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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

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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#Islam

A Primer On Intimacy And Fulfillment Of A Wife’s Desires Based On The Writings Of Scholars Of The Past

*For mature audiences only

This short piece is intended to provide insight on the troubling and detrimental lack of understanding among Muslim men for the necessity and virtue of the female orgasm during sexual intercourse in married couples.  The importance of the female orgasm is substantiated by naṣṣ of Qurʾān, corroborated by the ḥadīth of Rasūlullāh ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) , and has been elaborated upon by the fuqahāʾ throughout the centuries.

Many Muslim sisters have taken it upon themselves to tackle the issue online and anyone who has love and concern for the Muslim community should praise their efforts.  In initiating conversation on this matter, they have shown concern, initiative and courage worthy of the followers of Rasūlullāh .  The benefit which their writings, webinars, round-table talks have provided is obvious to anyone who ponders.  It is a known principle among the fuqahāʾ that knowledge is to be imparted to the masses by order of its need and prevalence of troubles within the masses.

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The anonymous testimonies of our Muslim sisters are undoubtedly a justification for drawing the attention of our Muslim brothers to what authentic Islām teaches us on the subject.  It is also known among the fuqahāʾ that women are the only legitimate source of information for matters specific to them; such as the different patterns of menstruation and post-natal bleeding.  Consequently, the only legitimate source for determining whether and to which magnitude the issue of reaching orgasm during intercourse is pertinent to Muslim women is the Muslim women themselves.

A synopsis of the most striking among those anonymous testimonials follows:

Testimonial 1: “Being married for 10+ years Alhamdulillah with 3 kids it’s a journey of pain and frustration in terms of sexual life.  I never knew till some 4 years of marriage that there is something called ‘orgasm’ for females.  I simply cannot explain the emptiness it leaves when he just sleeps calmly leaving me aroused once he is done. He feels hurt when I say I too want to be satisfied.  But my requests to all the brothers out there: don’t be selfish no matter how tired you are. If you want to be satisfied every single time of making love, make sure so does your wife too. Your wife will never be emotionally attached to you if you do not satisfy her with your own love and willingness in bed.”

Testimonial 2: “I am 2 years in this marriage and I’m highly dissatisfied. Because I’m outspoken I have told my husband clearly many times that even if he doesn’t want I do. But it only led to fights and more dissatisfaction. He tried to improve but after it had done enough damage already. He loves me, he kisses and cuddles a lot but his appetite for love making is very poor. I don’t feel desired.  We so often hear [sic] that we should not deny intimacy to the husband but why is it not the other way round too?”

Testimonial 3 “In [my first] 5 years of marriage, I’ve orgasmed once with him though I love him with all my heart. I cannot stress on the importance of a female climaxing and reaching an orgasm with her husband because this has saved our marriage [after he realized how important it was]. It brings a couple so much closer. To all you ladies who think sex is a chore, I can guarantee none of you have ever had an orgasm. Had you had a true orgasm you would be pulling him to bed. It’s the best physical feeling ever and melts away the stress.”

These testimonials speak for themselves, and the verses of Qurʾān, aḥādīth and sayings of the fuqahāʾ below will demonstrate their legitimacy.

The Qurʾān unambiguously affirms the presence of lust in both men and women, without distinction:

“Tell the believing men that they must lower their gazes and guard their private parts; it is more decent for them. Surely Allāh is All-Aware of what they do.  And tell the believing women that they must lower their gazes and guard their private parts” (s. 24, v. 30-31).

In Aḥkāmul-Qurʾān, Qāḍī Abū-Bakr Ibn al-ʿArabī (passed away 543 A.H/1148) comments on this verse as follows: “Just as it is not permissible for a man to gaze at a woman, it is likewise not permissible for a woman to gaze at a man; the man’s attachment to her is no different than her attachment to him.  His [lustful] intent from her is likewise identical to her [lustful] intent from him”.  It is noteworthy that Al-Qurṭubī also relays this statement of Ibn al-ʿArabī in his tafsīr.  This then raises the question: if lust is set to be fulfilled through marriage, then what is the purpose and benefit of such fulfillment?

