Women have had a profound impact on my life. My mother was not given the privilege of a college education. The culture she grew up in didn’t allow it. Women finished high school, and then got married. While she was raising my sister and me, she decided that that wasn’t going to happen to us. She urged us to become as educated as we wanted to be prior to marriage.
My 31-year-old sister is pursuing a Ph. D., and has completed a J.D., M.A. as well. As I write this post, I’m finishing up my last year of law school, and have already completed an M.A. I’m grateful that my sister and I were not restricted to having to marry young in order to sate an arbitrary cultural appetite. I’m even more grateful to have grown up with two empowered women. Having these two amazing women in my life has made me highly appreciative of other empowered women. A real man is thankful for an empowered woman, not afraid of one.
Last week’s guest post How I Met My Son’s Mother is emblematic of larger struggles within the ummah: those of sexism, ageism and racism. These are all issues Islam was supposed to cure, but that cultural Muslims recreate. These issues become extremely pronounced during the marriage process. People’s insecurities become amplified, because they want to fit into cultural/societal expectations. Alhamdolillah, through the responses to the article, it’s clear that some people are questioning those expectations.
As a Muslim man and lifelong social justice activist, I took issue with the author’s lack of realization of his own male privilege, and also his inability to challenge or reflect upon that privilege.
I’m responding in a loving way to my brother Mezba who is married (congratulations!) and has offspring (wonderful!) but is nevertheless about to enjoy the benefit of my sincere, unsolicited advice. I imagined what I would say if a young man came to me with this attitude intending to become the father of my grandchildren, whether it’s my son or someone who would like to become my son-in-law.
It’s especially easy to respond to this article because Mezba is so honest, so naive, and so unapologetic with his outrageous generalizations. Mezba, bro veteran, tell it like it is!
“There were no good girls in Canada.” I’ve never been to Canada, but there are many good girls in America! Either Canada is some kind of country-wide brothel with a small oasis of righteousness, or you weren’t looking hard enough, Mezba! Besides, what is a “good” girl?
The setup is all too familiar. Some odd years of rishta searching have clued me in to the familiar tone in my mom’s voice: “Aunty was telling me about this boy…”
Here we go again.
Many failed setups have me well-attuned to what to expect, so I usually brace myself as I listen quietly to the details I’m given – professional and personal, in addition to the usual qualifiers:
“Apparently they’re only looking for a hijabi.”
“The girl has to be willing to move to so and so city.”
“They want a professional girl, but they’re looking for a quick marriage so there can’t be any career tie-downs.”
“They want a girl who’s tall and fair and slim and smart and can cook biryani with her eyes closed.”
Alright, so maybe that last bit is a slight exaggeration. Maybe.
Update 11/26/13: Congratulations to writer Aisha Saeed on this post being chosen by the editors of WordPress for Freshly Pressed, highlighting the best posts on WordPress. In an email to LoveinshAllah.com, WordPress said: “Aisha Saeed’s response to your guest post about arranged marriages was a really powerful and articulate call for fairness and equality. She delivers her points with a great balance of passion and reason, which makes this piece engaging even for those who aren’t intimate with the debate surrounding marriage in south Asian communities. It’s a great post that deserves a wider audience.”
There’s a befuddling conundrum afoot in the desi (South Asian) community. You must first understand a few things:
a) For whatever reason desis typically marry other desis; and
b) While the numbers may be dwindling, many desis (or their parents, on their behalf) wish to find spouses through the culturally traditional arranged marriage process. (If you are unfamiliar with this please read about it here first.)
I’m not saying this is how it should be, I’m just explaining a reality prevalent within many of our insular communities where Jane Austen novels are played out in a different tongue on a daily basis.
But back to the befuddling phenomenon affecting the desi community: there appear to be more marriageable females than males. How can it be? The numbers must be somewhat equal. Why is this not the case? While there are most certainly exceptions to the rule, the issues most cited anecdotally are:
Dear Love Inshallah,
I have been dating a man for a few years now and we’ve been discussing marriage. However, he is of a polytheistic faith. Although he is liberal in his practice, he has a strong belief in God. We have not had any problems with faith interrupting our relationship, since we have the same morals and values and we have been blessed to be very compatible and loving towards one another. He is also very active in taking part in my religious activities, since he is quite aware that I am a practicing (semi-liberal) Muslim.
We have agreed on a nikkah (in addition to other South Asian cultural events). He has also agreed to “convert”. This is where the problem starts to occur. He wants to be able to practice both religions, but will always have his way of worship in his heart, even when “practicing” Islam with me. We have also decided that the children will be taught to practice the Islamic faith in our home. Therefore, is there really a point in him taking the shahada? Isn’t it still zina after marriage, since the marriage is not seen as “valid”? And will he be seen as a shirk, which is said to be completely “unforgivable” in Islam?
I have been lucky enough to have had exposure to different religious events (i.e. church services, pujas, etc.) growing up, so I have no problem attending and respecting his family’s customs and beliefs. I know God is the most gracious and merciful, but are we going down the wrong path?
In Love with a Polytheist
Shy Desi Boy replies: