The Ethics of Chivalry Between Genders: Imam Zaid Shakir


The Ethics of Chivalry

Issue 67 April 2010

Islam is not a religion of empty laws and strictures but one which points towards a higher ethical order.

In the literature discussing Futuwwa, which has been translated as Muslim chivalry, there is the story of a young man who was engaged to marry a particularly beautiful woman. Before the wedding day, his fiancée was afflicted with a severe case of chicken pox which left her face terribly disfigured. Her father wrote to him informing him of the situation and asking if he preferred to call off the wedding. The young man replied that he would still marry his daughter, but that he had recently experienced a gradual loss of sight, which he feared would culminate in blindness.

The wedding proceeded as planned and the couple had a loving and happy relationship until the wife died twenty years later. Upon her death the husband regained his eyesight. When asked about his seemingly miraculous recovery he explained that he could see all along. He had feigned blindness all those years because he did not want to offend or sadden his wife.

From our jaded or cynical vantage points it is easy to dismiss such a story as a preposterous fabrication. To do so is to miss an important point that was not lost to those who circulated and were inspired by this and similar tales. Namely, our religion is not an empty compilation of laws and strictures. The law is important and willingly accepting it is one of the keys to our salvation. However, the law is also a means to point us toward a higher ethical end. We are reminded in the Qur’an, “Surely, the prayer wards off indecency and lewdness.”(29:45)

The Prophet Muhammad mentioned concerning the fast, “One who does not abandon false speech and acting on its imperatives, God has no need that he gives up his food and drink.” (Al-Bukhari) These narrations emphasise that there is far more to Islam than a mere adherence to rulings.

This is especially true in our marriages. Too many Muslims are involved in marriages that devolve into an empty observation of duties and an equally vacuous demand for the fulfillment of rights. While such practices are laudable in their proper context, when they are divorced from kindness, consideration, empathy, and true commitment they define marriages that become a fragile caricature. Such relationships are irreparably shattered by a silly argument, a few wrinkles on the face, unwanted pounds around the waist, a personality quirk or a whimsical desire to play the field to see if one can latch on to someone prettier, wealthier, younger, or possibly more exciting than one’s spouse.

These are issues that affect men and women. However, we men must step up and do our part to help to arrest the alarmingly negative state of gender relations in our communities. The level of chivalry the current crisis demands does not require that we pretend to be blind for twenty years. However, it does require some serious soul searching, and it demands that we ask ourselves some hard questions. For instance, why are so many Muslim men averse to marrying older or previously married women? The general feeling among the women folk in our communities is that if you are not married by the age of twenty-five, then you have only two chances of being married thereafter –slim and none. This sentiment pervades our sisters’ minds and hearts because of the reality they experience. Many brothers who put off marriage until they are past thirty-five will oftentimes marry someone close to half their age, passing over a generation of women who are intellectually and psychologically more compatible with them and would prove wiser parents for their children.

Despite this problem, and the clear social, psychological and cultural pathologies it breeds, many of us will hasten to give a lecture reminding our audience of the fact that Khadija, the beloved wife of our Prophet, was fifteen years his senior. We might even mention that she and several of his other wives were previously married. Why is it that what was good enough for our Prophet is repugnant to ourselves or our sons?

A related question would be, “Why are so many of our brothers so hesitant to marry strong, independent and intellectually astute women?” Many women in the West lack the support of extended family networks, which is increasingly true even in the Muslim world. Therefore, they must seek education or professional training to be in a position to support themselves if necessary, or to assist their husbands; an increasingly likely scenario owing to the nature of work in postindustrial societies. This sociological fact leads to women in the West generally manifesting a degree of education and independence that might not be present among women in more traditional societies and times – even though such societies are rapidly disappearing.

Many Muslim men will pass over talented, educated women who are willing to put their careers and education on hold, if need be, to commit to a family. The common reason given is that such women are too assertive, or they are not the kind of women the prospective husband’s mother is used to. As a result a significant number of our sisters, despite their beauty, talent, maturity, and dynamism are passed over for marriage in favour of an idealised, demure “real” Muslim woman. The social consequences of this practice are extremely grave for our community.

Again, we can ask ourselves, “To what extent does this practice conform to the prophetic model?” Our Prophet was surrounded by strong, assertive and independent women. His beloved Khadija, who we have previously mentioned, was one of the most successful business people in the Arabian Peninsula, and her wealth allowed the Prophet to retreat to the Cave of Hira where he would receive the first revelation.

Ayesha, despite her young age was an assertive, free-spirited, intellectual powerhouse who would become one of the great female scholars in history. The foundation for her intellectual greatness was laid by the Prophet himself who recognised her brilliance. Zainab bint Jahsh ran a “non-profit” organisation. She would make various handicrafts, sell them in the market and then use the proceeds to secretly give charity to the poor people of Medina. Umm Salam had the courage to migrate from Mecca to Medina, unescorted, although she was ultimately accompanied by a single rider. She also had the vision to resolve the crisis at Hudaybiyya. These were all wives of the Prophet. To their names we could add those of many other strong and dynamic women who played a major role in the life of the fledgling Muslim community.

