Being a Muslim single mum


Photo: Getty Images. Posed by model.

Many of my friends are single mums. In fact, I have more single mothers as close friends than I do married women like myself. I think this has a lot to do with my mother. My mother is the strongest woman I know, and she’s a single mother. It must be an energy thing - like attracts like. After 30 years of a difficult (understatement) marriage, she called it quits, and her decision left an indelible mark on me. I witnessed, first-hand, how a mother can keep her kids afloat through the most turbulent of storms, and still come out smiling. With kids intact. I asked her how she raised six children and her reply was, “I don’t remember!” Ah, the gift of selective memory.

I am bewildered and incensed by my friends’ ex-husbands who don’t pay child support, are not involved in their children’s lives, or are pretty bad examples when they are involved. I’ve seen the worst of what marriage can offer, and that makes me appreciate the good side. Every marriage has its ups and downs, but after hearing about what my friends have been through, and continue to go through - it could always be worse.

I can speak about being a friend of many Muslim single mums. Divorce is still stigmatised in the Muslim community. Divorce happens, and it’s permitted in Islam - in cases of abuse, it’s outright obligatory to get yourself out of harm’s way - but cultural hang-ups make everything messier. A close friend of mine recently got divorced - good riddance to bad rubbish, I say -- and she was surprised to see that a lot of happily married Muslims have had their own divorce or two, before finding ‘the one’. I call it a learning experience in a community that does’t encourage pre-marital relationships. But once kids are in the mix, it’s a lot harder to bounce back.

Battena Shafei is a very brave single mum. Battena and her lovable daughter, Haleema, feature in “Life At Seven”, the ABC program. It takes courage for Battena to publicly talk about what it’s like raising Haleema on her own, when parts of the Muslim community struggle with admitting that yes, divorce happens to us too. She’s been brave enough to tell her story, and that of her daughter, on national TV. I see in her yet another example of a strong woman doing everything she can to raise her daughter, despite the obstacles she faces.


Another one of my close friends is a working professional with four small children. Every single day, she juggles her demanding work schedule while figuring out child-care for her children. She didn’t ask to be a single mum. Her ex-husband just packed up and left. So now she’s left picking up the pieces of her life, and although it’s a far better one without him, it’s still hard. For instance, a sudden decision by her babysitter to quit her job threw a spanner in the works, and she was left floundering for days, scrambling to find help. That one incident goes to show how her balancing act of juggling work and children is so easily thrown out of whack. To add insult to injury, her ex-husband has remarried and has just had another child - and no, he’s not paying regular support for his existing children. Every dollar she earns goes to feeding herself and her children. The man who directly contributed to the existence of her children is, on the other hand, not really giving her all that much. If you’re not paying child support for your own kids, then don’t make any more. Surely this isn’t rocket science?

There’s a particular sub-section of the population of Muslim single mums who have it really tough - the converts to Islam. These are the single mothers who often don’t have easy access to their families of origin, for different reasons. Some of their parents live overseas, while others weren’t really that happy about their conversion and keep their distance. These single mums don’t have the option for grandma to bundle the kids into the car and drive them far, far away, so she can get her sanity back. Grandma isn’t around, or isn’t interested. For the grandmas who do care enough to be involved and help their daughters raise their kids - kudos to you! It takes a village to raise a child. It probably takes several villages to raise more than one.

If you’re a friend to a single mum, then keep being her friend. It’s a long and lonely road sometimes, knowing that you’re raising your child, or your children, alone. Some days feel impossible, and other days are easier. But it’s never a walk in the park. Even the thought of remarriage isn’t something that’s on the table. It’s not as simple for single mums to remarry, compared to the average single or divorced person.

“Kids change everything,” Leila* told me. “Companionship would be nice, and I miss that, but I have to think about my children first. Whoever I marry has to be extraordinary enough to love my kids like his own. That’s a hard ask.” Does he exist? I sure hope so. But if he doesn’t, then my friend is happy living her life raising her kids on her own. It’s not an easy path, but it’s hers, and I applaud her for her courage to keep striving forward.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a mum. But it must take an extraordinary amount of courage to wake up every morning and be responsible for these small life-forms that soon grow up and make their own way in the world. From my experience, I can think of a few practical things you can do to help your friends who are single mums:

1)  Call her to see how she’s doing.

2)  Message her to let her know that you’re thinking of her.

3)  Visit her to show her that you care.

4)  Ask if she needs help with her kids, even if it’s for an hour so she can leave the house.

5)  When you visit, bring some food - it gives her one less thing to worry about.

6)  Encourage your husband, father or brother to be mentors or role models for these kids who don’t have a father in their lives.

7)  Help out with the endless handyman stuff, and ask the men in your life to help out too.

8)  Give small gifts to your friend (massage vouchers) and her kids.

Because single mums are the unsung heroes who work so hard to keep their families going, against the odds, every single day. 

* name has been changed 



  • Excellent article. It really shows up the majority of the other articles written on Daily Life as the whingings of young, entitled princesses who thinks the world owes them a living.

    Date and time
    January 22, 2013, 10:05AM
    • Great article, wow, what an insight. I've seen so many single Muslim women in Indonesia bringing up kids, in an even tougher environment. Good to appreciate the personal hardship.

