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How Do I Love Thee?

Huma Imam looks at how four women lived through love and loss and shows why balance and a sense of perspective is vital even in matters of the heart.

Most couples embark on the journey of married life expecting to hold each other’s hands into their twilight years. But what happens when this passage is abruptly cut short by the demise of one spouse? As women with an enormous capacity and need for love, we approach marital relationships in different ways. How we love our partners affects not just our everyday lives but also our faith and our ability to cope with this loss.



Sudden loss…
For Sarah, the sole focus of her life and actions was her husband, Usman. “I had known him and loved him since we were children. I lived and breathed for him,” she says. “Even when I would offer my salah, my mind would be working on ways to please him. There was nothing – permissible or impermissible – that I wouldn’t have done to oblige him.” In short, Sarah had subconsciously taken her companion as her god and marriage as her religion.  What she didn’t realise during her marriage was that her strong attachment to Usman bordered on extreme emotional dependency.





When Usman suddenly died after a botched sinus operation two years after their marriage, Sarah was crushed under the colossal weight of her unbalanced emotions. “It was like a sharp object split my body in half right down the middle,” she describes. For months afterwards, she was in complete shock and denial. “It was the most profoundly shocking thing that ever happened to me. My marriage was my life. I didn’t know how to react. I lived through that time as if in a trance.”




That phase gave way to a period of anger and bitterness at her loss. “Yes, I actually questioned Allah’s (SWT) Will! ‘Why me?’, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’” Sarah recalls thinking at the time. She reached a point that psychologists would describe as being in a state of acute depression. “Every morning I would wake up and just lay in bed staring vacantly at the ceiling. I had no will or reason to get up – no will to live on.”




Majeeda was in her late thirties when she married Amjad after nearly two decades of searching for a life-partner. Hailing from a culture that gauges a woman’s worth by her marital status, Majeeda held on to her relationship like a lifeline.




But her married life was short lived. Seven years of domestic bliss was shattered by a road accident that took Amjad’s life. Her pain was compounded by her social position. “I lost my status, my home and the man I loved and thought would be my companion for life – all in one hit.”




Majeeda’s self-esteem and iman plummeted sharply as her entire identity had been wrapped up in her husband’s. Her heart burned with resentment at the sight of other women with husbands and children. “Look at her,” she would say, pointing at a random woman. “She is just as ordinary as me, but she has everything.




“After him, life’s stability disappeared and all my insecurities came back. I felt desperately alone and desperately empty all over again. The desolation of widowhood was inexpressible,” she states. Slowly, Majeeda drifted away from hope.




Aliya was twenty three when she reverted to Islam and married her college-mate Fahad. Together they decided to move and settle in his home country. Two rapturous years went by like a perfect dream. “I was awakened to the beauty of Islam and the bliss of marital union through him,” she reminisces.




But, her ecstasy was cut short by Fahad’s fatal heart-attack. “That news momentarily snuffed the life out of me. We had talked about so many things, but death had never been discussed.” Aliya had recently studied about the importance of observing patience at Allah’s (SWT) Decree, but had no inkling that she would need it in her life so soon. “It took the strength from every atom of my body to prevent myself from shattering into pieces. I could see nothing beyond the wall of tears; I could hear nothing but the last words he had uttered to me; but I kept whispering to myself to do what Allah (SWT) wants from me. Like the desperation of a blind man in an isolated land, I begged for patience and acceptance. I knew that without them, I would drown.”




Coping with grief  
Allah (SWT) has given us life and He has also given us a purpose. When He (SWT) sends us trials, He (SWT) also gives us strength to bear them and guidance to cope with them. If we accept the tests, however difficult, with patience, we are rewarded immeasurably. But if we react with anger, bitterness or worse – questioning His (SWT) Will – it not only spells misery in this life but also in the next – unless Allah (SWT) guides us to repent and reform.




Allah (SWT) is the controller of our hearts – the seat of all emotions. He (SWT) has not only given them the tenderness to love another being, but also the strength to withstand pain. And it is from His (SWT) endless Mercy and Love that He (SWT) has also bestowed our hearts with the ability for renewal and the capacity to love again.




Patience recompensed
Umm Salama (RA), the mother of the believers, loved her husband, Abu Salama (RA) very much. She was separated from him when her family forcefully prevented her from migrating to Madinah with him and the early Muslims. She was inconsolable.





Every day she would walk to the borders of her town and stand crying and gazing in the direction of Madinah. Her family finally gave in to her desperate pleas and she was eventually reunited with the man she loved. It is from the narration of this honourable woman (RA) that we learn the best way to respond to the loss of a loved one and also about the beautiful ways Allah (SWT) rewards His patient servants.




She said: “I had heard Allah’s Messenger (SAW) as saying: “If any Muslim who suffers some calamity says, what Allah has commanded him, “Inna lillahi wainna ilahi raajioon Allahumma ajurni fi museebati waakhlufli khairun minha” (“ We belong to Allah and to Him shall we return; O Allah, reward me for my affliction and give me something better than it in exchange for it”), Allah will give him something better than it in exchange.




“When Abu Salama died I said: ‘What Muslim is better than Abu Salama whose family was the first to emigrate to the Messenger of Allah (SAW)?’ I then said the words (of that dua), and Allah gave me God’s Messenger (SAW) in exchange (as a husband)” (Muslim).




And today…
Sarah has slowly learned to live again. After being coaxed to join an Islamic studies course, she has found the real focus and purpose of her existence – the worship of Allah (SWT). She has slowly started treading on the path to recovery. “I’ve realised that people come and go but our ultimate purpose continues till our last breath. Yes, I continue to grieve – for the half of me that is forever lost, for the family that was never meant to be, for the dreams left unfulfilled… But, alhamdulillah, all my feelings have suddenly been put in a position where I can clearly understand them. I just hope I can wholeheartedly accept this as khayr. I hope I am not simply trying to convince myself. I really do need to move on.”





Majeeda, despite the passage of seven years, has chosen to huddle herself in the cloak of self-pity and disheartenment. She stays away from society and blocks all rays of hope that try to enter her dark world. “When it comes to happiness, some people get more than they deserve while others are deprived completely,” is how Majeeda sums up her perspective on her loss.





Aliya sought strength in prayers, her Qur’an studies and her close companions. “I still wake up in the morning hoping and longing to hear him softly snoring next to me. The pain doesn’t completely go away. You just learn to live with it and move on. Allah (SWT) helps you if you ask.”




One year later, she has been able to re-establish her belief in herself as a Muslim and a woman – one with higher goals and noble purposes. “Fahad was sent into my life to open the doors of Islam’s goodness. I can continue to build on the social welfare plans we had drawn-out together. His memory and my love will live on through them, insha Allah.” She keeps herself open to any new channels for happiness that comes her way. “Perhaps one day I might remarry. It’s wonderful to know that our hearts are big enough to love again. Hope is not just grounded in suffering… hope is life.”




Huma Imam is a UAE based writer.