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10 Tested Ways To Overcome Porn Addiction

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By Ahmed J.

A well-meaning religious counselor once advised me to consider getting married in order to overcome my porn addiction. After no luck giving it up, I considered marriage and pursued a courtship – only to realize half way in the process that I was still watching it. If I couldn’t stop while I was in a relationship with a real woman, who’s to say I would stop if we got married? I knew at that point that my behavior wasn’t just a bad habit; it was an addiction that had a life of its own – I was completely powerless over it and I couldn’t stop no matter how bad I tried.

It’s a common misconception that providing a halal avenue to carry out ones’ sexual needs will get rid of one’s desire to watch pornography. I realized that wasn’t the case for me and didn’t’ go through with the marriage. I turned to religion and spirituality for help, sought sacred knowledge and the company of scholars. I even travelled abroad and spent time studying in Africa; I thought if I’d cut myself off from the world and immersed in spirituality, I’d be cured. People started calling me a ‘student of knowledge’ and seeing me as a pious person because I was around old religious men all the time. Little did they know that I was around the scholars because I was in a far greater need of them than anyone else; were it not for their company, I would have gone completely astray.

Unfortunately, none of this directly helped me cure my addiction to pornography. Yes, I gained beneficial knowledge and I believe it was the blessings and prayers of the righteous that eventually put me on the path to recovery. However, my addiction to pornography remained and I continued to indulge in it by night. The feeling of guilt and hypocrisy only grew with time. I almost lost all hope as I had tried everything in my will to cure this problem. And then it hit me, the most obvious thing which I had never bothered trying, and the one thing that has made all the difference: getting help from another person.

The embarrassing nature of this addiction had meant that I never honestly confided in anyone the true nature of my problem. I was relying on myself to give it up, I never turned to another person to ask for help for this specific problem. Wonderous things happen when you swallow your pride and accept your powerlessness.

I am a recovering sex addict, and here are the steps I took to achieve sobriety from pornography, compulsive masturbation and other unwanted sexual behaviors:

1) Get help from other people

This addiction thrives in secrecy and isolation; you must end this secrecy to start the process of recovery. For years I made the mistake we all addicts make: trying to quit it on our own. After realizing I needed help, I started with the obvious things: self-help websites and online programs that cater to Muslims, like Purify Your Gaze. While these helped me get an understanding of my problem and gave me a guide that I could potentially follow to sober up, it ultimately did not work. Why? Because I still had to rely on myself to stay sober and follow through with the regimes they laid out. Online programs give you access to a web forum where you can chat with other addicts, seminars to listen to and the occasional call with a councilor which comes with a hefty price tag. However, at the end of the day, you are still alone and stuck with a computer and the internet – these are the very things I was trying to get away from!

This is when I started looking for off-line recovery; somewhere I could find local people who I could work with towards sobriety. I started exploring anonymous 12-step programs designed for sex addicts. I was hesitant at first and my ego kept getting in the way; I thought I wasn’t as bad as ‘those addicts’, but since nothing had worked, this was my only hope. There are several 12-step sex recovery programs out there with various definitions of sobriety and cater to different audiences. I finally found one that works for me and I believe it will for most Muslims. It is called SA: Sexaholics Anonymous

SA is a fellowship of addicts who admit to being powerless over their lusts and work together to overcome addiction to things like pornography, masturbation and illicit relations. They define sobriety as having no form of sex with one-self or with partners other than the spouse; “spouse” is defined to be one’s partner in a marriage between a man and a woman. Given this strict definition, most people that attend SA meetings have a religious background. Luckily for me, the fellowship in my neighborhood is made up almost entirely of strict Hassidic Jews! It is ironic that of all the religious company that I sought, it is the company of an orthodox Jew, my current sponsor, that finally put me on the path to recovery from pornography.

In the SA fellowship, I’ve found all that I was looking for in a recovery program. It is completely free of cost and has introduced me to committed people within my neighborhood who I can work with. Since I live in a big city, we have several anonymous meetings a week that I can attend at my convenience; they are held in churches, synagogues and in rented community centers. Most recently, a fellow Muslim member of SA started meetings at an Islamic community centre as well. The program has forced me to physically get out of the isolation of my dark room and has given me a support network of some incredible people I can rely on. SA has worked for me, and the remaining wisdoms I share below will be based on my experiences in the program.

2) Find a sponsor and call them daily

A sponsor is someone who holds you accountable for your sobriety and helps you work through the 12-steps. Two months of attending weekly SA meetings, I found they alone were not helping me stay sober. I had to find someone who I would commit to working the program and building a personal relationship. In SA meetings, senior members who’ve accumulated decent sobriety usually volunteer to take on new members. If you choose not to join SA, find someone from your social circle you can rely on: this can be a friend, Imam, spouse, family member etc. I highly recommend getting the White Book and Step-into-Action and working through these with your sponsor.

In early stages of your recovery, you must call your sponsor every day to check-in with them. Checking in means to give them a call and let them know how you’re holding up that day and if you’ve stayed sober. If you’ve lost sobriety, you MUST tell them what happened. You can’t recover unless you start being honest. Your sponsor is supposed to talk you through what triggered you and figure out how to avoid it again. If you don’t share with them that you acted out, you’ll never recover. This step of sharing with another human being my darkest secret was the hardest thing for me to do – and it is the one thing that helped me stay sober. Every time I wanted to act out, I would think about the embarrassing experience of telling my sponsor that ‘I did it again’. I could no longer keep acting out in secret; this crucial change has made all the difference for me.

