A bold and brilliant new piece from Adil: practically the whole thing is stacked with insights I wish I had been given long ago.
Muslim youth (and others) would do well to listen to this guy with an attentive ear…
Okay, so I’m playing the inverted commas game which I previously gave several Dawah carriers stick for when they implicitly takfir (excommunicate) other Muslims; usually ones deemed over liberal (*cough* Not Wahabbi enough). I myself make no such allegation towards particular individuals, but rather the quotation marks represent my distain for what one could refer to as: ‘The Muslim Marriage Market’ in this day and age on the grounds that it seldom if ever comes close to living up to the principles of Islam.
To clarify a possible misassumption before I proceed; I am not attacking the concept arranged marriages; there is nothing intrinsically wrong with family helping to choose a suitable spouse, providing their offspring are willing. An arranged marriage can be beautiful, romantic, and as fulfilling as any other; the issues which we will look at here are certainly not confined to arranged marriages.
Muslim readers will have heard ad infinitum that ‘The Ummah (the worldwide Muslim community) is beset with problems.’ Some of these oft listed problems are ones I concur with as being critical (like the vile and widespread corruption in Muslim majority countries); other allegedly heinous ‘problems’ which some Muslims lament over (like, wait for it….music…and no not even gangster rap or lewd lyrics but the mere existence of music itself) should, in my opinion be replaced with this rather underrated one: our collection of morally bankrupt marriage ethics and practices. These practices entail principles which hold actual Islamic principles in contempt and are impediments to Muslims forming stable, viable and thriving families, something which is relatively important to say the least. In no particular order here are my top 11 problems with the Muslim marriage market.
1) ”No Doctor, no wedding”
Going by what some of our ‘enlightened’ representatives claim, you might think that vanity, materialism and a shameless lust for money would be traits reserved for the ‘kuffar’ (literally ‘ingrates’ and ‘coverers’ of truth, though this term is usually translated into ‘disbelievers’ and often used to label all non Muslims- as if we know that they have all purposefully and knowingly rejected God) because of their attachment to this worldly life. You would be wrong however as evidenced by the ‘No Doctor, No wedding rule‘ which is often followed far more rigorously by some Muslims then any Qur’anic commandment. Note that people following this rule will still shamelessly insist that ‘This Dunya (life) is just a drop in the ocean’ and similar phrases which only highlight their hypocrisy when contrasted to their rampant materialism. The no Doctor, No Weddingrule essentially states that the earning power and ‘flashiness’ is the primary basis by which a man is deemed ‘acceptable.’ Virtues like kindness and decency are fine, maybe a tiebreaker, but not a necessity; a kind and gentle man with a very modest job is certainly inferior to a doctor with an average at best temperament. Much of the Muslim community tends to view jobs a bit like this:
Vet: ”It pays like a doctor? Mashallah”
Businessman: What is ethical business? No matter. Brings in the cash. Mashallah.
Careworker: ”I would rather marry my daughter to an illiterate landowner from a backwater in Sindh with a penchant for bestiality and wife beating then let her set foot in the same room as that.”
Before I began my own career in teaching, my aspiration was to be an environmentalist, and you would not believe the barely concealed distain it received from otherwise supposedly pious Muslims because it was not typically Asian friendly (Which sadly in practice usually takes precedence over what Islam says…but these people pray so it must be fine right?)!One would think even the most one dimensional simpletons would put two and two together…something about saving God’s ever threatened creation? Making a world more habitable for God’s creation? Nope. Not medicine, not engineering, not dentistry, not banking, not business. Not acceptable.
From personal experience even my current profession (which I like to think is perfectly respectable; the whole Islam and knowledge and education thing? No?) is considered by some upper middle/upper class Muslim Asians to be a deficient one! An anecdotal piece of evidence to be sure but I was once told by a Pakistani girl that as an aspiring teacher I would be unsuitable husband material in the eyes of her family (and her own, though it took a while for her to be candid enough to admit this) because of the reputation and social status associated with the job! What effect did pointing out this reasoning as clearly unIslamic have? I might as well have argued with a statue. Call out any Muslim who puts classism and their own cultural baggage foremost and you will seldom hear anything but a variation of ”I know but…..” and nothing remotely meaningful. If you are lucky; I have even heard condemnation of marriages to people with perfectly secure, stable and professional but sub £50,000/year jobs on religious grounds that the man has to provide! Seriously. Not even the dignity to distance the self as far as possible from religious teachings when justifying such blatant materialism!
