Divorce is often an excruciatingly painful experience for many women, especially those who find themselves on the receiving end of that momentous decision. Once upon a time, life was a smooth single road travelled blissfully on together by husband and wife with the same destination in mind. With divorce, that road abruptly splits and, instead, transforms into a rocky uphill path strewn with thorns.
It is a mission to pass through unscathed.
In my own case, my husband and I were two individuals from two different cultures and ethnicities, we had defied the odds we faced and come together with noble intentions to live a wholesome life within Islamic perimeters. That ethos was the thread that tied us and our children together. For eighteen years, I had only assumed we were becoming even stronger in our bonds. Apparently not.
In the immediate aftermath of my own divorce, I watched happiness being sucked away like water sinking into sand.
My family had been my sanctuary and my ex-husband had decided to shatter that peace.
Try as I might, I could not prevent what I reluctantly knew was already written in my destiny. From the depths of a dark emotional abyss, images of my life up to then flashed by like a silent time-lapse video. The outlook on my future, as well as my children’s, seemed very bleak. Those early days were full of unimaginable grief.
Four years, countless tears, and many solitary conversations with Allah later, today I have arrived at a place in my mind where I never believed I could be, Alhamdulillah.
With the benefit of hindsight, I now understand why my life has taken a very different route than the one I had ever imagined.
It was, simply, a test from Allah.
It was to remind me about the temporary nature of this worldly existence itself. The experience was emotionally agonising and physically debilitating but, nevertheless, it had to be done. Strangely enough, the one thing I did not experience was an overwhelming spiritual enervation – a feeling of being abandoned by Allah. Alhamdulillah, if anything my connection with Allah, Al-Adl (The Just) was about to enter a new phase.
I recall searching within the pages of the Quran for verses that would give me comfort and peace; I memorised specific duas or supplications to keep me buoyant during difficult days.
What I did not realise in the thick of my sorrow, I was about to understand over time. My conscientiousness about my Rabb, my Creator, was being roused from a lethargy which had perhaps come about when life was comfortable – when it no longer threw any real challenges which needed to be confronted head-on.
I understand that the one constant in a life of inconsistency has to be our relationship with our Creator, Allah.
This is an absolute truism. My divorce was about to test the strength of that relationship like never before.
Gradually, over the weeks, months and years that followed, I began to realise what Allah had intended for me all along. He wanted me to recognise that I had inadvertently slipped into a dangerous dependency upon another human being in marriage; that I had mistakenly equated my husband as the source of my happiness when he was only ever a means to it. Nothing more, nothing less. With his departure, I now had a clear projection of my future with Allah in His realigned focal position of worship. It is not that my husband was ever an object of worship for me. However, the unspoken reliance upon him to help navigate my path in life is something I had perhaps become too complacent about. Becoming the captain at the helm of my own ship was not only going to be a leap of faith, it was going to be a test of faith too. I came to accept that my new family situation was a necessary juncture in life; I had to pass through this to emerge stronger in my connection to Allah. After all, it was this relationship that was being tested.
As a Muslim, I am aware of the ayah which translates: “Indeed we belong to Allah and indeed to Him we will return.” (Al-Baqarah, 156).
In some cultures, this verse from the Quran is erroneously only uttered as a condolence to someone who has lost a loved one through death. Yet its application to a plethora of situations is less understood. Whilst reading the Quran is a practice many Muslims have mastered well, arguably its message and teachings are interpreted in a very narrow context. Even those of us who endeavour to grasp the wider context of words or phrases, often discover a new perspective each time we return to read them. I myself have discovered how personal circumstances in one’s life can cause new, nuanced interpretations of verses I have read hundreds of times before. Until then, I had foolishly misled myself into believing I had discerned all the possible meanings of verses of the Quran. Yet it took my divorce to make me aware that I needed to re-engage with the Quran with an alacrity like never before. In doing so, amongst the many gems, I stumbled across were ayahs 152-153 of Surah Al-Baqarah. In these two verses alone, Allah mentions three core principles of our Imaan (faith) – gratitude, patience, and prayer.
