Oh gosh! It looks like it was a lot easier for the Muslims in my day! I do hop this chap is wrong!
There is a growing and lucrative industry which has developed around ‘Muslim Marriages’ and relationships. We have had everything from BBC documentaries about the trials and tribulations facing Muslims who want to marry to frequent ‘marriage conferences’ where people will be ‘Islamicly supervised’ (for a fee of course) and even ‘Muslim Speed Dating’.
Although non-Muslims may be amused, Muslims themselves seem to be in denial of the evidence that something has gone badly wrong in romantic relationships amongst their community. If pressed, they will fall back on the fact that divorces are less common amongst Muslim couples (although that’s fast changing) or taking comfort that at least they are not as ‘out of control’ and poly-amorous as their Non-Muslim friends (whereas in reality they themselves are often ‘non-amorous’, hardly something to yell from the rooftops about).
Part of the problem is that they will be unhappy with terminology such as ‘romantic relationships’ in the first place; in fact most of us have an almost ingrained discomfort with the phrase I have used above. They would be far happier if I called it the ‘Muslim marriage situation’ or even ‘sexual problems of Muslims’ because they are used to hearing the discourse in these terms. ‘Romance’ is another thing entirely, and it makes us decidedly uncomfortable.
For example, I have heard the story of The Prophet’s (SAW) marriage to his first wife Khadija (RA) countless times in mosques and lectures by Muslim ‘scholars’. It is ‘played’ for a number of things: to show that she was an independent woman, that she was older than him, even to show that The Prophet (SAW) married young. But it is never played for ‘romance’. It was not until I read Gai Eaton’s masterpiece ‘Islam and the Destiny of Man’ that I read that Muhammad’s (SAW) future bride had been attracted to him because of his good-looks as well as his character. All the other accounts had bizarrely missed this bit out, as if it was taboo or might be somehow corrupting. A guy running a famous Islamic bookshop once chided me when I asked for Martin Ling’s biography of Muhammad (SAW) since amongst other alleged enormities, it portrayed one of the Prophet’s (SAW) marriages in ‘romantic’ terms. He was of course, entirely comfortable in anathematising Lings for this infraction.
This brings us to one of the problems the Muslim community faces when it comes to marriage and relationships: a stark denial of the realities of life. A denial not found in the Classical Islamic Sources, but imported from a kind of cultural squeamishness that characterises certain Muslim groups. Paradoxically, these same people who are squeamish at the slightest hint of romance, (as in the account of the Prophet’s (SAW) meeting with Hazrat Khadijah (RA)) then outdo each other to address questions asked by their congregations (often anonymously online) about topics as vulgar as whether ‘Golden Showers’ are allowed in the bedroom or whether a dildo is a legitimate device for pleasuring one’s wife. Rather than stating the obvious, that people asking these questions have been heavily influenced by pornography, they indulge them in a perversion of democracy, since questions on perverse sexual acts are far too common amongst Muslim questioners to ignore, just look online or at the contents of the recent well known and oft printed book on sexual etiquettes by a Deoabandi Mufti from the U.K.
However, when it comes to meeting and choosing a mate, the discussion is scant and invariably preluded with Hadith such as this:
“A woman may be married for four things: her wealth, her lineage, her beauty and her religious commitment. Seek the one who is religiously-committed, may your hands be rubbed with dust.”
The fact of the matter is that all Muslim men and women who maintain any kind of link with the ‘mosque’ or the ‘community’ will be aware of the emotional and ‘religious’ blackmail that is inflicted upon both genders to get them to ‘marry for the deen’, which usually means marrying someone who isn’t ‘all that’ and then making up the deficit by saying ‘well at least he’s/she’s religious’. Often, this Hadith is grossly inappropriately co-opted towards that end. It’s just like a used car salesman trying to get you to buy ‘a good little runner’. That maybe so, but it’s still your money and you should spend it wisely.
