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.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Society, Nationalism and Tribalism

The first and most important thing that must be said is that if you are a Muslim your identity and lifestyle should be that of a Muslim and reflect the Islamic lifestyle as conveyed in the Quran and Sunnah in every way that you can. Islam is a lifestyle, not just a religion. 

When I think of the word 'tradition' it brings to my mind images of regional foods, handicrafts, and the way our ancestors made their living. Some of these things can be universal such as how most if not all of the societies present on earth have ties to fishing cultures, the only difference is that each area has modified each activity to coincide with their environment and needs. Each culture should be seen as beautiful no matter what region or country it comes from because each one offers many unique aspects that can enrich our lives and we must know that all cultures are equal, the only culture that can be called superior is the culture of the Quran. The things I mentioned above are some of the good aspects of culture and traditions, there are plenty more that can be used to build bridges between different areas including the beautiful  caftans of Morocco, masks from some of the Khaleeji countries that were developed to cover the face to protect modesty, archaeology sites, historical buildings and wildlife areas, etc. these are things we can all respect and take part in no matter which part of the world we live in or what color our skin is.

There are alot of problems in the Muslim Ummah and many of them have erupted because humans have taken for granted the purpose we were put on this earth for which is to worship Allah and Allah alone and have instead turned their attention to superficial things such as ethnicity, nationality, social image and wealth.

' 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.” '

The Quran states:

"O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is the one who has piety"

This is the most widely used example promoting unity within the the Ummah. It acknowledges the fact that we all come from different nations and different tribes, yet we must know one another meaning that we must interact, and have mutual understanding and respect for one another because we are all brothers and sisters in Islam or equals in creation.

Simple patriotism such as a basic affection you feel for certain places or areas is permissible as long as it is not done in excess and does not contradict the moral basics and values of Islam. Society as a whole and the people we interact with on a daily basis all have their own preconceived notions of how we should look, behave and what we should like. I turned on the TV the other day and there was a man who said 'If you don't love moonshine you don't love your country.' So by their point of view I must love an alcoholic drink that is actually illegal to make and sell.  It is true that I come from an area that lists the manufacturing of various forms of alcohol as their heritage and traditions but never in my life have I drank a glass of whiskey or a can of beer, should I start now just to uphold tradition? No, luckily for me I have enough faith in Allah and common knowledge that prevents me from doing things that could harm me even if I'm surrounded by it.

When patriotism goes too far it becomes overt nationalism.

Nationalism is a form of patriotism based upon the identification of a group of individuals with a nation. There are two main perspectives on the origins and basis of nationalism, one is the primordialist perspective that describes nationalism as a reflection of the ancient and perceived evolutionary tendency of humans to organize into distinct grouping based on an affinity of birth; the other is the modernist perspective that describes nationalism as a recent phenomenon that requires the structural conditions of modern society.[1] There are various definitions for what constitutes a nation, however, which leads to several different strands of nationalism. It can be a belief that citizenship in a state should be limited to one ethnic, cultural, religious, or identity group, or that multinationality in a single state should necessarily comprise the right to express and exercise national identity even by minorities.

Because Islam is in fact a lifestyle and it has it's own rules that govern our moral  and social conduct, spiritual beliefs and values it cannot be paired with nationalism because the 2 conflict in every way because they oppose each other in spirit, essence, direction and goals. Nationalism becomes their way of life. They live, breathe, breed and eat in honor of their nationality. Their national identity becomes top priority in their life, it gives them a feeling of superiority and Islam is pushed to the side so they can fulfill the wants and needs of their ethnicity, cultural traditions and nationality. Islam's purpose is to unite us all globally, where as nationalism's goal is to unite only those of that particular nationality and create an "us vs. them" mentality that makes all other nationalities look like a bad thing that need to be scourged from the land. To a nationalist the most important thing is his country, upholding his country's traditions whether they be harmful or not and to create divisions so he can have top priority over everyone else that happens to be of a different national background or ethnicity. The most important thing to a Muslim is his worship of Allah and adhering to the Quran and sunnah. You don't have to watch people long to see the visual difference between the 2 personalities.

