The Radicalization of Two Mamas: A Conversation Between Unassisted Birthers Dalecia and Brooke

Longtime friends Dalecia and Brooke discuss how they both came about having unassisted births in 2012.

Brooke Benoit: How do you feel about the term “unassisted?”

Dalecia Young: The term “unassisted” is somewhat shallow and misleading to what mothers like you and me are doing. I needed and received plenty of assistance; from my partner and family, from you my good friend as well as other “unassisting” mothers. The truth is that we are constantly gathering wisdom from all around us; our partners, other mothers, and yes, even medical professionals such as midwives, doctors and their professional associations and literature  in preparation for our births so even the clarified term “medically unassisted” still falls short. Perhaps “medically unattended” is more fitting for the biggest difference between birthers such as us and typical birthers is the attendance of a medical professional at the birth itself.

Brooke: Yes. “Unassisted” sounds so alone, which is rather frightful. I remember with my fifth birth, which was my third homebirth, I was having difficulties finding a midwife to attend the birth. The midwifery board of Alaska had chosen to not let licensed midwives attend homebirth vbacs (vaginal birth after cesarean section) and even though I was fine with using an unlicensed midwife, there simply weren’t any available in Anchorage as they had all chosen licensing likely to be able to receive insurance. So my fabulous midwife who was seeing me only for prenatal had told me about unassist- I could “have an unassisted birth” she said. I thought that was really out there. Why would I want to do that all alone?! But she explained that I could choose anyone to attend the birth (not her though as her hands were tied!) such as a doula or friend or even no-one at all except my husband. That just didn’t gel with me at the time. I wanted someone to supervise the delivery…

Dalecia: What were your fears about unassisting and how did you face them?

Brooke: My fears were solely about complications. I took some comfort in knowing that there was an urgency center just a block away in case there truly was a complication we couldn’t handle. A friend in the states sent me an emergency birth book that paramedics used to keep on hand. It was really very cute- retro with great graphics- and I skimmed through to the areas I was worried about, mostly her getting stuck or coming out at an odd angle. The book was lost somewhere in our home before my husband could get a good look at it, but unlike before my first birth when I had thought that I would just be completely spaced out during labor and expected the midwives to tell me what to do and when, this time I well knew that I would be present during labor and could communicate my needs to him if things felt or looked off.

Then just a few weeks before I gave birth, one of the many online birth circles I belong to posted a bunch of links to roadside or accidental homebirths. I read through as many of them as I could and although I knew it was (probably) inappropriate I was just giddy with the joy at how simply these women had all given birth without any medical intervention at all- many truly alone. And even though there is a horrid problem of women in labor being turned away from medical services for various reasons and having to go it alone, these unassisted women who were sharing their stories didn’t sound traumatized at all. It was totally cathartic to just wholeheartedly laugh off all the build up I was feeling against what I was about to do… it was such a relief to be comforted by all those accidental unassisted stories.

Dalecia: My greatest fear was also complications, and I also found comfort in such stories and birth stories from other unassisting mothers. What also helped me to face my fears has been my ongoing journey of loving and trusting my womanhood, a journey that began when I was 16 when I abandoned any shame against my cycle  and continues to this day in various ways. During both my pregnancies I developed a sense of awe and trust in the wisdom and design of women and the amazing things we are able to do. If we weren’t able to do them, humans as a species would not have survived, thrived, and achieved so much for the past estimated 250,000 years! If birth were inherently dangerous this would have never been the case. Not only this, but it has never been safer to birth, in any manner a mother may choose. We are blessed in that we are not over worked and underfed, we have access to nutricious foods, adequate exercise, and healthcare when we need it, and there is more knowledge and literature about birth than ever before, both classical and contemporary.

Brooke: Where did you first get the idea to do an medically unattended birth?

