Thursday, December 24, 2015

Archie, Betty and Veronica: America's (Polygynous) Sweethearts

Archie, Betty, and Veronica: 

America's (Polygynous) Sweethearts

Polygyny is so often presented as a strange, Eastern concept rooted in misogyny and chauvinism... yet few realize that polygyny has existed in Western culture for decades, flaunted right under everyone's noses.
Archie comics were a staple of hundreds of thousands of North Americans' upbringing - and, unbeknownst to many, are a perfect example of a positive, heterosexual polygynous triad.
Betty and Veronica are best friends both in love with the same man; two women whose minor rivalries for Archie's attention and fights over his affection never destroy their friendship. If it looks as though Archie might be distracted by another woman (in particular the nefarious Cheryl Blossom), Betty and Veronica unite to remind him very strongly of which two women are the only ones he should be paying attention to.
Though they might squabble over fashion, hobbies, and who Archie is on a date with that night, Betty and Veronica are also loyal to each other and love each other dearly. Many a comic strip has ended with the two of them spending time with each other instead of with him, proving that loving the same man doesn't mean being unable to love 'the other woman.'
Archie, for his part, can never make up his mind and choose one over the other. His love for Betty and his love for Veronica is certainly not the same, yet no one can say that he truly favours one over the other. He appreciates each woman for her own unique personality (and of course, physical appearance). He stumbles and bumbles between the two, torn by the expectation of having to choose when he obviously *can't*... and really, why should he have to?
Archie, Betty and Veronica are possibly one of the best and most realistic portrayals of ‪#‎positivepoly‬, one which recognizes natural human emotions that are not narrowed and restricted solely to rabid jealousy or unrealistic adoration. From the close friendship between the two women to their unwillingness to give up on Archie, these three characters have proven that through thick and thin, their mutual love for each other can withstand the test of time. There’s really nothing quite like a consensual heterosexual polygynous triad, after all ;)

 wink emoticon

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands (Book Review)

POLYGYNY IS THE pink elephant in the room for so many Muslims – a topic both titillating and embarrassing, one that comes up in questions from non-Muslims and in debate in Muslim gatherings, a subject that elicits strong emotional reactions from almost everyone.
There are books about coping with polygyny; there are arguments made as to whether it’s even Islamically acceptable in this day and age. Yet, fiqh rulings aside, there is very little discussion on how polygyny exists as a practical reality in the lives of many Muslims in the West.
Debra Majeed, a professor of religious studies at Beloit College, wrote the book “Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands” in order to better understand (and explain) the phenomenon of polygyny from the perspectives of African American Muslim women based on their lived experiences.
In her preface, she describes her motivations for exploring the topic, and the lens through which she has framed her work. She makes it clear that her primary focus is on African American Muslim women. She emphasizes that she is operating from within the paradigm of Muslim womanism, which she defines as “a ‘philosophical perspective’ that draws attention to the varied conditions of black womanhood as experienced by African American Muslims, and the values of Islam they articulate.[1]
Majeed’s book is divided into 6 chapters, not including the Introduction and Afterword, both of which are worthy of spending time on reading.
Despite the fact that the book’s main purpose is to be used as a textbook, Majeed’s writing style is refreshingly clear and easy to read, unburdened by the convoluted terminology one generally expects from academia. The context of the book is equally refreshing: an honest, realistic, practical, and most importantly, non-judgmental look and discussion at the many ways polygyny is lived in North America.
Though it is repeated many times that these stories are of African American Muslims, much of what the book discusses is applicable to the vast majority of Muslims in North America who practice polygyny. Sprinkled with anecdotes and quotes from individuals whom Majeed interviewed on the topic, Polygyny does not skew in favor of polygyny or against it – it is merely  frank, and provides a very balanced view at polygyny across the spectrum of both positive and negative experiences.
Chapter 1 is titled ‘The Road to Understanding Polygyny,’ and lays out a clear and well-organized introduction to key ideas and concepts that Majeed proceeds to cover. She is transparent about how she has gathered all her information and references those whom she has drawn useful contributions. As part of ‘the road to understanding polygyny,’ she introduces to us some of the individuals whom she spoke to – women who have either lived in polygyny in the past, or are living in it currently. There are those who found themselves, unexpectedly, not the first wives they believed themselves to be—due to the fact their husbands went behind their backs, and then there are those who had more positive experiences.
Additionally, she goes to some length to explain why polygynous marriage is considered a viable option by some women in the African American Muslim community. She further explains the importance of womanism in her work, and ties the various threads being introduced into a comprehensive foundation upon which to proceed reading.
Chapter 2, ‘Agency and Authority in Polygyny,’ talks about the agency, power, and authority that Muslim women wield in polygynous marriages, and how those choices are acted upon in different ways. This chapter also includes a section that I thought was particularly intriguing and enjoyable: a ‘dialogical performance as ethnography.’ That is, she took a semi-fictional approach by imagining that she had gathered together her various interviewees and put together their responses on various topics related to polygyny, in order to provide a compare-and-contrast discussion-based platform. Through this medium, she provides readers with the opportunity to better identify and relate to the variety of perspectives of individuals who have lived through polygyny.
Majeed broadly divides polygyny into three types: polygyny of liberation, polygyny of choice, and polygyny of coercion. These three categories roughly describe polygyny as it is experienced by the women within these relationships – the first being an extremely positive experience wherein women find joy and empowerment; the second being that of acceptance but not necessarily enthusiasm or preference; and the third being that in which the women felt pressured – due to various factors – to remain within the polygynous relationship despite their own displeasure with the situation.
From personal experience and observation of others, I strongly agree with Majeed’s categorization of polygynous experiences for Muslim women. I especially appreciated the nuance and thoughtfulness that went into describing these categories and validating them with the lived experiences of women in those situations.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 “Religious and Experiential Prescriptions”, “Legalities and Emotional Well-Being,” and “Imam Mohammed’s Commentary on Polygyny,” respectively, were a little denser in terms of content. The topics covered mostly revolve around explanations of, and discussions on, polygyny in the Muslim community, and specifically within the Nation of Islam community. There is some detail given to the history of polygyny within the NoI movement and how it affected its leadership, which to some non-NoI Muslims would be considered largely irrelevant – although I personally thought that there were various insights definitely worth considering and applicable to the Muslim community at large.
Of particular note were the observations of steps taken by men that made polygyny easier and more successful—or more difficult and burdensome—for the women involved. It is clear that those men who were respectful and considerate of their first wives’ physical, emotional, and psychological situations and well-being were those men with far more positive polygynous marriages. On the other hand, those who neglected the well-being of both wives, whether spiritual, financial, legal or otherwise, were of those who often ended up going through a divorce with one of them.
It is also interesting to note that in almost every successful example of polygyny, the women involved were aware, educated, and involved in how their husbands chose to marry other wives. Among my own favorite stories, the co-wives had friendships and close relationships of their own that were not dependent upon their shared husband.
Chapter 6, “Mental Health and Living Polygyny” was, to me, the most enlightening chapter by far. One aspect of polygyny that is almost completely neglected by Muslims is that of how polygyny affects the psychology of children raised within this family structure. Again, Majeed brings forth a balanced view of how polygyny can positively affect children, and how it can also be a source of anguish and negativity for them as well.
Describing the positive experience that one child of a polygynous family had underscored the importance of the father’s role: to be present in his children’s lives, to communicate with them about changes in their lives due to the introduction of another adult to the family, and to model healthy relationships with both his wives.
Unfortunately, such an example of lived polygyny is extremely rare not just amongst African American polygynous Muslims, but polygynous Muslims at large. All too often, men going into polygyny rarely deign to think about how their marital choices will affect their children, especially if it means creating two (or more) separate households and reducing the amount of quality time spent with each child.
In her conclusion, Majeed lists several key notes which she thinks are of utmost importance for polygynous Muslims to be aware of and to practice in order to ensure the safety and security of all parties involved.
Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands is a book that I consider a must-read for all those interested in, or involved in, a polygynous marriage. It provides candid glimpses into real-life examples of polygyny, indirectly making it obvious what the common denominators of positive poly marriages are – and equally obvious how to guarantee the failure of a poly relationship.
By discussing not only the religious aspect of polygyny in Islam, but also by going into detail about legal concerns, financial caretaking of spouses, the relationship between co-wives, and the mental health of women and children in polygyny, Debra Majeed highlighted a wide spectrum of necessary issues that Muslims are faced with when undertaking polygyny.
It is my hope that we see a great deal more literature – as well as speeches and workshops by qualified Imams and other community leaders – provided on these topics. Unfortunately, existing narratives about polygyny in the Muslim community are overwhelmingly negative, unhealthy, and stale, with very little practicality. Majeed’s book is revitalizing , and hopefully the beginning of a more realistic and healthy approach to polygyny amongst Muslims not only in African American communities, but all Muslim communities, both in the East and the West.
[1] “Polygyny: What It Means When African American Muslim Women Share Their Husbands(2015) University Press of Florida, Introduction, page 3

