New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

A Higher Ground for Our Marriages

Posted in articles by Imam Zaid Shakir on 2010-05-06 Thumb

In the literature discussing Futuwwa, which has been translated as Muslim chivalry, there is the story of a young man who was engaged to marry a particularly beautiful woman. Before the wedding day, his fiancée was afflicted with a severe case of chicken pox which left her face terribly disfigured. Her father wrote to him informing him of the situation and asking if he preferred to call off the wedding. The young man replied to her father stating that he would still marry his daughter, but that he had recently experienced a gradual loss of sight, which he feared would culminate in blindness. By the wedding date he had in fact completely lost his vision.

The wedding proceeded as planned and the couple had a loving and happy relationship until the wife died twenty years later. Upon her death the husband regained his eyesight. When asked about his seemingly miraculous recovery he explained that he could see all along. He had feigned blindness all those years because he did not want to offend or sadden his wife.

From our jaded or cynical vantage points it is easy to dismiss such a story as a preposterous fabrication. To do so is to miss an important point that was not lost to those who circulated and were inspired by this and similar tales. Namely, our religion is not an empty compilation of laws and strictures. The law is important and willingly accepting it is one of the keys to our salvation. However, the law is also a means that points us towards a higher ethical end. We are reminded in the Qur’an, Surely, the prayer wards off indecency and lewdness (29:45).
The Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, mentioned concerning the fast, “One who does not abandon false speech and acting on its imperatives, God has no need that he gives up his food and drink” (Bukhari, 1903). These narrations emphasize that there is far more to Islam than a mere adherence to rulings.

This is especially true in our marriages. Too many Muslims are involved in marriages that devolve into an empty observation of duties and an equally vacuous demand for the fulfillment of rights. While such practices are laudable in their proper context, when they are divorced from kindness, consideration, empathy, and true commitment they define marriages that become a fragile caricature. Such relationships are irreparably shattered by a silly argument, a few wrinkles on the face, unwanted pounds around the waist, a personality quirk or a whimsical desire to play the field to see if one can latch on to someone prettier, wealthier, younger, or possibly more exciting than one’s spouse.

These are issues that affect men and women. However, we men must step up and do our part to help to arrest the alarmingly negative state of gender relations in our communities. The level of chivalry the current crisis demands does not require that we pretend to be blind for twenty years. However, it does require some serious soul searching, and it demands that we ask ourselves some hard questions. Below are a few areas where our inquiries might begin.

Why are so many Muslim men averse to marrying older or previously married women? The general feeling among the women folk in our communities is that if you are not married by the age of twenty-five, then you have only two chances of being married thereafter –slim and none. This sentiment pervades our sisters’ minds and hearts because of the reality they experience. Many brothers who put off marriage until they are past thirty-five will oftentimes marry someone close to half their age, passing over a generation of women who are intellectually and psychologically more compatible with them and would prove wiser parents for their children.

Despite this problem, and the clear social, psychological and cultural pathologies it breeds, many of us will hasten to give a lecture reminding our audience of the fact that Khadija, the beloved wife of our Prophet, peace upon him, was fifteen years his senior. We might even mention that she and several of his other wives were previously married. Why is it that what was good enough for our Prophet, peace upon him, is repugnant to ourselves or our sons?

A related question would be, “Why are so many of our brothers so hesitant to marry strong, independent, intellectually astute women?” Many women in the West lack the support of extended family networks, which is increasingly true even in the Muslim world. Therefore, they must seek education or professional training to be in a position to support themselves, if necessary, or assist their husbands, an increasingly likely scenario owing to the nature of work in postindustrial societies. This sociological fact leads to women in the West generally manifesting a degree of education and independence that might not be present among women in more traditional societies –even though such societies are rapidly disappearing.

Many Muslim men will pass over talented, educated women who are willing to put their careers and education on hold, if need be, to commit to a family. The common reason given is that such women are too assertive, or they are not the kind of women the prospective husband’s mother is used to. As a result a significant number of our sisters, despite their beauty, talent, maturity, and dynamism are passed over for marriage in favor of an idealized, demure “real” Muslim woman. The social consequences of this practice are extremely grave for our community.

