FOR OUR YOUTH:
The Story of A Mother’s Anguish
I have chosen to sign this article “Anonymous” because I am hoping that the message it seeks to convey will be more important to those who read it than the identities of those involved.
Some may wonder how I could possibly say some of the things that I say. Many will, no doubt, simply read this and go about life as usual. Still others may be prompted to concern and action.
To those whose assistance was sought in a similar matter in the past and who did not respond as perhaps you feel you could have, I simply ask you search deep within your souls to find the wherewithal to do more when the next anguished mother asks for help.
I have heard so many stories of sisters’ pleas for assistance falling on deaf ears – sisters asking for relief from an abusive husband, or for financial assistance to meet their family’s basic needs, or with the overwhelming responsibilities of single parenthood. I have heard so many stories of sisters dealing alone with growing Muslim children, particularly male children, who are straying from the path of Islam. And in so many of these stories, the sisters came to the conclusion that it makes no difference to ask for help because no one is listening, no one cares, no one will respond.
I’ve always been an idealist. So when I began calling out for help with my own troubled man-child, and despondent sisters said, “Oh, they (meaning particular Imams and other community leaders) aint gonna do nothing, girl,” I silently believed that these sisters had probably not fully and persistently communicated their needs, or that they just hadn’t talked to the “right people.”
Now, my son has been court-involved for over two years and, recently, completed a local residential treatment program for mental health and substance abuse issues. He and I both decided that he should leave the area to live with relatives in another state. Despite his successful completion of the program and numerous “promises” that he’d been rehabilitated, his new living situation got off to a rocky start. However, ALHAMDULILLAH, a couple of young brothers have recently become involved with him and things are looking better, but he has yet to comply with recommendations for follow-up treatment.
More than likely had I not relocated him, he would have eventually ended up in the state juvenile detention or mental health facility for at least six to twelve months.
My son (and his older sisters) lost his father very suddenly and traumatically at the young age of three. Within a few years, I married a younger brother who had never been married before (it had something to do with “spiritual signs” I felt I received from Allah).
When we first began having problems with my son, I soon realized that my husband lacked the parenting experience and the modeling from his relationship with his own father to be able to effectively father him. I then reached out to some of the brothers who were close to my late husband – the very same brothers who put him in the ground. They did nothing. It has been a while ago so I can’t quite remember whether or not I specifically requested that they call or visit him. Perhaps, my intention to convey that desire was somehow lost in discussing the details of the situation. BUT WAS IT NECESSARY TO COME OUT AND ASK, “WILL YOU CALL MY SON?” SHOULDN’T IT HAVE BEEN OBVIOUS? SHOULDN’T IT HAVE BEEN SOMETHING THAT THEY TRIED TO PERIODICALLY DO ANYWAY?
I grew up in the South at a time when people still looked out for one another, and didn’t hesitate to reprimand you as well as tell your momma if you were acting up. I believe very strongly that, “IT TAKES AN ENTIRE VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD.” Extended family and community involvement in child rearing is still a reality in many parts of the world, (unfortunately, a changing reality with the growing influences of modernism, individualism and materialism); however, in America in these days and times, we pay lip service to that African proverb.
Allah created us to live in families within communities. When the colossal responsibility of child rearing falls on two sets of shoulders, children miss out on the many contributions that extended family members and neighbors can make in their lives. When it falls on one set of shoulders, as it so often does in America today, many people suffer.
The next group of brothers I approached was of college-age. Although I did get a slightly better response from some of them, all in all, the response was extremely minimal. Promises were made that were not kept. What was so hard to understand is why brothers couldn’t just say, “I’m sorry, sister, but I have a very hectic schedule, and even though I’d like to help, I really can’t.” Saying no may be a difficult thing to do, but it is better than saying yes and then not following through.
“O YE WHO BELIEVE! WHY SAY THAT WHICH YE DO NOT? GRIEVOUSLY ODIOUS IS IT IN THE SIGHT OF ALLAH THAT YE SAY THAT WHICH YE DO NOT” (Qur’an 61:2,3).
Some may say, “Well, you had a husband. It was his job.” That mentality is a big part of why my last marriage eventually fell apart. And, in my understanding of Islam, it wasn’t just his job. It is the community’s job to respond to the needs of its members. And each one of us is “the community.”
