Jenna was three month pregnant with her fourth baby,
when her husband surprised her with a plan to visit their country of origin, Algeria.
Her husband was very violent and abusive those days. The outside world knew him
as a very decent practicing Muslim, but inside the apartment it was a different
story. It was a hell and Jenna had to struggle everyday to make it a better place
for her children.
She took that surprise as a very positive change and a good break from domestic
violence. Happy Jenna said good-bye to all of her friends believing that she was
going for a great summer vacation. She had two daughters, 3 and 4, and one 6-year
old son. She packed their stuff with season planning and told them all the good
things about Algeria and her people.
She came back in three months, but without her children. Broken and distorted, Jenna
told her horrible story. She was severely abused and then divorced on the accusation
of having extra-marital affairs, as soon as they reached Algeria. Her husband took
the three older kids by force and denied to accept the unborn baby as his child.
She asked the American embassy in Algeria to help her, but they couldn’t.
She was told that her children entered the country on Algerian passports as Algerian
nationals. America has no rights over them. Within a few days, her husband disappeared
with her children. For two months, she tried to find them in vain.
She tried to stay with her own family, but it was another mess. Her own family accused
her for being bad wife and they too blamed her for an extra-marital affair since
her husband had said so. On top, her country was immersed in corruption, liquor
and several social disorders. She could not stand that either.
One day, torn and heartbroken Jenna called one of her friend in America and told
her the whole story. Her friend advised her to come back home (America) before it’s
too late to travel. The same friend arranged for the ticket and Jenna came back
in search of a better Islamic life for her unborn baby.
That’s where I practically entered in her life. Although I knew her for almost
a year, I did not know the history of domestic violence in her household. For a
short period, I worked as temporary Kindergarten teacher in the Islamic school,
and her son was in my class. He was the most well-behaved, responsible and caring
5-year old I have ever seen in my life. While writing these lines, I still remember
his innocent talk showing concern and care for his sisters and mother and his excitement
about going overseas in summer vacations.
He never came back from those vacations. I was told that his father divorced his
bad mother and kept the kids with him. What? Bad mother? Jenna? I was completely
shocked. Then I learnt that so many people in the community knew the whole story
for a long time. Since I was new and was Pakistani, nobody shared it with me earlier.
The Imam of the mosque and his wife were close friends and next-door neighbors of
the couple. The Imam was totally convinced with her husband’s version and
issued the statement that Jenna must go back to Algeria or get married to someone
else since she is living a haram (forbidden) life without a mehram (male relative).
Jenna was seven months pregnant then. Both options were out of the question. Her
divorce status was not confirmed due to her pregnancy; although her husband refused
to claim the baby and most brothers were taking his side. Women in that community
knew Jenna for long time but they were afraid of their own husbands, all her old
time friends backed off. But this was not the end of the world. It was just God’s
way to show her who is who in her life.
We had an Egyptian friend in school. Heba was a single mother of three young children
and went through the same accusations when she divorced her husband on domestic
violence and abusive issues. She was a full time teacher and was getting ready to
start a career in public school systems. She offered her home to Jenna until she
would have her baby. Jenna agreed and moved in with Heba.
This was a closer by city with a different mosque. As soon as this news of their
living together spread, the Egyptian Imam of this mosque also gave a statement saying
that both of these women were living haram lives and other sisters should stay away
from them. Most men listened to the Imams and forced their wives to stay away from
such stray women, but some of them, including my husband, did not pay any attention.
He called Jenna his sister and made sure that she was taken care of whenever she
was in need. Heba and Jenna moved to our apartment complex and we included them
in our social circle like other respectful people. More like-minded people joined
us and we were able to take care of her maternity expenses and other needs. Soon
she gave birth to a beautiful girl. That day, she cried a lot, remembering her older
kids who would be so excited to see this new baby.
Recollecting all her strength together, Jenna now decided to become independent
financially. We offered help from babysitting to car rides to and from her work.
She started at a nearby McDonalds. Late night hours were not easy for anyone, but
we got used to it. Her daughter would stay at my home and sometimes Jenna would
also sleep there. I was picking her up most of the time and knew exactly where she
was and who she was seeing at work. But the women in the community started all sorts
of rumors about her new affairs and smoking at McDonalds. To me, their gossiping
was unacceptable, but Jenna would leave it to Allah. She said “if my own husband
accused me while I was fair, anybody can say whatever. I don’t care about
them anymore. I only care about Allah. What He says matter to me the most.”
In the meantime, my mother also teamed up with Jenna. They started a food sale outside
the mosque on Fridays. Although many people did not want to see Jenna there, they
could not say anything due to our strong support and my mother standing next to
her. Sometimes men had their arguments, but our side won on the basis of humanitarian
and Islamic grounds. Some brothers always made sure to throw harsh comments to Jenna
right before and after their Friday prayers like it was part of the prayers too.
Some tried to convince my husband and me that we should not support a woman like
her. She would be a bad influence on our own daughters, they said. We never paid
attention to such advices either. Thanks to my unconventional husband.
In a year, when all other efforts failed, some of the people reinitiated the issue
of her remarrying. All of a sudden her old friends got very active and their husbands
found a right “brother” to marry her. He was fresh from Algeria with
no legal status. We raised our flags, but Jenna was too tired of living without
a family and working day and night. She fell for it believing that all these brothers
and sisters would not be recommending someone they did not know by themselves. Hence,
she married him.
Unfortunately, this was another disaster. This brother started physical abuse on
day one, saying that he knew all her background and would not approve of any misbehavior.
Jenna tried to hide this from us for some time. She was embarrassed for not listening
to us earlier. But she could not hold it in for long. The same story was started
again. Men were taking his side since he was a gentleman in public, a scholar of
many books and Ahadith, and Jenna was already divorced and accused by her previous
husband too. It went on for few months till Jenna got pregnant again. This became
a turning point for her.
She decided to take control of her life back in her hands again. As always, we were
with her and she knew it. She filed her divorce and made sure that this person did
not get a green card through her. She kicked him out of her apartment and started
living by herself. She was a little bit more established financially by this time.
She had her own car and was working full time. My mother was still babysitting her
daughter and we were her family. Soon she had a baby boy. Life was challenging and
tough but free from daily humiliation, physical abuse, and death threats. It was
her life with respect and dignity for her children.
It took her another two years to finally find a really nice, “unconventional”
man for her. He was not married yet and had no legal reasons to marry Jenna. He
was impressed by her struggle and wanted to hold her hand with longtime genuine
commitment. This time we approved it too.
It’s been almost 10 years now, and Jenna is living happily with her third
husband. They have two more boys and are raising their four children well. Jenna
does not know the whereabouts of her older children and still misses them. She prays
for them every day with the hope that her prayers will reach them wherever they
are. As I moved from that town, I have not seen her for a few years, but she stays
in touch with my family and sends me love messages every once in a while.
Jenna is a great example for all those sisters who stay in the abusive relationships
for whatever weaknesses and reasons. Although she did not start the cycle in the
first place, once she took the ride, she made sure to reach the right destination
on her own terms and conditions. Her children in her custody are raised in the right
environment, and the community has been quiet and embarrassed now on the earlier
allegations they placed on Jenna. Yes we were there for her, but I am sure each
one of you will find someone, Muslim or non-Muslim, who will become your family
in the dark days. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. The earlier, the
Webmaster Note: This post is written by Zerqa
Abid and was originally published on her blog under the title
"Was She a Bad Woman?"