have read in the past have in addressed relationships in broad, universal, all-encompassing terms and theories.  This book, however, is written specifically for the Muslim woman (and man) in mind.

Islam places a huge emphasis on marriage and many young adults, in their zeal to want to be good Muslims, rush into marriage without examining a marriage prospect carefully and thoroughly for compatibility. It is not uncommon for some to agree to get married on the just the fact that both partners are practicing Muslims who pray and fast. The White Elephant argues for the contrary: that a study of personal characteristics and personal lifestyles and goals of potential spouses are actually in line with Islamic teachings:

And of His signs is that He created you from dust; then, suddenly you were human beings dispersing [throughout the earth].”(Quran)

“It is from His signs and it is important that you cohabit in love and mercy with the person you choose to spend the rest of your life with as explained by this verse. At this point, you’d probably wonder why do we then have so much rancour going on in our marriages today? Why has there been an increase in rates of divorce in our communities today? While it could be a consequence of our straying away from purpose-filled unions, I believe it goes back to a lack of adequate preparation for the journey ahead, which then results in avoidable turbulence, which sometimes leads us to call it quits instead of retracing our steps to continue the journey on a stronger footing. ” 

Why I didn’t give it 5 stars:

The book is so beneficial to anyone who is contemplating marriage or divorce but because it uses Arabic heavily when referencing to the the Quran and the Hadith, I feel like it may not feel as relevant (or useful) to non-Muslims. Perhaps a glossary of terms explaining Arabic words and phrases and Quranic principles would given it more appeal to a wider global readership.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely! I remember talking to a young Catholic couple years back when I was in university who were about to be married. I  was absolutely fascinated when they told me that their priest wouldn’t marry them until they finished taking mandatory pre-marital counseling classes.  This book is the pre-marital counseling class that I always wish my own local Muslim community had.

My favorite quote:

Do not be fooled by a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. Dig deep so you can uncover what
is really in the parcel and not what the cover of the parcel tells you is in it. How many times have you bought a box of an item with the colour of the item in the box being
different from the colour of the item displayed on the cover of the box?

Have you read this book? What do you think of it? Have you read a similar book that you would like to share?

“I made this call to my mom and I was like, I’m coming back….no, I don’t have a job but maybe I need to be back home for the job to find me”

160825114255-cnn-hero-umra-omar-profile-pkg-00000520-super-169Umra Omar, a native of Lamu, Kenya, works to provide access to healthcare to some of the most marginalized communities in Kenya. Her group, Safari Doctors, offers life-saving medical services to people that would have otherwise have had none.  It is also often targetted by the terrorist group, Al Shabaab.

Does she have any regrets leaving her comfortable life in the USA to do this?

“I have absolutely zero regrets for taking the leap of faith. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

Watch more…

http://edition.cnn.com/video/api/embed.html#/video/world/2016/08/25/cnn-hero-umra-omar-profile-pkg.cnn

(photo credits: CNN)

A free on-demand ‘listening’ app

I was having a really crappy day at work last week when I reached for my phone to look for a distraction from the app store. Quite accidentally, my eyes fell on something that surprised me. I’ll be honest- the ‘cup of tea’ part reeled me in.

7cups

 

I clicked on it and there it was, in the middle of a hectic day full of demands, an app that could connect me to someone anonymous whose only purpose was to lend an empathetic ear (or eyes, in this case.)

7 cups of Tea is a free app that provides on-demand emotional support. Essentially, it’s like having a friend in the palm of your hands just listen to you rant away.

When I clicked on ‘connect now’, I was redirected to a list of possible of topics that were on my mind. I’ve been trying to develop my CV so I picked on ‘getting unstuck’ and I was immediately connected to a helpful listener who promptly introduced herself. We spent about 20 minutes chatting, and she was patient enough to wait for a response from me while I handled my work related business.

Was it a good session?

All in all, it was. My listener was very keen on understanding what my issues were and she even offered a few helpful tips on how to manage stress and to pursue my passions.  The fact that it was completely anonymous and free was a big one for me because let’s face it, counselling can be quite expensive and sometimes all you need is for someone to listen to you unconditionally.

For more serious issues such as suicidal thoughts or self harm, please definitely skip right over to a professional therapist or your local emergency line.

The follow-up

After my session, I received a few prompts on exploring more mental health resources including mindfulness videos, support groups, a wellness plan, and a directory of certified local therapists in my area.

Would I recommend it?

Absolutely, yes. You have nothing at all to lose (except maybe a few frayed nerves). Technology can be so mentally overwhelming but this is one of the uncommon instances where it helps you decompress.

Check it out and let me know if you liked the app!

More information at: https://www.7cups.com/about/about.php

Book Review-Black Ass

blackass

by A. Igoni Barrett, published Chatto & Windus (2015)

Literary Awards: Longlisted for the inaugural FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Awards and was shortlisted for the 2015 Kitschies Golden Tentacle Award

Chai rating: 3.8 out of 5 cups


Black Ass is a story of major transformation. Furo Wariboko,  the main character in the book, sleeps a black man and wakes up the next morning a white man.  This new identity brings privilege; his new found skin colour (ogibo) enables him to get the senior sales position, a job that he as a black man, could not dream about. He is faced with the realization that he has no future as a black man and no past as a white man the best thing is to make the best of what he now has. Furo decides to run from his past as fast as he can and embrace with pride the privileges his red hair and green eyes bring along.

The Good

Many Nigerian books are written for non-Nigerian readers: they explain each context and every foreign word, and the English employed is British as opposed to the native pidgin.  This book, however, is unapologetically Nigerian.  This is the first Nigerian book that I have read that is written in first-hand local lingo; it reads like the real Nigeria without a map of translation.  It is a book for anyone who dares discover stories within their real twisted context. Igoni’s writing is a refreshing surprise of realism within fiction.

Why I didn’t give it 5 stars:

There are unnecessary twists that bring no meaning to the main story and the ending is not well done. I feel cheated: the book left me hanging in suspense in an uncomfortable way.

Would I recommend it? Yes! Black Ass is the Best contemporary African book of our times.

My favorite quote:

“Womanhood comes with its peculiar burdens, among them the constant reminder of a subordinate status whose dominant symptom was uninvited sexual attention from men…A woman is not expected to live alone, to walk alone in peace, or to want to be alone.”

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

This Guest Post was generously contributed by Janice Nawal, a vivacious trainee solicitor studying in Nairobi, Kenya. You can read more about Janice’s writing adventures at www.janiceink.wordpress.com

 

Book review-Brick Lane

by Monica Ali

Published June 2nd 2004 by Scribner (first published 2003)

Literary Awards

Man Booker Prize Nominee (2003), Guardian First Book Award Nominee (2003), Orwell Prize Nominee (2004), Audie Award for Fiction, Abridged (2004), Kiriyama Prize Nominee for Fiction (2004)

Chai rating: 3.5 out of 5 cups

brick-lane

Nazneen, a 16-year-old village girl from Bangladesh, is married off to a man 20 years her senior and moves to a council flat in London with nothing but memories.  She is constantly haunted by her mother’s suicide and worries about her sister, Hasina, who ran off to Dhaka to pursue a ‘love marriage’, leaving the family in a cloud of shame.  Unlike her sister, Nazneen  is determined not to shake up the order of her destiny and thus resigns herself to a presumably easier life of domesticity and submission. Her world is turned upside down when she falls in love with the young and charismatic Karim; suddenly everything that she thought she was so sure of become uncertainties. With two young daughters and a husband whom, despite his physical imperfections and professional flops, she cares deeply for, Nazneen must decide whether to flow with the tide of fate or be the director of her own show.

Brick Lane is a captivating narration of the immigrant experience and while the minute details of daily life can sometimes be tedious to read through, they do add up to valuable lessons on love and destiny.  The characters are comical and profound, and each one feels like someone I would actually bump into on my travels within London. They offer a vivid tapestry of the different intersections we make as humans in our quest to find,and define, home.

