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The Gift of Iddah

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A part of me died four months and ten days ago.

But, alhamdulillah, it wasn’t hope. It wasn’t courage. And it definitely wasn’t faith and trust in my Lord’s perfect plan.

 The call that changed everything

The call woke me before Fajr. My heart stopped as I tried to recognize the number on the screen. A blank. But when I answered the phone and heard the familiar voice of the doctor on the other side, I prepared myself for the worst.

And the worst came: heart stopped beating, CPR attempted for 30 minutes, no hope.

‘JazakAllahu khairan,’ I whispered hoarsely before cutting off the call. Then I immediately rose from the bed and fell into sujood of shukr. Alhamdulillah.

It was the moment I had dreaded but also a moment I had been preparing myself for, ever since a sister, who had come to visit me at the hospital, had told me the story of a husband and wife whose daughter was desperately ill. Every time they came to the hospital, the doctors would tell them more reasons why she was not going to make it. And, at every visit, the father would turn to his wife and said, ‘Don’t forget.’

This continued for several days, the doctors predicting the worst, and the husband reminding his wife not to forget, until the day they arrived and were given the news that would break any parent’s heart: their daughter had died.

Upon hearing the news, the husband turned to his wife and said to her, ‘Now,’ and they both fell into sujood of shukr.

The hospital staff were amazed, some of them even horrified. Surely this was a terribly sad event, one to be wept over, to be mourned, not to be celebrated with sujood?

They asked the couple why, why had they done this?

And the couple told the staff at that hospital how they had taken the decision to give thanks for their daughter’s life, for the joy she had brought them, for the love they had shared with her. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) had allowed them to love and care for her for all those years: should they not give thanks for this?

And, when I heard this story, I decided that that was what I was going to do, if it ever came to that.

Because, you see, I had no right to bemoan losing my husband, after being gifted with more happiness in 16 years than many taste in a several lifetimes. Alhamdulillah, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) guided us both to Islam and, a few short years later, to each other. My husband’s understanding and patient attitude brought out the best in me, in deen and dunyah. His way was not to command or force, but rather guide and, even, let me make my own mistakes and learn from them. As with those he worked with, his aim was always to support me in fulfilling my potential, because it was that quality that had drawn him to me in the first place (his words, not mine!). Quite simply, we understood each other, we supported each other, we were best friends and allies, as well as husband and wife. It is no exaggeration to say that, without him, I would not be the woman I am today. It was for this reason that I dedicated From My Sisters’ Lips to him, all those years ago: ‘For the wind beneath my wings’. I always prayed that any good I had done would be counted in the scale of his good deeds.

As it was, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) took him after a bout of illness, after completing the Hajj twice (the last time, with me) and having recently taken all his children for ‘Umrah. He died a Muslim, on tawheed, in the land of the Muslims, well-loved by his family, friends and colleagues. Alhamdulillah, some things are indeed a comfort.

 

A deep and terrible loss

In the days that followed his passing, I was on autopilot. There is no time for breaking down when you are a foreign national, trying to complete paperwork for a burial, on the day the British Embassy is closed for a UK holiday. I went through the motions: I Whatsapped everyone to give them the news, I sat on the phone to try to get an appointment to allow his body to be buried in Egypt, as he would have wanted; I stood in crowded offices while my papers were shuffled back and forth, collecting stamps and signatures along the way. By the time we had finally got permission to bury him, we were late: the Dhuhr prayer was in less than an hour. My phone was dead. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to let people know about the Janazah in time. But, by that time, I was past caring.

I observed the Janazah salah from the steps of the masjid and I said my last salaam to him in the courtyard before they took him on the long drive to the graveyard.

Surrounded by my children, my family, my in-laws, sisters, brothers, colleagues and well-wishers on every side, I felt like I was watching a scene in a movie. I played my part well: I was the gracious widow, receiving condolences, comforting others, maintaining my composure, but, in truth, my heart was aching. And yet, through it all, my faith in Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) was undaunted, alhamdulillah.

I wrote at the time: I feel so incredibly blessed. Even in the midst of the trial, as the tears fall, I am surrounded by His Mercy. The du’as, the support, the love, the sense of strength and serenity, are all signs of His Mercy. Alhamdulillah, I accept. Alhamdulillah, I am at peace. Alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah, alhamdulillah is the balm for my aching heart.

The next challenge, after burying him, would be mourning him, observing the ‘iddah.

Observing the ‘iddah

There is a delicate tension in the state of iddah, the mourning period for a widow.

On the one hand, life continues, particularly if you have children or have to work to support your family. Contrary to popular belief, it is permitted for the widow in ‘iddah to go out during the day to fulfil her needs*. The pressures, demands and responsibilities of the world are real and they won’t wait for four months and ten days to be over. Some widows find that family members take over these tasks but, in many cases, you are forced to plan, to look forward, to move on, to face the world. It can be an exquisite distraction from the pain that lies buried deep under the school run, bedtime stories and endless paperwork and deadlines. But it is still a distraction.

On the other hand, your state of ‘iddah restricts you; you cannot fully embrace life, even if you want to. You are not supposed to wear beautiful clothes or adorn yourself in any way. Although you may have visitors and spend time with family and friends, you are expected to shun social gatherings. You are not to entertain proposals. You should observe your period of mourning in your marital home. All this means that you must pause. You must reflect. You must withdraw. You must face the reality, brave the darkness: the ache, the loneliness, the anger, the fear, that feeling of being utterly bereft. You must face it because it will break you down, bring you to your knees, make you feel once again that vulnerability of his last days when you would have given anything for one last apology, one last kiss, one last promise. You must face the reality that this is Allah’s plan for you. And that, if this is so, there must be khair in it for you. It’s there. It’s there in the chance to ask for forgiveness, to pour your heart out, to cleanse, to rectify your soul, to purify your habits, to be ready to emerge from your ‘iddah like a butterfly from a chrysalis: reborn, refashioned, beautiful.

