Last month, Shaima*, a 32 year-old accountant from Leeds, attended her cousin’s wedding. It was a standard Asian affair: a rented community hall filled with women in brightly coloured Kameezes and mounds of gold plated jewellery, while men donned tight fitting suits, faded haircuts and neatly trimmed beards. Circling the hall with plastic plates filled with Indian sweets, Shaima’s elderly relatives happily embraced the new couple, telling her cousin that the groom, a handsome, tall doctor, was “the catch of a lifetime”. Shaima stood in the corner watching on – just a few months ago, she could have been the one marrying him.
In fact, it had almost been arranged – they had been on a few dates, regularly spoke online and their families had even met. But, a few weeks before the wedding venue was due to be booked, Shaima had to tell her parents it was over. The break-up happened just days after she had told her prospective husband about her ongoing experience with manic depression, which required regular doctor’s appointments and medication. They immediately lost contact – until she received the wedding invitation.
For the past three years, Shaima has tried to get married. Over the phone, she told me she’s gone through every route imaginable for a British Pakistani Muslim – traditional routes like being set up by her mum and her grandma, to more modern approaches like using Muslim-specific marriage websites, helping observant Muslims find spouses in a religiously compliant manner. She’s put down the attributes she thinks are her strongest – her degree education, sense of humour and of course, her religious belief. However, Shaima worries that talking about her mental health condition to prospective partners will make marrying within her community next to impossible.
Although awareness of mental health conditions has increased in many south Asian communities, thanks to the work of local charities and activists, a stigma still lingers. According to a report conducted by the charity Time to Change in 2010, despite Black and Minority Ethnic people making up more than 10% of Britain’s total population, “knowledge, attitudes behaviour [toward mental health]” by many BME communities had “failed to improve at the same rate as other sections of the [UK] population”. Furthermore, it found that many suffering found themselves having to make an uncomfortable decision – either be open about their illness and face the risk of social segregation, or brush it under the carpet, and risk making the condition worse.“The Imams who run marriage workshops, the first thing they say men should look for is a belief in God as a priority,” Shaima tells me. “But I don’t think that’s true. The men I have seen all know I am a devout, practicing Muslim – it’s when I tell them about my issue that they become hesitant; you can see it immediately. They try to be polite about it, but I can see from how they look at me after I tell them that they’ve been scared. I remember one guy I met, that, as soon as I told him, made up an excuse to leave and never contacted me again”.
Shaima isn’t alone in this struggle. Although there is no publicly accessible data on the number of British South Asians with mental health illnesses, information from the National Health Service does suggest that Black and Minority Ethnic communities are both the most at risk, and benefit the least from existing mental health services, especially if they’re women. Furthermore, because of the continued stigma around mental health conditions, treatment itself is particularly difficult for women of south Asian descent – a continued problem acknowledged by charities Including Mind and the British Asian Trust.
Sharing a mental health condition with your partner or family can present a daunting task for anyone, but for women like Shaima, having a mental health condition, especially one that could pose restrictions on getting married and having children, can also be seen as a hit on her family’s reputation, a term known as “Izzat”. She tells me, “If I can’t get married, I’m not the one who’s blamed, it’ll be my parents, particularly my mum. Because of [the stigma] on mental health and the fact it’s so misunderstood, it’s more likely that family members and the community will believe my parents were cursed by God for bad deeds ”.
For others, mental health issues can be seen as a sign of spiritual possession, black magic, or other types of “incurable” diseases, all things that make marriage – possibly the most important tenant of South Asian family culture – an extremely difficult prospect.
“As long as there’s stigma and superstition about mental health [in Asian communities], women are always going to be disadvantaged,” says Hiba Masuma, a Leeds-based social worker who helps South Asian women requiring mental health support. Masuma tells me she’s dealt with “around 30 or so” cases involving women who have faced obstacles when trying to get married. “There are probably many more – but it’s likely that many women don’t know who to seek help from, and in most cases, women have been told not to speak about their illness in case they’re deemed undesirable… for a lot of families, the idea of getting their daughters married off tends to be more important than their health – and that’s damaging for everyone involved.”
Khaled says that while mental health outreach in Asian communities is “getting better” it will still take a considerable amount of time to overcome cultural taboos. “Because so many young Asians have grown up in communities where they haven’t openly discussed mental health – guys in particular – it’s not part of the conversation when it comes to marriage. That ultimately means they’re ill equipped to support their future wives.”
