Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Innocence Lost: The Religious and Psychosocial Ramifications of Hyper-sexualized Culture on the Next Generation

Originally written for MuslimMatters.org - Sex & The Ummah series.

Walk into the toy store, and you'll find "baby" dolls dressed in clothing reminiscent of prostitutes' outfits. Walk into the clothing store, and prepubescent girls are already being introduced to tank tops, mini skirts, and items of clothing that were once reserved for mature women.

Wendy Shalit's book "Girls Gone Mild" discusses the culture of hypersexualization - how it's being promoted, through both media and consumerism, how it's permeated society, and how it has so dangerously affected our lives and mentalities. For us as Muslims, it is imperative that we be aware of just how widespread this culture of hypersexualized is, and how our own children are seriously affected. Popular media has ensured that even Muslims fall victim to this epidemic. Girls who wear hijaab still obsess over their weight and their image and try to look older than they are... without the maturity or understanding of what 'older' really means.

Awareness of sexuality is occurring at a much earlier age today, and almost always with a confused or warped understanding of it. Girls and boys are both growing up insensitively exposed to sights and concepts about the human body that were once discovered at a much slower rate that accommodated their level of mental and emotional maturity.

The psychosocial ramifications of this phenomenon are already evident and being taken seriously even by non-Muslims - yet for us as Muslims, there is another dimension that makes the issue even more important for us to be aware of. That is, the religious aspect and how we train our children to deal with this assault on their innocence.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Young Marriage Series: Part 3

Tools of the Trade

Umm Zainab Vanker and Umm Khadijah share some secret ingredients to a successful youthful marriage in Part 3 of the Young Marriage series.

Every marriage requires spouses to follow certain rules in order to be successful. However, couples in a youthful marriage are even more in need of guidance and awareness of how to face their challenges.

Marriage is, in itself, a serious commitment and responsibility. Contrary to popular opinion, the older one is at the time of marriage does not immediately mean that their relationship is more likely to be successful. However, it is also true that those who marry at a younger age will face more difficulty in maintaining their marriage. Thus, it is important for young Muslim husbands and wives to be aware from the outset of the practices that will result in a happy, meaningful marriage.

A willingness to be selfless, to compromise, and to make sacrifices. In a society where “adolescent selfishness” is acceptable, Muslim youth are rarely able to recognize the necessity and benefits of making personal sacrifices to achieve a greater goal: a successful marriage. Unfortunately, most young men and women are more concerned about their own wishes than they are with working towards a mutually beneficial goal.

For example, a young woman may not want to give up her dream education or career. Upon marriage, however, it may be difficult to pursue that particular field immediately, which may cause a great deal of resentment – which in turn contributes to turmoil within the relationship.

Similarly, many young men feel that they should have the best of both worlds: maintaining the same type of carefree lifestyle they had before marriage (e.g. spending hours playing videogames with their friends), while experiencing the benefits of married life as well (having someone take care of the home, outlet for physical desires, etc.). Their refusal to recognize that “something’s gotta give” leads to a sense of frustration from their wives, who feel that they have given up a great deal but received nothing in return.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mum, I Wanna Marry A Shaykh!

Originally published in SISTERS Magazine.

UmmZainab Vanker reveals the reality of being married to a Shaykh and explains why it might not be for everyone.

Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s in a culturally conservative, semi-practising Muslim home, I never imagined or even hoped to marry a Shaykh, Aalim, Hafidh or Moulana. Back then, only those girls who were from strong, practising Muslim families, whose fathers or other relatives were involved in da’wah or were madrasah teachers, ever considered the people of knowledge as potential spouses.

Alhamdulillah, today we are witnessing a reawakening of Islam in our communities, especially amongst the sisters. With this, however, has arisen a phenomenon which I had not come across previously. Let’s call it – The Wannabe Shaykh’s Wife Syndrome (WSWS)!
Many sisters, both young and older, fantasise about marrying a shaykh and living the Islamic dream. What’s wrong with this, you ask? The answer is, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it at all! It is a noble path to want to follow, as long as you are aware of the “job description,” and what the reality of such a life entails.

Unfortunately, today it has become a fad of sorts – a way of becoming “known” for whom you’re married to, or “gaining respect” because of who your husband is. There’s also the completely unrealistic idea that marrying a shaykh is tantamount to marrying the Prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) or one of the Sahabah, thinking that such a man will follow their examples in making time to teach their wives and families first before teaching others. Too many sisters have the na├»ve dream that these brothers will start imparting their Islamic knowledge to them from day one of their marriage!

