A Muslim woman I will call ‘Marwa’, came to the States from overseas to attend college. Over here she met a man from back home, also studying. They got married and life looked perfectly wonderful. Instead of going back home, her husband got a good job here after finishing his degree, and when she finished hers they decided to start their family. Things fell apart when her daughter was born.
I never knew the name of her daughter’s health problem, but she did not develop properly. The child remained a baby, unable to walk or talk. She did respond to her mother who was able to understand her emotions and communicate to some degree with her. I first saw her when she was around two years old. She had to be fed through a feeding tube and would always need diapers. Doctors told the parents she would not live more than 2 years.
Marwa’s husband couldn’t handle it. He left her and their daughter. He went underground economically to hide himself from court ordered child support. Part of his desertion was his lack of moral character. Another part was the cold logic of American’s health care system. The child required so much specialized expensive care that the debt would cripple the young family for years to pay for it. Alone and destitute, Marwa had access to free health care for her daughter. But she didn’t despair or complain. She asked Allah for help.
No one makes a du’a without one of three things happening. Either it is answered, or it is stored up for him, or wrong actions are atoned for by it. (Muwatta)
Prayers of all of you are granted provided you do not get impatient and start grumbling that, “I prayer to my Lord but He did not grant me.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
When I met Marwa, she was enrolled in a graduate program in college. She hadn’t been able to get a job and care for her daughter, because she couldn’t find a daycare that would accept the burden of her daughter’s care while she worked. All her family was overseas, unable to help her financially or otherwise. She couldn’t return home because the medical care her daughter needed was not available there. However, she could get care for her daughter at the university child care service while she was in classes, and she was able to get scholarship aid and student loans to pay her living expenses, barely. The doctors said her daughter had not long to live, so she would get an advanced degree while she cared for her daughter. Actually, it was a well thought out plan to manage through these few years.
Marwa impressed me so much. She turned to Quran and prayer for help and strength in each difficulty. There was the pain of losing her husband and feeling cast off by many former friends. It is sad how many people shy away from a handicap or disability, like it is contagious! There was the feeling of loneliness at 2 am when she would wake up and care for her sick child night after night, month after month, by herself. Marwa didn't have time for normal relations with friends and a social life. Between her studies and her daughter, and all the work of daily life, she was too busy for an afternoon at the mall or a party. She often seemed self absorbed, unable to listen to what others were doing or interested in, most likely because she was so busy processing her own problems by herself. That increased her isolation. People tend to search out friends with common circumstances, and no one had a situation like Marwa.
She was a tireless worker and the kind of person who rarely asks for help. She came to the mosque once in a while to find someone to help out for a specific need she couldn’t manage otherwise. She struggled on, showing patience in adversity. The laundry, the cleaning, the classes, car problems from parking issues to the mechanical issues of cheep wheels, the special care for her daughter, the doctor visits, just the daily physical lifting and carrying the child who’s body grew, even as her mind did not, all this burden was on the young woman. How different her life was before her daughter's birth. How different her life was from what most of us experience. I tried to support her and link her with others who had more free time. I never heard her complain about her situation. And you could hear the love she had for her child in everything she said or did. Most of my conversations with her were about a specific problem at that moment and how she might solve it.
She finished her master’s degree slowly, but continually looking for a job situation with appropriate childcare. Her daughter continued to thrive with her mother’s tender care, in her own way, in spite of the medical prognosis. Finally Marwa was able to change her situation for a place where she could work in her career field and get the daycare help she needed. This child that was expected to die before the age of three was still alive and reasonably healthy at the age of 6, when I last heard from them.
We live in an age when many people would say this child should have been aborted before she was born. Do a test on the fetus and end things before the pain and the expense and the waste of time dealing. Others refuse to take the child home from the hospital.
But Allah created this child for a reason and He is All Knowing, All Wise, All Compassionate. Refusing the tests He sends us is taking a path away from Him. I witnessed Marwa rejoice in each milestone her daughter attained. She spoke to me of her reliance on Allah to help her, and I saw the help that she received. Allah knows best about our deeds, but from what I saw and heard, she overcame every difficulty with strength, grace, and good manners.
And do not kill your children out of fear of poverty. We provide sustenance for them and for you. Truly killing them is a great sin. (Quran 6:151, 17:31)
Abu Hassan said to Abu Hurayrah, "My two children have died. Would you narrate to me anything from the Messenger of Allah, a hadith which would soothe our hearts in our bereavement? He said: "Yes. Small children are the fowls of paradise. If one of them meets his parents he will take hold of his cloth with his hand as I take hold of the hem of your cloth. And the child will not take his hand off it until Allah admits his parents to Paradise." (Muslim)
How do you think you would manage if tested with a child like Marwa’s? We all pray for healthy children. Allah knows each one of us and will only give us what we can bear. What tests is Allah giving you with your children … with your family? How well are you doing to manage through those tests? What are you learning from those tests?
The one for whom Allah intends good encounters afflictions to get it. (Bukhari)
Who do you admire? Do you know another parent who seems to be doing a great job? What is one thing you might learn from watching that person that could give you strength?
While I admire Marwa and pray that Allah give her ease after hardship, I also found strength to be more patient with my own tests. They didn’t seem nearly as difficult as what Marwa was managing. I also felt I should do more to help others. Each person has different strengths and weaknesses. Even if someone appears strong, I want to offer help if I can. We are a community and should not be left to manage alone, in loneliness. Just giving an ear to someone can help them feel part of society, even if we can’t do more.
Prophet Muhammad was outlived by only one of his 7 children, his daughter Fatimah who lived 6 months after his death. Three of his children, his sons, all died before the age of about 2. This description is of the death of his last child, who was about 18 months old.
“We went with the Messenger of Allah to the blacksmith, Abu Sayf, who was the husband of Ibrahim’s wet nurse. The Messenger of Allah took Ibrahim and kissed him and sniffed him. Then after that we came in to him and at that time Ibrahim was breathing his last, and the eyes of the Messenger of Allah began to shed tears. At that, Abdur Rahman Ibn Awf said, “Even you, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “O Ibn Awf, this is mercy.” Then he wept more and said, “Surely the eyes shed tears and the heart is grieved, but we do not say except what is pleasing to our Lord, and we are grieved by your parting, O Ibrahim.” (Bukhari)