A South African Muslimah's Blog

Constructing Identity: Loud Whispers, Lasting Echoes

An Unfamiliar Husband May 25, 2008

Your spouse, one of the closest people to you in this life….right?

Wrong! For a large number of people (over 6 million in the Gulf) family life is but a fleeting pleasure they catch a glimpse of once or twice every few years.

Imagine a 46 year old man, living in a foreign country for the last 22 years. Back in his homeland, live his wife and 6 children. Admitting that life is hard, he still says “Alhamdulillah” and this stirs something inside me.

I was so ashamed for a man, a husband, father and grandfather, to be serving me my meal, clearing my table and taking orders from me. The country he has given his best years to, neither accepts him as a citizen, nor respects the time he has spent here, he is given no space to call his own, no time to read, meditate, introspect or pray, being cramped up with up to 20 other men, or even worse living in one of the labour camps! The architectural gem that the Middle East is is built on their sweat and blood! How can a human being do this to other human beings, what gives some people the right to subjugate others?

Is it money, for surely wealth should make us humble, and having more means giving more, for Allah says –
64:16 Remain, then, conscious of God as best you can, and listen [to Him], and pay heed. And spend in charity for the good of your own selves: for, such as from their own covetousness are saved – it is they, they that shall attain to a happy state! [14]

Is it power, for surely those with power, in Muslim lands, would use it justly and give to each man his due, as Allah says –
16:90 BEHOLD, God enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards [one’s] fellow-men; [108] and He forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, [109] as well as envy; [and] He exhorts you [repeatedly] so that you might bear [all this] in mind.

The only other reasons I can think of, are arrogance, and ignorance.

The situation is very much similar, in my home country, South Africa, but I remained oblivious to it for many years. As a consequence of apartheid, many men left their villages, to work on the mines in the cities, lured by tales of wealth and comfort, and dreams of providing for their families. Apartheid is over now, but the legacy of migrant workers is still very much alive, from domestic workers, casual labourers, miners etc, people are still forced to live away from their families, in bad conditions, for appalling wages.

How do governments and people with power allow such an abnormal situation to continue, year after year? This system works in such a way, that it allows no progress for generations to come. The probability is, that your domestic worker/gardener/driver, has a large family back home to support, his/her children will get a basic education, after which they will be forced to work to bring more income into the house . The work they do, will in most cases be the same as what their parents are doing, so they move to the city, and work as domestics/gardeners etc., and the cycle continues. The chances of him/her seeing the inside of a tertiary institution are very very slight!

Not only is this whole situation of spouses living away from each other and parents living away from their children unnatural, it is also a proven cause for many social ills, primary amongst them being promiscuity, prostitution and homosexuality! Here in the gulf, although pushed under the table, staggering statistics are emerging!

The family unit is designed to maintain balance in the community. Through it, all members of the family receive an outlet for their desires and their emotional and physical needs are taken care of, this in turn leads to a happy society.

The current situation is very far from that ideal unfortunately, and I believe it us, the people who employ these workers, who are responsible. We coax ourselves into believing that we are doing a good thing, by employing a poor uneducated person, paying them a wage beyond their expectations (a wage we would most likely spend in a day), and allowing them to go home every now and then. Re-evaluate the situation, and think of their circumstances, their feelings, hopes and dreams, think of every night spent away from their husbands and wives, every minute of pining for their young children, and every breath that speaks worry for aging parents.

Surely the workforce is a major part of life and the economy and we cannot just do away with it, but look at the prophetic example and see how he dealt with his slaves and servants, taking them as his own, eating with them, praying with them, even helping them in their work. The prophet (PBUH) adopted his own slave, the famous Zaid ibn Harith, and considered him a son in every sense! On a journey once, after travelling some distance, he ordered his slave to sit in the camel, and he himself was holding the reins and walking in the desert as he believed that the slave should also take some rest like the Master! In his time, a slave was a normal functioning part of the society, encouraged to marry, take part in society, religion and politics!

As human beings, we should never ever forget about the dignity of our fellow brothers and sisters, no matter how poor, how menial their jobs or how “lowly” their status. Do not let their faces become a blur but recognize their individuality, if every one of us takes this step forward, imagine the domino effect it would create! Every person, has dreams and ambitions, every person wishes to progress, to develop and to live a life worth living, and no-one else should impede this natural desire of every human, for the sake of convenience! So what if you’re domestic or other employer has worked for you for 20 years, if you see potential for them to do something better, encourage them, help them and most importantly educate them!

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One Response to “An Unfamiliar Husband”

  1. Shameema Says:

    I really felt this post. It is heartbreaking and teh situation is soo out of control.I also grew up in South Africa and thought nothing of what the “maid” had to endure. It was only after moving here and having had to do things myself did I realise the very gross injustice that we were committing against another human being. We really did feel ashamed and realised just how wrong we treat the people we employ.There ismust for us to still learn about Islam andmuch that we need to start putting in practice.May Allah guide us all


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