Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Great Marriage Debate

Islam puts a lot of emphasis on the subject of marriage. The Quran says ‘And wed the single among you’, making it an order and obligation that we all must follow. Marriage completes parts of our physical, emotional and social well being. It protects women and gives us a provider, a friend and a warm shoulder we can lean on when things get tough.

The Prophet(pbuh) said: 
''Whosoever amongst you has reached the age of sexual ability must get married. For marriage lower's ones gaze and protects one's private parts."


 'O young men, whoever among you can afford it, let him get married, for it is more effective in lowering the gaze and guarding chastity…'

‘A person who possesses the means to marry (i.e. he is able to work etc. to support a wife and children) and does not marry then he is not from amongst us (i.e. the believers).’

It is even considered half of our deen because after marriage a person that has strong faith and the help of Allah will be even less likely to give into urges to do haram things outside of marriage, plus it is a legal means of propagation to have children and increase the ummah.

Al-Haakim narrated in al-Mustadrak from Anas, in a marfoo’ report: “Whomever Allaah blesses with a righteous wife, He has helped him with half of his religion, so let him fear Allaah with regard to the other half.” 

However marriage rates in the United States are at an all time low. Studies show that the number of American adults who are married has fell from 72 percent in 1960 to barely 51 percent in 2010, and the number of new marriages fell 5 percent between 2009 and 2010. Since these declines are still ongoing it means that less than half of American adults are in a legal marriage right now. For something to become a tradition at least half or more of the population has to participate in it, does this mean that the concept of marriage will cease to be a tradition or desirable thing within my country? Democracy gives power to the opinion of the majority, when that majority would rather live sinful, immoral lifestyles does that mean the rest of us should suffer and cave in to the herd mentality? Scholars warn that the loss of marriage and other morals especially in the lower class citizens will bring marriage to an end in America's culture and that  unless these forming trends against marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity are reversed these virtues will disappear from our culture altogether.

 Media popularizes celebrities that have little or no morals everyday, in turn the population and especially the youth start to idolize these celebrities and emulate their lifestyle. We can't just blame the media for glorifying sinful lifestyles though, our economy also plays a big part. A study completed by the University of Virginia shows that the wealth of a nation is tied to a culture that values men and women marrying each other and having children and aids in protecting children from child poverty. Marriage has already caused a great divide between America’s rich and poor, having a child outside of marriage dramatically increases the likelihood that the woman and her child will be poor and dependent on welfare across education levels throughout their lives. It takes its toll on all of us,  a study from the Institute for American Values says that taxpayers spend at least $112 billion each year to support households that have experienced divorce and unwed parenting.

So for those of us who do wish to get married where do we start? Where are the people we can marry? Even taking a look at the related demographics can be alarming:

  • According to the 2010 census the number of females in the United States  was 157.0 million and the number of males was 151.8 million. 
  • Nearly 40 percent of women in the American population have never been married. 
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons, and county jails at year-end 2010 – about 0.7% of adults in the U.S. resident population.[7] Additionally, 4,933,667 adults at year-end 2009 were on probation or on parole.[4] In total, 7,225,800 adults were under correctional supervision (probation, parole, jail, or prison) in 2009 – about 3.1% of adults in the U.S. resident population.In addition, there were 70,792 juveniles in juvenile detention in 2010
  • The Muslim population in America as of 2010;  2,600,000 (2010)    0.8% of the U.S. population (2010)

On top of these numbers you have to figure in the ethnic, class, and regional boundaries, this makes it hard for women who were born to Muslim families as well as the reverts. Your number of potential partners continues to get smaller and smaller and then almost comes to a screeching halt when you get to the main requirement: a Muslim woman can only marry a Muslim man. It is true that men have it easier when it comes to choosing a wife because they can choose from Muslim women along with practicing Christian and Jewish women. It is nothing to get upset about though because it ensures that the children will be raised Muslim and that he must provide for his children and wife(s) according to the rules which Allah has given him.

 There are many things plaguing American Muslims just as the plague the rest of the population, some drink alcohol, participate in doing drugs, suffer from mental or physical disorders, poverty stricken etc., but there are also the traditional and tribal factors they have held onto since their families moved here. Even to an American Muslim that is corrupted with racist mentality they have learned from family or friends they may see a white person as a slave master and harass them for the injustices done to African Americans in our country's past or they make pick on any other ethnic group and treat them as inferior. They tell us "there are plenty of fish in the sea! Keep looking!" But plenty of us are looking and we don't like the outcome. Yes, there are plenty of fish in the sea but the sea seems to be poisoned.

Those of us who have no preference of the ethnic or national background our future partner may come from may become interested in looking in different areas to try to find something better than what we could find at home. Maybe it's because as women we watch movies that show us love stories that involve a tall, dark, handsome, man and we get a sense that it is exotic and adventurous or maybe we just feel that sharing our lives with someone from a different background could enrich us and make us an overall better person.  We are usually not met with the same amount of curiosity and interest, we aren't viewed as exotic we're just an outsider for them to be cautious and suspicious of. 

In some countries they go as far as to tell their citizens not to marry people of other nationalities even if they are practicing Muslims. They blame wives of other nationalities for causing problems, hoarding money and accuse them of not being responsible, caring wives. They even bend the facts to suit their needs, in this article  it claims that 'most' marriages between Emirati men and wives of a different background end in divorce when in fact you can read and see the number is only 39 percent. For those of us that can do math 39 percent does not mean most, it doesn't even mean half. It was only last year that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia created this law to approve the marriage of Saudi nationals to those from elsewhere. These articles are only a mere echo of the tribalism and traditions passed down through those areas for generations which support arranged and suggested marriages so that society and family can be in control of every aspect of one another's lives. It wasn't until last year that Emirati women were allowed to pass their nationality down to their children, when national identity takes priority over Muslim identity this is only one type of inequality it can cause.

