An Islamic Perspective.
On Monday evening, I was on a date with a potential suitor who had been introduced to me through family, when he said: “I just don’t see why a successful woman with as much charisma and ambition as you would want to, one; marry me, and two; move to my remote village in the Midlands.”
I sat back, having otherwise been completely carried away with the dream of this knight in shining armour, whisking me off my feet with all the romance he could muster. I looked over at the American woman sitting next to us in the Grand Dorchester lobby, who had just interrupted our conversation to tell me that her boyfriend of 12 years dumped her on Christmas Eve – by email. In that moment I realised she represented the dilemma of women today. She was an obviously successful and beautiful 40-something U.S. corporate lawyer – very Ally McBeal – but was she content or happy? Far from it.
I looked at my suitor and then back at her and contemplated answering him with the following line: “You’re so right. I have no need to get married just yet. I have so much more to achieve and many more places to go and people to meet.” (My new lawyer friend had just offered to set me up with some meetings in New York and I was genuinely enthused). But instead, I looked into his eyes and I’m not sure what made me say it, but I replied: “I want you to be better than that dream. I want you to make me feel like a single day with you is better than all the time in the world spent seeking out this ‘career’ and ‘success’ because we all ultimately seek success for one end goal. Happiness. And for me, there is nothing more fulfilling than a loving marriage.”
This is the dilemma that women today are facing. They’re being sold an idea of singledom and success, evaluated by how many countries you’ve worked in and how many public achievements you have accumulated.
There has also been an explosion of male unemployment and a steep decline in men’s life prospects that has disrupted the “romantic market.” Internationally, the number of complaints about the drought in good men – declared by successful and intelligent women no less – is endless. Increasingly, the choice is between deadbeat husbands (whose numbers are rising) and playboys (whose power is growing) as described by Kate Bolick in The Atlantic.
It seems the Japanese would agree. I came across an article about a group of Japanese men known as hikikomori (socially withdrawn boys), soshoku danshi (“herbivore” men, uninterested in sex). In a recent government study, the number of unmarried men has increased by nine percent from five years ago, with 61 percent of those unwed men reported not having a girlfriend, and 45 percent saying they couldn’t care less about finding one. “Maybe we’re just advanced human beings,” says a Japanese friend of the editor. She is an attractive, 40-something at one of Japan’s premier fashion magazines, and she is still single. “Maybe,” she adds, “we’ve learned how to service ourselves.”
I looked back at my suitor and wondered, have I learnt to sustain myself? Is it possible that marriage is just a fad of old times and one of those institutions which has no wisdom today?
Yet throughout the ages, marriage, as a concept, never seems to wane. In the fourth century BCE Socrates famously said: “My advice to you is to get married. If you find a good wife, you’ll be happy; if not, you’ll become a philosopher”. In the sixth century, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: ”The World is a pleasure and the best pleasure in it is the righteous partner.” And in the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin confirmed no change in this station of marriage, stating “Marriage is the most natural state of man, and the state in which you will find solid happiness.”
Marriage in Islam is of the most highly regarded acts, so much so that it is narrated from traditional Islamic sources that there is one sin for which only marriage can expiate a person. Imam Al Ghazali, an 11th to 12th century philosopher and theologian, describes it as “a taste of Paradise.” Ghazali explains that marriage is the raison d’etre: “and He (God) created the womb and the penis, and appointed passion in man and a woman. He created the seeds of offspring in the spines and breasts of men and women; the purpose of this is not hidden from any reasonable person…”. Regardless of religious beliefs, men and women are created with specific tools, which lead to a specific purpose – that of creating a new being. It seems obvious to me that this must be my purpose. Why would anything in life be created for no reason at all?
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf talks about this often when he says, “her natural virtues, kindness, compassion, selflessness and love predominate in men, men are able to overcome their natural vices and realise their full humanity.” I don’t think enough men realise the incredible impact a good woman can have in their lives. Many think they need to establish themselves before they marry, yet the right women often lead to the greatest of success.
My favourite description from the Quran is where men and women are described as garments for each other (Quran 2:187). There is nothing closer to you than the clothes that you wear and that touch your skin. This is what a husband should be to me, and me to him. As such, I would feel honoured to have the opportunity to enter this union.
Abdul Qadir Al Jilani, a 12th century Islamic scholar, sums up the role of a husband. On being a husband ‘he must not eat, unless they have already eaten. In relation to his dependents, he must be like a trusted agent and a servant, and like a slave with his master. He must carry the firm conviction that, by serving his dependents, labouring to support them, and looking after their interests, he is fulfilling the commandment of God in worshipful obedience to Him.’
So given my status as a woman and what I see as my fundamental role, I realise that the passion felt between a man and myself points to a higher purpose. And it is clear to me that we should act in accordance with this blessing.
For most women the sacrifice needn’t be great. Many women can, and do, balance successful careers with great family lives and Islam doesn’t preclude that. But I wouldn’t want to take the risk of rejecting a blessing in a good man, like this man sitting opposite me, one who recognises his duties towards a wife and one who described love to me as that innate desire of wanting to care for someone in every moment.
This was reaffirmed when he said: “Love is when, every day before you sleep, you prepare an entire pomegranate for your wife so that she can enjoy her favourite fruit without getting her hands dirty.” I knew from the moment I heard this that only a man of great character and understanding could come up with it, one who understood that his treatment of me is a higher form of worship than any supererogatory prayer. A man who takes his example from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), a man who would look for mercy and love in his wife’s embrace, and who would sacrifice everything for a moment of her joy. Such a man is a rarity today and beats a life of having to peel your own pomegranate, hands down.
* Muslims repeat the phrase “peace be upon him” after mentioning the Prophet Muhammad’s name. It is abbreviated to “pbuh” elsewhere in the text.
Image from: Jeremy S. Alexander / http://jeremysalexander.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/marriage.jpg
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