This is difficult to write and a sensitive topic to write about, but I do so to connect with any reader who has been through something similar, and for the brokenhearted who choose to sit with their pain sober to get through it (honestly, you’re strong as ever if you choose to confront the pain). In a natural desire for community and understanding, I write, and I encourage you to write, too.
A friend told me once that when she writes fiction, she does so with the goal of becoming more empathetic to someone else’s experience. A few months ago, when my parents found out about the premarital relationship I was keeping from them, it was not anger at the nightmare that manifested in me, but empathy. Now in a better place, I’m able to reflect on all that has happened in my life recently, and I’ve realized a few important things that have helped me empathize with my parents’ experience, and have helped me better understand my own.
First, I came to understand that Muslim parents truly see their children as an amanah (trust) from God and so they believe they’ve a responsibility to do what they can to protect their child’s relationship with God.
Second, it became incredibly important at this point in my life to ask myself why I believe in what I do.
Though parents play a critical role in a child’s development, their role begins to wane as the child reaches an age of accountability and independence.
Third, I found that in all the how-to articles, and Buzzfeed videos about what to expect of heartbreak, none shed light on the two-fold struggle that is healing a broken heart while simultaneously recovering spiritually from having committed a grave sin.
Of course, the reason popular magazines don’t shed light on this is because it’s a struggle unique to the Muslim Girl (or guy).
I’d like to make it clear at this point that this is not about deciding where sins line up on the gravity spectrum, or about hanging my dirty laundry out to dry. This is about the silent struggle of recovering simultaneously from private transgressions that few people talk about (with good reason, thank you satr) and from the very real heartbreak that results from sinning. It’s important to discuss, because my simply knowing that my heartbreak is due to a sin I committed, does not make the heartbreak go away. The healthy thing to do isn’t to try to make my experience something it is not, but to accept what it is, forgive myself for transgressing against myself, and against God, seeking God’s forgiveness, and tending equally to my mental and spiritual health.
These three realizations I came to are not obvious, and if they are to you, I assure you they are at the very least, undervalued by many. Especially the first one.
Realizing first, that my parents literally see their children as not only gifts from God, but more importantly as a trust from God—it completely changed how I saw my parents, and made it so much easier to understand why they react the way they do when their child commits a grave sin. Or any sin, for that matter, which serves as a smoke alarm that their child’s imaan is weakening.
To my parents, it’s not a matter of making it so that I become afraid of their reaction the next time I’m tempted to sin. Nor is it about making themselves feel better by playing the expected role of disciplinarian. In my case, my parents’ reaction to what I had done was not slut-shaming, nor was it meant to unfairly put the burden of piety on me because I’m a woman.
To them, it was a matter of their making sure that I am protecting my qalb (heart). My parents are so invested in this promise to God to take care of what He has entrusted them with, that they worry about my relationship with Him. Of course, the assumption here is that actions are directly related to someone’s level of imaan (faith) and because of this, I know they don’t freak out in order to frighten me into obedience. They freak out to reinforce the importance of my relationship with God, of holding myself accountable, of being honest with myself. After understanding this perspective, it’s become nearly impossible to harbor any anger towards my parents’ actions, because their cause is a noble one. Does this mean that I don’t speak up when I think my parents aren’t being fair? No, but it does mean that I give them the benefit of the doubt before I give it to anyone else, because their intentions are pure, and their hearts are in the right place.
Trying to answer the question of why I believe what I do has been incredibly empowering. It made me realize that even my parents don’t want me to be living my life just to make them happy, or out of fear of the conflict that would ensue as a result of not practicing Islam the same way as them. Because of the way my faith was tested recently, and how that experience has, and still is, changing my life, I had to reevaluate my beliefs and reach the conclusion (on my own) that though my family raised me in an Islamic lifestyle, it is not one I practice out of convenience. I practice it, because it is a natural extension of my belief in one God, and of my belief in the Prophet Muhammad as the last messenger of God. The task that lead to my reaching this conclusion is an essential one for every young-adult Muslim to undertake, especially in a time when Muslims are often put into situations where they have to assert themselves and their lifestyle. Ask yourself, what do you believe in? Why do you believe in it? Trust me, the process of answering those questions is infinitely rewarding, and you will be stronger for it.
What I didn’t expect to face moving forward after hitting my spiritual all-time low is this two-fold struggle to not only get my heart to a state of true repentance—but also the struggle to simply heal after the very real heartbreak that comes from not being with someone you once cared deeply about. Some might say that it’s wrong to validate my experience of caring for someone, because those feelings manifested under false pretenses and in less than-halal circumstances. I disagree, and I’d argue, as many mental health professionals might, that regretting what you’ve done wrong, i.e. repenting for a sin, does not make the heartbreak go away. My healing does not include a denial of my experience, nor does it include any self-loathing. My healing, that is very much ongoing, comes from asking myself what factors enabled my reaching this spiritual low; what safeguards can I put in place to keep me from reaching that specific point again; and from validating my feelings unconditionally. It also comes from accepting how difficult it is to bounce back after hitting a particularly low point. It takes a lot of intentional effort to recover from a spiritual low, and I’m only just learning how difficult the process can be. The most important part of “bouncing back” is that it must come from you, not anyone else. It’s your heart that you need to protect, and no one can do that for you, but you.