A male response to Zeba Iqbal’s Article on Women

Matrimony – ALTMUSLIMAH.COM [Originally published APRIL 9/2009]

Recently, Zeba Iqbal wrote a series of articles concerning the state of gender relations in the Muslim-American community. Although she focused on matrimony for over-30 women, I think she highlights a much larger issue of what expectations are for and from men and women.

It is difficult to remove male-female interaction from the context of (hetero)sexuality. When we have pubescent boys and girls discovering each other, and themselves, there is a concern that inappropriate relations may emerge. Unfortunately, it seems that the response has generally been to freeze gender relations at the adolescent level and not move beyond that age. This response has the perverse effect of hyper-sexualizing our relations, rather than creating safe environments for men and women to interact.

We are told to treat our peers like brothers and sisters. At the same time, especially amongst immigrant communities, there is a push towards marriage by certain ages. The result is that many youth go from being asexual beings to being sexually aware at the same time the community is saying that sexuality must be controlled in the context of marriage so members of the opposite sex may not interact. This segregation stunts the development of adolescents and creates confusing messages about appropriate gender relations. For example, if I am to view a woman as a sister one day, but a virgin/vamp the next, how can I understand the views of women? or my own ideas of masculinity? God speaks out many times to “believing men and believing women,” so if God can treat us as one community, why can we not do so ourselves? If the Prophetic role-model is meant for us to emulate, did the Prophet (SAS) run from Bibi Khadija (AS) until a matchmaker could do her magic? Or was this relationship built between equals who interacted in an honest an open way?

This division between males and females also produces a skewed demographic. Women who are encouraged to be educated become hyper-successful, because to be a successful woman you need to be far better than a man. Men can be successful by a much lower standard. The result is that, in comparison, men do not actually measure up well to the women in our community. Men feel threatened. Women demand more. Men opt out of the “community.” They “import” eligible females who are less threatening, or “cross borders.” Many of the men left behind wouldn’t make it outside of the community. I may sound like a man basher here, but this is the reality of my observations. I know a number of fantastic women who are well-educated and incredibly successful who intimidate the men they meet by virtue of their accomplishments. They did not sacrifice a personal life for the sake of their careers and they are incredibly warm, genuine people. Men just tremble when they realize what these women do, because they were never held to the same standard of success. Invariably, insecurity emerges and it’s the women’s fault that they are still single.

One of my favorite lines is that a successful woman wants a man to change more than any other woman. It smacks of God delusion, or at least mothers spending too much time praising their little princes. Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, the original Robinson Crusoe, lived by himself, and he was changed by the world around him. It’s the definition of life. My friends should never be my equals in anything. We should constantly be challenging each other to be better than we are. Is that not change? Are men so afraid of being emasculated that they are afraid they are the only ones who will change? My wife constantly wants to change me. Guess what? I constantly want to change her. She does not get “Star Wars,” so that only happens on boys nights out, but now, she loves “Lord of the Rings.” I do not leave my jeans on the floor anymore. Really. It’s a relationship. There’s always a give and take. How is this any different than when I go out with the boys and we’ve got to compromise on pizza or burgers? Or when my MBA friends tell me how to stop dressing like an academic and more like a professional?

We need more maturity in how we talk to the opposite gender. Zeba’s has made that point. Do we view all Muslim women as virgins and all non-Muslim women as vamps? If they are our sisters, why do we get shy around them? I’m surrounded by female cousins (no sisters) and I talk to them the same way I talk to my brother and male cousins. I treat unrelated Muslim women of my age the same way I treat my cousins, because they are my sisters. However, there needs to be a deeper cultural shift. When we hit puberty, sex and sexuality should not be this dirty thing that everyone is aware of and no one talks about. It then defines our relationships and we have no idea why. We have extensive hadith on the Prophet’s sexual practices; his wives were not ashamed or afraid of reporting them. Why do we have this taboo that it is something we cannot talk about? Let’s be honest with our adolescents: these are your brothers and sisters in faith. You may now start feeling something other than familial emotions. It’s normal. Let’s talk about the feelings you may have. Let’s talk about how people still deserve the same respect that you always gave them. Let’s talk about how you keep your emotions from overwhelming you; how you develop relationships, and not necessarily romantic ones, now that you have these new feelings. Let’s give these kids a language that does not stunt them as individuals or as a community.

Zeba asks where all the men have gone. Short answer, it’s a patriarchy, we screwed up, but we are in a position of privilege, so we will tell you it is your fault. You now have the opportunity to change us. We have to be real, we cannot exist in an environment where men set the rules of the conversation, the topics of conversation, they ways of the conversation, and then say it is women’s fault when no one is talking.

(Photo: _urbanizr via flickr under a Creative Commons license)

Hussein Rashid, a PhD candidate in Harvard University’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, blogs at Islamicate and Religion Dispatches.


4 thoughts on “A male response to Zeba Iqbal’s Article on Women

  1. Hussein,

    Could you possibly be more whipped or brain-washed?

    You are saying that it is the fault of Muslim men that Muslim women are single, because Muslim men chose to cross border and marry someone from abroad.

    Why is exercising their choice a bad thing for Muslim men? Do Muslim men not have the right to chose who they get married to? Do they not have the right to get the best possible deal for them? Should they be forced to marry the American Muslim women? You would not recommend forcing American Muslim women to marry someone, but you dared to imply that for Muslim men.

    Hussein Rashid said:”I know a number of fantastic women who are well-educated and incredibly successful who intimidate the men they meet by virtue of their accomplishments.”

    Just because an American/western Muslim woman is educated and successful, does that make her a good wife? No!!! You quote Islam to back up your argument but you fail to realize that Islam provides us criteria for choosing a spouse. It tells us to prefer piety over looks, money or lineage (“Inna al-mar’ata tunkahu lideeniha wa maaliha wa jamaaliha fa ‘alaika bi dhaati ad-deeni taribat yadaaka.”
    “A woman is married for her deen, her wealth or her beauty. You must go for the one with deen, may your hands be in the dust! (if you fail to heed)” ). Do you see “educated” and “successful” in this list? Obviously not. In fact, successful can be equated to money and we are recommended to ignore it. So, on what basis, are you claiming that single, educated, successful American Muslim women are superior spousal choices than the their foreign counterparts?

    I expect better logic from a Harvard PhD candidate or any PhD candidate, for that matter.

    If Muslim men are smart enough to find better value overseas, what is stopping Muslim women from doing the same? I know many brothers who marry overseas and no sisters who go overseas to marry someone (if we exclude doctors, as doctors are in high demand among Muslim women purely for monetary and bragging rights reasons). I’ll tell you why – Ego and stubbornness. It’ll hurt their ego (and bragging rights) if they bring themselves down to the point that they marry someone overseas. As a results, stubbornly, these women stay single and then complain. Perhaps, it is this egos and stubbornness that makes them a poor spousal candidate. After all, marriage is about compromise.

    • BBMan excellent reply/rebutal to Mr. Hussein’s illogical statements and lack of sense regarding this subjects. One would expect a little more “brains” for lack of a better word from a PhD candidate. Ms. Iqbal sounds to me more like a man basher and a disgruntled individual. Rather than bashing others, she should do some internal reflection of herself first, and see where and if she has made any mistakes in her quest for “finding a mate”. If everyone took the attitude of Ms. Iqbal every women who reaches 30 would be single for the rest of their lives and the world would not be what it is today. Mr. Hussein I would love to know how you even got into Harvard.

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