This book reminds of Zadie Smith’s ‘White Teeth’ and while I prefer the latter book, I am amazed that this is Monica Ali’s debut novel.  It is very well written.

Why I didn’t give it 5 stars: Hasina’s letters took up a lot of space in the book and I feel like they didn’t contribute much to the plot. Granted, they were written by an illiterate ‘village girl’, but those damn letters were written in such poor English that I could barely make out Hasina was trying to communicate to Nazneen. I feel like the book would have moved along just fine without them.

My favorite quote:  “What I did not know – I was a young man – is that there are two kinds of love. The kind that starts off big and slowly wears away, that seems you can never use it up and then one day is finished. And the kind that you don’t notice at first, but which adds a little bit to itself every day, like an oyster makes a pearl, grain by grain, a jewel from the sand.”

Would I recommend it? Yes, especially if you like Zadie Smith or Amy Tan.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

 

Raising a Daughter Alone: A Single Father’s Journey

Glenn Silver is a planner/evaluator for the North Carolina (USA) Division of Services for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing and is a single parent to his 16-year-old daughter, Candace.  He received his Master’s degree from the University of Florida and has worked extensively in the non-profit sector.  A former pastor, Glenn is now a practising Muslim and maintains an active role at his local mosque.

Despite her challenging childhood, Candace is a remarkable young lady who has achieved a lot academically in her young life.  She has recently wrapped up a summer course at The National Student Leadership Conference Psychology and Neuroscience Program at American University, and she is now on track for admissions to neuroscience and psychology programs at several prestigious universities.

Tell me about your journey to parenthood. What were the circumstances that led you to single parenthood?

In 1994, I married my first wife and began my own grant writing consulting business in North Florida.  In 1996, we had a baby girl. We had started experiencing marital problems by then and one day in the same year, I went back home only to discover that my wife had packed up and left.  The only things she left behind were my clothes.  After a few months, I caught a bus to Seattle, to return to where I had been living a few years prior.  However when the bus stopped in Chicago, I chose not to travel further.  I ended up enrolled in the Pacific Garden Mission Men’s Bible Institute and studied there until 1997.  My brother died the same year.  He had been the one taking care of my mother so I moved to North Carolina to live closer to her.  By the end of ‘97, I received divorce papers from my wife; I hadn’t seen my daughter for more than a year.

It sounds like it was an intense period in your life.

Yes, it was. But it is all qadr (destiny).

 glenn_candace

When was Candace born?

 In the midst of all these major life events, I met the woman who would be my second wife at church.

She already had a 3 year old son. We married in August 1998.   After we were married she injured her wrist and could no longer work. I went from consulting to full-time employment with the City of Rocky Mount. I also became Youth Pastor and Assistant to the Pastor at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church.

In 1999, during Hurricane Floyd, Candace was conceived and she was born on June 18, 2000.

A little after that, I became Pastor of Tillery Chapel Missionary Baptist Church – a small, rural, black church in NC, while also working at the City of Rocky Mount.

In 2005, I left the City and began working for the State of NC but by then  my wife had begun to show signs of mental illness. Twice, she forgot to pick the children up from school and I had to leave work and drive 45 minutes from my job to get the children. My wife’s mental health continued to deteriorate until in 2009, I left and Candace decided to leave with me. We moved to Burgaw, NC.

My wife filed papers in court and I was forced to take Candace back to her. It was the worst day in my life. Candace cried and did not want to go back but I had to take her back because the court ordered it.  For a little more than a year, I lived in Burgaw while Candace lived in Whitakers, NC with her mother. I visited her at least once per month and took her to the dinner, movies, etc.

 That’s awful. How did you cope?

I coped by having good friends in Burgaw and through the mercy of God. By Spring 2012, Candace could not take it anymore and asked me if I would come back for her sake. So in Spring 2012, I moved from Burgaw back to Whitakers and reconciled with her mother. I tried to make it work for Candace’s sake.

After a couple of months, things got really bad.

 What happened?

