Thursday, March 29, 2012

Messed-up Muslim Bloggers

Part I



Honorary Arab

That's me---or at least that was me.  When I started blogging it was at the suggestion of a real-life friend.  I felt that I could add something to the internet from my perspective as a striving new Muslim revert.  Unfortunately, everything became mired in turmoil and I became a messed-up Muslim blogger. 

I wasn't planning on telling everyone about my then-husband's thoughts of remarrying his first wife (while keeping me too).  I actually wanted the blog to divert me from that problem.  However, the pain of their calls and text messages and the fear of the future was too much.  I started blogging about our private life, astragferallah, because I felt alone.

I wish, in hindsight, that I had toughed it out with Allah rather than going to the 'net for comfort and advice. I am uncertain what role I played in our marriage's demise.  Maybe if I had spent more time thinking of solutions rather than focusing on replaying the problems, the outcome would have been different.

Allahu alim. 

My blog saw my marriage dissolve, our business bankrupt, my home put up for sale, my 14-month old son and I abandoned and me incredibly stressed-out.  Astragferallah.  I continued to have faith but I faltered often.  When the house sold, there was a round of cheers.  When the Islamic divorce and the American-law divorce went through there was commiserating.

I made a risky choice by chronically my road to ruin in a series of blog posts during my iddah.  I wanted to be introspective and not make the same mistakes with my life again and again.  There was a lot of flack about being public about private matters. In many ways, I didn't care.

I didn't care again when I was warned to stay away from men right after my divorce.  About six months after the American divorce was granted (which was a year after being abandoned), I married the Moroccan.  I stopped blogging about my life in deferrence to him.

Instead, I thought of making a blog for Florida visitors.  This could even be a money-maker, whereas my Islamic blogging needed to stay altruistic.

Eventually, the truth of that marriage with X3 hit me between the eyes and I left.  Blogging was the habit to fall back on so once again I was sharing my life with those I didn't know.  I kept writing about the potential suitors and that made for a lot of angry comments from readers who thought that I needed more time alone.

What I probably needed was more time away from the blog and that's what I got when I left for Egypt.

Where are we now?

As readers know, I'm in Egypt and teaching kindergarten at an American school.  My two teenage children (from before Islam) are in America with their father, X1.  My former husband, X2, moved his first wife and kids to The U.S. at the same time I moved here.  The baby is now six and a half and becoming bi-lingual both spoken and written, mashahallah.  I did remarry and with my current Egyptian husband I finally have a man who practices his faith.  Alhumdulillah.

I was not alone in those years.  I was in a community of messed-up Muslim bloggers.  I want to revisit those people and those times.  Come with me in the way-back machine...

Our Rewards Await Us

This easy-going European-American revert to Islam had a good life with her Middle-eastern Muslim husband---until he met another woman at an electronics store.  Then suddenly she had a life she couldn't tell anyone about.  For a time, they were all living together and there was drama every day. The other woman was called NAPster on the blog because she was a "New-Age," practictioner and not Muslim (at least in the beginning of her marriage though she later said shahaddah).  Many of the issue were around the other woman and the husband not adhering to Islam as the three struggled through polygamy together.

Her blog is no longer up but I can provide snippets of how the time went.  There were other posts of course but these are meant to show the arch of events and self-discovery. 

Five years ago ORAU wrote, "Well...he's done it again.  He actually married her again today. I actually feel physically ill. He says he doesn't think it will last longer than a month. I ask, "Why bother then?" Especially when twice this week you told her to never..."

Four years ago ORAU wrote, "I finally decided to delete everything off of my blog. If there was anyone out there that benefited from it, alhamdulillah. If I hurt anyone in anyway from what I wrote, may Allah forgive me. It helped me ..."

