March 21, 2011

Jane Eyre and my existential crisis

Awesome book, please read!
A'salaamu alaikum ya'll. I've been re-reading some classics lately; I know I read Jane Eyre 20 some odd years ago. Thanks to time (and my stroke) I really didn't remember anything at all about it so it was really nice to re-read.

In my opinion this is the type of love story a Muslimah can read and not fall into haram. There are no "turgid manhood" descriptions ;-) or "sexscapades". There is simply a deep and abiding love which flourishes between the two main characters, Jane and Mr. Rochester, her employer. It is the type of love most of us have dreamed of; to be cherished and persued and placed upon a pedestal. However, level-headed Jane doesn't want any of that. She is content with her simple life and her simple ways and provokes Mr. Rochester in 100s of ways by refusing his gifts and accolades.

One particular excerpt from this book touched a chord deep within me. Please read it closely. This is after they have discovered their mutual love and have allowed it to grow. This is not a euphemism for sex btw; it means they are finally able to acknowledge their passion for each other and proceed to marry.

"My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for his creature: of whom I had made an idol."

Subhanallah. Subhanallah. Subhanallah. Now, my first thought upon reading this passage was "Authubillah!" We know this is shirk, this is the most severe form of disobedience to Allah, to assign Him partners, to worship the creation NOT the Creator. This was my visceral, gut reaction.

Next came a deep sense of understanding. This is the romantic ideal perpetrated by western culture. This is how I was raised: to believe a knight on a white horse would come in to swoop me off my feet and carry me off. At least every fairytale I ever read told me that. :-) Or at very least, I would marry what is now known as a "metrosexual": a man who looks great, loves his wife, dresses to kill, and will help do the laundry and the dishes. :-) In movies, in books; our very culture is steeped in this idea of one person being your everything. To the exclusion of all else.

It is a powerful drug, to be loved so. To be needed and wanted and desired, to be made the center of someone's life. This, dear sisters, was me before Islam. In my darkness, in my lost wanderings, I sought to fill the void inside me with love. Not the worst idea for sure; better than drugs or alcohol or some other utterly self-destructive habit. I just wanted to be loved, right? And cherished. And needed. I wanted to be necessary to someone's life. I wanted to be their center. I needed to be their anchor. And oh boy, you better believe I needed them to be mine!

So wonder why my search wasn't too successful? Wellll let's see: because no one person can be everything for someone else. I was willing to give 100% of myself but I demanded the same in return. I was sincere and giving and loving...and I was exacting and I was demanding. I had so much to give but I wanted everything they had in return. Everything of value. I don't mean their money.

I wanted their time, their energies, their love, their passion, their emotion. I wanted it all for me. I wasn't trying to be selfish; I'd been involved in too many one-sided relationships to feel I should settle anymore. I wanted the romance-novel love; where the hero dashes in, saves the girl, and proceeds to make every decision for her and her life. :-) Personal accountability zero. If I don't make the calls, I can't take the blame. Really it was all very tidy for me.

Except for that one little annoyance I listed above: it just isn't realistic and I didn't find it. I did find some temporary satisfaction; a couple who could stay the course for a few months. I had one long-term relationship that lasted 3 years. It was doomed from the start and that very knowledge encouraged me. I poured all of myself into loving him, into "fixing" him. I knew he was just "a little" broken but I was so sure in the power of my love, so sure I could redeem him, transform him, "fix" him.

Alhamdulillah I emerged 3 years later, scarred, hardened a bit, but much wiser. I knew I needed something but I was sure it was a someONE not a thing. I had looked now for years, searching high and low, only to be eventually disappointed every time. I was practically begging God to come into my life only I didn't know how to ask. Or Who. I had stopped believing in "God" so long ago, only held onto some shreds of hope my atheistic husband hadn't managed to find and destroy. It was this hope which kept me going, kept my afloat, kept me searching even when I was going down the wrong path, "barking up the wrong tree".

This, my dear sisters, is how I came to Islam. I came as spiritually destitute as any one could be; I came on my hands and knees, bereft of pride, my smug assurance in my own abilities weakened. I was ready to find Allah...  I just didn't know where or what to call Him. :-)

Alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah! Allah led me to Islam and I knew I was home. I didn't have to search any more, debase myself, remake and remold myself into someone else's vision of me. This is who I am, who I was, who I was searching for. All of these qualities were inside me waiting to be coaxed out, encouraged, and allowed to take root. My heart was ready for Islam, for submission. I had been submitting myself to the will of MEN for so long it seemed nothing to submit to Allah. I welcomed it; finally, finally I had found the One worthy of my complete submission. And here was my Creator, who loved me so much, was so patient with me, waited for me to be ready... I knew my gift of love and sacrifice would not be thrown back in my face like an unwanted gift.

So when sisters or strangers, Muslim and non-Muslims alike, question me about all I've had to "give up" I want to respond: "Exactly what did I give up? I gave up searching and searching for someone to fill this void, I gave up having to strive to live up to society's expectations and always feeling I was falling short, I gave up feeling I was just not quite (fill in the blank) enough. I gave up trying to fit into a mold that wasn't me, I gave up selling myself so cheaply."