The Qurʾān provides clear guidance as to the importance of a loving marital relationship.  “And it is among His signs that He has created for you wives from among yourselves, so that you may find tranquility in them, and He has created love and kindness between you” (s. 30 v, 21).  The greatest mufassir among the Ṣaḥāba, ʿAbdullāh b. ʿAbbās, contends that “love is intercourse (jimāʿ)” i.e a loving relationship stems from the act of intercourse. It is simply inconceivable for the relationship to be a loving one, if one of the parties to intercourse is dissatisfied.  Mujāhid and al-Ḥassan al-Baṣrī ascribe the same meaning to love as Ibn-ʿAbbās.

The Qurʾān does not detail the requirements of the act of intercourse. That responsibility is carried out by Rasūlullāh .  While commenting on the verse “And We sent down the Reminder (The Qur’ān) to you, so that you explain to the people what has been revealed for them, and so that they may ponder.” (s. 16, v. 44), Al-Qurṭubī explains: “The Rasūl  explains on behalf of Allāh that which He intends in the rules of ṣalāt and zakāt as well as other commands, by detailing such intent where Allāh has provided  statements which are general in nature”.  This leads us to the aḥādīth below for the guidance of men on how to satisfy their spouses during intercourse.

إذا جامع أحدكم أهله فليصدقها فإن سبقها فلا يعجلها خرجه أبو يعلى عن أنس

“When one of you has intercourse with his spouse, then let him be truthful towards her.  If he happens to precede her then he should not rush her” .

Al-Manāwī comments on this ḥadīth as follows: “He should be truthful in his love and his display of good will towards her.  This means that it is commendable for him to make love to her with strength, resolve and make fine love to her”.

إذا جامع أحدكم أهله فليصدقها ثم إذا قضى حاجته قبل أن تقضي حاجتها فلا يعجلها حتى تقضي حاجتها خرجه عبد الرزاق وأبو يعلى عن أنس

“When one of you has intercourse with his spouse, then let him be truthful towards her.  Then if he fulfills his need before her need is fulfilled, let him not rush her until it is fulfilled”

Al-Manāwī comments as follows: “When he has fulfilled his need from her by reaching climax, then-as a matter of merit-he should not impel her to separate from him.  Rather he should carry on with her until her need from him is likewise fulfilled.  This will only occur by her reaching climax and her lust settling.”.

The next ḥadīth praising a woman whose appetite for intimacy is strong, should therefore not come as a surprise.

خيرُ نسائِكم العفيفةُ الغَلِمَةُ ، عفيفةٌ في فرجِها ، غَلِمَةٌ علَى زوجِها

“The best of your women is the one who is modest yet lustful.  She is modest with regards to her private parts (towards strange men) while she is lustful towards her husband”.

Al Manāwī comments as follows: “The modest woman refrains from the ḥarām. For her to be lustful means that her carnal desire is restless. However, such restlessness is not praiseworthy in an absolute sense, as explained by the ensuing part of the ḥadīth i.e she is modest towards strange men”.

The above references in ḥadith literature are not meant to be exhaustive. Other references exist, and the commentators have been consistent in their explanations.

The fuqahāʾ(jurists) in the Ummah have, from very early on, also unapologetically touched on the subject in the most emphatic and direct manner. Some are quoted below to demonstrate such.

In his commentary of Al-Naṣīḥa al-Kāfiya Ibn-Zukrī, a Moroccan scholar who passed away 400 yrs ago (1133 A.H) quotes from Ibn al-Ḥājj (passed away 737 A.H/1336), Imam al-Ghazālī (passed away 505 A.H/1111) and al-Manāwī (passed away 1031 A.H/1621). The quotations below are directly taken from his commentary on al-Naṣiha of Shaykh Aḥmad Zarrūq (passed away 899 A.H/1493). These dates are quoted here to stress on the fact that this subject is not a contemporary one, it is rather a subject that has existed from the very time Muslim scholarship has. What is most pertinent here is the unambiguous language the fuqahāʾ use to get their point across.