Dalecia: My husband was the first to suggest it when we were expecting our first daughter in 2010. I was discussing how shy I am and how unnecessary I felt pelvic exams were and devastated I believed I would become during labor and he suggested that he deliver our baby himself in our home. At first I thought he was kidding with me but he was serious. We looked up on the Internet if people do that, and what do you know, they do! I was still uncomfortable with the idea initially, so we planned otherwise. By the time we became pregnant with our second I had definitely warmed to the idea.

Brooke: I remember this! Your first pregnancy was during that period that I was pregnant with my fifth and couldn’t find a midwife who either wasn’t effected by the midwifery laws or who would work outside of them. You rather casually mentioned to me this option you were considering and I don’t remember what I responded, but I was worried. I wasn’t actually worried about the birth because I knew you were thoroughly educating yourself, but I was worried about your husband! Ha! Seriously, I had only met him once and when I heard that this was his idea I was really wondering about him- yet another overbearing male perhaps? You and I have certainly encountered enough of those! And my husband got similar responses when he would reveal our plans to have an medically unattended birth with our sixth. People kept telling him “There won’t be any men there!” which is either  a flagrant lie as so many women have experienced- you have little control once you are in their territory- or yes, that included him not being allowed to be present at the birth.

Brooke: What happened with your first delivery?

Dalecia: Ha! I remember you got really babbly after I mentioned it and I changed the subject to Mary Shelley. He had freaked me out a bit too with the suggestion, he was really into the idea but once I decided against it he let it go.

We did want a homebirth with a midwife, but things just didn’t pan out with that so we went with the hospital. When I opted out of routine eye ointment for my daughter I was told my birth canal was dirty. When I hadn’t progressed as quickly as the midwife had hoped she told me that either she would break my waters artificially or send me home. I was hollered at to push (as if I’d forget!) and end up popping blood vessels in my face from over pushing due to stress. After each contraction a nurse would examine my belly, this was very annoying because I gave birth on my hands and knees so she was really getting in my way. I was slipped pitocin unnecessarily after the delivery, which I now attribute to causing a delay in our bonding; I did not fall in love with my firstborn until 8 hours later, when I feel that the pitocin probably wore off, in fact I felt very disconnected from her those first 8 hours.

Brooke: Dang, I thought my ability to change the subject was slicker than that. Shelly *cough* Orientalist racism and classic Islamophobia. *cough* I’m sorry, reading your birth story really upsets me. I am so glad that you were really prepared- as in self-educated- and still we see what happens. Of course it can be made worse if you are prepared because some of those medical professionals do not appreciate being told how to do their jobs. And I can’t fully imagine the extra added biases you may have received as a teenager, a Muslim and a woman of color.

Dalecia: I tried to educate myself with my first pregnancy, but unfortunately my reading was very mainstream. I feel blessed to have had the wonderful midwife I did have while in labour. It was a hospital-related group of midwives and could have been anyone of six. She was really excellent though, and yeah when the nurse started getting argumentative and mean with me trying to monitor the baby while I was in the pushing stage, the midwife got her off of me. There were other bothersome things too, such as being threatened to be induced, being hooked up to an IV and yes a man did have to enter the room even though I was told he didn’t. And then the midwife was not there to protect me and the baby in recovery and those handful of hours I stayed over. That’s when I became extremely frustrated, it was a beratement of continual disrespect and condescending. Before I was even in my room I was arguing with the admitting nurse who wanted to take the baby for a bath. Then every nurse who came through and saw that I wasn’t doing x,y,z according to their procedures would get huffy with me and several asked if he was my first baby. And my pediatrician- which had to be chosen before labor, as he has to ok the baby to leave- he was just a horribly rude man. The actual birth was great in that it was so different than what I had feared, the surrounding “support” and technicalities- not great at all.

Remember I labored in the Alaksa Native Medical Center, so literally EVERY patient is a person of color, so the staff, for the most part, is pretty good about cultural respect. I believe it was my age (I was 18 at the time, but I’m still putting up with this crap, i can’t wait until I’m 30!) that threw my labor team off the most. The triage nurse, the one who said I was dirty, spoke down to me like a child, and gave me plenty of attitude when I asserted my sovereignty over my and my child’s bodies.