Another issue that is leading to many otherwise eligible women remaining single relates to colour. If a panel of Muslim men, whose origins were in the Muslim world, were to choose Miss World, the title would likely never leave Scandinavia. No matter how beautiful a woman with a brown, black, or even tan complexion was, she would never be quite beautiful enough, because of her skin colour. This attitude informs the way many choose their wives. This is a sensitive issue, but it is one we must address if we are to advance as a community. We may think that ours is a “colourblind” community, however, there are legions of women who have been relegated to the status of unmarriageable social pariahs who would beg to differ.

God has stated that “the basis for virtue with Him is piety; not tribe, race, or national origin.” (49:13) The Prophet reminded us that “God does not look at our physical forms, or at our wealth. Rather, He looks at our hearts and our deeds.” (Muslim) We debase ourselves when we exalt what God has belittled. God and His messenger have belittled skin colour and body shape and size as a designator of virtue or distinction. What does it say about us when we use these criteria as truncheons to painfully bludgeon some of the most beautiful women imaginable into social insignificance?

Marriage is not a playground where the ego thoughtlessly pursues its vanities. This is something the chivalrous young man mentioned at the outset of this essay understood. It is an institution that helps a man and a woman pursue the purpose of their creation: to glorify and worship God and to work, within the extent of our capabilities and resources, to make the world a better place for those we share it with and for those we will leave it to. This role is beautifully captured in the Qur’an, “The believing men and women are the supporting friends of each other. They enjoin right, forbid wrong, establish regular prayer, pay the poor due, and they obey God and His Messenger. They expect God’s Mercy. Surely, God is Mighty, Wise.” (9:71)

28 thoughts on “The Ethics of Chivalry Between Genders: Imam Zaid Shakir

  1. With all due respect to Imam Zaid, I (as an American-born muslim male) strongly disagree with much of what you wrote. While your point regarding trying to rise above “personality quirks” and overlooking some physical traits when looking for a spouse are well-taken, I would like to take exception with the following:

    – “why are so many Muslim men averse to marrying older…women?”
    The answer is the 800 lb. gorilla that is not mentioned when this question is asked: fertility. It is harder for women to conceive as they enter their late twenties and beyond. Most Muslim men I know want to become fathers, and the simple rules of biology favor youth.
    The second answer is not so much that men are averse as it is that many of these older sisters purposefully delay marriage and willfully reject perfectly qualified suitors in order to pursue their advanced studies and professional degrees. I mostly blame their parents for not preparing them for marriage and instead fostering an attitude that “I have to complete all my advanced training and then, years later, ‘Here I am, who’s ready to marry me!’”

    – I find it distasteful that these days when I often read and hear Muslim leaders encourage Muslim women to become more assertive and independent they allude to the fact that Lady Khadija was a business woman. At least she wasn’t one in the modern sense (I.e. free mixing, traveling unaccompanied to distant locales to conduct business, shaking hands with men, etc.). We respect that the Mothers of the Believers had abilities and charisma, but they weren’t feminists (like so many of today’s empowered Muslimas) and had purer motives and priorities; and they didn’t neglect their domestic duties.

    -We honor the marriage of the Holy Prophet PBUH to lady Khadija, and clearly their age difference illustrates that marrying an older woman is noble and not to be stigmatized; but it is simply unrealistic to expect a lot of men to follow suit. It is a fact that even in non-muslim western societies it is not very common that the average wife’s age is greater than her husband. Men and women are different, and they look for slightly different things as being desirable in the opposite sex. I’m sorry, but most men will not go for an older wife. You’ll have to re-wire our brains for most of us to do otherwise.

    – “Why are so many of our brothers so hesitant to marry strong, independent and intellectually astute women?”
    I don’t think most Muslim men object to having an intelligent, educated wife. What they don’t find desirable is that some Muslim women look down on marriage as some kind of hindrance and are refusing to marry and have kids until they complete college and post graduate degrees. To make things worse, many of these women will come with hefty (interest bearing) student loans that mandate that she work full time for the first several years of their married life. This can cause a strain on the marriage that some men frankly won’t want to take on that unnecessary headache.

    – “Many Muslim men will pass over talented, educated women who are willing to put their careers and education on hold, if need be, to commit to a family.”

    I flat out disagree. It can be and often is the other way around. From my experience and that of those brothers I know, it seems that it is many of the Muslim sisters who are rejecting qualified Muslim men in order to pursue their professional and worldly ambitions. I respectfully believe that the Imam and many other community leaders are out of touch on this point, and they do not consider the fact their rhetoric over the years (in order to prove the Islam liberates women, yadda yadda yadda…) has so empowered Muslim girls to the point that some believe that they can only find worth in pursuing years and years of education and not to “succumb” to marrying early. This effect is irrespective of whether it was the intention or not.

