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Second Chances

She rubbed her stomach in a slow circular motion. Her fingers grazed her belly button with each stroke. She watched her hand rub, rub and rub some more. She rubbed with such an intensity as if the touching of her protruding stomach would somehow help ease her thoughts. It was like her hand had a mind of its own. She was tired and could barely get out of bed that morning. She threw on a pair of jeans and tossed a hijab on top of her uncombed hair.

Her eyes shifted to the door.

She stopped the mindless rubbing.

The nurse called some name and the girl next to her sighed with an undertone of impatience. The office looked like you stepped back into the 80’s. It smelled of moth balls and disinfectant. A plant that needed watering sat in the corner. The leaves were starting to turn brown and curl inward. She almost felt like getting a cup of water from the fountain nearby and pouring it into the soil, if only it was as easy to nourish the pain in her heart. Her soul needed watering. Everything around her was moving in slow motion, except for her thoughts. Her mind was racing at a mile a minute.

She had two options.

It was plain and clear.

Keep it or don’t keep it.

She knew what it meant to keep the baby. She would probably never get married. Her family would be shamed from here to eternity and her life would essentially be over. A form of suicide but the worse part about that was she wouldn’t actually be dead. She would still be living and going through the motions of life.

She would rather be dead.

Again, plain and clear.

Getting rid of the baby meant that she could go on as if nothing happened. This would be a hard secret to keep. She didn’t feel like her heart could bear to hold it. She had never been a liar and the thought of murdering her baby made all the blood rush to her head. She felt faint. Her eyes closed as her head fell back and rested on the wall behind her. She whispered “Allah” under her breath. This was a call for clarity mixed with a yearning for forgiveness. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. Babies were never a mistake.

This baby was a manifestation of their passion. She loved him. He loved her. She knew exactly when she got pregnant but she was still in denial when she missed her period two months in a row. Your mind will convince you to believe anything. Afterwards, he rolled over and wrapped his big arms around her. She kissed him. He always liked to whisper in her ear after they made love. He would tell her how beautiful she was and thank her for giving him a piece of her love. She could always tell if he was being honest by the look in his eyes. The room was dark and strips of moonlight crept through the blinds. She looked at him and he didn’t blink. He knew she was looking for sincere eyes. Even as dark as the room was she could still look into them. His eyes were deep brown and bright as ever. His warmth radiated around her. She was nestled in him and at that moment in time she didn’t want to be anywhere else. Her eyes closed and she could hear him falling asleep. His breathing pattern slowed down. She rubbed her fingers through his beard. He still held her tightly as he fell asleep. This was love but you couldn’t convince their families though. She never understood why old people acted like they had never been young and in love. She swore up and down she would never become like them. They both pleaded with their parents to allow them to get married. By that point he had approached her father three times and each time it ended with a rejection and a culturally appropriate request not to return. She knew this hurt his pride but he was a man and would never admit it. They were going to be together regardless but like everything in life she knew there would be consequences.

She knew this was a possibility. Every time you lay up with a man you risk the chance of getting pregnant. This was basic knowledge but she got caught up with him. It started off innocent and sweet. She held onto her virginity the way good Muslim girls are taught. By the time she reached twenty-five it was getting harder to maintain herself. They would meet up at events, then that lead to dinners and eventually he began inviting her over to his place. In the beginning he even gave her his bed as he crashed on the sofa. At the thought of this she laughed under her breath at its stupidity. Shaytan did his work and had them both thinking they were in control. The first time they had sex there was a sense of remorse and guilt. Afterwards they immediately turned away from each other as though nothing had happened. The shame of sin had kicked in. She rolled out from under the covers and quickly put her clothes on. She couldn’t believe it had happened. As she left his house she could still smell him on her. She had held onto her virginity for all those years and to lose it that quickly almost seemed unfair. She had never felt so dirty but he ignited a flame inside her body that could only be cooled by him. It felt natural. She would try to ward off the flames of desire and sometimes she would succeed but when they became uncontrollable she needed him. Every time they vowed to never to repeat this sin but one thing led to the next and before she knew it she’d be wrapped up in his bed sheets once again. This is what had led her to this point.

Marriage was what she wanted. It was what they both wanted from the beginning. She blamed her parents, her community and cultural bullshit. Islam was easy but Muslims made it hard. She was being pushed away but she needed her community. She needed to be reminded of where she came from. Hindsight is always 20/20, no doubt. She understood the consequences of her actions. Actually, they both understood the consequences of their actions but she was the one who carried the tangible manifestation of what they had done.

