The topic of this post is not a happy one, but it is something that I have needed to discuss for some time. In the Muslim community, child abuse is not discussed for many reasons, most of which are cultural. Since I am a revert, I did not grow up in a Muslim community, but I still suffer from some of the unwillingness to talk about child abuse because of some interpretations of the high position that mothers hold in Islam. The Quran tells us that heaven lies at the feet of our mothers. There is a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad (saws) tells us that our mother is the three most important people in our lives (meaning, she hold the top three positions, and then she is followed by our father, at number four).
Because of this, most Muslims will simply not speak anything that could be taken as “ill” of their mothers. Out of respect for this, I typically do not share with people my stories of being abused by my mother. I know that it would make many feel uncomfortable, because they have been raised with a philosophy that tells them that, no matter what, a mother is to be lauded and praised. This philosophy comes from culture.
I have to tell at least a portion of my story now.
I was abused by my mother during my entire childhood. Until the age of five, I was beaten with a leather belt if I did anything to upset her. That’s right, until the age of five. The beatings would have continued, had I not learned on my own what constituted a “whipping,” as she called them, and what would merely land me in my room. My mother still recalls with a hint of regret that she stopped using the belt on me at such a young age.
Emotional abuse was something that my mother excelled at. I remember being called all sorts of awful things, going back as far as one and a half years of age (yes, I really do have memories from that far back). The biggest thing that I was guilty of doing in those days, was being born. My mother had lost a child in a drowning accident only a year before I was born. I think that she was certainly in no shape at all to have another child, but here I am, so what can I say? I only know that apparently the moment I was born, she looked down at me, and realized that I was not my deceased sister, reincarnated. I would then spend the rest of my childhood, being compared to the little girl that I was so clearly nowhere near as perfect.
In our home, in a place of great prominence, hung the portrait of my sister. My mother would sit and stare at it, and wonder aloud why was she gone, and why was I nothing like her. The insults hurled at my very young self were usually in the form of reminding me that my mother had once had the perfect daughter, and now she did not. Instead, she had me to contend with. I recall once even being told that I was some sort of punishment sent to her by the devil. I think that one hurt the most, because by the time she said this, I was old enough to understand just how horrible it was, to be “sent by the devil.” I remember hiding in the backyard, crying my eyes out.
I spent my whole life wanting my mother to love me. I would see little girls on TV shows and movies, as well as in my class, and they had what seemed to be such loving relationships with their mothers. They didn’t seem to shake a little with fear and apprehension when they were being picked up from school. The hugs seemed genuine. The affection, pure. I wondered what was I doing wrong, why couldn’t I be hugged and loved like that by my mom?
I have two younger brothers who experienced a vastly different childhood. Sure, they got beatings with the belt, because she was a firm believer of corporal punishment. But they didn’t get the emotional abuse, nor did they get blamed for every bit of her unhappiness. That was uniquely my own. I know now that gender played a huge role. They were boys, so she was unable to compare them to my sister (although, she did allow my youngest brother’s hair to grow out, and when people would comment that he was such a pretty little girl, she would say “thank you,” rather than correct them. She even sometimes accidentally called him by our dead sister’s name). My being a girl must have constantly reminded her of everything that she lost, and failed to recover.
I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as well as a very mild form of Tourette’s, and I’ve have several bouts of depression. My first focal tic manifested when I was four years old. My mother took me to the doctor, and he told her that I was simply “nervous.” Nervous? At four years of age? Looking back, I’m just not quite sure that’s really “normal.” I have to wonder if my “nervousness” was a product of the abuse.
Since the age of four, I have had many, many, many other tics, all of which have been quite embarrassing. I shut my eyes tightly, I jerk my head to the side, I pop my jaw, I do all sorts of things that look completely out of the ordinary. While in school, I was teased mercilessly by the other kids, which usually resulted in the tic just getting worse. All of my nervousness finally caused me to get an ulcer at the age of 15. My mom attributed it to my obsessive worrying about making good grades in school, and I believed her. I didn’t think of any other causes (because, oddly enough, I didn’t always feel the full effect of my abuse, and I felt that my upbringing was somehow not “that bad”).
Now, at the age of 37, I have all sorts of emotional issues. Depression tops the list, and is the one thing that I am getting under control at the moment. I think and behave like a person with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. For years after I left home, I thought that I could still hear my mother yelling my name, which would make me feel a cold rush of panic. Even today, my biggest fear is her yelling at me. I’m a grown woman with children of my own, and I still have a pathological fear of my mother.
Alhamdulilah, I have been blessed with a wonderfully kind and loving husband. Although he never personally suffered from child abuse, he has an ability to understand that it must have been painful, as well as traumatic. He works very hard at letting me know that the way that I feel about myself is not always accurate. As a result of the mental abuse that I suffered, I tend to think that I am a great goof-up, and I’m unable to do anything properly. I can get really down on myself, and I can be my cruelest critic (literally, I don’t think that there is anything anyone can say to me that would be any more harsh than what I have said to myself already). My husband is quick to swoop in and let me know that that is certainly not the case, and that I am capable of doing great things.
Ironically, it’s tough for me to listen to praise, and I often find myself crying as he is telling me these things. There’s a large part of me that thinks, “how can this be true? How can I be good at anything?” I also feel a bit ashamed, if I do believe what is being said, because then I think that I am somehow being arrogant. It’s messed up, and I am working on it, but I am sure that it’s all a result of my upbringing.
The past is the past, and I am working very hard to move on and forget about it. When I look into the eyes of my children, I can only think of how badly I want to give them a childhood that is at least a million times better than my own. I want them to grow up with laughter and love all around them. I want them to always feel like they are exactly they age they are (rather than several years older, as I did). Childhood is for children, and I want them to be children, free of worries and hardships. Particularly, hardships put on them by me. A mother’s job is to love and nurture her children. She should show them how much she loves them, and never burden them with sorrow.
There is a big, nasty, ugly, awful, and mean world out there that will do that to them. They don’t need it coming from their mother as well.