I am not saying that what a person does is inconsequential; a certain job might be indicative of other traits a person has (being a counsellor for example would likely suggest a person is perceptive; a desirable trait), and in Islam a man must be able to provide for a wife; but provide what? Several holidays a year, private schooling for the children, a detached house in the country and three cars? Maybe I missed the Hadith which says this is obligatory or something. I always thought it was more like food, shelter and safety from actual harm; and then all the unimportant things like love and affection and time. Maybe there is something I am ‘not getting’ here. (See point 11)
(Clearly the author has no bitterness or personal baggage here. I assure you. None. Honestly.)
*Note: The ‘No Doctor no Wedding’ rule mostly applies to men i.e. the man must have the ‘suitable’ job to be considered a good husband. A lucrative job can actually reduce the ‘suitability’ of a woman in the marriage market for the two fold reason that:
A) ”If her husband earns less this may hurt his ego”
B) ”As the husband has the job of the provider it isn’t really right that he earns less. Not the done thing.”
Point A Sometimes holds true; some men are just plain insecure and it really would damage their egos to earn less than their wives. I don’t want to seem too unsympathetic, but I am, so this is how it comes across; I really find it hard to empathise with someone mentally weak enough to feel ‘threatened’ or somehow inadequate (less still how this could manifest into bad, insecurity based behaviour, which it sometimes does) because his wife earned more money than him; unless of course she purposefully tried to make him feel such.
As for Point B, all I can say is ‘Khadija.’ Not only did she earn more than Muhammad (PBUH), but she was considerably older than him, something which is all but unacceptable to many Muslims now in practice; yet another pointless and unIslamic cultural norm. I do not subscribe to the popular feminist notion that being a housewife is intrinsically inferior to being very driven career wise; but neither should women who are very career focussed be accused (implicitly or otherwise) of being colonialised by this mindset, nor should they be ‘punished’ for their ambition; and this is exactly what happens.
(Also remember: when a woman marries, according to Islam, what’s hers is hers, and what’s his is hers too. Even if she is a millionaire and he a binman; I have insufficient evidence to say whether most Muslims do this in practice but my hopes aren’t high).
2) ”White is right. Also I have to marry another Punjabi”
No one likes being called a racist (even hardcore white nationalists with a fetish for Celtic crosses insist that the term is redundant and demand to be referred to by idiotic synonyms like ‘race realist’) and Muslims are no exception, especially given that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) explicitly and non ambiguously said that no person of any racial group was greater than another in except in their good deeds and piety. However, it is not our disclaimers that define us but our behaviour and many Muslims are demonstrably racist whether they admit to it or not.
‘I don’t really think dark people are any worse but….’
‘Yes I do agree, and I know it’s not really right but….’
‘I wouldnt mind but my parents would and I can’t hurt them. In Islam you have to be good to your parents right?’
Stop. Judging people on their skin colour is morally and Islamically reprehensible (I pray for the day when Muslims get it into their heads that the two are inseparable, but ironically enough, like atheists they can actually be pretty good at trying to detach morality from religion). You cannot square this circle whereby you refuse to accept your status as a simple minded racist yet be an exclusivist regarding the race or colour you deem acceptable for marriage (often it boils down to a revulsion for dark skin in Indo-Pakistani culture). Many young Muslims tend not to actually share these opinions with their older family but in a pathetic act of cowardice they often give them credence in practice, as if being complicit is somehow acceptable. The wretched default excuse from people who lack the conviction to challenge such cultural dogmas and others is that ‘in Islam you have to be good to your parents’. Yes, you do, but being good to people isn’t placating them; it means helping them to thrive and do the right thing, which should be good for them in this life and the next.
O believers, be you securers of justice, witnesses for God, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents and kinsmen, whether the man be rich or poor; God stands closest to either. (Qur’an 4:135)
If your parents, or grandparents or any other family members treat some races and colours as undesirable, the greatest good you can do unto them is help put them right. This need not mean go out of your way to cause drama, or that you have to elope with someone who is too well endowed with melanin for them; but help your family see the light. Give them advice like someone offering something precious on a silver platter, and offer it upwards, not downwards. Kindly remind them of what Islam says and that it really is in stark contrast to their cultural views. If they still refuse to acknowledge, then on what Islamic grounds should you obey them?
Colour is not the sole unnatural divider at play here; many young Muslims still believe ‘I can only marry a Gujarati, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Mirpuri etc.’ It doesn’t take a scholar to identify the abhorrence of such tribalistic behaviour and recognition that this is the antithesis of Islam. For Muslims who contest that this is tribal, I ask you; then what is? How is attributing positive or negative value to someone because of their province of origin or their caste anything but?