The gift of ‘iddah

For me, my ‘iddah has been a time of discovery, full of challenges, but, equally, full of triumphs. So far, I have weathered the storm. We all have, alhamdulillah.

During my ‘iddah, I have tasted grief, a grief unlike any I have felt before. At times, I have felt a crushing and desperate loneliness, a longing for my love that threatens to suffocate me. But then I breathe, one beat, two beats, and it is soothed: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) sends me relief in the form of an ayah, or a poem, or a phone call or a sister dropping by out of the blue to listen and hold my hand and let me know that it is ok to feel.

I have also felt, as many widows do, the weight of new responsibilities, too numerous to name. The realisation that it is all down to you now, that you are a single parent, that there is no escape from the responsibility, is a terrifying one.

I have also felt the confusion, the anger, the sadness that all widows must feel.

But, equally, with every test, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has shown me the truth of His words: ‘Verily with every difficulty, there is ease.’ I have held onto those words; they have kept me from drowning many, many times.

By His grace, I have felt the love of so many kind and goodhearted souls who have been there for me, sometimes traveling great distances, to take the kids, to make me a cup of tea, to listen to me, to let me cry and to let me sleep for two days straight. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) reward them with Jannat-ul-Firdaws; they have taught me the true meaning of sisterhood. I have felt the love that radiates from my children, my family and from those I do not know a thousand miles away; I have felt the thrill of strength and determination as I continue to walk forward and achieve the goals I have set for myself, for our family; and I have felt the healing balm of gratitude that continues to sustain me.

If it is not improper to say so, I would say that I eventually found my ‘iddah period empowering. By Allah’s grace, I have been able to come to terms with and accept that my husband is no longer with us. I have come to accept and embrace the challenges that this new journey will bring. I am at peace with the decree of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) promises that He will never burden a soul more than it can bear – that alone gives me the courage and confidence I need to meet the numerous challenges head-on. I know in my heart of hearts, with full yaqeen, that He did not test us with this to break us, but rather, to purify us, to lift us up. He has been my solace throughout this test and I have never once despaired of His Mercy. Alhamdulillah, He has never failed to come to my aid in my time of need. He has never failed to ‘catch me’. And He never will, bi’idhnillah.

Alhamdulillah ‘ala kulli haal.

 

Sweet stoicism

Stifles the screams,

Silences the sighs,

Sinks the soul

To numbness.

My heart is too hard to hurt.

My hands, too full to face the sky.

My eyes, too focused to tear up

With wild, wilful tears.

Forgive me, Lord.

Forgive me

And catch me

When my back finally breaks

When my heart finally cracks

When the tears finally fall

And fall

And fall,

Drowning me

And all my patience,

Strength

And fortitude.

When the agony of loss

Threatens to throw me from the cliff,

Catch me, Lord.

Catch me.

Na’ima B. Robert is the acclaimed author of From My Sisters’ Lips and founding Editor of SISTERS www.sisters-magazine.com , the Magazine for Fabulous Muslim Women. Her new book of poetry, ‘Catch Me’, is available on Amazon,  Amazon.co.uk, now. Her support website for widows www.my-iddah.com goes live this week, insha Allah. To find out more about her work, visit www.naimabrobert.co.uk

[Editor’s Note] A free preview of Catch Me for our readers, please use this link: http://sistersawakening.com/catchme_preview

 

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33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Add

    August 14, 2015 at 8:05 AM

    Please fix the Amazon link for her book.

  2. Avatar

    Mummyjaan

    August 14, 2015 at 8:11 AM

    I’m very sorry for your loss, Naima. May Allah grant Jannat ul Firdaus to hour husband Ameen.

  3. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    August 14, 2015 at 2:37 PM

    Asalaam Alaikum

    Such a wonderfully powerful essay. JazakAllah khairun for sharing this.

    May you all be reunited in Jannah.

  4. Avatar

    Umm Abdillah

    August 15, 2015 at 4:43 AM

    Goosebumps reading this. May Allah always cushion your Ieman and be your constant Wali. May Allah grant your husband Jannatul Firdaus.

  5. Avatar

    Aaminah

    August 15, 2015 at 7:02 AM

    I have read ,followed your write up for almost 7 years now and I have loved you all for Allah’s sake. May Allah ease your task,grant you the best in this life and hereafter and accept all your deeds as an act of Ibadah.

    • Avatar

      UmmA

      August 15, 2015 at 9:15 PM

      Aameen ya Rabb al aalameen

  6. Avatar

    Diary of a British Algerian

    August 15, 2015 at 11:01 AM

    I am deeply sorry for your loss, sister.
    This post is amazingly written and has left me in tears. You are strong mashallah & so inspiring. I can’t imagine going through what you went through. Alhamdulileh you have found some strength to cope with your unimaginable loss. May Allah help you raise your children & keep you strong for them. May Allah help you deal & cope with your loss. May Allah reunite you all in Jannah. May Allah forgive your husband & have mercy on his soul. Ameen ya rab.

    • Avatar

      Amina Moyo

      November 8, 2015 at 4:00 AM

      May Allah continue to strengthen you. Ameen.

  7. Avatar

    Abu Fawzaan

    August 15, 2015 at 12:07 PM

    Hasbunallahu wa nimal wakeel
    Hasbunallahu wa nimal wakeel

  8. Avatar

    salma sambo

    August 15, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    May Allah continue to give you more strength in facing the challenges of life, nd may Jannatul Firdaus be his nd our final abode.

