By: Ethar El-Katatney
I cried while watching a movie today.
I never cry in movies.
But today I cried because I saw pieces of my soul in a movie. It spoke to me. Deeply.
It’s a movie that on some level I was thirsty for. So, so thirsty. And I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was.
I went to a nursery called ‘Tom and Jerry.’ The first song I learned was “Twinkle twinkle little star.” The first cartoon I watched was Barney the purple dinosaur. I went to middle school and started reading Roald Dahl. I devoured the Sweet Valley Twins series. I had a crush on Johnny Bravo. I went to high school and started watching movies like American Pie, about the trials of high school life: dating, drinking, dancing, exc.
But you see, these things were so far removed from my life.
I am a Muslim. I don’t date. Drink. Dance.
The issues I went through in high school were so much more than simply worrying about what that boy thought of me. Instead, I was struggling as the only veiled girl in the entire school. Struggling to come up with an excuse for why I couldn’t go to a friend’s 13th birthday party where you had to “bring a date”. It was a time where I struggled, hard, to balance between aspects of my identity that on the surface seemed contradictory.
I knew no one going through a similar struggle — no family members, no friends. And there were no movies or books to at least reassure me that I was not alone. Like the times when I felt like ripping off that veil or accepting that locket from a boy I liked were normal — that feeling that way did not make me bad.
Instead, the media I consumed made me feel like an alien — telling me that the lifestyle I read about in books and saw on television was the norm, and that opting out of that lifestyle made me a freak, an oddity.
Where were the people like me? In real life? In movies?
Enter Mooz-lum, stage right.
Mooz-lum is a movie that traces the life of Tariq, a young black Muslim American boy. Raised in an extremely conservative household, he rebels once he goes to college. 9/11 happens and lives change.
It’s a movie about faith. Identity. Tolerance. Struggle. Coexistence. Discrimination. Coming of age.
It’s a movie that every young Muslim will empathize with. A movie that showcases the nuances of struggling to fit in. Of the journey we take to find out who we are and how to stay true to ourselves once we do.
And it begins with peer pressure. And family.
Peer pressure is hard, no matter what faith you are. We all want to fit in. No one wants to be different in high school, let alone different in a way that has such negative connotations — “that’s a Mooz-lum name!” laughs the students in school at Tariq.
I wanted to be blonde and white.
I wanted to be like everyone else.
I wanted a mom who would cook burgers and fries. A cool dad who would drive me to prom. Because that is what ‘normal’ was.
Instead, I got parents I loved deeply, but couldn’t understand how they were so different from me. I felt like I was bending over backwards to satisfy them but it was never enough. I always felt like I was failing them.
We are a generation that is just so so different from our parents.
My dad—like Tariq’s—proudly wears a thobe and kufi out in public. I was embarrassed of him as a child. And then ashamed at being embarrassed to have him pick me up from school.
No matter how hard he tries to compromise, it is just never enough, because we come from such different backgrounds.
My paternal grandmother never went to high school, and she got married at age 15 to a 40-year-old man. My father believes I am a spinster at 23 and sees the fact that I went on to college and then graduate school as the biggest compromise. That is the way he is, and that is the way he will remain.
Tariq’s story highlights this beautifully — the struggle we go through to please our parents, and our comprehension that although they may try, they will find it hard to do as Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib advised:
“Do not force your children to behave like you, for surely they have been created for a time which is different to your time.”
At the same time, Mooz-lum makes you feel for the parents — they want children like them. Better than them. Children who will get the chance to do what they couldn’t. And they want to protect them from the aspects of a culture that they see as against their beliefs.
My dad forbade me to go to prom. I’ve never been to a concert. I’m home before 10pm every night. My dad wants me to read Arabic fluently. He wants me to learn the Qur’an by heart. He wants my brother to pray in the mosque. Grow a beard. Dress ‘Muslim’. He wants us to be good Muslims in the way he understands good Muslims must be. And I cannot fault him for that. And as I grow older, the more I am able to appreciate how hard it was for him to compromise, and the more I understand that being tough can sometimes be the hardest thing to do.
But how to make parents understand that culture and faith are not the same?
And how will we raise our own children? Where will we put the limits? How to raise them in a way that they choose to be Muslims? Choose to abide by the rules because they want to? Where do we relax the rules? When do we let them choose?
