A talk about marriage? How could I not attend, eh? And I wasn't alone; once again the big topic of finding the right person pulled in the crowds. Still, at least I had come last week. I'm a regular round here, don't you know...
This week, Luqman Ali was telling us what was what. He opened with the usual scripture about how it was almost an Islamic obligation (via the Sunnah) to marry and how it "completes your deen". He even quoted that "the people of the fire were bachelors". So no, not a particularly impressive start in my opinion.
It got much better though. Ali's view on (dynamic, as opposed to institutional) marriage is that it was more about improving the lives of the individuals involved rather than creating a new "dual personality". The idea was to create heart and iman from the conjunction of your spirit and self - this conjunction only being made possible in the context of marriage. Your partner was the leverage or catalyst or key to unlock the betterment within yourself. It was all very kooky, yet very cool stuff.
He also pointed out how marriage was supposed to be fluid; how men have a feminine side and women a masculine, and how each of these play off each other eventually and hopefully resulting in a net balance. On the other hand, we did cover some pretty obvious things - apparently bad marriages were bad and needed to be avoided. Hmm.
Moving on to causes and solutions for why we were in the situation we were in, Ali offered four main ideas:
- The lack of communities of purpose. Single people today have the wrong context (meetings and introductions were too overtly about getting married) in which to get married, a lack of support for when things go wrong, few good examples and role models to make the idea attractive and no conduit with which to defuse any personal negativity one may have in a relationship.
- The over-segregation of the sexes. Those that haven't grown up associating with the opposite gender find it difficult to do so when it comes to marriage. Talking further about the issue of context, above, he mentioned that in his experience, people found their ideal partners as a bonus while working with them in service (volunteering and other social activities) or when seeking knowledge.
- The over-emphasis on culture. So arranged marriages becoming forced, the whole Eastern vs Western values and the traditional roles of the husband and wife causing problems.
- Unrealistic expectations. Men want demure yet lively women, while women want manly yet timid men.
- What do you do if the whole community is against change? You try your best, and then move (ie perform a hijrah) to a new, more accessible community.
- Why is the divorce rate amongst Muslim couples so high? There is currently a major misunderstanding about what love means: it's not just about attraction but about repulsion too - being able to be with someone despite their flaws while appreciating their gifts.
- Is there no hope for those who, for whatever reason, remain single (yes, that was my question)? No, marriage is Sunnah, which implies that the conjunction of spirit and self can be achieved outside of it. It would have been wajib if technically obligatory.
- Why are marriages today so miserable? Because they are done for the wrong reasons: abuses of power or short term pleasure rather than holistic development. Ali compared it to the want of material instead over spiritual gain.
And it got worse. Unfortunately, the evening regressed to another man-bashing session; we had the same old clichéd complaints about men all being mummy's boys wanting subservient wives from back home so they could slave-drive or bully them, and how they were also too lazy or proud to drive change. I found this pretty insulting; there were an equal number of men as there were women at the CC tonight, and I suspect many if not most of them would be way above the kind of criticism being aimed at their gender. I don't think this attitude furthered the discussion much.
My take is this: the quality of men isn't the issue here. Even if we managed to fix blokes and made them into the perfect beings some women want them to be, marriage would still be problematic. Women would still be rejecting men just as much as the other way around.
In this respect I totally concur with Luqman Ali's four issues above, and the lack of a community of purpose especially rings a bell with me. Improve the quality of social interaction (let the opposite genders co-operate and work together) and we'll be half of way there.
The rest of the journey is to reconsider exactly what the point of marriage actually is. Personally, I don't think that it's a certificate of achievement or a membership badge or the silver bullet we each need to complete our respective lives or deens; no, it's an enabler of growth, a tool with which to ease the development of our souls. And I reckon that once those who are currently finding it difficult to marry realise this, they'll each know exactly what it is they're looking for and exactly where to find it.