Saturday, August 30, 2014

How my husband makes it easier to be a scholar and homeschooler

“More than anything, Jamillah wants to play a role in the growth of Islam in America and the positive growth of the African American community, beginning first with raising a Muslim family of her own.”

These were the words published in my yearbook at W. D. Mohammed High School next to my senior picture.

SubhanAllah, these lofty aspirations led to an ambitious pursuit, a doctorate in religion (the study of Islam) at Duke University with a focus in Islam in America, race, and African American Muslims. My family came second, though, not first.  I married at 29, after completing my first year teaching at Spelman College. I had my first child at 32. Pregnant with my first, I finished my first manuscript. 2008 was Obama’s year, Yahya’s and my first book's, American Muslim Women.

Spelman College was great for my career and family. I didn’t go to work with Yahya until he was eleven months, and I received a paycheck during my time off. When I was pregnant with my second child, Lut, I taught and diligently prepared documents for tenure. I received the call from the president of the college when Lut was a newborn.

Leaving work

With tenure in hand, I resigned from Spelman in 2011 to stay at home with my two sons.

Various ideals and realities in my life led me to stay at home, but the influence that stands out most is the Qur'anic statement that men are the supporters of women. I never struggled with this verse but still worked to make meaning out of this divine statement and was influenced by scholars like Amina Wadud whose books I read in graduate school.

In a context in which too many men are not assuming their responsibilities to take care of their families and women are more than capable, I read the statement as a reminder to men, not a restriction upon women. I also concluded that the reminder to men implied that women were more likely to successfully carry multiple loads, i.e., mothering and working.

In other words, I thought, perhaps the Qur'an is giving women a break. So I decided to take one since my husband could manage without my working and because I was the one working the same as a man, pumping milk and/or pregnant with a child, dropping and picking up my child from daycare, and cooking meals. Yes, my considerate husband was washing bottles and doing all the other things that men do.

The decision to leave Spelman was tough. In all honesty, the greatest fear was the thought of my husband losing his job. The Qur’anic verses stating that God is the best of providers ultimately empowered me to overcome my fears.

Other factors made me confident about my choice. My husband is a man of taqwa, good character--May God increase him--and I could depend on him, after my reliance upon God.

Also, I had just signed a contract with NYU Press to co-author a second book, Women of the Nation: Between Black Protest and Sunni Islam. The book would be the first of its kind, focusing on women's experiences in the Nation of Islam, and would ensure that I remained active and relevant within academia. This gave me the confidence to know that if I did want to return to work, I would find a job.

Office hours

And here is where I must pause to express gratitude to my husband. When Dawn-Marie Gibson, the co-author of Women of the Nation asked me to write the book with her, I initially declined because I knew from my first book the enormous amount of dedication and work that it required.

Also, I was exploring the possibility of homeschooling my children. The appeal of homeschooling constantly grew as I met homeschoolers and learned their philosophies. I was ready to give my all to my children, so at first I declined the offer to write the book.

And then my husband uttered the words that changed my life forever: "I think you should do it, Baby." 

I responded with a "you don't know what we're getting into" attitude. I conveyed to him the amount of energy and time writing a book would require of me. Alhamdulillah, he heard and rose to the occasion.

He instituted office hours! And not the kind with students but the kind without children. Initially, my office hours were twice during the week in the evening. Those nights he would put the kids to bed. I had longer hours during the day on Sunday. Depending on my work demand, my office hours increase or decrease. I had tons more the months of intense writing for my new book.

Moving across the street from my mother

The second smart thing that my husband did was buy me a house across the street from my mother. My aunt also lives there. Both of these women play a vital role in making my life easier. At least twice a week I don't cook dinner because we simply go across the street to share one of my mother's nutritious, delicious meals. My aunt is super generous as well, and because she is not working, she's almost always there to watch the boys when I need a break or have an appointment. She watched the baby this year when I traveled to speak at Harvard and Yale.

Hiring a part-time nanny

We can't afford a nanny or even a part-time one on a regular basis, but we did commit to spending money on a part-time nanny in the weeks after Zayn was born while I still had deadlines for the book. I encourage women to budget for a part-time nanny, cleaner, or cook even if it's just once or twice a year.

Opening our home to my husband's family

When my husband asked if his brother and family could live with us for the first year of his brother's MBA program at Emory University, I said yes because my in-laws are not crazy or dramatic and because I knew how much it would mean to my husband who goes out of his way to accommodate others.

In other words, my husband's generous spirit rubbed off on me, and it was one of the best things I ever did. My sister-in-law prepared meals half the time, she watched my three year old when I was writing the book, and she drove my five year old to school. We enrolled Yahya in school that year since I was pregnant and writing a book. (If you hadn't already surmised, I'm not trying to be a superwoman.)

My in-laws moved out after a year, but we continue to assist each other in the spirit of family and community. My brother-in-law takes the boys to the park, and my sister-in-law continues to cook delicious meals.

Why my husband gets it

One of my husband's favorite pastimes is reading books on relationships. He has learned that partnerships work when two people are fulfilled, because the more fulfilled we are, the more able we are to give to others.

Before we started office hours, I would research or write and the children and their toys were all over the house. My husband envisioned a better way. He suggested that I separate my time with the children and my time writing. Office hours would ensure that I would give my all to my children within a limited period. Then, at the appropriate time, I could devote myself to the work that truly left me fulfilled, writing about Islam, race, gender, and, in the future, education.

My husband, sons, mother, aunt, and sister attended
 the discussion and signing of both books in July.

This quote from a piece by a homeschooling parent speaks to the great service my husband has done for me, beginning with his convincing me to write my second book:

    "How many parents give up on their dreams? Trade them away for homework and recitals and multiplication drills? It's a convenient way to let go of your dreams - to convince yourself that your child needs so much from you, requires so much of your time and attention, that you have no time for your own self, your own needs."

More importantly, my husband realizes that the more fulfilled I am, the more engaged I am in our relationship, and the more I have to give to him. Don't we expect something from those with whom we create a partnership? The secret to getting what we want is making sure that our partner is fulfilled.

My husband understands that he is not the key to my fulfillment--that is ultimately my responsibility via my personal pursuits--but he does feel responsible to help facilitate what I find fulfilling, and for that I am grateful and fulfilled.


  1. this is beautiful. thank you for sharing your family with us. :)

  2. what a blessing! no wonder you're always in such a peaceful space. :)

  3. May your family continue to be blessed! I look forward to future books. Your work is so important.

  4. Reading this article filled me with emotions.