These forms of tribalism are nothing new, they have been plaguing mankind for centuries. The Quran states that we do not get privileges based on the language we speak, the color of our skin or our ethnic background. The only thing that can make us better than someone else is our level of sincere worship of Allah.  Islam is a true voice of unity for all of mankind regardless of race, tribe or nation as opposed to nationalism which attaches it's main values only to the culture, historical traditions, ideas and historical figures of its own nation and tries to push others out. Thanks to tribalism even if you are a Muslim it still will not guarantee your acceptance into society because your ethnicity or nationality may be different and therefore you jeopardize their tribal identity.  All too often I see Muslims scrambling about screaming about their identity and how it is being diluted by foreign influence. But are they talking about their identity as a Muslim? No, they are clamoring about  their national identity. I know that my opinion may be invalid but the way I see it if your national identity has become weak Allah is giving you 2 choices, you can either go one way and become a slave to nationalism or you can go the other way and reclaim your true identity as a Muslim and live your life they way it was meant to be.

In the time of the Prophet(pbuh) social status was based on your tribe, race and the language that you spoke.   Arabs used the word 'Ajam' to describe anyone who could not speak Arabic, this word translates to meaning 'dumb'. People were divided by their tribes and bloodlines, a precursor to the racism and nationalism that we see today. Up until the time of his death the Prophet(pbuh) fought against these social diseases.

 At a gathering of three Muslims from three countries, namely Salman from Pars, Soheib from White Romans and Bilal from Black Ethiopia, an Arab named Gheys-bin- Motateba entered and addressed the above as 'foreigners'. The Prophet (s) said in anger: “Your father is the same and your religion is the same, and the Arabism of which you seem to be proud belongs neither to your father, nor to your mother (meaning Adam and Eve are the parents of all of you)". Then he declared: “He who propagates the creed of tribal solidarity or fights for its sake or offers his life for it, is not of us."

Some criticize other nationalities and ethnicities that come to work in their land, accusing them of hoarding resources, taking all of the jobs and money or receiving benefits that they themselves don't have. They forget that in Islam we should want for our brothers and sisters what we want for ourselves even if we don't necessarily have it, and that means everything across the board should be equally available for everyone. There should be no special privileges based  on your nationality or what tribe you come from. People need to realize that their nationality alone does not guarantee their intellect and abilities, and there is always going to be someone smarter and more competent than you and they probably won't be from your tribe at all. Allah gives us all gifts and abilities so we can share our knowledge and work together to build and create great things that none of us could ever do alone.

Abdollah bin Abi, a leader of the Medinan hypocrites was a loyal nationalist, and constantly instigated the people of Medina, in favour of nationalism, saying:

"A few beggars have come to our country from other lands and have become bullies. They are like dogs which are fattened to assault us.”

He told the Medinans:

“It is wrong of you to have made those foreigners partners in your wealth and country. If you stop helping them today, they will flee."

In answer to these futile words, the following verse was revealed:

"They it is who say: Do not spend upon those who are with the Apostle of God until they break up.  And God's are the treasures of the heavens and the earth, but the hypocrites do not understand. They say: If we return to Medina, the mighty will surely drive out the meaner there from; and to God belongs the might and to His apostate and to the believers but the hypocrites do not know." (63:7-8)

Some even base who they marry on the culture and traditions of their area. They will choose someone who is suggested by family or meets certain criteria such as nationality or tribe because they want to please their family and society instead of putting Allah first. Even if they had someone else in their mind as a possible partner they will discard that person as if they are inferior in favor of someone who fulfills the materialistic needs of  the disease that is tribalism. Allah does not care if you marry someone from across the street or from across the globe as long as you are entering the union with the correct intentions and remembering Allah in all that you do and meet the criteria Allah has given us in the Quran.

Some argue that they need to boost the numbers of their nationality by only marrying people of the same nationality so their children and bloodlines can remain 'pure'. They say its not ethnically motivated but only to improve demographics, what benefit are these demographics going to be to you when you die? Do you believe your nationality and ethnic background is going to get you a nicer seat in heaven? By hurting those that are different than you whether it be emotionally, mentally or even physically you're going to find out the opposite is true because you have become an oppressor. By segregating themselves and only marrying/producing children with people of the same ethnic background they are producing children born with high rates of birth defects. Because of these tribal marriage traditions in certain parts of the world the birth defect rates are at least twice the amount as other countries that have more genetic diversity. Since I reverted to Islam and started having conversations with people from the Arab world about their lives and culture I have learned about genetic diseases and defects that I never even knew existed. Should these innocent babies and children have to suffer all their lives with numerous health problems just because their Mommy and Daddy wanted them to have 'pure' blood? Some say that a child born with birth defects is just a test from God because they cannot face the reality that its a sign that you should not be producing children with that particular person because there will he inherited problems and birth defects. Societies increasing their populations based on ethnic backgrounds only see the side Shaitan wants them to see, that they can create a homogeneous society and their traditions and ethnic background can live forever. Reality shows that they are actually doing the opposite and their continued inbreeding and passing down of genetic problems and birth defects will be their down fall and they will render themselves extinct due to their shunning of diversity. Sadly these children grow up to make the same tribal mistakes because society has taught them to follow traditions without questioning them and the cycle is repeated over and over.

And he said, "A woman is married for four things, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. You should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be a loser. "(Bukhari)

This Hadith makes it clear that marrying a woman for her family status/background is a less desirable virtue and that if you do it you will be a loser, yet people continue to ignore the Hadiths and sunnah and do it anyways! The same principals should be applied when women choose a husband but it is all too common for women to choose her husband for his social standing,  his ability to hire maids and nannies and the size of his wallet and bank account instead of measuring the size of his piety and dedication Islam. Khadijah was the wealthiest woman and turned down proposals from wealthy men of her tribe and chose to marry the poorest man, the Prophet Muhammad(pbuh). Not only that she was the one who proposed to him! Because of society we do not see beautiful love stories like this happening today. Can you imagine being a woman and expressing your interest in proposing to a man today? People will think you are crazy and push you even further out of their social circles! You can sum up what what society has turned marriage into in one word: Materialism.

Shaitan will make things look appealing and seduce your mind when he finds a weakness in you. If he detects even the slightest touch of racism, nationalism or tribalism in you he's going to make it so easy for those feelings to corrupt your life and your worship of Allah and following  of the sunnah. Society can also hinder you from practicing the sunnah as fully as you would like, sometimes if you become more religious they look at you differently or talk badly about you and make you feel as if you are doing something wrong. So you start to sacrifice bits and pieces of your faith and sunnah to fit societies standards and eventually you've sacrificed so much that only bare threads of Islam remain and if you realize that you've made a mistake you start to scramble to correct things before its too late.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “Whoever rejects obedience to the ruler and divides the community and dies will have died upon ignorance; whoever fights under the banner of one who is blind, raging for the sake of tribalism, or calling to tribalism, or supporting tribalism, and is killed will have died upon ignorance; whoever rebels against my nation, striking the righteous and wicked alike and sparing not even the believers and does not fulfill the pledge of security, then he has nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with him.”
[Sahih Muslim, Book 20, Number 4555]

How do we wake people up and convince them to leave their idolatry of ethnicity and tribe? How do you convince them that nothing can last forever, the world will end someday and that is a fact. If tomorrow was our last day on earth what good did your fight for your tribe and nationality do for you? In the end we will all stand in front of Allah devoid of our family, tribe, nationality or any material possession that we may have accumulated here on earth. Nothing can save us except our faith in Allah and whether we followed his guidance and instructions while we were here on earth. Every truth will come out, you can't pledge allegiance to Allah and secretly harbor your nationalistic and tribal views, he will know and you will surely be punished for it.

Allah does know how harmful these things are and how they can affect the way we feel in negative ways each time we are called bad names or rejected based on our nationality or ethnicity. Allah is with us and reminds us to stay strong because we are not the ones doing anything wrong, we are being oppressed by those who reject Allah's guidance and in the end they will have to face the consequences for that. It can be hard to hold onto your faith when others that identify themselves as Muslims treat you as inferior or of lesser quality based on their society's standards, to help myself with this struggle I read the following passage every night before I go to sleep:

'We know indeed the grief which their words do cause you: it is not you they reject: it is the Signs of Allah, which the wicked condemn. Rejected were the messengers before you: with patience and constancy they bore their rejection and their wrongs, until Our aid did reach them: there is none that can alter the Words (and Decrees) of Allah. Already have you received some account of those messengers. If their spurning is hard on your mind, yet if you were to seek a tunnel in the ground or a ladder to the skies and bring them a Sign-(what good?). If it were Allah's Will, he could gather them together unto true guidance; so be not you amongst those who are swayed by ignorance(and impatience)! Those who listen (in truth), be sure, will accept: as to the dead, Allah will raise them up; then they will be turned unto Him.'