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Tale of Two Women: The Milkmaid and the Empress

ONE LATE NIGHT, the second khalîfa Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb walked through the narrow streets of Madinah in silence, observing the state of his people. As he passed by one mud-brick home, two voices caught his attention. Both were female: one older and hardened by life; the other, youthful and quietly determined.
“Tomorrow, when you take the milk to sell,” said the older voice – a mother’s voice – “Mix it with water. We’ll make more money for less milk, when today you sold all the milk and brought back only a meagre profit.”
“Mother!” the younger woman exclaimed. “We cannot do such a thing. Didn’t you hear the Commander of the Believers, Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb, prohibit everyone from doing so?”
“And where is the Commander of the Believers now?” retorted her mother. “Even if he can’t see us, Allah surely sees us,” the daughter responded firmly.
Unseen, Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb smiled into the darkness and silently marked the door of their home with a piece of chalk. The next day, he brought his son Âṣim and had him propose marriage to the milkmaid whose taqwa was made clear on a dark night. “For perhaps,” ¢Umar told his son: “Allah will bring forth from this woman a people who are as pure and good as she is.” [1]
Umar’s words rang true. This story is famous, for everyone knows of the great khalîfa Umar ibn Abd Al-Azîz, often spoken of as the fifth of the Rightly Guided Caliphs… and how he was the grandson of Âṣim ibn Umar Ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb. Yet when Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb voiced his foresight, it was not only Umar ibn Abd Al-Azîz to whom his words applied.
Of the lineage of the unnamed yet famous milkmaid and the son of Umar Ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb was a woman who exemplified the knowledge, courage, and excellence of character found in her grandfather. Maymûnah bint Abd Al-Azîz was the sister of Umar ibn Abd Al-Azîz, and in her own way, was no less famous than her brother.
Maymûnah, also known as Umm Al-Banîn, was married to her cousin, Al-Walîd ibn Abd Al-Malik – who was at one point a khalîfa of the Umayyad dynasty, thus making Umm Al-Banîn the equivalent of a queen. Royal position aside, Umm Al-Banîn stood out as a unique individual due to her own qualities: she was known to be an âbida, an ardent worshiper who spent her nights in tahajjud; she was incredibly generous, and loved to donate her wealth for the sake of Allah; she was also an Islamic scholar in her own right – she was considered a great muadditha by Imam Abû Zur'a, who was himself an authority in the field of Hadith and specifically with regards to the chains of narration.
As impressive as all of this is, however, it is not the only thing that is known about Umm Al-Banîn. Rather, there is one particular incident that highlights the true mettle of her character.
Al-Walîd ibn Abd Al-Malik, Umm Al-Banîn’s husband, was an Umayyad khalîfa, and – perhaps somewhat shockingly – kept the infamously brutal Al-Ḥajjâj ibn Yûsuf in his employ as the governor of Baghdad. Al-Walîd’s father had instructed in his will that Al-Ḥajjâj be retained simply due to the fact that his vicious methods kept the unruly elements of the empire in check. Just because her husband had no qualms with Al-Hajjâj, though, it didn’t mean that Umm Al-Banîn would remain silent.
Umm Al-Banîn’s father, Abd Al-Azîz ibn Marwân, had been a man of strong principle and justice, who despised the methods that his siblings did not necessarily eschew. Abd Al-Azîz had instilled in his children a hatred for blatant evil, and the need to stand up to injustice wherever they perceived it.
Umm Al-Banîn abhorred Al-Ḥajjâj with a passion, and made her feelings clear to her husband. She would repeatedly ask him to get rid of Al-Hajjâj, citing his history of slaughter, his killing of some Companions of the Prophet œ and his corruption; Al-Walîd knew just how strongly she felt about his employee. As tends to happen, news spread, and Al-Ḥajjâj himself came to know of Umm Al-Banîn’s unfavorable stance towards him.
One day, Al-Ḥajjâj went to visit Al-Walîd ibn Abd Al-Malik, while the former was still attired in his armor and the latter was dressed in casual clothing. As they sat, a slave girl came to Al-Walîd and whispered in his ear, then left.
When she left, Al-Walîd said to Al-Hajjâj: “Abu Muhammad, do you know what this slave-girl said?” He said: “No, O Commander of the Faithful.”
Amused, Al-Walîd continued: “Umm Al-Banîn sent her to warn me about sitting in my home attire with an armed Bedouin (i.e., Al-Hajjâj) while innocent people are being killed. Umm Al-Banîn also said that she would prefer that I sit with the Angel of Death himself rather than Al-Hajjâj, for he is known to have killed many.”
Furious, Al-Ḥajjâj retorted: “Never listen to women! Do not apprise them of your matters, [nor] make them desirous of [knowing] your secrets, [nor] take their counsel, [nor] use them for other than their beauty. O Commander of the Faithful, do not be tender towards women nor frequent their gatherings because their gatherings are a humiliation and ignobility.”
Al-Walîd stood up and went to his wife directly to inform her of Al-Hajjâj’s words. Furious yet clever, Umm Al-Banîn arranged for Al-Ḥajjâj to meet her the next day. Desperately, Al-Ḥajjâj appealed to Al-Walîd to countermand her order, but he refused, and so, Al-Ḥajjâj was forced to present himself to Umm Al-Banîn. She made him wait for a long time before she would permit him to approach, and even then, kept him standing – a major insult. She addressed Al-Ḥajjâj with a speech so powerful and blistering that Al-Ḥajjâj later admitted: “I wish the earth had swallowed me up while she spoke!”
Some of her words were recorded and transmitted in the book Balaghât Al-Nisâ’[2]:
O Ḥajjâj, you most graciously conferred the murders of Ibn Al-Zubayr and Ibn Al-Ash'ath upon the Commander of the Faithful. You were a mere freeman (i.e. an insignificant slave). Truly, by Allah, were it not for you being the most worthless of Allah’s creation to Him, He wouldn’t have tried you with bombarding the Ka'bah nor with the murder of the son of Dhat Al-Niâqayn.
As for what I mean by the murder of Ibn Al-Ash'ath—by my life—he had overwhelmed you and dealt you one blow after another until you appealed for help. Were it not for the Commander of the Faithful summoning the people of Greater Syria—their arrows protecting you and their combat saving you—while your predicament was more straitened than a pulley, you would have had your head in a noose. Even given this, the wives of the Commander of the Faithful, had dusted the perfume from their locks and removed the jewelry from their hands and feet and dispatched them with his agents’ monetary support.
As for that which you’ve prohibited the Commander of the Faithful from –in terms of interrupting his pleasures and having his way with his wives– if, on the one hand, they open their legs for the likes of the Commander of the Faithful, then he will not comply with your request. If, on the other hand, they open their legs for the likes of whomever your mother opened her legs, then he would be deserving indeed of heeding your advice.
May Allah wage war on the one who said [these lines] while looking at you as Ghazalah Al-Harûriyya’s spearheads were between your shoulders:
O lion of peace, ostrich of wartime,
Black-plumed, you panic when a whistle sounds.
You should have faced Ghazalah in that war.
Instead, you flew with fear above war’s grounds.
Ghazalah cleft your heart with knights who left
A massacre, for fate must make its rounds.”
Having expressed her disgust fully, Umm Al-Banîn dismissed Al-Ḥajjâj from her presence.
Pale-faced, Al-Ḥajjâj went to Al-Walîd and asked him: “Why did you let her come and speak to me?! She did not stop talking until I felt that my soul had departed and that being buried in the earth was more beloved to me than walking upon it. I did not think that a woman could reach that level of eloquence or master that level of enunciation!”
Al-Walîd laughed and said to Al-Ḥajjâj: “Woe to you! Don’t you know who she is? She is the daughter of Abd Al-Azîz ibn Marwân ibn Al-Ḥakam!”
The milkmaid and the empress: these two women stand out in Islamic history on their own merit. Their piety and their determination to live according to principle, to stand for what is right, overrode what their surrounding circumstances could have convinced them to do otherwise.
The milkmaid’s poverty was an easy excuse to be less than ethical, yet her consciousness of Allah made it impossible for her to prioritize wealth over her spiritual awareness. In the darkness of night, with only her mother as a witness, she sought and expected nothing more than Allah’s Pleasure; in turn, Allah expressed His Pleasure with her by marrying her to the son of one of the greatest Companions of the Prophet.
The milkmaid’s story didn’t end with her living happily ever after, though. The du'a’ of Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭâb was accepted, and from the milkmaid’s progeny came the fifth of the Rightly Guided Khalîfas, and his sister, the empress, who stood up to Al-Ḥajjâj ibn Yûsuf.
As the wife of the leader of the Islamic empire, as an empress who could have accepted all the luxuries afforded to her without caring where they came from, Umm Al-Banîn proved that piety is not merely for the poor. Her royal status did not affect her willingness to make a stand against injustice; being married to the man who employed an oppressor did not stop her from making her feelings clear to them both.
Two women from dramatically different backgrounds, yet linked by blood and their courage to do the right thing – the unnamed milkmaid and Umm Al-Banîn show Muslim men and women today that one’s social, economic, and political status should never be a barrier to living in accordance to piety and principle. When faced with situations wherein it is all too easy for us to benefit from injustice or oppression, we must know that these are in truth the hardest tests that Allah places before us. True faith is that which is tried, tested, and succeeds precisely because we have chosen to make a difficult decision – the choice that is most beloved to Allah.
Do the people think that they will be left to say: “We believe” and they will not be tried? But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars. [Sûrat Al-¢Ankabût, 29:1-2]
It is those who profess their belief and who act on it, whether in private or in public, whether in times of difficulty or of ease, who are the heroes and heroines of this Ummah.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Queen of Sheba