3) Set a sobriety date and take it one day at a time

SA’s matra of being sober is: one day at a time. It is one of the most powerful concepts I have found in my recovery. While we must intend that our long-term goal is to give up pornography for good, as someone who’s deeply addicted, it is foolish to set a ‘quit date’ where you decide to give it all up and pretend like you’ll never return to it. Truth be told, our claim of quitting is often insincere because part of us can’t bear the thought of never watching porn again. I pretty much vowed never to return to porn on a weekly basis for seven years; I would relapse with a far greater sense of guilt and depression every time because I felt I had betrayed a promise I made to God. Forever seems too long for us and never is just too hard. Like they say in SA, ‘Stopping is easy. Staying stopped is the hard part’.

Taking it ‘one day at time’ means your goal is to stay sober for just one day – only 24 hours. No long-term sobriety targets of going for two weeks, a month or six months without porn. You just have to stay sober for a day. At the end of the 24 hours you are free to choose: do you want to stay sober for another 24 hours or no? If you decided yes, then you put your energy into staying sober for another 24 hours. Going through the daily sobriety renewal with your sponsor during your daily call is an excellent practice. The practice of taking it one day at a time means you’re never under the illusion that you ‘quit porn’. You’re always on thin ice and you’ll fall right back to where you started if you don’t actively work on taking care of yourself. To track your progress, you should set a ‘sobriety date’. This is the date you last acted out and it should be renewed every time you relapse. With God’s grace, you will see that the period of time between each relapse will grow longer and longer as you progress in your recovery.

4) Define Sobriety: Don’t try to separate pornography and masturbation

One of the biggest mistakes I was making when trying to give up porn on my own was that I defined staying sober as ‘staying away from porn’. But porn and masturbation are inherently related for most addicts – one eventually leads to the other. Masturbation is always accompanied with lustful fantasizing which either leads to pornography or other forms of unwanted sexual behavior. You should instead use the following definition: staying sober means no sex with one-self or others except the spouse. This technically means you could watch porn and stay ‘sober’ but that is just being dishonest and there is only so long before you end up masturbating. If you are the rare breed that is only addicted to watching porn (and not masturbating), you should modify your sobriety definition with your sponsor to include pornography in it as well.

5) Read this prayer when lustful thoughts come to you

One of the spiritual sages I met advised me to recite the following prayer of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him):

O Ever-Living, O Sustainer! I call upon Your mercy for and I seek refuge from Your punishment. Rectify all my affairs and do not entrusts me to myself or to any of Your creation for even the blink of an eye. 

Yā Ḥayyu yā Qayyūm, bi-raḥmatika astaghīth, wa min ʿadhābika astajīr, aṣliḥ lī shaʾnī kullah, wa lā takilnī ilā nafsī wa lā ilā aḥadan min khalqika ṭarfata ʿayn.

Another very useful prayer is the following:

My Lord! I seek Your protection against the insinuations of the devils and I seek your protection against them approaching me. (23:97-98)

I recite these repeatedly whenever I am triggered or lustful thoughts enter my mind. I have found consistently that these thoughts go away and I get distracted by something else after reading the prayers. These prayers can be found in many collections of daily supplications. I personally recite it from the collection of Imam al-Haddad called Wird-al-Latif. If you don’t already have a routine of reciting supplications, I highly recommend incorporating this collection in your daily routine. It has all the important prayers the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) advised for daily recital and takes only a few minutes to complete.

6) Install the K9 Web Filter on your computer

Of all the filters I experimented with, this is the most effective one and comes free of cost. I installed it on my machine, set a jumbled-up password I couldn’t remember and then put my parents email as the recovery account. There’s no way I am calling them in the middle of the night to recover my password; the time I am usually most vulnerable.

7) Your smart phone has to go; ideally, the internet in your house too

I resisted this for the longest time; I thought I could manage to hold onto my smart phone. I tried all kinds of filters, locks and productivity applications. I would find a loop hole every time and ultimately realized that my sobriety mattered far more than being able to use google maps, check my emails or respond to WhatsApp groups. Plus, these phones provide access to non-pornographic material such as YouTube and Instagram which can act as triggers. So, the smart phone went away and I got an old-fashioned phone (I managed to find one with a keyboard) which I only use to make old-fashioned phone calls. After I made progress in my recovery, I only allowed myself a smart phone at work and I still only use the non-smart phone when at home.

In addition, for the first several months into the program I did not have internet at my house. It was challenging but necessary, as I simply couldn’t be alone with the internet at that time. My house then became a safe space and I was completely off the grid: no internet, no smart phones and no distractions. After accumulating some sobriety, I did allow myself cable internet. However, I still don’t have a Wi-Fi connection at home as I fear I might use handheld devices to act out.

