One of the most discussed topics on this blog is always going to be marriage, divorce and another chance at marriage and potentially another divorce.
Why? Because I don’t like the twisted concept of marriage that society sells us and then tries to tell us that the reason why our marriage didn’t work was because something was wrong with us.
Imagine this being a transaction in any other store in the world. Imagine any other business transaction that’s done like this. Can you think of any? I mean when does it happen that you get a heater from a store, it doesn’t work, you bring it back, has a defective part and the seller blames YOU for not using it correctly. Almost never, right? But it happens everyday when women get divorced. The man who divorces them is a certifiable and verifiable abuser but she’s loaded with all the emotional accountability of their failed marriage.
This isn’t fair.
It’s also not fair because marriage is usually a man’s initiative and his choice. Women are usually just waiting around to be picked up, set up, proposed, chosen, spotted, agreed upon. A man is the protagonist in this story. A man gives his set of preferences, contingencies and back up choices. He gives a list of what’s negotiable and what would be a deal-breaker. He determines the pace of the process from the proposal to the actual wedding. A man usually puts his choice forward. A woman is usually just happy to happen to be his choice. A man, however, exercises no responsibility hence after.
Some common lists that I’ve seen circulating for the prerequisites of a woman that a man might consider as his wife have a few common characteristics. She should be good looking, educated, from a good family, with some money of her own or her parents’, preferably not unilingual, with no prior relationships and ……. should be a virgin.
Marriage is considered an Islamic act by most Muslims. We are ordained to not engage in premarital or extramarital sexual activity. And most of us abide by it. Except women who can’t.
Yes, dear brothers and families of my dear brothers! Did suspect you hadn’t thought about the women who lost their virginity in a marriage but aren’t married anymore but would like to be. Did suspect that you hadn’t considered divorced women, widows, women whose husbands got lost in natural disasters or in their line of work and they’re free to marry now after waiting for many years, women who were raped. Did suspect that you only thought of a fresh-out-of-the-factory product that was exclusively made for your consumption. And a woman who had had no other man’s grubby little paws on her. Did suspect that virginity has been described to you by your parents as an equivalent of piety. Did suspect that you listen to your parents always when it’s convenient for you.
While marriage is an Islamic act and injunction, very little about its practice is actually Islamic. Especially in cases of arranged marriages.
First of all, I’m amazed at all the argument that’s made when a man willingly marries a woman older than him. We immediately jump to his Islamic defense by citing Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Hazrat Khadijah. That he married her despite a huge age difference. That she proposed to him so we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. That it’s all fair when two people like each other.
You may be surprised to hear that the same people don’t really want to have an older woman in an arranged marriage. Despite her accomplishments. Despite the awesome person she may be.
But the thing that bothers me a whole lot than our fixation for age is our fixation for virginity. Because that makes all of our Islamic placard holders a sham.
Why are we so obsessed with virgin women? Why is that the quest of every eligible bachelor? Why aren’t other things more important? Character, a mind of her own, integrity, the love that she shows and the fortitude that she’s capable of.
Because to tell you the truth, virginity is very easy to come by. It’s everywhere. It’s conveniently available. There’s nothing about virginity that’s special. There certainly is nothing about it that we accomplish. We have it when we are born. We lose it just as easily too.
But character is something that’s hard to come by. It’s not something that everyone has. Having a strong character is a sign of integrity. Integrity comes from honing our character over years and having varied experiences . It just doesn’t become a part of us overnight.
So this is why this has become so confusing to me. We marry because our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) married women. He married eleven women. He married widows, divorced women, women who were sent to him as slaves, women whom he could command in any way. But he married them. And he showed kindness to their kids.
“He showed kindness to their kids”. So some of his wives had kids from other marriages? Yes.
When it came to marriage, our Prophet married for love, admiration, respect, compassion, to support women. He really didn’t hold any other quality more important. He didn’t marry for lineage or money. He didn’t marry for virginity and looks. Actually as per history, one of his wives had been married more than once before she married him.
Which brings me to the question. Marriage is Sunnah, right? Then why do we not perform it like Sunnah?
And I’m not talking about polygamy-based social service for women which is what Muslim men have started to use as their cop out to have more than one wife. Sometimes without an honest and explicit discussion with their first wife. I’m talking about our duty to the community. Our participation in stabilization of the community.
Now some people might say that this is solely up to anyone to choose their life partner. And they shouldn’t be guilted into marrying women who have been with another man before. They shouldn’t be held accountable for the single women of the community.
And I agree with it except I don’t think this whole issue is the crux of this blog entry i.e. people don’t choose women who have been married before. No! Men regularly choose women who have been widowed, divorced, raped, left alone without a formal divorce and now have gone through a process to claim their right to marriage again. Men choose these women routinely.
You ask why. Why are men choosing these women when many eligible virgins are available? Because like women, men can identify a good woman when they see one. Because women alone don’t have the claim to respect for virtuous people alone. Men have that claim too. Men can set aside any past history that comes with a woman and assess her as a future life partner based on how she’s raising her kids, caring for her parents or managing her life. Integrity, if possible, shines even brighter than piety.
But these nice men usually can’t go all the way with their proposal for these women. Reason? As a society we have a set role for these women. And that is to be fixtures of celibacy and mourning. They are denied their basic rights as a norm after a divorce or a death. When anyone meets the resistance that comes in the way of these nice men and women, they lose heart.
Our Prophet (PBUH) also married Jewish and Christian women. He didn’t make any scruples about their religion. Muslim men are allowed to marry outside their faith, to women who are from the Abrahamic lineage.
Ironically, the Sunnah that we follow is so in stark contrast with how the Sunnah was lived by the Prophet (PBUH). All we focus on when looking for a girl is a nubile beauty, virginal in appearance and actuality, submissive-appearing and who gets immediate approval from the man who’s eyeing her. This idea and way of looking for a match is disturbing to me. Especially because a woman has no right in our society to ask a man if he is a virgin. Women are happy to just be accepted. Women have no say in initiating the process of marriage for themselves. They can’t ask for independence and autonomy regarding their readiness for marriage, choice of marriage or the type of partner that they might have envisioned.
Read my previous blog entry on facilitating arranged marriages for ready and willing women without judgment.
I wish this system of corruption and vulgarity when it comes to women ends soon. It’s harming our women’s mental health. I wish we had an open mind when we looked for a wife, a daughter-in-law or a sister-in-law. I wish we asked people what they had heard about her education, her support of her people and her work for the community if we wished to make her a part of our family. I wish we got away from the obsessive investigation into her prior relationships. I wish we accepted women of all types of past histories of relationships. I wish a widowed or divorced woman with kids would never be ashamed when a virgin man asks her out. I wish she never thought she wasn’t good enough for him. I wish the Sunnah was practiced in its entirety.