Towards a More Perfect Ummah

Eds. Note: This is a response to last week’s guest post, How I met my son’s mother. Have a perspective to share on love and relationships? Read our guidelines, here.
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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.

* Sexism Women are not “biodata.” They are human beings and they deserve to be seen as such. Instead of questioning this mentality of viewing women as a number, a photo, or series of adjectives, the author used the system to his advantage. If you do not question the system, you become a part of that system, and the system continues to perpetuate itself. Critical thinking and social justice, shouldn’t be isolated to certain realms of our lives, they should be our lives.

* Ageism The author wanted someone who was younger than him, and yet on Twitter he remarks that one should follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). By extending the author’s logic, the Prophet would’ve/should’ve never married Khadija (peace be upon them both). But we know what did happen: through the knowledge and support that the Prophet gained from God and Khadija, Islam expanded and led to revolutionary ideas of behavior and thought.  We are quick to quote the Prophet (pbuh), but not the amazing women in his life, who helped make him who he was and helped make Islam what it is today.

I am currently speaking with a woman for the purposes of marriage and she is several years older than I am. To me her age doesn’t matter because of all of the amazing, beautiful characteristics that she possesses. She is beautiful because of the passion that she has for the work that she is pursuing. She’s going into a field that not many Muslims go into; to not only create a voice for the ummah, but also to help where help is badly needed. She’s beautiful because she put her foot down and said, “My education is more important than societal and cultural expectations of me.” She’s beautiful, because she knows age doesn’t matter. She’s beautiful because she realizes that the heart of a person, their faith in God, and their love of humanity is what matter most. She’s beautiful because she reminds me of who I am and what my faith truly stands for.

Beauty isn’t a number and it certainly is not bound by age; it’s a constant blessing from God. The amazing thing about beauty is that, when your heart is pure and your intentions clear, God lets you see beauty in other people too.

* Superficiality Prior to meeting the woman I am currently speaking with, I dealt with a lot of superficiality, especially on Muslim marriage websites and through the parents of the women I was speaking with. Nothing pronounces faith louder, than whom you choose to marry, and how you choose to marry them. People create arbitrary categories, and when empowered Muslim women question such systems, they are shut down for being intelligent and “asking too many questions.”

The truth is, because of social and cultural constructs, men have a tremendous amount of privilege, which most of them never question, even though that privilege means that their mothers, sisters, daughters, and all of the other women around them end up feeling unequal. Nobody is suggesting that men are all to blame or that that is the end of the discussion. The issue is about men taking responsibility and ownership for helping to create a more perfect ummah, an ummah in which women are their equals. Although that goal may be lofty, the best place to start working on a dream like that is in our own interpersonal relationships.

* Racism “We have made you into nations and tribes, so that you may come to know one another.” (Qur’an, 49:13) I don’t know how in one sentence one can celebrate the fact that Islam has reached all corners of this world, and then not love people from all corners of the world. Instead, many people will only marry within their own culture. It’s ironic that the author was looking for a Bengali woman, yet his wife is not Bengali. Alhamdolillah. Although he was searching for one thing, God put him on a path to realizing what we should all realize: that beauty is everywhere, and in many different people. You just have to be open to seeing it. .

* My own privilege As a male, I have been granted privilege my whole life. It is important to note that many women have discussed this post in the comments section and related articles. Please read their words and listen to their voices. Truly, their voices matter so much more than this post ever will.

To listen means to think, and I urge you to listen to the words of every woman you come across. Women are silenced when they think differently. Empower women through listening and validation.

When we start talking about marriage, it is important to discuss all of the issues that impact it. While Mezba’s post is emblematic of many of the problems that our ummah faces, until we have these critical conversations, we won’t be able to become the ummah that we should be – the ummah that Khadija and the Prophet (peace be upon them) imagined us to be, inshallah.

Author’s note: Nothing in this post is a judgment on the other author’s faith. That is between him and God, and if I have made any mistakes in this post I sincerely apologize for them. Those are my mistakes, and those are on me. And if any goodness comes from this post, praise God, not me.

M. Zakir Khan is a poet, law student, and an advocate for the voiceless. When he’s not busy saving the world, Zakir spends his time eating brisket and playing volleyball. Tweet him @Muzzakh.


24 Comments on “Towards a More Perfect Ummah”

  1. […] M. Zakir Khan on male privilege in Towards a more perfect Ummah […]

  2. Anisa says:

    I cannot thank you enough for this. As someone in a similar path as yours, I cannot explain what a breath of fresh air this has been. Thank you, thank you, and thank you a million times!

  3. Abu Yaqoob says:

    The writer should restrict himself to writing about arcane law and esoteric cases rather than putting his foot in his mouth by dragging Islam into it. His whole article is an intellectually feeble and distorted kumbaya hallucination that a few ABCD men fall into a superficial analysis of a system that is structurally sound and has worked for thousands of years. The women today cannot find mates because they chose to delay marriage, because they chose careers, and that’s not what most men like in a woman. A man who shirks those types of women is wise not a coward. A man who embraces such women is foolhardy and naive. What the author calls ‘male privelege’ is nothing more than ‘male responsibility’. You all go on putting lipstick on the pig while the rest of us real man backed by millions of traditional women go home to a warm bed while the rest of you progressive secularists make love through twitter and iPhones and talk about climbing Mt Kilimanjaro. Get real. And lastly, Mezba’s following the system worked out to his advantage and was Islamic and chaste. He found the perfect wife for him with whom he sired a son. Happily forever after. The rest of you crones can talk about volunteering at Red Cross and running the flea comb through your cat’s belly. The system is not broken, you are. And again, don’t bring Islam into it because secularists bringing Islam to bolster their viewpoints is like a fireman trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Peace.

    • Anisa says:

      Dude, I have said it before and I will say it again. You are a coward and that’s why you have to keep harping on your BS even when it’s not relevant to you. Please, do yourself a favour and keep quiet. You make yourself look like a pathetic, whining loser

    • I says:

      Wow. Congratulations that was the most narrow-minded and sexist comment I’ve had the displeasure of reading. Clearly, you missed the entire point of this article.

      • Anisa says:

        Salam I, this individual doesn’t bother with the point of the article. That’s why he is so amusing and such a joke. He acts as if women not being able to find mates is the end of the world. Who would want such a whining, attention-craving, below average IQ’d pansy as a mate? Astaghfirullah

    • Oh, hello, Muslim Spice.
      Trolling this website now, are we?

      (FYI everyone else, I strongly recommend that you don’t give this troll more attention than the second it took you to read his comment. Trust me, not worth your energy.)

    • z says:

      Abu Yaqoob: at this point I say peace. Please let it go. You go your way, the rest of us go ours. The single women you are so sorry for: they are living wonderful complete lives and thanking God for all the blessings they enjoy. And you are living a beautiful life too as you say. So Alhamdulillah for everything. There’s space in this world for all of us without the need to denigrate the other half.

  4. LilBabyTiger says:

    Thank you for this amazing, introspective, beautifully written article. Please ignore the troll that is Abu Yaqoob, whose name, ironically means “holder of the heel.” He and his ilk will disappear into the era of dinosaurs and dodo birds.

  5. z says:

    Thank you Zakir for this piece. It restores my faith in the future Muslim Man. I hope and pray the misogynistic ideas espoused by other men die with them, and the next generation is raised like you. Amen. Wishing you success in everything.

  6. m says:

    Thank you for this piece. I have struggled intensely with these posts and the male points of view that have been shown, and alhamdulillah, yourself and a few other male commenters (NOT the trolls) have shown that for every man who espouses a particular, negative view, there is one who doesn’t, who is inspired by the women in his life and who in turn respects, supports and empowers them. I wish you success and hope that you find true happiness with a woman who can walk by your side.

  7. Mezba says:

    Salaams brother Zakir.

    Since you addressed my original article, and made some inferences, I feel I have to correct you, and also ask you for clarifications on some assertions you made. Please don’t take it personally – I have nothing against you especially because you said you play volleyball (fantastic sport, that).

    1. What is this male privilege that you speak of? You have asserted that I lack the realization of my own make privilege, and have an inability to reflect upon that privilege, whatever that may be. Can you enlighten us as to that privilege? You yourself say you have been granted privilege your whole life, and they you never expand upon that point.

    2. You falsely accuse me of saying I married someone younger than me because it’s the sunnah. If you read my article, you would know that I married someone younger than me because that is what I preferred. As for when I tweeted about the sunnah of marriage, it was part of a broader discussion. There are many aspects of marriage, and the sunnah has recommendations. Moreover, the multiple marriages of the Prophet pbuh provide a sunnah example whatever your marriage preferences are. If you marry someone younger than you, it’s in the Sunnah (Aisha, Hafsa, Zainab). If you marry someone older than you, it’s also in the sunnah (Khadijah). I felt you selectively picked the sunnah that supports your point of view while choosing to ignore the others.

    3. You say preferring to marry someone of your own culture is racism. This is the strongest accusation levied on this site so far. I do not think someone who wants to marry a person from his own race is racist. Marrying someone from your culture reduces cross cultural issues, and helps in compatibility. It’s racism if you refuse to hire someone from another race. By crying wolf over this faux racism, you dilute the real issue.

    As for your choice to marry someone older, or your sister’s choice to continue her education till her 30s, that is your issue and hers. I am not going to say you did right or wrong, except to say that there are challenges for an older person in getting married as opposed to an younger person. In my articles I have never discussed equality of women, or their right to work outside the home etc. as those issues should be pretty obvious to any enlightened man. You are trying to conflate those issues with marriage.

    Regards.

    • Wa’salaam Mezba,

      First and foremost Mezba, thank you so much for your well thought out response. I’m a bit pressed for time at the moment, but when I have some more time I will address your points. And rest assured, I don’t take intellectual debates personally, so no need to apologize.

      • Wa’salaam Mezba,

        I apologize for the delay. It’s final week here and I’ve been really busy.

        First, I preface this reply with the hope that we can learn something from one another, if that is not the case than there is not point to this post. To goal of discussions are to learn something from one another even if you disagree.

        In addressing your points:

        1) Male privilege is a special status given to certain types of groups (not by individuals) that advantages them in many contexts.

        Here are two good explanations:

        a) http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/03/11/faq-what-is-male-privilege/

        b) http://amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/

        2) My point with regards to age was two-fold. Yes, I did rely on the sunnah, and yes the sunnah of the Prophet did also marry individuals who were younger than him, but the other point which you completely missed was that it inherently wrong to judge a person by their age. If your preference is for a certain age, you should reflect upon why that is your preference. As I stated in my article, people are more than just an age. If you believe otherwise, please tell me why that is the case. As we know in Islam, from him we come from, and to him we must return, nothing on this earth is guaranteed. My argument further stated that beauty exists in all people, therefore why would you in a marriage context restrict the field from which you are deciding from.

        3) Preferring one’s culture to another is racism. Racism by its definition means “The belief that some races are inherently superior (physically, intellectually, or culturally) to others and therefore have a right to dominate them.” The belief that a certain race, or culture is inherently better for a certain person is an incorrect assumption. Second, compatibility is another subjective factor, have you ever gone to an Islamic convention and seen compatible couples who weren’t the same race? Compatibility does not rest on culture alone. I’m confounded, that you are arguing for a position that you yourself did not practice when you got married.

        Undoubtedly, Martin Luther King Jr. fought greatly for the equal rights of races, but the fact is that Islam always had that as a primary principle, the problem has been in practicing that principle because of “cultural preferences.”

        Islam teaches us to examine a person’s level of faith when we choose to marry them. “A woman is married for her deen, her wealth or her beauty. You must go for the one with deen, may your hands be in the dust! (if you fail to heed)” [Muslim] The problem with the arbitrariness of your preferences, and in addition the current traditionalists perspective is that uses factors that are actually not based upon the Quran, nor the hadith but are based highly on culture, and tradition.

        I implore you, to not raise your kids in that environment. Muslims, and humanity for that matter is so much more than biodata, just a culture, just an age, If we ever want the world to see and treat us as more, we must start with our own ummah.

  8. Compassion says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful article. May Allah guide you, and all of us to do what is Halal and just. Sometimes, I feel that people have lost the capacity to be empathetic. As a result, men or humanity in general behave as if they are entitled to some sort of “right” or privilege. Men please put yourselves in a woman’s shoes and see with an open mind how the marriage process is degrading, belittling, and a downright disgusting beauty contest. However, by the same token, I know women can be just as prejudiced when selecting potential husbands-such as the man has to have a dope job, wealth, and high status. This is not what Islam teaches us is the criteria that men and women should use in choosing spouses. I remember distinctly hearing at a khutbah, that one should marry and an individual for their impeccable manners, and their deen. If a man has extensive knowledge of deen, then he will automatically realize that an educated woman who is well versed in both deen and dhuniyah will lead him to Jannah. This is our ultimate goal ladies and gentleman. Most importantly, Zakir mentioned that this concept of “male privilege” is deeply entrenched within our beliefs and cultures and cripples the progress of equality- something both men and women must collectively combat through dialogue, awareness, compassion, and empathy. Also kudos for pointing out the evils of Muslim marriage websites, and how disgusting and narrowly focused they are, crushing the beauty of a future marriage. I feel that as a women and a human being who is made of flesh and blood, that that these requirements are too oppressive and unreasonable, making me feel worthless. Please stop putting a price on my person. I hope that your article will continue to encourage more dialogue and inspire people to think and listen.

    Aside for the article, I would like to comment on the design of the website of Love In Shaa Allah. Why is there a picture of piece of lingerie on a bed? Are trying to imply that women are slaves of their desires? Why are you trying to objectify us women? It is immodest and disgusting. Also, why is the title of the webpage the secret love lives….. It seems as if you are promoting adultery and fornication, which is clearly not the purpose of the website. This is offending, and again immodest -please fix this if possible.

  9. Maryam says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. You have given me so much hope and I pray that Allah bless you dearly in this world and the next.

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