Three years ago ORAU wrote, " 'It was an honest and vulnerable post- perhaps she felt too exposed.'  People weren't reading my last post the way I intended...and I could see it was going to cause more trouble than was worth..."

and

"No, I don't feel sorry for him either.  There's been some discussion in my comments which leads me to say that I don't feel sorry for men that get stressed out because they choose to take on more than one wife."

and

"I guess he talked to someone at the mosque that night because now he says the divorce wasn't valid because I hadn't washed yet after my period stopped so I was still in the menstrual state."

and

"She's outta here!  Alhamdulillah, NAPster moved out yesterday. It was a struggle between she and hubby, but she finally left. But, I said some things in the process that now has hubby pissed at me, so we're not really talking."

and then

"I'm in a good place.  Things have settled down around here. And on this 13th day of 2009, I can finally say I'm in a good place. I'm liking myself more....I'm liking my marriage more. I'm liking my home more. The tension is gone."

Later posts were simply announcing that there was no news to tell.  The blog ended with well wishes for Ramadan and then a Happy New Year.  It has since been taken off line.


Where are they now?

ORAU is doing well, alhumdulillah.  She is living happily for the most part (like all of us) with her husband and daughter.  Though her co-wife once lived upstairs from her, ORAU would not be interested in that arrangement again.  Her focus has become making the most of her career and her child.  She has another baby on the way.  The co-wife is still in the picture and is also expecting.

I contacted ORAU and asked her the following:

What do you think about blogging as a coping mechanism.  Does it work?  Is it detrimental? 

How do readers help or hurt the blogger? 

What has to be the ulitmate coping tool? 

How does one STOP being a messed-up Muslimah blogger?"

She offered these thoughts:

I don't mind at all being interviewed anonymously. But no references to where I live either :)

I do think blogging helped me through a tough time and did help me cope. Most readers were beneficial in their comments. Others were down right nasty and insulting. But alhamdulillah I took what I needed from it and left what I didn't. It was more like an open online diary but instead of mulling over everything silently, I "met" people that could share my pain and offer words of advice.

I don't remember how long I used my blog, but after awhile I feel like I did grow as a person and Muslimah and no longer needed the crutch of the blog commenters. I do remember it was sometime into my daughter's first year...so maybe my priorities shifted from focusing only on him to focusing on my precious daughter. :) Kinda like getting a pet to focus on....I had to take care of someone that was helpless to have their needs met which made me a little less helpless for myself.

One thing that I did want to answer was about if I feel not blogging makes me a better muslimah/wife. I think it makes me a better Muslim wife in that I'm not putting my husband's business out there for the world to see....even if I never revealed our names and such.
My husband never knew and I did sometimes worry about him finding out. I got really good with clearing out the browser history and cookies so he couldn't see where I'd been online. I never worried that CW [co-wife] would find out because I never used names or identifying info.

I never had any real life people reading and to this day no one in my real life circle knows anything about it."

Muhammad

Yes, there are messed-up Muslim men blogging too!

Muhammad was happily married to Sakinah and the two of them were very upfront about their quest to find the perfect co-wife.  This African-American couple felt that their family (including their children) would welcome another woman into the mix. Yet when Muhammad began the process in earnest it broke them apart.

He wrote very eloquently about it in his post, Al Assab.  Here is a except: 

"Men are single tracked, goal oriented, point to point beings. One activity does not automatically blend with the next. Each activity is its own entity. When you are at work all of your focus is at work, when you are at home all of your focus is at home, or should be. When you are watching the game or a movie that is where all of your focus is as a man. This isn't the same for women. Women's activities blend into several multitasking situations. They watch TV while cooking dinner and talking on the phone. I can't do that. Either I'm on the phone, watching TV or cooking dinner and don't ask me to "multi-task" while doing a single activity. This leads to frustration."

If you ever have wanted to look inside the mind of a man coping with polygamist urges, then this is the blog post you must read.

Where are they now?

From reading Muhammad now, it seems that he is alone.  He still loves his ex-wife and misses the goodness they shared. Yet, he knows that their relationship became too tainted and had to end.  His ex-wife has moved on.

Peaceful Muslimah

By most accounts this woman was living a very successful life. She was teaching at a college in Qatar.  She had many friends and outlets for her sharp mind.  She had married an intellectual man to share some of her freetime.  Yet, her world began to unravel when her new husband announced that he wanted to stay married to his first wife rather than continue with his long-desired divorce.  All of a sudden her dreams of a simple partnership turned into a confusing polygamy nightmare.  Despite trying everything she could, the marriage ended.  She took off hijab.  Eventually, her controversial posts about Islam brought the fundementalist Muslim wrath upon her and she felt threatened enough to close her blog.