If Ethiopian Bilal were here today (Bilal was one of the Prophet’s first and most courageous disciples; refusing to renounce Islam even under hideous torture) he would be considered inadequate by many Pakistani Muslim parents. Too dark. Worst of all his daughters would be too dark. Muslims are great at losing their cool when non Muslims insult Muhammad (PBUH), but such puerile insults are nothing compared to the way that our own behaviour insults the Prophet, everything he stood for and in this case one of his dearest companions! Wake up and recognise this behaviour for what it is.
O mankind, verily, We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Verily, Allah is knowing and aware. (Qur’an 49:13)
“He is not one us who calls for `Asabiyyah, (nationalism/tribalism) or who fights for `Asabiyyah or who dies for `Asabiyyah.” (Abu Da’wud)
“There are indeed people who boast of their dead ancestors; but in the sight of Allah they are more contemptible than the black beetle that rolls a piece of dung with its nose. Behold, Allah has removed from you the arrogance of the Time of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance) with its boast of ancestral glories. Man is but an Allah-fearing believer or an unfortunate sinner. All people are the children of Adam, and Adam was created out of dust.” (At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud)
“An Arab is no better than a non-Arab. In return, a non-Arab is no better than an Arab. A red raced man was not better than a black one except in piety. Mankind are all Adam’s children and Adam was created out of clay.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim, on the authority of Abu Musa]
3) ”We can’t get married now! We need to work for 6 years to afford the wedding!”
After hundreds of singles events, searches on matrimonial websites, rishta meetings and ‘accidently’ taking all the same study modules as attractive people you happen to like, you finally find that someone who you can share your life with. Great; all that remains is another decade to wait while you save up for the wedding. Why? While there are some individuals whose desired fairytale wedding warrants shopping exclusively at Poundland for several years in order to save for such an occasion, I believe most Muslim families spend obscene quantities of money on weddings is because they feel obliged to. The family has a reputation to uphold; ‘what will people say if we skimp on the venue?’ Also if you invite person X then it necessarily follows that you must invite person Y. This person will get offended if you don’t invite them, that person invited you to their son’s wedding and so forth. The relatedness to the bride and groom to warrant being a guest is so tenuous that a Muslim version of the film Wedding Crashers wouldn’t even have to feature the crashers fabricating an elaborate back-story involving relatedness to some made up uncle.
As far as I am concerned, if I ever find anyone masochistic enough to marry me, the marriage will consist of myself, herself and some people who we actually really care about; you know, like people who would actually blink if we died, and it would happen in the Masjid. A few thousand quid, a wedding in the house of God (metaphorically speaking of course, I’m not a disciple of Ibn Taymiyya, though I do like his ‘Eventual Universalist’ views) and the reward of having brought people to pray; furthermore any non Muslims who present might become intrigued (in a good way for once) by Islam too.
Setting new trends is difficult, and sadly, the people who can barely afford extortionate weddings are the ones likely to get pilloried by the community for not having them. The people who could best begin a new and more sensible trend are those who are most wealthy. These are people everyone knows could afford to fill Wembley stadium with guests, but they choose to have a modest wedding which does not entail burning as much cash as conceivably possible, and features only guests who actually have any meaningful relationship with them, because it is the more sensible, and dare I say it, Islamic thing to do.
But waste not by extravagance, certainly He (Allâh) likes not Al-Musrifûn (those who waste by extravagance)” (Qur’an 7:31)
“The marriage, which produces the most blessings, is that which involves least burden.” (Tirmidhi)
And those, who, when they spend, are neither extravagant nor niggardly, but hold a medium (way) between those (extremes)” (Qu’ran 25:67)
4) ”Sorry I love you and all but what will the aunties say?”
‘If I marry you the aunties will whisper because…. (*Insert reason here: Too young, Not rich enough, Too dark, their sister was once seen walking next to a boy, their brother was once seen at a nightclub etc etc*)’
How many of us have heard variations of this phrase, or indeed phrases featuring a fear of being gossiped about in general? The desire to gossip is pretty natural; I would be lying if I said I never have the urge to gossip, and lying further if I said that I have always overcome it. However, it is a grievous sin according to Islam:
Why no not the believing men and women whenever such (a rumour) is heard, think the best of one another and say ‘This is an obvious falsehood’? … When you take it up with your tongues, uttering with your mouths something of which you have no knowledge, you deem it a light matter. Whereas in the sight of God it is an awful thing (Qur’an 24:12-15)
O you who acknowledge, let not a people ridicule other people, for they may be better than them. Nor shall any women ridicule other women, for they may be better than them. Nor shall you mock one another, or call each other names. Evil indeed is the reversion to wickedness after attaining acknowledgement. Anyone who does not repent, then these are the transgressors (Qur’an 49:11)
O you who acknowledge, you shall avoid much suspicion, for some suspicion is sinful. Do not spy on one another, nor shall you GOSSIP one another. Would one of you enjoy eating the flesh of his dead brother? You certainly would hate this. You shall observe God. God is Redeemer, Compassionate (Qur’an 49:12)
‘(Backbiting) is to say something about your brother that he would dislike’. Someone asked him, ‘but what if what I say is true?’ The messenger of Allah said ‘If what you say about him is true, you are backbiting him but if it is not true then you have slandered him’ (Muslim)
Yet the whole culture of ‘auntie gossip’ is omni-present. When it comes to marriage based issues, ‘aunties’ can be truly vile, snide, underhand and merciless.