“And softness towards the woman, until her fluid mixes with the fluid of the man, is certain to induce love for her and for him as well”.

Ibn-ʿArdūn explains: ‘The author of al-īdāḥ explains: whenever their two fluids blend together at the same moment, it is the utmost form of reaching pleasure, love, affection as well as cementing love. The amount of pleasure and love will be commensurate with how closely in time they blend together’.

The author of al-Iḥyāʾ mentions: ‘And once he has fulfilled his need let him take his time with his spouse until she likewise fulfills her need because her climax may be delayed and to withdraw from her while her lust has been agitated would cause her harm. Differences in patterns of climax inevitably lead to repulsion and discord whenever the husband should reach climax first. It is more gratifying and pleasurable for the woman that she and her husband reach climax simultaneously because  he will be engaged and absorbed alongside her, accommodating thereby her likely shyness [she will enjoy her orgasm without bashfulness]’

In al-Madkhal [Ibn al-Ḥājj] explains: ‘It is fitting for him, when he has fulfilled his need, not to rush to rise because it is among the things which will upset and perturb her.  Rather he should remain agreeable and engaged until he ascertains that her need has been fulfilled.  The intent is to have consideration for her matter because the Nabī  used to advice [men] regarding women just as he used to encourage kindness towards them. At this juncture, it is not possible to show kindness to her without it [the fulfillment of her need]. The man should therefore thoroughly exert himself to achieve that goal, and Allāh will certainly forgive any incapacity’.

Ibn Zukrī then goes on to quote al-Manāwī’s commentary of the two first ḥadiths quoted above.

The author of the Naṣīḥa then goes on to explain, and Ibn Zukrī’s commentary follows:

“And whoever wishes to accomplish that, then let him not come close to her until her breathing becomes intense and her eyes hollow, and that she seeks to remain attached to him; those are signs of her lust having been awakened”

Ibn Zukrī : it is explained in the commentary of al-Waghlisiyya : part of the etiquette of intimacy is to engage in foreplay so that the wife’s heart becomes cheerful and that the attainment of her desire becomes easy. This should be done until the point that her breathing becomes intense, her agitation increases, and she seeks to remain attached to the man, only then should he come close to her [for the act of intercourse].

He continues to say: “Those preliminaries consists in abundant foreplay with her, fondling her breasts and rubbing his penis with her labia”.  Ibn Zukrī explains: the author of the Madkhal explains: ‘When one decides to intimately engage with his spouse, it is befitting for him to refrain from the prohibited behavior which some of the common folk adopt, which consists in approaching their spouses hurriedly. Rather he should not do so until he has played and bantered with her in permissible ways. That includes cuddling, kissing and similar actions, until he sees that she has aroused herself to what he is seeking from her, feels relaxed and takes interest in it. Only then should he approach her. The wisdom of the religious code in this matter is obvious, and it is that the woman desires from the man what he desires from her. If he were to come to her abruptly, he may very well fulfill his need while she would remain upset and her dīn and chastity may be compromised as a result.  If he however does as stipulated, then the matter will be eased for her and her dīn and chastity will be protected’.

End of quotes from Ibn-Zukrī. 

It is clear from the above that the fuqahāʾ have kept within the confines of the Qurʾān and the Sunna and, as is their responsibility, lucidly relayed the information contained therein to the masses, with a full understanding of the pertinence of the subject in society.

This article cannot be complete without mentioning what some of the people of ḥaqīqa i.e taṣawwuf have said on the subject.

