Some topics are so raw that they need to be written under a pseudonym. That’s the case with the autobiographical, A Part of Me Refused to Die, by author Nisha Sulthana and the small independent Islamic publisher, Niyah Press. It’s a real-life tale of love, devotion, and patience – all in the face of unrelenting physical and emotional abuse. More than that, it’s also a story of increased connection to Allah and a deepening of religious experience.
While many domestic abuse-themed novels derive their meaning from their central character’s ultimate escape and salvation, it’s the memoirs like Nisha’s that also need telling. Her story echoes that of others struggling to make sense of their marriages: many too shattered by the abuse to put pen to paper and write out their personal journeys.
Nisha takes us on 194 page multigenerational journey starting from her own parent’s marriage, and meanders through the highest (and lowest) points of her own marriage begun in the late 1960s at the age of 16. Speaking in rich metaphor she writes how she conquered her secular surroundings – gaining closeness to Allah- throughout her small family’s struggle with alcoholism and abuse.
Throughout A Part of Me Refused to Die, Nisha makes many a heartfelt plea to Allah that she be delivered out of her marriage by her ever-aging father, or some other knight in shining armor. However, in spite of her husband’s disordered living, carousing, drinking, and womanizing, she stands resolutely by his side, sweeping abuse under the metaphorical rug and literally cleaning up his real-life messes.
As we watch Nisha’s personality blossom over time we learn she was shaped by both her marriage,and her relationship with Qur’an – the latter from which she quotes regularly. It’s obvious from her musings that she’s gained both clarity and guidance from her studies conducted in self-imposed isolation in later years – wisdom that served as an icy coolness to the heat of the frying pan in which she lived.
Much like she would apply ice to her chest to ease her heart-attack-like anxiety symptoms, she also applied her Qur’an readings like a salve on her soul, retreating in solitude to her readings and prayers in her darkest moments. And this, ultimately, is the kernel of the story Nisha aims to share with us. Even Nisha, a woman born into the Islamic faith and descendant from a family of Sufis on her father’s side, had to relearn her religion for herself.
What was hardest for me to come to terms with, however, throughout the telling of her tale, was Nisha’s persistence in staying in the marriage for nearly five decades. By necessity at first, but by choice in later years, this confounded me as I read and I found myself questioning her decisions. I was especially confused why – after her husband’s repeated failures, indiscretions, and breakdowns – she would continue to stay. As survivor myself, and as an advocate for abused woman, I was pushed out of my comfort zone by Nisha’s story. I was led to recognize both the choice to leave an abusive partner, and the choice to stay, as an equally valid decision.
A Part of Me Refused To Die, taught me that in order to understand the range of abusive experiences, we as friends, workers, and advocates (both formal and informal) need to understand the women we are helping from a culturally sensitive and religiously mindful perspective. Not all women will leave, and that’s okay. Our communities must be ready to offer appropriate counsel, coping techniques, and survival strategies to support women in their individual decisions – without forcing them into our molds.
Ultimately, this richly metaphorical story of one woman’s journey through decades of physical and emotional abuse reflects the same journey we all face – our struggle to make meaning through our deeply personal hardships, trials, and experiences. I thank Nisha for her courage in sharing her story.
To preview A Part Of Me Refused to Die, visit NishaSulthana.com for the first two chapters. You can also order the book via Amazon.
Janet Kozak is the founder and COO of Resoulute. Janet is an entrepreneur driven by business insights and boundless creativity. She’s most interested in women-owned business development and social causes including domestic violence education in Muslim communities. She founded an online advocacy and support group, Muslim Women Against Domestic Violence and Abuse, and also recently spoke on the topic of financial abuse at the 2nd International Conference on Women’s Empowerment in Karachi, Pakistan.