8) Stop feeding your lust

‘I’ll act out this one last time and get it out of my system so I can focus again’, this was a common justification I would use to give into my cravings. There’s no ‘one last time’. The more you feed your lust, the stronger the cravings will be the next time the temptation returns. Imam Busiri’s words in his famous Burda are the best piece of advice in this case:

Don’t attempt to break the desires by indulging in disobedience

For food only strengthens a glutton’s craving

The self is like a child -if you leave it, it will grow up

wanting to suckle

But if you wean it, it will lose its desire for the breast

Once you stop feeding your lust through hardcore porn and masturbation, you will incline towards feeding it using other means. This could include activities such as: voyeurism, stalking people both off-line and on social media, engaging in virtual sex and fantasy, watching ‘softcore’ material, visiting strip clubs and seeking out illicit relationships. So, after getting a degree of sobriety from the hardcore pornographic material, you must slowly work towards achieving sobriety of the mind by eliminating these behaviors. If you don’t fix these, you will slowly fall back into the hardcore material and will return to square one.

9) Work on purifying your heart and removing your character defects

Attaining physical sobriety is only the beginning of the recovery process. Years of exposure to pornography has deeply damaged our hearts and spirits. We have to purify our hearts by increasing our zikr and prayers on the Prophet. Like other forms of addiction, the nature of this problem has only intensified our preexisting poor character. We must confront our selfishness, dishonesty, pride, anger, inconsiderateness and arrogance. Steps 4 to 9 of the program our designed to help us take a moral inventory of our actions, address our shortcomings and make amends with those we’ve wronged. This is the heart of recovery; so be sure to work through these steps slowly and carefully with your sponsor.

10) Don’t be fooled by early success; sobriety is a lifelong commitment.

Once I attainted some decent sobriety, I stopped going to meetings and working the program. Why put all that effort in when I no longer watch porn? I could go on for months without watching it now. I thought I was ‘cured’. All I had to do now was just get married and I won’t have to work so hard on staying celibate.

So, I went out looking for a spouse again thinking I was cured. I relaxed the strict rules I had imposed on myself, allowed myself masturbation periodically and stopped keeping track of my sobriety date. I soon realized after going ‘out there’ that getting married isn’t a simple business and it doesn’t just happen with the snap of a finger. I grew frustrated, I stopped taking care of my recovery and slowly but surely, I fell right back to the dark place where I started. For us addicts, ‘reduction’ is simply not an option – we allow ourselves ‘one drink’ and that’s enough to get us back to square one.

Don’t make that mistake. I had to pick myself up again, recommit to sobriety and started taking active care of myself. While reasons for committing to sobriety are obvious when your life is out of control, this becomes more challenging as you progress and your temptations are not as intense as they used to be. I am sober today for different reasons. I am sober because I’ve come to accept that I might never be ‘cured’ and I need to keep track of my sobriety to ensure I don’t go back to where I started. I am sober because I know it takes time to find the right person and I must learn to control my desires – lest I rush into a marriage for lowly reasons. More importantly, it is because I realize I have to exercise control over my lust even after marriage. I am no longer under the illusion that marriage is some form of unrestricted access to sex which will satiate all my base desires. If I can’t control my desires as a single person, I won’t be able to control them after marriage either and will end up engaging in sexually unwanted behaviors. Ultimately, my sobriety is for God’s sake and to earn His pleasure – these practical reasons outlined are simply a functional tool, for those of us weak in faith, to make the connection to our motivation more accessible.

My fellow addicts, don’t give up on your recovery. Sobriety is possible and it is a beautiful thing; I am living proof of that. Follow what I have outlined above and you will see that change is in fact possible. It will take time: I spent seven years struggling on my own and have been on the SA program for almost three years now with real results. Don’t make the mistakes I made; get help and work with someone to overcome this sick addiction. There’s hope for all of us and with God’s help, all is possible. I remind myself of the words of Imam Busiri when I am short on hope, I pray you find comfort in them as well:

O soul, do not become despondent due to your grievous sins –

When God forgives, even mortal sins become mere blunders.

Perhaps the mercy of my Lord when handed out,

Would be distributed in proportion to one’s sins.

My Lord! Don’t make my hope in you deterred,

And don’t leave my expectations unfulfilled!

Ahmed J. is a porn addict in recovery and a member of Sexaholics Anonymous. He blogs about his experiences in recovery at Jihad Against Porn

 

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ahmed J.

    February 28, 2018 at 2:29 PM

    Aslamalaykum
    Thank you to MM for publishing this; truly grateful. The Arabic versions of the dua’s above were left out, so I’ve included them below:

    1)
    يا حي يا قيوم برحمتك أستغيث ومن عذابك أستجير أصلح لي شأني كله ولا تكِلني إلى نفسي ولا إلى أحد من خلقك طرفة عين.
    2) From Surah Mu’minun:97
    رَّبِّ أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ هَمَزَاتِ الشَّيَاطِينِ
    وَأَعُوذُ بِكَ رَبِّ أَن يَحْضُرُونِ

  2. Avatar

    Ismail

    March 1, 2018 at 5:08 PM

    This is such a powerful piece. May Allah reward you. Ameen. I will be sharing this with a client I know struggling with this issue.

  3. Avatar

    nochance?