Do we send them to the schools where they struggle so much? Or to Muslim schools that come with their own kind of problems?
Tariq’s father sends him to a madrasa—a Muslim school where the children dress in thobes and kufis, eat on the floor from one big bowl, and basically live a life that is different from the world outside its walls.
I went to a school like that in Yemen. But I went by choice as an adult, to see what life ‘away’ from the ‘world’ is like, where in no way am I odd or strange. I do not believe that Muslim schools, run by people from our parents’ generation, are the solution. If they’re not run properly, they run the risk of alienating the children. And to be run properly they need people like me, like Tariq, to run them. Who understand what it is like to grow up between cultures and with multiple identities.
But I digress.
The question Mooz-lum raises: How to create a vibrant American Muslim culture? One that is wholly American and wholly Muslim at the same time, rather than neither nor? How to be so secure in who we are and what we believe in order to be able to develop this culture? How to find our place in this world? Where we are proud of our roots and history, proud of our faith, and yet truly citizens of this world?
And these issues aren’t just limited to Americans. We talk about globalization. But the reality is, we’re talking about Americanization. The world is becoming Americanized.
I’m sitting at Starbucks in a mall right now, sipping my tall-skinny-vanilla-latte and staring at a Christmas tree while listening to Frank Sinatra. I just finished typing an analysis of a Harvard Business School case for my MBA class on my MacBook, I’m sending a bbm from my blackberry, and I’m staring at the Apple store across from me and wondering if I really need an iPad, and whether or not I maxed out my American Express credit card this month.
I’m dressed in Levis jeans, Converse trainers, a GAP sweater, and I just came from Gold’s Gym. I’m meeting friends in an hour to see Tangled at the 3D cinema, where we will buy caramel popcorn and then have lunch at Chilis or TGIF. And then dessert at Haagen-Dazs. Then we’ll walk around the mall — I want to buy the new Jodi Picoult book from Virgin, that dress I liked from Zara, and the new raspberry body butter from The Body Shop.
But you see, I am not in America.
I am not American.
I have never even been to America.
I was born in Saudi Arabia.
The mall I am in is in Cairo, Egypt.
I am Egyptian and I have lived in Egypt all my life.
And yet — my identity is no longer purely Egyptian.
In the world we live in today, so many Muslims are going through what I am going through, without ever having stepped foot in America. We don’t have to be American to be Americanized. And we don’t have to be Americanized to struggle as Muslims in a world where religion is seen as backward. Where modernity and civilization seem to be mutually exclusive with faith.
We’re all adrift in confusion. Trying to make sense of our identity, and trying to see where we fit.
As Muslims, we’re struggling to find the balance. Struggling against the loud voices that tell us our faith is violent. Struggling to prove that it is not. Struggling against ourselves and against an outside world that seems to be against us.
It’s so hard.
And sometimes, we slip up. Sometimes, a small little voice tells you:
“Dude, your life would be so much easier if you could just go with the flow.”
If you didn’t have to announce to the world that you were Muslim, with all the baggage and connotations and responsibility that it entails.
If you were just like everyone else.
Tariq decides to be T. To shed the part of him he doesn’t realize is his core. He goes drinking, clubbing, kisses a girl, and decides he doesn’t want any part of ‘it’.
But even when we slip up — the guilt is there.
There aren’t enough words to describe the scene where Tariq recites the Qur’an out loud and tears up. Because that’s what it boils down to — if you truly truly believe, you will not find a joy in this world that is as beautiful as the joy you do when you submit to God.
And that is what makes the struggle worth it — to find the place where you are comfortable in your dual identities, part of the world, not isolated, and yet not schizophrenic, torn apart.
So that was how Mooz-lum impacted me on one level. And partially why movies like it are necessary—for Muslim youth who need to know that they’re not alone.
But the movie is so much more that.
In American society today, artistic expression, and more specifically movies, are the way to impact people. Once upon a time it was poetry. Then it was books. Now, it is movies. As Ingmar Bergman, the famous Swedish director and producer, said:
“Film as dream, film as music. No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul.”
When I left college I became a journalist. My job is media. I live in it.
And I don’t think anyone would argue with me when I say that Muslims in western media are grossly misrepresented, that misconceptions are circulated, and that we have been reduced from rich, complex individuals into one-dimensional representations and a monolithic entity. In 2001, Jack Shaheen analyzed the way Arabs (might as well be synonymous with Muslims) were portrayed in over 900 movies for his book Reel Bad Arabs. He found that only a dozen portrayals were positive and fifty balanced.
You know the drill.
The reality is that media shapes perceptions. And the western media of the world today has disfigured the image of Islam, ingrained misconceptions and stereotypes, and consequently promoted intolerance, racism, hatred, and violence.
According to Media Tenor, a research firm that monitors and analyzes media coverage of key issues
The tone of statements in US television news in 2009 about Islam (40%) was twice as likely to be negative than the statements made about Christianity (20%). Two-thirds of the television coverage about Islam associates Muslims with extremism.
A Gallup study on religious perceptions in America released earlier this year showed that the more ignorant Americans were about Islam, the less prejudiced they were towards it.
Why? Because they were ignorant — they were not exposed to as much media. If they had, they would have been more prejudiced, since the media image of Islam is violent and horrible and oppressive
And this disfiguration of the faith has gone virtually unchallenged in the public mind simply because Muslims in the west have not yet attained a high enough level of comfort in their identities to express their spirituality through the arts, whether that be music, plays, books or movies.
But this is changing. Muslims are starting to speak up for themselves. The New York Times just ran an article this week about Muslim artists who are bridging American and Islamic traditions with their art.
And that’s why a movie like Mooz-lum is groundbreaking. It isn’t a one-dimensional representation. It doesn’t portray Muslims as angels or demons. It portrays the humanity: we love, we hate, we do good, we do bad. And yes, there are people out there who give Islam a bad name: who beat children, who preach violence. And there are those who do good: who call for mercy, for co-existence, who are great human beings doing great things for the world. Nothing is as black or white as it seems, and the actors do a beautiful job of portraying the complexities of the characters writer and director Qasim Bashir brought to life.
Mooz-lum goes deep beyond the cliches and the headlines, to the heart. It isn’t the best movie you’ll ever see. But it’s a damn good one, and it is groundbreaking. Because the only way for us to start tackling the stereotypes is in the same way they are perpetuated: movies.
For non-Muslims, the movie is perhaps more important: a chance for them to hear Muslims speaking about what it is like to be Muslim. To see the nuances it would be impossible to get across in a conversation or two. To see how 9/11 impacted Muslims: In 2003, the FBI created an Arab-American advisory committee after hate crimes against people perceived to be Arab or Muslim increased by 1,700%.
I believe that working in media, creating movies and songs and books that reflect ‘us’ is just as important as everything else Muslims have to do in the world today —reinterpret scripture, properly teach Islam to children, condemn violence, etc.
But it’s a heavy burden, and not one many of us choose to bear — especially those of us who are successful, articulate, cosmopolitan and secure in who they are, and therefore the most qualified to stand up and say “Yes, I’m a Muslim. This is why. This is my community. These are my struggles. No, I am not x, or y, or z.”
It could potentially harm your career. It’ll put you in the spotlight. You will be judged as a “Mooz-lum,” and not as a lawyer, a doctor, an anchor, a teacher.
But it is our responsibility as Muslims. Actually, scratch that. It is our responsibility as citizens and humans to speak up for a beleaguered faith, which lacks the political and cultural power to fight back.
What Does Sharia Really Say About Abortion in Islam
Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice, Islam recognizes the nuance.
The following article on abortion is based on a research paper titled ‘The Rights of the Fetus in Islam’, at the Department of Sharia at Qatar University. My team and I presented it to multiple members of the faculty. It was approved by the Dean of the Islamic Studies College, an experienced and reputed Islamic authority.
In one swoop, liberal comedian Deven Green posing as her satirical character, Mrs. Betty Brown, “America’s best Christian”, demonized both Sharia law as well as how Islamic law treats abortion. Even in a debate about a law that has no Muslim protagonist in the middle of it, Islam is vilified because apparently, no problem in the world can occur without Islam being dragged into it.
It is important to clarify what Sharia is before discussing abortion. Sharia law is the set of rules and guidelines that Allah establishes as a way of life for Muslims. It is derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is interpreted and compiled by scholars based on their understandings (fiqh). Sharia takes into account what is in the best interest for individuals and society as a whole, and creates a system of life for Muslims, covering every aspect, such as worship, beliefs, ethics, transactions, etc.
