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Kith & Kin - Lidia & Zarina

Kith & Kin - Lidia & Zarina

Issue 100

As a child growing up in the north of England, I was always aware of being different, despite exhibiting no visible signs. I am from a European background; my mother being Italian, my father Polish. As a child I would often long for a large extended family life and felt deprived by not having one nearby. I never wanted my children to feel the way I did.

Both my parents were Roman Catholic and although my brother and I developed a sense of disillusionment towards the Church at quite a young age, my father’s staunch beliefs remain easily traceable in our upbringing. We were not allowed to socialise the way others did; my parents were quite restrictive. I shed this insular lifestyle as soon as I started my nurses’ training, and by shedding a skin that I was neither comfortable nor confi dent wearing, I realised the opportunity to begin moulding a brand new identity. My nursing took me to Coventry, where I met Zarina’s father, and eventually to London. Exposure to different cultures and religions had a great bearing on my new personality and set the virtue of tolerance as a precedent in my life. There were certain sentiments I felt more comfortable leaving behind at the home of my parents when my adventures began; yet I believe the values and ideals taught to me by my father, which came from religion, never left my side over the years.

I didn’t really convert to Islam, but when my ex-husband and I began raising a family, I became a fi rst-hand witness to the embedding of Islam in a young person’s mind. I began to learn, appreciate and adhere to the Islamic practices of the household.

Even after the break up of my marriage I continued to take my children for lessons to learn about Islam and Qur’an. Life became a balancing act between fi nding my feet again, dealing with running the household and maintaining Islam as much as I could. Despite my emotional suffering, I was conscious that if I did not maintain an Islamic home I would be depriving my children of their true identities. It was necessary and very important that my children maintained their Muslim identities, for it was by far the most important factor, especially at such a life-altering time, in their young lives.

Zarina exudes a more subtle level of affection compared to myself and my son. She dealt with the divorce by quiet and reflective introspection. For someone so young she has an ability to mix and mingle with the company of all age groups and backgrounds. The level maturity was a gift she acquired from learning to deal with separation. Her tolerance, warm heartedness, friendly and compassionate nature are nicely balanced by her artistic and creative intelligence. She has acquired some of my characteristics, but is less demonstrative, shies away from my hugs and kisses (an example of my passionate, Latin blood coming through!) and in that sense is more like her father in terms of temperament.

When she was about ten years old, Zarina’s school had a book day, whereby all the pupils were given the opportunity to dress up as their favourite book character. Zarina and I both decided that she would be Noddy and I eagerly got to work on her costume. The day came around and I helped to get her dressed. She looked delightful – there was no mistaking her for any other character! She was mortifi ed that she looked so much like Noddy and really didn’t want to go to school. Just as she predicted (and I have to admit, I did to), she became labelled Noddy for a while by her school friends!

Since my son married and emigrated to South Africa earlier this year, Zarina and I have been blessed with the opportunity of getting to know one another on an entirely new level. I initially felt rather afraid, for in my mind I believed I had a mighty task of filling the position my son had left - best friend and confi dante to Zarina. Although there was no need for my anxiety, it reminded me of the fear I had felt some six months earlier. I experienced a sense of intimidation last summer when my children had just returned from Umrah, my son had got engaged and Zarina was beginning to make the visible transformation into a beautiful and pious young Muslim woman.

Whether my detachment from Islam was all in my head or not, I now see that there was nothing to feel threatened by. Separation from that idealised family life was one thing, but the thought of detachment from my children, whether physical or spiritual, scared me horribly. Months on, I now see Islam as something that brought us all closer. Zarina embraces all of her duties with courage and dedication; she dons her hijab with confi dence and self-assurity and honours her mixed heritage. I see Islam as not being biased to one set ethnicity but free for all, and I feel more in touch with her than ever before. It makes me feel privileged to say that I brought her up, and it’s awesome that I have witnessed the changes fi rsthand. It just goes to show that adapting and adjusting are never as scary as we anticipate; fear is all in the mind...

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Zarina Saley is a postgraduate English student at King’s College, London. Her Italian-Polish mother Lidia is a Community Midwife, as well as an aromatherapist and reflexologist. Together they discuss their inter-faith family and the unique relationship borne out of a single parent scenario.


Throughout the lifetime we have shared together, my mother and I are always met by such comments as: “You’re not mother and daughter”, “There’s nothing similar about the two of you”, and to me: “Well, you must take after your father”. Not that it bothers me but I sometimes find it ridiculous that the character traits, mannerisms and personality that I know I have in common with my mum are so easily bypassed or ignored by people who are so keen to act as commentators on our relationship. I will always cherish the comment my assistant man- ager at my old place of work made on meeting my mother for the first time. Unaware of our relationship to one another, my colleague recognised the similarities instantly, and was eager to find out whether she had guessed the mother- daughter bond correctly.

 Despite our differing appearances, beliefs and temperaments, I am my mother’s daughter through and through. My father never hesitates to use this comment in describing our shared weakness when it comes to retail therapy!

 The mixed background, in terms of culture and race is another major commonality. To some extent there is a blessing in not having to live up to certain expectations set by society, but what proved quite difficult was the fashion- ing of my persona during my formative years. After my father left home, although we continued to go to Qur’an school, Islam became a background feature in my life. My mother maintained an Islamic code in terms of keeping halal and taking my brother for Friday prayers, but Islam as a way of life faded without much notice into the shadows.

 I was effectively raised by a single mum and have always appreciated the independence and truly remarkable multi-tasking skills she exhibits. The earliest memories I have are of the birthday parties she would arrange for my brother and I. The Cowboys and Indians theme for my 3rd birthday was a winner with not only myself but with all the other kids who attend- ed. The other parents felt the pressure as they walked away contemplating how they would be able to live up to the wonderful organisational skills of this super-mum and her super party!

 My brother and mum get on tremendously well, as both are as tactile and affectionate as each other. I, on the other hand shy away from hugs and kisses and both of them always tease me by smothering me inspite of my averseness! I think the real test for my mum and I came at the beginning of this year when my brother moved abroad. Faced by the realisation that there was only now the two of us, we began to explore our already tight bond as the dynamics of our relationship took on a different shape.

 I only came back into Islam about a year or so ago, taking baby steps initially as I began to pray and read up about Islam. My brother was a direct influence in capturing my interest, and I believe that Allah made sure I was comfort- able in my religion before handing over to me the role of the Islamic influence in the house- hold. So, when my brother did leave to start his new life away from home, not only was I already comfortable and happy in my new attire of hijab, but also ready to start answering with confidence questions posed by my mother and others on the topic of Islam.

 My mother has been a tower of support for me over the past year especially. We have become close, like best friends. I have the utmost respect for her, and I see perfect moral codes and values within her. She has always marvelled at the beauties of this world and has always taught me that you only receive as much as you give in this world. I love her for her simple and beautiful ethics, and whether Allah guides her onto a path more similar to mine is not for me to say. We all have our own paths, but I see that my mum and I will always be travelling in the same general direction.

In raising me, she has equipped me with the fine virtues of tolerance, acceptance and appreciation, which makes coping with the efforts and hardships of this world more bearable. For example, the intrigue and line of question- ing that begins at home, in terms of my faith, makes facing the questions of those outside the home, at university or work, a great deal easier. I feel that I have been taught the characteristics of a Muslim by a non-Muslim; and now I feel ready and confident enough to offer the complimentary ideal way of life, to suit those traits, as a reciprocative gesture to my mum.  

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