Single (American-Muslim) Mother

Deonna and Ibrahim

A “Wasat Girl” embraces being in-between multiple cultures, because this transcultured space is  globalism living out loud. It was where culture happens, the place of power, that middle space – “wasat” culture.  The children of wasat girls are pretty amazing, as well. In honor of Mother’s Day, Deonna Kelli Sayed explores the challenging yet rewarding terrain of being a single, American-Muslim mother. 

I told my son that his father and I were no longer together while eating at one of those snazzy serve-yourself yogurt bars.

“How would you feel if your pader and I weren’t married anymore?” I asked.

I had no idea his thoughts on the matter.  His father was abroad and had been for several years.  They saw one another for a few weeks every couple of months. I know that they both loved each other.

“Well, I guess I’d be a little sad, although I suppose not much would change,” he commented.

I inhaled and nervously told him that we had decided to end the marriage.  He remained silent for a minute, took a spoonful from his bowl and said in his 10 year old way, “Well, you know, now that I’m eating yogurt, it doesn’t seem that bad.”

Thus, I entered the ranks of being a divorced, single Muslim mother.

Months later, and after an unbecoming period that many divorcing couples experience, my son’s father returned to the United States for a visit. This trip had one objective: to go to Washington, DC for my son’ s expedited passport, as he was to spend the summer abroad with his father. This was a weird car ride, for it was the first occasion where we’d spent time together since the marriage’s end.

In the five hours it took to get to D.C, we argued like we were still together. During one exchange, I commented that he’d remarry within a year.

“I doubt it,” he said. “I do not plan to marry again.”

“Why not?” my son chirped, leaning in from the backseat towards his father. “You are a good person.”

“I am a good person, but your mother didn’t think so,” he said, not unkindly.

“I never said that you weren’t good,” I commented too loudly.

My son’s head jutted into our front seat space.  In complete definitive innocence, he declared, “Both of you are really good people, even if you aren’t married to each other. OK!?”

There we were: Modern Family, Muslim-style.


What does it mean to be a divorced, single American-Muslim mother who is almost forty years old?

For me, it means that I often worry that there is no one to teach my son his religious instruction and to gift him a Muslim heritage. Some Muslims may view him as having deficiencies. However, I understand the concept of one singular “Muslim” heritage is a myth.  I did not embrace Islam until I was 19 years old and with no foundation at all. My son has a clean Muslim pedigree; he knows the root. He will rise into the rest when he is ready and his faith will belong fully to him.

“Be careful going back to the masjid,” one friend cautioned me, “because everyone will think you are looking for a husband.” On that subject, I realize that I have slim chances of remarrying a Muslim. This issues a peculiar set of premature anxieties, particularly in the absence of any potential romantic relationships.

I once asked my son how he’d feel if I remarried outside of the faith.

“It is up to you. You should feel comfortable with them,” he commented.

“So you wouldn’t think it is weird if I married a non-Muslim?”

He paused. “No, I don’t really care.  But I will tell you if I smell something fishy.”

The boy, he’s got my back


He knows that he is different.  There are the unexpected moments his friends comment about “his culture” or “those people over there.” My son looks at them, dumbfounded, because he is from many cultures and he has been over there and they haven’t.  He knows that he has an Afghan father and a culturally complex mother. He is a wasat child, birthed in-between and because of cultural difference.

One Saturday night, he begged me to take him to a kid-friendly, late evening gaming competition at a local coffee house.  “I am unsure if responsible Muslim mothers take their children out to coffee shops this late at night. “ I told him.

“Nanna, this is what weird parents do, and you are a weird parent. Embrace it!”

I did take him, and he held his own against other competitors, not just in craft but in confidence. Not once did he come to sit with me. He remained at the game table with the guys and oozed wasat-child essence. Everything that makes him complicated also makes him cool and confident, I thought. Single mothers, especially the Muslim ones, know that many expect us to mess up. We take care in measuring  our successes in the ways our children reflect light back into the world. At that moment, my kid beamed with wasat force.

During the drive home that evening, I asked him whom he identified with the most:  his father or me.  He look up with his brown eyes and said, “Well pader is from one culture, but you are from, like, many different cultures, so I see myself more like you,” he commented.  This perspective never occurred to me. We assume the white, American part is the boring essence, the shade of privileged grey.  My son embraced it differently and acknowledged that my identity– a single American-Muslim woman – was one of multiple possibilities.

My son is now 11-years-old, and if there is anything I know about being a single Muslim mother, it is that we can raise superlative children. There are no deficiencies in the wasat force.

Deonna Kelli Sayed is a editor and author of Paranormal Obsession: America’s Fascination with Ghosts & Hauntings, Spooks & Spirits. Her work has been featured in the anthology Love, and Muslimah Media Watch. Deonna is currently working on a memoir. To learn more, visit her website, and join her on Facebook and Twitter.

6 Comments on “Single (American-Muslim) Mother”

  1. ASA Deonna….I loved your article and learned a new word “wasat”. My daughters call themselves “halfies” and you are absolutely right…their strengths come from their “differentness”. Also, I don’t understand why you say you will never marry another Muslim? Why not? Just go to any of the many, many Muslim Match sites online and you will certainly find someone there.

    Your new world is open to you – there are so many possibilities for you to thrive and you have a wonderful, honest, expressive son who will be your anchor.

  2. Sister529 says:

    MashAllah, your son has a wonderful and strong personality! It is endearing to hear your story as I have been trying to keep up with your blog and have read Love Inshallah and loved it 🙂 I agree with Cheryl, I divorced and re-married and found a Muslim man who I believe in my heart is my true soulmate and partner, a gift from the Allah SWT. It isn’t our place to close any doors…if we only allow ourselves to receive, when we welcome the possibility of something better, that the Almighty bestows on us His most remarkable Blessings…wish you the best of luck in all your endeavors and thank you for sharing your unique experience and story.

  3. I love this post, and the way you claim the word “wasat.” I blog on complex identity, from a Jewish/Christian perspective, but I feel a common bond with all those who see the positive, and not just the negative, in intermarriage of various kinds.

  4. Sarah F. says:

    What a precocious little man you have there! He reminds me of my little brother. He definitely has your back, and I’m so glad you have his company. He’ll give you self-affirmation AND keep you on your toes 🙂

  5. I love the story of your son urging you to embrace being a weird parent. 🙂 This is a beautiful essay.

  6. Levannah says:

    subhanallah your son has a really beautiful and courageous heart! My sincere prayer that Allah will pour both of you abundant blessings to come. This post is touching and would like to thank Deonna Sayed for presenting this 🙂