‘Ooh she’s very darrk yarr’
‘He only gets paid that much? Oi hoi…Just think….ve could have married her to that lovely dactar’
‘I saw her walking in the other day in jeans. JEANS!!!!’
The reality is probably much worse; as a male I am not usually directly privy to the gossip of bored middle aged women but the fact that I have spoken to enough girls who consider it a defining factor in their decision making suggests it is pretty severe. What can we do? Joining in is morally repugnant and standing by indicates compliance and acceptance. More people need to overcome the fear of the water and have the courage to call such people out; to put their conscience first and their immediate dignity second if necessary. I believe many people would be surprised at how successful calling people out on vicious gossip can be. Imagine a circle of aunties gossiping about a young girl in the family who, let’s say was rumoured to be seen with a young man and walking next to him (horror). You get the picture. One auntie then stands up and tells all the others that this is pointless and vicious speculation that serves no purpose except for their own gratification, it could damage the reputation of an innocent person and is, as the Qur’an says, tantamount to eating their flesh. Would the remaining aunties feel comfortable continuing the gossip? Even if the lady calling them out then left the room I suspect they might not. Deep down most of us know when we are doing the wrong thing and once called out on it, it becomes far more difficult to continue.
5) ”We don’t have…..I cant even say it….basically…babies are made because Mum for them and they just appear”
A highly embarrassing truth about our community is that parents often struggle to talk plainly about marriage to their offspring let alone sex. Our prudishness is such that many Muslims will only get properly acquainted with sex education if they don’t live in a Muslim majority country (I am reminded of a Pakistani biology student I knew who wasn’t even fully sure of what sexual intercourse entailed, beyond rubbing. Seriously). I can only speculate where this wanton ignorance stems from; I have heard it argued that this is a product taken from the once squeamish Christian West, but whether this is true or not, no one is compelling us to behave like this now. Let us see how squeamish the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself really was:
God’s Messenger(s) said: “In the sexual act of each of you there is a sadaqa (worship through giving).” The Companions replied: “0 Messenger of God! When one of us fulfils his sexual desire, will he be given a reward for that?” And he said, “Do you not think that were he to act upon it unlawfully, he would be sinning? Likewise, if he acts upon it lawfully he will be rewarded.” (Muslim)
“Three things are counted inadequacies in a man. Firstly, meeting someone he would like to get to know, and taking leave of him before learning his name and his family. Secondly, rebuffing the generosity that another shows to him. And thirdly, going to his wife and having intercourse with her before talking to her and gaining her intimacy, satisfying his need from her before she has satisfied her need from him.” (Daylami)
Not very, appears to be the answer. The Muslim world has not always been as backward and prudish as we see today. Some of the most influential Islamic scholars of all time in the Medieval Islamic world wrote material which would get them lynched for spreading ‘immorality’ if they lived in Pakistan or Afghanistan today. The medieval Islamic civilisation actually featured comprehensive education about such issues and many texts from that era were very sexually explicit. Many of the great Muslim pioneers of philosophy and medicine wrote volumes on sex; from sexual health, anatomy, and even technique! For instance:
According to Imam al-Ghazali: “Sex should begin with gentle words and kissing,” and Imam al-Zabidi adds: “This should include not only the cheeks and lips; and then he should caress the breasts and nipples, and every part of her body.” (Zabidi, Ithaf al-Sada al Muttaqin, V 372).
Believe it or not it is precisely the ghastly puritanical inhibition present in our communities which actually helps drive people to carry out sex crimes. Sex education is not the same as pornography, and the burden of proof is on those who think it makes young people more ‘immoral.’ Most studies actually suggest the reverse; that sex education makes people more sensible about sex.