    March 3, 2018 at 3:27 AM

    Salam

    Jazak Allah khair for this brilliant piece.
    I am a porn addict and also have weed and cigarette problem. Just to give a quick background about me. I come from a religious family. I memorised Quran by the age of 16. I have 2 degrees and currently working within the health care profession, Alhamdu Lillah.
    My journey to recovery has been slightly different from you and I wanted to share them. I was introduced to “nofap” 4 years ago and that was when I first realised that I could give this up.
    My first attempt at recovery ended with a “streak” of 450 days. During this period, for the first time in my life, I shared my troubles with my family and friends. To no surprise, a lot of brothers / cousins / friends were also stuck. And without even realising, we had created a small kind of support group, where I had apparently assumed a mentor type role.
    After my first big relapse, for many months, I struggled to gain a foot hold and found myself in long abstinence-relapse-binge cycles. I realised this “streak” chasing was becoming quite destructive. I moved on to tracking my behaviour on spreadsheet format. This is without a doubt a much better tool where the idea of taking it one day at a time can be applied.
    I have been tracking my weed, cigarettes and porn habits for the past two years and alhamdu lillah have seen a massive drop. For example I have not smoked a cigarette in 18 months. 620 days have been free of porn and 14 months free of weed. Those bad behaviours have been replaced with reading books, praying namaz, planning, reading Quran, journaling and building on my relationship with Allah and the people who are important to me. Ultimately, this is the difference between abstinence and recovery.
    One major paradigm shift for me was that Porn was NOT the cause of my problems – it was simply a symptom of the deep spiritual and emotional problems I had. Its always a sign that I am not dealing with my internal problems and I am trying to run away instead of addressing the pains of my heart. It is for this reason that I stopped hating porn. I then found myself not blaming porn for my problems. I became responsible. I understood my weakness. I found that I was able to cry again to my Lord and be weak in front of Him and ask Him for guidance. I could be weak in front of my family and I found nothing but love and support. I have experienced this to such a level that I now truly know the only way to facilitate other peoples recovery is through love and support.
    Years and years of addiction cannot be cured over a few days or weeks. It takes a long time to form new habits and relationships. It takes a lot of mistakes. But a much better life is possible, where a person can be much closer to their heart and of course their Creator.

  4. Avatar

    An

    March 4, 2018 at 7:36 PM

    Thank you for writing and sharing this. The information here will help many people.

  5. Avatar

    Mohammed

    April 15, 2018 at 10:23 AM

    Asalam alaikum wa rahmatullah,

    I am on the same boat as the author. Online programs especially the likes of purify your gaze never worked me. 12 steps are working for me as the sobriety definition coincides with the islamic definition of sobriety. I had to travel from India to Canada to seek face to face meetings as the virtual meetings were not helping me as I still had to use Internet.

    I want to remind you of the tradition that we never identify ourselves publicly with SA in press, TV and films, nor does anyone speak for SA.

    It would be better if this article was posted as “Anonymous” or by a guest. I’d request MM to not identify the author as member of SA.

  6. Avatar

    SY

    June 7, 2018 at 4:30 AM

    Salam Ahmed,
    Please tell me how you can use 2 cellphones wo paying for another line, I’m really interested in that.

  7. Avatar

    Pandit

    July 28, 2018 at 4:26 AM

    Thank you for this!!

  8. Avatar

    Joe

    November 26, 2018 at 10:23 AM

    I understand that adiction exists and so bad habits, I had a bad habit of watching porn a lot, I’m sure that there are levels of it, and for deferent people it will take deferent approaches to get rid of it, the way I did deal with it was with replacing the bad habits with good ones, I started exercising very important, reading very good for you, and making new friends perfect to keep yourself busy, and just like that the bad habit of porn was replaced with good and very useful new habits.
    If anyone needs help or more advice I’ll be happy to help.

  9. Avatar

    Michael

    January 23, 2019 at 10:12 AM

    I know the Muslims have their differences on Mutah, but once I discovered it, that works fine for me. This is good advice starting out, but I believe we should seek something real even if its short term.

    It would be nice to see a strong anti porn movement coming from the Muslim community, like actually to bring pornography to an end.

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#Life

Like Tinder, But Safer: Troubleshooting Arranged Muslim Marriage

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Like many people in my mid-20s, I approached my parents about getting married and initially chose to use a more traditional route. That is to say, creating a resume – or biodata – and sending it to matchmaker aunties. I wanted this approach because I wanted to be able to balance my American, Desi, and Muslim identities. I wanted things to be done in a halal way with my parent’s knowledge. However, over the past 2 years, my experience with the process has left me jaded.

Before I continue, I want to preface with two things. The first is that my parents are wonderful. We’ve butted heads, but I recognize that they are doing what they think is best, via a method that they’re used to. Providing critical feedback of the method should not be taken as critical to my parents.

The second is that while I have critical feedback, I am not intending to discredit the entire process. Meeting people through family is hardly a bad thing, and maybe what some people need. It is very possible that I will still end up using this process. That said, there are changes that need to be made, especially in the modern world. I want to make sure that my younger brothers and sisters can get an idea of what the process is, and what they’re in store for.

Superficiality

The biodatas that we send and receive are inherently superficial. They are, in total, the person’s education/career, info on their parents and extended family, and pictures. There’s nothing written about the person’s personality barring, perhaps, a few sentences about their interests. This doesn’t provide any real depth of information about the other person at all.

Then there is the emphasis that is placed on the pictures. It is important to acknowledge that physical attraction plays a role in all of this. I think one of my early mistakes was that I was trying to pretend it didn’t matter at all, and that’s not reasonable for a marriage. The problem, however, is that given the lack of personal detail in the written part of the bio-data, we are left with the photo being the most personal piece of information presented. Unless you really care about where a person’s grandfather went to University in the 1940’s, that photo ends up being the most important thing you’re making your choice on.