Although my hospital birth experience was stressful and unpleasant, I’m glad it happened, I learned a great deal firsthand about the modern maternity care system, and more importantly it helped me to quickly realize that I want nothing to do with it; something many other mothers I’ve learned and read from hadn’t realized until several children, and oftentimes injuries and trauma, later. I don’t see myself seeking the attendance of a medical professional in future births so long as my risk profile remains low.

Brooke: I have been wondering if I would do it again. Up until about a month before the birth I continued to halfheartedly look for a local midwife to do a homebirth in Casablanca. I could have brought in a midwife from abroad, like many expats do, but that just didn’t appeal to me as I knew that there should be a midwife available locally somehow (everyone in Morocco knows someone who was born at home if they weren’t themselves- where have all the midwives gone??) but ultimately I felt comfortable about doing an unassist if need be. Where I live now many women tend each others’ births and would possibly do so for me, and that could be nice- to have a midwife again. Though it was very stress free with only my husband present, so I wouldn’t mind just he and I again either.

Again, I never felt alone or unassisted during the whole process of my unassisted birth. I had already received loads of support and knowledge from my fabulous former midwives, especially Susan and Page in Alaska. And then during that last pregnancy I received tons of support from several wonderful midwives, including Mai’a of outlaw midwives, Nicola of wysewomen and Maria or being Maria– so much love and thanks to them.

~~~

Dalecia’s unassisted birth story of Salma Luna can be read here on her blog: ‘Shukr with My Coffee’. Brooke’s unassisted birth story of  Asiya Eve (we know, we have cool baby names) can be read here on her blog ‘A Clichéd Life’ and her DIY Birth Kit is explained here.

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Link Self-Love: Rethinking Ramadan Ibadah

 Though my enthusiasm and expectations were high at the beginning of last Ramadan, unfortunately, by the end of the month I was somehow disappointed, feeling like a loser.

I finally realized how unrealistic I was about maximizing my Ramadan goals; in turn I made plans to spend the whole year prepping to be my best for this Ramadan.

In the past Ramadans- in addition to the complete upheaval of fasting and how that affected my scheduling and energy- I wanted to do so much more – too much.

I wanted to read the entire Qur’an at least once (with commentary!), to prayTaraweeh every night plus Tahajjud every morning, to perform all possible voluntarily prayers, to increase my  du’as before and after prayer in addition to any other applicable du’as I have not yet learned by heart, and of course I wanted to make special things with/for my kids. The list went on and on…

Later on, I found myself comparing my performance to what I heard other sisters use to do during the holy month, which only fueled my disappointment.

At that moment, I decided to change my perspectives…

Read how I got my Ramadan ibadah together here at OnIslam

The Unassisted Birth of Asiya Eve

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I just realized that I never got around to writing about the unassisted (assisted by my husband) birth story of Asiya Eve last year. Maybe I hadn’t done so because it was really quite uneventful.

My water broke late in the morning, maybe it was even early in the afternoon. I told my husband, who pops in and out of the house at least a half dozen times a day, that if he had any errands to run to please do so now and quickly. And he did. Slowly (pacing myself) I began to prepare the odds and ends for the birth: put my juices in the fridge to cool, brewed my herbs for a sitz bath, placed our homemade birth kit next to the birth stool, gave my sister in law the brand new scissors to sterilize, and pulled out some comfy clothes for baby and I. My sil set my kids up with snacks and a dvd.

Soon enough I was feeling “closer” and called my husband into our bedroom. I began crying and told him that I wasn’t really afraid, but that this was the part where I felt slightly overwhelmed and scared. Saying encouraging words he hugged me and I felt much, much better. Then he began to fuss with the birth supplies- setting the plastic up just so and getting himself a little stool to sit on- and I was feeling very relaxed so I decided to try to catnap, though I have never been able to do so in my prior labors. I lied down on my side and almost immediately had a strong contraction with a nearly irresistible urge to push. “I’m going to get on the chair and push her out, ok?” I warned the husband. “Ok” was his readied reply and he helped me to quickly take the two steps over to the chair.