The story of Sulayman ('alayhissalaam) and the Queen of Sheba ('alayhassalaam) stands out in my mind because of how beautifully she is described in the Qur'an and how dignified the interaction between her and Sulayman is. Bilqees' intellect, wisdom, and quick wit are highlighted - as is her willingness to accept truth.

What really catches my attention is that when she declares her Islam, she says it in the following terms: {"My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, and I submit with Solomon to Allah, Lord of the worlds."}
There is no arrogance whatsoever - no stubbornness or reluctance to admitting previous wrongdoing, just honesty. As well, she submits with Sulayman ('alayhissalaam) to Allah - the submission of equals before their Lord. There is a sense of dignity to it all, a powerful aura of respect.

What's really amazing about how Allah tells the story in the Qur'an is that it ends with her declaration of faith in Him, with such grace. A lot of people turn it into a romance story or argue that she gave up her queendom to Sulayman, but none of that is even hinted at in the ayaat that speak about her.

Allah so clearly brings our attention to a woman who had both power & wisdom; who didn't allow herself to be swayed by fear, but who was determined to make her decisions based upon actual experience. She demonstrates to us the attitude that we should all have - a willingness to go out there and seek knowledge and experience for ourselves; to be cautious but not stubborn; open-minded but not easily dazzled... and above all, the ability to acknowledge that we have done wrong, and to turn to Allah with a heart full of faith and repentance - and dignity.

The Queen of Sheba is the perfect example of how submitting ourselves to Allah does not bring us down, but simply raises us higher.

The relationship between Sulayman (as) and Bilqees (as), as hinted at from that final declaration of Bilqees, also encapsulates (to me) the ideal relationship between men and women; that they both be seen as individuals capable of authority, and of humility at the same time. Most importantly, that each party respects the other - acknowledging their strengths and seeking only to assist each other in improving as human beings, and above all, to support each other in turning to Allah and worshiping Him alone.

The image we are left with in the Quran is that of Sulayman & Bilqees, king and queen, submitting themselves equally as slaves to Allah alone. How much more beautiful could their relationship be?

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Almost-Polygynous Woman's Checklist, Part 2