      True stuff
      Date and time
      January 22, 2013, 11:35AM
      • It was interesting to read the paragraph that describes divorce as not only 'permitted in Islam' but 'in cases of abuse...outright obligatory to get yourself out of harm’s way' - as opposed to all the descriptions of fanaticism we get in the mainstream media. I was even more surprised by 'a lot of happily married Muslims have had their own divorce or two, before finding ‘the one’. Is this the norm in Muslim communities (perhaps more in the West than in the East?) or is the author's community a particularly mellow one? (I'm not being sarcastic, I really would be interested in knowing).

        For the most part, however, this article just describes the (very real, and very worth describing, but under a different title) trials of all single mums (the bit I refer to above was one of two paragraphs in the whole article that deal specifically with the experience of Muslims). Different title perhaps?

        Also, my parents had friends who were single mums when I was growing up...and they didn't do any of the above list of recommended things - I think those women would have been a bit offended if my parents had regularly felt the need to bring food/presents etc. ... they're single mums, not invalids...

        Also also, the author says (referring to her mother) 'after 30 years of a difficult (understatement) marriage, she called it quits', and then implies that her mother raised 6 kids on her own - which suggests that her mother was raising children AFTER divorcing her husband after 30 years of marriage!!! Is this just a misreading on my part?

        Date and time
        January 22, 2013, 2:30PM
      • @meness While I am not Muslim, I have been researching the religion out of interest for about six months, and I can tell you it is a far cry from what we see in the media! Islam gives women the right to divorce, to own their own property and businesses and to have an education. The oldest university in the world was in fact founded my a Muslim woman, Fatima Al-Fihri. Pre-marital relationships are discouraged in Islam, so it makes sense that people would go through more than one marriage in their lifetime. Of course, with any religious community, their are individuals that look down on this, but that can't be helped. Many issues within Muslim communities come from a confusion with what Islam says and what cultural norms are. Again, this happens with any religion. It's always good to research things like this, since media perceptions are so often skewed. Not to mention, it feels great to know more about our wonderful and diverse world!

        Date and time
        January 22, 2013, 3:59PM
      • @meness,

        I've had the opportunity to live in muslim and non-muslim countries and count on having muslims as some of my close friends and imho the application of islam and the woman who lives within the society really depends on: 1. The country (it is much harder to operate as an individual and a woman in a muslim country if you do not conform by the social norm but quite pleasant a life if you do) 2. The woman's family and that of her husband. If her family is supportive and open minded she will have no problems with support in the time of divorce or children and if her husband and her family is the same regardless of divorce she will not have divorce issues because a man can divorce a woman verbally whereas a woman has to go through a court process which can be difficult and messy.

        So in a country like Australia really the biggest problem for a woman would be her family (if she as any here) and their restrictions and support of her and the practicalities of being muslim (access to a mosque and community, halal food, depending on how conservative the application of segregation of the sexes)
        Frankly speaking one of my muslim friends from overseas moved here and declared how much more freedom she had as an individual and even her own individual practice of islam because her family required her to have a chaperone at all times, restricted her career choices and even dictated she wear a headscarf - but here she doesn't wear one (her choice) and works in engineering, which her family disapproved of.

        Green Tea
        Date and time
        January 22, 2013, 4:57PM
    • This article touched me. I'm a single mum with a professional career and 4 children. I've been both widowed and divorced and every line of your article struck home. Sometimes as a single parent, it can be very much like you are held hostage by your maternal bonds while the ex moves on without a care in the world and forgets he even had kids in the first place (some, not all ex's).

      I am lucky enough to have a fantastic support crew of friends and family but still find it really gut-wrenchingly hard some days. I cannot imagine how much harder it would be for the Muslim women of your article who can't access that support. Thank you for your article.

      Date and time
      January 22, 2013, 12:46PM
      • Enjoyed the article- except - on what planet is giving a massage voucher a small gift??

        Date and time
        January 22, 2013, 12:51PM
        • good but in a sad way to hear that intelligent people in all cultures know when to leave a bad relationship no matter what the status.

          However I am concerned by the images presented by these sexist remarks:

          6) Encourage your husband, father or brother to be mentors or role models for these kids who don’t have a father in their lives.

          7) Help out with the endless handyman stuff, and ask the men in your life to help out too.

          Why should men not in a parenting role with these women have to fulfill these roles?
          Haven't we been telling the community long enough that single parent family can survive and thrive just a well as dual parent families?

          Date and time
          January 22, 2013, 1:05PM
          • I agree with your statement, but I don't think she was intending to be sexist when she wrote that.

            Children who grow up in single parents families or with same-sex parents don't need "role models" of a particular gender thrust upon them. They just need an adult in their lives (or 2 adults, or several!) who are responsible and who love them.

            Date and time
            January 22, 2013, 3:22PM
        • What!, the fathers not paying child support? AND starting another family? Why? Are these women the second or third wife and not recorded on Australian Registry. Don't the fellows pay tax? Why are they getting away from their responsibilities. Something's not quite right.

          Date and time
          January 22, 2013, 1:39PM

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