“One push and she’s going to slide out like a little fish,” I confidently told him, “Now.” And she did. He was nervous to catch her with his bare hands and so he caught her in the folds of a towel that had been resting on his knee. Perhaps it was my fish analogy that I had used as a visualization and dua throughout the pregnany that made him worry about how slippery she would be; “Please Allah” I had prayed “let her just slip out like a little fish.”

We delighted in her- so much hair, a lovely warm color and plump, masha Allah- and then my husband turned to me and asked “Is that it? Are we done?” “No!” The placenta. This was the part I was a little freaked out about. I nursed her and felt a stirring again. Within the time of a few small contractions I pushed the placenta out and it just barely fit in the basin I insisted my husband exchange for the smaller one he originally brought home. Everything was truly perfect.

We debated if we should call in the kids to meet her. It was then that I realized they were watching the movie Cheaper by the Dozen II and right at that second was the typical screaming freak out hospital birth scene. Oh the irony. The kids, just outside my bedroom door never heard a peep and still didn’t even know that she was born. We decided to just have my sil come meet her until we could clean up a little and get me into the bed. My sister in law snuck in and gushed over her for a bit before helping with the umbilical cord. We waited for the cord to stop pulsing and then husband put on the clamp and separated us. That always gives me a little bit of the sads.

Sister in law snuck back out and after I got comfortable in bed the kids came in to gush over their new little sister. It was a most brief gushing as they had just started another movie and were easily ushered back out. The husband then rushed over to the mosque to brag about his inception as a midhusband, I mean to pray mahgrib. When he returned home I took a nice little bath and he cleaned our room all up (just like the midwives do!) and then Asiya was ready for some more boobies and a nap. Very ordinary birthing stuff.

Maximize Your Wedding Barakah with Sadaqah Jariya

Creating a beautiful setting for your blessing-filled wedding may take months or even years of tedious planning only to culminate in a just a few joyous hours. So really, why not add one more detail to the list which could be the one to tip your scales on Yawm ad-Din through acts of sadaqah jariyah? Long after your wedding – long after your death – you could still be reaping the barakah accrued on your wedding day by encouraging your celebratory guests to give not for the enjoyment of the dunya, but because they love you, fisabilillah, and want to please Him on your day, which truly could be “blessing-filled.”

Get great gifts
Perhaps you’ve seen a headline or two about some celebrity or other rich folks requesting charitable donations in lieu of wedding gifts. I would prefer not to advise anyone to follow celebrity trends, but instead consider this Prophetic advice: Aisha (RA) once slaughtered a goat and distributed its meat. When the Prophet (SAW) asked her “What is left now?” She responded, “Nothing except a shank.” Referring to the barakah incurred from the distribution, the Prophet (SAW) said, “(In fact) all of it is saved except for the shank.” (Tirmidhi)

Insha Allah, your guests will be generous to you on your wedding day. Consider the many opportunities for you to truly get so much – barakah!

Tack on to an existing charitable or community project you know of personally or through a friend or family member. Along with your RSVP package you can formally ask guests to contribute either via online payments or by including self-addressed stamped envelopes. Less formally, you could pass around a collection box or basket at the wedding for your charity of choice – if you can get a small child to do this, the cuteness can help to maximize the giving potential!

Consider finding an organization, such as a mosque, school or orphanage which needs to build an Islamic library or add on to their small one. This is a great way to maximize your barakah as each time someone reads a book you helped to donate, you receive blessings for the Islamic knowledge they gain.

Menu
You have so many options here to work with already: How to cater? Red or white meat? Organic or plain ole halal? Add just one more “to-do” item to your menu planning.
Go for a more modest-priced dish option, letting your guests know that you will be donating the cost difference to a reputable global food relief agency.

Ask each guest (children too) to bring one non-perishable food item along to the dinner reception and then give someone the barakah-charged duty of delivering the haul to a local foodbank or kitchen.

