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MANA Conference: The Healthy Marriage Community Covenant

Published

Click here for complete coverage of MANA’s Second Annual Conference 

I thought that I should cover this first, considering how much interest marriage topics always generate!

On a serious note, though, this is one of the more important initiatives that MANA started last year at the First Conference. Some background on this came from MANA’s 2008 “Progress Report” (which in itself was another impressive progress-measurement mechanism that MANA implemented).

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Starting Point

The proposed initiative was presented at the first annual conference. The “Marriage and Family Workshop” endorsed the initiative and recommended that young adults be included in this effort.

Status Report

  • Dr. Aneesah Nadir was appointed as director of this initiative in a currently-volunteer position.
  • The efforts have been focused on facilitating the initiative in the five “SHARE” centers (SHARE centers — in Atlanta, Detroit, Indianapolis, Newark, and Richmond (VA)– are another initiative started by MANA, that consists of social service and advocacy centers, addressing social and economic needs of Muslim and our urban areas)

What is the “Healthy Marriage Community Covenant”?

I have added a photo of the covenant (click on it to enlarge) that was then signed on by the Imams present at the community, who pledged “We, the undersigned, commit our efforts and resources as imams and community leaders to make healthy marriages and families a top priority in our local communities, committing” to the following five points:

  1. Require at least three sessions of premarital advisement/counseling prior to officiating the marriage ceremony.
  2. Organize efforts on a regular basis aimed at premarital preparation
  3. Establish a policy of zero tolerance of domestic violence and steps to ensure its adherence
  4. Organize efforts on a regular basis aimed at marital enhancements
  5. Train Masjid leaders in marital education, advisement, and counseling as well as establish a system of marital education and counseling.

As one can see, a lot of careful thought and contemplation went into these five points, as they span a wide array of what local imams see as challenges in their communities. What Dr.Aneesah was careful to point out was that one of the goals of this covenant was to put an end to “drive-by nikahs”.

Stepping back a bit, one of the underlying themes of the conference was the need to undo some of the damage that has happened in many inner-city communities by various groups of people, each claiming its own authority based upon the Sunnah. And one of the “damaged goods” emanating from some of the movements was the partial decimation of the sacred institute of marriage.

It was in reference to those people who have made marriage a merry-go-around, with multiple marriages and multiple divorces, and eventually multiple children who become the ultimate victims of marriages that never really were “designed” to succeed. And the links in the previous line explain it far better than I could.

The Marriage Covenant also reminded me of one of Azhar Usman’s more poignant jokes in a comedy skit presented at MANA. It took me a couple of seconds to get the joke, as soon as cheers erupted from a crowd of mostly (say 90%) BAMs. So, here’s how the joke went: Azhar talked about how the media makes Muslim men the perennial terrorists, and Muslim women the perennial oppressed gender. Azhar quipped that if you really ask Muslims, it is really men who are the oppressed gender and women are the real terrorists (remember this is comedy)! And then he said how the Muslim man would take permission, looking backwards and asking “is that okay honey”. But if he was a rich Arab, then he acted out the same thing four times in different directions. Well that was pretty funny. Then he said, “well rich Arabs or poor blacks!”

Yes, indeed, polygamy has become the hallmark of certain BAM communities. And it is not polygamy itself that was being addressed in these initiatives, but rather the misuse of it.

I think alhamdulilah, some of the communities (no labels were mentioned in the few lectures I sat in) seem to have already started to make a change themselves in the area of marriage, considering how the drive-by marriages and the products of these marriages is causing the entire social structure of these communities to collapse. Unfortunately it seemed, that at least some of the communities who have the “marriage problem” were not even part of the discussion or the audience. And so I do feel that the only way to help those communities “outside the current MANA loop” is to not let them become “others” in MANA: to engage them, and convey the great wisdom and efforts being put together at MANA to them as well. This is of course a humble suggestion from someone who knows little about the BAM community, and I hope it is taken in the spirit of wider brotherhood.

Some other questions regarding the covenant come to mind:

  1. How will the Imam training occur?
  2. What sort of feedback-loop is being instituted in order to check the progress of this initiative?
  3. While much of the covenant addresses marriage issues once a couple has decided to get married, isn’t there also a need for organized match-making?
  4. The covenant does not specifically discuss the role of the wali. Shouldn’t there be “wali-training” as well (unless it is assumed to be part of the Imam training)?
  5. What about discussing child-support (in the case of divorce)? Isn’t this a problem as well?

In conclusion, I feel that while there are a few questions some of us “outside the loop” have, I trust that the people who worked on this recognize and understand priorities and needs far better than we could. I think no one can disagree that the initiative was much-needed, and I hope and pray inshallah that it pays dividends to the BAM community specifically, and is eventually adopted and disseminated to the larger Muslim community, because the goals enshrined in the covenant have applicability far beyond inner-cities or just BAMs.

marriage-covenant.jpg

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Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. amirah

    December 3, 2008 at 2:20 AM

    salam

    i like this article and i am glad that someone outside the BAM community sees the issues going on in my community. i am a BAM convert who is now married to a wonderful algerian brother hamdulilah but it was a long journey…. one of the biggest issues in the BAM community is the racism from other muslims from the desi, paki, arab , etc. communities BAM sisters sometimes feel stuck because we want to get married but no one wants to marry a black girl. i have so many sisters from the BAM community who all have stories about wanting to get married but not being able to because brothers outside the community look at them like theyre second class citizens and act like they would rather die….. i have non black friends whos parent tell them marry whoever you want just dont bring home a black guy or girl. even with my husband before we got married everyone told him not to marry me because of my race….. so alot of the time we get stuck stay unmarried until you can find a BAM brother or some other brother brave enough to say hey race doesnt matter or become wife number 2,3,4. now i am not saying this happens to ALL BAM or that all muslim brothers from outside the community are like that but the number of people doing this is so serious its been made into a kutbah not only at my masjid( ISNA in canada) but at many other masjids.

    anyways sorry about the rant but i think want MANA is doing is a good idea and inshallah their will be other marriage programs out there as well

  2. sam

    December 3, 2008 at 9:58 AM

    Sometimes i fell that people who have newly found their Islamic calling are more concerned with having four wives and a large family rather than fulfilling their duties towards their present wife and making themselves better muslims so that if the do have a big family they can lead the towards the right path………..May anyone please set this right?

  3. imtiaz

    December 3, 2008 at 10:45 AM

    This was a great presentation and needed in our community. Maybe ppl like Shaykh Yaser Birjas and others can help ?

  4. abu abdAllah, the Houstonian

    December 4, 2008 at 4:43 AM

    bismillah. jazak Allah khayr, Amad. as long as you are bringing up divorce, two more issues to tack on:

    6) will pre-marital counseling discuss the seriousness of divorce in Islam as well as the fiqh of it?

    7) what will the imams, communities, and couples discuss about the children of failed marriages? child custody disputes? guardians ad litem for family courts? outreach to child protective services, especially if there was domestic violence, alleged or real?

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