Written by: Khurshid Khatib

 

Marital breakdown is acknowledged to be one of life’s most stressful experiences. As well as huge personal turmoil, the failure of a marriage may bring with it financial burdens or the upheaval of a move to a new home. Also, in cases involving children, there are the traumatic issues of custody and court proceedings. Divorcees may also have to consider the prospect of raising their children alone, a situation that few will have envisaged for themselves.

 

At this very difficult and emotional time, as with many life-changing experiences, a valid support system is essential. But it would appear that there is a relative lack of empathy for single Muslim mothers amongst many within the Muslim community.

 

When Misbah Akhtar became a single parent, she found that having gone through the very painful processes of separation and divorce, she then had to endure the stigma inflicted upon her by those who turned away, instead of offering support. Faced with the daunting prospect of raising her children alone, she realised that ‘there were no support networks or organisations in place to help Muslim women who were left feeling isolated and dejected, and that there must be other women out there, like her, who were also struggling and who would benefit from having a support group’.

 

Misbah started writing a blog and also set up Single Muslim Mums’, an internet forum where other single Muslim mums could share their worries, offer tips and advice and help alleviate loneliness. Whilst support groups are available for single parents, Misbah thinks that Single Muslim mums are not encouraged to come forward to speak about their feelings and women are being made to feel ashamed. They are not always speaking up, and some say they don’t want to be seen as complaining, but it’s not about that; it’s about raising awareness, because [these women] do not always know their rights in Islam’.

 

Misbah aims to make her network a registered charity and is working hard towards achieving this goal. She is looking to offer counselling services from professionals who will be able to provide more long-term support. She sees this as being two-tiered and says, ‘the first will be an online option, where sisters can write in with problems which they need advice for and discuss their feelings, and overlapping this will be another online service providing child psychotherapy, which will go into more detail regarding child behaviour and, if applicable, the sister receiving free psychotherapy sessions for her child. 

 

The second part of the counselling service, insha Allah, will be a phone service…more as a ‘crisis’ line for those feeling particularly low. The volunteers will have details for other relevant organisations too, where they can pass sisters onto if this is something we cannot help with. Of course, it’s early days yet, and Allahu ‘aalim, but these are my plans’.

 

Often, the blind following of ignorant cultural practices totally overlook the reality of true Islamic values based on compassion and kindness towards one another, and this misrepresentation is instead wrongly and dangerously being taken as accurate. Misbah acknowledges that she is speaking from her perspective which is culturally a Pakistani one, and says that, ‘Culture often clashes with religion. This appears to be especially true on the issue of remarriage, where divorced women are often under pressure to marry anyone because they get told that no-one will look at them now’.

 

In a positive move, she says that the ‘younger generation are finding out more about their rights and particularly second time around, but there are double standards when it comes to divorced men who can [often] marry a woman who has not previously been married’.

 

I ask Misbah what she would like to see with regards to being able to help other single Muslim mums, and she emphasises the importance of ‘urging people to talk about these issues and to raise awareness, perhaps at the mosque, for example, because particularly for those living alone and who are vulnerable, these women are the mothers of the future ummah, and instead of supporting them, they are being isolated’.

 

…The importance of such an online support network cannot be underestimated; loneliness compounded through a ‘blame culture’ can only serve to weaken the self-esteem of already fragile women who, without adequate emotional support, may become vulnerable to depression or anxiety and struggle to cope with the demanding role of motherhood.

 

There is no air of ‘victim-like’ mentality coming from the voices of these women; this is about an urgent call for recognition that single Muslim mothers need, and are searching for, support from other Muslim women. Viewing the huge response and feedback from her online group within less than six months, the need for connection between single Muslim mums is clear. Negative opinions and attitudes can often apply to divorce regardless of cultural ideas or religious beliefs. It must also be remembered that not all attitudes are going to be similar, however, it is of great concern that the damage felt by divorcees appears to be greatly underestimated, if considered at all. Instead, these women are often being met with prejudice and subsequent exclusion.

 

Divorce rates amongst Muslims are increasing, resulting in a growing number of single Muslim mothers. The hurt caused by unnecessary stigma and isolation is exacerbated by those who continue to impose their own inaccurate version of Islam and are ignorant and forgetful of the consideration that should be given to those undergoing hardship…

 

The real irony of this situation is that there are many other women who are in the same position and difficulties. In this respect, they are almost certainly not alone.

 

Khurshid Khatib is a Writer, Campaigner and Teaching Assistant with interests in human rights, hunger, poverty and peace. She has previously worked as a Pharmaceutical Scientist and Broadcast Assistant.

 

This piece was originally published in SISTERS Magazine (November 2012, Issue 32)

 

 

Editor: If you want to know more about Misbah Akhtar, here is an interview she did with BBC:

 

 

 

 

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