Among the excellent and practical tips you can garner from 199 Ways to Please God, author Rianne ten Veen suggests making plans to donate left-over food to a local organization such as a soup kitchen, or perhaps you could even have it taken over to a mosque for folks to enjoy after Mahgrib or ‘Isha prayers. Be sure to let someone else get the barakah from doing the actual delivery!

Wedding Favours
Blowing bubbles, throwing petals, handing out chocolate covered almonds – whatever your wedding tradition leanings are heading towards, before you buy up a bunch of those expected little wedding favours, think ‘barakah’ and maximize yours here too!

Can’t give up the chocolate treat tradition? Choose a fair-trade chocolate and be sure to let guests know by way of a label or a teeny insert that their treats are fair-trade and thereby ethically supporting farmers and communities.

For just $3 or £2 you could slip into each guests’ hand a little pocket-sized du’a book, such as Fortress of the Muslim: Invocations from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Insha Allah each time one of your guests reaches for their book to make du’a for any occasion, your scale will take another little dip!
In an effort to reforest, Indonesia has recently passed a law requiring couples to plant two tree saplings before they can receive their wedding permit. Let your guests know that you have made a donation or planted a tree yourself for each one of them and invite them to join you in acting as stewards of Allah’s earth by further contributing to reforesting efforts with organisations either Muslim or non, such as local Arbor Clubs or the High Atlas Foundation in Morocco.

Access to clean water is a problem for many people the world over and providing access is an excellent way to receive sadiqah jariyah: “Whosoever digs a well will receive reward for that from Allah on the Day of Judgment when anyone amongst jinn, men and birds drink from it” (Bukhari and Muslim). Tap into a Muslim or any reputable organisation working to provide public wells and give each guest a little drop-shaped card letting them know to whom and why you have made a donation in their name.

Lastly, don’t forget the blessings in aiding to build a mosque, “”Whoever builds a Masjid for Allah, Allah will Build for him a similar House in Paradise” (Bukhari and Muslim). Find a mosque under construction anywhere in the world to donate to. You could do similarly to the water suggestion and give each guest a little brick-shaped card letting them know about the donation or again, seek out donations through your RSVP pack or at the wedding reception.

Surely you have a lot of work to do, so don’t be overwhelmed by adding just one more little detail. If you don’t know of any current charitable or green projects you can readily fold into your plans, spend a morning checking out green and eco wedding-planning sites, such as ethicalweddings.com or ecowedding.org. Many of the suggestions above have also been covered by our own LiveGreen writer, Arwa Aburawa. Do a keyword search of “wedding” on her blog greenprophet.com for more inspiration and ideas.

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Mother of 6, Brooke Benoit rode the NYC subway to her first of a few modest weddings to the same blessed man.

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 ‘Love and Marriage’ issue of SISTERS Magazine. 

Boonaa Mohammed

Meet Boonaa Mohammed (pronounced Bo-naa), a spoken word poet and playwright from Toronto, Canada. Boonaa means “proud,” but not the arrogant kind. Boonaa’s parents gave him this name because they received a lot of prejudice as minorities in Oromia, Ethopia, and they wanted Boonaa to be proud of who he was and where he came from. Later in life he attended Oakwood Collegiate Institute, and was Valedictorian of his school’s graduating class.

Boonaa wanted to be a rapper when he was younger and studied performing arts in university. After performing one of his songs without music, his teacher commented that it was cool, and that it sounded like “spoken word.” Boonaa learned about spoken word and slowly became more interested in being a poet than a singer. Soon he was participating in poetry slam contests.

Boonaa performs his award-winning poems and stories all over the world and his poetry videos have been viewed over a million times on YouTube. Boonaa also considers himself a storyteller and believes that the tradition of storytelling is tied deeply to his African roots. In an interview on his website, Boonaa encourages people that, “Whatever you do, just be true to your own message and purpose. Every company or organisation, when starting out, writes a mission statement; what will be your personal one? As long as you are able to stick to your principles and morals, you will find yourself doing what you love no matter the cost.”

You can see Boonaa perform on his website, Boonaa.com.

Boonaa Defined:

Mission Statement: A written or spoken intention for a business, group or individual.

Oromia, Ethiopia: Oromia is one of the nine ethnically-based regions of Ethiopia, and about half of the residents are Muslim.