The UAE also gives Emirati men $19, 060.59 from a marriage fund if they marry an Emirati woman, if they choose to marry another nationality they get no money at all. This also creates a divide and will instill a false sense of superiority and pride in those involved because they are giving a reward to those who may be basing their choice only on ethnic and national restrictions. Although part of the money goes directly to the groom providing they don't get divorced within the first year, if the marriage fund is indeed to help a couple pay for their marriage expenses why is it not offered to every marriage whether its with a compatriot or not? After all no matter who he marries he would still pass on his nationality to his children, except for one thing: if they marry an Emirati they can have the false concept of 'pure' blood to boast about. The women are not totally innocent when it comes to monetary materialism either, some families request up to and sometimes more than $218.000.00, totally going against the prophets teachings of keeping dowries simple so marriage can be easy.

 Dubai's own Grand Mufti, who should be very well versed in Islamic rights had this to say, judging from this alone it seems his national identity has overcome his Islamic identity:

'The number of Emiratis marrying foreigners has risen by 10 per cent in the last four years, according to recent figures.
Officials and religious leaders blame the rising costs of dowries and extravagant wedding ceremonies and parties for encouraging “ordinary” local men to seek foreign wives, who cost less to marry.
Dr Ahmad al-Haddad, Dubai's Grand Mufti, the country's most senior Islamic scholar, wants to restrict foreign marriages to allow only Muslim, Arab spouses, and a maximum age difference of 25 years. For men, it would have to be his first and only wife.
In Islam, choosing your life partner is a personal freedom,” the Grand Mufti said at a gathering in honour of the holy month of Ramadan. “But personal freedoms can be restricted for the benefit of the public interest.” 

I must use this quote again because it is the best answer I can find to what this Mufti has said: 

' Islaamic civilization, on the other hand, regards the laws revealed
by God as absolute and unchangeable. What was defined by God as
morally evil one thousand four hundred years ago cannot ever become
morally good because the fundamental nature of human beings and their
societies has not and will never change. Without a solid moral foundation
human society will become corrupt. And leaving it up to humans to
develop that foundation is inherently flawed. Allaah states in the Qur’aan:
“If the truth were according to their desires, the heavens, the earth
and all within them would be corrupted.” '

I don't recall ever reading about the Prophet(pbuh) or  the sahabah saying anything remotely like what the Mufti proposed, but you may correct me if I am wrong. Not only is he twisting things from the Quran and sunnah or changing them completely to suit his materialistic and nationalistic desires but he is also disrespecting and condemning the actions of his own Sheikh who happens to be married to a Jordanian princess as a second wife. Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya are wonderful people who do great things for communities all over the world and they as well as others who decide to marry without boundaries do not deserve to be faced with such arrogance and harmful pride.

When society dictates who we can and cannot marry according to their personal agendas or political and superficial needs it is a violation of our rights as a Muslim. The prophet(pbuh) himself even married across ethnic and national backgrounds, if you are understanding Islam in the correct way you will recognize that was his way of life and therefore it is Sunnah. If you want to do something that is sunnah it is your right as a Muslim to do so and should be encouraged.

As a revert there are more stigmas and obstacles to overcome when it comes to marriage as well. The most disheartening thing I have come across so far is someone saying that the concept of being Muslim first is a myth because everyone must stick to their traditions and their own kind or just do without. By this logic am I supposed to hire a Doctor to travel around with me and genetically test men to see if I can find someone with a similar background to mine? I don't think so. Like a lot of Americans my parents are not from the same  ancestral backgrounds so it's going to be a difficult task to find someone just like me and there are no Muslims in my family anyway so what kind of traditions am I supposed to follow?

‘Do not delay in three things; 1) The offering of the obligatory prayer. 2) The offering of the funeral prayer when the deceased’s body is present . 3) The marriage of a woman when her couple is found’

Imagine that you meet someone from a different place and feel they are the perfect match for you and they have mutual feelings but then everything crashes down when they decide they need to stick to their tribal traditions and you are left alone and hurting while you watch the other person go off and marry someone else and have children. This isn't even an extreme example because it does happen, right under society's nose and they turn a blind eye to it. In their mind they stuck to their tradition and made their family happy, so no harm done. If there were numbers published of how often this type of oppressive abuse happens we'd probably all be pretty shocked, but maybe that's why it's swept under the carpet and forgotten so easily. If it happens all the time should we just get used to it and accept it?

Being a revert you face social stigmas such as people thinking you were just like the rest of the crazy Americans they see on TV before you reverted, and even being a revert itself can cause a problem because some men and women prefer to marry someone who was born into a Muslim family because again, traditions come into play. My parents don't have a long list of things they expect my future spouse to be and neither do I. The only difference between myself and a lot of other reverts is that whoever I chose my parents have to also approve of, this was their decision and they brought it up on their own. I'm just happy that they are open to it and understand and accept that their future grandchildren will be Muslim.

Age can also play a big factor, next month I will turn 31 but for the past few years I have already been the target of rude jokes calling me a spinster and predictions that I will never be married. It is true that men usually prefer younger women but I hope that I will not be overlooked. Considering all the ways society limits who we can be and who we can be with I have no idea how I will ever find anyone! When I look at the world around me it is hard not to grow concerned about the situation and I pray that I do not stay within the 40 percent of women in my country that never get married.