One Saturday morning, my wife began fussing at Candace for placing the forks in drying rack with the handles up rather than the tines up and things escalated to the point that I called 911 and the police came. They called Social Services and Social Services told me that I was solely responsible for Candace’s safety and her mother was not to be alone with Candace.

How old was Candace when this happened?…The knife incident

I could not live in the house with the mother of my child not being able to be left alone with her. What was I to do when Candace went to the bathroom and her mother went in there with her? Candace had just turned 12.

Candace was terrified that her mother was going to come and do something to me or her so we packed our clothes, left the house, and stayed in a hotel in Raleigh for a couple of weeks until I got us an apartment. When I got an apartment, we started with everything from zero. We had nothing but our clothes, so in the beginning, Candace slept in her sleeping bag while I slept on the floor.

Luckily for us at the time, my employer, the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, let me bring Candace to work so I wouldn’t have to worry about leaving her alone.  All this time, I also was fighting a court battle for custody of Candace.

What about your other daughter? What happened to her?

She remained with her mother and her mother cut off contact. I have not seen her since she was 3 years old but I do provide financial support.

You had been a practising Christian. How did you transition to Islam?

I found Islam as a result of all that I was going through at this time. Although I had served as a Pastor for more than 15 years in the Whitakers area and was very active in the community, none of my fellow pastors or the churches did anything to help us. I was very disappointed that they had no concern for Candace.

So, the pain of having the church fail me caused me to critically assess Christianity. After a few months of contemplation, I contacted the Islamic Association of Raleigh and Brother Fiaz Fareed responded to my email.  When I told him I had been a Christian pastor, his response was that he wanted to be respectful.  “Would you like me to call you Reverend, or Pastor, or something else?” he asked.

I was astounded because here was a Muslim wanting to be respectful of my non-Muslim religion while when I was a Christian, I had no respect for any religion other than Christianity. That small, simple act of kindness was all the daawah I needed. Brother Fiaz and I met on February 10, 2013 and I took shahadah that day.

Please tell me a little more about your journey into Islam.

So as I began to study Islam, I discovered Qiyaam al-Layl and read that Allah descended to the lowest part of heavens in the last third of the night to answer prayers.  I calculated the last third of the night and prayed. The next day, alhamdulillah, I received the notice that the court had awarded me full and sole custody of Candace.

After that, I continued to learn and grow as a Muslim.  Islam and the local Muslim community have helped me and Candace endure our tests. Islam has taught me about sabr (patience) and perfection of my character; those two things have helped me be a good parent.  It is the love and forgiveness and provision of Allah (SWT) for me that I try to reflect, albeit dimly, in my relationship with Candace.

As a father, who inspires you?

The Prophet Muhammad (SAW).  I have learned a lot from his character and I try to replicate it in my life as much as possible. He was an exemplary father.

As a revert, it was inspiring to know that the Prophet (SAW) also raised daughters and that daughters are a blessing from Allah.  There is a hadith which states that anyone who brings up a righteous daughter is guaranteed a place in paradise.

Are you raising Candace as a Muslim? Or does she get to decide what faith she wants to belong to?

She gets to decide.

Being abandoned by the church has made her sceptical of religion and I understand that. Plus, religion is not but compulsion. The best I can do for her is to let her see the power of Islam in my life so that she reverts. Otherwise, forcing her to live as a Muslim would be insincere and could do her more harm than good.

 How long have you now been living alone together?

 Candace and I have been living alone together for four years.

You are a single father. You haven’t had it easy in the past and Candace hasn’t either. What have been some of the most difficult moments for you raising your daughter alone?

The most difficult moments were when we first moved here and we were going back and forth to court in the custody battle. Candace had been physically and emotionally abused by her mother so we went to therapy together. Then, in January 2013, I lost my job the NC Museum of Natural Sciences because I had to be out so much with the custody battle. So I had to return to consulting full time. That worked out well because I could arrange my schedule to be there for Candace more than I could when working outside the home.

One of the most challenging things was seeing Candace endure the pain of having her mother reject her.

Do you have a support system?