DESPITE THE NEGATIVE perception of polygyny that is widespread amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike, more and more Muslims – including women – are actively pursuing polygynous marriages. The reasons behind this are varied:
  • For some women, their status as divorcees or single mothers marks them in the community as less eligible for a monogamous husband.
  • Others may be older women who have not been previously married, whether out of choice or otherwise, and who do not feel the need for a ‘full time’ husband.
  • Still others may be younger without any children or past marriages, but simply see polygyny as a viable option that they are comfortable with.
Regardless of their personal reasons for entering polygyny, there still remains a dearth of advice geared towards women seeking this option. While Part 1 mentioned points related to what a woman should be aware of when first considering polygyny or speaking to a prospective husband, Part 2 focuses on addressing commonly occurring patterns observed amongst some polygynous women.
  1. Drop the Attitude. Unfortunately, there are numerous woman who intend on entering polygyny, yet hold negative and even aggressive attitudes from the get-go.
  • “It’s my right to marry a married man,” some say, sounding an awful lot like married men who insist on their right to marry other wives (regardless of their circumstances).
  • “I don’t need her permission to marry him!” others cry, deriding the first wife. “Why should I care how she feels? It’s my life and I’m not doing anything haram.”
  • Even worse are those who enter polygyny with the intention of causing the man to divorce his first wife so that she (the second) can have him all to herself.Such mentalities completely lack compassion and consideration, which are basic traits that every true Muslim should have. If someone is determined to enter into a polygynous marriage, they must also remember that Allah loves the musinîn – those who strive to live their lives according to a standard of excellence, knowing that even if they cannot see Allah, He sees them.A woman who is about to enter poly should be acutely aware that her upcoming marriage is not just about herself and her husband-to-be: another woman’s life will be drastically changed and impacted by this new relationship. The advent of, and commitment to, polygyny has serious effects on the first marriage; both the husband and the first wife will be going through a great deal of emotional change, as individuals and as a couple. The first wife in particular will experience great difficulty, especially if she is not 100% happy with the idea of polygyny in the first place.Ideally, polygyny should not be something that any woman is coerced or forced into; it should be something entered into with the consent of all parties involved. Many argue that it is not an Islamic requirement for the first wife to know or for her permission to be given, but it is an Islamic requirement that the husband be just with his wives – and how can he really be just between them if he is engaged in deception and emotionally harming at least one of them?Too many Muslims live their lives according to whether something is their Islamic ‘right’ or not; too few Muslims live their lives according to a higher standard of isân(excellence), dealing with others in a manner that displays greatness of adab (manners) and akhlâq (character).
  1. Be Committed. Usually it is assumed that men are those who enter polygyny without being completely committed – that is, having an attitude of “We’ll see how this goes,” sometimes with the effect of ending the second marriage quickly when the pressure from his first wife, or other factors, get to be too much for him to handle.The idea that the first wife is the only one to whom he should really be committed to is unfortunately bolstered by certain scholarly comments, including the statement that the first wife is the one who fulfills the Sunnah, whereas others are merely considered to be merely accumulations of the Dunya (material world).However, things have changed somewhat in that this attitude is no longer limited to men alone. There are now women who are also adopting this attitude – that polygynous marriage is not as serious as monogamy, that they can just ‘try it out’ and if it doesn’t work the way they want it to, then they can leave it behind without much thought.What is completely disregarded is that polygyny isn’t just about one person – it impacts, at minimum, two other people; namely, the husband and the first wife. If there are children involved, they too will be affected. Choosing to walk out on a polygynous marriage almost as soon as one has entered into it displays a complete lack of consideration for the others involved.What few think about is how polygyny has affected the first marriage, before, during, and after the second marriage has taken place. The husband as well as the wife go through emotional changes that have long-lasting consequences – even and especially in the case of a man who has made the effort to undertake polygyny in the best and most honorable manner possible.
    The first wife, even if she has no serious objection to her husband remarrying, will still experience some degree of emotional turmoil. That is only natural. The husband himself will find himself struggling to process emotions that he has never had to go through before, in addition to the adjustment of establishing a relationship with the second wife.
    Women who take polygyny lightly and don’t view a polygynous marriage as a relationship deserving of utmost commitment, need a reality check. Marriage, whether monogamous or polygynous, is a serious undertaking. Leaving a polygynous marriage abruptly without thinking about the effects it will have on others, is quite frankly selfish. (Note: This does not apply in cases of abuse.)
    Thus, any woman thinking about polygyny should first take a good, hard look at her intentions: Are you ready to view this relationship as being just as serious and deserving of commitment –in every way– as a monogamous marriage is? Are you ready to be understanding of the fact that polygyny is something that affects others besides yourself, and to behave accordingly, even (and especially) during difficult times?
    If not, then perhaps polygyny is not for you.
  1. A Co-Wife Contract. The relationship between co-wives is often the butt of various polygynous jokes. It is often solely defined in the light of jealousy, anger, and overwhelming negativity, with the first wife being characterized as high-strung and overly-emotional, and the second wife as being malicious and determined to ‘win’ the rivalry.More and more, though, there are women who no longer want to play these ill-fated roles; increasingly, women are considering the radical idea that co-wives can have a positive relationship with each other, as friends and genuine sisters in Islam rather than despising each other’s existence.Of course, there are also those who prefer to maintain a certain level of distance rather than become best friends overnight, and that’s okay. Not every woman will have the same constructive feelings towards her co-wife, and that should be recognized and respected.Nonetheless, it is still important to discuss and lay out the ways in which co-wives can establish and maintain a relationship of positivity. While one would think that things like being kind to each other and not harming each other are obvious points that are founded in the basics of Islam, it’s unfortunate that not everyone thinks things through clearly when it comes to polygyny.Hence the idea of a co-wife contract. A contract between a husband and wife is known to be a part of any Islamic marriage, but what about considering a contract between co-wives? Technically, Islam permits contracts –agreements– between parties for almost any reason (so long as it does not involve anything arâm), and further, considers the honoring of contracts to be a very serious matter.
  • The benefits of a co-wife contract would lie not only in the terms laid out, but especially in opening up the conversation between co-wives. All too often, husbands try to keep their wives apart with the mistaken assumption that distance will make things easier for them, rather than making it more difficult.The truth is that not letting the women meet and speak with each other actually gives more room for fitnah – both women will find themselves wondering what the other woman is like, how beautiful she is, what her personality is like that makes her so ‘special’ that their husband chose to marry her (or remain married to her), and so on.
  • Another benefit to meeting and composing a contract between co-wives is so that they –and their husband– can discuss their ‘poly vision.’ That is, how do they want their polygynous lifestyle to be set up? What will their system be – how many days will the husband spend with each of them, which days will go to whom? Where will they live, what is the greatest distance they are able to manage, and how will it affect the husband’s time with each wife? Will they visit each other regularly, or not at all? How will they handle conflict? Will the children from either woman have a relationship with the other, and if so, how will that relationship be nurtured?
  • Most important is laying out the absolute fundamentals of how they will treat each other: to remember and acknowledge that they are sisters in Islam who love for each other what they love for themselves. There should be a point of pledging to honor and respect each other; to have goodwill towards the other woman and her marriage to their husband; never to use their own marriage against the other’s, to cause ill feelings, or to behave maliciously with each other. They should recognize each other as part of the same family, and treat each other accordingly.
Being able to articulate these points makes it much easier to process the emotional and life changes that polygyny inevitably causes, and to flesh out a healthy co-wife relationship.
Having a co-wife contract also adds a dimension of seriousness to the discussion. Pledging to commit to the ideas and goals expressed within it results in all parties involved being held accountable not only to each other, but directly to Allah: an oath that one will have to face consequences for if broken.
Though I’ve referred to it as a ‘co-wife contract,’ this does not mean that the husband has no part in it. The husband should also be included –and wives who are concerned about things like finances or serial re-marriage can include conditions such as ensuring access to bank accounts or stipulating that in the event of divorce, the husband should wait a full year before considering polygyny again.
In the end, the main goal is to facilitate communication and honest discussion between co-wives and their shared husband, and an Islamically recognized safeguard against possible (and sadly common) misuses and abuses of polygyny.
These, then, are some of the most necessary pieces of advice for women who are thinking of entering polygyny as second or subsequent wives –according to my own observations and experience, that is. My hope is that rather than relying upon stereotypes and clichés, and rather than being negatively influenced by the many sad stories of polygyny gone wrong, Muslims can finally have access to resources that promote a healthier polygynous model and lifestyle.
Polygyny was made permissible by Allah for a reason, and while it has been misused by far too many people for far too long, there are also many great benefits that it has to offer to women as well as men.
May Allah guide us all to living according to a standard of ethics and behavior that is pleasing to Him, and grant us success and happiness in our marriages and families. Âmîn.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Almost-Polygynous Women's Checklist (Part 1)

