Thursday, November 29, 2012

Youthful Marriage: Impractical Ideal, or Viable Option?

Originally written for SISTERS Magazine, November 2012. Also published at the SaudiLife website.

Umm Zainab Vanker and Umm Khadijah (AnonyMouse) discuss the concept of young marriages in the Sunnah and in its application in modern society.

SURROUNDED by a global culture of hypersexuality, Muslim parents and youth share one similar concern: marriage. When to prepare for marriage, after post-secondary education or before? How to find suitable marriage partners?
Many Muslim parents still prefer the more recent tradition when it comes to marriage: waiting for young men to finish their university educations and begin successful, financially rewarding careers; and then searching for partners within a select pool and with an even more select criteria.

However, there is another option, one that is recommended in the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), and which has long been disregarded or has been considered to be a sign of ‘backwardness’ due to the incorrect way in which it has been practiced “back home.”
This Sunnah is that of youthful marriage.

In the famous hadeeth of Jabir ibn ‘Abdillah:
 Jabir b. 'Abdullah (Allah be pleased with him) reported: 'Abdullah died and he left (behind him) nine or seven daughters. I married a woman who had been previously married.
Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) said to me: “Jabir, have you married?”
I said: “Yes.”
He said: “A virgin or one previously married?”
I said: “Messenger of Allah, with one who was previously married,” whereupon he said: “Why didn't you marry a young girl so that you could sport with her and she could sport with you, or you could amuse her and she could amuse you?” (Saheeh al-Bukhari)

RasulAllah’s wisdom in advising Jabir to marry a youthful woman is obvious – Jabir himself was a young man, and it would have been more fulfilling for him to have a companion of his own generation, who could be energetic, creative, and entertaining. They would have been able to enjoy the pleasures of young love, and later, mature together as they experienced life’s challenges.

There are numerous examples in the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and the Sahabah that show how youthful marriages were encouraged and – more importantly – sustained.

The marriage of Ali ibn Abi Talib (ra) and Fatimah bint RasulAllah (ra) is an excellent example of a young marriage. Some sources state that Fatimah was fifteen years old at the time of her marriage while Ali (ra) was twenty-one; others say that she was nineteen.

It is known that their relationship was one of deep love; Ali (ra) never married another woman during her lifetime, and she loved him dearly despite the difficulties she endured due to their poverty. This does not mean that they did not have any disagreements, though – one of Ali’s nicknames, “Abu Turab,” was given to him by RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) when Ali (ra) spent the night sleeping in the masjid due to an argument he had with Fatimah (ra). Nonetheless, they persevered and their mutual love for Allah and each other helped them overcome any issues they experienced.

Today, the very idea of a 16 or 17 year old (whether male or female) getting married is often looked upon with horror. It is argued that at this age, neither the young man or woman will have the emotional maturity to handle the responsibilities or seriousness that marriage demands, let alone its financial aspects. It is felt that both should have “the chance to live life freely,” without being tied down to another person; that they should use their youth to focus on their education without distractions. Most people conclude that very few (if any) youth are capable of handling marriage in at this young age.

However, it can also be argued that no one can ever be prepared for marriage, and there’s no guarantee that even an older person will be emotionally mature enough to handle it.
Physical and Emotional Maturity
Maturity can both be innate, and cultivated. Certain individuals simply have a more mature personality, and others can be taught how to react to situations appropriately, which contributes to maturity. Thus, while no one can be truly “ready” for marriage, it is possible to be prepared for it.

It is interesting to note that while so many Muslim parents claim that their adolescent children are “not ready” for marriage, non-Muslims are pointing to rising rates of early puberty and hyperawareness regarding sexuality at younger ages. Physical and even a type of mental maturity is manifested in the way that tweens and teens evaluate the opposite gender and often begin experimenting with them sexually. 
If the Muslim Ummah hopes to preserve the innocence and chastity of its youth, the only way to do so is for parents to close the gap between physical and emotional maturity.

The period of adolescence is a relatively modern construct of society, and responsible in large part for the lack of emotional maturity to be found amongst most youth in developed countries. Whereas many teenagers are expected and often allowed to act irresponsibly, Islam focuses on training children from a young age to have mental maturity and responsibility to perform various duties and obligations, both religious and social.
When Muslim parents give in to society’s current standards of behavior for adolescents, it is Muslim youth who pay the price. By lacking the mental and emotional maturity to develop the skills necessary for initiating and maintaining a long-term relationship, young Muslim men and women will be unable to enter into a fulfilling marriage by the time they begin to experience physical needs.

Teaching young men the importance of understanding how to deal with women – whether their mothers or sisters – will set the pattern for how they react to challenges with their wives. Similarly, teaching young women how to recognize which tasks, goals, or ambitions have priority will go a long way in helping them to cope with the many compromises that marriage demands from women.