If anyone knows that, it’s Humaira*, a 36 year-old masters student from Huddersfield, in the north of England. Until last year, Humaira was married, but during her three year marriage, she kept her Schizoaffective disorder a secret from her husband. She didn’t want to talk about the details of her illness, but she told me her husband “came from a highly regarded, conservative family in India.”
“I was already in my 30s when I got married, which is considered old in our community, so I was basically told by my family not to say anything about the treatment I was receiving…Keeping it a secret wasn’t difficult, because he didn’t know anything about mental health, but it was only later in our marriage, especially when we were having conversations about having children, that I had to say everything.”
Humaira says her marriage “fell apart” when she said she was concerned about having a child, partially out of fear that her illness, or something more severe, could be passed on; “I had expressed my concerns a few times after telling him about my illness, and I thought we could look into other options like adoption… but in the end it wasn’t something his family would accept – the rift eventually broke our relationship.”
Though Humaira wants to get married again, she isn’t optimistic. “The worst position you can be in is a divorcee with an illness no one understands or recognises… There will be many families who’ll think that I’m not worthy for their children because of my illness, and others who’ll simply see me as too old to be a mother – basically it’s a lose/lose situation”.
Can this growing problem be resolved? “The only way there will be a more pragmatic approach is if there’s more outreach and awareness of mental health issues in [Asian communities], especially those in non-metropolitan areas,” expressed Tareeq Khan, a therapist and former consultant at the South Asian Network UK.
“There needs to be a more sensible conversation about what mental health is, and more importantly, for it to be seen in the same way as physical ailments.” Khan says that there are already initiatives in the UK’s more prominent places of worship, such as the ‘faith in health’workshops hosted by the East London mosque, but in other areas of the country “where there are communities that are held together by much tighter family, and even with caste bonds, there is little support from outside organisations to make mental health more prominent”.
“The UK generally lacks knowledge about [mental illness], so this isn’t a problem just limited to Asian communities… many of our communities know this is a problem, and that it is hurting the future of our younger generations,” he says. Khan tells me that in the past few years, a number of mosques and temples across the UK have held mental health workshops and urged members of the community to be more open about the issue. “Gradually it will change because of younger generations” he says. “I just hope the change happens sooner, rather than later”.
Source article: http://www.refinery29.uk/mental-health-asian-women – written by HUSSEIN KESVANI
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"My alone feels so good, I'll only have you if you're sweeter than my solitude."
― Warsan Shire
Amid the hustle and bustle of modern life, in between demanding jobs and family duties, creating quiet time for ourselves has become something of a luxury. In a world that seems to place so much value on relationships and being in a couple, it's easy to forget how rewarding our single years can be. Whether you're single, engaged, or divorced, remember that you don't need a partner to enjoy the gift of life that Allah has given you. Trusting in Allah's plan is about accepting where we are in the present and submitting to the qadr of Allah.
If you plan it right, your single years can be some of the most rewarding times of your life.
Tawakkul, in short, means to rely on Allah as a source of our strength. Having tawakkul is learning to accept that Allah's plan is greater than ours. In the context of marriage, worrying about who we will end up with whilst we're still single has no benefit and robs us from enjoying our lives at present. Having tawakkul is empowering as it allows us to wilfully surrender to the power of Allah and trust that he will align us with the most suitable spouse.
Step one: pray, pray, pray and pray some more. Learn how to pray salat-al-istikhara and make it a routine in your life.
Next, learn to date yourself. Yes, date yourself. Dating yourself isn't about accepting a life of loneliness; it's about getting to know who you are as a person, what you want, and ultimately what you stand for.
Wander around an art gallery or museum
The quietness of a museum is a great place to reflect and just be still. You can learn a lot about the local history of your area, or the history of a completely different place altogether. It’s the perfect place to stay plugged in about current affairs and feel connected to something greater. Most museums and galleries have a cafe or somewhere quiet you can enjoy a hot drink. You can also purchase a souvenir to remember the day, or a book from the museum’s gift shop.
Check out the app Art Rabbit for listings on art exhibitions worldwide, including free ones!
Surround yourself in nature
Being at one with nature is one of the best ways to remind ourselves of the beauty and intricacy of Allah’s universe. It’s also a good way to introduce moments of reflection into your usual routine. Living in the city is no excuse! You can find a local park to sit and read, stroll by a river, or visit a city garden.