DISCUSSIONS ABOUT POLYGYNY amongst Muslims tend to be quite stilted and repetitive – the same old tired mantras regarding a man’s “right” to take on other wives; that enduring the situation with patience is a first wife’s jihâd; that polygyny is a cure-all to half the Ummah’s social issues, from poverty to the divorce rate to single moms.
Rarely, however, are women–those who choose to go into polygyny as second or other subsequent wives—given advice on what they’re getting into. Amongst average Muslims who don’t necessarily have many positive associations with polygyny, second wives are viewed in a pretty harsh manner – as little more than secret mistresses, home-wreckers, and simply selfish.
The truth is more complex, however. In some cases, the women don’t even realize that they are second wives until after they get married, and only then are they informed (or sometimes, find out accidentally) that their husband already has another family. In other cases, it is an unfortunate reality that some women enter polygyny with the full knowledge that the first wife is completely unaware of what the husband has done.
Sadly, Muslims seem mired in unhealthy models of polygyny that are founded upon a lack of honesty, transparency, and consideration for others who will be impacted by the new marriage(s). There is little out there to provide practical advice on how one can begin a polygynous marriage and maintain it in a positive manner that seeks to embody the concept ofisân (excellence) with regards to all parties involved.
Hopefully, one step in drawing closer to promoting healthier polygynous relationships is the following advice, from one polygynous woman to those who are considering polygyny or have already decided to enter it.
  1. Don’t Be Naïve. Many women who think about entering polygyny as second or subsequent wives do so while being oblivious to the reality of polygynous life.One common trend is that men seeking other wives will attempt to woo the prospective spouse by telling her that he doesn’t ‘really’ love his first wife, that he’s only remaining married to her for the children/family, or that there is something deficient in the first wife that has led him to seek another woman. He will convince her that she will be the wife he truly loves, the only one he really cares for.
    This is a lie. Don’t fall for it.
    The truth is that these men are married to their first wives for a reason – if the situation were truly all that bad, he most likely would have divorced her already. Rather, he already has a solid and established relationship with his first wife; in most cases, the emotional bond that he has with her is such that he will never consider actually leaving her.
    Even so, such men often don’t feel too many qualms about going behind her back to marry another woman, very likely because he knows full well that she either has no option to leave him, or because she herself loves him deeply and would rather remain with him despite the deep emotional suffering he inflicts on her. Is that really the kind of man you want to marry?
    Be aware that the reality of polygyny is a far cry from “he’s a good guy who just can’t leave his first wife because of X-Y-Z.” A man who will truly be a good polygynous husband will have the courage to be open about his reasons for it without trotting out cliché lines that depend upon playing on women’s emotional needs and insecurities.
  2. Be Honest With Yourself. Just as men need to be honest about their pursuit of polygyny, so must women. The assumption is that women considering poly are already aware of what it entails and are prepared for it. The reality is not so. Too often, women have unrealistic expectations or ideas about how poly will work – that they will be the ‘favorite’ wife, that they will be able to handle any hurdles (emotional or otherwise) that come their way, and that they will be able to have the best of both worlds, marriage and singlehood alike.The reality is far more complex. Marriage in and of itself is not easy – add polygyny into the mix, and it holds its own challenges.
    Women must realize that men have emotions as well, and that the husband’s relationship with the first wife is not simplistic but deeply layered with years of love, loyalty, and shared experiences. While one naturally expects that a first wife would feel a great deal of jealousy and emotional turmoil, the truth is that second wives do as well. Ask yourself – can I really handle knowing that he truly loves his first wife? Am I happy to know that he loves his first wife, or do I feel threatened?
    To be a successful polygynous wife, a woman must be able to face her fears, admit to her insecurities, and work hard to grow and improve as a person. Confidence, strong self-esteem, and a realistic perspective will go a long way in making polygyny easier to adjust to. Clinging to unhealthy ideals or unrealistic expectations is a surefire recipe for dragging down the relationship from the moment it begins.
    This is not to say that being confident and realistic will completely remove all negative emotions – but it will make difficult situations a great deal more manageable. So again, be honest with yourself and if you find it difficult to even stomach the idea of the other wife… just don’t do it.
  3. Be Straightforward. When speaking to a married man with a view to entering into a polygynous relationship with him, be aware of red flags and don’t be afraid to call him out on them. If he refuses to tell his first wife about his intentions before he marries you, find out why. Often, the excuse is that “it will be too difficult on her if I tell her now; I’ll just wait until we’re married so that she can’t do anything about it.”Again, ask yourself – do you really want to marry the type of man who doesn’t have the courage to be honest with his wife about a decision that will completely change her life (and not necessarily in a good way)? A man of principle and honor will have enough respect for his first wife to tell her up front, even if he knows that she won’t be happy about it.
    In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you intend on being a second wife, ensure proof that the first wife knows about it. Insist on speaking to her directly, and do so with the sincere intention to be as considerate as possible – not to rub it in that her husband is looking for another wife.
    Some first wives may know about their husband’s polygynous intentions, but do not have interest in speaking to potential co-wives; others appreciate the transparency and consideration, and prefer to be involved. Find out what your potential co-wife is like, and deal with her accordingly and with consideration… but do not be complicit in deception.
    As well, do your best to make sure that he is financially capable of maintaining you without withholding or taking away resources from his first wife and children (if he has any). There are some men who will take advantage of welfare or social benefits in order to take on additional wives, or force one wife to work against her will in order for her to be able to survive financially. Ensure that the man you are considering for marriage is a man of decency and honor who fulfills his role as a qawwâm in the best possible manner.
    The above points are just some of what should be seriously considered by any woman who is seeking to enter polygyny as a second (or subsequent) wife. From the get-go, one must be willing to put aside foolish idealism and recognize that reality is far from a fairy tale. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with being optimistic or hopeful, Muslims should make an effort to do as the Prophet œ advised: Trust in Allah and tie your camel. (Tirmidhi)
    There are further considerations that women must also be aware of when thinking about polygyny, not only with regards to herself and the man she might marry, but to the woman he is already married to as well. Part 2 of this article will discuss this in further detail, inshâ’Allah.

Monday, November 30, 2015

...And the male is not like the female.

