“It takes a whole village to raise a child.”
The more I heal emotionally and spiritually, the more my heart realizes that my healing journey is so much bigger than me. Yes, it’s a nourishment I owe my own soul first and foremost. But it’s also a nourishment I owe my loved ones and my sisters and brothers in faith.
This responsibility is weightiest toward those whom Allah has placed under my care. But the responsibility is also heavy toward those who trust me to be, at the very least, someone from whom they are safe from my tongue and hands—a responsibility that every Muslim man and woman carries toward the other.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “A Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hands the Muslims are safe…” (Bukhari and Muslim).
And included in that safety is how we use our tongues when sharing our opinions privately and publicly, and when offering advice to others, whether solicited or unsolicited.
Stories We So Often Hear
I think now on true healing and emotional safety as I recall a day some time ago when a dear sister in faith reached out to me for advice. She’d contacted me because she was hurting deeply after confiding in a close friend about some struggles in her marriage. The sister (whom I’ll call Amatullah) shared how her friend basically told her that her husband’s decision to marry another wife meant that Amatullah was worthless to him.
Naturally, these words did nothing to offer Amatullah support in navigating her new trial of marriage. Instead, they incited in Amatullah a near emotional breakdown—as it would any sensitive soul already drowning deep in the dark waves of emotional pain and confusion—and thus put further strain on her marriage.
Listening to Amatullah share her heart with me nearly broke my own. Hers is a story I hear over and over, and it’s the flip side of another story I hear over and over. I’ll share both here:
The first story goes something like this: If the marriage struggle involves a type of marriage we already hate or disagree with (i.e. intercultural, interracial, polygyny, huge age difference between husband and wife, etc.), then the marriage is disposable. So, if we get even a whiff of a problem happening in this type of “distasteful” marriage, we eagerly use our tongues and hands to help destroy an already struggling marriage. In this, we list all the things that are “inherently wrong” with that type of marriage, as well as all the problematic things we’ve (allegedly) seen or experienced with this marriage type ourselves.
So naturally, if we are ever tested with someone trusting us for advice, we jump at the opportunity to share with them our biased views, which will put even further strain on an already sensitive situation. But we frame our betrayal of trust as “I’m just keeping it real” or “I’m only looking out for you” or “I’m only speaking out of love and concern.”
However, our cautionary words have more to do with deep problems in our own hearts than with any deep problems in their marriage (irrespective of how very real their marriage problems actually are).
And if our words should incite the destruction of that actual marriage—whether directly or by contributing to its “death by a thousand cuts”—we sit back in smug satisfaction while feigning sorrow over the divorce. Meanwhile, we say to whoever will listen, “See? That’s why I advise against [insert distasteful marriage] because those marriages almost never work out.”
Yet all we’ve witnessed is a self-fulfilling prophecy more than any further “proof” of our original thoughts.
On the flipside, the second story goes something like this: If the marriage struggle involves a type of marriage we already love, prefer, or agree with—especially if it also involves “two good people” we care about—then the marriage must be saved “at all costs.” So, if we get even a whiff of a problem happening in this “blessed marriage,” we eagerly use our tongues and hands to do everything we can to help save this struggling marriage.
In this “savior” mindset, we ignore, dismiss, or trivialize any serious problems or toxic dynamics being expressed to us. Instead we respond to their every heartfelt concern by listing all the marriages that survived similar or worse tests. So, we tell them about all the “happily ever after” stories we know about, wherein similar struggling couples ended up staying together even when they thought all was lost.
Then, after reminding them (again) that “all marriages have problems,” we feel quite proud of ourselves as we punctuate our advice with one final point: “If you’re really committed to making your relationship work, no problem is unfixable” (a perspective that was curiously absent from our mind and heart when offering our advice in response to the “distasteful marriage”).
If our words should incite the preservation of that actual marriage—whether directly or by contributing to an already existing culture of marital privilege or community that supports it—we sit back in self-satisfaction, taking full credit for “saving a marriage.” Meanwhile, we say to whoever will listen, “See? That just goes to show that we should never throw away our marriage, no matter what.”
Yet we fail to see that it’s also quite possible that we just guilted someone into staying in a toxic marriage just for the sake of “staying married no matter what,” irrespective of whether or not that actual marriage is good for their lives or souls.
Trust Those Who See Souls, Not Statistics
One thing I advise anyone who is struggling in their marriage (or in any life trial, for that matter) is this: Find a trustworthy, sincere advisor who will look at your difficult circumstance through the lens of what they genuinely believe (in front of their Creator) is best for your life and soul—regardless of what they themselves would like, prefer, or choose for their own.
And how rare these honest souls are. May Allah make us amongst them.
Most people we reach out to in our time of distress are operating based on their unhealed wounds, not their faith. This is the space where their personal fears, insecurities, and toxic biases guide their minds and hearts more than any genuine spiritual honesty, wisdom, or taqwaa (shielding the soul from displeasing Allah). But they imagine their thoughts and convictions to stem from faith, while failing to realize that their emotionality informs their spirituality more than their spirituality guides their emotions.
