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?

Advertisements

The lady in black

As I walk down the street and I can feel what you’re thinking when you see me. “Who is she? Where does she come from? Is it someone I know? Does her abaya hug her curves? Does it swallow her whole? What about her hair? Can I see stray strands peeking through? Does she pray on time? Does she respond to men’s cat calls and suggestive whistles? Is she married or single? It looks the same as all other abayas so she must be like all other women. She probably gossips, causes fitna, and has nothing of value to contribute to progress. She is just another object to appease my carnal pleasures. She is just another person for me to pass judgement on. The next fashion trend could be all she ever talks about. Who knows with these Muslim Swahili ladies? Can they even think for themselves?”

And what I’m thinking then is this: I am wearing the abaya because I want to. I did it for Allah. I did not wear it to appease any man. 

I wish for once you could see me as I see myself – as just another person. I love the colour green, and sipping tea, and reading books. I love sitting in libraries. I am a lover of humanity. I want to listen to stories and to travel and to learn new things. I want to write a book and live on a farm. No, I am not working on seducing another man. I am working on creating a more God-conscious me.

I am a daughter, a wife, and mother. I am a community volunteer. I work hard and contribute to my family and to society.  I am just like the next person who wants to get head in life and take the occasional holiday break. I am all these things and more; a woman wearing the abaya is just one piece of the puzzle that I am.

I long to be a colorful bird, to take to the open skies and sing my own song. You can’t ignore my abaya when you see me, and you let it tell my story. Please see beyond my outer garments. Look at the person I am and let me tell you my story.

The Donge Grand Iftar

image

Donge La Mombasa Welfare Group hosted a Grand Iftar this past Sunday in honor of the orphans that we’ve been visiting during this month of Ramadhan. It was a packed event that saw 150 orphans and 250 members of the Mombasa community sit together to break the  day’s fast together.
There was a live nasheed orchestra and Quran recitations presented by our little orphan angels. Speeches were also given by leaders of the local community including Hon. Abdulswamad, Suleiman Shahbal and Saad Faraj. Our very own treasurer,  Mbarak, MC’d the event with much enthusiasm and energy.
The volunteers worked very hard to see this event run seamlessly. Their efforts paid off- all our guests gave very positive feedback regarding the event. Unfortunately I couldn’t be there myself but we did have live streaming so I didn’t feel left out.
We had a busy Sunday and by midnight we (the organizers and volunteers) were very tired but very, very, happy.
If you donated or volunteered for this event, please accept my heartfelt gratitude for your  contribution.

(If you’d like to find out more about Donge’s charitable activities, please visit our website http://www.dongelamombasa.com)

The random stranger and the cloth on my head

hijab
The other day I was on my usual bus commute to work in the morning. The fog from my head still hadn’t completely cleared up and I was struggling to stay awake in my seat. I was staring straight on, completely lost in my hazy thoughts when the bus stopped to allow some morning passengers to board. In what would have ordinarily been a mundane moment in my day, a middle aged woman sat next to me and immediately sent a chill down my spine. I could feel her piercing stare on the right side of my face. I would have ignored this, but her eyes soon felt too uncomfortable so I turned around and gave her a smile.

“Are you new here?” she asked, not so much a polite question as an intimidating interrogation.
“Erm, no.” I answered, shifting uneasily in my seat. I could feel my face grow hotter as the seconds passed.
“Where are you from?” She continued probing, without the least bit of concern that she was on the border of crossing personal space. Curious to see where this was leading to, I told her to take a few geographical guesses.
“You are Muslim. Are you Sunni Muslim, Shia Muslim or some other Muslim cult?” Her eyes had narrowed into angry slits now and the menacing glare behind her clumpy mascara-ed lashes had turned her into an evil witch; an inquisitor of sorts riding high on some special kind of a hate-laced drug.
With my heart now galloping, I let out a deep breath and answered as calmly as possible: “You asked me where I was from, not what religion I belong to.” Her eyes continued to bore into mine and without as much as a blink she declared “Whether you are from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Ethiopia, I don’t appreciate you people coming to my country and trying to lay shariah law on the land. I know your type and I’m watching you.”