Ignoring how the Hadith is actually meant to be understood, what it is used by these individuals to convey to both men and women is ‘don’t worry about looks (or anything else, but especially looks), all you need to look at is religiosity’. This is not the correct understanding of the Hadith, since even Deobandi authorities admit that the Hadith is only to be applied once a person is physically attracted enough to another to even consider them for marriage. in fact, there are two problems from the start for those who use it in the way I mentioned (i.e. as emotional blackmail for marrying people you don’t even fancy): the hadith does not say ‘Muslim women are married for four reasons’, it just says ‘women’, and in the context of male exogamy in Islam it does not help those trying the ‘I know he’s ugly but he’s soooo religious! How can you turn him down! Look at his beard!’ argument. So if taken literally it means out of all women (including Jews and Christians), marry the religious one’s, not just from Muslim women. Needless to say, this is not what they would like it to convey. Secondly, it is not a command, it is an advice. It is not a portent of doom for those not prioritising religiosity and ignoring all else. A person is not at all sinful for marrying someone purely because of the way they look or for their wealth, although it would of course be somewhat unwise.
Then there is the issue of these ‘hadith hurlers’ ignoring narrations that conflict with the impression they are trying to get across, you know, like all the narrations telling people to check out their potential spouses appearance, even if they have to hide in their garden to do it.
For example, in the narration below, a woman flagrantly presents herself, sans mahrem, for amrriage to the Prophet (SAW) in front of a group of Shahabah. This hadith is normally omitted by the ‘do it because the Hadith says so’ contingent since what ensues does not help them make the point they want:
It is related from Sahl ibn Sa’d that a woman came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, “Messenger of Allah, I have come to give myself to you (to dispose of in marriage).” The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, looked at her and raised his glance to her carefully and then lowered his head. When the woman saw that he had not made any decision about her, she sat down. One of his Companions stood up and said, “Messenger of Allah, if you have no need of her, then marry her to me.” He asked, “Do you have anything [to give her]?” He said, “By Allah, no, Messenger of Allah.” He said, “Go to your family and see if you can find something.”…
Another narration clearly contradicting the ‘marry for the deen, don’t care about looks or physical attraction’ ethos:
Jameelah Bint Salul complained to the Prophet about her husband. ‘By God! I do not dislike him for any fault in his character or faith, but I dislike his ugliness.
By God! If I had no fear of God, I would have spat in his face when he came to see me. O Messenger of God! You see how beautiful I am and that Thabit is an ugly man. I don’t blame him for his faith and character, but I fear disbelief in Islam’. Muhammad then enquired, ‘Will you return the garden that he gave you?’ She answered, ‘Oh Messenger of God! If he asks for more, I am prepared to give him even more’. The Prophet said, ‘Not more, but return the garden’.
Then he ordered that Thabit should accept the garden and the separation.
This is hugely problematic for the ‘marry for the deen’ movement: How can she say that about a man of unquestioned piety? It’s almost too blatant. But look at the Prophet’s (SAW) accommodating response: He certainly does not tell her to ignore looks and marry for the deen or piety, in fact he allows her divorce on the grounds of looks alone! But you won’t hear this Hadith mentioned, though it relates an important context for understanding the first, the same way you will not hear that the first Hadith is general to ‘women’ and not ‘Muslim women’, which could yield a different spectrum of meanings than the ones they would like.
Why am I Hadith Dropping?
The sad methodology which is prevalent nowadays of trying to settle arguments by merely quoting Hadith at each other and stating if they are ‘sahih’ or not (often according to Albani for those predisposed to this method), regardless of one’s Islamic academic background and the fact that there are many Sahih Hadith which are rejected by consensus and many weak ones which are accepted by consensus, is a sign of the ignorance of people who use said methodology. A Hadith being sahih does not mean that it is necessarily acted on or taken into aqeeda. The fact of a hadith being ‘Sahih’ in Islam is a starting, not finishing, point for the theologians and jurists in Islam, the same way as the functioning of a drug is merely the starting point for it’s use by doctors. Just as we do not treat by ‘pharmacist’ alone, we do not solve problems by taking Hadith which are Sahih out of their context and jurisprudential framework. I myself am only showing these Hadith examples to show the inconsistency even by their own methodology of people who the late Egyptian jurist Muhammad Al Ghazzali called ‘Hadith hurlers’.
