Marriage Wows and Woes
Musings of an Ex-Husband
Some disclaimers are necessary at the offset: I am not a sociologist trained in examining the family unit. Neither am I a marriage counsellor qualified to advise warring couples nor do I hold any grandiose pretension to be a guru of any sort. And I certainly am not a prophet of doom.
I am an ex-husband; an individual who, together with my ex-wife, failed in my marriage. It is my belief that marriages never fail. Rather, it is people who fail in their marriages. In the past 24 months, I have been privy to some of the most devastating Muslim marriage stories in Singapore. These include:
- A couple splitting on the first night of their marriage due to differences in personalities.
- After 17 years of marital (bliss?) and three children, a woman discovered her teenage-hood lover on a social networking site and absconded.
- A married man and a married woman began an extra-marital affair whilst at Hajj, resulting in the woman committing bigamy and living with two husbands for a period of time.
The above are just the tip of the iceberg. I have examples from the whole spectrum featuring all races and colours, arranged and love marriages, same ethnic background and mixed couples, cross-border and local relationships … give me a permutation and, much to my dismay, I will quote you a story.
Despite the differences, there is one characteristic that binds them all – they belong to a breed called “practising Muslims” – a term which is probably the most oxymoronic in contemporary Islamic/Muslim vocabulary. One will be hard-pressed to find a term such as that in classical Islamic texts.
Having witnessed such ugliness, I am compelled to write this article to share some thoughts. It is my ardent hope that it will evoke much needed reflection in couples today and help someone, sometime, somewhere, some way, some how inshaAllah.
The Crumbling Pillar
Marriage (and correspondingly the family) is one of the main pillars of any society. The unavoidable crumbling of the marriage institution is a pivotal sign that signals the arrival of the Last Days. We are living in a time where we are witnessing this tragedy unfold right before our very eyes. Yet, we are blind to this apparent reality.
The statistics are startling; divorce rates are continuing to sky-rocket. There is a frightening lack of fear or consideration in Muslims’ hearts regarding the revealed fact that divorce is the “most hated permissible matter in the Sight of Allah” [Abu Dawud]. People are oblivious to the reality that the Glorious Throne of Allah (the inimitable Arsh) shudders when a man utters the “T” word.
Shaykh Amer Jamil, a respected scholar from Scotland on Muslim family law, writes:
In the UK recent estimations say that 1 in 8 Muslim marriages are ending in divorce and in North America the Muslim divorce rates are now over 30%. The increase in divorce rates is creating new changes within the Muslim community such as the increase in single parent families. In Scotland alone at least 1 in 10 Muslim families are now single parent families.
Jamil, A. (2011). Talaq! The Reminder. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/iuOnf
In less than a generation, the sacrosanct institution of marriage has lost its “appeal” while the adherents enter into it with a sacrilegious attitude. They are ever ready to press the “Emergency Exit” button (i.e. divorce) or, worse, commit vile transgressions (i.e. sins to fulfil carnal desires) in the event of things not panning out the way they had visualized or rather dreamed it to be.
How did we end up in this mess? Unfortunately, there is no one word or one article answer to that pertinent question!
Nafs + Nafs = Double Trouble
Fundamentally, potential couples (and those who are already married) have to understand a basic fact: up till we take our marriage vows, we are dealing with one Nafs only – our own. We know well how difficult it is to manage our own Nafs. Just reflect on the amazing battles we have with our selves every passing moment: right vs wrong, good vs bad, Halal vs Haram, fajr vs sleep and many, many more.
The moment we have uttered, “Till death do us apart, InshaAllah!” we instantly have to start dealing with and managing another Nafs! At this point, “selective amnesia” dawns upon us. We forget all the battles we have waged with our own Nafs and expect the new companion Nafs to behave appropriately and respond accordingly when “commanded to”.
Do we call this naivety or plain stupidity?
A Little History Digression
A generation or two ago, when men were still men and women were still women, people did not have access to “Weekend Deen Intensives on the Fiqh of Marriage”, “Online Classes on Building Successful Families”, “Compulsory Pre-Marriage Course (as it happens in Singapore)” and other such contemporary luxuries.
Yet, surprisingly, they had stronger and lasting marriages. Certainly there were divorces and marital issues to contend with. BUT, there is no denying the fact that couples tried to exhaust all options to work things out “beyond the call of duty”.
Some (read: today’s modernists and feminists) would say that it was because women were not “liberated”. Women were dependent on men for their living and existence. Besides, there was stigma attached to being divorced. Hence, they put up with whatever that came their way from their spouses. Therefore it only appears like they had stronger and lasting marriages.