Where are they now?

I don't know.  Wherever she is, I wish her well.  I will always remember her kindly for offering friendship and support during my time of aloneness.  Her call from Qatar during Mr. Boo's hospital stay was very touching and in times of trouble that outstretched hand means a lot. 


Safa

Safa became a "Cause Celeb" when she used her blog named "Coping Mechanisms" to deal with her husband's decision to take another wife.  Actually, he took a coffee shop waitress as another wife first and then later (after that didn't work) he took a former business partner's estranged wife as his.  This didn't sit well with Safa, a Canadian revert who had settled in her husband's country of Egypt in order to raise their four daughters.  She was devastated and sank into a kind of depression which she voiced through her well-read blog.

She continued on in their marriage and even became pregnant with their fifth child.  Her decisions and her ways of coping made for an interesting read but a difficult life.  The birth of her son was bittersweet.  As it became apparent that her husband was preparing a villa in order to bring his new wife over to Egypt, Safa made plans to leave him.  Though she had enjoyed a posh life in Egypt, she didn't have money of her own and she set up a paypal account for donations.  Readers from all over the world sent money to help her "escape."

Safa made her way back to Canada with her children and from there set up a fight.  She did not slink away silently but made a stink.  Click here to read more about the firestorm she brought about.  She contacted the local media, made TV appearances, and said her truths to anyone who would listen.  I'm sure she made many people think. 

Did it help her?

Allahu alim.

Did it help others?

Allahu alim.

Did it help the cause of Islam?

Allahu alim.

Safa used to be my closest friend on the internet.  We shared everything.  We truly had a love for each other.  Maybe we weren't healthy for each other in that we were both enabling the other, however we were trying to find a way to continue living after our marriages had died.  Alhumdulillah for any good we shared and astragferallah for any bad.

I have contacted her to see if she would share some of what's happened in her life since.  Safa broke off our friendship once she was staying with her mother in Canada.  That was at the same time she decided to take off hijab.

I remember our last chat and I joked with her, "Come on!  It's not like you're so cute without hijab that you have to show it all off!" 

It was the way sisters kid each other...at least I imagine that's how it is (since I don't have siblings).  I regret not being more understanding of her needs.  I thought that off-the-wall humor was a way to reach her and stop her from making a quick decision.  We had been joking with each other for a couple of years at that point.  I thought she would understand me.  I didn't want her to take it off to everyone when she had just lost so much.  I confided in her during our last chat.  It was nothing new to confide in each other.

What was different this time is that she went on to her private blog and told her followers that I was a fraud.  I was not to be believed because I wasn't a good Muslim.  She was taking off hijab because she refused to be among frauds like me---or something to that effect.  A mutual reader alerted to me to this betrayl.

I couldn't think of anything else to do than to pour my heart out in a poem.

Where are they now?

Facebook has that funny way of pushing your past into your present.  From Facebook, I know that she still in Canada.  She has kept her hijab off and that her four daughters have followed suit.  I have no idea if they are still practicing the other aspects of Islam.  Her son is with her and growing bigger alhumdulillah.  There are many referrences to singing karaoke at a legion hall so she is exploring other aspects to her talents.  I don't know if she is writing or working.  She lists herself as engaged and looks happy with her new man.  Truly may God bless her with happiness. 


Vena

From her blog, "Thoughts of a First Wife," Vena often came across as a Pollyana; or maybe a "Polygamyana" if I can make up a new term.  She was looking at polygamy through rose-colored glasses.  She was half-full; not half empty.  It didn't matter if there wasn't enough time or money.  It didn't matter if her best friend came to Islam and then started sharing Vena's husband without asking first. 

Wait...ya...eventually it mattered a lot. It broke Vena slowly but surely. How could the two people she loved the most go behind her back and start a relationship?  No, she couldn't stay friends with Lisa.  She had a new role as co-wife with her best friend and it hurt.  It hurt to be Vena.

