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Mother and Child

Mother and Child

Issue 9 Jan / Feb 2005

Usually it is the child and not the adult who embraces Islam. Not so with Aishah and Phildel. It was Aishah, Irish and feisty who decided that she had to embrace Islam whatever the risks. Her daughter Phildel was left to question her mother's decision and work out where she stood in the relationship with a new faith involved.

"Although I was never compelled to become a Muslim, I realise my steps towards Islam were the result of pressure I had put upon myself to fit in with the new family nucleus and did not actually come from the heart. However, I learnt a great deal about Islam in the time I lived with my mother and think it is a wonderful religion. I love to help in the mosque and speak with Muslim sisters."

Aisha: I was born into a Roman Catholic family in Dublin during the 1960s. Whilst just across the Irish Sea hippie culture took London by storm, Dublin was still somewhat stuck in the nineteenth century. As a child I asked many questions during my convent school education. This was discouraged and religious discussion other than Roman Catholicism or the “evils of Protestantism” was completely non-existent. I remember feeling terrifi ed before my fi rst Communion; at the age of seven we were expected to recite various prayers in public and worst of all, to make our first Confession.

At the age of 16 I left Dublin and came to London. I got involved in the normal youth culture making regular visits to pubs and clubs. But I noticed my friends were always depressed. I attended different churches in search of fulfilment and then I married and had my first daughter, Phildel. I was extremely happy but often felt like a square peg in a round hole, as if I’d still not found my rightful place.

One day I spoke to a lady wearing hijab. She told me she was Muslim and that was the first time I had ever heard that word. At this point I was still attending church every Sunday and began working part-time in a shop which was owned by Muslims. The staff never made me feel bad for following my religion and they always respected me which made me feel welcome and I was impressed by their attitude. They never imposed their thoughts but sometimes, in noticing my search for the most suitable church (at this point I was visiting a variety as none seemed to leave me fulfilled), they began to tell me more about Islam.

One evening I found myself walking in the street with my daughter in the rain and having nowhere to go, as I’d just had an argument with my husband. I remember raising my eyes to the sky and begging God to help me somehow or give me a sign. We managed to get to the house of the first Muslim woman I had spoken to all those years ago on the street. Fatima and I had kept in touch and so she invited me in. She lived in a small room with her two children and husband but despite their situation she listened with sincerity and empathy to my problems. The next day I went to the mosque and said the shahada. My husband and I divorced soon after and I eventually met and married my current husband Salah, an Egyptian and had my seconddaughter Amina.

The problems we encountered as a family adjusting to a Muslim life-style were numerous and this is of course to be expected. Even if two people have Islam within their hearts, cultural lifestyles can be so different. A lot of compromises must be made. Initially, Phildel, who I had raised as a Roman Catholic up until my divorce, was incredibly enthusiastic about Islam and said the shahada herself. She then chose the name Zara. As time went on she felt the need to explore Islam independently and decided to reconsider her beliefs. She now lives with her father, but is very close to us. She would describe her current position as still being in the process of learning more about Islam, so that she can come to her own decision in time. I respect this.

Although I believe encouragement is important, I do not believe in putting my own ideas into other people’s heads and I am confi dent Phildel will fi nd her own way. She always accompanies us to the mosque, happy to wear hijab. She enjoys speaking with other sisters and taking an active interest in the Islamic community, helping me with the El-Kauther Women’s Out-Reach Group, which I set up to provide a better community network for Muslim women.

Phildel: My mother and I were always extremely close; there was no one in the world I would have preferred to spend time with. In the years leading up to the divorce we spent more time around Muslim people which I enjoyed as it gave me the opportunity to play with lots of other children - which is all a child of seven really wants. As the divorce began home life became increasingly difficult, my parent’s marriage reached its most turbulent point and I was more than relieved when the whole ordeal was over. I marked a noticeable positive change in my mother and father as soon as they were apart. I think around this time my mother underwent a wonderful uplifting experience at a friend’s home and said the shahada. She began living as a Muslim, which I also strived to do.

My mother began working full-time which she had not had to do before, and so I saw her less; and when I did see her she was often very tired and wanted to rest alone. My step-father, Salah moved in after the divorce and spent the most time looking after me and taking me to school and back.

The financial situation meant there was often much stress and I found the result of this hard to bear. My home life became increasingly unhappy, not because I was Muslim but because of the overall atmosphere. My sister Amina was then born and the pressures naturally increased. I never argued and always tried my best to help the situation; I spent almost all of the time looking after my sister and cleaning the house as my mother was still working full-time and my stepfather at this point was very ill. Everyone seemed to be under so much pressure, easily irritated and it was not anyone’s fault in particular, but I began to feel very isolated. Luckily, as my sister grew older we grew much closer and often leant on each other for moral support. I soon began to feel less isolated but still felt heavily weighed down with responsibility.

Despite the times when my step-father did help with my homework and attempt to lift my spirit, which I am grateful for, the values of my mother and stepfather in general were very different to my own and this certainly led to tensions. I continued to live at home for almost 10 years but during my A-levels I knew it would be best to leave. So I began living at my father’s house.

I felt very unhappy about leaving my sister because I knew my decision would be hardest for her to accept. I had to rely on the hope that, remembering how diffi cult it had been for me, she might understand. Luckily for me, she does and I know we will always have the bond that fi rst made me feel less alone all those years ago. As for my mother and stepfather, our relationship actually improved dramatically once I had moved out. I feel closer to both of them now than I ever did before. I think this is partly because there is less stress on the family as a whole.

Although I was never compelled to become a Muslim, I realise my steps towards Islam were the result of pressure I had put upon myself to fit in with the new family nucleus and did not actually come from the heart. However, I learnt a great deal about Islam in the time I lived with my mother and think it is a wonderful religion. I love to help in the mosque and speak with Muslim sisters. I suppose I just want to experience something which lets me know this is defi nitely the direction I need to take, so I’m still learning, but now it is for myself rather than for the benefi t of a situation.

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