When someone asks any of us for assistance, apparently they have an unmet need. But often, we would rather respond as if their need isn’t genuine. After all, it makes it easier for us.
In the case of family matters, it appears we frequently worry too much about “stepping on someone’s toes” if we become involved. However, there are tactful ways of helping out so that we don’t. And there are many instances that perhaps someone’s toes need to be stepped on.
Allah has said that the Believers enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) reportedly said, “When we see evil and injustice, we should stop it with our hands if we can. If we cannot stop it with our hands, we should stop it with our mouths. And if we cannot stop it with our mouths, we should hate it in our hearts. And know that the last way (of addressing it) is the lowest level of faith.”
How many acts of injustice will go unchallenged, how many needs will be left unmet, how many sisters will be victimized by abusive husbands, or youth will fall through the cracks because we are too worried about getting involved, about stepping on someone’s toes, about getting into someone else’s business? Sure, there is a need for granting privacy to every household, but in our hearts, we know when we need to intervene and respond to a plea for help.
I hear too many sisters’ stories of abuse, abandonment, indifference, financial struggle, trying to hold on to our children, illness, despair. And I look around and I wonder, “Where are the brothers? Where are our men, our protectors and maintainers?” The handful of men presumably available to assist sisters in crisis is completely overwhelmed. It usually takes four or five efforts to reach any of them. If a sister doesn’t give up trying first.
What does someone in a crisis do when they need help and no one is available? Or when they finally make contact with someone and their conversation is interrupted several times, or the person is so distracted that they can’t remember half of what is said later? Or when there is a promise to follow-up in some way and the promise is not kept?
I know that a huge part of the reason that these brothers are unable to adequately respond is because the needs of our community are so great, and the responsibility for meeting them is resting on the shoulders of a very few. How can so few people possibly do everything for everybody?
They cannot, and so my question is, “What is going on with the rest of our men?” Upon my observation (which, incidentally, has been validated by many others), when there is a call for service in the community, generally, sisters are the ones who come through.
One might say that brothers are busy with the responsibility of heading their households, but even the brothers who don’t have that responsibility generally fall short. Upon my observation, for every single male college student that keeps his word to volunteer at a community event, roughly four or five single female college students participate. Unless there is a great disparity in the amount of schoolwork assigned in college majors that brothers typically pursue as compared to those of sisters, it would seem that student workloads would be roughly equal. So why are sisters more conscientious about doing what they say they are going to do (by no means do I wish to imply that all sisters keep their word all of the time), and why are they typically more concerned and compassionate than their fellow human beings?
WHERE ARE OUR MEN AND WHAT ARE THEY SO BUSY DOING THAT THEY CAN’T TAKE CARE OF US?
In answer to these questions, I hear things like “I’m just too busy,” or “I forgot.” In my opinion, these reasons just don’t cut it. Somehow, in these days and times, we seem awfully complacent about how we are. But how many of our excuses (for not doing what we say we are going to do, for not doing what we have been commanded to do, for not seeking to help others in need, for not paying zakat and giving sadaqa, for not striving to be more pleasing to Allah), are going to cut it on the Day of Judgment? Where is our taqwa?
“IF ALLAH WERE TO PUNISH MEN FOR THEIR WRONG-DOING, HE WOULD NOT LEAVE ON THE EARTH A SINGLE LIVING CREATURE: BUT HE GIVES THEM RESPITE FOR A STATED TERM…” (Qur’an 16:61).
FOR OUR YOUTH, can we not search within the crevices of our hearts and ask ourselves are we living a life that will grant us Allah’s forgiveness and mercy, His pleasure? Are we earnestly and sincerely striving to acquire the character traits that emulate our Prophet (SAW) and that will bring us closer to Allah, and to rid ourselves of those traits that are displeasing to Allah? Do we possess compassion and concern for our fellow human beings? Do we want for our brothers and sisters what we want for ourselves? Or are we so self-occupied and self-indulgent that we are unable to relate to and care about others?
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is reported to have said, “We are not true Believers until we want for our brothers and sisters what we want for ourselves.” He also reportedly said, “The Believers should be like one body. When one part hurts, the others hurt.” When we truly care about others, we cannot rest when they are in need or in pain. And we would not dream of intentionally inflicting pain on someone else.
