Towards a More Perfect UmmahPosted: November 27, 2013
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.