Muslim life is governed by Sharia – a very personal imperative. For a Muslim living in secular lands, that is what Sharia is limited to – prayers, fasting, charity and private transactions such as not dealing with interest, marriage and divorce issues, etc. Criminal statutes are one small part of the larger Sharia but are subject to interpretation, and strictly in the realm of a Muslim country that governs by it.
With respect to abortion, the first question asked is:
“Do women have rights over their bodies or does the government have rights over women’s bodies?”
The answer to this question comes from a different perspective for Muslims. Part of Islamic faith is the belief that our bodies are an amanah from God. The Arabic word amanah literally means fulfilling or upholding trusts. When you add “al” as a prefix, or al-amanah, trust becomes “The Trust”, which has a broader Islamic meaning. It is the moral responsibility of fulfilling one’s obligations due to Allah and fulfilling one’s obligations due to other humans.
The body is one such amanah. Part of that amanah includes the rights that our bodies have over us, such as taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally – these are part of a Muslim’s duty that is incumbent upon each individual.
While the Georgia and Alabama laws in the United States that make abortion illegal after the 6-week mark of pregnancy are being mockingly referred to as “Sharia Law” abortion, the fact is that the real Sharia allows much more leniency in the matter than these laws do.
First of all, it is important to be unambiguous about one general ruling: It is unanimously agreed by the scholars of Islam that abortion without a valid excuse after the soul has entered the fetus is prohibited entirely. The question then becomes, when exactly does the soul enter the fetus? Is it when there is a heartbeat? Is it related to simple timing? Most scholars rely on the timing factor because connecting a soul to a heartbeat itself is a question of opinion.
The timing then is also a matter of ikhtilaf, or scholarly difference of opinion:
One Hundred and Twenty Days:
The majority of the traditional scholars, including the four madhahib, are united upon the view that the soul certainly is within the fetus after 120 days of pregnancy, or after the first trimester.
This view is shaped by the following hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood :
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إن أحدكم يجمع خلقه في بطن أمه أربعين يوما ثم يكون في ذلك علقة مثل ذلك ثم يكون في ذلك مضغة مثل ذلك ثم يرسل الملك فينفخ فيه الروح..
“For every one of you, the components of his creation are gathered together in the mother’s womb for a period of forty days. Then he will remain for two more periods of the same length, after which the angel is sent and insufflates the spirit into him.”
The exception to the above is that some scholars believe that the soul enters the fetus earlier, that is after the formation phase, which is around the 40 days mark of pregnancy.
This view is based on another hadith narrated by Abdullah bin Masood :
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: إذا مر بالنطفة إثنتان وأربعون ليلة بعث الله إليها ملكاً، فصوره، وخلق سمعها وبصرها وجلدها ولحمها وعظمها…
“If a drop of semen spent in the womb forty-two nights, Allah sends an angel to it who depicts it and creates its ears, eyes, skin, flesh and bones.”
Between the two views, the more widespread and popular opinion is the former, which is that the soul enters the fetus at the 120 days (or 4 months) mark, as the second hadith implies the end of the formation period of the fetus rather than the soul entering it.
Even if one accepts that the soul enters the fetus at a certain timing mark, it does not mean that the soul-less fetus can be aborted at any time or for any reason. Here again, like most matters of Islamic jurisprudence, there is ikhtilaf of scholarly difference of opinion.
No Excuse Required:
The Hanafi madhhab is the most lenient, allowing abortion during the first trimester, even without an excuse.
Some of the later scholars from the Hanafi school consider it makruh or disliked if done without a valid reason, but the majority ruled it as allowed.
Only Under Extreme Risks:
The Malikis are the most strict in this matter; they do not allow abortion even if it is done in the first month of pregnancy unless there is an extreme risk to the mother’s health.
As for the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools of thought, there are multiple opinions within the schools themselves, some allowing abortion, some only allowing it in the presence of a valid excuse.
Valid excuses differ from scholar to scholar, but with a strong and clear reason, permissibility becomes more lenient. Such cases include forced pregnancy (caused by rape), reasons of health and other pressing reasons.