Poetry Slam: A competition in which poets recite their poems and members of the audience vote on a winner.

Spoken Word: A performance art that generally includes story-telling and/or poetry.

Valedictorian: The title given to the student – usually the top student of the class – who addresses his or her class at the graduation ceremony, from the Latin vale dicere (“to say farewell”).

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Click HERE to check out and help Boonaa with his dream project of creating ‘Safina Media’-an Islamic media production company!

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Badier G.B.E. lives in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco where he does a style of homeschooling called “hackschooling.” His favourite subjects are electronics, sustainable energy, crafting, chemistry, permaculture, hiking and bike riding.

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Discover (the magazine for curious Muslim kids.) 

Not So Blessed Blending: Living With Non-mahrams

 Blended

Wearing only her underclothes, Idil* reached towards her dress laying on the bed. Suddenly she noticed her brother-in-law’s face clearly reflected in the bedroom mirror. Quickly, she slipped the dress on while moving to the other side of the room out of his line of sight. Who knew how long or how much had he seen? Idil, a young mother who was working full-time and going to university, had hurriedly showered during an hour in which her live-in brother-in-law was not supposed to be home; still, for many years after she would blame herself for not having shut her bedroom door. Even when sisters shut their doors, many have had similar experiences – the non-mahram males whom they live with have walked (or burst) in on them during moments when the women should have had absolute respected privacy. I am addressing the difficulties of living with non-mahrams because of a reader’s recent letter. Aisha said:

The ‘Blended Blessings’ article in the November 2012 issue hit home to me. See, I live in a “blended” family. You neglected to mention some realities of this living situation. My mother brought two daughters into her new marriage with a man who has three sons, and they now have two daughters together. We grew up mixed together and raised as ‘one family’. Now the boys don’t feel the need to respect my sister’s and my privacy even though we explained that they weren’t mahram to us. With young men always in and out of the house I always had on hijab. Even when I went to sleep my hijab was beside me, and I slept with ‘one eye open’ for fear they would barge in unannounced.

Though the ruling on who are and aren’t mahrams is clear – step-siblings are not mahrams – many families remain in the dark or are misinformed about this challenge of blending families. Another common problem (also an area of sweeping ignorance) is sisters living with their non-mahram brother-in-laws and extended family, but not recognising and acting on the relationships as rightfully guided.

Step-brothers
Only breastfeeding can make step-siblings mahram to each other. The remarried husband and wife are mahram to each other’s children, but the bonds of marriage do not make the children mahram to each other. When the children come of age they are to respect hijab and the unrelated males and females should not be left alone without guardianship. Obviously this could make domestic living a challenge.

“The brother-in-law is death” (Bukhari)

Before marrying, and moving in with extended families, Idil and Fatimah did not know that their brother-in-laws are non-mahrams to them and that it is best to not live together. Idil was a new convert when she married at 17 years old. She took to the deen quickly and thoroughly, thriving in acquiring Islamic knowledge. Though she never told her husband about the disturbing incident with her brother-in-law, soon thereafter Idil learnt about her rights to housing and the rulings on non-mahram interactions, and began pushing to move into their own place. Though Idil’s husband is also very knowledgeable of the deen, he comes from a culture where extended family living is expected and he did not take well to her pressure. Though they eventually moved out, they also eventually divorced. Allah knows if her pressure was related to the divorce, but “cultural differences” were their most pressing marital problems.

Fatimah was raised Muslim in a culture and family where extended family living, including living with non-mahrams, is the norm. Even though she had studied the deen considerably, at the time of her marriage she also did not know the rulings and rights around a woman’s physical place in her married home. Fatimah’s right to observe niqab in the home was hotly debated by her husband’s family: several members felt it was improper for her to wear it in front of her brother-in-law and husband’s uncle, who she was expected to sit with and serve. Though Fatimah’s husband fully supported her to wear niqab in front of his brother and uncle, it wasn’t until she read Sadaf Farooqi’s book, Traversing the Highs