And what did I gain? I have gained self-respect and sisterhood and peace. I have gained self-confidence that stems from knowing my place in this life and knowing that I submit myself ONLY to my Lord, my Rabb. I have gained the chance to earn Paradise, to enter the beautiful gardens of Jannah insha'Allah, amin!!! What I have earned is past accounting and what I have paid is negligible.

I am a Muslim, alhamdulillah!


Kaighla said...

Sister, you know what i want to say, but I will say it anyway: First of all, Jane Eyre=best book EVER. Secondly, you know our lives are seriously mirror-images of one another, so I could have written this (only not as well). And lastly, I admire your love for Islam, your willingness to JUST SUBMIT. And I am jealous in a healthy way of your confidence that your man loves you for you and that you needn't change to please him. In that way, my marriage is exactly like my previous relationships: I was not good enough for them and I am not good enough for him...or, rather, the real me isn't. As long as I keep the real me in our home, it's cool. But once any other person knows who I REALLY am, the cats out of the bag and I am lectured on how much i need to change. As long as I appear the way he wants me to appear, everyone is happy. :-(

Halima said...


Wow! As a revert I can agree with that 100%, Sister! I left behind alot of confusion, wrong-thinking and all the heartache and suffering it entails... *sigh*. Islam is such a blessing, alhamdulillah, and there is so much wisdom in the way the relations between the sexes is structured and the way in which one's identity as a muslima transforms, dignifies and alters you for the better from the inside out. Subhanallah.
Jane Eyre was my favourite,as well , by the way from the time I first read it about age twelve. It started off an obsession with novels about Victorian orphans- hehe. But it is remarkable if only for the reason that J.E. isn't your typical romantic heroine- she's plain and poor for starters. And Mr. Rochester, although rich ends up blind. Not exactly Snow White and Prince Charming!

Umm Aaminah said...

Oh sis. Subhanallah. It hurts me to know this is your reality. My marriage is not perfect, it is not the picture of "western romance" but I am loved and accepted for myself. Now to be sure, my husband brings out the better parts in me and I do subdue those that are not good for my Islam; but I don't do it so he will be happier with me.

Acceptance feels so good and I want that feeling for you too. :-(

As for the book, it was like discovering a lost friend. :-) And I know, I gave it such a trite review, barely glossing over it like a 9th grade book report. lol However my goal was just to give readers a brief synposis so they would understand better the excerpt and what I wanted to say. I feel I did it a huge disservice by not delving deeper into it. :-)

Umm Aaminah said...

Halima, this is why I loved this novel so much upon re-reading. What astounds me even more is that Miss Bronte was unmarried and, in her sheltered existence, had never known this type of romantic love. Much like her sister's novel "Wuthering Heights".

Really just lovin' the Bronte sisters right about now! :-)

HijabiMommy said...

First of all, let me just briefly say that I love Jane Eyre. Read it when I was in high school. I need to pick it up again. And I am really excited to see the new movie that just came out with Mia Wasikowska!

And secondly, Umm Aaminah, Masha'allah, your posts are so beautiful and uplifting. I just love coming back to your blog! You are so true to yourself, it's inspiring. I am so happy you found what you were looking for in Islam.

You are so right. No one person can fill all the little crevices of our heart and soul...only Allah can. We're humans so we're all a little imperfect. But we CAN be a little more accepting of each other and love each other for the sake of Allah.

Beautiful post! Had me in tears!

Omani Princess (not Omani LOL) said...

MOP totally teased me for renting the movie but when we watched it he was so engrossed in it, more than I was as a fan of the book, that it made me laugh.

I like your analysis of Islamic and modern-day "love" as a definition and an idea.

zanjabil said...

MashAllah sis. I can so relate to this post. I have grown and matured to know that only Allah can be the all and everything for one's heart and soul. The romance novel version of love, is just a story conjured by the writers imagination. Thanks for reminding me of it again :) May Allah instill hikmah into us all.

Happy Hijabi said...

Awesome post sister!
What a journey to Islam, SubhanAllah.

Angelle said...

I agree with Happy Hijabi. This is a lovely testimony and speaks exactly to what we need. When I was growing up, I was taught there is a "God-shaped hole" in our hearts. When we try to fill it with anything or anyone else, it can never work.

BTW, love Jane Eyre. Love all those Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell (her "Cranford" is just lovely) and, natch, Jane Austen.

Umm Aaminah said...

HijabiMommy, thank you for the comment. :-) I've hoped my little blog could inspire or help another. Insha'Allah I remember to use it as a tool for good. :-)

OPNO, I want to see the newest Jane Eyre! Aren't guys funny, they can say Oh no, I won't like that! And then be more engrossed in it than we are. ;-)

Zanjabil, amin! We all need more knowledge, more wisdom to see the beauties and truths Allah puts in front of us.

Happy Hijabi, thanks for leaving a positive comment!

Angelle, I like that phrase, a "God-shaped hole in our hearts". That's a very good explanation.