Again, we can ask ourselves, “To what extent does this practice conform to the prophetic model?” Our Prophet, peace upon him, was surrounded by strong, assertive and independent women. His beloved Khadija, who we have previously mentioned, was one of the most successful business people in the Arabian Peninsula, and her wealth allowed the Prophet, peace upon him, to retreat to the Cave of Hira where he would receive the first revelation. Aisha, despite her young age was an aggressive, free-spirited, intellectual powerhouse who would become one of the great female scholars in history. The foundation for her intellectual greatness was laid by the Prophet himself, peace upon him. Zainab bint Jahsh ran a “non-profit” organization. She would make various handicrafts, sell them in the market and then use the proceeds to secretly give charity to the poor people of Madina. Umm Salama, had the courage to migrate from Mecca to Medina, unescorted, although she was ultimately accompanied by a single rider. She also had the vision to resolve the crisis at Hudaybiyya. These were all wives of the Prophet, peace upon him. To their names we could add those of many other strong and dynamic women who played a major role in the life of the fledgling Muslim community.

Another issue that is leading to many otherwise eligible women remaining single relates to color. If a panel of Muslim men, whose origins were in the Muslim world, were to choose Miss Universe, the title would never leave Scandinavia. No matter how beautiful a woman with a brown, black, or even tan complexion was, she would never be quite beautiful enough, because of her skin color. This attitude informs the way many choose their wives. This is a sensitive issue, but it is one we must address if we are to advance as a community. We may think that as in other areas ours is a “colorblind” community. However, there are legions of women who have been relegated to the status of unmarriageable social pariahs who would beg to differ.

God has stated that the basis for virtue with Him is piety, not tribe, race, or national origin (49:13). The Prophet, peace upon him, reminded us that God does not look at our physical forms, or at our wealth. Rather, He looks at our hearts and our deeds (Muslim, 2564). We debase ourselves when we exalt what God has belittled. God and his Messenger, peace upon him, have belittled skin color as a designator of virtue or distinction. What does it say about us when we use it as a truncheon to painfully bludgeon some of the most beautiful women imaginable into social insignificance?

Marriage is not a playground where the ego thoughtlessly pursues it vanities. This is something the chivalrous young man mentioned at the outset of this essay understood. It is an institution that helps a man and a woman pursue the purpose of their creation: to glorify and worship God and to work, within the extent of our capabilities and resources, to make the world a better place for those we share it with and for those we will leave it to. This role is beautifully captured in the Qur’an, The believing men and women are each others supporting friends. They enjoin right, forbid wrong, establish regular prayer, pay the poor due, and they obey God and His Messenger. They expect God’s Mercy. Surely, God is Mighty, Wise. (9:71)


Imam Zaid Shakir

 

Comments


By muslimah on May 10, 2010 at 5:29pm

Al-Hamdulillah!! How very true are your words! Please don't forget the men that overlook the beautiful pious sisters in the Masjid to marry "a woman of the book". What are the sisters to do? Who are they to marry? It forces them to become spinsters or to look outside.