Like “Tinder, but safer,” a friend said to me, as I explained how these situations played out. That’s not far off from how the experience played out for me. We’re not given much time to make a decision on the bio-data, so the result is the superficial, un-Islamic swipe based on attractiveness alone.

How many times have I heard, “Oh, she’s too fat,” or “Oh, she’s too short,” or “Too tall,” or “She’s pretty dark isn’t she?” Bengali speakers will recognize the word “moyla,” [dirty] used to describe women who are slightly darker, which is terribly problematic.

It’s not just that women are being chosen based on their looks alone, but on top of that, they’re being held to Eurocentric notions of what is deemed attractive. We’re all being held hostage to a standard designed by and for an entirely different race of people, and I have been told that it would be weird for me to be attracted to a darker-skinned woman because in the minds of many, dark skin is undesirable.

The superficiality is worse for women, but even as a guy I felt it. I’m fine with how I look, but you can only hear, “Oh, your face looks weird in that picture,” or, “He’s not tall enough,” so many times before it starts to mess with you. Men face another superficial judgment as well: the problem with men being reduced to their ability as moneymakers. I’m a graduate student and there are people in my class who have a spouse and children and are making it by just fine on the stipend we receive. But, inevitably, it will come up that I’m not making tons of money, so how can I support a family? While recognizing that men do have an Islamic responsibility to financially support their families, it troubles me that the process boils men down to one thing and one thing only – money, and not just having enough of it, but lots of it.

Age

I’m relatively young, 27 in May, and so when I started this process two years ago, I told my parents that I was willing to go +/- 3 years, just because I thought that would be a good range to encompass people I’d have some similarities with. However my prospect of an older wife – even a day older – was rejected with quite some vigor. I’ve been disqualified from matching with some women because they were born just a couple of months before I was.

The majority of the biodatas sent to me are of women still in college, between the ages of 19 and 22. It doesn’t matter when I say that’s too young, or how that I feel like I’d be taking advantage of someone who hasn’t fully grown up yet. I get told that I’m wrong.

Do you know how many random aunties and uncles have told me that a 7-8 year age gap is necessary to make a marriage work because otherwise, the women “will demand too much?” It’s shocking that I’m being told specifically that I need a wife young enough to be manipulated and shaped to my desires. When I push back on this, I’m, again, told that I’m weird.

I’m being constantly told to reconsider my age preferences as if wanting to marry a woman in her mid-20’s is a weird thing to do when I myself am in my mid-20’s. The sheer number of times I face this makes me think it’s an inherent flaw in how our cultures think, and not something unique to my situation. This is to say nothing of the fact that people will, to our face, tell me (26) that I’m too young for marriage, but my sister (25) is rapidly passing her expiration date.

Race

As a Bengali man, I have no problem marrying a woman of Bengali descent, but it’s annoying that even in 2020, it’s seen as a taboo to marry outside of your race in Desi culture. I personally have had it conceded to me, that if I choose an Indian or Pakistani woman on my own, that might be ok, but nothing else. Not an Arab. Certainly not someone with (black) African descent. And a white/Hispanic/black convert would cause a genuine scandal.

And even this concession is not universal, as there are many Bengali parents I know who will not let their child marry anyone outside of their own culture. Even when people have pushed through it and married outside of their ethnic backgrounds, there is still gossip and concern as to how the parents could “let this happen.”

Going into this I thought, “Well, all I have to do is show a few videos from Imams talking about how inter-racial marriages shouldn’t be taboo for Muslims,” but it doesn’t matter how many of these clips I show, it falls on deaf ears.

I understand the concern of losing culture and heritage to life in the West, I get it. But if I want to teach my kids about their Bengali roots I can do that with a wife of any background, and if I don’t want to teach them, having a Bengali wife isn’t going to make me any more likely to do so.

Ultimately, the feeling I get is that the older generation wants in-laws who they can go and have chai and gossip with, to do traditional things they saw their parents do with their in-laws. And again, while I empathize with the desire to do something familiar, this seems like an unhealthy reason to dictate why your children can’t marry someone from another race or culture.

Classism

I understand that families need to mesh and that it makes things easier if there are similarities that exist. However, in what world am I reading a biodata and seeing what a woman’s uncle does for a living, and then deciding that she’s marriage material?

It doesn’t work for me that way, but it works on the minds of the older generation, and there are even ways of working the class distinction to your advantage. Uncles in the community have actually told me that marrying into a “lower class” may be good if you want someone to be subservient to you because they’re thankful you brought them to your status. But they’ve also told me that marrying a “higher-class” woman isn’t bad either, because a rich father-in-law could have its perks. Caveat- beware of them being snobby with you, since you may be expected to be thankful, subservient one instead.

I can’t even wrap my head around what people are talking about here, but it’s yet another factor that I end up having to deal with during this process.

Religion

I want a wife who cares about the deen and prays 5 times a day, and I want this not to be a controversial take.

I have been told that’s unrealistic. Literally a couple of weeks ago, an auntie told my sister that ‘modern women’ do not pray regularly and so I should not expect that in a future wife. She said this, of course, to my sister who is both a modern woman and someone who prays five times a day without fail.

It’s crazy to be told that I’m being too picky because I want a wife who already has her religious-ness established. I have been told, by both aunties and uncles, that it’s better for me to marry a wife who isn’t too religious yet so that I can shape her deen. This isn’t about mutual growth in faith as you may hope for in a marriage. This is about controlling women with religion by only teaching her what I want to teach her. When older women tell you this, it raises so many concerns about what they’ve been through and what they want future generations of women to go through.

When I tell people I want a religious wife, they seem to translate that as subservient to me, not Allah. And that scares me. I don’t mean to fetishize anybody, but I want a wife whose religion drives to be bold, to stand up for what’s right, to be outspoken. I want to partner with someone whose religiosity pushes me to be a better version of myself, not to do what she’s told.

Marry Back Home

I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me, as someone who has lived their entire life in the US, to think that I’ll mesh much better with someone with a similar background. This isn’t universal, some people will genuinely get along better with people from “back home,” and that’s fine, but this needs to be a personal choice.

Yet, I keep getting told that it would be better for me to marry from “back home.” I have been told, straight up, if you bring a wife over here, she’ll be more “indebted,” to me because I brought her to America. Setting aside that I don’t want to marry someone who just wants to marry me for a Green Card, why would I want to marry someone who feels like they owe me?

I fail to see how marrying from “back home” is an issue of compatibility in this case, it feels way more like an issue of subservience.

You can see here that the concern isn’t about finding a spouse who matches with my personality, it’s about finding someone who’ll come and cook and clean and bear children for me without speaking up about it because they feel like they owe me. Which segues to…

Gender Roles

I want to preface this section by saying that this is one topic where my parents haven’t, at all, been the source of my concerns, but rather, this something that comes up when talking to certain members of the community.

For men, there is an emphasis on making money to provide for a family, and for women, raising children and taking care of the home. There’s no problem with this model, but it is not the only model. It’s a valid option, but I am being told it’s my only choice.

In the eyes of many, the preference is to pick a homemaker. This seems at odds with the desire to select a woman with a good education, making it seem that I’m then not expected to let her utilize that education professionally. After all, it could be embarrassing for me if my wife makes more than me, and I have been told to be careful, because a wife who makes too much money could be “too independent.”

I must also be careful to stay in my exclusive role as a moneymaker too, and not try to go beyond that. I had pictures with my nephews in biodata because they mean the world to me. I was told to take them out because somehow a man taking care of children is deemed…bad?. I also like cooking. I once said this to an auntie and I remember her saying, “Why do you like doing girl’s stuff?”

Quite bluntly, I don’t want a wife who will only cook and clean and raise children for me. I want someone I can share those duties with because they’re my equal partner, an idea that, to me, keeps getting glossed over in this process. Every couple deserves the opportunity to figure their marriage out for themselves.

Quick Marriages

There are limits to what we can(‘t) do as Muslims. I understand that we shouldn’t have 3 year-long courtships or live together before getting married, and I am not advocating that. But we should be allowed some time to make such an important decision. I’ve been shown bio-datas and have been expected to come back with an answer in two days – just two days – about whether the information on this piece of paper is the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.

Please, can we have a few months? Can we talk, and try to make sure that this is the decision we want to make (chaperoned)? When reviewing potential spouses, try to make sure everyone is one the same page about how much time you give to each other in order to avoid heartbreak and confusion.

Nature Of Relationship With Parents

My parents and I have a pretty good relationship. It’s relatively open and comfortable, but it’s still a Desi parent-child dynamic. Expressing a dissenting opinion is disrespectful, which means it can be harder to speak up without fear of disappointing them.

Plus, my parents and I never openly spoke about sex or physical attraction, at least not in-depth. To go from that to suddenly having to talk to your parents about the physical aspects that you’re looking for in a wife is awkward, and it can lead to miscommunication.

It’s a culture clash on top of a generational one. I have a hard time articulating what I want to my parents, and it’s not easy to figure out. If you know this before starting the process, you can make an effort to speak as openly about things as you can. You can even recruit an older cousin or friend, or an Imam you trust to help you. Don’t do what I did and go by yourself, have people to support you to make sure you and your parents are communicating well.

In Conclusion

It’s not reasonable to expect that you’ll get everything you want in a spouse. There will be compromises that are made, whether they be with yourself or with what your parents want. But don’t sacrifice on the points most important to you. Determine those, know what your must-haves are, and negotiate on other things. Make sure your potential spouse is on board. It can be awkward, especially with how many of us were raised, but talk to your potential spouse about these important things.

While this was a reflection of my own experience, I place emphasis on the aspects I feel are more universal. Speaking to other Desi Muslims in my age bracket, it certainly does seem that my concerns are relatively common. Obviously, there are individual factors that are at play, but these were things that came up regularly when speaking to elders in the community.

I also, again, want to stress that this isn’t an attack on my parents. While I have a level of frustration with how this situation has played out, I recognize that this is what they’re used to. And to their credit, they have made some concessions. Furthermore, it’s not just parents who are playing a role in this. The (often unwarranted) voices of certain elders are given undue emphasis, and that, I think has complicated the situation even further.

Ultimately, I’m not telling people that they shouldn’t consider arrangements or biodata, but if you do, then you must openly discuss this with your parents. Make sure they know what you want, and stand firm if it’s something important, even if it complicates things. It may put a strain on your relationship with your parents, but it’s better to open about things now than to have anger and resentment towards them for years later.

I’ll end with a specific piece of advice to the brothers: You have a duty to learn about why these issues are red flags and to push back on them yourselves. Women can be labelled as too rebellious if they push back themselves, and we need to be aware of this. Speak up for your (biological) sisters, family members, and friends when you notice their discomfort. Make sure you establish with your potential spouse that she is actually on board with the process, not just going along with it because she feels that she needs to. It might be awkward, but it’s important to establish a clear line of communication with someone even before you get married.

May Allah bless us all with happy, healthy, and fruitful marriages. Ameen

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Black Youth Matter: Stopping the Cycle of Racial Inequality in Our Ranks

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

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As we joined the rest of America in celebrating Black History Month and commemorating the legacy of the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., with tweets, infographics, and sharing famous quotes, racism and colorism continue to plague the Muslim community. 

When we hear of a weekend course about the illustrious muadhin of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, Bilal Ibn Raba’ah, may Allah be pleased with him, or a whitewashed cartoon movie based loosely on his life, we flock to the location. When the imam retells his story during a Friday sermon, we listen intently and feel inspired, we smile in awe upon hearing about his fortitude in the face of incessant torture. We cry while reliving the part where he enters the city of Makkah alongside the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) victorious, and calls the adhan atop the Ka’aba. 

Then, we leave. 

We return to our homes and all but forget about it until the next time he is brought up— unless we are Black Muslims. Like King, his impact comes in waves, maybe once a year like MLK Day or like Black History Month, for many of us. Yet, there were more Black companions and renowned Black Muslims in our history, just as there were countless civil rights leaders who fought for racial equality in America. For many of us who are not American of African descent, we live our lives unperturbed by the implications of ignoring the racial disparities that exist within our own places of worship.

However, it is our youth that bear the brunt of this injustice. 

A few weeks ago, I witnessed an incident that made me reflect deeply on the effects of racism and fear on our youth and the Muslim community. After picking up my son from middle school in Baltimore County, I drove to a nearby 7-Eleven for some snacks. While I was standing in line to pay for my groceries, I noticed that the man behind the counter was Muslim. From his outward appearance, accent, and name tag, I guessed he was South Asian. We greeted each other with salaam, a smile, and a head nod of camaraderie.

As he was ringing up my items, a group of chattery students still in school uniforms, approached the entrance of the convenience store. The cashier looked up horrified, and in mid transaction swung his arm back and forth as if swatting a fly. I turned to look at who he was gesturing to and saw the children were swinging the door open to enter. They were about 6 African American children from the same public middle school as my son. In his school, each grade level wears a different color polo with khaki pants as part of their uniform, so I could tell that most of them were in his same grade level.

“No! No! No!” the cashier cried harshly, “Out!”

I turned to him grimacing in disbelief, surprised at his reaction to the kids and then I noticed his expression. He had a look on his face of fear coupled with disgust.

One child cheerfully told him, “I got money, man!” My head turned back and forth from the students to the cashier. He reluctantly said, “Fine,” but as more students followed, he added sternly, “Three at a time!” I wondered if this was a rule when one of the girls in the group said, “Yeah, three at a time y’all,” and the majority stayed back, as if they were familiar with the routine. Some of them rolled their eyes, others laughed, but they remained outside the door. The cashier followed the ones who entered with his eyes intently as he finished bagging my items. He looked genuinely concerned. I tried to make light of the situation and get his attention away from the children, asking, “The kids give you a hard time, huh?” He smiled and nodded nervously, but I was not satisfied with his answer. 

As I swiped my debit card to pay, I felt troubled. My maternal instincts were telling me that I should defend these children. I felt anger and helplessness at the same time. These kids were tweens or barely 13 years old, yet they were being judged because of the color of their skin. There was no other logical explanation. They were not rowdy or reckless, not any more than any other child their age. They did not look menacing; in fact, they were all smiling and joking with one another.

Yet, this cashier, my Muslim brother, was looking at them as if they were a threat. The same way some white American may look at a Muslim sporting a beard and thobe boarding a plane.  

I tried to find excuses for his behavior. Perhaps he had a bad experience, or he was having a bad day. Could some of the kids from the middle school have stolen something before and this prompted his apprehension? There is some crime in this neighborhood located in the southwestern part of Baltimore County, on the outskirts of the City. Could he have suffered from some type of trauma that led to his anxiety? Maybe there was a fight in his store one day? Yet, even if any of these assumptions were true, I still felt like he was overreacting.

After all, these were just kids.

In Dr. Joy Degruy’s book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, she mentions that policing continues to represent one of the most pervasive and obvious examples of racial inequality; one that even the youth are unable to avoid. She cites an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, highlighting a study by UCLA, the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Boston, Massachusetts, Penn State, and University of Pennsylvania that investigated how black boys were perceived as it related to childhood innocence. They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. 

They found, “converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers.” Consequently, African American youth are often unfairly singled out as troublemakers. Click To Tweet

On November 22, 2014, a 12-year-old African American child, like my son and his middle school peers, was fatally shot by police while he played with a toy gun in a playground. The child, Tamir Rice, was just a young boy playing cheerfully outdoors, but police officers regarded him a threat, demonstrating the ghastly reality of the above-mentioned study. After hearing about this atrocity, I remember telling my own children that they can never play outside with nerf guns or water pistols, out of fear of this happening to them. This is the type of world our children are living in. As Muslims, why do we choose to be part of the problem and not its solution?

Black youth

Junior football team huddling together

As I walked through the door and past the group in front of the 7-Eleven, all I could think about is that the kids were no different than my son who was sitting in the car, hungry, waiting for me to bring him some food. The only difference was that I was there to defend him, if need be. The children did not have an adult to stand up for them against the discrimination to which they were being subjected. I felt guilty for not saying more. I also remembered an incident where a group of African American youth were turned away from the tarawih prayers at a local mosque, not too far from the 7-Eleven, during the month of Ramadan, because they were perceived to be “too rowdy.” This prompted me to write about this incident; to speak up for them now, and to remind myself and other Muslims that the Prophet, peace be upon him, taught us compassion. 

He said, “Whoever does not show mercy to our young ones, or acknowledge the rights of our elders, is not one of us.” (Musnad Ahmad)

Even when a bedouin came into the masjid, the House of Allah – a place much more sacred than any convenience store – and urinated, yes urinated there, he still treated him with dignity. (Muslim)

The students standing at the door of the 7-Eleven were just going in for a snack. Even if they had been misbehaving, the gentleman at the counter could have addressed them with kindness. Similarly, the youth at the local mosque just wanted to pray tarawih. Now imagine the impact it had on them to be turned away from praying with their brethren during the month of Ramadan. 

I sat in the car where my son was waiting and found him looking out the window, unaware of what was happening. We were parked far from the entrance.

“Do you know any of those kids?” I asked him. “Yeah, the girl on the right is in my gym class,” he said.

My heart sank more and as we sat in the car, I wondered, what would have been the cashier’s reaction if the kids had been white? More than likely, he would not have treated them the same way. This racial profiling leads to devastating consequences. A recent news report by WUSA9 revealed that the state of Maryland leads the nation in incarcerating young black men, according to experts at the Justice Policy Institute. Their November Policy Briefs for 2019 entitled, Rethinking Approaches to Over Incarceration of Black Young Adults in Maryland, revealed that disparity is most pronounced among emerging adults, or youth ages 18-24, where, “Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.”

“Nearly eight in 10 people who were sentenced as emerging adults and have served 10 or more years in a Maryland prison are black. This is the highest rate of any state in the country.” Click To Tweet

What was most troubling about the incident at the 7-Eleven was that the students had been conditioned; they were already used to being treated that way. It was routine for them and business as usual for the Muslim cashier. While he may believe that he is doing the right thing, by averting a potential “problem,” the harm that he is causing has greater ramifications. He is adding to the trauma these children are already experiencing being black in America. Black students in Baltimore County were not even allowed by law to earn an education past 5th grade in 1935, and 65 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, the county’s schools are still highly segregated. Local and federal leadership in America have continuously failed African Americans, and it is disheartening to think that the immigrant Muslim community is headed in the same direction. 

I was haunted by this incident and returned to the 7-Eleven a week later to ask the cashier or the owner of the store about their (mis)treatment of the middle schoolers. I parked directly in front of the glass doors of the entrance and it was there where I saw a sign typed in regular white computer paper that read, “AT A TIME NO MORE THAN THREE (3) SCHOOL KIDS ARE ALLOWED IN THE STORE & please do not bring bags inside the store. Thanks.” I had not seen the sign before, maybe I overlooked it the day of the occurrence. Nevertheless, I went inside and spoke with the owner of the franchise, a Muslim gentleman who greeted me with salaam. I asked him about the sign outside the door and the reason why the middle schoolers were treated like would-be criminals. He explained that students from local schools have stolen goods from the convenience store on many occasions. To prevent this, they established a rule that only three unaccompanied school children could enter at a time and they were not allowed to bring their backpacks. The owner further added that crime and vandalism were prevalent in the area. Unfortunately, because this side of town is predominately African American, the blame falls disproportionately on this group. 

Nevertheless, patrolling and intimidating the African American youth in the area is not the solution. As Dr. Degruy stated in her book, “The powerful oppress the less powerful, who in turn oppress those even less powerful than they. These cycles of oppression leave scars on the victims and victors alike, scars that embed themselves in our collective psyches and are passed down through generations, robbing us of our humanity.”

A thirty-four-year veteran police officer named Norm Stamper wrote a book about racism in the criminal justice system entitled, Breaking Rank, (2005) and he mentioned that, “It is not hard to understand why people of color, the poor, and younger Americans did not, and do not, look upon the police as ‘theirs’… Do the police protect ‘the weak against oppression or intimidation’ or do they oppress and intimidate the very people they’ve sworn to protect?” Likewise, this young generation will begin to see Muslims of all colors as no different, if we take the role of the oppressor. 

When Abu Dharr insulted Bilal ibn Rabah, may Allah be pleased with them, by calling him, “O son of a black woman!” and the Prophet, peace be upon him heard of this, he rebuked Abu Dharr and said to him, “By the One who revealed the Book to Muhammad, no one is better than another except by righteous deeds. You have nothing but an insignificant amount.” We may have read or heard this and other narrations before, however, we fall short in implementing these teachings.

In Malcolm X’s Letter from Mecca, he said, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.” Yet, as Muslims living in America, we are not fulfilling our role in eradicating racism from our own ranks. We are making race our problem. With so much injustice plaguing the world, the time is now to embrace the youth, celebrate their diversity, and let them know there is a place for them in Islam.

Sometimes it takes one person to stand up and point out the wrong to set the right tone. The sign at the 7-Eleven in my neighborhood has been taken down.

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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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