    I really think the trend these days is to continue to bash the brothers and blame them for the current impasse in the Muslim marriage “market.” I can tell you there are many Muslim women who are exacerbating the situation by declining sincere offers from upstanding brothers to marry early in order to pursue their professional dreams. At the same time, some sisters will also desire all the privileges of a “traditional” wife such as a hefty dowry, a lavish wedding, and an ever-patient husband with will “support me” in her endeavors until she is finally ready to settle down and have a family.
    In the meantime, most Muslim males won’t bother to wait. They will either find the willing, young sister who wants to marry, or they will pursue their desires illicitly (to the detriment of their soul and that of the community). As long as our Muslim leaders don’t address the situation in a truly balanced manner with a real understanding of what’s going on, things will become more acute. I don’t think projecting our ideas of what a modern, “liberated” woman does onto the Prophet’s wives PBUH is a correct or honest approach.

  2. One can be a feminist and a Muslim. The two are not mutually exclusive. I think Mr. Mospeeda is confusing the Western stereotype of feminism with what feminism actually is (treating women like people and not like objects). One does not need to wear revealing clothing, be rude to men, delay marriage, or try and behave like a man to be a feminist. In fact, I think any feminist who does or expects the aforementioned behavior may not fully understand what feminism is.

    In fact, isn’t it your Prophet (PBUH), Mr. Mospeeda, who was one of the original feminists? He did not try to make women equal to men (again, part of the Western stereotype of feminism) but instead urged the men in his patriarchal society to treat women as human beings and not as property. Did he not tell his men to spend time with their wives, to take care of them, and to try and make them happy?

    Finally, I don’t understand how divorce can be permitted in Islam but so many Muslim men will refuse to even consider a divorced wife. This is not an Islamic practice but a societal prejudice which should be closely examined by those who impose this strange standard.

    P.S. I certainly hope you are not putting the blame for the infidelity of some Muslim men solely on the backs of the women who won’t marry. That would be like blaming women who do not wear modest clothing for the immoral thoughts of the men who see them, when really both parties are to blame.

  3. To Mohamed: 1. There is nothing about taqwa as a quality for marriage in the ultra-chauvinist message of the respondant. Age is not one of the preferred characteristics for choosing a spouse, is it?
    2. The Prophet endorsed and encouraged not only his daughter but other single women who struggled to work on their own, going so far as to offer one his mount whilst she travelled alone to find work.
    3. You have an extraordinarily, Western, elitist if not classist approach to women finding work. For many millions of women throughout both the Muslim and non-Muslim world, they are in dire need of employment – its not some sort of mere luxury and without it, millions of women, men and their families would be destitute. This is also compounded by the increasing inability of a man to provide for his wife or in the event of a divorce, for the likelihood of destitution to increase. Without keeping up with skills and employment as well as jointly raising children, your arguments if taken to their natural conclusion both in terms of Islamic law and development theory – threaten the human security of the children as well as the wife. There is a great deal of evidence to support this. The assertions made are a throwback to the human, spiritual and moral development of male and female children the world over. There is a reason that it is considered worthwhile for men and women to learn more as they age – it protects them in future. The reverse is regressively anti-intellectual.
    4. You presume that domestic duties are the preserve of the wife – yet ignore that the Prophet himself assisted in the sharing of houeshold duties.
    5. Finally I would remind you of Bilqis, among the most revered of all females of all time Islamically, sanctioned as a head of state. I would not dismiss her qualities as mere charisma.

    Finally, the horrendous tone when it comes to women (assertiveness is distasetful? We’re not geishas for God’s sake) is extraordinarily offputting and may suggest to you more why you have difficulties with marrying women than any of the arguments therein.

  4. Jocelyn and Habiba are only raising a strawman (or straw-woman for those who would be offended) argument to what I said. No one objects to having a wife who is educated and *able* to support herself should the need arise. My wife is university educated and I would never have it otherwise, and it’s imperative that a woman be able to do so should the husband suddenly be incapacitated or not present to fulfill his natural duty of supporting the family. I am objecting to women who purposefully delay marriage *until* they complete 8 or more years of postsecondary education, rejecting any potential suitors in the meanwhile, then they expect plenty of men to be available for them afterwards.
    Secondly, no matter what one says, the Prophet PBUH was not feminist, it is distasteful to call him a feminist, and he would not even be considered a feminist by today’s feminist! It is a false dichitomy that a man should either club his wife and drag her by the hair and treat her as chattel, or that she be a “liberated,” “free-spirited” modern day woman wishing to fulfill her professional dreams as her main priority. The prophet’s wives were pure, obedient, and unlike any of the women of the world (as the Qur’an attests). The holy prophet commanded men to treat their women well, but he also without any equivocation commanded women to obey their husbands in all those permitted things. You are free to live and think as you choose, but please do not project your modern day constructs and desires onto the Prophet PBUH and his wives. If you want to emphasize his occasional assisting in household chores, then you have to also consider the many other instances and sayings of his that you would find “chauvinistic” by today’s standards. One can’t pick and choose. As an aside, and we are not really discussing the permisibility of women leading nations here, we don’t know what happened to Bilqis after she submitted to Suleiman AS. All we know is that before that when she ruled as Queen she was a polytheist. We shouldn’t extrapolate too many things from these Qur’anic stories other than spiritual lessons.