For example, consider a rape victim who becomes pregnant. There is hardly a more compelling reason (other than the health of the mother) where abortion should be permitted. A child born as a result in such circumstances will certainly be a reminder of pain and discomfort to the mother. Every time the woman sees this child, she will be reminded of the trauma of rape that she underwent, a trauma that is generally unmatched for a woman. Leaving aside the mother, the child himself or herself will lead a life of suffering and potentially neglect. He or she may be blamed for being born– certainly unjust but possible with his or her mother’s mindset. The woman may transfer her pain to the child, psychologically or physically because he or she is a reminder of her trauma. One of the principles of Sharia is to ward off the greater of two evils. One can certainly argue that in such a case where both mother and child are at risk of trauma and more injustice, then abortion may indeed be the lesser of the two.
The only case even more pressing than rape would be when a woman’s physical health is at risk due to the pregnancy. Where the risk is clear and sufficiently severe (that is can lead to some permanent serious health damage or even death) if the fetus remained in her uterus, then it is unanimously agreed that abortion is allowed no matter what the stage of pregnancy. This is because of the Islamic principle that necessities allow prohibitions. In this case, the necessity to save the life of the mother allows abortion, which may be otherwise prohibited.
This is the mercy of Sharia, as opposed to the popular culture image about it.
Furthermore, the principle of preventing the greater of two harms applies in this case, as the mother’s life is definite and secure, while the fetus’ is not.
Absolutely Unacceptable Reason for Abortion:
Another area of unanimous agreement is that abortion cannot be undertaken due to fear of poverty. The reason for this is that this mindset collides with having faith and trust in Allah. Allah reminds us in the Quran:
((وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَوْلَادَكُمْ خَشْيَةَ إِمْلَاقٍ ۖ نَّحْنُ نَرْزُقُهُمْ وَإِيَّاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ قَتْلَهُمْ كَانَ خِطْئًا كَبِيرًا))
“And do not kill your children for fear of poverty, We provide for them and for you. Indeed, their killing is ever a great sin.” (Al-Israa, 31)
Ignorance is not an excuse, but it is an acceptable excuse when it comes to mocking Islam in today’s world. Islam is a balanced religion and aims to draw ease for its adherents. Most rulings concerning fiqh are not completely cut out black and white. Rather, Islamic rulings are reasonable and consider all possible factors and circumstances, and in many cases vary from person to person.
Abortion is not a simple option of being pro-life or pro-choice. These terms have become political tools rather than sensitive choices for women who ultimately suffer the consequences either way.
Life means a lot more than just having a heartbeat. Islam completely recognizes this. Thus, Islamic rulings pertaing to abortion are detailed and varied.
As a proud Muslim, I want my fellow Muslims to be confident of their religion particularly over sensitive issues such as abortion and women’s rights to choose for themselves keeping the Creator of Life in focus at all times.
Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians
On Sunday morning Sri Lankan Christians went to their local churches for Easter services, as they have done for centuries. Easter is a special occasion for Christian families in ethnically diverse Sri Lanka. A time for families to gather to worship in their churches, and then to enjoy their festivities. Many went to their local church on Sunday morning to be followed by a traditional family breakfast at home or a local restaurant.
It would have been like any other Easter Sunday for prominent mother-daughter television duo, Shanthaa Mayadunne and Nisanga Mayadunne. Except that it wasn’t.
Nisanga Mayadunne posted a family photograph on Facebook at 8.47 AM with the title “Easter breakfast with family” and had tagged the location, the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo. Little would she have known that hitting ‘post’ would be among the last things she would do in this earthly abode. Minutes later a bomb exploded at the Shangri-La, killing her and her mother.
In more than a half a dozen coordinated bomb blasts on Sunday, 360 people have been confirmed dead, with the number expected to most likely rise. Among the dead are children who have lost parents and mothers & fathers whose families will never be together again.
Many could not get past the church service. A friend remembers the service is usually so long that the men sometimes go outside to get some fresh air, with women and children remaining inside – painting a vivid and harrowing picture of the children who may have been within the hall.
Perpetrators of these heinous crimes against their own faith, and against humanity have been identified as radicalised Muslim youth, claiming to be part of a hitherto little-known organisation. Community leaders claim with much pain of how authorities were alerted years ago to the criminal intent of these specific youth.