Well, I just had nothing to respond to that. It’s not that I had nothing to say back to her. Sure, I could have tried to correct her on her misconceptions of where I really was from, or asked her why she had made the jump from country to religion so fast, or given her a brief speech on the co-existence of Islam and the West, but I could tell that she really wasn’t after learning. She was just after hating. For about 3 seconds, I stared at her face in silence in an attempt to find a shred of love in her being. It just wasn’t there.

Her face was a representation of the many memories I had gathered throughout my life as a Muslim woman. She reminded me of the horror stories that my friends had told me of: the time Mary (a new American convert) was yelled at by a man in truck and told to ‘go back to the dunes’, and of Sarah (a gentle Eygptian-American) whose headscarf was yanked from her head while she was studying in the library, and of Camila (another convert) who cried everyday because her devout Christian family was close to disowning her because she chosen to wear the niqab.

That woman’s face also reminded me of my fellow Muslims: the ones that constantly pointed out how I wasn’t wearing the hijab properly because a piece of hair was showing, or that I wasn’t a true Muslim because I don’t wear the abaya, or that women are inherently evil and so my chances of going to heaven were slimmer than my own brother’s simply because of my gender.

All those memories in one face were a bit too much to handle so I looked the other way and swallowed the painful lump in my throat. I could still feel her hateful stare at the back of my covered head and my quiet recitations of dhikr (remembrance of God) were all that I had to keep me from letting the salty tears flow from my eyes.

(Fa inna ma’al ‘usri yusra) Surely with difficulty is ease.
(Inna ma’al ‘usri yusra) With difficulty is surely ease.
(Quran 94, 5-6)

I let out a sigh of relief and felt myself relax into my seat. The warm morning sun gently caressed my face and my heart was beating at its normal pace now. I knew deep down that every trial, big and small, had a purpose to serve and that this incident was no different. I fiddled with my phone and quickly wrote this status on my Facebook page: I have just experienced my first religious hate comment/threat in this country. It’ll take a long time to erase this moment from my head. — feeling sad.

After a few bus stops, my seat mate stood up to leave and I looked back at her and smiled.
“Have a wonderful day” I said.
“You also have a wonderful day” she answered back harshly.
And just like that, she was gone.
I was still trying to digest what had just happened when I reached for my phone again and found these comments underneath my status:
• really?wow! Sorry. some lowlife idiot maybe and a sun paper reader
• I am so sorry.
• Alhamdulillah.. my Allah protect you all and make their hate turn to Love..
• So sad to hear that. I’m very sorry!
• It cuts deep but understand that you aren’t the problem, they are. *hugs*
• I am so sorry to hear that
• I am so sorry
• Sorry to hear that but Allah will reward you for that.
• It’s tough but you are tougher… Don’t let them get you only you can control your emotions and how this makes you feel and I would chose to chalk it up to ignorance! So sorry you had to go through that… Hugs!
• I’m sorry to see this honey, I can go and kick some asses, you call it…
• I can only imagine how awful that must be. So sorry you were the recipient of someone’s ignorant and despicable hate. May love cover and protect you. Sending you my big hug!!!
• Unfortunately there are ignorant people everywhere. I had an incident @ Heathrow that really shook me up. It was a long time ago. Don’t take it to heart. Most people aren’t like that.
• so many people without knowledge in this world, don’t let them frazzle you. live in peace.

And in that moment I realized that for every 1 person that spews hate, there are 10 others that radiate love. It may have been Facebook but those comments made me feel like I was getting enough love to neutralize my negative encounter, and tonnes left over to last me through future personal battles. I said a prayer of gratitude, picked up my bag, got off the bus, and walked to work.

(photo credits:http://www.aimislam.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/hijab.jpg)

Haraam this, haraam that

Image

There are times when my fellow Muslims truly baffle me. For these folks, it’s always ‘haram this’, ‘haram that’, ‘you’ll go to hellfire’, and ‘your life is cursed’ kind of conversation. They don’t always talk about Islam but when they do, it’s to slap a haraam label on something or someone. They brandish their haram gun everywhere they go, and are ready to strangle anyone who dares to challenge their religious perspective. ‘Pyu, pyu, pyu!’ Off they go shooting haram bullets at others in the name of God. It’s not that what they have pointed out to isn’t haraam, it’s just that they have summarized Islam into a dogmatic code of living instead of the profoundly beautiful explanation to the mystery of life that it is.

