Escaping the 9-5 Burnout

Muslim Family Moves to Spain for a Slower Pace of Life

By Amal Omer

May/Jun 2024
Hashmi with her husband, Fahd, posed with their children (left to right), Leena (now 13), Salma (now 15), and Eissa (now 17), at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, during the filming of the HGTV show, House Hunters International.

“Something has to change,” recalls Isra Hashmi telling her husband as she lay in an emergency room hospital bed. 

Hashmi, who had gone to the doctor that morning with heart palpitations and shortness of breath, was sent to the emergency room after an electrocardiogram showed she was having an arrhythmia. 

At the time, Hashmi was the director of a medical clinic at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital. The exhaustion and burnout from being a working mother of three in a demanding role had caught up with her. 

“It was this proverbial hamster wheel. We were running so fast,” says Hashmi. “We had very little children at the time. My eldest was 11, and we had two little ones.” 

On a typical day, she woke up by 5 a.m. to be on the train by 6 a.m. to meet her first patient by 7 a.m. Her husband, Fahd would get the children to school before his commute into the city. Hashmi would finish work at 3 p.m. and get back on the train to pick up the children from school, with her husband returning later in the evening.

“[That] lifestyle is not conducive to a family and to nurturing young children…that’s how it started, that was the breaking point,” says Hashmi. 

Initially, Hashmi made a change by stepping back from the director role but continued to work at the clinic. Although she says that helped, her hours were the same. 

“My husband was gone all day. I was gone all day. I didn’t feel like I was being present with the kids,” says Hashmi. “The weekends were all just grocery shopping, cleaning, chores. It was not just a lazy Sunday. There was a lot to do before we started [another week].” 

One night after putting the children to bed, Hashmi and Fahd — the couple would typically get an hour together before she went to bed — were watching her favorite Home and Garden Television (HGTV) show, “House Hunters International.” The show chronicles people looking for homes abroad.

Hashmi describes the program as a “dreamy show” that evokes thoughts of picking up and leaving to live somewhere beautiful or go live on a quiet farm with chickens. As Hashmi’s husband sat next to her, still working on his laptop, she suddenly said, “‘Let’s move to Spain.’ For some reason that country popped into my head.” 

Let’s Do It

Hashmi says Fahd didn’t even look up or flinch. He just replied, “Let’s do it.”

She was stumped by his nonreaction, wondering if he’d really heard her. 

But he was just as serious as her. Hashmi says the seed had been planted six months ago when she landed in the hospital. 

“Allah inspires all thoughts,” she remarks, explaining how she didn’t question the idea for a second. The motivation to move also came from Fahd, who felt he had missed their son’s childhood as he saw his high school years approaching. 

She advises those wanting to make a change, “Don’t tell anyone, because they will project their fears on you.” For Hashmi, all that mattered was that her husband was open to exploring the idea because “it’s me and him together.” 

While researching and planning, she realized she could take a year sabbatical and Fahd, who is an engineer, could work remotely. The decision was between Turkey and Spain. Turkey was an obvious choice for Islamic reasons, but they felt the language would be a barrier. With their son already learning Spanish and it being a second language in the U.S., they felt Spain would benefit their children.

Hashmi says Spain’s rich Islamic history is overlooked. She wanted a different experience with the kids, one that they wouldn’t typically associate with Islam.

“I guess my health was an inspiration for going, but the kids were most definitely the reason we picked what we did,” says Hashmi. “I [felt] I could go anywhere. I just [needed] a break. But for them, it was important that I give more than just going to the Caribbean. I wanted it to be a very enriching experience.”

Two months before leaving, Fahd and Hashmi broke the news to their children. Thankfully, they were excited. Hashmi says the children have traveled for long periods since they were babies, including spending months in Egypt visiting family. She feels their experience with travel contributed to their positiveness about moving. 

From Boston, the family worked with a broker to find a home in Granada, Spain. The agent featured them on her website to show how she can help families looking for homes abroad, which led them to being discovered by HGTV.

The Faith Connection

The family was then featured in a “House Hunters International” episode that documented their search for a new home in Granada. The couple informed the producers that their story should show that their faith was the driver in their decision to move. It was important to Hashmi that her story be relatable to Muslims. The couple was intentional in consistently bringing up Islam during the filming. 

While filming in Alhambra, the crew asked her son to read Arabic calligraphy on camera. That scene put Hashmi’s heart at ease, showing her that the crew understood what was important to her and Fahd in sharing their story. 

By August 2019, the family had landed in Granada, which has a vibrant Muslim community. There was even a masjid within walking distance of their home. The parents purposely enrolled their children in a public school so they would be among locals and learn the language. They didn’t want their children to be in American or British schools because, as Hashmi explains, they weren’t moving there to be with expats. 

She says living in Granada took the weight off their shoulders — their living expenses were cut by 300% compared to living in Andover. This relief increased the family’s quality of life and created a feeling of calm because Hashmi didn’t feel overwhelmed by the pressures of American life and maintaining a household. 

Things also eased up for Fahd, as the flip in time zones allowed him to be free during the day and work in the evening when the U.S. workday started. 

In Granada, Hashmi says the community is taken seriously. For instance, if a child at school has a birthday party, the entire class is invited.

She remarks that unlike over-the-top children’s parties often glamorized on social media, birthday parties in Granada are always held at a park with the parents staying to socialize. There, she observed, birthday parties aren’t about putting the child on display, but a chance for the community to get together.

“I realized quickly my key to meeting people there and becoming friends was attending all the birthday parties the kids were invited to,” she says. 

In connecting with the Muslim community there, Hashmi says there is an Indigenous Spaniard community outside the city that come to Granada on jummah or travel into the city for work. She also came to find out her favorite coffee shop she frequented was owned by Spanish Muslims. 

Escaping the Consumerism Trap

The move also inspired Hashmi to write a book, “What Matters Most: Simple Living Guide for Muslim Women” (soon to be released). The book, which she wrote at her kitchen table in Granada, is meant to help Muslimas avoid the mass consumerism that she says has become prevalent in our cultures. She also started a Facebook group, “Simple Decluttered Living,” to create a community around this. The group had 100 members within 24 hours and has now grown to 5,000 people. 

For those who desire to avoid the consumer trap and make a big move, Hashmi’s advice is to not tell anyone. She didn’t even tell her own mother until a month before moving. Hashmi admits it wasn’t easy to keep this from friends and family, but she didn’t want their fears projected on her. She was adamant in not looking for anyone’s permission about her family’s decision to move.

Hashmi says often people in the Muslim community don’t see themselves as a nuclear family. 

“For us, we truly believe that you believe that you are not just marrying the person, you are marrying the family.” she says.

Hashmi says this can hold people back from taking the leap. She believes it is still possible to care for one’s family from afar and return to be by their side.

The family decided to return stateside after two years with her son starting high school and her mother getting older. They now reside in Southern California, where Hashmi grew up, with her mother living with the family. 

Amal Omer is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C. area.

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