Where are they now?

You can read Vena's update and see that she did decide on divorce.  It cannot have been easy for this mother of six girls to find the strength to be all done.  Her incredible faith must have been the one thing to get her through those tough times.



PART II

I feel that we Muslims are on the internet repeating history.  The bloggers I listed above were on the scene five years ago and, even if many are no longer blogging (or not blogging the same issues), we as a community are still populating the 'net with our messed-up lives.  We are turning to the computer like a friend.   Since we are Muslim, we aren't just messed-up bloggers.  We are messed-up Muslim bloggers.

I asked my friend, psychologist Dr. Layla, to give us some professional words of wisdom regarding Muslim bloggers.
When is it healthy to be honest on the internet with personal life issues and when does it become distructive?

More and more people are using the internet as a platform upon which to place their issues. They enjoy the anonymity and the allowances that come with no one knowing who you are. On the internet, and more often through blogs, individuals enact their struggles and will many times express how they "truly" feel.

The difficulty arises when an individuals desire for anonymity conflicts with the desire to be seen, recognized, and validated which is a more personal process. It feels nice to have random users offer their words of support, but inside the blogger, there might be the question of "would they still say that if they knew who I really was". It is for this reason that most bloggers identify their true selves to at least some of their readers. It is not possible to create a dichotomous layout of when it is healthy or destructive to blog about personal matters because the internet is a fluid and boundless entity whereby you cannot control your audience or their remarks.

Often bloggers find themselves attacked, ridiculed, judged and sometimes targeted for sharing their experiences and their beliefs or impressions about them. While it is popular to say that one does not care what others think, most normal individuals are deeply hurt by character attacks.


Islamically, being private is more respected. However, are there times when bringing issues into public is better?


While I am not an Islamic scholar, I can say that the issue of blogging is a personal preference and way in which many choose to connect with the world. Some use Islam as the subject matter while others use themes such as their diseases or other life impacting aspects of their personas. I think it is best to refrain from judging the choice that people make regarding how they share themselves with the world. It could be argued that often sharing one's struggle including one's mistakes helps validate the experience of others and an individuals process of recovering and healing can be immensely helpful to those suffering in silence.


You were a reader of mine when I was going through some very tough times. Did you ever feel that I was in danger of going overboard with my writing?


There were several times when I did worry about you. What I know from my day to day work is that human beings are incredibly resiliant and resourceful and I trusted in your inner strength to make it out.


For others who may be reading one of these blogs, is there a way to be more pyschologically or Islamically helpful in comments?

I'm not sure that the aim of blogging for many is to be necessarily "psychologically" or "islamically" helpful. Instead, I think that our process is often what is most helpful. Often bloggers write when they are in the pit of misery and when their problems resolve, they disappear. This type of a writing style while it is very common reflects how the specific blogger accesses help and their retreat when the problem resolves. Writing is first a self-centered practice, and that's okay.

What would be the danger signs that a blogger is no longer benefitting themselves or Islam with their blog?

I am relecutant to say that there are dangers detectable without knowing a person. Recent studies are shedding more and more light on the personality differences of individuals on the internet versus in reality. Further, I don't think that there is an objective way to assess whether an indiviudal is benefiting themeselves or Islam and any attempt to do so is a sanctioning of an individual's freedom of expression.


Would you recommend bloggers and readers forging interpersonal relationships through the 'net or not?


I would prefer not to recommend anything here, it all depends.


If a person wanted to re-invent themselves from a hard time to a time of ease, would you recommend they continue blogging through the transforming time or to shelve it and come back to it later?


I trust that individuals innately know when they need to share and when not to share. It is important that an individual weigh out the pros and cons to their sharing and make that decision.


Thanks to you, Dr. Layla

...and to all the bloggers and readers who want to rise above the problems within themselves and in the world to instead create solutions.

It's good to remember that we are not our past.  We are not our problems.  We are whole and complete and perfectly able to find solutions through God's Mercy.  There is never any problem without there also being a solution.