The ayah "And the male is not like the female" is so often used to tell women to shut up - to tell them not to question injustices committed against them, to remain silent when their Shar'i rights are stripped from them, to accept ill treatment & flimsy excuses instead of legitimate explanations for 'scholarly' sayings & rulings issued that only harm women.
In truth, the Divine words '& the male is not like the female' is meant to emphasize that the differences between male & female shouldn't be viewed as some kind of validation for the marginalization of women, but to celebrate the fact that men & women alike were created uniquely.
These differences are to be appreciated, not mocked; these differences are meant to be used in tandem with each other so that the genders can complement each other & support each other to build a beautiful, holistic environment wherein *everyone* benefits - not just one group.
Wa laysath-thaka ka'l untha: Female input is required in all spheres of life because we have insights that men may never be able to come up, yet for women, they are clear and obvious, a part of our everyday lives. There is wisdom & benefit in our differences.
Allah mentions our differences to remind us that we need each other - not that we must work against each other. We are meant to appreciate each other and grow in love for each other.
It is heartbreaking to see the ayah used so often to shut women up - whether about poly, inheritance, Jannah, or anything else, we aren't given thoughtful answers & explanations, but expected to fall silent & accept attitudes & authority that are clearly incorrect.
Though the words were said by Maryam's mother in anguish & worry over not being able to fulfill her oath, Allah gave those words a greater meaning: that Maryam, a female, was not like a male - if Himnah had had a son instead of a daughter, then history would have been very, very different.
Yet those words, which should remind us of the greatness of women & our role in our Deen, are used instead to humiliate us & marginalize us on an almost daily basis.
The 'fitnah' that men face is claimed to be greater than any oppression, injustice, or temptation that women face - bc 'we aren't the same.' Why not pause for a moment and think about how indeed, we aren't the same - in so many ways, the fitnah women face is so much greater.
Sex? Money? Power? Women suffer in so many ways because of them, yet we are consistently told that our desires don't matter; our access to finances is unnecessary, & we have no authority outside the domestic sphere; to seek any of the above is to 'try & be like men.'
The idea that we are merely trying to be seen as full-fledged humans with all the needs & necessities associated, appears alien to so many of our men - even the 'good' ones, the ones who don't intend us harm, the ones who don't intend injustice, yet who have heard 'the male is not like the female' for so long and in all the wrong ways, that they refuse to believe women when we beseech them to understand how indeed, the way we are not like them is because we are hurt so much more than them.
It grieves me, and it infuriates me, that to be a Muslim woman today who seeks to live in accordance to her Lord's words, according to a standard of justice and excellence, is to be accused of corrupting the Divine faith itself. God forbid that we point out how others have done a far more potent job at corrupting the Deen, with disastrous consequences for half the Ummah.
But no...the male is not like the female & so, the female must suffer for the corrupted power that the male wields not only over her, but over all of society.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Toxic: A JourneyThrough Emotional Abuse (Part 2)

Last month in part 1, we heard from brothers and sisters who had suffered emotional abuse at the hands of their spouse. This type of abuse is a troubling but all-too-common phenomenon - both amongst Muslims and in the world at large. As Muslims, however, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard of what we consider acceptable behaviour - a standard determined not by culture or arbitrary opinions, but by the Qur’an and Sunnah.
In order to better fight off this poisonous cancer in our Ummah, we must educate ourselves about both its signs and the effects it has on those it afflicts.
Are Abusers Evil?
One of the most difficult concepts to grasp is that abusers are not necessarily evil people. Often, they are completely unaware that their behaviour is manipulative, abusive and harmful, and are shocked to know that their victims feel abused - if they are ever able to acknowledge it at all. Their behaviour stems from their own issues: insecurities, troubled childhoods, mental illness or having witnessed abuse in their own families while growing up. Worse still is when they use the deen as a way to justify their attitude and their behaviour, even when provided with clear evidence that their ‘religious’ excuses are baseless.
The term ‘emotional abuse’ carries with it vivid connotations of screaming, name calling and intimidation. It can be hard to reconcile this image with someone whose actions are not loud and angry, but cold and even calm. It is even more difficult to recognise or acknowledge an emotional abuser when that person displays good characteristics or actions that appear to conflict with the stereotypical profile of an ‘abuser.’
We are often taught, if not explicitly, then implicitly, that abusers are evil people, but we sometimes lose sight of an abuser’s humanity - because they are human, just like us.

At the same time, however, recognising that they are flawed individuals who have allowed themselves to hurt others does not mean giving them a get-out-of-jail-free card. It does not mean making excuses for their behaviour, or allowing them to escape the consequences of their actions.
There are also different levels and types of emotional abuse, from the subtle (which is most difficult to detect and recognise as being emotional abuse in the first place) to the obvious extreme (where the behaviour is blatant and no attempt is made to deny or hide it). Some individuals, whether unconsciously or deliberately, are masters at emotional manipulation and emotional blackmail; they have the ability to appeal to their victims’ affection for them as a means of controlling them. Many victims of emotional abuse don’t hate their abusers, but love them or at least care for them deeply. It is precisely this love, and their desire to save their relationship, that keeps many men and women trapped in abusive marriages despite the fact that they know deep down that it is an unhealthy situation that is affecting them (and their children) negatively.
Leaving Abusive Marriages - The Challenges
Many people question why those in emotionally abusive relationships don’t leave sooner. The truth is that it is often very difficult for them to leave, for a variety of reasons.
For women, the obstacles are overwhelming: cultural stigma, misconceptions about whether Islam allows men to wield such ‘authority’ over their wives, family pressure, financial constraints, fear regarding their children, access to resources and an Islamic leader who will support them - these are just some factors that play into how difficult it is for many Muslim women to leave an abusive relationship.
However, men too face extremely difficult challenges of their own. Contrary to what many believe, male victims of abuse experience many of the same issues that female victims do - a destroyed sense of self-esteem, a sense of self-loathing or even blaming themselves for whatever issues their abusers may have. For some, it is that they don’t even know that a man can be abused by a woman. For others, a deep sense of shame about being perceived as weak or unmanly prevents them from confiding in others. It is difficult to find someone to turn to for support as there is a real problem of being mocked and humiliated rather than being provided with assistance.
Sadly, there are also cases where it is fear that keeps them in the marriage - there are women who threaten to take their children away, or even to report their husbands to the legal authorities for being ‘terrorists’ or ‘extremists.’
One particular point to be cautious of as well is that when discussing emotional abuse, it is all too common for people to start arguing about ‘who gets abused more.’ It should go without saying - yet, alas, must be said - that in the Sight of Allah, injustice and oppression have no gender. The harsh reality is that abuse does take place at the hands of men and women, towards other men and women. Our role as an Ummah is not to play the blame game, but to be aware of the facts and to act in accordance with Islamic principles of upholding justice and supporting the oppressed.
Taking Action
Anas reported: “The Messenger of Allah said: 'Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or is oppressed.' A man asked: 'O Messenger of Allah! I (know how to) help him when he is oppressed, but how can I help him when he is an oppressor?' He said: 'You can restrain him from committing oppression. That will be your help to him.'” “(Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
Many Muslims are hesitant to discuss or take action against issues such as emotional abuse because they don’t want to ‘cause problems’ or get involved in things that ‘aren’t my business.’ There is the idea that stepping forward to help a Muslim sister who is being abused (in any way) by her husband is a betrayal to the Muslim man, or that his honour will be tarnished, or that it is better for a Muslimah to suffer in silence than to ‘expose’ a Muslim man.
What we forget is that preventing a fellow Muslim from causing harm - any type of harm at all - to others is, in and of itself, a praiseworthy deed. Rather than allowing injustice and oppression to flourish within our Ummah, it is the duty of every Muslim to stand up for what is right, even if what is right contradicts deep-rooted cultural ideas and beliefs.
One way that Muslim communities can work to take action against emotional abuse (and other types of domestic violence) is to actively provide support for victims and to stigmatise the abuse itself.
Community leaders, imams, speakers and indeed the average person can all cooperate in fostering an environment where support for abuse is called out. Those of knowledge and in a position of authority can and should use the minbar to emphasise the Islamic impermissibility of such abuse. Leaders should make it clear that anyone who comes to them with stories of abuse will not be turned away, rejected or made to feel unsafe (or forced to go back to their abusers). Community members can start within their own homes by educating themselves, children and other family members about what abuse entails and how it is Islamically unacceptable. Should someone share a story of abuse, they should be directed to the appropriate resources and supported in their search for a solution.
In essence, the masjid and the Muslim community should be a place where abuse of all types is stigmatised and a safe space for those who are going through it.
We cannot allow our misguided cultural mentalities to influence us into keeping silent about the emotional abuse, or physical abuse, or sexual abuse - or any other injustice - that takes place within our families, our communities, our Ummah. Taking a stand against these issues does not mean turning against your brothers or sisters in Islam, but in fact is a means of assisting them in leaving behind behaviour that is displeasing to Allah.
{You are the best of peoples ever raised for mankind; you enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, and you believe in Allah.} (Al-A'raf:157)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Glorified Self-Sacrificing Martyr Woman

