My husband is a hands-on dad. But Ramadan is his time to shine in household chores. Truly. His strong ideas about division of labor and egalitarian households come full force at me in Ramadan. He doesn’t like huge spreads of Iftar or Suhoor. He doesn’t like scattered praying. He likes to create an atmosphere of Ibadah at home as much as he can. To be honest, it’s endearing and exhausting. Getting my quiet moments claimed by his perpetual reminders of Ibadah and making room for some healthy work outs on our Peloton instead of long naps and insisting on helping in the kitchen because that’s the only way to celebrate Ramadan together, are ways in which he powers through Ramadan.
He insists that food isn’t important, Ibadah is. He makes sure we don’t get dehydrated though which is why a pitcher of our favorite Pakistani drink is ready at Iftar and my all-time favorite drink Pakola is always ready for Suhoor. Although not really a cook, he’s an awesome sous-chef. He usually is cutting up the fruit before Iftar as I lay on the family room couch, my eyes half-open, longing to sleep but Asr time is closing. I sleepily lounge on the couch until he spreads out the prayer mat and playfully pulls me off the couch to stand behind him and start praying.
This isn’t a unique situation. My sisters, sisters-in-law, friends and family enjoy a Muslim household that’s quite different from the popular perception and depiction.
I’m not sure why our perception is of a people who are behind times, oppressive in their relationship with women, and abrupt in our delivery and actions. Our family life is questioned by other cultures as always a joint system where the women slave in the kitchens, eat after men do, and are not afforded the opportunity for Ibadah simply because they don’t get time from household chores. While some of this definitely happens in some Muslim households, it doesn’t happen anymore or less in proportion to how it happens in other cultures. We aren’t an aberration. We are a part of the norm. Our standard deviation is the standard deviation of the society.
Let me tell you how autonomous a Muslim woman is in making decisions for her family. She’s usually completely autonomous. Just like any other woman, from any other culture. She is not oppressed by her father, brother or husband unnecessarily. Is she oppressed at all? Absolutely! But that’s patriarchy for you which unfortunately doesn’t differentiate based on race, color or religion. Patriarchy only identifies women as its target.
Most Muslim women are partners of equal worth in their marriages. Their opinion, advice and stance is important to their men and children. Their contribution is valued and revered. Their chastity is matched with their man’s chastity. Islam doesn’t lay the burden of chastity on us alone. Our men are our partners in this.
Then why are me and other Muslim women generally considered to be oppressed? Like I’ve pointed out above, women are generally oppressed and feminism hasn’t come full circle yet. We are still struggling and negotiating for our chair on the tables where decisions are made. But within our households we, that is Muslim women, are usually fulfilled and live a deeply satisfied life. If we don’t earn we budget or save or invest and prove our financial acumen. When we earn we prove to be a financial partner in a different capacity. When we cook we make sure that we provide our family the best. When we nurse our babies, we can charge a dollar amount from our husbands for this service that we provide to our child. The amount of provision for a woman is endless in a Muslim family. We don’t have to do our men’s bidding. We are our own people.
I’m not lying when I say that people have got it really wrong. They’ve got it really wrong about the interpersonal dynamic of Muslim couples. We love each other. Some of us dated before we got married. We tell our kids of how we met, how we started seeing each other or how we got married. Our kids tease us for being attached to each other’s hip sometimes. Our kids draw inspiration and lessons from our marriage for their relationships some day.
I’m not sure where the misconceptions poured in from but Muslim women can be the same Mama Bears that women from other cultures can be. We can bare our teeth and sharpen our claws when people aren’t kind to our kids. We also can be very firm models of discipline to our own kids. Are Muslim moms different from moms of other religions and races? Not really! We have the same vision for our children. We want them to be good citizens, practicing Muslims who go to the mosque to pray five times a day and fast and pay a percentage of their money towards the community. We want our kids to know morality and practice it. We draw inspiration from our kids just as we hope they draw it from us. We know we aren’t the keepers of Islam and because Islam is very intuitive we totally expect our kids to sometimes get ahead of us just by figuring it out on their own. We don’t have any egoistic ideas about religion being transferred from father to son. Islam is a religion that follows general principles of morality and as long as we have laid the foundation of morality in our household, our kids will continue to build upon it. Muslim fathers are cut from the same cloth that all fathers are. They provide, guide and facilitate their kids. They disagree openly with their kids. Estrangement happens between us and our parents too sometimes unfortunately.
Muslim men and women enjoy a unique love and bond with each other. Of course in this regard I can’t speak to any other culture but we are influencers in our marriages as I know most people are (I know because I have friends from varied cultures). We both are. Islam describes a man and wife as each other’s clothing. Islam expects us to cover each other’s shortcomings and also address them. We cover them because we have a covenant to be each other’s protectors of monetary/material assets, honor and flaws. We address them because we inspire each other towards goodness and would like to see the best qualities in each other. Islam also provides the option of divorce. Divorce in Muslim women isn’t a result of new-age thinking. Divorce is a right given to men and women in the Quran and therefore directly from Allah. Divorced women and men can remarry and have another chance at a happily married life. They can choose to remain single. Their kids get to spend time with both mom and dad unless one of them isn’t a great parent as seen by the court. See the similarity of our divorce structure with yours? I knew you would. Islam outlines chid support and alimony for divorced women and children. Islam doesn’t absolve any parent of their responsibility towards their kid just because of a divorce. Family is an important concept in our religion and we are instructed to maintain familial ties and bonds as much as we can.
Islam lays a lot of stress in healthy sexual relationships between a man and wife. Muslims are sexual beings in their relationships just as anyone else. Muslim men and women enjoy sex and actually have a duty to each other in terms of sexual fulfillment. This relationship is intended to be natural and complete. This isn’t intended to be forced and fake. This is one of the most sacred relationships outlined in Islam. There is a lot of encouragement to keep this relationship happy and healthy. Creating a rift between a couple is condemned openly in Islam. Similarly, a Muslim man and woman are provided provisions whereby they can annul their marriage if sexual life isn’t fulfilling.
I don’t like to use the terminology “modern Muslims” or “Muslims of today” or “millennial Muslims” because this is exactly the set up that I’ve seen in my immediate and extended families all my life. It hasn’t deviated much from a general way that a family is, at all.
This piece wasn’t written to say that no Muslim household sees domestic violence, abuse of different types, or oppression of vast variability. Sure all these unfortunate phenomena happen in our households too. But they don’t happen by virtue of our being Muslims. They happen because bad people exist everywhere, in all forms, with all types of belief systems. Bad people don’t make healthy households regardless of their background. What bad people do has no bearing on the religion that they claim to practice. Bad people lack morality even though morality is the cornerstone of all religions.
The purpose of this piece is to say that when you see a Muslim household you’re seeing a typical family. You’re seeing a family that may have gone through some financial troubles, some infertility problems, some interpersonal tension, some tough career choices, a hormonal teenager, a chronic medical diagnosis. You’re seeing a family that is looking forward to a graduation, running a charity, volunteering at the local shelter, planning a vacation, saving to buy a property. You’re seeing a family with a dream and a vision. You’re seeing a family that’s just like you. And even though they may look different, they’ll eat a sandwich tonight much like the one you’re gonna make for dinner with may be slightly different ingredients , they’ll kiss each other goodnight much like you do every night, and the mother will sing to her baby the same lullaby that puts your baby into a sweet sleep too.