No one had explained these things to her though. Everything she learned about sex was from her peers and TV. No one actually sat her down and explained sex and its implications. Sex was always seen as a shame. As a woman you were not allowed to admit that you had the desire to be desired, even if you were within the confines of a marriage. It was often discussed with brides the night before their wedding in hushed voices behind closed doors. Some people said this was related to Islam but she had been educated enough to know that this was a cultural understanding. In Islam, women were sexually liberated and their needs were always acknowledged.

The door opened and the plump nurse walked out with a clipboard in her hand. She lifted her glasses and looked at it puzzlingly. She uttered something with exaggerated syllables that didn’t sound even remotely close to her name. She didn’t care and didn’t even bother correcting the nurse. She made eye contact and acknowledged her presence without words. Worried that the shame she was carrying deep inside her womb would surface she quickly averted her eyes to the floor.

Her mind had been made up.

______________

I remember when a friend of mine disappeared. I remember the pain and worry I felt when I couldn’t find her. Her number changed, her Facebook page vanished and I lost contact with her for nearly three years. I had heard that she got caught up with a brother and decided to take some time to recover from a failed attempt at getting married. Years later, I bumped into her and to my surprise she had a toddler strapped on her hip. I remember she looked happy and I was overjoyed to see her after years of not being in contact. I found out that in those years she had a son and had finally decided to come out and be part of the Muslim community once again. She said she did this for the sake of her child. She couldn’t raise him on her own and needed to be around other Muslims.

At the time, I had a mix of emotions. I was upset and hurt. I didn’t understand why she had to go into hiding but I began to understand the hard decision she had to make. She was all alone. My mind shifted to the feeling of loneliness she probably felt and the fact that she had very few people to confide in. I wanted to be there for her because as a young Muslim woman I understood the struggle of being single and alone. The reality remains that it is easy to get caught up and you have to be diligent and mindful of Shaytan and his tricks. I admired her courage for coming back but I admired her even more for keeping her child under cultural and religious pressures.

Muslim women who get pregnant out of wedlock need to be encouraged to keep their seeds but there is no way this can happen without collective community support. As women, we have to give each other a break and understand that it is very easy to judge a person when you haven’t been put in the same predicament. Each one of us navigate a different road in life. Life is full of challenges and we all face circumstances different from the next. I have witnessed Muslim men bring their pregnant girlfriends to the mosque. Absolutely no shame in their game and they aren’t reprimanded.

Let a sista repeat…

I’ve actually witnessed Imams encourage these men to bring their girlfriends to the mosque in hope that these women will convert to Islam. Yet, when a Muslim woman gets pregnant she goes into hiding or gets an abortion. Sometimes she leaves Islam all together. What about the child? What about her spiritual wellbeing?

The double standards are for real and I refuse to accept them.

The dehumanizing associated with Islam needs to stop. Muslims are people and fall into sin just like any other group. When did religiosity and infallibility become so closely intertwined? As sincere Muslims, we all hope to stay on the path of truth and righteousness but in reality sometimes we take a detour or some of us just take a break and get off the path all together. We would rather trample over each other and judge a person when they are having a difficult time getting back up. So rather than offering a helping hand we kick them down even further when they make sincere efforts to get back into our communities. What happens when Allah has allowed a person to come back? What happens when He has ignited their hearts once again? Lending a helping hand to a person who has fallen victim to life doesn’t mean you agree with their actions it simply means you are empathizing.

Marriage is not difficult but Muslims make these things more complicated than they ought to be. If two young people express interest in each other why aren’t we allowing them to get married? Then we wanna get mad and judgmental when folks get caught up in certain situations. The older I get I hear of far too many people getting caught up simply based on the fact that their community or parents didn’t allow the marriage to progress. This is a huge problem in many Muslim communities. It usually falls into these two categories, either the brother isn’t financially ready (so the family rejects) or the family doesn’t agree with interracial/intercultural marriages.

In addition, we need to teach our young people about sex. In an ideal world and according to Islam abstinence is taught but in reality folks are getting it in. Young Muslims need to properly understand sex and its implications. Contraception, STD’s/STI’s and pregnancies need to be discussed with a culturally sensitive approach. There needs to be no shame associated with this. If we aren’t teaching the youngins’ then they are learning elsewhere. Expecting people to navigate the roads of life without proper guidance is absolutely unrealistic. Our communities need to take some responsibility.

You will never know the inner struggles of a person. Kindness and empathy always overpower.

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