Mainstream Muslims have in fact been at the forefront not just locally, but also internationally in the fight against extremism within Muslim communities. This is why Sri Lankan Muslims are especially shaken by what has taken place when men who have stolen their identity commit acts of terror in their name. Sri Lankan Muslims and Catholics have not been in conflict in the past, adding to a palimpsest of reasons that make this attack all the more puzzling to experts. Many here are bewildered as to what strategic objective these terrorists sought to achieve.
Sri Lankan Muslims Take Lead
Sri Lankan Muslims, a numerical minority, though a well-integrated native community in Sri Lanka’s colourful social fabric, seek to take lead in helping to alleviate the suffering currently plaguing our nation.
Promoting love alone will not foster good sustainable communal relationships – unless it is accompanied by tangible systemic interventions that address communal trigger points that could contribute to ethnic or religious tensions. Terror in all its forms must be tackled in due measure by law enforcement authorities.
However, showing love, empathy and kindness is as good a starting point in a national crisis as any.
Sri Lankan Muslims have called to fast tomorrow (Thursday) in solidarity with their fellow Christian and non-Christian friends who have died or are undergoing unbearable pain, trauma, and suffering.
#MyFastMySriLanka Terror at its heart seeks to divide, to create phases of grief that ferments to anger, and for this anger to unleash cycles of violence that usurps the lives of innocent men, women, and children. Instead of letting terror take its course, Sri Lankans are aspiring to come together, to not let terror have its way.
Together with my fellow Sri Lankan Muslims, I will be fasting tomorrow from dawn to dusk. I will be foregoing any food and drink during this period.
It occurs to many of us that it is unconscientious to have regular days on these painful days when we know of so many other Sri Lankans who have had their lives obliterated by the despicable atrocities committed by terrorists last Sunday. Fasting is a special act of worship done by Muslims, it is a time and state in which prayers are answered. It is a state in which it is incumbent upon us to be more charitable, with our time, warmth and whatever we could share.
I will be fasting and praying tomorrow, to ease the pain and suffering of those affected.
I will be praying for a peaceful Sri Lanka, where our children – all our children, of all faiths – can walk the streets without fear and have the freedom to worship in peace.
I will be fasting tomorrow for my Sri Lanka. I urge you to do the same.
Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. Surah Maidah
Are You Prepared for Marriage and Building a Family?
High School is that time which is ideal for preparing yourself for the rest of your life. There is so much excitement and opportunity. Youth is a time of energy, growth, health, beauty, and adventure. Along with the thrill of being one of the best times of life, there is a definite lack of life experience. In your youth, you end up depending on your own judgments as well as the advice of others who are further along the path. Your own judgments usually come from your own knowledge, assumptions, likes, and dislikes. No matter how wise, mature, or well-intended a youth is compared to his or her peers, the inherent lack of life experience can also mislead that person to go down a path which is not serving them or their loved ones best. A youth may walk into mistakes without knowing, or get themselves into trouble resulting from naivety.
Salma and Yousef:
Salma and Yousef had grown up in the same community for many years. They had gone to the same masjid and attended youth group together during high school. After going off to college for a few years, both were back in town and found that they would make good prospects for marriage for each other. Yousef was moving along his career path, and Salma looked forward to her new relationship. Yousef was happy to settle down. The first few months after marriage were hectic: getting a new place, organizing, managing new jobs and extended family. After a few months, they began to wonder when things would settle down and be like the vision they had about married life.
Later with valuable life experience, we come to realize that the ideas we had in our youth about marriage and family are far from what are they are in reality. The things that we thought mattered in high school, may not matter as much, and the things that we took for granted really matter a lot more than we realized. In retrospect, we learn that marriage is not simply a door that we walk through which changes our life, but something that each young Muslim and Muslima should be preparing for individually through observation, introspection, and reflection. In order to prepare for marriage, each person must intend to want to be the best person he or she can be in that role. There is a conscious process that they must put themselves through.
This conscious process should begin in youth. Waiting until marriage to start this process is all too late. We must really start preparing for marriage as a conscious part of our growth, self-development, and character building from a young age. The more prepared we are internally, the better off we will be in the process of marriage. The best analogy would be the stronger the structure and foundation of a building, the better that building will be able to serve its purpose and withstand the environment. Another way to think of this process is like planting a seed. We plant a seed long before the harvest, but the more time, care, and attention, the more beautiful and beneficial the fruits will be.