We don't need to become messed-up Muslim bloggers.  We don't.  We can have troubles and share but not become the trouble itself.  Be cogniscent of the easy entrapment of blogging yourself into a corner; you can be more careful of your actions and reactions. 


PART III
I would like to offer advice to the Muslim blogging community since I feel I've "been there done that."  Let's evolve beyond where we've been.

Don't blog anything that you would be ashamed to say in a TV interview.  Potentially, your words will be seen by tens of thousands of people.  Be proud of how you present yourself in your posts.  Delete those posts which would embarrass you if others really saw you on TV saying those things.

Be mindful that whether or not you blog about Islam, you are a Muslim blogger.  You are representing your faith every time you type so be aware that you will be accountable for your actions which might bring people to Islam or might repell them.

Blog after the storm has passed.  While it seems like you need a lifeboat NOW, there isn't as much of an emergency as you imagine.  Trust in God, do your dishes and wait until the next day to re-read what you wrote before clicking PUBLISH POST.

Get out of the house.  When your world is small, your troubles are big.  See more of the world, even if it is around your block and back. 

Make real friends.  The people on the internet are not real friends.  Sorry!  But they will not be bringing you chicken soup when you're sick.  Find some people who you really resonnate with in real life.  Make a real circle of friends rather than a group of people hiding behind their screens.

Consider the best not the worst.  We need to make excuses in our life for those who upset us.  Blogging about anyone who angers us sets up a bad feeling inside ourselves that we too are the focus of someone else's rage.  When we are benevolent, we feel the mercy of others and of God.

Find things to say which bring hassanette to your life.  Think of something so glorious to say that you could die tomorrow and your good deeds from your blog would bring you increased favor even in the grave.

Stay balanced.  There are many ways we could focus our lives.  Keep even-keeled and make sure not to neglect the simple duties and pleasures of life. 

Remember Allah.  Remember Allah when you write and when you comment.  Remember Allah when you need help.  Ask for help from Allah, not your readers.

Don't compare yourself to someone else.  Everyone is so different really.  Every story is so different.  We can put ourselves in someone else's shoes but we don't really understand the shoes as described in a blog post.  It's too distant from our own reality.  If someone else is divorcing or taking off hijab, that doesn't mean that you should too.  Don't use other bloggers' current situation to become your own goal.  The converse is also true in that what worked for you won't work for everyone else so don't shove down the "should".

Don't believe the hype.  Muslims are imperfect.


10 comments:

Salma @ Chasing Rainbow said...

Love it- all of it. I love every single line. I have been through the phases...not hubby issues as much as my depression post death of baby. No one said it, but I knew after reading a lot of other blogs about infant loss that i was not benefiting anyone- it was just a pity party.

I have my ups and downs, but I decided that I wanted people to follow a blog that had structure (which is why I started with daily posts on various topics). This allowed me NOT to just vent whenever something went wrong.

I do have a personal blog for my family...hubby's family, and friends (real friends). Some blog friends do read, but I do not focus on writing for an audience as oppose to updating everyone on changes in our lives (I don't have FB).

I especially like this part:
"The difficulty arises when an individuals desire for anonymity conflicts with the desire to be seen, recognized, and validated which is a more personal process."
It is so true; especially for many Muslim women who are invisible in different ways.
We have to face the truth, we can (through blogging) find great outlets and meet others, but we can also paint a picture of Islam but it is messed up, and that's awful because we are messed up (regardless). People don't see us as bloggers, they only see us as much as Muslims.

I think at times when you focus on all the good in your life it seems as if you are gloating or not humble. We are so used to negativity ion bloggers...all the problems...we do have our moments regardless, but more than not is tiring.

I love all the points about how to make blogging beneficial.
My rule is that I wouldn't write anything that my children cannot read...they do read my blogs, so I am very careful (try to be :).

Salam alaikum, and keep the posts coming.

New Wife said...

mashaAllah excellent excellent post.

thank you so much for taking the time to put this together, I hope it is beneficial for all of us muslim(a) bloggers ameen

xoxo

Um Dayo said...

Asalaamu alaykum and thanks for posting this. Also, I love the "expat blogs" list you have down near the bottom. Very relevant to expats in Egypt!