In this space of emotional and spiritual toxicity of the heart, they see you (and your problems) as merely a statistic. Thus, anything you share with them will just be used as “evidence” to add to an ever-increasing “score chart” they keep to support their personal view, which they had long before they ever met or spoke to you.
Choose Your Advisors Carefully
Due to the widespread existence of these “score charts” kept by those who see statistics more than souls, I wrote this heartfelt advice of self-protection to my own struggling soul:
Choose your advisors carefully, especially when it comes to important decisions like marriage.
In general, there are two categories of people who offer advice on marriage: those who trust Allah, and those who trust themselves.
Advisors who trust Allah will *always* encourage you to consult your Lord before making any decision, and they will openly acknowledge that only you, with the help of Allah, can ultimately determine what is best for you. Yes, they will also let you know the pros and cons of certain life choices so that you can, bi’idhnillaah, make an informed, wise decision that is best for your life and soul. But they will *never* seek to define marital happiness for you.
Those who trust themselves will list for you a million don’ts, many of which fall in the category of what is permissible and beloved to Allah. And their advice is almost always rooted in their own insecurities. They will tell you not to marry into a certain race, color or income bracket, and they’ll have a million opinions against “settling” for someone who’s divorced, in polygyny, has children…and the list goes on and on. Because their insecurities go on and on.
Yes, we all have insecurities. But unless you’re seeking to have someone else’s added your own, then choose the advisor who trusts Allah.
It will encourage you to do the same.
Stories We Want Others To Help Us Write
Everyone needs you to fit into their story, I wrote in my journal the other day. It helps to make their world make sense, and it helps to make their life make sense.
The plots and themes of our stories are drafted in the heart long before they even reach our conscious mind, and before they even have words or voice. By the time these stories do find release, we don’t even know where they came from. But we don’t know that we don’t know where they came from.
So we call our heart-scripted stories “truth.”
Then we gather evidence from the scraps of memories we used to create the stories, to prove that the stories themselves reflect the reality in which we all live. So we say, “I’ve seen such-and-such…” or “I’ve heard such-and-such…” to prove that the entire theme of our story is true.
But perhaps we’ve seen and heard nothing except what already resonates with the story of our ailing heart.
In Which Chapter Can We Find God?
We see with our hearts more than our eyes. This is something our faith has taught us over and over again, yet so few of us take heed. In the Qur’an, our Merciful Creator says what has been translated to mean, “Truly, it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts” (Al-Hajj, 22:46).
But we are too busy writing our own personal stories to heed the one being told to us by God.
Divine guidance cleanses the vision of our hearts and then filters truth from falsehood. This spiritual cleansing allows for a genuine true story to unfold. Here is where we truly begin to imbibe the benefit of the Qur’an as a Furqaan (that which distinguishes truth from falsehood). In fact, this is one of the spiritual benefits of connecting to the Qur’an that Allah specifically mentions before advising us how to spend the blessed month of Ramadan:
“Ramadan is the [month] in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also as clear [signs] for guidance and Furqaan. So, whoever of you witnesses that month should spend it in fasting…” (Al-Baqarah, 2:185).
In our sincerity of worship, fasting, and connecting to the Qur’an, our Merciful Creator allows us to be guided spiritually and for our hearts to see truth and falsehood clearly. This, despite our ever-present flawed human perception that will always render us unable to perfectly understand or perfectly practice this divine faith. Yet as imperfect children of Adam, our flawed efforts are the best that our sincere, struggling human hearts can do.
But that is all our Merciful Creator asks of us—putting in the sincere effort, no matter how imperfect—as we live out our confusing life stories in this world.
Yet for so many of us, we need God Himself to fit into our story, instead of submitting to our soul’s need to fit into His.
They Quietly Keep Tallies Against You
After listening to Amatullah’s pain, I shared with her what I learned from my own painful life trials. I told her that I too had made the mistake of trusting those whom I’d imagined loved me for the sake of Allah. Yet I discovered that they were so entangled in their own emotional wounding that they had no space to care for me or my pain.
Except insomuch as my story allowed them to escape or deny their own.
In this space of denial, they quietly kept a tally of my personal struggles, which I naively revealed to them one by one while pouring out my distressed heart seeking comfort and advice. As I cried and confessed my challenges, they pretended to empathize, and they pretended to care. But this outward empathy and compassion was only for the quiet purpose of drawing out of me further “statistics” they were using to add to the “score chart” they were keeping against my “distasteful” life path.
But I didn’t discover this until much later—when they threw back in my face my own story to prove that theirs had a better and higher “score.”
It Takes a Village
It takes a village to raise a child, we are told. And that’s true. “But you know what life has taught me?” I told Amatullah. “It also takes a village to save a marriage.”
But today, if Allah has blessed you with a soul-nourishing relationship that others find distasteful—even if it is beloved by Allah—then that same village will work to destroy your marriage.
