I have come to know, through my years on this mortal coil, that every person has a story to tell. In my experience, there are faces that ooze an annoying zeal for life who conceal a darkness, a heaviness of the heart. I find their stories – if I ever get to peek under the mask – the most elucidating because I end up learning a lot about myself and how limited my view of the world is. More importantly, I find that these grieved individuals, whilst receiving very little empathy and support, wait patiently for justice from Allah (SWT).
How is it that I’m able to peel back these layers? People of the same sort know each other. The details may be different, but the scars on our hearts are the same.
I’m ready to stand up for such people because I count myself amongst them – the slandered, the backbitten, the outcast. For this reason, I’m compelled to tell you my story…
Growing up, I wished my mother had heart disease, diabetes or even cancer. These were respectable afflictions to have, weren’t they? We would probably have had a steady stream of visitors cooking food and helping with the family. I would have had aunties, uncles, friends and teachers caring for me, wanting to make life easy for me. Instead, my youngest memory is my mother coaxing and manipulating me into believing that my half-sister, my father’s daughter, was evil and would attempt to poison me if given the chance. Whilst my mother demanded to know if I loved her the most, her vicious descriptions of the girl I had grown to call my sister left me feeling confused and upset.
What kind of a mother would manipulate her child in this merciless way? Grooming her, using her innocence, testing her unconditional love.
I wouldn’t hold it against anyone to think that she was a selfish, manipulative person who was subjecting her child to varying abuses – moulding her in a sadistic way. The way my family dealt with the ‘problem’ was by hiding it. As a consequence, my mother abused both her step-children and her own. My parents would argue; she would cry; my father would slam doors. He became the master of disguise, learning to put on a brave face. My mother’s erratic behaviour became gossip for the community, and eventually she left. The years of gossip and skivvy treatment from ‘trusted’ adults are vivid memories. At the age of 10, some ‘family friends’ stepped in to babysit. During this visit, I was grilled relentlessly as to the truth of my mother’s actions. Did she really beat and starve my half-sister? Did my father find another woman? When I felt the need to defend my mother, I was shushed and disciplined with the sniping comment, “I can tell whom you take after”.
How my mother behaved was not her fault. She was the one who slapped, kicked and punched. She was the one who spread venomous gossip that brought our family to its knees. Yet, I still maintain it was not her fault. No one chooses to starve themselves for fear of creatures in their food or beats and burns their children because jinn told them to. A person doesn’t wake up one day and decide to be forcibly restrained and sectioned – being bundled into the back of a police car doesn’t seem like much fun. So, who’s to blame? Someone has to be. And I’m done with pinning this one on the jinn.
Should I blame the people who watched the breakdown of a family in crisis and whose only contribution were the whispers behind turned backs? Should I blame the people who would talk endlessly about Islam and the virtues of praying, fasting and giving Zakat, but turned a blind eye to enjoining the good and forbidding the evil? Where were they when I was locked in a room for hours on end, screaming and sobbing? Where were they when my sister was dragged down the stairs by her hair, all because she used the wrong comb? Where were they?
All I know is that I lost my mother as a child. Paranoid Schizophrenia didn’t take her, the whispers of my ummah did. My family’s destruction became entertainment. Because of this, decades later, I struggle to love and connect with a woman who is supposed to be my ‘mum’, the woman who housed me in her womb for 9 months. Jannah lies at the mother’s feet. One can’t say ‘uff’ to one’s parents. When you hear my story, put yourself in my shoes because every day is a struggle. I hide behind my mask, trying to heal my heart from behind closed doors. I turn to my Lord, and that is the best comfort.
Like my father says, “What’s done is done, child, let it lie.” I don’t agree with that paradigm. Not today; not ever. I’m anonymous, not because I am ashamed, quite the contrary: I conceal my name to protect the identities of others. I speak out because I know my ummah, the ummah of Muhammad (SAW), this new generation, will listen.
Mental illness is the qadr of Allah (SWT); none of us are immune from this disease. However, with proper treatment and support, there is no reason why those affected can’t live full and active lives. We as an ummah need to stop being ashamed about something we have no control over. It’s too late for my mother and I. The damage has been done. But, it doesn’t have to be for others.
If you feel anything for me and my story, I beg of you, don’t turn a blind eye to the pain of your sister; protect her and her children like they were your own. One day, on the only day that will ever matter, she will no longer be ‘mad’, ashamed or frightened; accountability and justice will reign supreme, and she will speak out. Let her testify for you and not against you.
My humble request – please keep people like me and my family in your du’as. We were not the first, and we won’t be the last; so, together let’s end the silence.