“Of His signs is this: that He created for you spouses that you might find rest in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy.” (Quran, 30:21)
Allah created male and female from a single soul in order that man might live with her in serenity (Quran, 7:189)
6) ”Death before divorce”
Some Muslims will protest that ‘you can’t make halal haraam’ when called out on some idiotic behaviour or lifestyle choices which is not literally condemned by name in the Qur’an but any sane person could see it goes against the principles of Islam. Various sorts of unethical business come to my mind, I am sure readers can think of other examples. However, when it comes to divorce which is explicitly allowed in Islam, the very same Muslims would rather be hung drawn and quartered then entertain the possibility, and much less look at a female divorcee as anything but an utter degenerate. The ‘divorce stigma’ applies far more strongly to women than men. I am not saying it puts a man in a great light either but sadly for many Muslim women, being a divorcee is considered about as acceptable as an AIDS ridden prostitute when it comes to remarriage. When it comes to a past (including pre marital escapades), a man’s past it less likely to haunt him; boys will be boys! As for girls; spoilt goods. Wherever they got this idea from it wasn’t Islam.
Sure, divorce is disliked and sure it should not be undertaken lightly but it is sometimes necessary. Relationships can be destructive and abusive and sometimes the only forward is out. Some marriages may consist of two great people who are not great together. Once they divorce they are still two great people. All this said, I do think there is a gradual paradigm shift where divorces are becoming more viable, as divorce rates are increasing amongst the Muslim community (in Britain anyway), though I have heard suggestions that some are shifting to the other extreme where even a moderately bad spirited quarrel warrants divorce. Obviously divorce is a last resort, but it is an option, and it is a right which Islam supports.
Also, a woman came to the Prophet Muhammad seeking the dissolution of her marriage, she told the Prophet that she did not have any complaints against her husband’s character or manners. Her only problem was that she honestly did not like him to the extent of not being able to live with him any longer. The Prophet asked her: “Would you give him his garden (the marriage gift he had given her) back?” she said: “Yes”. The Prophet then instructed the man to take back his garden and accept the dissolution of the marriage (Bukhari).
” A believing man must not hate a believing woman. If he dislikes one of her traits he will be pleased with another” (Muslim).
“The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives” (Tirmidthi).
“If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best” (Quran 4:128).
7) ”Of course you can choose who you marry! Just make sure its someone you’ve never seen and never spoken to”
You sit next to a girl next in a ‘non segregated’ lecture. You look at her and realise she is attractive. You start talking. Even as you leave the lecture you are still talking. You realise no one else is there now. It is cold so you decide to go indoors and have a coffee. This leads to a meal, this leads to watching a movie, which leads to her coming to your house with the ‘intention’ of looking over some course notes but before you know it you have fornicated and got her pregnant. Your lives are now ruined.
What should you have done? As soon as you noticed her from your peripheral vision you should have told your brother whose wife has a friend who is on the same course as the girl you noticed to tell his wife to tell her course mate that she has caught your eye and thus should consider marrying you.
This is essentially the narrative that many young Muslims are given when it comes to interacting with the opposite sex; one which pretty much defines ‘slippery slope argument,’ and sets the bar for inappropriate ‘free mixing’ way too low, making talking to the opposite sex all but unfeasible in practice.
Now I am not saying that hundreds of dates with scores of people are required in order to find who is ‘right’ for you, nor cohabiting to make sure that you are ‘compatible’ or anything like this; but the way that young Muslims are being drilled into believing that almost any sort of interaction with the opposite gender is a hairsbreadth away from fornication is just counterproductive. I know enough boys who can hardly even carry themselves properly around girls because they have been trained to think that just talking to a girl is a step away from sleeping with her and thus have barely spoken to a female who wasn’t an aunt, sister or their mother before.
The ‘you cannot interact with the opposite sex at all’ narrative is yet another impediment put on people to stop them successfully finding partners for marriage and having the ability to interact properly with other people. Such overzealous restrictiveness also provides incentive to rebel. When someone has rebelled against one (perceived) aspect of Islam, it becomes easier to do so with others. It also makes people lose faith in this supposed aspect of Islam, bringing the wisdom of Islam into question in the mind of the person (even if the value they are opposing is not actually Islamic). As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with young Muslims being fed notions about anthropomorphic conceptions of God, ”say Masjid not mosque because mosque sounds like mosquito” fatwas and other petty frivolousness.
