By Ayisha Karim
The Life-Altering Separation: March 23, 2014
This past March marked 5 years that I’ve been single without a husband to provide for me in the traditional way that our religion dictates. But the truth is, my ex-husband wasn’t providing in the traditional Islamic manner prior to the separation, and subsequent divorce, long before that turning point.
I’ll leave it at that. I won’t go into the details of the nature of our bank accounts and work schedules to prove to you why I make such a claim. Instead, I’ll simply tell you that at the end of March 2014, I was forced to leave my family home of 10 years, with a fraction of our belongings that I primarily picked out, without my two children ages 1 and 3, and abruptly settled into a moderately-sized, one-room suite in my oldest brother’s home, where he and his two teenage children were also living. It was a Sunday at the end of the spring term of school, and I had to pull myself together the following Monday morning, and prepare to teach my full load of math classes - business as usual.
The days that followed were filled with a sadness that I can’t bring myself to fully recount, a sadness like none I’d experienced in the 35 years leading up to it, a sadness that led me to cry in the bathroom stall at work or irrationally fantasize about ways that I could escape and move past this torture/disaster that was my current reality.
The separation on March 23, 2014, meant that I was suddenly without my two babies, not even school-age, for whom I’d prayed and longed for over a decade, often doubtful that they would ever be, (within a marriage that I never imagined would end, surely not the way that it did).
Days of driving thirty miles on school nights, to and from, to see my two children at a house where I wasn’t welcomed yet was (legally) in my name. Exhausted, disillusioned, half broken … yet faithful. Only God knows how I made it through that period.
|Alhamdulillah, on the weekends I brought my children to my brother's house.|
But that night of March 23, 2014, I left the man who was charged with being my provider, my qawwam (in Arabic), and was graciously placed in the hands of another man who’d been my qawwam all along, my oldest brother Khalil. The same older brother who told my mom that I looked like an Africanese (African mixed with Chinese) when she first brought me home from the hospital as a newborn – very keen observation for a 5 year old.
The ayat (verse) in our holy book, Qur’an, that speaks to this role of men (mostly ascribed to the husband) comes from the chapter "The Women":
“Men are the upholders and maintainers of women by virtue of that in which God has favored some of them above others and by virtue of their spending from their wealth" (The Study Quran Translation)
(In Arabic: Ar-Rijaalu Qawwaamuna 'ala Nisaa’i bimaa Faddalallahu ba’dahum 'ala ba’din wa bimaa anfaquu min amwaalihim)
5 Years Later, Today, 2019
Fast-forward to today, through days in family court, moving out of my brother’s home and securing my own cozy spot – enough for me and my two kids - co-parenting plans, child support payments, and my ex remarrying a year ago. I contemplate what I desire most in my future husband.
Yes! I’m still very hopeful. I alternate back and forth between 1) the moderately devout Muslim (like myself), who stimulates me intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally, who I can ultimately trust to be loyal, consistent, and kind, 2) the man who I’m attracted to and drawn to physically, who creates chemical sparks that I’ve missed over these five long years, whom I love and who loves me (a sister deserves that, right?! Absolutely), and 3) the solid brother who will pay the bills, take the trash out, handle car mechanical issues, and play catch & soccer with my son and appropriately discipline him when I can’t get through to him.
For some reason, these three versions of my future husband don’t smoothly or seamlessly coexist. Perhaps, it’s because of my limited close-up/real world experiences with such men. Perhaps, it’s a lack of faith in the miracles that God can bring into my life. Perhaps, my inability to imagine and search for all three of these in one man stems from my own fears and insecurities in being compatible with such a well-rounded, phenomenal mate. Will I be as solid, desirable, loyal, and phenomenal as a wife?
Wait! Let’s dissect that last part a bit more. This insecurity. I’ll be honest: I’m triggered every time a marriage prospect, or just a man for that matter, questions me about how I want to be provided for, i.e., “Do you want to keep working or do you want to stay home?”
God forbid the phrase “gold digger” pops up. I’m like an atomic bomb waiting to go off. Simply put, I’m very sensitive about finding a spouse who DESIRES and plans to be my qawwam (provider) along with doing so out of a religious duty. I usually respond, “Although financial support is not the main trait or benefit I seek in a future mate, I would love for a brother to WANT to provide for me and hold it down! [Geez]” Let’s just say, I’ve spilled many a tear over this topic.
Along with occasionally feeling inadequate in my state of not having a qawwam in (the role of) a husband, I confide in God as to whether I should look ultimately for a man to carry out this role or be content with the ways in which God reveals that He, alone, is the Provider, the Qawwam. Of course, God usually reminds me of the latter – that I should only depend on Him – and that He uses His devout servants, humans, to carry out His Will, and oftentimes in ways that astonish, tickle, and humble me. Let me share with you one of those moments. In my Biggie (Notorious B.I.G.) voice, I gotta story to tell!
The Long Journey to Houston, Texas
On May 30th, the father of one of my dearest childhood friends passed, Imam Qasim Ahmed, one of the most prominent, well-respected Islamic leaders under the tutelage of our beloved Imam Warith Deen Mohammed (may God be pleased with them both). I secured a flight out of Atlanta to Houston – one layover in Dallas – determined to be there for my dear friend Huraiyah and her family.