Join a weekend or evening class
Single or not, it’s always a good time to invest in your knowledge and skills. Most cities and towns have institutions which run weekend or evening courses on topics from art, history, literature, languages, and more.
You can also join an online course on sites such as Skillshare which operates worldwide, allowing you to learn from teachers from all around the world from the comfort of your home
Your single years are also the perfect time to study the rites of marriage and ensure that you are prepared for married life. Check if your local mosques offer courses in marriage rites. Alternatively, discover Muslim Central for curated podcasts and lectures on a marriage, including the fiqh of nikah.
Take yourself to a new restaurant
No need to check if anyone else is free or where they'd like to eat. Put yourself first by clearing some time in your calendar and reserving a table for one in that restaurant you've always wanted to try.
Volunteer for a charitable cause
Volunteering your time and skills to a charitable cause is also a form of sadaqah. You don’t have to offer great big chunks of your time, simply offer what you can for a cause you care about. The benefits of volunteering are endless; you’ll meet new people, learn new skills, and invest wisely in your akhirah.
Start a bullet journal
Bullet journals are becoming more and more popular these days. With so many styles and formats to choose from, you are sure to find something that suits your style of planning. It's a therapeutic way to keep on top of your goals, track your daily to-do list, and let out your thoughts. Find a chunk of time in your day, morning or night, to reflect on your notes and doodles.
Our body is an amanah (something Allah has trusted us with) so we should take care of it. That also includes our mental health. Sometimes all you need is a couple of hours to groom yourself whether that’s going to the hairdressers or making your own d.i.y face mask. Beautifying ourselves for non other than Allah is an act of worship. Looking our best on the outside can help us feel better inside too.
Written by Nailah Patten
From a respected family, never been married and have no kids.
Why?! I hear you ask - because as a divorcee this reads completely differently to me. Instead I imagine a dinner table of judgemental faces, looks of distain as it becomes clear I am certainly not Asian or Arab, not a virgin, no. I am even worse. I am a divorcee - with a child!
Dating as a divorcee is complicated, whilst you have come to terms with the fact your marriage has ended, you find yourself having to explain the situation to others, not only others, but essentially - strangers.
After the initial pain, and disappointment you pull yourself together ready to again embark on a search for ‘the other half of your Deen’. I tentatively set up a dating profile - a few I will admit. I thought best about how to sell myself, as a convert, as a black woman and now as a divorcee with a child. As a convert, I had become accustomed to potential suitors patronisingly questioning my faith, and constantly wondering whether I would turn back to my old ways and abandon Islam all together. 10 years on the answer is still…no.
As a Black Muslim, I had become accustomed to being fetishized, and seen as this foreign sexual object. What I didn’t expect was now for none of this to be the problem! I was no longer a convert, or a Black Muslim, I was just – A DIVORCEE. Now the same question plagued my inbox, whether young or old, divorced themselves or not, converts or not repeatedly I heard:
“So why did you get divorced?”
No Salam, no what are your likes and dislikes, favourite colour? (no matter how much I despise this question). No interest shown in me AT ALL.
Immediately you become defensive. Wondering if anyone genuinely wants to get to know you, or just wants to hear a juicy story? (The story really is not that juicy by the way). I suspected most asked to figure out who to blame, me or him. Ironically I had never blamed either of us, we were just incompatible.
So, with my new status as a divorcee came not only new questions, but new agendas. Whilst I was perhaps used goods and not on par for a ‘never been married no kids’ kind of guy, I was perfect for the latter.
“The I’m looking for a second, third, fourth wife” kind of guy.
Suddenly, I was inundated with requests from Pakistan, the US, Saudi Arabia all promising me riches if I would agree to be a second, third or fourth wife- my child would be welcome of course. Now, it wasn’t the invitation to polygamy, or to live in a hot country that put me off. It was the reaction when I declined. How could I Mrs. Divorced possibly believe anyone else would have me? Did I really think I could do better than polygamy now?
Hell yes. Polygamy was not my preference before being a divorcee, and a failed relationship was not going to make me lower that standard, regardless of how others now perceived me. I saw that not only was I now the undesirable choice, but so undesirable others expected me to know this and adjust my expectations. I refused, I carried as much worth and value as I did before a divorce.
Unwillingly I answered most who asked, I received neither good nor bad feedback on my story- now they just knew a part of me. They didn’t seem to make any judgments, or want my reflections or realisations off the back of this life experience.
