Strong Girls, Superb Wives

08 strong girls

“Waah,” my baby’s screams woke me up with a jolt. “What? Who? Where? What happened?” I fumbled to the cot, groggy with sleep.

Life was chaotic. I had hardly slept. The baby was up all night crying for no apparent reason. The laundry was piled high. I had no time to cook, and my husband preferred take-outs to my cooking anyway. I hardly had time to shower, and he was tired of a home that had no semblance of order.

Life wasn’t meant to be like this. I had been an outstanding student, a star intern, and a brilliant MBA graduate. However, I was barely able to cope with real life now. No one warned me about this. No one prepared me for child-bearing or giving birth, or taking care of a tiny life that was entirely dependent on me. Such big shoes to fill and I had had no time or will to prepare for them all these years.

My grandmother’s words rang out in my ears now: “What will you do after marriage, Nadia? You can’t even take care of your own self!” I would always brush her off with an affectionate hug, saying: “We’ll see when the time comes, Nani – don’t worry.” I was always too busy studying for school and then college, too busy going out with friends, and then working nine to five. Even when I got engaged, all I was really preparing for was the grand wedding day. In retrospect, I wasted so much time, effort, and planning for a few hours of limelight. All of that didn’t do me any good today in this mess I had landed myself in.

Nadia’s story is not an uncommon one. Many girls find themselves in a similar situation when they step into practical life. Marital bliss turns into a nightmare all too quickly. This has many devastating outcomes that we see around us more and more frequently:

  • Quick and all-too-easy divorces soon after marriage.
  • Strained marital relations, where partners are deeply unhappy with the marriage.
  • Severed relations with extended family.
  • Poor family nutrition and other health issues.
  • Women completely consumed by household work to the point that their own physical and mental health, intellectual, and spiritual growth suffers.

The problem may seem insurmountable, but the solution is a simple one: inculcating good habits in girls from an early age to prepare them to excel in their vital role of nurturing future generations.

Charles Duhigg in his book “Power of Habit” says: “One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.”

Habits are the key. If inculcated from an early age, habits will become second nature and leave a woman’s mind free to pursue other matters that require actual decision-making. However, if ‘what to cook daily’, and managing other daily chores takes up all of her time and decision-making skills, she will be left with little to contribute to her own or her family’s development.

You might argue: why do we need to prepare only girls for this role and not boys? This argument, I’m afraid, was biologically settled for us much earlier. Every mother is honoured with the task of bearing her child for nine months and then nursing him or her for around two years. She is physically and emotionally attached to the baby for an extended period of time in a way that a father simply cannot be.

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Promoting Collaborative Dialogue in Marriage

collaborative dialogue

“And they lived happily ever after.” This statement is, arguably, the most common modern myth about marriage that we are conditioned to believe. However, popular media fails to show us what actually happens afterwards. The reality of successful marriages is that they are neither trouble free, nor effort free. The Quranic objective of the marital relationship is to cultivate an environment of tranquility, love, and mercy among the spouses. It is unrealistic to think that these blessings of marriage can come about by chance.

Marriage is a contract, a commitment to a new relationship, and a fulfillment of half your Deen (religion). The newly-formed connection is not just physical – it extends into your emotional and spiritual worlds. Therefore, it is crucial to make a conscious intention to take this bond as seriously as a collaborative project. A study on arranged marriages by Dr. Robert Epstein, former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, found sacrifice and commitment to be the most powerful factors that strengthen love.

Allah (swt) says about the spouses: “They are Libas (clothing/covering) for you and you are the same for them…” (Al-Baqarah 2:187) This implies that they assume protective, intimate, and expressive roles for each other the way clothes do for our bodies. Zauj – the Arabic word for spouse – itself indicates the complementary nature of the spouses. Nouman Ali Khan, founder and lead Arabic instructor at Bayyinah, explains that the word Zauj (pl. Zaujain) actually means ‘counterpart’. This is why the sun and the moon, day and night are also called Zaujain in the Quran.

Some therapists and psychologists agree that there is a direct link between the quality of your talking and the quality of your marital relationship. Improving your communication skills can contribute greatly to satisfaction, growth, and conflict resolution in marriage. A key skill for successful marital interactions is learning to hold a collaborative dialogue. Let us look at what such dialogue is like and ways of incorporating it in your life.

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Expectations vs. Reality of Marriage

16 ground realities

Take a deep breath. Ask yourself: “On a scale from one to ten, (with ten being fully and completely), how fulfilling is my marriage right now?” Write down the number that comes to mind. Next, ask yourself: “What are some of the expectations that I have for my marriage and my spouse?” Write them down. Notice which expectations are being met, and which ones are not. You may notice that the areas where you feel a relationship can be improved have an unfulfilled expectation attached to it.

Expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future”. It is different from hope because it implies that we definitely want or need this, otherwise there will be disappointment. So if we have unrealistic expectations, they will inevitably lead to disappointment, if they aren’t possible to meet. Let us explore three common yet unrealistic expectations about marriage and ways through which we can break through them in order to create a more fulfilling marriage.

Unrealistic Expectation 1: My spouse will complete me

A lot of women grow up having fairy-tale like expectations of marriage. It is not really our fault – it is all the conditioning we receive while growing up. It feeds off the idea that a damsel is in distress, and her prince charming will come and sweep her off her feet. This is fine for fairy tales because that’s where the story ends. Life is, of course, a different story.

Expecting our spouse to complete us is one of the most detrimental expectations we can have. First of all, it implies that we are incomplete as a person without our spouse. Marriage is recommended in Islam to complement one another, to be a ‘libas’ for one another. This essentially means that our spouse is meant to be our safe space, but it does not imply that we cannot be happy and whole if we aren’t married.

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Divorcing an Atheist

torn piece of paper with divorce text and paper couple figures

Khula and Talaq have become common terms today. One of the reasons for annulling marriage in Islam is when a spouse turns atheist. Anyone, who steps out of the fold of Islam, is not considered to be a worthwhile life partner or a responsible parent. Hiba interviews a single mother, who bravely bore it all by Allah’s (swt) will.

Do you ever have any regrets for taking a Khula?

Since my ex consciously abandoned his beliefs, I got a Fatwah on his apostasy, according to which our marriage was over. Thus, I never felt the need to go for a Khula. By law, he had to divorce me, which he did. It has been almost five years, and I don’t have any regrets.

What problems do you face as a single mother?

Being single has its pros and cons. I believe if I stayed with a man, whose beliefs differed from mine, our marriage would always be rocky. Woman divorcee has to face a lot of challenges in our society. Juggling through emotions is difficult, and when you have to take care of your child’s emotions as well, it can become extremely challenging.

It took me almost two years to gain a clearer perspective of realities of life – I had to deal with everything on my own, with little support from my near ones.

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Pearls of Peace – An extract from Surah Nisa 2

pearls2Hasten for Hajj – it’s obligatory!

It is Shaytan who discourages a person from hastening to do good. People delay the obligation of Hajj until they have attained old age. Who has guaranteed you that you will live that long? Who has guaranteed you that if you are alive by that time; you will have the health to perform Hajj? Who has guaranteed you that if you are alive by that time, and also have health; you will get the permission to perform Hajj? What are you delaying Hajj for? Why not take hold of the time you have now?

Allah (swt) says, “Allah wishes to make clear (what is lawful and what is unlawful) to you, and to show you the ways of those before you, and accept your repentance and Allah is All-Knower, All-Wise.Allah wishes to accept your repentance, but those who follow their lusts, wish that you (believers) should deviate tremendously away from the Right Path.” (An-Nisa 4:26-27)

This is the reason why people delay doing the good. They are following their desires: a bigger home, a better job, another degree, an exotic foreign vacation, and then in the end, comes the Pilgrimage to the House of their Lord. Remember, Hajj becomes obligatory upon you at the age of twenty and when you fulfill other conditions too. You cannot delay it until you are fifty. It is an obligation for you!

Hold on to your better half!

An important topic that Surah An-Nisa deals with, is about resolving issues; particularly the marital disputes. Allah (swt) discusses conflict resolutions in steps; where the first step is willingness to reconcile. Do not be too arrogant to resolve matters. Remember, divorce is not a seven letter word that you can throw any time. You have to live by the consequences. The person within whom you  find tons of problems might be the best person you ever meet. There is no person in the world created as per our liking. Therefore, married couples need to try as hard as possible and keep their marital secrets between themselves.

But when matters go out of hand, Allah (swt) says, “If you fear a breach between them twain (the man and his wife), appoint (two) arbitrators, one from his family and the other from hers; if they both wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation. Indeed Allah is Ever All-Knower, Well-Acquainted with all things.” (An-Nisa 4:35)

This is the most pertinent key to resolving issues. If the couple wants to settle disputes, Allah (swt) will pave the way for resolution. But if the couple wants to proof who was right and who was wrong, they will never be able to reconcile. And this is true for any kind of dispute that one might face.

Split without a slam!

But if they separate (by divorce), Allah will provide abundance for every one of them from His Bounty. And Allah is Ever All-Sufficient for His creatures’ need, All-Wise.” Yes, separation is permissible in Islam. (An-Nisa 4:130)

This teaches us the etiquette of separation. Do not let that separation be an event to mud sling one another; where the whole family and the entire town gets to hear rumours about you two. After the divorce live like two civilized people. The children need both their parents. It is too much for them to witness their parents’ separation and later their slandering and accusations.

Jealousy kills, Dua brings!

