Amani-Nzinga Jabbar is a teacher, writer, and public speaker. She holds a BA and MA in English Literature. Her articles have appeared in publications such as Halal Consumer Magazine. Her personal narratives, creative non-fiction essays, and fiction stories currently focus on helping other women find strength in the midst of struggle.
Through a matching grant from Gates Foundation on MALA’s GlobalGiving platform, these stories are produced by Writers Studio to promote the diverse narratives of Muslim Americans, spotlight individuality, show our shared humanity and further the impact of our voices and concerns.
I could feel her inside of me…yes she was a girl. It hadn’t been confirmed yet, but I knew. The midwife had said that you can’t feel the baby move until the fourth month, but I could feel her. I could feel her subtle movements deep in the pit of my abdomen. I felt them most deeply at night. Late in the night, her slight movements would wake me. At those time, as much as I tried, I couldn’t sleep. I would eventually give up trying and lay out my prayer mat.
That night I sat on my prayer rug, allowing the sadness to wash over me like ocean waves. One after another, they threatened to engulf me. If I was still enough perhaps I would drown in them. That idea excited me. I yearned for the sweetness of nonexistence. I laid there and allowed the tears to fall. I was just so tired of trying to be strong.
“How long have you been having suicidal thoughts?” the Imam (leader of the mosque) had asked.
“I’m not suicidal,” I had replied. The words shocked me. I didn’t want to end my life. I just wanted to put this life on hold until the pain would go away. At that moment it was simply unbearable. It burned through me like hot lead…everything from the inside out felt raw, open, tender and exposed. When would the pain end?
Hasbun Allahi wa nimal wakeel….the words had become my mantra. They mean “Allah alone is sufficient for us, and He alone can rectify our affairs.” I had been reciting it thousands of times a day. So much so that I don’t know if they were saving me or driving me further away from sanity. I said them until the words lost all meaning. I said it until I broke not one, not two, but three strands of prayer beads. Somehow, while I was reciting it, it brought me into a trance-like state. I floated out of my body. Yet, it did nothing to abate the feelings of hopelessness that crept in during the daytime.
One Imam had written the words down like a prescription, hasbun Allahi wa nimal wakeel 450 times after every prayer. “Take two of these and call me in the morning”, I thought to myself. But I didn’t call in the morning. The Imams I spoke to didn’t seem really interested in helping as much as they wanted to get rid of me.
I had exposed the shame of my situation and was offered the words that I recited daily. They were a thikr, or remembrance of God. Another Imam recited a short dua ( prayer) over me, and offered me a form to fill should I need sadaqa (charity) funds.
That night, I didn’t know where my husband was. It wasn’t the first night had he snuck out as I slept. We had argued again that day. I had found more text messages from her. She was once a friend of mine. I had found the first letter 2 months ago. It was an email he had tried to hide in an innocuous looking folder. In it, she described the life they could lead together, the love she had for him, her sexual desires. The letter made my body feel hot, then cold. It made me dizzy. My heart raced. I threw up, reread the letter, and threw up again. I had nothing in my stomach. The green vile tasting stomach acid burned my throat and made me gag.
For months I had a nagging feeling. Something was wrong. Each time I broached the subject with him, he denied there was a problem. He was spending less time at home. He shut me out even more than usual. Yet he repeatedly rejected my concerns. One day I asked him, “If nothing has changed, why do I feel this way?” His reply was, “You’ll have to ask yourself that question.” Yet the feelings of unease within me remained. The day I found the letter, I realized that my intuition had been right.
She was a married woman. I was so naive. I didn’t know that married Muslim women behaved this way. In my mind, she was my sister….someone I could trust.
Since then, I’ve realized trust was a word I threw around much too easily.
I thought I trusted my husband.
That day, the day I broke another strand of thikr beads, which I used to keep count of my recitation, he had been texting her again. After they had both promised to stop all communication. I had foolishly believed them. That afternoon, I had fallen asleep on the couch after coming home from work. During the day, I tutored homeschooled children. In the evening, I taught a literature course at a community college. I was nauseous and has been out of the home since 7:30 a.m. that day. He had texted her a string of complaints about me…”she’s sleep on the couch/can’t even talk to her.” She comforted him. He later wrote, “I can’t wait to marry you.” He ended that message with a wedding ring emoji and hearts.
I was carrying his child…working. Of course I was tired. I was angry and had pushed him away from me, forcefully. He had just finished eating the dinner I had cooked the night before. I could see a bit of quinoa stuck in his front tooth. Even during all of this, I still cooked for him.
I thought I trusted my own mind, but evidently I couldn’t. Even after confronting him with the letters, he denied any relationship with her. They both denied any physical relationship.
He blamed me for everything. I didn’t wear make-up. I didn’t respect him enough. I returned a ring he had given me two years ago. This was all my fault. This was my doing. When I argued that he never complained about these things before, he said he had. He retold events in a way that always painted him as the victim. I began to doubt my sanity. According to him, he was the best man I would or could ever have. I began to think maybe he was right.
Months later, I began to read articles on emotional abuse and gaslighting. I didn’t know on that day, though, that his tactics were typical strategies used by emotional abusers. On that day, I only knew that I didn’t want to be alone. Yet alone I was.
I prayed salatul istakhara again. The prayer for guidance was meant to instill in me a feeling of resolve….I prayed salatul haja (the prayer of need) again. The answers were the same….I knew in the pit of my gut…the same place where she resided, that I had to move on.
I prayed for strength, I prayed for courage, and I prayed for resilience.
I wish I could say I didn’t make any mistakes on this path. I have made more than I can name. However, through it all my creator has granted me those three qualities – Strength, Courage, Resilience- to a degree I could never have imagined on that day. They became my companions.
A few days later, I changed the locks on my home. I never allowed him to cross the threshold again. I let go of the fear of being alone. I let go of the fear of judgement from my community. I let go of the fear of being a single mother. I held onto faith in God’s plan instead.
I told him I was going to file for divorce. He responded by pronouncing divorce upon me when I was 4 months pregnant. After that, he refused to support me or pay my doctor’s bills until I went to court at 8 months pregnant.
It was during that time that I discovered the true meaning of trust. I discovered that true trust was tawakkul, trust in God.