Have you ever longed for that one special dish or dessert, but could not find the exact ingredient to make it quite right? Have you ever wished that you could call up your dearest friend and invite her over for tea and conversation, but knew that was impossible?
Have you ever had a new baby and wished deeply in your heart that your own mother could be there to share this wonderful experience with you and to provide you with support, comfort, and advise? Have you ever felt such deep sorrow and pain that you cried until the tears would no longer come?
If you are one of the many people “away from home” you may have experienced some or all of these wishes and feeling. Homesickness, loneliness, and missing family and friends are all very familiar to people in this situation. With the growing number of immigration to North American, this is becoming an important issue that needs to be addressed within communities. This is particular true women who many have moved with their husbands and begin to feel isolated and lonely while their husbands work throughout the day, sometimes for long hours. It may also be more intense for women who are attempting to truly implement Islam in their lives as Muslim women, with the pressure and influence of the Kufr environment, there may be a great deal of fear, uncertainty, and suspicion for new residents. Being away from a more Islamic environment can only add the psychological stress of homesickness. Struggles with maintaining Islamic dress is a common concern related to this area.
The stress and challenges experienced in a new land may be magnified if children are involved. There may be concern about being able to instil Islamic values in children in an environment where these values are not the norm. The pressure upon children and youth is probably even greater than those faced by adults. In many ways the upbringing of children is likely to be more different since the major support of extended family and friends is no longer available. This would be most evident in such areas as physical care, discipline, and monitoring.
So how is a Muslimah to cope with new challenges? There are certain positive steps that she can take and there are other areas where other sisters may be of assistance. The following is a list of those suggestions:
Suggestions for the New Arrival
1. Develop a strong support system. Whenever anyone arrives in an unfamiliar land it is important to begin to develop a new support system from the very beginning. Building a supplementary family and network in the new location can best alleviate homesickness and loneliness. If there is a large Muslim community in the area, opportunity for friendships should automatically be available through the local masaajid and halaqas (Islamic Circles). Lina is a sister who recently came to America from Jordan with her new husband. She stated that her transaction has been less difficult than she anticipated primarily because she already knew one sister here and has met many new people and begun to develop friendships. Many of her contacts have been made through visits to the local masaajid. She reported that because of this and a supportive husband she has experienced very little homesickness and feels that she is coping well.
2. Focus on the positive aspects. Being “away from home” may actually turn to be a wonderful experience with myriad opportunities for personal growth and achievement. Free from the tangled intricacies of familial and cultural ties, a women may begin to determine who she really is, as an individual and find ways to strengthen her character, her eemaan (faith), and her roles as a wife and mother. It may also open the door to educational opportunity both in relation to the deen (religion) and to personal career interest. There are many programs that offer course through correspondence so that a woman can study in her home and tailor this to fit her interests and schedule. Lina stated that she has been to a masjid more often in this country during her short stay than throughout her lifetime back home. She reported that few women visit the masaajid in her home country except during Ramadhaan, and she was not aware of any halaqahs (Islamic educational circle) for the education of sisters. In America she has started to join a halaqah for Arabic speakers and teaches Arabic for an English halaqah. She will also begin a course this semester to study how to use the computer.
3. Find ways to fill time through I'baadah (worship). There are many ways to keep oneself busy, especially in the worship of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. It is in times of needs when the hearts is likely to be softer and one may turn to Allah more often. Sincere 'Ibaadah (worship), such as Salah, reading Qur’an, fasting, Dhikr (uttering words of remembrance of Allah, the Almighty), etc, should be increased during this time as a sign of complete reliance upon Allah. Other activities that can be considered worship include: increasing ones knowledge of Islaam by reading Islamic books and materials; participating in daw’ah (Islamic propogational) activities, halaqah (Islamic circle) activities, children’s programs; adopting an Islamic cause such as charity projects, social programs, sharing knowledge with others, etc. There are number of many already established that would definitely need the help of extra volunteers. This may be an excellent opportunity to draw nearer to Allah.
Suggestions for Natives and more Seasoned Immigrants
1. Help to make new sisters feel at home. Some elements of “home” can be recreated here and be important in alleviating homesickness. Sisters may generate discussion by inquiring about the new sister’s homeland, customs, language, foods, etc. A familiar dish, desert, or spice may be brought for the sister or she may be shown local stores that carry idea to invite her to share information about her homeland with the halaqa (Islamic circle), such as the social, political, economic aspects. All of these steps will help to make sister feel that “home” was not completely left behind.
2. Assist in the transition. Many women may be very unfamiliar with the “American” culture so it is important to increase their understanding so that they will be better prepared to deal with it. This may involve providing information and giving advice about how to handle specific issues, particularly related to the rearing of children. Not only will this be very beneficial for the sister so that she can avoid difficult or embarrassing situations, but it will make the overall transition much smoother.
3. Break down the barriers. New immigrants may not only be suspicious and wary of American culture, but they may also feel this way about American women. This barrier may be even more complex to overcome than any language barrier that may be present. American women who have converted to Islaam may share their conversion story and what the change has meant for them. Oftentimes sisters will discern the shared challenges and obstacles that transcend cultural differences. For example, wearing hijaab (the head-scarf) in an unIslamic environment is just as difficult for new converts as it is for immigrants, and maybe even more so if it is a recent modification. Through social contact and sharing of lives sisters will see that the commonality of Islam is what brings them together.