It Doesn’t Work Anyway
Let’s say you did want to ‘marry for the deen’, and only looked at (appearent) religiosity. Assessing someone’s religiosity without getting to know them a little first in the vast, sprawling and anonymous cities of today is next to impossible. How does one do the necessary background checks? How does one know how long a suitor has been ‘practising the deen’ (or will continue to do so) knowing that there are many who ‘find God’ when it comes to approaching someone for marriage: You have to take someone’s else’s word for it, knowing that really they don’t know either, or judge based on ‘external appearance’ such as beard length or jilbab ‘tightness’ (always dangerous but preferred by those who abuse the Hadith since it helps them get what they want and relieves them of the complexities of real life. To which you will of course be subjected to again once you are married) or get a private detective (at least that’s logical).
The fact remains that if you don’t know the person and look into them for yourself, nothing is guaranteed, including their religiosity or even their sexuality. Throwing caution to the wind and ‘trusting in Allah’ since you are ‘marrying for the deen’ is not going to save you, since Allah didn’t instruct you to act like that. This is one of those situations where The Prophet (SAW) told the Companion who trusted his camels’ safety to God to tie his camel and then entrust the rest to God. You know, your life being more important than a camel and all.
In another gambit to make people leave their better judgement to the dogs, Muslims are often told that ‘romance comes after marriage’, but no evidence is ever offered for this. The implication of course is that you should ‘marry for the deen’ and then the rest will be taken care of by God (the fact that he never said he would do this and advised you to marry people whom you are attracted to in the first place is conveniently ignored). But if you didn’t fancy the guy because of his sweat patches to start with, it’s hardly likely to develop into a great romance is it? If you don’t know the guy’s habits and manners, temperament or hygiene, thenthe length of his beard is not going to save the relationship (*leave aside the fact that the beard length is only a recommended Sunnah issue and not an issue of sinfulness as many would have you believe). Nor is her hijaab and five times prayer going to change the fact that you can’t stand the sight of her. These things are independently existent facts that should not be ignored under the invented category of ‘marrying for the deen’ since the ‘deen’ didn’t ask you to do that. The fact is that religion is used to underwrite reckless gambles in the Muslim marriage market.
Which brings us to the guys running the ‘casino’. Or should that be the Mafia running the casino?
‘If you don’t play the game, don’t make up the rules’
This was something which was rather unkindly said to Pope John Paul regarding the issue of contraception. It applies here since young Muslims should be careful of advice such as ‘marry for the deen’ with (invariably) selective reading of Hadith from the two groups which tend to dish it out: Muslim ‘scholars’ (apostrophes compulsory) and University Islamic Society cadres aka (apostrophes not needed, since ‘cadres’ is the perfect word)aka ‘practising’ brothers/sisters (apostrophes needed again).
Why? Because they are not playing the ‘find a life partner’ game with the same rules or even on the same playing field as you are.
Allow me to elaborate: What these groups will invariably decry young (and nowadays, not so-young) Muslims for is interacting or ‘mixing’ with the opposite sex, even for the legitimate purpose of finding a husband or wife, due to the risk of ‘illicit relations’. Of course the risk is real (as is the risk of dying a virgin, but they tend not to tell you that bit). What they fail to mention is that they themselves probably have the highest frequency of contact with the opposite sex of any members of the community. Thus they find it relatively easy to meet and assess a large number of (usually)women and then have opportunities to court them (not that they will ever admit it though). They are the ‘rock stars’ or celebrities of that group if you like. This is obvious if one thinks about it since scholars and ‘Muslim speakers’ are always interacting with female members of their audiences with the benefit of celebrity allure very much like their secular equivalents. They then find it very easy to criticise young Muslims who may talk to the opposite sex or God-forbid go to a public place with them for a coffee, since they do not see the need for ‘free-mixing’ because they themselves already get it (in effect).