Ahmad Ibn Ajība explains, regarding ḥaqīqa: ‘It is derived from the Qurʾān and the Sunna, as well as from the inspirations of the ṣāliḥīn [pious ones] and the spiritual unfoldings [futūḥāt] of the ʿārifīn [gnostics]. The subtle understanding of the Quran and the Sunnah is predominantly found among the ṣālihīn.  Their statements clearly show that.

In his book on the etiquettes of marriage, Muhammad alTihāmī Kanūn (passed away 1915) explains: Abul ʿAbbas Aḥmad b. Yaḥya alWansharīsī says in his abridgment of the nawāzil of alBurzulī: ‘The pious Shaykh AbuBakr alWarraq states: every worldly passion hardens the heart, except the passion of intercourse which in fact softens the heart, which is why the Anbiyāʾused to engage in it’.  It is also mentioned in hadith:

Three things have been made beloved to me among your worldly matters: perfume, women and the coolness of my eyes has been placed in salat’.

In fact, alQurtubi relates the statement from alWarrāq with a prelude explaining how it is said that the desire for intercourse is commensurate with one’s taqwa

Note: We will state the obvious here, that this is true for both men and women, in accordance with what has been stated above regarding their equivalency in the search for carnal satisfaction from one another.

Finally, the author of marginal notes on Tafsīr alJalālayn Aḥmad alṢāwī states: ‘One of the gnostics [ʿārifīn] has mentioned that intercourse is one of the avenues towards reaching [the ma’rifa of] Allāh’.

These last statements from the ṣālihīn should serve as an admonition as well as an encouragement to the Muslim brothers who are lacking in being mindful of their spouse’s sexual needs. They may beg the question: is it a deficiency in taqwā which causes a man to not be mindful of this? It clearly makes the case for an opportunity for spiritual development through the act of intimacy

There are many related subjects which have not been discussed here, as the intent was very specific. However, our brothers and sisters should certainly take it upon themselves to contribute in educating the Muslims on those issues. Issues such as: the need and importance of marriage counseling; how to nurture a good relationship outside of the bedroom; how to address psychological and/or medical issues related to intimacy; how to educate Muslim adolescents (girls and boys alike) on sexuality, etc. There are, alḥamdulillāh, many competent and articulate brothers and sisters who specialize in different fields, and/or have valuable life experience which can be put to the profit of the Muslim Ummah

And we all ask Allāh for tawfīq.

PDF of sources in Arabic with references

  1. Aḥkāmul-Qurʾān, Vol. 3 p. 380
  2. Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī, Vol. 16 p. 412
  3. Idem.
  4. Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī, Vol. 12 p. 329
  5.  Faidhul-qadīr, Vol. 1 p. 325. Ḥadīth n. 548. 
  6.  Faidhul-qadīr, Vol. 1 p. 325. Ḥadīth n. 549.
  7.  Al-Manāwi mentions that this is mustahab, and he is correct.  However, the statement of istiḥbāb is only to encourage this action, in order to avoid harm to the woman.  If she is being harmed by the lack of satisfaction, then it becomes wājib.  
  8.  Faidhul-qadīr, Vol. 3 p. 493. Ḥadīth n. 4093.
  9.  Sharḥ al-Naṣīḥa, Ibn-Zukrī Al-Fāsī, p. 651.
  10.  Reference from Hikam.
  11.  Qurratul-ʿuyūn bi-sharḥ naẓm ibn-Yaʾmūn, p. 48. 
  12. It is worthy to mention here that the commentators of hadith have determined that “three things” is an addition from the narrator as opposed to being the speech of the Nabi SAW.  Salat is not part of worldly matters. The hadith should therefore be: ‘Among your worldly matters perfume and women have been made beloved to me and the coolness of my eyes has been placed in salat’.
  13.  Tafsir al-Qurtubi, Vol. 6 p. 419.
  14.  Ḥāshiya al-Ṣāwī, Vol. 3 p. 204.

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#Life

Like Tinder, But Safer: Troubleshooting Arranged Muslim Marriage

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.

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

marriage

 “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.

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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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