While there may be an element of truth in that, the reality is that people back then grew up in a culture of responsibility and accountability from a relatively young age. Once children come of age, they were either:
- married off to start a family
- occupied in serious study
- engaged in trade, agriculture, or protecting the lands
My father left his village in South India at the age of 14 to seek a living in Singapore. He did not even complete his secondary education. My late grandfather, who had absolutely no education in the secular sense, but could recite the Qur’an and other Arabic compositions in the most beautiful manner, had left in his youth for pastures anew to support his family and relatives. My mother was married to my father when she was 18 and my late grandmother was 16 when she got married.[pullquote_left]“Teenage-hood” is essentially a modern phenomena where human beings are groomed to become slaves to their base selves (Nufus) and stay irresponsible and immature for a prolonged period.[/pullquote_left]
The people mentioned above, like a significant majority from their generations and times, had limited access to formal schooling. But what they lacked in education per se, they adequately made up with their impeccable morals and possessed the lost (and perhaps forgotten) virtue of chivalry. This is where the “practicing Muslim” of today fails quite spectacularly.
IMPORTANT NOTE: based on the examples above, please do NOT for a moment think that I advocate under-age marriage today. The 18-year olds and 16-year olds of today are akin to the 8-year olds and 6-year olds of the past. Less than 2 generations ago, there did NOT exist in people’s lives the stage of “teenage-hood” which essentially is a modern phenomena where human beings are groomed to become slaves to their base selves (Nufus) and stay irresponsible and immature for a prolonged period. This topic requires another treatise and has been addressed by a number of scholars – both Muslim and otherwise – from the Western hemisphere.
The Qur’anic Imperative
So, what am I saying? It is not black and white. It is not simply a case of learning the Fiqh al-Nikkah and doing (Islamic) activities together. These are collectively one side of what needs doing. The second, and most important aspect, is keeping the Nafs in constant check, especially when things start to go wrong, and not let it have free rein over one’s affairs.
Allah emphatically states in the Gentle Qur’an in Surah Yusuf about the Nafs that is prone to evil by default:
(53). “Nor do I absolve my own self (of blame): the (human) self is certainly prone to evil, unless my Lord do bestow His Mercy: but surely My Lord is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful.”
Essentially, instead of going on about what the rights are that we are entitled to from our spouses and what we are not getting from them, we should focus on the wrongs that we are committing to ourselves, our spouses, our children, our families, our loved ones, and (most importantly) our beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and our Merciful Lord (eminent is His Glory).
Allah declares in the Majestic Qur’an in Surah Al-Ra’d about the need to rectify the self before attempting to effect a change around us:
(11). “Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls).”
I strongly urge readers to ponder upon the above two verses and look-up classical commentaries on the various profound interpretations that our righteous scholars have derived from them.
The Two Two’s
Shaikh Nuh Keller, a contemporary Sufi scholar, once succinctly summarized the essential needs of both men and women in a marriage in the Two Two’s:[box_dark]
- Physical pleasure (i.e. sex)
Man, by nature, cannot fathom compromise to his honour and dignity. Even the beggar on the street desires respect. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has in various narrations articulated the protection of a Muslim’s Izza (generally translated as honour. But it is more than that). What then for the husband who is the shepherd of his flock?
Unconditional showering of love – rightfully so. A woman leaves the love and compassion of her family and the comfort and familiarity of her household from childhood to start a brand new life with a complete stranger. It is imperative on the husband to genuinely make her feel like the pupil of his eye.
Women desire the ability to sleep easy every night without having to worry about where tomorrow’s “rice” is going to come from or what new eccentricity one’s husband is going to be up to. This varies from woman to woman. Some are able to cope with “surprises” and “last-minute-action” while many are not.
In reality, our excessive diet of Hollywood sauces and Bollywood masala means that many of us have a skewed understanding and do not truly understand what this word means. Every couple has their own understanding of “love”. As for me, after all that I have been through, this is what I believe LOVE should mean to every married (Muslim) couple:
Overlooking and being blind to each other’s faults – however minor or major (as long as one’s faith is not compromised and no criminal acts are committed) – while gently helping the other to rectify him/her self.
Veiling one’s physical and spiritual senses from any other [ghair-Mahram] member of the opposite gender to protect and safeguard the sanctity of the marital relationship.
Encouraging each other in the path towards God and His Beloved, upon him be blessings and peace, with the common goal to behold Allah’s Countenance Tomorrow whilst being in each other’s arms, adorning Luxurious Garments, reclining in Wondrous Cushions, partaking in a Splendorous Spread of heavenly gastronomical delights, and enjoying the Breezes in the Highest Gardens under which rivers of Milk and Honey flow, God-willing!
Irregardless of whether you, dear reader, are single, engaged, married, or even divorced, I pray that you find in the above an ideal to aspire to.[divider]
Born and bred in Singapore, Idris Kamal is an apprentice goat herder. After completing his National Service, he left for the UK where he graduated from the University of Birmingham and worked at Islamic Relief Worldwide. When he is not tending to goats, he spends his time reading, writing and working on a myriad of stuff. He can be reached at www.facebook.com/idris.kamal