Sarah and Hasan:
Hasan grew up on the East Coast. He had gone to boarding school all through high school, especially since his parents had died in an unfortunate accident. His next of kin was his aunt and uncle, who managed his finances, and cared for him when school was not in session. Hasan was safe and comfortable with his aunt and uncle, but he always felt there was something missing in his life. During his college years, Hasan was introduced to Sarah and eventually they decided to get married.
The first week of his new job, Hasan caught a really bad case of the flu that made it hard for him to get his projects done. Groggy in bed, he sees Sarah appear with a tray of soup and medicine every day until he felt better. Nobody had ever done that for him before. He remembered the “mawaddah and rahmah” that the Quran spoke of.
Knowledge, Skills, and Understanding:
The process of growing into that person who is ready to start a family is that we need to first to be aware of ourselves and be aware of others around us. We have to have knowledge of ourselves and our environment. With time, reflection and life experience, that knowledge activates into understanding and wisdom. This activity the ability to make choices between right and wrong, and predict how our actions will affect others related to us.
This series is made up of several parts which make up a unit about preparation for family life. Some of the topics covered include:
- The Family Unit In Islam
- Characteristics of an Individual Needed for Family Life
- The Nuclear Family
- The Extended Family
Hamza and Tamika
Tamika and Hamza got married six months ago. Tamika was getting her teacher certification in night school and started her first daytime teaching job at the local elementary school. She was shocked at the amount of energy it took to manage second graders. She thought teaching was about writing on a board and reading books to kids, but found out it had a lot more to do with discipline, speaking loudly, and chasing them around. This week she had state testing for the students and her finals at night school. She was not sure how to balance all this with her new home duties. One day feeling despair, she walked in her kitchen and found a surprise. Hamza had prepared a beautiful delicious dinner for them that would last a few days, and the home looked extra clean too. Tamika was pleasantly surprised and remembered the example of our Prophet Muhammad .
The Family Unit in Islam
We always have to start with the beginning. We have to ask, “What is the family unit in Islam?” To answer this we take a step further back, asking, “What is the world-wide definition of family? Is it the same for all people? Of course not. “Family” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people across the world. As Muslims, what family means to us, is affected by culture and values, as well as our own understanding of Islam.
The world-wide definition of family is a group of people who are related to each other through blood or marriage. Beyond this point, is where there are many differences in views. Some people vary on how distantly related to consider a family. In some cultures, family is assumed to be only the nuclear family, consisting of mom dad and kids only. Other cultures assume family includes an extended family. Another large discrepancy lies in defining family roles and responsibilities. Various cultures promote different behavioral norms for different genders or roles in the family. For example, some cultures promote women staying at home in a life of luxury, while others esteem women joining the workforce while raising their kids on the side. Living styles vary too, where some cultures prefer individual family homes, while in other parts of the world extended families live together in large buildings always interacting with each other.
Layla and Ibrahim
Layla and Ibrahim met at summer retreat where spirituality was the focus, and scholars were teaching them all day. Neither of them was seriously considering getting married, but one of the retreat teachers thought they might make a good match. It seemed like a fairytale, and the retreat gave them an extra spiritual high. Layla could not imagine anything going wrong. She was half Italian and half Egyptian, and Ibrahim came from a desi family. Soon after the nikah, Layla moved across the country into Ibrahim’s family home, where his parents, three siblings, and grandmother lived. Come Ramadan, Layla’s mother-in-law, Ruqayya, was buying her new clothes to wear to the masjid. It was out of love, but Sarah had never worn a shalwar kameez in all her life! Ruqayya Aunty started getting upset when Layla was not as excited about the clothes as she was.
As Eid approached, Layla had just picked a cute dress from the department store that she was looking forward to wearing. Yet again, her mother-in-law had other plans for her.
Layla was getting upset inside. It was the night before Eid and the last thing she wanted to do was fight with her new husband. She did not want that stress, especially because they all lived together. At this point, Layla started looking through her Islamic lecture notes. She wanted to know, was this request from her mother-in-law a part of the culture, or was it part of the religion?
The basis of all families, undoubtedly, is the institution of marriage. In the Islamic model, the marriage consists of a husband and a wife. In broad terms, marriage is the commitment of two individuals towards each other and their children to live and work together to meet and support each other’s needs in the way that they see fit. What needs they meet vary as well, from person to person, and family to family. The marriage bond must sustain the weight of fulfilling first their own obligations toward each other. This is the priority. The marriage must also be strong enough to hold the responsibility of raising the kids, and then the extended family.