  9. Avatar

    Maryam Abdul

    August 15, 2015 at 1:06 PM

    Assalamu’alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh. My dear Sister you have always been a source of inspiration to me and I’m certain so many other sisters. And even now with your loss you have the courage to share with us so we can learn from it. Your reward is with Allah SWT and may He bless you in abundance. May He grant your husband and other dead muslims comfort in the grave and jannatulfirdaus. Amin

  10. Avatar

    R.b.p

    August 15, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    Am currently sitting in iddat and can sooo relate to those feelings?..Allah make easy for you and remember my children and i in your duas…

  11. Avatar

    Ummu Ayeesha

    August 15, 2015 at 7:18 PM

    Sister Na’ima you have been a great source of inspiration to me and many more. May Allah reward you in your grieve and make Jannatul Firdaus his eternal dwelling.

  12. Avatar

    Fazeela Dulloo

    August 16, 2015 at 2:38 PM

    Being widowed recently I sympathize with you. In the grand scheme of life Allah knows and will reward you – patience my sister
    patience Allah knows,

  13. Avatar

    Bashirat Yusuf

    August 16, 2015 at 2:50 PM

    Reading through your memoir, I couldn’t help but stifle back the tears that were threatening to roll down my cheeks; tears not for your loss, but for the strength and courage you displayed, even in your loss; making me to realize that the strength of Islam displayed by the sahabah is very much alive and real. May Allah comfort you and continue to strengthen you my sister. Never look back please, a lot of sisters around the world are looking up to you. May Allah forgive your husband and Grant him aljannah firdaous. Amin.

  14. Avatar

    Fa'izah

    August 16, 2015 at 5:35 PM

    Masha Allah sister. I am a young(ish) widow in my Idah at the moment. I feel sometimes like I am going crazy for being so happy about the passing of my amazing wonderful husband. I miss him terribly yes, but he had such an amazing death one any Muslim would pray for. We all want to meet our Creator and I am happy for him for this test to be over.
    I feel like you’ve captured the essence of this time so beautifully. Someone else is sharing this path and this grief and this strength and doing it in a similar fashion to me. Maybe I am not so crazy after all.
    All my love sister for you and may we emerge from our Idah as you described- beautiful butterflies ready to take on what Allah has in store for us.

  15. Avatar

    Abdia

    August 17, 2015 at 6:42 AM

    May Allah ease yiurpain and grant your husband janatul firdaus ameen

  16. Avatar

    Nafisah

    August 17, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    May Allah (SWT) reward you and ease your affairs. May He grant your husband and other dead Muslims Jannatul firdaus. Ameen

  17. Avatar

    Femida

    August 17, 2015 at 6:17 PM

    Masha Allah sister naima
    Please carry on making dua for all of us for Allah taala to grant us sincerity and the strength to cope like you have in all your challenges

  18. Avatar

    Ayesha

    August 18, 2015 at 5:27 AM

    My dear sister , may Allah azzawajal grant you and your family Sabrun jameel , may he have mercy on your husband , grant him a highest abode in jannatul fidaus and unite you all with the same .Ameen ya Rab

  19. Avatar

    Alpha Bravo

    August 18, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    I just have a hard time understanding this… How can you love someone who gives you pain, grief and puts you into misery. It’s like Islam is the ultimate test of cognitive dissonance: it just doesn’t make sense.

    The reaction of the hospital staff is what any average human being will go through… that’s what human beings were born with: the natural instinct to be devastated at loss of one’s child. However Allah tells us to act against our basic operating procedures. It’s like we were created with these instincts but the test is that who can go against these instincts. No wonder why 99.9% of bani Adam will end up in Hellfire.

    • Avatar

      Abu Haazim

      August 18, 2015 at 12:21 PM

      I understand your predicament. The story of husband and wife making sajda shukr shows a clear lack of understanding of the faith. While people get really impressed after reading these stories, the true ‘Abd(bondsman) of Allah realizes that Islam is not following your sentiments and desires rather following the way of the Prophet(Peace Be Upon Him). If they really understood the spirit of Islam, they would naturally weep as did the Prophet(Peace Be Upon Him) when his son passed away. Allah Ta’ala has not demanded of us not to weep on such a great loss but the command is to not to complain like some people do by saying why me or this was untimely etc. etc. One can mourn but at the same time, know firmly in your heart that nothing happens without the will of Allah and that it has good in it, whether we understand it or not with our very limited intellectual is a different matter.

      I pray that Allah Ta’ala give the author peace and fulfill her needs from HIS vast treasures and grant us all sound understanding of Deen.

  20. Avatar

    Mohamed shiraz

    August 20, 2015 at 2:07 AM

    ASSALAMMUALIKUM KINDLY ADD ME TO TOUR MAILING LIST JAZAKALLAH

  21. Avatar

    zaneera v

    August 22, 2015 at 9:54 AM

    Inspiring Sister Na’ima
    May Allah ease your grief, take you closer to Him and reunite you with your beloved in His eternal Jannah

  22. Avatar

    Mohammed

    August 22, 2015 at 5:05 PM

    May Allah grant him Jannat ul Firdaus Ameen.

  23. Avatar

    Sa'ada

    August 28, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    May Allah(SWT) make Jannatul Firdaus his final abode and may He(SWT) make it easy on you and other widows as well.
    May Allah(SWT) increase our faith and
    eeman in Him and His
    beloved prophet(SAW) and I pray we return to Him witout dirt and in full Faith.