  5. I find it very telling that Mr. Mospeeda uses the AS after Suleiman but not after the wives of the Prophet(PBUH) even when he calls them by name.

    The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was indeed a feminist. He gave us the right to object to any marriage proposal we find unsuitable, and he gave us a means by which to obtain a divorce should the situation warrant such. He also gave us the right to inheritance equal to their station (you’ll hopefully note, Mr. Mospeeda, that I agree a woman should not inherit equal to a man because men do still have a larger economic burden to carry).

    Finally, he also gave us the right to refuse to have sex with our husbands, but he also stressed the importance of not doing so lightly because of the way men are biologically wired (and I agree with this as well).

    I don’t think you’ll find anything in my statement saying that women should delay marriage for 8+ years of education, or that women should be free spirited and the image of western liberated women. Any woman who marries a man yet insists upon pursuing her dreams to the detriment of her marriage is a fool. Best that she find a husband with dreams like hers, so both of them can have their dreams come true together. Of course, this isn’t always possible, and if such a situation arises then it is usually the woman who puts aside her dreams. I don’t necessarily disagree with this, either. After all, we will more than likely outlive our husbands so there will be time to pursue these dreams in widowhood. This is a simple fact of biology.

    Mr. Mospeeda, I pray that you find a pious, patient woman who can tolerate your arrogance. But I strongly suggest that you give patience and piousness the priority in your search, and put such silly things like age aside, otherwise you might be looking for a long time. If you are already married then I pray that your wife either remain or become patient, because she’s going to need it.

  6. ‘Finally, he also gave us the right to refuse to have sex with our husbands’

    Actually, he told you to comply with your husband’s requests even if you were at your oven (i.e. busy, occupied with something else)- don’t lie upon the Prophet (sal Allahu `alayhi wa sallam)- it’s a very grave crime.

    You might want to learn about what the Prophet (sal Allahu `alayhi wa sallam) taught before you accuse him of being a feminist. It’s obvious from your comment that you haven’t really invested any effort in doing so.

  7. If you look closely at what is going on here, you will understand more of the real truth about the biggest problem in terms of marriage in the Muslim world.
    Br Mospeeda, if you look at the nature of his argument carefully, is basically doing one thing and one thing alone: He refuses to accept any male responsibility for the marriage impasse that confronts Muslim communities. There is no understanding of the role men play in creating this standoff between the sexes.
    It’s a highly immature, childish, and ridiculously insecure attitude to have. And unfortunately, it is one that resonates within many Muslim men. They simply refuse to meet in the middle and accept anything wrong with themselves or their attitudes towards women.
    I’m no scholar or jurist, obviously, but it is my understanding that one of the most fundamental aspects of Islam is self improvement, to constantly look examine oneself of defect, to understand and evaluate our own limitations before we point the figure.
    If you refuse to look within yourself with a critical eye and question your behaviour and respond to these kinds of things with self satisfied finger pointing, I think you seem to have lost the point entirely. And that goes for men and women both.
    The entire air and aura about Br. Mospeeda indeed screams of self satisfied arrogance, and forgive me if that is not your intention, but it is seriously the impression given to me, and apparently to others who have commented on this article. There is somethinge extremely off putting about the way you made your case, and this is something people can sense about you through your words, no matter how many hadiths you quote or religious epithets you use.
    A dot.

    PS: ‘Feminist’ is not a dirty word, and it can mean different things to different people like many other words. Calling the Prophet (SAW) is not a slander, because for his time, and his people, and his age, his championing of women’s rights was extraordinary and entirely reformist.

  8. Our religious convictions smack of arrogance to those who don’t share them, and so I don’t greatly trouble myself about perspectives like the above. To speak tautologically, the above opinion is blind to its own aporia; s/he denounces the blame game and yet, quite obviously, indulges in it. The impasse, from what I have seen, has more to do with the desire of women to identify with Islam, but not the Islam preached by the Prophet (sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). It denounces men for not being prepared to meet men ‘in the middle’, without pausing to establishes where exactly this ‘middle’ lies. This lack of introspection characterises pretty much all writing on ‘the impasse’, as I like to call it. Men seem to have less difficulty than women, in the US, with conforming to Islam in its normative formulation. And if women suffer for their lack of said conformity- well, our decisions have their consequences.