A reason couples fight is jealousy. We look at other people’s lives and feel they have a better life than us. The grass is never greener on the side. Everyone has their tests which we are unable to see. Allah (swt) says, “Or do they envy men (Muhammad (sa) and his followers) for what Allah has given them of His Bounty?” It is Allah’s (swt) decision that who gets what. We should not look at other people’s treasures and wish it is snatched from them. If we like what someone else possesses, we should Dua for them and ourselves. We should ask Allah (swt) to bless them and grant us with the same goodness.

Then Allah (swt) says, “Then We had already given the family of Ibrahim (Abraham) the Book and Al-Hikmah, and conferred upon them a great kingdom.” (An-Nisa 4:54) This is what we need to make Dua for. Of course, we cannot attain Prophethood but we can get something from it. We should ask Allah (swt) for wisdom and the commendable conduct of the Prophets (as).

Say “No” to hypocrisy!

During Prophet’s (sa) days in Madinah, there were some hypocrites who had embraced Islam. They would come to Prophet’s (sa) gatherings, take notes of his speech, go out and tell people the opposite. Sometimes, they would leak out plans to the enemies. This resulted in serious setback to the Muslims. About their faith Allah (swt) said, “And of mankind, there are some (hypocrites) who say: ‘We believe in Allah and the Last Day’ while in fact they believe not. They (think to) deceive Allah and those who believe, while they only deceive themselves, and perceive (it) not!” (Al-Baqara 2:8-9)

Most often, our deeds don’t match our statements. What we say is entirely different from what we actually do. Allah (swt) says, “If He wills, He can take you away, O people, and bring others. And Allah is Ever All-Potent over that.” (An-Nisa 4:133)

This verse serves as a stern warning. At another place He says, “O you who believe! Whoever from among you turns back from his religion (Islam), Allah will bring a people whom He will love and they will love Him.” (Al-Maidah 5:54)

It is hypocrisy to say we believe in Allah (swt) and consider Muhammad (sa) as His Final Messenger, and then not follow His commands. Allah (swt) says, “Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allah, but it is He Who deceives them.” (An-Nisa 4:142) Can anyone deceive the One Who knows what our hearts conceal?

Who are the hypocrites?

“And when they stand up for As-Salat (the prayer), they stand with laziness and to be seen of men, and they do not remember Allah but little.” (An-Nisa 4:142) How many of us stand up for Salah because we want to? Many of us offer Salah only because it is obligatory upon us. May Allah (swt) grant us the ability to offer Salah, because we want to and not because we have to.” Ameen.

Many of us, when we are standing for Taraweeh, we are thinking when it is going to end; when we are reciting the Quran we are counting the pages, how much left to reach the end. We act more like ‘Abd-clock (the slave of clock) than ‘Abd-Allah (the slave of Allah (swt)). Will such an act of worship be acceptable to Allah (swt)? In worldly matters, no one accepts half-hearted deeds or presents. We try our best and often go beyond our means and capacity to please people. Then, why not exert ourselves to please Allah (swt)?

In verse 142 cited above, Allah (swt) said that the hypocrites do not remember Allah (swt) except a little, but they like to show off. During Ramadan, Quran classes and Masajid are filled with people. Everyone wants to join the study circle or Taraweeh and tell others about it. But what is the condition of our hearts and where is our mind? Sometimes, we go to the Quran class and Masjid only to be seen. While we are listening to the Quran recitation, our minds are focused on what’s happening outside.

Hypocrites – the fire-dwellers

About the hypocrites, Allah (swt) said, “Verily, the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths (grade) of the Fire; no helper will you find for them.” (An-Nisa 4:145) This is where the Fire is most intense. May Allah (swt) protect us from doing such acts that can lead us to Fire. Ameen.

Glad tiding for the repenting ones

After highlighting a significant yet often callously ignored matter of our worships, and talking about the punishment Allah (swt) ends Juz 5 by saying, “Why should Allah punish you if you have thanked (Him) and have believed in Him. And Allah is Ever All-Appreciative (of good), All-Knowing.” (An-Nisa 4:147) This statement gives us so much hope. Why would Allah (swt) want to punish anyone who honours his commitment to Allah (swt) sincerely? Why would He warn us of the consequences if He didn’t care for us? Rather, when we turn to Allah (swt) out of love or in repentance, it delights Him for He says that, “Look, My servant knows there is a Deity Who understands him and can comfort him.”

Another trait of the hypocrites that Allah (swt) stated is, “And when it is said to them: Come to what Allah has sent down and to the Messenger (Muhammad (sa)), you (Muhammad (sa)) see the hypocrites turn away from you (Muhammad (sa)) with aversion.” (An-Nisa 4:61)

(Adapted from Mufti Ismail Menk’s “Pearls of Peace” series, Cape Town, Ramadan 2013. The lecture can be listened to at this link.)