  24. Avatar

    Aisha

    August 29, 2015 at 3:13 AM

    Allahumma baarik lakum. May Allah be your strength and grant your husband forgiveness and Jannatul Firdaws. Ameen

  25. Avatar

    Sumayyah

    November 10, 2015 at 2:39 AM

    May Allah bless you, my sister, and continue to make you a source of benefit wherever you are. <3

  26. Avatar

    Khadija patel

    November 20, 2015 at 3:08 AM

    I too recently lost my husband. I have had to put my mourning to one side and recollect my responsibilities. How to guide my sons in the best possible way that they benefit the deen and dunya. I sat at home for two months and had to return to work to support my financial needs. But shukr that the Almighty has given me strength and health to do this.

  27. Avatar

    Alabi rukayat

    April 21, 2016 at 1:04 PM

    may Allah (s.w.t) grant him aljanat Firdaous inshallah I’ve been reading ur books and u are such an amazing writer and u’ve impacted so many lives may Allah (s.w.t) reward u abundantly inshaallah.wish i could meet u one day.Jazakummullahu khaeran

  28. Pingback: my-iddah

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Podcast: Get Over It: 21 Ways to Say Goodbye to that Haram Relationship and Move on With Your Life | Ehab Hassan

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So you finally came to your senses. That girl or guy you’ve been talking to is not the best thing that’s ever happened to you, and definitely not helping you advance or get closer to Allah. You know it’s wrong, you want to get over it, you want to move on, but it’s just so hard and no one understands you! InshaAllah, it’s all going to be alright.

You're probably thinking that getting over a relationship can’t be as easy as people make it sound.Click To Tweet

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Continue Reading

#Society

No-Nuptial Agreements: Maybe Next Time, Don’t Get Married

marriage
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 “Nikah is part of my sunnah, and whoever does not follow my sunnah has nothing to do with me.”

–Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Narrated by Aisha raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her)

Many Muslims have experienced marriage, then suffered a subsequent divorce as a financial, emotional, and social meat grinder. Some critics have noted the divorce system seemingly exists primarily to benefit itself; the lawyers: mental health experts, investigators, forensic accountants.

They form an entire industry dedicated to extracting the wealth of a disintegrating family, often forcing the middle class or working class into poverty and bankruptcy. All of this happens without any noticeable benefit to society. It’s a self-licking ice cream cone.

For many, divorce happens multiple times. A divorced person who gets remarried is more likely to get divorced again.

While men often complain about how the “family court” system is against them, the reality is that women often bear the financial brunt of divorce. Divorce is more likely to drive women to bankruptcy than men.

After one or two divorces and a few lost years of retirement savings or a decade or more of home equity, another “marriage” starts to look downright irrational. My advice to such people: stop getting married, at least under state law. Get a nikah and a “no-nuptial agreement” instead. Allow me to explain.

Fun with Words

It is impossible to have a meaningful conversation about virtually anything unless we have a common understanding of the meaning of words we are using.

In law, even ordinary words have definitions that defy conventional understanding or even common sense. Basic familial terms like “son,” “daughter,” “father,” and “mother” have state law definitions that are different from what those words mean in Islam or our understanding. Under state law, “parents” can adopt adult “children” a similar age to them or even older, and have the same status as a biological child. In Islam, an adopted child is not the same as a biological child and does not have rights to inheritance in Islam.

In law, even words like “life” and “death” don’t always mean what you think they mean. A living person can go to court to dispute his death, demonstrate he is living, breathing, speaking, and everyone agrees he is the “dead person” in question, yet, he is ruled legally dead. Famously, corporations are legally people and are immortal.

Law is not the same thing as truth.

Similarly, it is folly to conflate nikah, the thing that exists in Islam, with marriage under state law. In different states, rules for who and under what circumstances people can get married can vary. One thing that all the state law definitions have in common is that they are not marriage in Islam.

What is Marriage?

For marriage, there is a state law definition, there is an Islamic definition, and there is the definition that the individual married couple has. Under state law, two men can be married to each other, but three men cannot be. In Islam, marriage (let’s call it nikah to be more precise) is a halal social and sexual relationship, and there are rules in the fiqh that are different from state law.

Under some state laws, “secret marriages” with no witnesses or publicly available registration are part of the law and commonly used. In Islam, there is a witness requirement for nikah. None of the rules in Islam require the state’s approval for nikah.

The third definition is how each couple sees their marriage. It is a flexible institution. To the extent it is an economic, social or familial partnership can vary widely. Couples may live together or apart. They may have one income or two.  They may share the same social circles or share none of them. The variations are endless.

Domestic Partnerships

For most of the history of legal marriage in the United States, marriage can only be between one man and one woman. States started allowing for “domestic partnerships” to give some “benefits” of marriage to same-sex couples, like employer health benefits and hospital visitation.

In many instances, these were available almost exclusively to same-sex couples, even after same-sex marriage became part of the law in all states. However, as of January 2020, California opened up domestic partnerships to everyone, including different-sex couples.

As a practical matter, domestic partnerships are simply state-sanctioned marriage by another name. It is notable though some jurisdictions may have limited domestic partnerships that are something less than marriage. In most states that have it, the same family law system, for good or ill, that comes with marriage under state law is also true of domestic partnerships.

While domestic partnership combined with a nikah is available to Muslims in states where it exists, there is no real advantage to using it.

No-Nuptial Agreements

For decades now, in the United States, there has been no taboo against men and women openly having sexual relationships with each other, living and raising families together outside marriage. Courts have long recognized these people should have contractual rights with each other.

When a man and women live together, those involved may be gaining something and giving something up. So if a man promises a woman something, and the agreement is not founded merely on sexual services, the state should enforce those promises, not in family court but civil court.