    I agree that, for his time, the Prophet- sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam- was a ‘reformist’. But you have to examine the unstated assumptions in your opinion- and there are many. For starters, he came with a law that was Divinely inspired; also, that law is effectively fixed, since no new Prophetic dispensation will arrive to abrogate it. To change the shari’a is kufr; a person arrogates the Divine right thereby. And whatever we were informed of regarding the Unseen is true; and that includes the wrath of the angels for a woman who inexcusably forsakes her husband’s bed.

  9. For example:

    Allah’s Messenger (sal Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “When a man calls his wife to satisfy his desire she must go to him even if she is occupied at the oven.” [Tirmithi]

    If you have a problem with the above- you have a problem with the Prophetic gender ethic, so don’t complain when nobody wants to marry you.

  10. Wow, gotta love it when all the slimeballs come out of the woodwork. Don’t worry “gentlemen” (if that’s how you think of yourselves), I won’t continue to argue the same points that you refuse to listen or give credit to.

    I just need to point out a scientific error by Mr. Mospeeda. He said, “It is harder for women to conceive as they enter their late twenties and beyond.”

    Scientificaly speaking, women are not significantly less able to get pregnant until after age 30. The majority of both women AND men won’t start having difficulty getting pregnant (don’t forget that male’s play an equal role in fertility) until after age 35.

  11. @ Heather,
    The title of the article you linked to is “Female Fertility Starts Declining From 20s.”

    @ Daq,
    Most normal men would be glad to see you out of the marriage market. Being a spinster with cats can be quite glamorous.

    @ All you feminazis,
    Realize that most of the even so called “modern, progressive” men that tow the feminist party line and encourage you by their words, they deep down inside want a traditional wife. They don’t want to marry vipers like you with your constant need to prove yourselves. That’s reality. You are unattractive to the average male (and don’t forget that your external features will also become unattractive in a matter of years, so don’t bank on that for too long).

  12. ‘Our religious convictions smack of arrogance to those who don’t share them, and so I don’t greatly trouble myself about perspectives like the above. To speak tautologically, the above opinion is blind to its own aporia; s/he denounces the blame game and yet, quite obviously, indulges in it. ‘

    Dude….it’s all very well and good to sound like you’re writing a Ph. D thesis, but in real life this comes across as very pretentious and disconnected from ground realities.
    Ground Reality #1: Failing to understand and empathize with where other people are coming from, is a very ineffective way to pursue an argument much less a solution.
    And there is a way to have religious conviction and understanding without coming across as arrogant. The post above elicited a number of reactions, and at some point you have to ask yourself: Is it really all these women who are crazy nazi feminists, or did the person writing it lack a certain etiquette and gentle manner when relaying his point of view?
    While I pointed out that Brother Mospeeda found it very easy to heap all of the blame on women, I hoped that, implicit in my statements, I was implying that women had their share of issues regarding this ‘impasse’. I hoped it was implicit in my statement that yes, there are certain attitudes that many women share that will only serve to sabotage them in the long run, and that can be at odds with Islam. But I was also saying that does not mean that men are blameless, as per Brother Mospeeda’s comment. My bad if it wasn’t clear.
    Which brings me to the ‘impasse’. The ‘middle ground’ I speak of is not a standardized middle ground that can apply to everyone en masse, but is something that individuals must work towards together. At the end of the day, a marriage is really between two people. The foundation to a good marriage is love and mercy, and I will just quote what Imam Zaid Shakir said in the original article:
    ‘Too many Muslims are involved in marriages that devolve into an empty observation of duties and an equally vacuous demand for the fulfillment of rights. While such practices are laudable in their proper context, when they are divorced from kindness, consideration, empathy, and true commitment they define marriages that become a fragile caricature.’

    Denying Sahee hadiths is not something I think anyone is advocating. That hadith is something married people should all be mindful of. There is great wisdom in that hadith, and anyone who thinks upon it at length will hopefully arrive why.

    By pasting the hadith above and assuming that all women responding to this article, or the women reading it, have issues with it or refuse to obey it just speaks of your narrowmindness. That’s like if I assumed that all Muslim men wanted a mute, fresh 16 year old virgin, with no education, no ambition beyond the hearth, and a Energizer bunny womb. Or if I stated that’s almost like Muslim men were in favour of dumbing down the Ummah by discouraging intelligent women to spread their genes. (Like we need this.)

    To end this long comment, I would just like to say, that I think many women lanche at the thought of marrying someone with traces of the arrogance witnessed above. Forget dreamy Islamic ideals about the perfect mate, I think a woman could not respect a man who was so obtuse, so lacking emotional intuition or empathy, and with a seeming lack of any introspective capacity or humility.
    My comment was directed at ONE person’s comment above, your comment seems to apply to all women.
    Who’s playing the blame game?

