by Qis Hakim
It’s mystifying how Muslim men have succeeded in governing one-sided marital laws for so many generations. Women have conformed to this norm as a way life they have been brought up in. I respect their choices, and I’m in no way complying. We need to pause and take a step (maybe a couple of hundred steps) back, re-learn without prejudices and implement Islamic rulings unbiasedly.
In its deepest core, I believe Islam is perfect. Hence, it is frustrating when the “Islam” taught to the two people in marriage are two different versions. It’s like they are on different wavelengths despite sharing the same faith. For example, in most conservative families, women are taught to carry household responsibilities which includes managing the children, preparing food, cleaning & laundry, on top of abiding to their husband’s needs, while men are easily considered sufficient if he’s financially abled.
I would consider my family conservative in many ways, but women in our family don’t all end up as housewives, and it is not a problem. In fact, we strive in education and for the career we dream of. Some men in our family makes lesser contributions in household chores but they make sure their wives get helpers. It’s a clash of ideologies I’ve personally experienced when I was married to a man who believes employing a maid reflects the wife’s inefficiencies, and a woman is not to have an independent career but be placed under the authority of her husband. My father, on the contrary, views achievements in the worldly life to be in parallel with spiritual attainment. So, he made sure that I was provided with sufficient secular and religious education with the hope that I can make a life for myself, and strive for success even bigger than his own.
Regardless of upbringing and cultural backgrounds, when two people agree to join in a union, they deserve a fresh start in molding the life they share in mutuality. The best thing about marriage in Islam is that we have complete liberty in how to run the marriage as long as it does not go against the laws of Islam, NOT the virtue of culture. Sadly, most men choose to disregard a woman’s paradigm if it suggest changes to the cultivated patriarchal ideals they take comfort in. It’s so strongly held that even working women are still expected to single-handedly carry out household duties and this is very common in our society.
Let’s not forget that when our Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. married Khadijah a.s., she was a successful business woman, and she was not obligated to drop everything and stay at home following their marriage. She continued her career as it was. Islam highly praises women who choose to devote their life as a housewife, no problem there. But the point here is that a woman reserves the right to decide what she wants to do in her life, as long as it does not breach Islamic rules. So, a marriage is where a man and a woman should come into a serious discussion on how they would manage their life together, consider each of their career paths, and other obligations. Their roles and responsibilities should not be hindered by societal expectations, but agreed upon a mutual agreement, with tolerance and harmonious contribution.
It is essential for women to be enlightened of their rights not only so that they can have a contented, happy life as a wife, but also as deterrence to abuses in marriage that are so common, that they don’t even realize it. I’ve seen husbands who are not even financially providing for the family, and yet sit still when his wife cooks and clean. There are men who preach about how highly a husband is ranked in Islam, but fails to be good Muslim role model themselves. We have men believing that financial provision is fulfilling his duties with no regards to his wife’s emotional needs. All graciousness to the women patiently endures marital challenges, but men need to stop taking advantage of a woman’s perseverance.
We have constructed women to duteously accustom themselves to social expectations even if it means forgoing her own needs and personal aspirations. Women are expected to quit her studies or her job once she gets married or have children. There are women not even provided with basic education simply because they are not seen as worth investing in since they will be “working in the kitchen” at the end of the day anyway. This is illogical considering how much women have contributed in various industries, and even in the advancement of technologies. Just like men, women should be given the chance to flourish in what they aspire to be.
What is even more heartbreaking is to see women bearing oppressive circumstances that goes against the teachings of Islam for the sake of “saving the marriage”. It is not uncommon for women to remain in marriage with sealed lips while their husband is unfaithful. It’s no longer surprising to know a physically abusive husband who has a wife serving him dinner every evening. Women succumb to unhappy marriages for fear of becoming a ‘divorcee’, a tainted label only applicable for women. These are the results of keeping women ill-informed and letting the man exert his “veto power” in the name of Islam. Marriage is a beautiful unification between two souls, but only if it’s done right.
Qis hakim is an inspiring entrepreneur and a firm Muslim believer. She was married for love’s sake to a man of a different race, and has since gone through the highs and lows of cultural clashes in a mixed marriage. An emotional & sentimental woman, a passionate jewelry designer, she plans to succeed in both her career and family with her own bare hands.
Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu