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Book Review: 20 Pieces of Advice to my sister before her Marriage (plus a bonus!)

Hello all! Today I have two books I want so share with you: 20 Pieces of Advice to my sister before her Marriage plus Fatawa, Essential Rulings for every Muslim Woman . I am grouping them together in one day because they both deal with topics specifically aimed at women, and I read them both pretty much within a month of one another.

So to begin: 20 Pieces of Advice by Badr bin Ali Al-Utaybee. I was recommended this one by a friend who read it and loved it, and in general it has pretty great reviews from women in general. In reading it I found that the layout was good and easy to follow, and the advice given was generally pretty sound advice, but for some reason I didn’t really like the book as much as I thought I would.

I think this may be from the fact that I have read two or three other books on Islamic marriage before I was actually married, so maybe I was feeling that the advice given was slightly redundant. I have found that in general I have a hard time relating to marriage books as a genre, perhaps because I feel that often times the advice given does not actually match my real-life marriage.

Obviously every marriage is different, and the advice given in most of these books is meant to be of a general nature and founded upon Islamic principles, but when I read things like “try to always have a hot meal on the table for your husband at dinner time,” I’m like, “well I must be the worst wife ever then, because he is a chef and he doesn’t even like my ‘bland, white food.’” I end up feeling crappy about myself and have to then work and think it over to make myself realise that naturally my relationship will not fit with every single piece of advice given in a book on marriage.

I do appreciate, however, the numerous reminders about keeping your cool in times of argument. I liked one idea particularly: it is not marital discord that is an issue, it is how you handle it. My husband is Algerian, Mediterranean. I come from an Irish background. And we both have some very, very passionate opinions about things, which do not necessarily match up.

So it is actually right in line for me to get a couple of reminders about keeping my cool, not speaking harshly and angrily when I am irritated, and trying not to get angry over something stupid.

Anyhow, it is a short and relatively quick read, with each of the 20 pieces of advice getting their own chapter, so it is easy for someone with a busy schedule to pick up and put down as needed.

Like I said, in general it is a pretty good book, with sound advice, but it just wasn’t to my taste (also, why have I never come across an Islamic marriage advice book for women, written by a woman?). I think perhaps if you have never been married before (or in my pre-Islamic case, been in a relationship before), or if you are looking for some ways to improve or invigorate your marriage a bit based on Islamic principles, this might be a good book for you.

The second book I recently read, Fatawa, Essential Rulings for Every Muslim Woman compiled and translated by Ibn Maqbool Husain, was another lukewarm one for me.

It is broken down into chapters on purity, prayer, fasting, zakat, hajj and umrah, and miscellaneous rulings (hooray, clear, defined chapters!). Each chapter contains questions asked by women (presumably in Saudi Arabia, as that is where this was originally written), and the answers to those questions given by a shaykh or their primary research council.

I found the first chapter on purity to be really, really informative. Ever since I have converted I have had a few questions surrounding things like one’s menstrual period, ghusl, and things like that, but had no one that I knew to ask. So in reading this chapter, there were a lot of things laid out that were really helpful to my understanding.

In the following chapters on prayer, zakat and fasting, there was not much new information for me, but I think for a sister really new to the faith there could be some great points in there. Many of the rulings on prayer and fasting are things that I only found out after quite a while of being a convert, and most of the time quite by accident.

The miscellaneous chapter was where it became a bit hit and miss for me. There were a couple of places that stressed the “haraam-ness” of men and women even being within seeing distance of each other and the fact that women needed to stay at home unless absolute dire need compelled them to go out, when the questions were multifacited did not in fact even call for such emphasis on these points.

Plus, there was a section on how dogs are “malicious” and “repugnant and impure,” and it can “never become clean, even if you cleaned it with all the water of the sea” (p. 264). The shaykh then recommended throwing the dog out of the house, denying it shelter and food so that it will leave you. I found this to be a very unnecessary passage, because there is a difference of opinion between the different schools on dogs, and honestly in general they were created by Allah just like you and me, so there is absolutely no reason to treat them inhumanely, even in words like these.

Which brings me to a second point: the thing that kind of put me off about the book in general is that all of the scholars giving the fatawa are from Saudi Arabia, and follow the Hanbali madhab (I am more inclined to studying the Maliki madhab currently, because my husband is North African and that is the prevalent school of thought here). After further research, I have found they most of the scholars quoted were also relatively active in the Wahhabi reformist movement.

That’s not to say that their fatawa should be discounted entirely, especially where more functional matters of things like ablution or zakat are concerned, or that they are invalid, but for me a lot of parts of this book are more of a starting point for further research than a definitive answer. I didn’t appreciate the “this is the only correct opinion and everyone else is a kafir” tone of the book in these parts, but that may or may not just have been a quirk of the translation (as it was originally written in Arabic).

In general I would recommend this book just for the first few chapters on purity, prayer, fasting, zakat and hajj, because there was some really helpful information in these parts. Where miscellaneous rulings and other, non-worship related areas of life are concerned, however, I would certainly advise more research and especially looking into the rulings of the madhab you follow, if other than the Hanbali madhab.

Has anyone else here read these ones? I would love to hear what you think, as both of these seemed to be neither here nor there for me…drop me a comment!

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: 20 Pieces of Advice to my sister before her Marriage (plus a bonus!)

  1. I have also read the first book and agree with you completely. I found some points great reminders of how and why we should stay calm (both applicable to the husband and wife in a marriage). But found it difficult to read some parts -about making sure I always get up to greet my husband at the door when he comes home from work and making sure a hot meal is always ready for him- they made me feel like I was doing a rubbish job as a wife and that my priorities where wrong. I ended up speaking to my husband about these parts and how it made me feel quite inferior and he said something lovely which I will also need to keep in my mind. “Why would I ever expect that of you? You have a hard job and work as much, if not more, than me so why would I expect that? I am so happy to have you as my wife and would not change anything about you. I am more than capable of contributing and Prophet Mohamed PBUH always helped his wives so why should I not do the same?”

    As with all of these sorts of guides it’s about having a balance and using what works for you and your marriage. I think the dynamics of all marriages are very different and when a (in my case) a Middle Eastern man marries a British woman, it’s all about understanding each other’s cultures and learning to compromise with what works best for you.

    Thanks for your post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jazakallah khair for your comment! I really know what you mean about learning to compromise and understand each other-my husband is Algerian and I am American, so we have a fair few cultural misunderstandings sometimes! But yes indeed, it is all about taking the good from the book and leaving what isn’t necessarily applicable to your situation 🙂

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