  13. ‘But you have to examine the unstated assumptions in your opinion- and there are many. For starters, he came with a law that was Divinely inspired; also, that law is effectively fixed, since no new Prophetic dispensation will arrive to abrogate it.’

    I do not understand how you arrived at the idea that it was my ‘unstated assumption’ that any of the above is untrue.

  14. I didn’t read Mospeeda’s comments so I wasn’t responding to him; secondly, I was addressing people who took issue with the sexual ethic I mentioned- if not you, then most of your friends, if you care to ask. In posting the hadith I was making a pretty solid point. The vast majority of female readers will have a problem with it, particularly the kind affected by ‘the impasse’. If you don’t see the connection then you really need to get out more.

    I’m not talking about *all* women, my comments are regarding the particular gender dynamic among US Muslims. I’m trying to account for ‘the impasse’ in terms of changing gender norms, and I think it’s entirely fair to point it out. Every article I’ve read on the subject mentions this implicitly or otherwise.

    I didn’t say I wasn’t playing the blame game: I’m telling you, any woman who has a problem with the Prophetic gender ethic, or wishes to pursue her career goals to the detriment of her children’s education isn’t worth marrying. And that’s exactly what most brothers in the US are realising, hence ‘the impasse’. Of course, this is only one among many contributing factors.

  15. And having read the above comments there’s, nothing morally objectionable in a man wanting to marry a doe-eyed virgin fresh out of high school; these are personal choices we make. I wouldn’t do it myself, but I don’t really have the right to reprobate such conduct in others. Nobody can call it immoral. And that’s the thing: contracting a marriage isn’t an act of charity. There is plenty of room to accommodate your preferences, prejudices etc, and this is part of the ‘problem’. In rejecting numerous suitors for various reasons, women are exercising their agency too; in deciding to reject XYZ pious suitor because he doesn’t respect your career goals, women are making the choice not to marry. Men make the same choice. They both move along until they can find someone suitable. If they can’t find someone suitable, chances are it’s their own prejudices and preconditions that are at fault. How many women affected by ‘the impasse’ have literally never been proposed to? Hardly many. And so, if they feel that there aren’t enough men who fit the bill, it’s their own expectations that are the cause- whether or not they’re justifiable causes is another question.

  16. Again, I’m not sure how men are at fault. If they are (something I won’t venture to deny), I’d like to know how.

    Because Imam Zaid is trying to effect a cultural revolution, he will fail; this is bigger than individual attitudes, and culture dies hard. Not to say it isn’t a noble endeavour- but if people aren’t convinced that what they’re doing is deeply wrong, what incentive do they have to change things? Does Islam mandate that you marry an older woman? No. Our choice of marriage partner is, more often than not, entirely selfish- among women as much as men- and perhaps rightly so. That isn’t to say that questions of piety and moral character don’t enter into it: I’m just saying that people have preferences, and it can’t be said to be wrong to have preferences. If a son marries a particular kind of sister to keep the peace at home, what’s the big deal? You have to give him a serious incentive to defy convention, and that just isn’t present. Imam Zaid can’t really provide us with any compelling reasons to change our preferences, since there is no disputing in matters of taste (as the dictum goes), which, not being regulated by religion (the age, race etc of your spouse), are not amenable to major changes in a short space of time (I don’t think, insha Allah I’m wrong).

    I acknowledge that there’s a problem (lots of unmarried 25+ sisters); but how on earth can it be solved? If you try to change our marital preferences you’ll fail, especially since marriage is a buyer’s market (for brothers). You can’t provide us with any compelling reasons to change our expectations of a spouse. So what’s next?

    • Culture dies hard, but the culture is dying as we speak. In the US, you need a dual income to thrive, and the way to get there is having an educated wife. Eight years postgraduate and all. The reason these “conversations” are happening so often is because indeed, the end of anti-women traditions are in the very immediate future.

  17. ‘Too many Muslims are involved in marriages that devolve into an empty observation of duties and an equally vacuous demand for the fulfillment of rights. While such practices are laudable in their proper context, when they are divorced from kindness, consideration, empathy, and true commitment they define marriages that become a fragile caricature.’

    I think Imam Zaid has missed the point of marriage. Marriage, at its most basic level is literally a contractual agreement between various parties that stipulates the provision of certain things (nafaqah etc) in exchange for certain others (intimacy, and so on). When one party fails in its obligations towards the other, the contract can be dissolved. Obviously, we could qualify this in a thousand and one ways- but that really is the reality of marriage. Love, kindness etc are all nice but they aren’t legally recognised per se. Imam Zaid calls these merely legal marriages fraud, but I disagree. I think it’s incredibly important that reciprocal obligations etc exist, because, believe it or not, ‘love’ is an extremely precarious foundation for a marriage. So are ‘mercy’ and ‘kindness’, extremely vague concepts that Zaid doesn’t trouble himself to define, and which, ultimately, are not part of the legal marriage contract. They are important, but not legally obligatory; their absence doesn’t invalidate the contract. And, more often than not, their presence is only transient, their connection to a married couple tenuous, etc.