My support system is my local ummah and my friends in the Wilmington area.  My reliance on Allah has helped tremendously.

How does society judge you as a single father?

I am not sure how society judges me as a single father. To be honest, I hardly ever think about it. I do think that as a black, single father in America, I break the stereotypes that many have of black fathers. However, my breaking those stereotypes is a testimony to the mercy of Allah (SWT) rather than any traits I have, as a man.

As for having to have gone through so much, it is the will of Allah (SWT) – qadr. When Allah (SWT) loves His (SWT) slave, He (SWT) test him. And for that, I can only say Alhamdulillah(thanks be to God).

You have come out the other side a winner in spite of your difficult past.

I believe if anything in my life had been different until now, I would not know Allah (SWT) as I do. I  strive to be a better slave to Him (SWT), moment by moment.

Wow! I’m in awe of your attitude.

Yes. Alhamdulillah, that Allah (SWT) has kept me around to see Candace achieve all that she has. May Allah (SWT) allow all of us to grow old and see our child become pious offspring, ameen.

What are your hopes for Candace as she transitions into adulthood?

I hope that she use the gifts she has to serve humanity and that her heart softens to accept Islam.

She has admitted that if she had to choose a religion it would be Islam. The local ummah is very supportive of us. They always ask about Candace and invite her to events.

Is it easy for her to communicate to you regarding issues surrounding femininity?

I always have talked to her as an adult so she is very comfortable asking me anything. She trusts me and I trust her. By the age of 8 or 10, you have instilled the core values of a child so all you can do beyond that is reinforce those values, guide the child along, and support them as they make mistakes.

So, she’s been an Honors student throughout high school and is now picking out colleges. Did you ever think, about 10 years back, that you’d be here today? In a place of success as a father?

Yes. My mother raised me as a single parent and I always have been GGod-conscious   I always have relied on God for support.  However, I had no idea I would endure the trials I have but that is a testimony to the mercy of Allah (SWT).

What advise would you give other single parents out there that are going through a dark period in their lives?

 I would advise them to seek Allah (SWT) to bring light into their dark experience. Admit the limits of your own power and submit to Allah (SWT) so you can then have the assurance that even the worst of times are being used to your benefit – in this life and in the Hereafter.

Islam helps me keep things in perspective. All I can do is put forth my best effort and trust Allah (SWT) with the outcome.

There is this hadith of the bird. The bird awakens each day, hungry and not knowing where it will get food. But the bird puts forth the effort – it flies from its nest – and because it puts forth effort, Allah provides sustenance as the outcome: the bird returns to the nest full!

What a beautiful reminder for life.

For those who are reading this and aren’t Muslim, how can they relate to your advice on leaning in on Allah. It’s the feeling of leaning on something bigger than us, isn’t it?

Yes. Leaning in on your own understanding or the support of other people alone will eventually lead to a led down because those resources are limited but God is limitless.

We must lean on something bigger than us because we have an enemy, shaytan, who is bigger than us. But he, like us, are subordinate to Allah (SWT). It is like this. The shaytan is the neighborhood dog and if we try to get away from that bad dog on our own, sooner or later that dog is going to get us. So the logical thing to do is to go to the owner of that dog and plead with him to restrain that dog so the dog cannot do with us as he pleases. Allah (SWT), in this metaphor, is the owner of the bad dog.

 I love that analogy.

What do u look forward to in the future?

Inshaallah, I look forward to continuing to learn and grow in my iman(faith) as a Muslim; re-marrying; seeing Candace graduate high school, college, and begin her career; and making hajj.

That sounds wonderful         .

Inshaallah, if I can just see Candace get off to a good start as a psychiatrist and make hajj, that will be fulfilling.

And to conclude, what is your definition of success?

Taqwa– a closeness to Allah (SWT).  Taqwa is my definition of success because if I am close to Allah (SWT) then I have solid refuge from the vicissitudes of life; provision for my journey in this life; and a place near Him (SWT) in paradise.

Thank you, Glenn, for sharing your experiences and wisdom with us. We wish you and Candace all the best in life!