My husband suddenly lost all the colour in his face. I could just imagine the conversation inside his head: What? Not only are you turning down 100% funding but you want to quit work altogether? Are you kidding me?!
Only a few weeks earlier, we had been elated when I was offered funding for the next two years of research – a significant triumph in the soft-money world of high stakes academia. No more worrying about how my salary was going to be paid, no more searching for grants, no more navigating the dangerous politics of tenure-track professorship. But my elation was fleeting, causing me to question my whole direction. After much soul searching, I realised that I didn’t want to work anymore. I wanted to stay home with my girls – I wanted to be there for the “firsts” and not hear about it from their kind and competent teacher who taught and cared for them several times a week. It dawned on me that my professional success meant little compared to what I was giving up. I thought that at age 80 I would not regret losing a promotion or foregoing peer recognition, but I would regret missing the time I could have spent watching my girls grow.
I also wanted to study my deen. I had converted a few years earlier and there was so much for me to learn. While I liked public health research, I felt I had more important ways to spend my precious time. And I wanted to write more and not for scientific journals. Essentially, my priorities had changed and I had not even been aware of it.
Quitting work wouldn’t be so easy though. Our family salary would be cut in half and there would have to be significant lifestyle changes, with many of our future plans put on hold or forgotten. All of that didn’t matter to me though. I just knew staying home with my girls and learning my deen was what I should do. And I was convinced that Allah I would not begrudge me for making that choice. After praying Istikhara I felt even more at peace with the decision and so did my husband.
My colleagues seemed much less enthusiastic about it; in fact, I lost friendships and respect in the process. It reminded me of when I told people that I had converted to Islam. I remember exactly one non-Muslim congratulating me – a devout Catholic who was just happy that I had found God. The other responses ranged from “Really?” to “Why would you do that?” Sometimes the response was just a look that I knew was the beginning of the end of our relationship. Leaving a prestigious university to be a stay-at-home mum was not something to be proud of in my professional circles. After the first few negative encounters, I felt more and more reluctant to share my good news.
Initially, my husband and I had planned for me to return to work when our girls started kindergarten, knowing full well that I would not be as marketable as before. But then new issues arose. Raising a child to be a practising Muslim in a non-Muslim society is challenging. That both my husband and I are converts increased the challenge. After evaluating our options, we decided that the best thing to do was to homeschool the girls – so much for getting back into the workforce any time soon!
It has been six years now since I exchanged my office, title, and professional kudos for school lessons on the kitchen table, hearing “Mama” all day long, and mid-morning hugs. Was it worth it? Let me tell you a story.
Just the other day, we held a party in a neighbourhood park for two sisters in our homeschool group who were about to give birth. What started out as a small and very casual Muslim toddler group evolved into a well run and organised homeschool co-op with over 50 children and about 20 Muslim families. Our children treat each other like cousins and their Muslim identity has blossomed. Not long after we arrived at the park, I bumped into another homeschool mother, a non-Muslim whom I knew from other homeschool activities. I asked her to join us and she spent a good deal of the afternoon with a bunch of sisters. Before she left, she mentioned how much she admired our group. She noticed how the kids felt comfortable going up to any of the mums for help and that we all seemed to really care about each other. She said that we had developed a community, something that she wished she could have. Her comments reminded me once again how fortunate I am to be able to raise my children as Muslims among so many sisters whom I love and respect. And this would have never happened if I hadn’t taken that step that I believed was right for me and my family. So, yes, the sacrifice of money and prestige has been worth it – absolutely!
Stepping into the unknown is not easy. There are always costs and tradeoffs. It is a matter of priorities and realising what is ultimately important to you. But if your decision to pursue something is based on careful and educated deliberation with those involved, if you have prayed Istikhara, and if you have put your trust in Allah I, you should feel comfortable moving forward. Will it turn out just like you planned? Likely not. None of us knows what Allah I has in store for us. But as Muslims we know how to deal with disappointment and tribulations; we recognise that there may be good in something we initially do not like (see Al Baqarah:216; An-Nisa:19); and we know how to express gratitude for our countless blessings, while realising that we can never be grateful enough. And we believe that whatever happens is by the will of Allah I, Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim, and accept His decree.
I no longer ask myself how I will view my decisions in later years. The only question is how Allah I will judge my decisions on Yawm al-Qiyamah.
Stepping into the unknown is not easy. There are always costs and tradeoffs. It is a matter of priorities and realising what is ultimately important to you.
J. Samia Mair is the author of two children’s books, Amira’s Totally Chocolate World, and The Perfect Gift published by The Islamic Foundation. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals, and elsewhere.