    If it were’t for a sacred law, the cultural stigmas attached to divorcees and the genuine care most parents have for their children, how many marriages would last longer than five minutes?

  18. Mr.Mospeeda, I am glad that you found a wife according to your requirements. I have something to say about the following statement “I am objecting to women who purposefully delay marriage *until* they complete 8 or more years of postsecondary education, rejecting any potential suitors in the meanwhile, then they expect plenty of men to be available for them afterwards.”

    I am a single, educated, professional, muslim woman in my late 20’s. People have told me that I am a gentle and kind person with good values and many say that I look very young. Like many of my single friends, my parents started looking for a match when I was 21-22. I did not “delay” searching for a good Muslim husband or reject reasonable suitors. In fact, I was more than happy to talk to men who were reasonably educated or attractive to me. During this time, being a decent Muslim women, I passed up many opportunities from non-muslim men. Like many sisters, I waited for the Muslim version of Mr.Right.

    Mr.Mospeeda, I respect your opinion. However, before you judge single Muslim women or make false claims about the situation, you need to realize that there is a significant marriage crisis for Muslim women in North America. I am not saying that Muslim men face difficulties, but compared to what Muslim women face and the constraints of time that women have to deal with, men have it a lot easier. A significant number of Muslim men marry non-Muslim women, many marry women from back home, many are not as educated as women. This causes a demographic shift that is not in favor of women.

    The only solution for women who are in their 30’s or beyond is to either wait for a “decent” Muslim man with good values and higher form of thinking to marry them or marry outside of the community. I wish all of these women good luck in their search and protect them from men who are not kind, men who are arrogant, abusive, or incapable of being good husbands.

    Also, for the men in this post making comments about women, whether you are married or not, many of you will be fathers one day to daughters or sons. You have to realize that God is watching every comment and every thought you have.

    I would like to end this with the quote by Imam Zaid Shakir “Marriage is not a playground where the ego thoughtlessly pursues its vanities. This is something the chivalrous young man mentioned at the outset of this essay understood. It is an institution that helps a man and a woman pursue the purpose of their creation: to glorify and worship God and to work, within the extent of our capabilities and resources, to make the world a better place for those we share it with and for those we will leave it to.”

    Thank You

  19. Anyone who thinks there’s a disconnection between Islam and feminism either doesn’t know much about feminism, or doesn’t know much about Islam.

  20. I wish we could take some time to honor the message of Imam Zaid Shakir. It’s clear we are not taking the time to understand each other very much, we need to have more patience in communicating …this is what I am gathering …

    Men: There is nothing wrong with wanting a woman based on “traditional” or attributes which have historically been attractive to us. Stop making me sound like I am a tyrant just because I am being honest. Why do I have to change my personal preference because you woman are making different decisions in your life? I am not against an educated, successful wife, but womanhood, wife-hood (yes this should exist) and motherhood needs its proper significant place.

    Women: Obviously we all want to have a family and have a great married life, most likely we want the same things from a marriage that you want to provide …however, our current environment demands from us to play a more complex role in society, including at times being a professional, getting educated and having a career. . . why are we being penalized and getting forced upon us a trade off between personal and career success? Should we risk not pursuing personal success to get married, our entire success in this world relies heavily on a man, and that is not functional in today’s world.

    So the real discussion is . . .how do we reconcile all this? I would argue Iman Zaid Shakir is taking the first steps to accomplish this.

  21. “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” – George Orwell

    Thanks, Imam Zaid, for doing your duty, and doing it so well.