What I realised was that a majority of people who asked, had no intentions of getting to know me, it was simply intrigue. Whilst I repeated my story again and again, I didn’t just see a failed marriage. I saw that others didn’t have the substance, the depth and experiences I had gained by being in a long term committed relationship. I came across brothers who had no real concept of love, had never been loved. I came across brothers who simply saw marriage as a contract, not a life- long friendship and partnership. I came across men who being honest -just simply weren’t ready for a relationship let alone a marriage.
I suddenly realised that although it had not worked out, I had a plethora of emotional, life and relationship skills I could use to make better decisions and be a better partner. After a while, I realised that what everyone saw as my shortcoming, was actually my strength. What others saw as a failed relationship was a huge learning curve. Now unlike half of my counterparts I had deep insight into myself, what I brought to the table and most importantly not only what I wanted- but what I needed in a spouse.
Perhaps the most ironic part about dating as a Muslim divorcee, is that the label is what brings the stigma. Young Muslims are dating, cohabiting, having long-term relationships and splitting up too. Muslims, who haven’t been married, have also made the wrong choices, been with somebody incompatible, and had to make the decision to leave. But, without the label of marriage comes no label of divorce.
I realised that a majority of us had experienced this heartache, the letting go of a relationship with a significant other, and that there was no judgment only sympathy- until it was a divorce.
Now I’m honest with myself and others about what being a divorcee means, it does not separate you from the rest or make you less desirable. Instead it equips you, you become a more directional person knowing what you can and can’t live with.
Divorce has equipped me in ways being unmarried, single, or dating never had and never could.
After my divorce I didn't crumble, instead I became very practical and reflective, I wrote a list of every disagreement, every problem, every red flag. I realised it was a list of questions I should have asked!
And so, I wrote 101 Questions to ask your potential spouse. This book seeks to bring together all the questions we think of and forget to ask someone in the lead up to marriage.
101 Questions to ask your potential Muslim spouse covers Islam, personality, history, expectations, and lifestyle. This text seeks to help with the unique dating experience we have as Muslims.
Nailah Patten author of 101 Questions To Ask Your Potential Muslim Spouse, buy now on Amazon!
So you've been speaking to someone on muzmatch for a few weeks, maybe met up for a halal date or two and you might be thinking it's time to get the parents involved. Meeting the parents can be a nerve wracking experience, especially when you know they might very soon become your future in-laws! Navigating through halal dating is hard enough but adding parents in the mix definitely makes it even harder.
If you've been chatting to someone and you really think they might be the one you want to marry, it's better to get the parents involved as quickly as possible. Arrange a meeting with each other's parents at least within the first few months of getting to know each other. You can make sure that everyone's on the same page before things escalate and you get too attached only to find out you and his family don't get along (although this isn't necessarily a deal breaker!) But also it'll make them feel involved, and like they've been given importance in the decision which chances are is all they really want you know?
Cultural differences within a marriage can be a beautiful thing; just read this muzmatch success story of an Indonesian woman and Russian man's journey if you need proof. Yet, this doesn't mean you should be ignorant about your partner's culture when meeting their parents. Each culture has its nuances. From South Asians to Arabs to British, each family will have their own set of traditions and customs that they follow. Make sure you ask your partner or have a quick google of typical things that you should expect so that you don't end up like this guy.
While you should be yourself and stay true to who you are, you need to still make an effort. I'd love to show up everywhere wearing leggings and a baggy jumper but in some situations it's just not appropriate in some situations, especially when meeting the parents. Something smart casual is always a safe bet, but it's also a good idea to ask your partner what type of things their parents tend to wear and then just go off that. And remember, modesty always goes a long way.
Bring a gift, compliment their home, ask if you can help out with anything. These may sound like common sense things but it can be easy to forget when you're already super nervous. Also don't have your phone out at the dinner table or talk over the family. Remember to be respectful and really listen to what they have to say. It's all about getting to know them after all, and them getting to know you!
Your partner is going to be your most important source of information when meeting their parents. Because, well, no one knows them better than their own child. So do your homework and find out if his mum likes flowers or chocolates, what does his dad like to talk about, are their any no-go topics like certain family issues. Finding out these things can really make your life easier and make the meeting go much smoother.
At the end of the day, they love their son/daughter and will most likely be happy with whoever makes their child happy. So even though it can be a really scary experience, just remember that and you'll be fine! Now it's time to read here to find out how to become nikkah ready inside out!