There comes a point in everyone’s life where marriage becomes the topic of interest; after all, Allah has created us in such a way that we desire a companion who can journey life with us. However, the majority of our youth experience anxiety thinking about marriage, as concern and insecurities surface regarding just how the so-called ‘right’ match would be found. It can be scary to realise that there is actually no set game plan to finding the right person without stumbling and getting lost on the way. We often forget that the Quran is sufficient for all our woes; just think, that if Allah Himself has declared in Surah Yasin that we are created in ‘pairs’ [78:8], then why should we fret when our partner has already been decreed for us by Him? If Allah has made the concept of the union of marriage so evidently straightforward and simple in the Quran, then why is it that the process of arranged marriages has been made to be so extremely complicated?
In this article, I am going to discuss the underlying issues that cause an upheaval during the process, whether or not those same underlying issues are why the majority of marriages end up being withered, unhappy relationships, and where we are going wrong.
Grooming our daughters for marriage
Islam is a lifestyle which provides Muslims with guidelines that would lead to building a focused, simple and happy life. Unfortunately, where Islam has made the process of marriage and the union of marriage quite straightforward, unreasonable ideologies that stem from cultural norms and traditions have negatively impacted this notion. A major problem which arises during the process of choosing a potential bride to bring into the family is the unreasonable ‘Perfect Daughter-in-Law’ checklist. This checklist, which I’m going to elaborate on, stems from unawareness on the actual guidelines that Islam has set for gender roles in marriage.
Parents play a pivotal role in the personality development of their child; from the early years up to adulthood. Muslim societies, which are often unfortunately deeply influenced by their regressive cultural norms, sometimes have the tendency to focus on grooming the growth of their daughters simply for the sake of being married off and sent to another family. This is given priority as she then becomes the representative of her family’s ‘honor’. As per these cultural and societal norms, daughters should master the art of housekeeping, cooking, parenting and be doing everything it takes to keep their spouse happy. While some may argue that there is no harm in such a notion, the question arises as to why all of the above only confides to the gender role of a woman and not men. What about the sons of our society? Are you doing justice to your future daughter-in-law who you’ll be bringing into the family by teaching your son the basics of humanity, relationships and life?
It takes two
To maintain a healthy marriage, it takes two. Therefore, it is essential for parents to focus on both their daughters and sons when it comes to teaching them housework, developing their communication skills, discussing the importance of good character and being a compassionate member of their family. There are certain teachings and lessons of life which shouldn’t be limited to your child’s gender – you owe it to your children to teach them how to be a complete human being rather than just having them master what society dictates to them as their ‘gender-role’. Sons and daughters of cultural Muslim societies need to be raised as per the flawless examples given to us by the Quran and our Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
A hadith mentions that Ali ibn Abu Talib often helped his wife Fatima at home. Ali is narrated to have said, “Once, the messenger of Allah visited us while Fatima was near the cooking pot and I was picking out lentils. He said, ‘O Abul Hasan, listen to what I say, and I do not say anything except from my Lord. Every man who helps his wife in her house, Allah will write for him (the reward of) worship of a year; fasting in the day and worshipping all the night, as much as the hairs on his body, and Allah will give him like the reward of the patient and the righteous.” (1)
Apart from distorted gender-roles, another underlying issue which becomes an obstacle in the arranged marriage process are the particular personality traits etched onto this checklist that adhere to regressive cultural norms of some Muslim societies. Traits such as being softspoken, obedient and submissive are deemed to be essential in order for a girl to be considered as marriageable material.
When young girls are introduced to this image of the ‘perfect woman’, which is rooted by culture, and are nurtured by their families to reflect this image; they can be lead to concealing their individuality and putting up a superficial act to reflect this image. What happens to the inner-self of such young women is self-explanatory: their personalities are distorted, their confidence is shattered while an inner-conflict leads to nothing but negativity. How can such young women be expected to think of marriage let alone lead straight-forward and happy unions?
Examples from history
If we were to look at Islamic history for examples of powerful Muslim women, we see a stark contrast to what many women are expected to be prior to marriage. One aforementioned example is Fatima bint Muhammad, who was the epitome of womanhood and was anything but the shallow, self-imposed societal qualities that have been mentioned above. Fatima actively took part in politics (such as at the event of Mubahila), she resolved social issues amongst women who came to her from all over Arabia; and she was an intellectual, all while brilliantly fulfilling her role as a wife, daughter and mother.
This considered, why are some Muslim girls today stripped of their empowerment and identity for the supposed sake of marriage, which is contradictory to the sunnah of our Prophet? Why are families seeking the quote-unquote perfect Daughter-in-Law with a checklist that has no reflection whatsoever to Islam’s ideal of a complete woman?
The parents of daughters must take the initiative to nourish the minds of their young girls by allowing them to idealize empowered women from Islamic History. They should study these phenomenal examples and learn how to evolve into an individual who can positively build the union of marriage without having to compromise on their individuality. It is a must to break the cycle of adhering to society’s irrational cultural expectations.
(1) Bihar Al-Anwar, vol.101 p.132