  22. Reading Imam Zaid’s article left me very impressed; finally someone speaking out as to the true meaning of marriage, in ALL contexts….but especially in an Islamic context. And then I read the comments.
    I do not want to further the negativism being displayed by both sides. I only wish to bring up some points, for what they are worth, in an attempt to redirect this dialogue into a “solution finder” as opposed to a “problem creator”.
    Firstly,(and this is more of a side point) as a genetic counselor, I can assure you that from both a medical and scientific standpoint a woman’s fertility is not significantly decreased by the age of 30. In fact, a woman’s fertility is not at the risk of infertility (based on age alone) up until closer to 45, wherein she approaches the precursor to menopause. Although it does start to decrease once they PASS the age of 20 (not late 20s but 20),it is NOT in a drastic fashion. Interestingly, studies show that currently the majority of couples who are facing infertility are not those of advanced age, rather they are couples in their 20’s to 30’s. Infertility is a multifactorial issue, and age is only a part of that issue, with many other factors causing as much of an impact, if not more. And paternal age is just as much of an issue; male fertility also decreases with age, but again this decrease is not drastic and it is not until a man reaches his 50s and which point infertility can become an issue.
    Secondly, (and really the main point) I actually do agree with some of the opinions expressed by the “guys”, wherein women should not prioritize their education or their careers at the cost of their married life. I feel as a woman, and especially as a muslim woman, it is our goal to get married and become mothers, and then to utilize all of our attention to raising, maintaining and caring for that family. We should definitely strive to become educated and have a career in order to become contributing members of society, but not at the expense of raising a muslim family.
    However, I would like to raise the alternate scenario, which in actuality is the more common reality then the a fore mentioned. See, most times the woman has to maintain a career BECAUSE it has become increasingly difficult to live on just one income, and so she sets forth to secure this ability, in order to HELP her marriage and family, not to sacrifice it.
    Also, it is often BECAUSE there was no suitable, upstanding, pious muslim man who was available, that the woman continues to pursue higher education and strive more for her career, not in opposition to it. And IRONICALLY, it is often that girl’s FATHER who strongly encourages this, because NO FATHER would want his daughter to sit idly, waiting to marry someone that HE does not think is worthy!
    I would also like to point out here that the term “suitable” applies to both sexes, hence it is inherent for every person to be able to choose for themselves what is suitable to them, and not be forced to find someone “suitable” (just because they happened to send a proposal). And in keeping with that, I completely agree that if it is someone’s honest desire to marry a 12 yr old, then by all means do it.
    The problem is that it is often not solely the muslim man’s choice to marry a girl half his age; it is the culture that he is a part of that propagates this (the exact culture that Imam Zakir is trying to challenge, and it IS a culture, it is not HARDWIRED and it is DEFINITELY not Islamic), and ironically here it is often the guy’s MOTHER who encourages such choices. So what do we have here…is this really a battle of the sexes? Or is it a battle within the sexes? Does it matter? What does?
    Would it not be more pertinent and important to focus our energies on what a marriage means and how to get there, rather than blaming the other party as to why we cannot get married.
    So sisters, we do need to assess our priorities, try to tailor them to Islam, and then be vocal about it.
    And brothers, I do not want to hate on you; the person i love most in this world is a man: my dad! Yet HE is the one that has always stressed that I should only marry a man for his deen, his good and kind nature and his drive to succeed (not his drive to be rich, just pursuit of education and the ambition to want to succeed). However, it has also been HIS observation that the quality and caliber of the muslim guys is lacking. I do not know why, and I keep holding out hope that this is not true! But just like in everything, it has always been women who get short-changed (because as mentioned before, often the guys either marry out or marry from “back home”). Just this time, the women are getting short-changed, but with an education and a career to boot.
    *A little secret: 90% of women (not just muslim women but often times even hardcore “feminists”) would give up their education and their careers if it meant being able to have a loving marriage and family life with a suitable, upstanding, morally pious man based on mutual respect!* 🙂

  23. My thoughts:
    1) I think Br. Mospeeda raises a number of issues that are often overlooked these days. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he makes a few good points.
    2) Aside from fertility, there are also lower risks of birth defects when a woman has earlier pregnancies (in her 20’s). If you marry a 30 year old woman and plan on having a few kids, you better get to work fast!! There may also be a lower cancer risk if a woman doesn’t delay pregnancy.
    3) Obviously the economic and social demographics of the time often require a woman to work, and an education helps. My suspicion (and my experience) is that for many girls (and for their parents) it’s about more than that. It’s about pursuing “dreams,” getting a “career,” and making her parents proud; it’s about a girl proving herself somehow; it’s about seeking independance from a husband; it’s about having it all (career and family). Here’s an example of a real scenario that troubles me: a full time doctor who has a sufficient income has a 1 year old son and a wife pregnant with their second child, and she decides to start medical school; and he even encourages her. How is she supposed to raise young Muslims and try to fight off all the kufr and immorality in society around her if she’s devoting all her time to becoming a doctor?? Raising good Muslims and human beings is a fool time job that needs to be more valued. Instead, these days it’s the working woman who gets glamorized.
    4) I understand that older unmarried women are a problem for our community, and it’s often through no fault whatsoever of the girls. I believe one of the things to keep in mind is, if you’re a YOUNG girl and refusing suitors now, instead of hoping that several years from now younger men will change their attitudes and try to swipe you off your feet, think twice. And please don’t use career ambitions as an excuse not consider a marriage proposal.
    5) As for the problem of there not being suitable men to marry, that’s another issue altogether. May Allah guide us all, and may the married Muslims of our community strive to raise the kind of Men and Women of taqwa that any real Muslim would want to marry one day.

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