I was beginning to see the mastery of His plan for me. Divorce was part of a grand design to cause me to go down a path of self-reflection and self-assessment.
What better place than to hit rock bottom and start at a base level of gratitude?
My ascent out of the abyss had just begun Alhamdulillah.
Of course, there are many references in the Quran to the principles of gratitude, patience, and prayer. I mention another ayah here:
“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah knows, while you know not.” (Al-Baqarah, 216).
It is these such gems from the Quran which provided me great solace in my despair. They were my counsel, my comfort and my confidantes. Even though my mind constantly tossed around a tsunami of questions in those early days after divorce, Alhamdulillah, I always knew it was only a matter of time before things would settle down again. Allah had not abandoned me. After all, who knew me better than myself? Of all the questions I asked, I never dared utter, “Why me?” I knew the answer to that already.
Allah knows who to give which challenge to because He knows what they can withstand.
In the years that have passed, I cannot deny that my positive thoughts have not been punctuated by bouts of anxiety and despair. Alhamdulillah, however, armed with even a limited knowledge of the Quran and the Seerah – the study of the life of the Prophet (saw) – I have come a long way. It is the latter that has provided me with relatable anecdotes, tangible tales and validated my feelings of sadness, anguish, and even anger. For example, I reflect on the Prophet’s (saw) period in Mecca and the Year of Sorrow in which he lost his beloved uncle Abu Talib and then his noble wife, Khadijah (RA), the Mother of the Believers. To add to his grief, he suffered humiliation at the hands of the people of Ta’if. I pondered on these events and took comfort that even the Prophet himself experienced overwhelming sorrow despite his unequivocal faith. Naturally, his thoughts and actions were always circumscribed by Islam but I reminded myself that, as a far more ordinary being, I was then equally entitled to have outpourings of grief. As long as these emotions did not descend into chaos or transgress any limits of my faith, insha’Allah, it was only normal to express myself in this way.
In essence, I have been on a journey of rediscovery of my faith, my identity as a Muslim and as a mother. I have shifted from a faith that was somewhat inert to being more alert.
With my own children now looking to me for their cues in life, I need to remain strong.
There is certainly too much at stake to take brazen risks. My test now is to manage a life with my children and be the ‘double parent’. I am now two people embodied in one. I refuse to succumb to the stigma of being divorced. In Islam, the status of ‘mother’ is highly revered and I see that Allah, in His generosity, is giving me even more opportunities to do good and earn reward. I am beaming at that prospect, SubhanAllah.
Once broken, forever healed
I liken my new status to a work of Kintsugi – the ancient Japanese art of mending broken pottery with golden lacquer thereby making it even stronger and more beautiful with its imperfections. Kintsugi is a metaphor for my life. Alhamdulillah, one thing I have never surrendered, despite my pain, is that the vista on life still embraces much beauty. I have learned to see with my soul and not just my eyes. This mindset can only be founded upon gratitude.
We must not lose today in grieving for what has already passed. That would be a tragic double loss. So, I have never given up on hope as hopelessness itself is an anathema in Islam. I do recognise that I still have some way to go before I can confidently say I have totally purged myself of anger and disappointment. But this is a work in progress and I am honest enough to concede my weaknesses.
For now, I accept that I may have lost a husband but I have been compensated by Allah in more ways than I can even begin to imagine.
The only thing worth mentioning here is that I have always had a passion to write. With years on my side, I want to share personal anedotes about life after divorce; to let women know they will not just survive but actually thrive! I want to give them a window on a world which they haven’t yet seen, most likely because they can’t believe they will get through their darkest days. I hope to make a modest yet positive difference to someone’s day. If I could do that, that’d be fantastic. Either way, I hope readers will be enthused and feel inspired about their own life journeys.
By Chantal Blake
By Mariya bint Rehan