I’m losing my voice
to laryngitis of the heart.
—from the journal of Umm Zakiyyah
Dear daughter and young sister in faith,
I wish I could wrap the words I say to you in the language of love, in the power of experience, and in the calm solemnness of pain, then release them directly into your heart. Because I fear that what I say to you will sound more like disjointed rambling and riddling than heartfelt advice. But I’m going to trust the fragility of letters scrambled about on a page and forced together to form words, as it is the only communication I have at present. For as you well know, I am but a flawed human being with no power or ability to speak directly to the human heart. But in this imperfect, scrambled delivery, it is my hope (and prayer) that God will unscramble these words for you—for your soul—until they become gentle antiseptics for the wounds of your heart…
If not today, then one day, before you are lowered beneath the ground.
When I was a young woman and you a young girl, I imagined that lasting love was something I could secure with a wide smile on my face when he walked through the door, with aching arms after scrubbing the house clean, with vacuum lines on the carpet, and a warm meal on the table each night. I also imagined that the daily regimen of burning calories and toning flesh would make me the most beautiful woman in the world to him. Sometimes I would ponder on that mysterious roadmap that I heard so many wise women talk about, the one that started in his stomach and ended in his heart.
I even had a friend advise me to make sure that no other woman had that map, not even his own mother. “If you’re a good wife, your husband should crave no one’s cooking except your own,” she told me. And I believed her—until I found myself craving his mother’s cooking myself. Then I realized that I loved to see his mother cook for him and make him happy, because it made me happy too. So I found myself wondering, “Why should I try to come between a man and his heart? Why must I compete to fill up every space in it, even the parts he held for the woman who birthed him?”
The pressure didn’t make me feel inspired. It made me feel exhausted. My arms were already aching from trying to scrub the house clean before he came home each day. Must my spirit ache too in trying to scrub his heart clean before I could embrace his love each day?
It was a burden too heavy for me, and I knew right then that I didn’t want to carry it. My Lord promised that He wouldn’t give me a burden greater than I could bear, but in pursuit of possessing a heart other than my own, I’d placed that impossible burden on myself.
“Be his best friend,” a wise woman advised. “Be his advisor and lover and refuge from all the pain in the world.”
So I did.
“Make yourself beautiful for him,” another wise woman advised.
So I did.
“Be the only woman he has eyes for,” every other woman advised.
At that, I felt frustration build up inside me, and a voice cried out, Why? How? To what end?
I don’t know when the emotional breaking began to happen, but this was one of its first signs. I was tired of all the “wise” advice that amounted to nothing more than a life of plotting to possess a man’s heart and devise endless ruses—from elaborate meals and sexy clothes to childish spying and even obsessing over his innermost thoughts—to block any other woman access to the piece of flesh that only God controlled.
O Allah! I thought. Is this a woman’s life?
During my emotional breaking, I would sit and listen to women, young and old, speak about their husbands as if capturing these men’s hearts and staking their sole claim was the greatest victory of life. And then they’d speak about divorce and polygyny as if they were the greatest tragedies of life. Statements like “My husband and I have been married for a zillion years” or “My husband would never take another wife” would be spoken with so much pride that it was clear that, in these women’s minds and hearts, no other achievement in life compared to it.
Even when I was around feminists and “progressive” Muslims who claimed women were completely independent of men (if not superior to them), there was the constant need to define a woman’s independence of men by the actions of the man she’d married—namely his decision to commit his life to her and her alone. Some went as far as to try to put God’s stamp on these obsessions by claiming that polygyny was backwards and outdated and no longer allowed in Islam. These fiqhi acrobatics were all done with the goal of “empowering” girls by telling them that as “liberated women” their worth was tied completely to the choices and heart of a man.
It made me sad.
It was while reflecting on this depressing reality that I penned this note in my personal journal:
I fear for the emotional and spiritual health of young girls who are being taught that all of their happiness and sadness rests in the status and actions of their husbands, and that they can only be whole if their husbands remain married to them alone. SubhaanAllaah, how I fear for them.
During this time of emotional turmoil, I still found myself stressing over all the aches and pains I’d gone through to be a good wife, and I wondered what more I could do. I was cooking and cleaning and smiling and listening and trying so hard to be that constant refuge and “best friend” for him. But I felt there was something I was missing. So one day while I was visiting my mother, I asked her, “If there was one piece of advice you’d give to a woman in marriage, what would it be?” And my mother said, “Make Allah your friend.”
Hearing these words was like a weighty burden being lifted from my heart. In these four words was the soothing of my pain, the quieting of my confusion, and the calming of the storms of my spirit. I was whole and complete, and happy and fulfilled, only when I nurtured the relationship with my Lord.
Some time later, I penned these notes in my personal journal, which spoke to the very heart of my despondency when I was in the company of “wise women” who saw divorce and polygyny as the worst tragedies of life and a “till death do us part” monogamous marriage as the greatest victory of love and life:
The only relationship that needs to stay together is the one you have with your Lord.
I have a worth that my husband couldn’t hope to touch, even if he married three other women besides me. Neither God nor I measure my worth by the actions of a man.
So dear daughter and young sister in Islam, I pray you never find yourself searching for a husband’s love, let alone obsessing over it or defining yourself by it—except insomuch as this longing puts you on the path of finding friendship in Allah.
This, and only this, offers victory in life, as well as independence and “liberation”—for both men and women.
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, His Other Wife and the self-help book for Muslim survivors of parental and family abuse: Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You. Read HIS OTHER WIFE novel now: CLICK HERE. Subscribe to Umm Zakiyyah’s YouTube channel, follow her on Instagram or Twitter, and join her Facebook page.
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