Salaam and jummah mubarak!
I am finding myself this Friday in a bit of a writer’s block, not really feeling any inspiration one way or the other on what to write about. So naturally, I’m just going to share my two-cents about one of those topics that is sensational no matter when you bring it up!
I once heard a speaker at a packed talk on marriage say something to the effect of, “if you want to sell out your class, either talk about marriage or jinn.” And it’s true, the most well-attended classes and seminars I have been to have all been on marriage (I have yet to attend something exclusively about jinn; it’s on my bucket list!)
I understand why people are obsessed with jinn—there is always a degree of fascination around the “supernatural” or the world of the unseen. We can’t see it except on rare, freaky occasions, and we want to know more about what is going on around us. That makes sense.
But I have always found it odd how, in the Muslim community, there is the same degree of fascination around marriage as there is around possession and unseen spirits.
I suppose this is a good time to make the disclaimer though: I actually had no interest in marriage until I was married. Since childhood I would cut out pictures from wedding magazines of pretty dresses and tiaras, but I think that had more to do with my latent desire to be the ruler of the world and have as many pretty dresses as I want than it did with any sort of notion of actually getting married some day.
Anyhow. Obviously I grew up, and much to my own surprise, got married. And I actually quite enjoy it. But that is beside the point—what I am getting at is even from a young age I had no fascination with the big wedding and the perfect husband, so perhaps that is part of the reason that I can’t understand the Muslim (or any other) community’s obsession with the topic.
In Islam getting married is something good. It is encouraged if you have the means and capacity to marry someone, you should do it as early as possible, and not delay for no reason. Marriage is encouraged not only for chastity, but for companionship, for learning and growing together, support, and creating family bonds.
I do not think, however, that marriage is the be-all end-all that much of our community makes it out to be. If you’re not married at 22, I don’t think you are “past your expiration date” as a woman, and I don’t think you are deficient as a man. There are other things in life just as important as marriage, and just like many other things in Islam, whether or not it is encouraged for you to marry as soon as you can is highly dependent on your own individual situation.
For some people, marriage would actually be discouraged due to certain circumstances. But that is a topic for another day.
In these sold-out marriage seminars (and admittedly I have been to a few) I always seem to hear a lot about the roles of each partner within a marriage. In strictly fundamentalist opinions, women should be available for intimacy, they should do the housework, they should make the home peaceful and happy and look nice for their husband. Men should go to work, they should feed and provide for their families, they should be in charge of the finances and education and have the final say in decisions.
Even when speakers try to highlight the other aspects of Islamic marriage as taught by the Prophet (saws) himself (men should help with house-work, women are allowed to have careers if they want, decisions should be made by consultation), all the focus is still on each spouse’s to-do list that, if all checked off, will create a “blissful marriage.”
Not to mention, every book on marriage that I have ever read seems to be a big list of his and hers rights and obligations. Which leaves me, someone who has a marriage dynamic very different from what these books say it should be, feeling inadequate and unable to relate. Those talks plus these marriage manuals makes marriage sound like a day-job that you just have to go to.
And what I find most damaging of all, is that throughout society we keep trying to press this notion (the West and our Muslim communities frame it in slightly different ways, but nonetheless) that getting married is “finding your other half.”
I think that is why I have actually enjoyed being married so far. Because I was never searching for any “other half,” I was never interested in being “completed” by some guy I don’t even know. I was raised by a woman who taught me to be my own person, and I have always considered myself “whole,” no matter where I am or who I am surrounded by.
And actually when I ended up getting married, I wasn’t out searching for it. I was living my life, and Allah swt put me in the right place at the right time. Not to say that there is anything wrong with actively searching for someone, but if you are letting that consume your days and living for nothing but that “someday,” you may need to think a bit about your priorities.
I think the whole myth of marriage—and a continuously blissful one at that—being all you need to complete every aspect of your life needs to be talked about a bit more realistically.
I would love to hear more talks on marriage, especially those aimed at young people, that give them the tools and the competency to be their own human, to be complete in and of themselves, before they jump into a lifetime commitment with another person. How can we talk to teenagers about their duties and the rights of their future spouse, when we haven’t even taught them what their Islamic rights and duties are as a human on this earth? How can we tell people to make sure their partner is emotionally fulfilled, when they have yet to even feel that themselves?
And I would love to start seeing some books on Islamic marriage that I, as an imperfect Muslim woman, can relate to; a book that says, “actually, it’s not 100% up to you as a wife to make your husband happy all 24 hours of the day. Actually sometimes he will get irrationally upset about something that he made up in his own head. And actually, sometimes you will get irritated by this and handle it immaturely. And then y’all will talk it out, make up, watch some National Geographic and drink tea.”
I find that in my own marriage, if we had tried to mirror these lectures and advice books, we probably still wouldn’t be together. I’m loud and opinionated by nature; I would lose my mind trying to be quiet and submissive. My husband loves to cook, and hates to watch me bumble around in the kitchen like a bull in a china shop. And we both love to emulate the love and affection which is seldom talked about, but very present in the life of our Prophet (saws) and his relationships with his wives.
Marriage, the way I see it, is not some magical solution to some societal problem, and if you are not a whole person beforehand, becoming someone’s lifetime parter is not going to make you one. Marriage is a bond between two people who will encourage and strengthen each other in their individual journeys in worldly affairs and in religion, not a bond that effaces their personalities, their personal interests and needs and represses them into neat, his and hers “duties and obligations” check-boxes.
So there are my thoughts on this ever-present topic. What do y’all think? Does anyone else have a hard time relating to the discourse on marriage in the community?