Whenever I listen to talks and lectures about women in Islam, or read books on the topic, there is one particular sentiment that is constantly mentioned and echoed - that women are somehow mystical creatures who are able to endure all of life's difficulties and calamities without complaint; that women are, by nature, not only capable of being mothers who happily suffer for the sake of their children and families, but *enjoy* this suffering; that they would prefer to give up their entire lives for the sake of their loved ones rather than pursue their own endeavours; that men could never have the strength or patience to endure these challenges.
On one hand, this sentiment is understandable - a recognition and acknowledgment of the difficulties that women go through, and of their contributions to society via raising their children.
On the other hand, however, I find it dangerous. The lauding of women tends to end with the phrase "I (a man) would never be able to do this!" The question is... why not? Pregnancy and breastfeeding aside, almost every other aspect of child-rearing could be undertaken by a man, from changing diapers to staying up with a baby at night to doing activities with older children.
There is literally nothing whatsoever preventing men from doing these things - and nothing at all to indicate that a man's "nature" renders him incapable. More and more, we hear stories of stay-at-home fathers who completely shred the stereotype of the hapless, bumbling father. Yet amongst Muslims in particular, there seems to be an aversion to the very idea that men can be capable fathers in a sense beyond that of financial contribution.
As well, the wifehood/ motherhood excuse is used all too often to marginalize women and prevent them from pursuing further studies or work - for the sake of this piece, Islamic studies and work in particular. How can we talk about female scholarship of the past when we do so little to encourage and facilitate it today?
That's not to say there *aren't* female scholars today, for they certainly exist and are of great benefit to this Ummah, but rather, that we do not see them and recognize them as female scholars of the past were. We complain that the only women who are publicly known as speakers and teachers today are 'liberal' or 'progressive' - but what are we doing to encourage and facilitate classically trained, orthodox female scholarship?
We mention female scholars of the past, but we neglect to mention that for many of them, their 'urf (societal custom) was to have extended family and a great deal of domestic help (whether from slaves or servants); we complain that women today aren't as pious or dedicated worshipers or dedicated students of knowledge, yet ignore the fact that according to some mathaahib, a wife is not obligated to even cook food for her husband - so how can we expect the average woman today, who doesn't have her family around to help raise four kids, or domestic help to take care of the daily humdrum of cooking and cleaning, to somehow spend her days in study and her nights in worship?
It's high time that we recognize the backhanded ways that we 'compliment' women, only to use those same phrases as a way of perpetuating the marginalization of women in spheres of Islamic knowledge and authority. It's high time that we stop acting so hypocritical and to go beyond mere lip service and praise of women's domestic efforts, to easing their daily burdens and facilitating opportunities for scholarship - whether teaching, writing books, or other such endeavours - and helping bring about an environment of Islamic learning that not only recognizes the role of women teachers in theory, but encourages it as a practical reality.
And for the record - no, women are not imbued with some magical 'patience' that makes them *want* to stay up nights with colicky babies and demanding toddlers; women are not, by nature, purely selfless beings who are overjoyed to sacrifice their entire lives for the sake of others. We are human beings with spiritual and intellectual needs - needs which all too often we compromise and sacrifice out of necessity, for the sheer fact that if we don't stay on the ball with the other responsibilities, there won't be anyone else around to ensure the survival and well-being of our own children.
Don't ever make the mistake of assuming that service to our families - which we do to some extent enjoy and are willing to do - is equivalent to how we want to spend the entirety of our lives.
Because we don't.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ashura: the Victory of Musa & the Victory of Hussain

The month of Muharram has begun, but rather than jumping on the 'happy Islamic new year' bandwagon, we must always go back to the ultimate source: the Qur'an and Sunnah.

It is Allah who created the months of the year and it is He alone who chooses which of those months are sacred, and which of those days are meant to be days of celebration and commemoration. In the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam), we have ample evidence of specific examples: the month of Ramadan, the last ten nights of Ramadan, the first ten days of Dhul Hijjah (including the day of Arafah and the day of Nahr), and so on.

Muharram is one of those months, but never did RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) or his Companions take the first day of the 'Islamic new year' as something to commemorate or make special note of. Rather, it is the day of Ashuraa' - the 10th of Muharram - that is marked as being of significant importance in Islam.
(In short: "Happy Islamic New Year" is not a Sunnah.)

- Ashuraa', the 10th of Muharram, was specifically mentioned by RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) as being a day to be remembered.

When the Prophet arrived at Medina, the Jews were observing the fast on 'Ashura' (10th of Muharram) and they said, "This is the day when Moses became victorious over Pharaoh," On that, the Prophet said to his companions, "You (Muslims) have more right to celebrate Moses' victory than they have, so observe the fast on this day." (Bukhari)

"Fast the Day of Ashura, for indeed I anticipate that Allah will forgive (the sins of) the year before it." (Tirmidhi)

Hafsah said: ""There are four things which the Prophet never gave up: Fasting 'Ashura', (fasting during) the ten days, (fasting) three days of each month, and praying two Rak'ahs before Al-Ghadah (Fajr)." (Nasa'i)
- The 10th of Muharram has significance in later Islamic history as well. Though we must first and foremost understand that the act of 'ebaadah specified for this day is as described above - a practice of RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) related to the victory of Musa ('alayhissalaam) over Fir'awn - we must never forget the rest of our history as well.

The story of Hussain ibn Ali (radhiAllahu 'anhu) is not one that belongs to only a certain group of people; it belongs to the Ummah as a whole, and in particular, those who profess to be of Ahlus Sunnah wa'l Jamaa'ah - those who must, by necessity, love RasulAllah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and his Ahlul Bayt.

It is one of the sad aspects of our community that we tend to shy away from speaking about the story of Hussain (radhiAllahu 'anhu), perhaps out of an exaggerated fear of being associated with the Shi'ah and the many bid'ah that have arisen related to the incident. Rather, we have an obligation to be honest to our history, to be true to it, and to learn from it - for verily, Allah is al-Qaadir, the One Who decrees events to take place, and it is we who must understand the ayaat (signs) that He has placed in those moments.

- The story of Hussain is not one that is in opposition to the story of Musa ('alayhissalaam), but in fact confirms it, and confirms the spirit of 'Ashuraa. That spirit is one of struggle against falsehood, oppression, and injustice; and of victory.