8) ”You *will* marry Adil here. What do you mean ‘he’s weird?’ Don’t worry about that fact that you cant stand the sight of him. Just trust us. You might as well because let’s face it you don’t really have a choice”
Muslim and non Muslim readers will have heard the stories; girls being taken on ‘surprise holidays’ and forced at knifepoint to marry a deranged landowner with a legion of slaves and a harem of 12 year old transgender concubines, but I want to discuss a far more common type of ‘forced’ marriage; entailing pressure that is harder to pin down; something you couldn’t really report as being criminal. One way to phrase this is:
”Parents forcing their children to choose to get married”
In other words, putting so much emotional and societal pressure on their children so that as long as they choose to remain unmarried, they are never at peace; I think this happens very often. Such guilty parents would likely agree in principle that forced marriage is unacceptable in Islam, but deny that what they do constitutes to forcing. The Qur’an reminds us that ‘falsehood by its nature is bound to perish’ (Qur’an 17:81) and we should be honoured to be agents of materialising this claim and show that emotional coercion is a real and reprehensible concept which cannot be passed off as merely laying out options and ‘advising.’
Marriage may be half our Deen, but it means nothing if you are forced. To say you helped your child fulfil half their Deen because you forced them to get married is rather like saying you helped them pay their zakat because you stole money from them. Yes, parents should advise, even encourage, but God is the best of judges and whatever semantics people use to claim they are not forcing their children, the best they can do is to convince is gullible mortals and for a very very short space of time.
Aa’ishah reported that a girl came to her and said, “My father married me to his brother’s son in order to raise his social standing, and I did not want this marriage [I was forced into it].” ?Aa’ishah said, “Sit here until the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) comes. The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) came and she told him about the girl. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) sent for her father, then he gave the girl the choice of what to do. She said, “O Messenger of Allaah, I have accepted what my father did, but I wanted to prove something to other women.” (Reported by al-Nisaa’i, 3217).
(Narrated Khansa bint Khidam Al-Ansariya): That her father gave her in marriage when she was a matron and she disliked that marriage. So she went to Allah’s Apostle and he declared that marriage invalid.
O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may Take away part of the dower ye have given them,-except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good. (Qur’an 4:19)
9) ”I am an avatar of my mother”
My mother is a far greater person then I will ever be, but nonetheless, she does not live through me. Yes, your mother comes first, second and third, and paradise is beneath her feet, but that does not prevent her from being a fallible human being. Nor does it make her the puppet master pulling your strings, or for that matter the owner of your spouse. Many mother (and father) in laws are lovely; they really do treat their children in law like their own; they know when to be involved and when not to be, and they put justice above what appears to be more favourable for their half of the family. Others sadly, are less noble, and think that they run the marriage; they say when they want grandchildren, and they have the right to be obeyed by their children in law at all times. The cases I have heard of husbands and wives behaving in a vile and despicable manner towards their spouses because Mummy told them to are truly disgusting and not rare enough to be dismissed as isolated incidents. Unfortunately this is sometimes inadvertently encouraged by the newlyweds themselves who are anxious to please their in laws, not realising that their submissive and over accommodating behaviour is encouraging their in laws (even subconsciously) to believe that when they say jump, you merely ask into what mud? Stand your ground early or face a spiral of manipulation
10) ”But he did this…she did this…..he/she deserves this abusive treatment which I will administer”
I do not claim that Muslim marriages contain more abuse then non Muslim ones, but I do claim that they should have much less, given the teachings of Islam. Sadly the degree to which they are less abusive is conspicuously unapparent or nonexistent. Depending on what you classify as abuse, you can raise the bar pretty low such that there is an element of it in any relationship; admittedly it is sometimes difficult to define. The (fairly loose) definition I shall use here is:
Carrying out (or witholding) a particular action in the full knowledge that it will cause physical or emotional harm and no benefit to the other person.
Rather than focus on rarer extremes of abuse such as outright physical brutality (I do not feel knowledgeable enough to give this much authoritative discussion), I want to look at ‘lower level’ forms of abuse which a far larger proportion of people indulge in. Here are several:
-Stonewalling; prolonged passive aggressive behaviour where one party refuses to significantly talk or interact with their partner. This causes far more trauma then people realise and is a particularly vicious and cowardly form of emotional torment; the passive aggressor can claim not to have ever really done anything serious; though in Islam it is the intention that counts; if you know the effect an action will have on another person and you do it, you ‘intended’ it whatever semantics you use.
-Humiliation or arguing in the public sphere; another petty way to cause pain, discomfort and ill feeling. You can keep going knowing that the other person might be too proud to cause more of a scene and thus cannot really respond to your torments. This can be done is many ways; going out of your way to side against a spouse in an argument, raising your voice, making underhand jabs infront of others, and even degrading and aggressive gestures like slapping.
