Growing up in the west, first generation Asian mothers may not always be given the respect they deserve. There are notions of them not trying to fit in because they do not learn the language or because they stay at home and raise their children rather than work. Society says they should make an effort to integrate in the hope that they can raise well rounded individuals who respect and appreciate the community they live in. The majority think that this has to be done by obtaining degrees to educate one’s mind and working to mingle with other people; what they fail to realise is however, that this can be done in a number of ways. Many of these women may not have successful careers obtained in part by being university graduates, but they do still bring something to the table; they bring culture that stems from a rich and deep heritage, they bring their morals and values which adds to the diversity of our society and they bring with them a relentless endurance for survival and adaptation into a new society.
My mother never went to university, but in no way is she illiterate or uneducated. She had a passion for learning and she still does even today; when we were young she would help us as best as she could with our homework, teaching us what she knew and for the things she didn’t she would take out books from the library and learn herself so she could teach us. She used to learn from homework we were set and try to go that extra mile in teaching us; I was nine when my mother taught me about propaganda. Her aim was to show me from even a young age that I should think for myself and not see things the way others wanted me to see them but the way that actually were in reality. I would reiterate my notes to her when studying for an exam, choosing to teach her about the subject in an attempt to check my knowledge; she was an avid listener, really taking on board what I had to say. My mother would then further test my knowledge by putting across her views based on what I had taught her and asking me questions as to whether she was correct or not. My mother reminded me often of the blessings Allah swt had bestowed upon me, she told me how lucky I was to be able to receive a good education for free and that the world was my oyster. She pushed me to work hard pointing out how many of the opportunities I took for granted today were not readily available in her day and explained what life was like back then academically.
My mother taught me how important it was to stand up for myself, she told me if I ever got hit I should hit back twice as hard. When I was in secondary school I had to wear traditional Indian clothes – shalwar kamis to school; initially I hated it, but it taught me how to defend myself and say “no, it’s not me that’s wrong its you”. This would be a sentence that I would continuously use later on in life when campaigning on behalf of single Muslim mothers’ rights and promoting awareness. I developed a tough skin due to this and it gave me the confidence I needed to go on the radio and talk about personal issues linked to being a single Muslim mum. My mother also taught me to rely solely on myself and my gut instinct, she would say: “even if you have no-one else on your side, you have Allah and you have me”. There have been times when I have needed help and no-one else has been around, but my mum always made time for me where she could. Recently when I tried to set up my wireless printer, I got quite flustered and upset down the phone because I couldn’t get it to work; my mum calmly put down the phone and came over telling me she would stay till we had sorted it. Now she is not tech savvy, but by simply reading and re-reading the manual slowly and methodically she managed to notice where I had made an error in my attempt to set it up independently by skim reading the manual convinced I was going to win one for the girls.
My mother is my role model and when I was younger I learn’t so much by just watching how she went about her life. My mother taught me how hard it can be for a woman to survive in a man’s world by watching what she went through in order to make ends meet. She was the sole bread winner, going out to work then coming home to cook, clean and look after us and put us to bed. She would sleep on the stairs when we were younger because there were four of us and she didn’t want any of us crying and waking up the others as we went looking for my mum. She made sure we never went without even though her job training up people in the job centre didn’t pay much. When my brother broke the computer she had spent so long saving for the next day in an attempt to teach himself how computers are put together and work, she bought him another seeing the the positive side i.e. he had done it in an effort to educate himself and hadn’t been aware he had ruined it. She never took out her frustration on us even when she would come home tired. She put herself through the run of the mill going away at weekends for two years on training courses just to get a better job for us. She was always calm and patient and never lost her temper at us when we were little.
My mother further demonstrated her survival skills by teaching me what resilience was. She never let anything hold her back, spoke up in the community about things that went against her views and gave dawah where she could. No matter how bad life got she kept her composure outside the house and stayed true to who she was; she never compromised her morals or views and would ignore racist comments.
My mother may not be university educated and may not have had what is considered an amazingly successful job by today’s standards, but she worked as hard as the rest of them and taught her children the meaning of life and Islam and to appreciate what they have and be respectful of others and other cultures. It is through her difficulties that I learned so much about life, had we had it easier growing up maybe I wouldn’t be who I am today and in turn would not be able to pass on what I have to my children. Without excelling in the language, my mother managed to adapt to society and become a part of it; she spent years as a housewife and as career woman and maintains children turn out better when they have their mum at home to look after them. Would many men make as much effort as she did to look after the needs of their children, spouse and home? I think not.