I mean come on: if Tom Cruise told you he didn’t see why people had to hang around in the Students Union and ‘free mix’ to meet girls you wouldn’t take his advice seriously would you? You would know that he lives according to a different set of social rules and parameters to you due to his celebrity status. You may not like it, but few would deny the reality.
Take for example University Islamic Society cadres who are forever having ‘meetings with the sisters to discuss next weeks [insert event/excuse here]’. They have an ‘Islamic’ reason to interact with the opposite sex, they reap the rewards and get first pick of eligible males/females and then the condemn others who don’t have that privilege – usually because they themselves robbed them of it by ‘segregating’ all events and acting like Big Brother or Big Sister to any boy or girl who gets out of line and making them feel like a ‘player’ or a ‘whore’ respectively.
An adjunct to these individuals hypocrisy and lack of empathy is their flagrant deviation on a ‘principle’ of ‘whatever leads to haraam is itself haraam’, which they apply to everyone but themselves, who unlike the rest of the practising Muslims actually have a lot of opportunity for said haraam. They also tend to forget that this principle is infinitely broad and can be used to prohibit everything from going out, getting an education, going to the mosque etc. (as indeed it has been).
It is also useful to note that male ‘Muslim speakers’ seem to display, in accordance with the ‘special access’ they get to members of the opposite sex, the highest rate of polygyny in the Muslim community: a vastly disproportionate number of ‘Muslim Speakers’ have or have had more than one wife, including most of the well known ones in England. Which is funny, as they all prohibit free mixing and always keep their gaze lowered and avoid what leads to contact with the opposite sex.
Fasting is a Catch All Remedy For Sexual Frustration! Islam Says So!
No it isn’t and no it doesn’t.
Another Hadith which the self-appointed authorities of Muslim communities like to (ab)use is the one telling people who are unable to marry to fast as a means of controlling and managing their sexual desires, which in Islam can only really be assuaged in marriage. Coming from The Prophet (SAW), this is of course excellent advice and makes perfect sense. However, this beautiful hadith, which was of course combined with the admonishment to actually marry as that is the best solution, is wheeled out as a catch-all remedy for people who want to marry but can’t. Even if they have been trying for years. Even if they have been trying for decades. This is an abuse of the advice, and none of the often rotund scholars who proffer it seem to have fasted for very long, let alone the years on end they imply that the poor unmarried souls should. It is nowhere understood in classical Islam that it is advised to fast indefinitely if one cannot marry, it is clearly only a ‘holding measure’ and an excellent one at that.
Uh, O.K. But Lowering Your Gaze Fixes Everything!
In a similar vein, the recommendation of ‘lowering one’s gaze’ is used as another ‘Deus Ex Machina’ to answer questions relating to sexual frustration. Exactly how long can one lower one’s gaze? For years? Decades? And they conveniently omit that marriage to an attractive person is the best method for lowering one’s gaze according to no less than the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) himself. They also conveniently forget to mention that some scholars such as Al Ghazzali explain that lowering one’s gaze means merely not staring obstinately, rather than not looking at all or looking down reflexively while talking to a member of the opposite sex, since that does not support what they want to get out of this ‘prohibition’. But we shall have to forgive them that, since they are probably exhausted from the prolonged regimen of fasting which they are prescribing for unmarried men (and women BTW, though many of these individuals seem to forget that women are subject to sexual desires and urges too, unless of course they happen to be their daughters or wives in which case they are suspected of nothing but).
The very same cohort also neglect to mention that if one is looking for the purpose of considering someone as a partner (i.e husband or wife), one can stare continuously, repeatedly and with lust. And that since people who are not married and end up as forty year old virgins (and there are a LOT of them about in the Muslim community) happen to be viewing just about every member of the opposite sex like a starving inmate, they could probably refute them by saying they were considering everyone for marriage. But perhaps we should let that slide as well.
We Don’t Need No Education
What is my point with all this?
