‘Formula for a Successful Marriage’: M. Azam

‘Formula for a Successful Marriage’ 

Recently I was forwarded this article on what makes a ‘successful marriage’ :

The piece is written by Yasmine Mogahed, whose popular work includes an article in response to Amina Wadud’s leading of Islamic prayer back in 2005-”A Woman’s Reflection on Leading Prayer” http://usa.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/13883/Mogahed commonly adopts a ‘cultural feminist’ view that reflects an essentialist notion of gender by emphasizing what are seen as innate and undeniable differences between men and women.

To answer her question on “What is going wrong when so many of our marriages are ending in divorce?” Mogahed states that “According to Dr. Emerson Eggerich, author of Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs, the answer is simple. In his book, Eggerichs explains that extensive research has found that a man’s primary need is for respect, while a woman’s primary need is for love. He describes what he calls the “crazy cycle”—the pattern of argumentation that results when the wife does not show respect and the husband does not show love. He explains how the two reinforce and cause one another.  In other words, when a wife feels that her husband is acting unloving, she often reacts with disrespect, which in turn makes the husband act even more unloving.” http://loveandrespect.com/

Mogahed writes in her typical eloquence, citing hadiths and spiritual reflections along the way. It is easy to be taken by the purity in her tone. Many actually do buy into it.

Me- not so much. Mogahed writes as if she’s offering a dissection of painfully clear logic. However, the pervasive, gender-stereotyped, and formulaic perspective on marriage that was being promoted by the article is problematic. It can impede a couple from deeply evaluating the individual expectations and preferences that each member might have from the relationship and instead endorses a ‘rigid’ standard of conduct. It could very likely be the case that the woman senses a lack of respect and the man a lack of affection.

Gender differences are valid. I am not negating the idea that men and women may have different needs. I find beauty in the yin and yang. I am wary, however, when these differences are stated as a dichotomous straightforward reality. As we know, one’s sex is simply determined by X and Y chromosomes, while gender is much more complex and is derived from socio-cultural contexts, personal individual histories, and even varying levels of predisposed sex hormone levels. Gender sensitivities are required in a marriage; however, these should be dealt with on tangible and nuanced terms not by an over-simplified external reality of how a husband and a wife are to be differently treated.

Also, by adhering ‘respect’ for the husband and ‘love’ for the wife, Eggerich’s preconception emphasizes male authority and the notion that females need to be pampered. The purporting of respect for the husband and love for the wife, instead of the idea of a mutual level of respect and love for both, insidiously supports a ‘top-down’ power dynamic between the husband and the wife. This is cautionary especially due to the fact that many of us come from cultural backgrounds which advocate a dominating role by the husband and a subordinated role by the wife, with the assumption that this dynamic is ‘Islamic.’ To move our community towards the complementary balanced relationship that Islam does in fact advocate, I say let us become hypersensitive to any (usually well-intending, albeit) dogmatic thinking on marital relations. The answer to what makes a successful marriage is, often, anything but simple.

M. Azam

The Ethics of Chivalry Between Genders: Imam Zaid Shakir

Source: http://www.emel.com/article?id=71&a_id=1964

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. Continue reading

Muslims Talking Sex Series: “The Other Half” – Bringing ‘Lust’ Back to ‘Love’

GOATMILK continues  its original and exclusive series entitled “Muslims Talking Sex” featuring diverse Muslim  writers from around the world discussing a gamut of topics in their own unique, honest and eclectic voices.

By Sister Barnburner


When it comes to the discussion of sex and marriage, an epidemic of smug has swept through the community of American Muslims. Marriage is a practical, social contract, we say smugly–all this fluff about romantic passion and love is unnecessary western innovation.

Marriage is half your religion, we say smugly–Islam puts the relationship between husband and wife at the center of social and religious duty.

You’d have to be an idiot not to see the contradiction between these two statements. Fortunately, we’ve got idiots to spare. Yes, marriage is half your religion: the grim, restrained half. Once you have secured your spouse, you can, and indeed should, treat him or her like a piece of expensive furniture. Keep your emotions and your physical needs under a tidy layer of plastic–much as you did while you were single–so they’ll be nice and fresh when guests come over.

And we wonder why so many young Muslims have trouble even securing a spouse.

Darling, can I interest you in a strictly pragmatic, emotionally barren halal sex contract? No? Why on earth not? I promise the sex part will be as perfunctory as possible–wait, where are you going?

What Muslims have come to call ‘practical’ is in actuality ludicrous, socially damaging and impractical in the extreme. In a marital partnership, practical means strong affection and good sex. Why? Because these things are the glue that keeps a marriage together. Anything less encourages the spouses to seek emotional and even physical fulfillment outside the marriage. Anything less is relationship suicide. Anything less is fitna waiting to happen.


Good sex and real affection can save a marriage laden with all the problems modern Muslims encounter: conflicting cultural identities, conflicting interpretations of religious duty, conflicting expectations about family and job responsibilities. Conversely, bad sex and no affection can harpoon a marriage in which both spouses appear to be on the same page about everything, right down to the foot with which one should enter and leave the bathroom. Sex and sexual love are the only things that differentiate a marriage from other family relationships. If the sex is terrible–and sex without affection is pretty harrowing–the marriage is built on sand. All the polite even-handedness and inshallahing in the world will not save it if it begins to crumble.

Which is why it is so tragic that sex in modern western Muslim communities is seen as a necessary but dubious bodily function, like taking a piss. Marital sex is a means of preventing vice and begetting children, nothing more, just as urinating has no higher purpose than to relieve one’s bladder. This brisk, efficient attitude hardly inspires the kind of passion needed to fuel a marriage through decades of life’s struggles. In fact, it seems to have had a chilling effect on the marriage market for single Muslims as well.


Having spoken to dozens of eligible young Muslim women distraught over the fact that they can’t seem to get enthusiastic about any of the men who have proposed to them, it’s clear that a large part of their indecision is not lofty standards, as has often been suggested, but sexual dread. They cannot imagine being intimate with these monkishly cerebral suitors and their furtive attitude toward physical love. Men, on the other hand, understandably have trouble feeling confident around women who have become their (sometimes ruthless) competitors. Instead of finding ways to build healthy good-humored partnerships, single Muslims of both genders test one another, bringing religious and social conflicts deep into the territory of private life.

This is not to say that single Muslims should hold out for true love. True love–the idea that there is a one-to-one perfect soulmate match for every human being, and if you fail to find that match, you are doomed to a life of incompleteness–is a myth. On this front, the Protestantized conservatives of western Islam are absolutely right.

Real love, on the other hand–nurturing the good in another person with passion, desire and dedication–is one of the greatest human experiences on God’s earth. Real love is not something you wait for, it is something you actively cultivate. It is this desire to cultivate love that is absent from the modern, western Muslim discussion about marriage. What is left is so sanitized and obsessively rational that it is almost comic, and worse, out of step with the emotional needs and flaws of real Muslims.

Marriage could indeed be half of religion, if we would only let it. We have to get out of our own way, allowing love–and lust–back into our lives.

Sister Barnburner is a practicing muslimah who occasionally writes about the ailments of the modern ummah, but always with the deepest affection

GOATMILK is taking submissions for its “Muslims Talking Sex” Series at goatmilkblog@gmail.com . Entries must be under 1,000 words and shall be published at the discretion of the editor.


***[ Dear Goatmilk Readers, What are your thoughts on this piece? Feel free to sound off in the comments.]***

By SONDOS KHOLOKI-KAHF, Staff Writer, IN Focus Magazine

Afaf*, 25, has been searching for a husband for a solid two years to no avail.

“All my friends were getting married by the age of 22, so, naturally, I wanted to be part of the ‘wedding club,’” she recalls. “And, of course, there was this romantic notion that it would be the love story of love stories.”

Afaf started feeling the pressure as her friends talked endlessly about wedding dresses, halal caterers and honeymoons, even though she had not been planning on getting married while in college. Continue reading