and Lows of Muslim Marriage, that Fatimah learnt her rights to accommodations, and guidance about dealing with non-mahrams in her husband’s family.

For many families, the solution to living with non-mahrams is over-simplified with the suggestion to just have the females wear hijab all the time. Not only is this unrealistic and unfair, it is even dangerous – consider the 67 year old mother of three in the UK whose scarf caught fire, even with decades of experience wearing hijab while cooking. She died from her injuries (inna Lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un). Conversely, some families, such as Fatimah’s, consider it shameful to cover in front of a man they insist is her “brother,” and hijab is then often compromised due to the family pressure or logistics. How can the home be a sanctuary for women if they are still forced to dress and act as guardedly as they do outside?

Practical solutions
I talked to several sisters who live with their step-brothers and nonmahram in-laws, they offered some solutions that worked for them:

 

Know and explain your rights to all household members
For Aisha, it was a great comfort to at least understand her Allah-given rights to privacy and respect, even when her step-brothers and other family members continued to follow their cultural leanings. Wives, such as Fatimah, appreciated the support when their husbands understood the wife’s rights (regardless of current accomodations) and especially when he campaigned for her to the other family members.

Create physical boundaries
Though many of the sisters I talked to do observe hijab in their own homes, some found ways to establish other boundaries. Scholars advise that separate living quarters be provided for the wife, ideally including a bath and kitchen, though this is obviously not always possible. Minimally private rooms, such as bedrooms and bathrooms, but also kitchens, should have locks on them to prevent accidental or intentional meetings. Do not put all the pressure on the women to maintain and protect her hijab or haya; non-mahram men need to respect boundaries. If harem (women only) spaces can be created within the home, such as a salon or kitchen area that men are to be excluded from, non-mahrams
(especially growing young men) should be taught to respect these spaces: “Be aware of entering upon women.” (Bukhari)

When one sister’s step and biological children were coming of age, she began placing a chair outside her son’s bedroom door while he had guests so that they would remember to ask permission before entering the family’s shared spaces. Likewise, it is best to create a space or agreed upon way for non-mahrams to enter the home. They should be asked to announce their arrival before entering, perhaps having a foyer area that is out of sight to the rest of the home or simply always keeping the front door locked and asking that they do not open it until they have a clear indication that it is OK to do so.

Exit strategy
Idil isn’t alone in her suffering from pushing for her own living space. In her book, Sadaf points to the growing phenomenon of couples getting out of the extended family nest by taking jobs a great distance from home, offering a surefire excuse to move. This creates a new challenge for the husband who still has obligations to his parents and is also an unfortunate situation for all family members to not have more frequent in-person contact. An ideal situation occurred for Aisha when her mother purchased a home directly across the street from her step-father’s house, now Mum and the girls live separately from the males but see them throughout the day. Fatimah and her husband are strategically
plotting their exit, though they have not yet informed his parents who they suspect will be hurt and uncooperative.

It can be hard to balance everyone’s rights, but Allah (SWT) has given us clear guidance about how to best do it. Acquiring knowledge is always the first step, even though we can’t force others to act upon it. At least knowing you are in the right and trying to do the
right thing is a great comfort. Sadaf Farooqi’s book, Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage, is an excellent resource for understanding the issues around living with non-mahrams, and she has related articles available to read on her website, sadaffarooqi.com.

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Brooke Benoit home educates her six children in the beautiful High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where she actively fantasizes about being an empty nester in the also beautiful artisan shopping center of Casablanca.

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of SISTERS Magazine (the magazine for fabulous Muslim women).