Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Not without your mother-attitudes that aid abuse in the GCC

Every European/American/British-what-have-you expat out there has heard of the movie/book "Not Without My Daughter" right? In brief, in case you haven't, it is the story of an abused wife who cannot escape life in Iran or her marriage without sacrificing her daughter from the marriage to be left behind.

Well, the story of my life, and of my friend {we'll call him Ahmed} is more or less a tale of a totally different kind of mother. In Oman, and elsewhere in the GCC, there is an attitude which is more or less one of "Not Without Your Mother" or more generally, "not without your family"…"not without your tribe."

Let me explain. For us Muslims (and I AM very happily Muslim) we have a lot of beautiful sayings and deeply held beliefs. I do not defer belief in, or the significance of, these beliefs in their rightful context. I do however believe/more-or-less-know-for-fact that these beliefs are often misconstrued from the original contextual quotation to hold people to situations the religion was not addressing.

Child abuse/respect for your parents is one such topic that is majorly confused in this region with the advice that some people are giving.

I am a convert to the religion of Islam, and a student of it also. I studied probably more in depth than most Omanis have unless they have indeed read their own ahadith/history collections, and those of other Islamic schools of thought. Ahmed, on the other hand, memorized the entire Qu'ran as a child and is a highly educated individual, more than I actually ever hope to aspire to.

So…when other people quote us historically recorded sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, we often (okay, with Ahmed probably ALWAYS) already know the saying they refer to that they assume we are ignorant of. We also know the page and edition number, the time period in which assumed saying was said, by whom and when it was written down.

One such saying that we hear often is that "one should not cut ties with blood relations" and that "heaven is under the feet of your mother". Other sayings include respect for your parents and listening to their advice.

That heaven is under the feet of the mother, refers to sacrifices a mother makes for her children, and her responsibility for raising them to be righteous individuals. It means that heaven is under the feet of understanding and being grateful for these sacrifices. It doesn't mean that everything a parent does is right of course, or that a mother's every action leads to paradise through obedience of her wishes.
As for me, I hardly ever talk to my mother. I just can't handle it. She has been abusive with me my whole life, definitely emotionally and occasionally physically. She tried to choke me and stab me with a knife one night in Muscat, and that was probably the last time we were ever close. I mean, there are good times, and I do recognize she could likely need mental help [so do the ROP despite their advice that I try harder to keep her from getting so worked up after the nigh-stabbing incident]. I just don't want my life to spiral downwards eternally into an abyss of stress and pain because of her. I think my religion is totally okay with that. I mean, I listen to any advice she gives me that doesn't cause harm to myself or others. If she needs physical or financial help of course I am going to give it. But I am not going to put myself close enough to get hurt, or in fact, for my children to be hurt.
Yet, at the time, when she had tried to stab me, the advice Omanis kept giving me was that, to be good Muslim, I should go back to live with her. That I should let myself get yelled at by her. And of course, if she tried to stab me, I shouldn't defend myself by fighting back, I should just try to get away.
No offense people, but that is HORRIBLE advice, and nothing like the religion actually advises. Islam says we should respect our parents in anything they are right in. It doesn't mean we have to follow them in anything that harms.
Most Omanis I know think they have to follow their parents' thinking even if it is sinful, i.e racist thinking like "you can't marry that girl because she isn't the right family or tribe" if what they are asking you to is not sinful itself, i.e marry who they want. This isn't what Islam meant by "don't cut ties" or "respect". We are allowed to preserve ourselves from physical and mental harm. Usually when one does so, it is the abusers themselves who cut ties, not their victims. Every child victimized dreams of having only good times and getting on better with the parent who abuses them. That's nature. You want to be able to depend on your family to want and do what is best for you.
Ahmed lived also in a society of "not without your mother" thinking. For years he suffered quietly while even so far as being burnt by his own mother. He married a woman he didn't want to. He did everything he was supposed to and his heart still didn't feel peace.
Finally, someone gave him the same advice I gave myself, and he is now actually a better person and a better Muslim, although he rarely sees or speaks to his mother. He got married to a woman he loved, and although people told him "haram to hurt your mother and family so" now when did he stop being a good Muslim or doing the right thing? Afterall, it was they that wanted something based on purely pre-Islamic tribalistic thinking. And if someone sticks a lighted flame and holds it over your flesh (i.e a form of torture) is that really the person who wants what is best for you?
I am sure that a lot of child abuse happens here in Oman. Mentally unstable people don't always look like lunatics to neighbors and friends and other relatives. What I am sure of though, is that there will be some brave little girl or boy out there who turns to someone they trust for help in Oman or Kuwait or Qatar or KSA, and who will get told that they "have to respect their parents" or "not cut ties".  I see it all the time time in Oman with family, and Omani girlfriends to lesser degrees.
And that makes the scars that I have on my heart, and on my skin, pain in remembrance.
It shouldn't be so.


Anonymous said...

great post!

Anonymous said...

I agree with so much of what you are saying. Recently I lived and worked in Oman with a family and their company. I saw so much abuse going on that was unbelievable. Screaming, name calling, and untold psychological trauma. I was raised to respect my elders so it was really difficult for me to understand that this kind of behavior is wrong, even if it is your mother, or an elder. When it started happening to me, I was very distraught, especially with the culture of respecting the family and the elders. So eventually after it kept getting worse, I decided to leave. It was the best decision, because I can only help others if I help myself.
There is no need for the downward spiral and all of the pain and stress associated with it.

I too am currently bearing the scars of this experience, from the physical and emotional stress of this abusive relationship with one's elders.

You're right, it shouldn't be so.
Thank you so much for writing this.

Anonymous said...

This is sooo true. There are a lot of crazy, jealous, manipulative women out there! And people just excuse it because "it's my mother, what can I do?"... Same goes for father's too unfortunately. My father is exactly like your mother. He's been physically violent and abusive to me, as well as verbally, and the only advice I ever get is "be patient" with him or just don't anger him LOL Whatever that means.
The loyalty to your parents, even when they are clearly in the wrong, is odd to me.

Anonymous said...

i think you already heal yourself by forgiving her live your life.thank you for this post!
from dakar senegal.

oumar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.