By Hasna' Abdulmajid on May 13, 2010 at 6:08am

Salaamu Alaikum Warahmatoolaah Uncle Zaid, I pray that you are well in every sense! The above articles hit home and was beneficial in many ways that would only be cheapened by haphazard commentary such as mine. However with most things that leave an impression there are thought that then come about or that return back to their original place. Does that make sense? What I mean is that when I read the above I thought of how many sisters long for companionship. My focus on the sisters does not exclude the brothers who feel the same but in light of the article I will again say the sisters. And in light of our knowledge that the women will outnumber the men I again will say the sisters. And after all that emphasis I will return back to the men and women who both long for companions with whom they can grow to work towards the goals of the aakhirah. For just as many men overlook women due to not meeting the standards they have been brainwashed to desire there are too many men who also suffer the same. I suppose all we can do is turn to Allah in our duaa as well as through our actions asking him to correct our hearts and minds and make them in alignment with the guidance of Allah and His Messenger salla allahu alayhee wasallam. There was a poem I wrote in 2004 which touches on that longing for the soul mate that moves beyond the physical as well as the awareness that the connection should be based on love for Allah and can only be FROM Allah..I was thinking recently how some people might describe the soul mate in terms that are physical. But how can that be when we are talking about matters of what CANNOT be seen??... May Allah bless all of us single ones to find that mate who will be acid to our outer soul skin. ( smile) on that note ill share my poem insha'allah. Feel free to critique as your poetic prowess ( as proved by ' Gaza in the Hangman's rope') far outshines mine. Barakallahu feeka wa uhibbukoom fillah wassalamu aliakum Hasna' -------------- If it is meant He will answer my prayers If it is meant i will peel your layers and you will let me.. Let me be acid to your outer soul-skin You will let me in. You leave no bad taste in my mouth only the pleasant odor of lemon and oranges and a hint of freshness after you are loong gone. Am I wrong to have wanderlust for your world? I feel as though I must be inspired by your vast skies, i must climb your majestic mountains... Would you feel my Echo within as I called out Subhanallah! * in awe of your many many paths? Forest Paths that wind through your intrigue and valleys that hear your lush green thoughts.. All are connected to your remembrance of Him and for that I take joy.. How I wish to bathe in your brook and wash away my faults until I am only a soul to you as you are to me. Only then can I to dive into the ocean for it is vast and deep. But i fear drowning only to find that there were no pearls of love for me. Alas! I shall not be the brave diver but I will stand by your shore , build ugly castles of sand and feel the waves beckon as they laugh softly and lap wetly at my feet. *Subhanallah: It is a phrase which in Arabic means that the Allah ( The Creator of the Heavens and the Earth) is void of all imperfection.

By hasna' on May 13, 2010 at 6:12am

( I might have sent the wrong version of the poem since i had changed it a bit.. not sure but here it is just in case.. im happy this doesnt post right away.. smile) If it is meant He will answer my prayers If it is meant i will peel your layers and you will let me.. Let me be acid to your outer soul-skin You will let me in. You leave no bad taste in my mouth only the pleasant odor of lemon and oranges A hint of freshness after you are loong gone. Am I wrong to have wanderlust for your world? I feel as though I must be inspired by your vast skies, I must climb your majestic mountains... Would you feel my Echo within as I called out Subhanallah! * in awe of your many many paths? Forest Paths that wind around your intrigue and valleys that hear your lush green thoughts.. All are connected to your remembrance of Him and for that I take joy.. How I wish to bathe in your brook and wash away my faults until I am only a soul to you as you are to me. Only then can I to dive into the ocean for it is vast and deep. But i fear I fear I fear I I I.... drowning only to find that there were no pearls of love for me. Alas! I shall not be the brave diver but I will stand by your shore , build ugly castles of sand and feel the waves beckon as they laugh softly and lap wetly at my feet.

By Tehsin on May 27, 2010 at 8:35am

salam, nice piece...wish my husband could understand it.

By Abdullah on September 9, 2010 at 12:15am

Assalamu alaikum. Thank you for the insights and the honesty that pervades this article. It is clear that you are in the forefront of the social struggles of a growing and changing Muslim community. There is an additional issue that I am sure you are very much aware of but, for whatever reason, omitted to mention: multiple wives as a solution. Many women would prefer to keep their sense of independence and freedom and still are willing to contract into marriage but without accepting what Allah SWT and His Messenger SAAWS decreed as perfectly legitimate: polygamy. The fact that it's "illegal" might prevent many leaders and spoke's persons from even mentioning it, however, even if not spoken of openly it can always be implemented without much fanfare and can solve many issues to many people, both men and women. Let it be known that it is a Sunnah that all the Sahabah RAA practiced it without any hassle or lengthy apologetic preludes and introductions. It is something worth reviving... May Allah SWT Bless you and put Barakah in all of your efforts.

By karen on September 12, 2010 at 4:36pm

Much of this nonesense finds its origins in the parents. The parents feed the egos of their sons. Unfortunately, many muslim parents have brought their cultural baggage with them to North America, with the result that today's generation of muslim bachelors care only about skin colour and beauty. This leaves a generation of muslim women unmarried and childless. Yet there is absolutely no punishment given to the parents of these sons. It is shameful and a scab on the muslim community.

By miw.k on December 20, 2010 at 11:13pm

"As a result a significant number of our sisters, despite their beauty, talent, maturity, and dynamism are passed over for marriage in favor of an idealized, demure

By Hansa on March 31, 2011 at 5:20am

Jazak Allahu khair! Excellent article, mashaAllah.

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