Sometimes a little knowledge is more dangerous than no knowledge at all and this is particularly true when it comes to the misapplication of Islam in the field of finding a spouse.
What I am trying to get across is that having the wrong idea about male -female relationships and how to interact with the opposite sex to find a partner can have disastrous consequences. You should certainly at least know if the person ‘teaching’ you has an agenda or a bias (as I have tried to show above that they do). People will no doubt retort me by saying ‘even if you are right, they are only doing it for your own good!’ Whether the error is conscious or unconscious should be of no concern to you, since whatever their intentions, harm can still be done, like a bad doctor who kills his patients while claiming he is trying to help them.
What’s the worst that could happen? Well just as by ignoring the warnings about illicit sex, one could get oneself and one’s soul in hideous trouble, by messing up one’s marriage or ending up celibate due to trying to avoid the same to an excessive extent or in the wrong way can similarly lead one to a different disaster – that of never having ‘known’ a man or a woman.
Or worse, of never having known romantic love.
When The Prophet (SAW) tells us that marriage is half of iman, we should fear not being able to marry as much as or more than we fear ‘free mixing’ or ‘sexual relationships outside marriage’.
It’s Your Fault. Or God’s. Or Anyone Else’s. Just Not Ours.
People much enamoured with their ‘Islamic community’ or local mosque or favourite scholar will almost certainly not be convinced by my tirade in the slightest.
In this they will be supported by the counter-examples of guys (or more rarely, girls) who ‘did alright for themselves’ (i.e scored a good looking, practising ‘sister’) and will no doubt be hoping for the same good fortune themselves Yet over time, they will realise that I have a point. Those guys who did alright for themselves in the ‘Islamic system’ are the same as the ones who do well finding a partner in the arranged marriage or even the secular system – those are the one’s who have an ‘angle’ – some way of impressing or getting access to eligible members of the opposite sex.
Since most of you reading this do not fall into the ‘privileged’ category mentioned above, it may be wise to take the advice on how to find a spouse offered by those who are with a pinch a of salt. Because if you don’t and end up left on the shelf, you will move to the next stage of the game: the ‘post mortem examination’ or ‘The Blame Game’.
You see, when you want to get a partner or have failed to get one despite trying your best, you will again go to these scholars and cadres of ‘practising’ brothers sisters and they will do one of two things: blame you outright (favourite allegations include: ‘You don’t have enough religious knowledge, you need to practice more’, ‘You aren’t a scholar or student of knowledge’, ‘You are too old’, ‘You are o.k but your father/mother/sister/next door neighbour isn’t practising enough’, ‘You went to university/got a job and missed the boat’, ‘Maybe God hasn’t written for you to get married’ etc etc…) or set you up with someone who, to be brutally honest, no one else wants to marry, and when you refuse, tell you to ‘Marry them for their piety‘, ‘Fear God’ or just blame you again.
There are many variations on this, which I hope you don’t find out, but none of them involves blaming the community: it must be your fault.
Which brings me to the biggest thing omitted when they are telling you their favourite narrations about how you should marry for the deen and not bother about anything in a partner other than their religiosity: The Quran which orders the believers:
‘Marry those single amongst you…[24:32]‘
Yes, you did read it right: the Quran says it is the duty of everyone to help single people to get married. And the shocking thing is it doesn’t say single Muslims but just ‘single’. So you could even perhaps say that you have to help your non-Muslim friends to marry. And it sounds like a strong encouragement doesn’t it?
So no, it isn’t (just) your fault.
The simple fact is if you have no access to the opposite sex, you are not going to be able to get married. If everyone else was in the same boat then at lest that would mean that people could get hooked up eventually. But it isn’t the case: the most eligible candidates are picked off by the same people telling you to ‘marry for the deen’ and enforcing ‘segregation’ (on others).
By the time you enter the field it’s going to look like the last day of the Harrod’s sale. Interestingly, this whole problem had been identified and commented on by non-Muslims for years.
I believe they call it ‘c**kblocking’…