Um Zakarya said...

Assalamu Alaykum Yosra,

Long time no see, I know I haven't commented for a while.I can say "been there, done that" as well, and now the storm has passed, I totally agree with you.
I'd rather turn and cry to Allah SWT rather than to a millions of strangers on blogger.
MashALLAH that's a great post you've written, so so true.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Salma,

I really appreciate your feedback. It helps, of course, that you liked what I put out there. We all have some truths we feel---but often we are afraid to speak them. I wasn't sure how this would be received and I'm grateful that what I felt was also what you felt.

That word, "vent" is something I should have put into my piece. I think I hate it so much that I have erased it from my vocab. It's not like I'd don't love to do it. I do! But it's like junk food, isn't it? You know you've had a vent but it doesn't really fill ya up with any kind of goodness when you're done. Actually, psychologists are saying now that venting doesn't decrease our anger but rather keeps it at a high level and us more prone to vent again. I don't want to be a "venter". I want other verbs to describe who I am and what I've done with my life, inshahallah.

I like the idea you present of a kind of open letter to family and friends which can be read with YOU in mind---not that nameless/faceless Muslim blogger.

TOTALLY agree on the invisible nature of women in general and Muslim women in particular. I think we reverts forget that we don't have to be like this in our real lives. There were many Muslim women who challenged the Prophet with comments and questions. There have always been women contributors in Islam yet we get this bassakward notion that we have to be covered in black and screened in silence. Then we rebel in a way, I think on the 'net with our true selves (or how we want others to think of us).

I also like Dr. Layla's quote about the believability gap. There's this show on MTV "If You Really Knew Me," where teens let lose how hard their lives are behind closed doors. We feel rotten when we feel we aren't presenting our real selves.

But, ya, it's a tough act. We can't only be full of upset and we can't only are cheerful and not balanced with our dark sides. To be a real person, presenting ourselves to the world, we need to do as you say and think how what we write benefits us or anyone else.

Thanks again for putting some more thoughts out there. You have a lot of good points! JAK!

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom New Wife, UmDayo and UmZakarya,

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

New Wife, inshahallah it's something which will help and not hurt our community.

UmDayo, glad you read this and got something out of it. As for the ex-pat blog list, you can add your blog if you like---just go to their site :)

UmZak, where ya been, Girl? Missed you and nice to see you today commenting.

"I'd rather turn and cry to Allah SWT rather than to a millions of strangers on blogger."

Yep! You said it!!!

Love and light your way :)

Salma @ Chasing Rainbow said...

Salam Yosra...You said: "I think we reverts forget that we don't have to be like this in our real lives".

Yes, it's true. We forget when we revert that we don't have to leave our brains and bodies behind, but alhamdullelah, Allah always guides who wants to be shown the way.

:)

MarieHarmony said...

Thanks so much for a very good article Yosra. I took time to read it fully and it talked to me many ways, even I am not Muslim.
You did good there dear! Have a lovely week.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Salma,

Thanks for stopping back and continuing the discourse. I got a little lost on what you quoted me as saying. I had to look it up. LOL it's sad when we can't remember the smart things we've said.

Ya, so you were diggin' the part about Muslimahs thinking they put on the veil and cover up their mouths and restrict their thoughts. Really, if you read about the times of the Prophet (pbuh) you'll find some REALLY feisty broads--May Allah bless them.

So, let's all own up to our feistiness and do some speaking up and speaking out :)

Asalamu Alaykom Maire,

For real, I keep forgetting you're not classifying yourself as Muslim. What's up with that?! Why do I forget? Should I be remembering or it is healthy that I'm forgetting? Don't know!

It is a crazy-long posting. I thought of the different ways I could present it and in the end chose to do three parts.

Thanks for reading and for your well wishes. I don't know if you're this nice to all the bloggers in the world but I'm glad you pop by! Always brings a smile :)

Safiya Outlines said...

Salaam Alaikum,

I always wondered what had happened to you. Alhamdulilah that things have turned out well in the end, long may it continue, Insha Allah.

I've certainly seen many changes over the years in the Muslim blogosphere, some good, others less so, but such is life.