Dearest sisters, this is not the reality of life as a shaykh’s wife – especially the wife of one who does what he does seeking payment and reward from Allah swt alone. Such a man sees that he has a great responsibility for the knowledge that Allah swt has given him, and that it is his duty to spread Allah’s word, no matter how difficult that path may be.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Niqaab for Rookies

Originally written for SISTERS magazine, by Umm Zainab Vanker (aka UmmTheSalafiFeminist).

Over the last few years, the topic of niqab (the face-veil) has stirred up much controversy and debate, not only in the media but amongst Muslims themselves. We can agree or disagree on the ayaat and ahadeeth regarding the hijab, the facts speak for themselves – niqab is not cultural, but can be taken as either wajib (compulsory) or mustahabb (highly recommended).
Unfortunately, our Muslim sisters can be our own worst enemy! When we see a niqaabi today, some of us feel the need to ‘advises’ her that she does not need to be forced by her husband or any other man to wear it. Many feel that it is their responsibility to inform a niqabi woman that she is free to choose how she wants to dress, and that a “liberated” woman would never wear it!
What many do not realize is that in the West, or in other countries where Muslims are a minority, those sisters who wear the niqab choose to do so, without coercion from their menfolk. It is a conscious decision made after a great deal of research, reading, and asking for His Guidance. For many, they are supported by husbands who are happy that their wives have made this choice; for others, they are still battling to convince their husbands to at least support them, even if they do not approve of it wholeheartedly.
It is a tough decision that is not made lightly for the majority of niqaabis. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Children As A Choice

Originally published in SISTERS Magazine, January 2013

It is a global expectation: Muslim women are pressured into marriage, pregnancy, and then more children, one after the other. Ahadeeth about the virtues of children and RasulAllah’s encouragement to procreate become a constant mantra repeated in a married Muslim woman’s ears. Should she express even a murmur of disagreement, of desperation, she is browbeaten into silence by exclamations of “How could you say such a thing!” and disapproving glares.
Allah created all mankind with different qualities and characteristics; human beings are not mass-produced robots, but individuals with different personalities and capabilities. RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) came as a mercy to mankind, embracing and encouraging every person he came across to excel in what they were able to, without forcing anyone into something they could not cope with.
Unfortunately, too many Muslims have forgotten those points. Culture is merged with religion and used as a tool to force unwilling individuals to conform to strict behaviors; should anyone reject these standards, they are stigmatized and treated as deficient, or outcasts.
At some point, some Muslim societies began treating women not as individuals with various obligations to their Lord and different ways of fulfilling them, but as a monolithic group with only one role to perform: to marry, and have children – the more, the better!
While absolutely no one denies the high status of mothers in Islam, and the virtues of children, there are those who act as though it is waajib upon every married woman to have children. Those who express their desire to wait, or to limit the amount of children they have, are told that they are selfish, not following the Sunnah, do not have enough tawakkul in Allah, or that they’ve been “corrupted” by “evil Western ideas”!
However, RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) himself gave permission to the Muslims to practice family planning, as related by Jabir (radhiAllahu anhu) who related: "We used to perform coitus interruptus during the time that the Quran was being revealed.” (Sahih Muslim)
There are so many reasons that some women do not want children, or do not want more than a few. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Youthful Marriage Series: Part 2

Understanding Marriage

Umm Zainab Vanker and Umm Khadijah continue the discussion on youthful marriages. In Part 2, they focus on the attitudes held amongst Muslims that impede the successful implementation of young marriages.

 Two extremes are found amongst the Muslim youth regarding marriage: Over-idealism, wherein they imagine that marriage will make their life perfect; and severe pessimism, wherein marriage is viewed to be the end of independence, ambition, and a future career.

 Marriage is rarely seen for what it is: a long-term blessed bond between a Muslim man and woman, a relationship of love, compassion, and growth in all areas of life. Islam’s concept of marriage is a wholesome, encompassing ideal, which recognizes not only the blessings and challenges of marriage on an individual level, but a societal one as well. Many of the ayaat and ahadeeth relating to the marital bond contain references to the relationship between a man and a woman, and its effect on society at large.
The Prophet (saw) said: “If there comes to you to marry (your daughter) one who with whose religious commitment and character you are pleased, then marry (your daughter) to him, for if you do not do that, there will be fitnah (tribulation) in the land and widespread corruption.” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 1084; classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi, 866.) 

 For those who imagine that marriage is the secret to a Disney kind of happiness, this illusion will mostly likely be shattered quickly, leaving them unable to cope with its reality.