How are we as Muslims unique and what makes us different from other family models? We are responsible to Allah. The end goals are what makes us different, and the method in which we work. In other family systems, beliefs are different, goals are different, and the motives are different. Methods can especially be different. In the end, it is quite a different system. What makes us better? Not because we say we are better or because we automatically feel better about ourselves due to a misplaced feeling of superiority. But instead it is because we are adhering to the system put in place by the most perfect God, Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds, the One Who knows best what it is we need.
Each person in the family has a role which Allah has meant for them to have, and which ethics and common sense tell us to follow. However, our nafs and ego can easily misguide us to live our family life in the wrong way, which is harmful and keeps us suffering. Suffering can take place in many ways. It can take place in the form of neglect or abuse. In the spectrum of right and wrong, Allah tells us that we are a nation meant for the middle path. So we should not go to any extreme in neglect or abuse.
What are the consequences of mishandling our family roles? Allah calls this type of wrongdoing “transgression” or “oppression”. There are definitely consequences of oppression, abuse, and neglect. There are worldly consequences which we feel in this life, and there are long term consequences in the Akhirah.
Razan and Farhaan
Razan and Farhan had gotten married two years ago. Since they were from different towns, Razan would have to move to Farhaan’s hometown. On top of the change of married life, Razan felt pangs of homesickness and did not know many people in the new town. However, Farhaan did not realize what she was going through. He still had the same friends he grew up with for years. They had a die-hard routine to go to football games on Friday night and play basketball on Saturday at the rec center.
Razan was losing her patience. How could he think it was okay to go out with his friends twice on the weekend? Yet he expected her to keep the home together? Her blood started to boil. What does Islam say about this?
Mawaddah and Rahma
The starting point of a family is a healthy relationship between the husband and wife. Allah SWT prescribed in Surah 25: verse 74, that the marriage relationship is supposed to be built on Mawaddah (compassion) and Rahma (mercy). A loving family environment responds to both the needs of the children and the needs of parents. Good parenting prepares children to become responsible adults.
Aliyaah and Irwan
Aliyaah and Irwan had homeschooled their twin children, Jannah and Omar, for four years. They were cautious about where to admit their children for the next school year. Aliyaah felt that she wanted to homeschool her children for another few years. There were no Islamic Schools in their town. Irwan wanted to let his kids go to public schools. He felt that was nothing wrong with knowing how things in the real world are. However, every conversation they started about this issue ended up into a conflict or fight. This was beginning to affect their relationship.
Two significant roles that adults in a family play are that they are married and they are parents. It is important that parents work to preserve and protect their marital relationship since it is really the pillar which supports the parenting role. Parenting is a role which Allah directly addresses in our religion. We will be asked very thoroughly about this most important role which we will all play in our lives.
There is a hadith in which the Prophet Muhammad reminds us,
“All of you are shepherds and responsible for your wards under you care. The imam is the shepherd of his subjects and is responsible for them, and a man is a shepherd of his family and is responsible for them. A woman is the shepherd of her husband’s house and is responsible for it. A servant is the shepherd of his master’s belongings and is responsible for them. A man is the shepherd of his father’s property and is responsible for them”. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Islam has placed a lot of importance on the family unit. A family is the basic building block of Islam. A strong family can facilitate positive social change within itself and the society as a whole. The Quran asserts that human beings are entrusted by their Creator to be his trustees on Earth, thus they need to be trained and prepared for the task of trusteeship (isthiklaf).
Asa youth, it is important to make a concerted effort to develop our family skills so that we grow into that role smoothly. Proper development will prepare a person emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically for marriage and family life.
Mona Islam is a youth worker, community builder, motivational speaker, writer, and author. For the past 25 years, Sr. Mona has been on the forefront of her passion both locally and nationally, which is inculcating character development in youth (tarbiyah). Sr. Mona has extensive knowledge of Islamic sciences through the privilege of studying under many scholars and traveling worldwide. An educator by profession, she is a published author, completed her masters in Educational Admin and currently doing her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. Sr. Mona is married with five children and lives in Houston, TX.
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