Thus, in these Last Days wherein even “the Muslim village” accepts only a very narrow idea of what a “good relationship” looks like, those who are gifted with unpopular yet blessed soul-companionship have no choice but to protect their homes and souls from that village.
This is a village filled with ostensibly “good people,” including respected aunties and uncles, venerated elders, and even celebrated sheikhs and spiritual teachers. Yet so many of them have unhealed hearts and misguided minds that work so tirelessly to keep only their own marriage stories alive.
Or only the marriage stories accepted by their Western masters, who are controlling the village land.
Paying Rent with Our Souls on Master’s Land
These Western masters are those whom the village elders beg—as if in prayerful supplication—for permission to have a “Muslim village” on their land. And part of being granted that permission is this silent agreement: Any parts of “village life” that disturb or offend the Western master must be done away with for “the greater good.”
Thereafter, this “sacred agreement” is fulfilled not only in our social circles but in our religious circles as well. Thus, village elders and spiritual teachers go as far as to issue fatwas attributed to God, but which are really for the sole purpose of seeking worldly comfort and keeping Western masters unoffended by Muslim village life.
Just today I read a thread on Instagram that demonstrated this toxic “village mindset” quite chillingly, as several Muslims openly criticized a post of a Muslim woman wearing an abaya and niqaab (face veil) while living in the West. One commenter, who identified as being originally from Yemen, said, “That’s cultural dressing. An extreme way of dressing brought upon women forced upon by men. There’s no extreme in Islam. Anything that sheds a negative light on the deen (i.e. Muslim way of life) should be cast aside, especially as we are living in the West and other non-Muslim countries.”
The Greater Good
In this toxic environment—whether due to personal insecurities or a religious inferiority complex (or both)—the people of the village work to destroy your marriage as a means of protecting their own. It is this toxic culture of social terrorism in “Muslim villages” that I discuss in my book even if:
their weapons of mass destruction are
the tongues in their mouths
and their collateral damage
is your flesh between their teeth.
innocent lives are lost
in their fight
in name of freedom.
anything that incites their insecurities
in their war for justice.
and because they shouted Allah’s name
when they attacked you
their destruction of life is for the greater good.
Surviving Toxic Village Culture
Unfortunately, as we are in the Last Days, today “the village” destroys more social life than it nourishes.
Yes, we can build our own little world behind the walls of our homes, insulated from the destructive village. But we were not created to thrive in isolation.
For our All-Wise, Merciful Creator says what has been translated to mean, “The believers are but a single brotherhood” (Al-Hujuraat, 49:10).
In further explaining the manifestation of this spiritually nourishing bond of faith, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever” (Bukhari and Muslim).
But dear soul, what do you do when, in your village, that sleeplessness and fever is incited only when you and your marriage are doing well, not when you or your marriage is suffering? This is the daily dilemma of Muslims living in marriages blessed and beloved by Allah but hated and opposed by the people—people who are not only their neighbors and fellow villagers, but also their Muslim brothers and sisters in faith.
Thriving in Survival Mode
If you are blessed with a soul-nourishing marriage that your fellow villagers dislike—whether intercultural, interracial, polygyny, huge age difference, etc.—then you have no choice but to learn how to survive more than thrive in your village.
In this survival mode, you must protect your home and soul from the villagers’ daily harm—even if that harm comes from close friends, loved ones, or celebrated spiritual teachers whose hearts have been tested with a misguidance that harms not only their own souls, but your home and soul as well.
Sometimes this means having to remove your trust, friendship, and even presence from those you thought loved and cared for you, but are actually too unhealed emotionally (and spiritually) to even understand what true love for the sake of Allah means.
In your self-protective survival mode, you must seek to thrive as much reasonably possible, but you must also remain keenly aware of the toxic environment in which you live. If possible, you can continuously search for that very rare soul-nourishing Muslim village that is built upon the merciful principles of the brotherhood of Islam. Then you can make hijrah there.
But today, the believers who live upon these true principles of soul-care are most often scattered throughout the earth living and struggling in spiritually toxic village cultures like your own.
Build Your Own Village
If we are going to spiritually thrive in this world during these Last Days, then we must seek to build a village of spiritual brotherhood that is not defined or limited by the geographical boundaries in which we live. In this way, we can connect with soul companions all over the world and help each other survive this worldly prison. This is the prison about which Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the unbeliever” (Sahih Muslim).
In reminding each other of the true nature of this transient world, we can encourage and inspire each other on how to protect our homes and souls from the “prison villagers” who seek the paradise of this world more than the Paradise of the Hereafter—like their Western masters whom they love so deeply.
Meanwhile we can beg our Merciful Creator to grant us beautiful patience as we await release from this worldly prison.
Thereafter, we will find residence in an everlasting village of spiritual brotherhood in a world better than this, and in a home better than anything we owned (or hoped to own) in this world.
There, in the gardens of Paradise, we will have a joyous, blissful village life, where our Master is Allah and our home will be forever near Him and His Love.
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Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of more than twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. She recently launched her “Choosing To Love Alone” series via UZuniversity.com to support struggling believers seeking to nourish their emotional and spiritual health.
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