It is therefore in the Ummah’s best interests, for young Muslim men and women, not just those in their early twenties but even those still in high school, to consider early marriage as a viable and practical option. Muslim parents need to focus on the reality that enabling their sons and daughters to marry at an earlier age will ultimately help them combat the vices of a hypersexualized global culture that they are struggling against.

In Part 2, we will inshaAllah focus on the realistic expectations which are required of those considering youthful marriage.

Umm Zainab Vanker and Umm Khadijah (AnonyMouse) are both products and veterans of youthful marriage; Umm Zainab got married at the age of 17, and her daughter followed suit! A combination of personal experience and observation of Muslim youth today encouraged them to take a critical look at the necessity and challenges of youthful marriages.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

On Being A Salafi Feminist

Salafi: A Salafi (Arabic: سلفي‎) is a Muslim who emphasises the Salaf ("predecessors" or "ancestors"), the earliest Muslims, as model examples of Islamic practice.

Salafi (Media Definition): Muslim men who wear short thawbs and have big beards, Muslim women who wear hijab/ abayah/ niqaab; Muslims who despise the West, have dreams of world domination and The Khilaafah (TM), and are determined to practice Islam openly. *Shudder*

Salafi (North America): A bunch of guys with short thawbs, long beards, and way too much time on their hands, which they spend writing PDFs declaring everyone else to be Off The Manhaj (TM).

Feminist: An advocate for social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men. (

Feminist (Popular Opinion): Hairy, man-hating women determined to prove themselves superior to men and take over all male jobs.

Feminist (Muslim Popular Opinion): Hairy, man-hating women who are going to destroy the natural order of this world by claiming to be equal to men.

Muslim Feminist/ Feminism: A form of feminism concerned with the role of women in Islam. It aims for the full equality of all Muslims, regardless of gender, in public and private life. (Wikipedia)

Muslim Feminist (Muslim Popular Opinion): Man-hating, self-hating women who try to use Islam as an excuse to destroy the Muslim Ummah from within; those who attempt to destroy the natural order of this world by claiming to be equal to men, or at least slightly more equal than many Muslims prefer to believe.

Alternatively, Muslim women who have been brainwashed by the West into thinking that the role of a wife and mother isn't enough for her, and is now just a pitiable tool of the Decadent West (TM) who must be warned against, because there is absolutely no hope for her, especially when she starts trying to quote ayaat and ahadeeth to justify her clearly warped and corrupted views.

The Salafi Feminist: Someone who just likes to see everyone get their knickers in a knot when they see the words 'Salafi' and 'feminist' put together, and love to say things like, "in salafi-feminism you have combined two of the most disastrous movements in modern history!" (True story.)

Okay, so maybe I'm deliberately being a tease. It's hard to resist, though, seeing as how everyone wants to shove me and my views into an annoyingly narrow box, because unless you fit into a pre-constructed box, you don't count!


I am a niqaabi who hates those "Da'wah pictures" which say women are either pretty covered-up lollipops or trashed unwrapped candies being bombarded with flies.

I am a happy wife and mother, and I loathe those people who try to tell me that I should only be happy in my role as a wife and mother.

I believe in pursuing knowledge, Islamic and otherwise (and in fields other than gynecology or teaching kindergarten), and would really like to flip the bird at those twits still debating "women's education in Islam."

I frown upon mingling between the sexes and pre-marital relationships, but I will never belittle another woman's value and worth as a human being based upon her sexual history or rumours about her reputation.

I rage against the injustices of Western governments, but I refuse to turn a blind eye to the tragedies that Muslims inflict upon each other. Drone strikes, illegal wars, and the occupation of Palestine are right up there with domestic violence, sexual abuse, and racism within Muslim communities.

I believe that men and women both have control over their actions and desires, and that a woman looking at a male speaker is not going to send her into a frenzy of lust, or that any man is incapable of keeping it in his pants when he sees a woman whose body is not covered from head to toe in black. 

I respect the scholars of Islam and will defend them to anyone who tries badmouthing them, but that doesn't mean I'll stay silent when some of their words are harmful to the Muslim women of this Ummah. 

I believe that homosexuality is a great and terrible sin, but I also believe that shirk is worse. No one should allow their sins to stop them from reaching out to Allah, the Merciful, the Forgiving, the One True God.

I uphold that modesty and chastity is for both men and women; that women should wear hijab, men should lower their gaze, and that both parties assist each other in making their societies purer in every way. 

I believe that "The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those - Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise."
(Qur'an 9: 71)

(So in the end, I may not be a Salafi after all. Or even a feminist. But sssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhh! Don't tell anyone!)