If we cannot sincerely say that we are want for others what we want for ourselves, then we cannot afford to become complacent about how we are.
I think many of us are comfortable in our own little homes with our own little families. If we are not experiencing financial hardship, hunger, marital strife, and/or difficulties with our children, we erroneously assume that our intact families and communities are a sure protection from these concerns. However, it is foolish to feel so secure within these little bubbles we’ve constructed. America’s drug and crime problems today are largely a result of past indifference on the part of many who perceived these issues as plaguing only the less fortunate. Three decades ago, when drug use and high crime rates were largely confined to minorities living in the inner cities, most middle and upper class families were not concerned. Today’s so-called “Wars on Drugs and Crime” are the result of these vices impinging on the neighborhoods of the “Haves.”
We cannot afford to assume that because certain problems are not issues for our loved ones and us now that they will never become issues. It could be two or three generations down the road; however, problems that are not adequately addressed by society at-large impact us all eventually. We may not ever be the perpetrators, but we will eventually, in some form or fashion, become victims.
I participated in a court-sponsored support group comprised of parents from every walk of life, every educational level, and from many different ethnic groups who gather to discuss and deal with their out-of-control children who are wreaking havoc on their lives. The problem is not confined to low income, poorly educated families. And by far, my son is not the only Muslim teen that is court-involved. I observed other Muslim families visiting their children when I visited him while he was in treatment. And I’ve heard the stories of other Muslim children who have served time or are on drugs. Too many young Muslim girls are ending up pregnant before marriage.
Some of us may feel secure that this will never happen to us. But how can we know for sure that, even if our own children get through the difficult period of adolescence, our grandchildren or great-grands won’t succumb to peer pressure and the other negative influences in our society? Or that we won’t experience unanticipated unemployment, illness, or some other tragedy that could interrupt our seemingly stable and predictable lives?
FOR OUR YOUTH, can we closely examine our lives to see where we can make a change that will allow us to be more responsive? Can we sacrifice a television show, movie or sports event once or twice a month so that we can make an effort to be involved in the life of someone who is less fortunate? Can we be more serious about our responsibilities as parents, and spend more quality time with our children?
Especially, brothers with our male children. Allah has given children both mothers and fathers for a reason that extends beyond the need for male sperm during conception. There comes a time when boys need to be with men. When their search for guidance as they become men themselves is not met, they become confused and frustrated at best and angry at worst. Countless times, it has been evident how painful it has been for my son to grow up without a father.
Brothers, think back on your own adolescence, and on the time when you may have erroneously decided that a woman couldn't tell you much. If you had a different experience, thank Allah.
At a recent Jumaah service I attended, the Khateeb talked about the need for husbands and fathers to more consciously strive to save their family members from the Hellfire. It is a responsibility – not a charitable deed that they can opt to take on. Allah knows best, but could it be that many of the problems that plague our community are simply because we have our priorities out of order? Perhaps we should spend less time being concerned with financial and worldly matters, and more time engaged in family-related and spiritual activities.
Upon my observation, brothers should strive harder to follow the example of our Prophet, and first devote their energies to teaching and dealing with their wives and children instead of trying to save/change the world.
We recently observed Ramadan – a time during which most of us made an effort to increase our worship. Can we not strive to extend our extra efforts to please Allah beyond that blessed month into the new year, the new millennium?
IT TAKES AN ENTIRE VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD. OUR CHILDREN ARE ALL OF OUR RESPONSIBILITY. WE SHOULD FEEL THE PAIN OF THE CHILD WHO IS FORCED TO GO TO SCHOOL HUNGRY OR WITHOUT ADEQUATE CLOTHING OR SCHOOL SUPPLIES, OR SICK BECAUSE THEIR PARENTS CANNOT AFFORD MEDICAL CARE. THE HOMELESS FAMILY IN THE LOCAL SHELTER IS ALL OF OUR CONCERN. THE CHILD WHO SUCCUMBS TO THE TEMPTATIONS OF THE STREETS IS A VICTIM OF OUR APATHY.
HOW MANY MORE CHILDREN WILL FALL BETWEEN THE CRACKS BEFORE WE WAKE UP AND TAKE CHARGE? HOW MANY MORE MOTHERS WILL CRY OUT IN ANGUISH BEFORE WE BEGIN TO CARE?