Marvin started it all

The principle case that established this is the California case of Marvin v. Marvin in 1976. A couple broke up, but the woman wanted to enforce promises made to her by the man. The man felt such a commitment should not be enforceable because, among other reasons, he was legally married to a completely different woman when this non-marital relationship started. Under California law, at the time (abolished by the time the case got to the court), this was criminal adultery.

No-nuptial agreements (sometimes called cohabitation agreements or Marvin agreements) can be used by couples when they want to have enforceable contracts but do not want to subject themselves to the family court system or the family code. They can include provisions of mahar, sharing expenses, equity as well as dispute resolution processes like arbitration and mediation.

The couple can also document limits on what they agreed to to what is in writing. For example, during a breakup, one party may be able to claim an oral promise the other party never made and potentially have it enforced in court. A written agreement protects both parties and the understanding they had when they entered into the relationship.

These agreements have a broad utility for many different kinds of couples. However, for some couples, the main benefit would be documentation that nobody is under the illusion that this is a marriage under state law. It is a private contract between two individuals.

Example of a No-Nuptial Agreement

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren. Both want to put their adult children at ease that this relationship does not exist for predatory financial reasons – a common fear when parents marry later in life.

Salma, 58, does a nikah with Sheher Ali, 62. They also create a no-nuptial agreement. Sheher Ali is a widower, and Salma is a divorcee. They both have their separate assets, including their own homes. Each has adult children and young grandchildren.Click To Tweet

Salma and Sheher Ali do not plan to live together, which is common for couples their age. They mostly pay for their expenses themselves. They may spend the night at each other’s homes whenever they want but will split time with their separate children, grandchildren and social circles. Sheher Ali pays for joint vacations and outings. He agreed to a mahar. Both agree in writing they did not marry under state law.

Sheher Ali and Salma can still call each other husband and wife, since that is true for them and everyone they know. Both keep all of their finances separate, and each does their independent estate planning where they name each other as partial beneficiaries of their estates as required in Islam. The two also complete HIPAA forms allowing each to see the other’s private medical information and name each other in Advance Healthcare Directives so they can make healthcare decisions for each other.

Legal Strangers

Unmarried couples are “legal strangers.” Doctors won’t share healthcare information. Islamic spouses don’t get an inheritance from a no-nuptial agreement spouse by default. They don’t get things like tenancy by the entirety, community property, or elective shares in places where such things exist. As I described above, though, this can be remedied. However, as I described in the example above, the “legal stranger” aspect of the relationship may be more of a benefit than a downside in some cases.

Some “benefits” of marriage under state law are against Islamic principles.  For example, some state laws that provide for “elective shares” are diametrically opposed to the Quran’s share of inheritance.  Muslims must follow Islamic rules of inheritance anyway, which are different from default state rules, so being under state law is no special advantage. Even with proper planning, the downsides of the “legal stranger” problem still may come up in extraordinary contexts, however, such as lawsuits.

Immigration and Taxes

Another concern is that employee benefits to spouses and dependents don’t generally extend to those with no-nuptial agreements. Immigration law does not allow a path to the United States through the “family unification ” process for those with a no-nuptial contract. Marriage under state law (or the law of a foreign country recognized in the United States) may be the most practical solution in such cases.

In some cases, state-sanctioned marriage may lead to lower taxes. Other legally married couples may experience the so-called “marriage penalty” and pay higher taxes than couples with a no-nuptial agreement. Couples may often find they will pay less in taxes with a no-nuptial agreement than they would if they were married under state law.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

One may wonder, to avoid the “meat grinder” of the family court system, why not just get a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement? It’s accurate that in general, having such arrangements are superior to not having them. These agreements offer greater certainty, though by no means total confidence, on how a divorce would end. There are disadvantages to such an agreement over no-nuptial agreements, however. A big one is that divorce is still in the family court system.

Many Muslim men, especially immigrants, may perceive cultural biases cause a stacked deck against them in family court. The nature of these agreements may make this perception worse. Sometimes, courts treat prenuptial and postnuptial agreements with a presumption of coercion. It is different from an ordinary contract. The family court system is often free to be more paternalistic and make a husband prove he did not force his wife to sign a document.

The Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, which will be worded differently in the different states that adopted it, provides for a process to make these marital agreements harder to defeat. However, the process is perhaps arguably more expensive, cumbersome, and awkward for a couple than a no-nuptial contract. Talking about a prenuptial agreement with a fiancé may be more uncomfortable than bringing up a no-nuptial arrangement and nikah. Without a state-sanctioned marriage, a written agreement is essential. Many people perceive the pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements as both optional and, perhaps unfairly, as a sign of mistrust.

Custody and Child Support

Unfortunately, there is no agreement you can come up with that will pre-settle child support and custody. A judge will decide those things.

It does not matter if you have a “plain vanilla” marriage governed entirely by your state’s family code, a prenuptial agreement, or a no-nuptial agreement. Children are not parties to such a contract. No court anywhere will subject a child’s care and welfare to such things.

For custody and child support, courts in family court will use the sometimes hard to define standard of “best interests of the child.” One Massachusetts family law attorney in a popular divorce documentary cryptically joked that she called children in the system  “little bags of money.” They are often a significant reason family law cases are so profitable for lawyers, mental health professionals, investigators, and everyone else.

No Protection for Poor Life Choices

A good rule to follow is never to do nikah with a person capable of having children unless you are sure she or he can be trusted to raise your future children, and you have made peace with making child support payments to this individual if your relationship ends. If you have a child, you may be suck with a child support order. There is no getting out of this one.

As an Islamic estate planning lawyer, the most important advice I can ever give anyone is not to get a proper estate plan. It is not to get a good lawyer. Of course those things are good, indeed no-brainers, but they have limits. The most important advice is to choose a spouse wisely. If you fail here, there is no law, no lawyer or document in existence that can turn back the clock. A no-nuptial agreement may make a future breakup easier than a family court divorce. There is still no guarantee it won’t be a complete mess anyway. Good documents are never a substitute for poor life choices.

“The Law of the Land”

Islamic institutions like masajid are conservative don’t like taking needless risks, as they should be. Many will not officiate a nikah unless there is a marriage license. They usually will not officiate bigamous marriages, on account of it being illegal.  Of course bigamy, like marriage, has a specific legal definition under state law. One almost universal refrain is that as Muslims we need to follow “the law of the land.”

No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the 'law of the land.' It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is. Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam.Click To Tweet

But what if that term did not mean what you think it means? No-nuptial agreements are in full conformity with the “law of the land.” It is not a marriage under state law. Nobody is claiming that it is.  Limiting nikah to marriage under state law not based on Islam. Recently, the Islamic Institute of Orange County, a large masjid in the Los Angeles area, changed its nikah officiating policy. Instead of always requiring marriage certificates, they will also recognize no-nuptial agreements.

Masajid Should Welcome No-Nuptial Agreements

Masajid should have standardized policies and procedures in place. Every masjid should have carefully considered policies to protect the vulnerable and the institution. No masjid wants to open themselves up to a “drive-by nikah” or other nonsense. One policy may well include mandating a no-nuptial agreement when there is no marriage certificate. There is no reason to believe one protects people and institutions better than the other.

Nikah is a vital sunnah for us. It is not something that should be in the shadows, secret, or something shameful. It is fundamental to how we organize our families and communities. When it’s done right, it helps us strengthen our iman, bring us closer to our communities and our loved ones. State definitions of words should not always be your guide to right and wrong.

It is appropriate that Muslims want to do the sunnah of nikah at the masjid, publicly and with friends and family watching.  We should recognize and celebrate every new couple that has done a nikah in our communities. Never mind the state has not sanctioned it.

The state statute book has its definition, we have ours.

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#Current Affairs

When Racism Goes Viral: The Coronavirus And Modern Muslim Orientalism

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Lumping an entire people together for collective punishment, reveling in their suffering, and sniggering at their food choices isn’t an exercise in science, Sunnah, or compassion. It’s good, old-fashioned orientalism.

In the eight weeks since it was identified, the 2019 novel coronavirus has infected nearly 12,000 people in China alone, 200 of whom did not survive. Symptoms are flu-like in nature, and global side effects include acute, apparently contagious… racism.

Online, in Muslim as well as non-Muslim spaces, social media feeds are sniggering “Eww, you eat gross things! Of course you’ll get gross diseases!” In the midst of this human tragedy, orientalist tropes about the Chinese are being sloppily repackaged as health concerns over the coronavirus, and served with a side of bat soup.

Yes, bat soup.

The coronavirus in question is found in bats, and thanks to the scientific expertise of social media, videos of Chinese people consuming anything from bat soup to baby mice and rats are popping up as “proof” of the disease’s cause.

However the coronavirus made the jump from bats to humans, the initial source of the outbreak seems to have originated from the Wuhan Seafood market, where a number of employees and a few shoppers were the first casualties to the infection. The 2019-nCoV is moving from person to person the same way the flu does, and what a person eats – or doesn’t eat – has no bearing on whether they contract the virus or not.

In an article titled, No, Coronavirus Was Not Caused by ‘Bat Soup’–But Here’s What Researchers Think May Be to Blame, Health.com writes:

“Coronaviruses in general are large family of viruses that can affect many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In rare cases, those viruses are also zoonotic, which means they can pass between humans and animals—as was the case with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory system (SARS), two severe coronaviruses in people.

Initially, this novel coronavirus was believed to have started in a large seafood or wet market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC. But a large number of people diagnosed with the virus reportedly didn’t have exposure to the wet markets, indicating that person-to-person spread of the virus is also occurring. However, it’s still possible that the novel coronavirus began with an infected animal at the market—and then went on to person-to-person transmission once people were infected.”

Being uncomfortable with things you’ve never considered edible before isn’t necessarily a racist reaction. When my husband told me he ate a chocolate-covered cricket once, I hid my toothbrush for a week, but that’s not what’s happening right now. There is a deadly virus threatening a group of people, and the internet sees fit to make fun of them. Why? Because orientalism.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.

Orientalism is the “intellectual” framework through which Western societies create a clear and permanent line between Western superiority and “Oriental” inferiority. If orientalism were an Instagram filter, it would take any picture of any person, event, or thing, and distort its appearance to be “other,” and in some way inferior.Click To Tweet

The inferiorizing feature is step one, because in order to position yourself as a winner, the other guy has to be a loser in some way.

The otherizing is the step 2, and both steps are important because if you say that your little brother is a loser, in the end you’re still family and you’ve got his back. This would be inferiorizing, but not otherizing.

But if you say that other kind of guy is a loser, then you have no common ground. And when the other kind of guy is in trouble, you need only gloat and make nasty comments on Twitter. That’s inferiorizing with otherizing. Orientalism can be loosely translated as US vs THEM, normal versus weird, and local versus invasive foreign, or exotic.

The otherizing of orientalism is so subconsciously embedded in people that it even creates auditory illusions to maintain the “otherization” of the subject being viewed. As crazy as that sounds, everyone has their own experience. Mine for just last month played out as follows. A homeless man approached my window and said “Ma’am, do you have two dollars?”

I smiled and responded to him, “I have exactly two dollars!”

As I dug around for my wallet, he cocked his head and said, “Your accent. There’s something different about it. Something… foreign, exotic?”

“It’s Chicago,” I said, handing him two dollars.

He blinked a few times. “What’s Chicago?”

“My accent. It’s Chicagoan. English is my first language. My accent is from Chicago.”

He narrowed his eyes at me suspiciously, this gatekeeper of Chicagoness. “What part of Chicago?”

“North side, Lincolnwood area,” I said. “I grew up on Devon Ave.”

“Pulaski Park!” he beamed, pointing to himself. “I’m from Chicago too!”

We smiled at each other, basking for a moment in our mutual Chicagoness. Then I waved and drove away, adding his insistence of my  exotic“otherness” to the dozens of other peoples’ who have heard my perfectly flat, perfectly blandly midwestern accent and perceived something foreign. I call that one “hearing with your eyes.”

I have lost track of people who have tried to insist that I have an accent. One woman even went so far as to imply that I was lying about being a native English speaker, that I must have some other first language, because there’s “Something else in there, I can hear something foreign! But you’re very articulate though.”

(To form your own opinion on my exotic accent or the lack thereof, visit the MuslimMatters podcast here!)

Compliments like “You’re so articulate!” or “You’re so different!” give you partial credit for your exceptionality, while still discrediting every other member of your general race, religion, region, or hemisphere. The left-handed compliment has a long history, and follows a predictable pattern. Take, for example, this excerpt from The Talisman, a crusade-genre fiction published in 1825.

In this scene, our gallant, invading knight finds himself unable to defeat the enemy “Saracen,” aka – Muslim defender of the Holy Land. In grudging admiration, the knight concedes:

“I well thought…that your blinded race had their descent from the foul fiend, without whose aid you would never have been able to maintain this blessed land of Palestine against so many valiant soldiers of God. I speak not thus of thee in particular, Saracen, but generally of thy people and religion. Strange it is to me, however, not that you should have the descent from the Evil One, but that you should boast of it.”

Translation: “Your people and your religion are the spawn of satan, but not you. I speak not thus of thee in particular. You’re so cool for Muslim!” Spoiler alert: turns out it’s Salahuddin.

From the crusades to colonialism to America’s chronic invasion of Muslim lands, the misrepresentation of people from Over There is both a cause and effect of policy decisions. Orientalism creates the “bad guys” necessary to justify the “good guy” response by “proving” the bad guys to be so weird, inferior, and intrinsically bad that it becomes necessary to call for the good guy cavalry. That gives the good guys permission to take over the resources that the bad guys are too incompetent to manage anyway, and overthrow the governments they’re too stupid to run, and free the women that they’re too barbaric to appreciate.

One excellent reference on this is Dr. Jack Shaheen’s brilliant documentary Reel Bad Arabs, which summarizes a hundred years of Hollywood’s orientalist portrayal of “Arab Land,” a mythical, exotic, treacherous, incompetent, and seductive place, whose capital city is apparently Agrabah which, in 2015, a public policy poll found that 30% of GOP voters were in favor of bombing.

Another side effect of orientalism is the refusal to allow for individual accountability and the insistence on collective blame. “Western” men who harm and oppress women are rightly labeled as jerks and abusers who don’t represent Western morals, ethics, or ideals through their individual actions. Same for white racists, extremists, and criminals in general.

However, Muslims jerks who do the same are awarded representative status of the entire Muslim population (1.9 billion) and Islamic tradition (1441 years). The perception as all Muslim men based on only the worst of them seems ludicrous on paper, and such generalizations are no longer acceptable to make about race, but are still perfectly popular to make about minority religious groups.

Orientalism enables the belief that Muslims are terrible terrorists who are terrible to their women. If they say otherwise, it’s because their religion is terrible and lying about it is part of the religion too. They don’t deserve their own lands or resources, they’ll just use them for more terribleness. We should go in there and save them from themselves! And also, make lots of predictable, idiotic romance novels and movies in which a poor, beautiful Oriental Female is rescued through the power of Love and Freedom. Because just as violence is the natural state of the Muslim man, oppression is the natural state of the Muslim woman. Miskeena. Habibti.

Human beings can be horrible to each other. No ethnic, religious, or racial group is any exception. The problem arises when individual horribleness is elevated to collective attribution, and that collective attribution is used to justify collective punishment, as well as collective suffering.

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)?Click To Tweet

When millions of Americans get sick from the flu, and tens of thousands die every year, why aren’t we making fun of the weird things that white people eat? Like Rocky Mountain Oysters (which are bull testicles) and sweetbreads (which are bits of an animal’s pancreas and thymus glands)? What about snails, frog legs, crawfish, chocolate covered ants, and those tequila-inspired lollipops with an actual worm candied in the center?

The filtering effect of orientalism means that our weird foods – be it maghz masala and katakat– are quirky and fun, but their weird foods are disgusting and totally cause to celebrate infectious disease.

If the tables were turned and a deadly coronavirus originated from say, Saudi Arabia, would it be alright to ridicule Muslims for what they ate, or how they lived? What if that specific coronavirus actually originated in camels.

Yes, camels. The Islamophobic internet would have a field day with that one. Yes, we ride camels and prize camels and even eat camels – and they’re delicious I might add – but if a deadly virus originated from camels, found its way into humans in the Middle East, and from there caused death and destruction in other countries- would it be our fault? Would we deserve scorn? Would the suffering and death of our people be justified by how “gross” it is that we eat camels, even if only a few us actually do, and the rest of us prefer shawarma?

Pause for dramatic emphasis. Open the Lancet. Read.

“Human coronavirus is one of the main pathogens of respiratory infection. The two highly pathogenic viruses, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, cause severe respiratory syndrome in humans and four other human coronaviruses induce mild upper respiratory disease. The major SARS-CoV outbreak involving 8422 patients occurred during 2002–03 and spread to 29 countries globally.

MERS-CoV emerged in Middle Eastern countries in 2012 but was imported into China.

The sequence of 2019-nCoV is relatively different from the six other coronavirus subtypes but can be classified as betacoronavirus. SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV can be transmitted directly to humans from civets and dromedary camels, respectively, and both viruses originate in bats, but the origin of 2019-nCoV needs further investigation.

The mortality of SARS-CoV has been reported as more than 10% and MERS-CoV at more than 35%.”

MERS-CoV, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome –Coronavirus emerged in 2012, traveling from bats to camels to humans, killing 35% of the people who contracted it. It originated in Saudi Arabia and found its way across the continent all the way to China. So could the Chinese internet have been justified in ridiculing our deaths because we ate camels?

Could they legitimize posting “gross” videos of whole, pit-roasted camels? Could they say it was science, not racism, as they moved on to our other “gross” foods, like locusts and the dhab lizard?

Read more about the Sunnah of the Dhab Lizard.

Locusts and lizards have as much to do with MERS-CoV as mice and rats have to do with 2019 novel coronavirus, but doesn’t our grossness in general mean we deserve our fate?

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.

No, it doesn’t. Making fun of what people eat isn’t science, epidemiology, or the sunnah. It’s racism, and it is hugely disappointing to see Muslims hurt others with to the same tropes that are used to hurt us.Click To Tweet

Orientalism is alive and kicking both of our communities in the teeth — Chinese and Muslim – but to further complicate the matter, there’s the ongoing genocide of the Uighur Muslims in China, and that’s rooted in orientalism too.

The Chinese government has imprisoned 3 million Muslims in concentration camps, a number equal to the entire Muslim population in America. It is not unexpected that some people wishfully assume the 2019 novel coronavirus epidemic to be the comeuppance that the Chinese government deserves for its cruelty, but that’s sad and wrong on many, many levels.

People cheering the coronavirus on fail to understand a few very big, very important things about the situation. I will list them, because the internet is no place for subtlety and these points have to stand out for those who would sail over the entire article so they can trash it in the comments. They are as follows:


  1. The entire population of China is no more responsible for the actions of its government than you are for yours. If you hate Donald Trump, his border wall, the separation of families, the Muslim Ban, cuts to medical benefits, and corruption in general but STILL live in America, then you understand that a great, frustrated, and powerless mass of citizens can have little to no effect on its government’s choices. Such is politics. Such is life. Such is China too.

    This guy is all our fault specifically. So I hope we all die of the flu.

  2. The coronavirus’s lethality is exponentially higher in people with poor health and weak immune systems. Like the flu, the coronavirus is overwhelmingly most lethal to children and elderly. The coronavirus is not targeted at, nor limited to the Chinese leadership for its crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, that is not how epidemics work.
  3.  The spread of Coronavirus – like all respiratory infections – is greatly accelerated through close living quarters as well as poor sanitation and hygiene. The 3 million Uighur Muslims interred by the Chinese government are imprisoned in distressingly cruel, cramped, and unhygienic conditions. Their close proximity as well as population density mean that if the virus makes it into the captive population, hundreds of thousands – if not millions of Muslims – would die. Don’t root for the coronavirus. It does not discriminate based on religion or race, even if you do.

And now we come full circle. When Muslims ridicule the Chinese for “being gross,” they are simply echoing the same racist, Orientalist talking points that labeled the Chinese – and later the Japanese – as the “Yellow Peril,” a filthy, faceless, monolithic mass deserving all of our scorn and none of the individual considerations that we insist on for ourselves.

Given the abuse that Muslims have been subject to by orientalist tropes, it should make us all the more aware of its dangerous cultural impact. We know what it’s like to be looked down on, laughed at, and blamed for our own suffering. We know what it feels like to have our foods gagged at, our accents mocked, and our cultural clothing turned into Halloween costumes.

Worse still, we know, very painfully and very currently, what it looks like for an entire people to be treated as a disease in and of themselves. China has declared Islam to be a contagious disease, an “ideological illness,” and on this very basis is it holding 3 million Muslims hostage. In an official statement loaded with situational irony, the Chinese Community Party officially stated,

“Members of the public who have been chosen for reeducation have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient.

… There is always a risk that the illness will manifest itself at any moment, which would cause serious harm to the public. That is why they must be admitted to a reeducation hospital in time to treat and cleanse the virus from their brain and restore their normal mind … Being infected by religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology and not seeking treatment is like being infected by a disease that has not been treated in time, or like taking toxic drugs … There is no guarantee that it will not trigger and affect you in the future.” – source

The dangers of racism and orientalism are real, and the victims number the millions. Knowing how much damage orientalism causes in our community, we must commit to never, ever stooping to the same ideologies that are used to justify our own oppression. No matter how many bats people eat, or how evil their government can be, people are individual people. We stand on equal footing, equally deserving of respect, compassion, and acknowledgement of our humanity.



The Orientalist mindset that diminishes and distances us from each other strips us of our dignity, whether we are its victim, or its the perpetrator. Such racism is antithetical to the Prophetic compassion and mercy that Islam demands from us as Muslims. When Muslims celebrate the suffering of innocent people as some sort of epidemiological revenge for the suffering of innocent people, that’s not Islam.

That’s prejudice.

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