Soon after arriving in Dallas, my connecting flight was delayed. Moments earlier, I spotted a group of African-American brothers, who seemed familiar and whom I suspected were headed to the same funeral. But I intentionally walked quickly pass them so as not to engage in any small talk, not wanting any undue attention as a single Muslimah with a reputation to uphold, lol. Later, I’d have to depend on these brothers to get to my final destination.
Within an hour of learning that our flight was delayed, the American Airlines monitor flashed the update that our flight had actually been cancelled. A group of us immediately picked up our belongings and headed to the customer service desk as if this was a regular part of the passenger experience with this particular airline. I noticed the same group of brothers in the customer service line. At that point, both parties were more comfortable to engage in dialogue certain that we had the same end goal in mind – Imam Qasim’s janazah (funeral).
It was 8/9 pm Saturday night at that point, and the funeral service was the following morning at 10 am. We had decisions to make and had to make them soon. At that very moment, the highlight of my trip began, and mind you it had already been quite eventful.
I must have possessed an air of confidence, diplomacy, and compassion as I stood there in that line because out of nowhere a Korean woman in her fifties or sixties approached me, handed me her cell phone, and gestured that I speak to the person on the other end. It was her adult daughter on the other end, asking that I share the status of the flight changes.
This went on for at least another hour or two until it was approaching midnight and our flight to Houston was being pushed back every hour. The five Muslim brothers also traveling to the janazah were busy making backup plans, which they shared with me: “Sis, we’re probably going to rent a van and drive to Houston three hours away. You’re welcome to come with us.”
Do I take the risk of a flight that never makes it out of Dallas in time or jump in the van with these seemingly trustworthy brothers, no matter how awkward it may prove to be?!
By that point, one of the five brothers had noticed the Korean woman’s dilemma and jumped right on in to assist by downloading the language translator app on his phone, and proceeded to communicate with her. A group of us had bonded over this airline chaos, and a young Native American woman among us also stepped in to help the Korean elder and found herself on the phone with not just her daughter but now her son as well. Next thing I know, the Native woman informed me that the Korean woman’s children wished for her to join the caravan to Houston with me and the five brothers.
WAIT, HOLD UP! This had gone too far, and I for one couldn’t be more tickled! Reacting from a place of stereotypes of Asian people’s opinions of Black people, I thought to myself, surely there’s a breakdown in communication! As all seven us, Korean woman included, said our goodbyes to the group at the gate, jumped on the train to the ground transportation area, I continued to speak to the stranger’s son. He texted: “First of all thank you so much for taking care of my mom. She doesn’t speak English. Could you tell me what is going on now.”
And just when the brothers had secured the keys to the rental van, her son responded as I suspected her children would have all along. After my giving him the final, comprehensive status update and travel plans, the Korean woman’s son made the executive decision, “I think it’s best that she wait for the flight … Did she go back to the gate? … Have a safe trip.” The American flight was then scheduled to leave at 12:13 am, but in reality, the flight didn’t leave until the next morning at 7 am.
One of the brothers, the same one who translated Korean on his phone app, insisted that I sit in the front seat. This was really happening, but there was an unexpected calmness that overcame me. I’d told my family what I’d decided to do and spoke to my mom who secured the names and cities of all five brothers I’d be traveling with. To say that I was amused by the current situation is an understatement.
The five brothers ranged in age, between their 50s and 70s, and the closer up I got, I recognized a couple of faces from my childhood, from Islamic conventions coming up, brothers who were mostly imams, i.e., religious leaders of their Muslim communities, and sincere students of our beloved Imam Warith Deen Mohammed (may God be pleased with him). I smiled and giggled as they poked jabs at each other, cracked jokes, and scouted out the closest Whataburger restaurant.
I fell off to sleep and awoke to quiet, with only the driver awake. It was 3-something in the morning and where I would be dropped off in Houston hadn’t been decided upon; not to mention that I had no luggage or change of clothes. At that point, the brother behind the wheel instructed me to put my cousin’s home address into the GPS regardless of the fact that it was an hour out of the way from the hotel they were staying at. He insisted at this point, that taking me there at that hour was the most responsible, sensible move. Soon we were driving up to the gate of her subdivision; my cousin greeted me warmly and directed me to her guest bedroom with the most comfortable bed on earth after the night I’d had.
The next morning, I arrived at the masjid where the funeral was taking place, a bit early and wearing the same outfit I traveled in the previous day. I was thrilled to be present among other believers, family members, friends, and admirers of the beloved Imam Qasim Ahmed, may Allah have mercy on him.
And in the sea of familiar faces, while standing for the ceremonial prayer, I spotted one of the brothers from the unforgettable journey to Houston. We acknowledged one another and later I recognized the whole group at the cemetery, the culmination of this sacred event. There, the physical body of our beloved was returned to the earth, his soul on its journey back to his Maker. Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’un [To God we belong, and to Him is our return.]