-Trying to fundamentally change someone; yes a marriage should have compromise and a good spouse will advise the other about what to do in life; so I suppose in some sense people can ‘change each other.’ What I refer to by change is to change the other person in a way that is not inherently ‘good.’ For instance, pressuring them to change careers because you want them to do something more ‘high flying.’ Another pertinent example is stopping or restricting the other from doing things which define them. Again, I have to be nuanced in explaining this, we all do foolish actions and if our loved ones can help us refrain from doing so then we should take heed. Some chauvinists would condemn their spouses trying to reign in foolish and irresponsible behaviour like binge drinking as being restrictive. I am referring to perfectly halal pastimes which make us who we are and continue to do so. For me, I love doing certain sports. This is something I require for my well being and I would not be the person I am without them. If I am unable to run, lift weights or hit a punch bag for more than a week or two, I get stressful and ill tempered; like a caged animal; and cease to become the mellow and laid back person that I want to be. I know others of a similar mould who have partners who will wantonly fail to appreciate the importance that important pastimes (which develop body and mind) play in defining the person they committed too and cruelly restrict them; almost just to prove a point. ‘He/she will sacrifice doing X, Y or Z for me. They shouldn’t need that to be happy.’
Again, not all forms of trying to curb people’s habits are ‘wrong,’ some habits are potentially harmful (like certain extreme sports), even ones which are not ‘wrong’ can become addictive, and people can be selfish and put their hobbies over people who should matter to them. I realise this, but my point stands; many people do try to change their partners out of selfishness and the want to prove a point. If you try to change someone you will either fail and resent them yourself, or you will succeed and they will resent you.
-One up manship. Arguments and disagreements in any relationship between two people are inevitable but is their purpose to secure the best outcome for you both or to vindicate your ego? When we disagree with someone, let us never lose sight of our well intended objectives.
-Emotional guilt tripping; Muslims of the Indian subcontinent have surely acquired unparalleled mastery at this art. Not even just in terms of marriage; we are at a stage where our emotional stability is ridiculously low (some readers had emotional meltdowns just on reading my 10 problems with Dawahmen where I critique the methods of certain Muslim popularisers). We are excellent at getting really offended and upset, phenomenally easily, and using our upset to make unreasonable demands. Pulling on heart strings and emotionally blackmailing people is a just as underhand and disingenuous as any other form of manipulation. Let’s grow out of it.
-Failing to properly forgive. Forgiving does not mean agreeing to round off an argument because you want to bring it up another day; it really does mean forgiving and letting go. We also need to learn to better forgive in the most difficult circumstance of all; when we have ourselves been proven wrong. It is often harder to drop grudge against someone for them being right then for being wrong. Sometimes the vindicator might come across as obnoxious in his/her correctness but we can still accept they are right (whilst gently asking them to be more humble) without resenting them. But please, anything but the lame, intellectually deficient but extremely common response of ‘Stop lecturing me,’ when we have nothing to say.
In any marriage, specially an Islamic one, both parties should be striving to make the other party fulfilled, but in this society it often seems like people prefer to furiously compete with each other to secure what they see as their intrinsic right to be ‘made happy,’ at all times on demand by the other.
After having read my rantings on this problem of abuse, you may wonder ‘Is this a real problem with the Muslim marriage market as such? Isnt this just something across the board?’
This is a problem across the board, but the point is that relationships between people striving to practice and live by (as opposed to living with) Islam should be characterised either by mutual love and success, or, if the people are genuinely incompatible, mutual respect, and then end on such terms. It is my sad realisation to observe that the term ‘practicing’ Muslim nowadays really just refers to someone who does the specific noteworthy rituals which are exclusive to Islam (e.g. prayer and fasting and not eating pork). It does not actually refer to someone who upholds Islamic values like kindness and community work and the active desire to leave the Earth and its people in better state then it was prior to their existence. The fact is that abuse (which granted I have lowered the bar for considerably) exists in our community, even if it no more present than in any other, shows that there is something wrong with the way marriages are determined, and conducted, and followed through. I could not say which gender has the monopoly on this; some feminists will insist that most abuse related problems are based on misogyny and patriarchy and this may well be true in some societies. However, going by many British Asian families I have known, women can be very dominant and controlling and thus potentially guilty of several of the above. I can think of several ‘whipped’ men who would be nodding their heads to this. As God has created men and women to be equally but differently flawed, I tend to believe such cases of spiteful mistreatment are probably about even.
“Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Repel (evil) with that is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate!.” (Qur’an 41:34)
And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness…(Qur’an 2:228)
“The strong is not the one who over comes the people by his strength” “But the strong is the one who controls him while in anger.” (Abu Huraira)
11) ”You don’t get it”
Translation: ”I am literally unable to defend my position because it would entail admitting that culture is a stronger decision maker to me then Islam is. When it comes to the way I actually live my life. I live with Islam, but I live BY my culture.”