Musa ('alayhissalaam) stood against Fir'awn; a humble Prophet with a community of former slaves facing the most powerful ruler of the time and his vast army of brutal soldiers.
Hussain ibn Ali (radhiAllahu 'anhu) stood against Yazeed ibn Mu'awiyah; the grandson of the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and his family members facing the ruler of the Islamic empire at the time, and his vast army of soldiers loyal to his cause.

Neither Musa nor Hussain were military leaders or set out with military intentions. Their only intention was to speak truth to power; to stand against the oppression of the innocent; to remind those in authority of the One with true power over all.

Whereas Musa ('alayhissalaam) was given a clear victory against his enemy, little do we realize that al-Hussain was also given a victory of his own. Though he may have perished, though his family was captured, and though it was perceived that the political influence of Ahlul Bayt was destroyed, Allah brought about an even greater victory through all of that: recognition for the rest of the Ummah, and for hundreds of years to come, that Allah returns to Himself those whom He loves. Al-Hussain died as a shaheed for the sake of Allah, and he remains a symbol of courage, determination, and justice to us all.

In a time when we are seeing Muslims across the world being destroyed almost effortlessly, the story of al-Hussain and the seventy-two members of his family being massacred and captured is a story which we must remind ourselves of... not that we lose hope, but that we hold strong to it.
{And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, "They are dead." Rather, they are alive, but you perceive [it] not.} (Qur'an 2:154)
Injustice and oppression may seem to be powerful today, just as they seemed to powerful when al-Hussain was killed, but Allah alone is the Most Powerful.

Thus, even the story of al-Hussain ibn Ali should not be a cause for us to mourn on Ashuraa', but to rejoice: to remember his predecessor, Musa ('alayhissalaam) and his victory, and to remember that victory in the sight of Allah does not always mean that the enemies of Islam are immediately destroyed with a miracle, but that their destruction in the Hereafter will be eternal and all the more painful.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Requiem of a Marriage (Part 1): Struggling with Divorce

Divorce is a hard word to say – sometimes it’s difficult to even say the word aloud due to the stigma associated to it, and it’s even worse for those who are either going through it or considering it.

For women in particular, seeking divorce can be a nearly impossible task… both emotionally as well as in terms of getting the Islamic and legal divorce pronounced. Choosing to get a divorce is, in and of itself, overwhelming and a painful decision to make.

Many people are quick to remind Muslim women of the hadith: "If a woman asks her husband for a divorce, for no reason, then the smell of paradise is forbidden for her." (Tirmidhi) However, for most women, the word ‘divorce’ evokes depression, guilt, and fear. Not only are there serious social consequences to being divorced – whether the woman was the one who asked for it or otherwise – but there are other numerous challenges that divorced Muslim women face, such as finances, living arrangements, single parenting, and more.

Why Would a Woman Seek divorce?

With this in mind, why would a Muslim woman seek divorce in the first place? Unfortunately, too many Muslims make the assumption that women are so ‘emotional’ and ‘irrational’ that they will demand divorce at any given opportunity.

Reality, however, is quite different. Few women want to end their marriages and cause themselves and their children a world of pain; few women want to be left picking up their pieces of their lives. Most women in unhappy marriages struggle to keep those marriages going even when they themselves feel as though there is no joy or benefit left whatsoever.

It is important to remember that the right to divorce is something actually granted to women in Islam; the procedure of woman-initiated divorce is referred to as khul’ (divorce initiated by the wife). There are several narrations that refer to this, with the most well-known and explicit hadith being the following:

The wife of Thabit bin Qays came to the Prophet (PBUH) and said, "O Allah's Messenger! I do not blame Thabit for defects in his character or his religion, but I, being a Muslim, dislike to behave in un-Islamic manner (if I remain with him)." On that Allah's Messenger (PBUH) said (to her), "Will you give back the garden which your husband has given you (as Mahr\dowry)?" She said, "Yes." Then the Prophet (PBUH) said to Thabit, "O Thabit! Accept your garden, and divorce her once."[1] (Bukhari)

This incident was a clear-cut case of where a Muslim woman sought a divorce from her husband and was given it by the Messenger of Allah himself – in direct contradiction to the culturally enforced belief that women are not allowed to ask for divorce at all, or that it is haram for them to do so.

Considering the first hadith warning women against seeking divorce for ‘no reason,’ what does constitute a legitimate reason for women to seek divorce? Almost all scholars agree that being deprived of her rights – whether they be financial, sexual, or otherwise – are legitimate reasons for a woman to ask for a divorce, as is abuse. If a woman’s husband takes on a second (or third, or fourth) wife and she feels that she cannot accept it, that too is a permissible reason for khul’ (divorce initiated by the wife).

However, what about cases where there is no deprivation of Islamic rights, no conflict related to polygamy, and no abuse? What about if a couple is simply incompatible; if their personalities clash and they aren’t able to live with each other in peace?

A divorce is better than a toxic marriage

The hadith of Thabit ibn Qays’s wife once again becomes a point of reference. She explicitly mentioned that she had no problem with Thabit’s character or even his religiosity; rather, she found herself unable to live with him because of incompatibility. This was considered to be an absolutely rational and legitimate reason to seek divorce in the eyes of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

Another famous case of incompatibility leading to divorce is that of Zaid ibn Harith – the adopted son of the prophet himself – and Zaynab bint Jahsh, the prophet’s cousin.
Their marriage was a tumultuous one, and it is recorded that both Zaid and Zaynab went to the messenger of Allah repeatedly seeking an end to their marriage. Their personalities clashed without abatement, and eventually, they did indeed resolve their issues… through divorce.

It is sadly very common to find women who are struggling in their marriages and who are deeply unhappy due to issues related to compatibility, and yet feel trapped and as though they have no escape.

Many times, they are told that they are simply being ‘ungrateful’ and warned that if they ask for a divorce, they will be denied Jannah itself. Yet what many people selectively overlook is that the marriage bond in Islam is supposed to be one of emotional safety and security; the Qur’an explicitly describes a relationship of mawaddah and rahmah – love as well as mercy and compassion.

{And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy.} (Qur’an 30:21)

A toxic relationship is stripped of these qualities and harms both parties, rendering the Islamic purpose of marriage to be moot.
Matters become even more complicated when there are children involved. A woman who chooses to leave a marriage can very well risk custody of her children or access to them entirely, let alone the regular emotional turbulence of divorce.

Islamic legal rulings aside, however, one must recognize that toxic marriages can sometimes be even more harmful to young children than to have happily divorced parents.

A married couple who lives in bitterness are showing their children that marriage is not a source of comfort and love, but a type of torment.[2] Watching fighting parents who have no escape from each other is infinitely more painful than having parents who are separated from each other but on their way to healing emotionally and moving on positively with their lives. Thus, leaving a harmful marriage could in fact be a blessing for these children.[3]
 Divorce is not necessarily as evil a thing as many of us envision it to be. Certainly, it would not have been made permissible by Allah if it was a truly terrible thing.

Nonetheless, we must recognize the difference between cultural attitudes and the Islamic teachings regarding divorce. We need to understand that even the Companions of the prophet (PBUH) had unhappy marriages and sought a legitimate way to leave those relationships in favor of a happier future, and there is nothing wrong in Muslim men and women also seeking a halaal resolution to their unresolvable marital issues.