 

But Islam is more than just a set of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’- it is not just the sum of rituals and practices, or a memorization of Arabic vocabularies to impress the world with. Islam is more than that; it is living a life devoted to God and to the promoting of the well-being of other human beings.

 

I am Muslim and this is what I believe: If the way you practice Islam has turned you into an angry human being; if it’s turned you into a social nuisance, and if the energy that you emit out into the universe serves as a liability rather than an asset, then you  aren’t practicing the true Islam.

 

Because here’s the thing about Islam: it literally translates to peace and submission to God. As a Muslim, to know God is to also to be constantly in a state of humility. You are not perfect; no one is. And one man’s open sin could be smaller in magnitude than your thousand hidden ones. So before you bring out your haram gun, think. Refer back to how the Prophet Muhamad (SAW) rectified the behavior of others and contemplate the wisdom behind his actions. Afterall, the Prophet was the living example of the Quran and to emulate him is to bring the Quranic verses to life.

The Prophet was gentle in speech and never harsh towards others. He managed to unite warring communities, establish a civil community and spread Islam to the furthest corners of the earth not by huffing and puffing his chest, but by being the person that others wanted to be around all the time.

Be kind, be kind, be kind. It’s a fact that changing yourself is the only way to change the world.

Sharing is caring.

Sharing is caring.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this photo is a perfect summary of the libraries of books written on the spirit of brotherhood.

“None of you will have faith till he wishes for his brother what he likes for himself.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

This photo was taken by a Donge La Mombasa Welfare group member during the latest “Iftar for the Needy” campaign that is currently underway in Mombasa and its surrounding villages. If you wish to donate your time or money to this cause, please click on the link below:
http://anubillu.wix.com/dongelamombasa

There is also always an active discussion on Mombasa (and Swahili) community issues. Join in on Facebook at:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/168336429956770/

In Defense of Always Tying Your Camel First

ImageThere was once a man in Arabia who came from the market one day and decided that, on account of his good day,he would go into the mosque and offer his prayers of gratitude.  And so he went into the mosque and left his untied camel outside.  Upon finishing his prayers, the man stepped outside but alas, his camel was gone.  In his outrage, the man shook his hands and raised them to the sky yelling, “I put my trust in you God! How could you let this misfortune befall on me?”

Perhaps the story of this man is what inspired one of my favorite hadiths (acts or sayings ascribed to the Prophet Muhammad):

“Trust in Allah but tie your camel first” (At-Tirmidhi).

I was prompted to write this post because I’ve noticed that alot of us tend to face difficulties with a defeatist mentality and a resigned “If it’s God’s will, then there nothing I can do about it” sigh. It isn’t that I don’t believe in divine will.  It’s that alot of us tend to take the back seat in our own lives and ignore the fact that our input really does matter in the end.

Over and over again, I have seen people from my community stuck in situations and yet are too complacent to do anything about it. Here are some common scenarios:

Unfulfilling relationships? I’m stuck in this relationship, despite the fact that everyday I wake up everyday feeling like dying. This is God’s will that I am unhappy for the rest of my life.

Chronic illness? There is nothing I can do to improve my health or improve my quality of life.  I’ll just keep on ignoring my health and wait for my death.

Injustice? I just have to accept that some people will step on me and de-humanise me.  There is nothing I can do about it.  I simply have to suffer in silence and accept that my suffering is God’s will.

However as a Muslim, I believe that complacency is as much a sin as the disbelief in Divine will.  We should try our best everyday but if things don’t work out as we’d like them to, we should be grateful for the lessons learned along the way.

“And that man can have nothing but what he strives for” (Qur’an 53:39)

When things go wrong, it just means that this is an opportunity to re-think our lives and come up with better alternatives of living.  As long as we have the ability to change that which is harmful to us, it is our responsibilty to do so.  We were created with brains, hearts, hands, and feet in order to do enable us to make the best out of our lives and to leave the world better than we found it.

So, you trust in God-awesome! But have you tied your camel first?