I have had similar conversations talking about the above 10 problems with otherwise very intelligent, very articulate people who are perfectly proficient at argumentation; yet their arguments here were so bankrupt, that all they could resort to was telling me that ‘I didn’t get it’ and trying some phenomenally atrocious (dis)analogies (like: ‘getting married is like going to school, you don’t get a choice.’).
A vicious part of me feels that people who are morally and spiritually weak enough to be ruled by the unIslamic practices and ideas which I have discussed, pretty much deserve to lie in the bed that they make for themselves (no pun intended) but sadly this not only damages their own lives but perpetuates this vortex of ignorance to the next generation. There are people who would read this and respond along the lines of ‘I admire people who stand up to unreasonable parental demands, who would marry someone whether white black or green, who don’t care what job someone has as long as they are a good Muslim and kind person etc….its really great…but…..I’m just not cut out to be a hero basically’
Being brave or heroic, questioning cultural norms or standing up to the people you love/fear/respect the most is not an abstract ideal reserved for an elite few people. It is a fundamental duty of every Muslim, if the occasion warrants it. Many Muslims act as if while praying and fasting is compulsory, doing good and preventing bad is some sort of optional extra that is okay, but in the scale of things it doesn’t really matter. Basically if you pray and fast enough you pretty much go straight to heaven. The damage and stagnation caused by unwritten paradigms like this (which Islam refutes ad infinitum) is catastrophic; stay tuned for an article dissecting them!
Indeed the worst kind of all living creatures in God’s sight are the deaf and dumb, who do not reason (Qur’an 8:22)
All of the problems I have discussed serve to undermine Islam; even if we convince ourselves and non Muslims that Islam is not directly responsible for the problems; the fact that these problems manifest themselves so abundantly through people who claim to follow Islam does not suggest that Islam is capable of producing solutions. Once a faith seems irrelevant, people question its validity; for those who care about the future of the Muslim community it is critical that we do not underestimate this effect. However, human beings are good at compartmentalising religious teachings and their behaviour (being very selective with the former), and people of conscience should (gently) point this out to guilty persons. Whilst this set of problems can undermine Islam in the eyes of people, Islam also undermines these problems when followed as a holistic way of life. Islam does demand that a man can provide safety and security for a wife, but a manual labourer could do this, and if he is good in his character he could make a woman ‘richer’ then any investment banker could. There are no races in Islam, and thus Islam condemns discrimination based on colour; there is no tribalism in Islam, thus origin cannot be used as a basis to determine a person’s worth or suitability; Islam unequivocally condemns obscene and reckless materialism and extravagance, something many Muslim weddings are based on to the core. Gossiping is a grotesque sin in Islam, and Islamic traditions even seem to pre-empt and repudiate any possible loopholes that people would use to protest that their gossiping isn’t ‘real’ gossiping or backbiting. Islam does not encourage divorce, but it does permit it, and under circumstances far less extreme then life and death situations. While many Muslims are in practice opposed to sex education and open discussion about issues surrounding marriage and sexuality, there is nothing inherent in Islam which is similarly prudish and traditions of the Prophet along with classical Islamic scholarship suggest the reverse. Finally, the spitefulness in many tit for tat relationships which we see could not be more contrary to the spirit of Islam and its teachings.
Most of this 8000 word article has been spent criticising people, or at least their practices. Yet, unlike the case with some of my other writing (See ’10 problems with Dawahmen’) I do not forsee the same magnitude of vitriol and offence in any responses. Sure, some might argue that I am being a little simplistic or generalising or judgemental but overall I do not think the essence of what I am saying will be considered highly radical; yet many of these despicable problems I discuss are in many cases the norm, not the exception. What I am trying to say is that many people are perfectly aware of the marriage based problems today, but continue to allow or perpetuate them.
If you, as the reader fundamentally disagree with me on the above points as being problems, I am sad to say that it is hard to see us reaching common ground; but if any of the claims which I have made resonate with you, then please do not be amongst those whose internal response is ‘You might be right, but thats the way it is, thats the way its always been, and theres nothing I can or will do about it.’ Just sharing and justifying your opinions in conversation is doing something about it. Being strong enough not to accept or fall foul of any of these ‘traditions’ yourself is doing something about it too.
I do think that agreeing with many of the problems with Muslim marriages (as most Muslims I speak to actually do) but then ‘going along’ with them in practice when it is one’s own turn is easy, and as this is a trial I have yet to overcome myself, I do not want to be more judgemental then I undoubtedly come across as already. However, I hope I am less likely to fall foul or be guilty of the above as a result of writing this article and I hope and pray that any readers are less likely to do so having read it too.
Assalamu alaikum, and enjoy the rest of your day