By Meltem Baykaner
I have recently reached that age. Many sisters will know the age that I am speaking of. It is an age not necessarily marked by a number, but rather recognised by the way you are treated…
Having bounded through childhood, jumped the hurdles of adolescence and, alhamdulillah (praise be to God), somehow managed to trudge through the trials of university; the next obstacle seems to be approaching quickly – and it is a two-person race.
This race, or rather marathon, is marriage. It is often the first question on a sister’s lips when meeting me (‘so, are you married?!’) and the last thing on my mind before sleeping.
It seems at twenty-two, having graduated just under a year ago now, I have left the honeymoon period new graduates enjoy after university – a blissful time when you can happily do nothing for a while before ‘real life’ starts – and am now faced with an actual honeymoon period to be thinking about.
I first noticed this otherwise imperceptible shift that took me from care-free twenty-something to a care-full young woman when, at my local mosque, an auntie I recognized by face and not by name suddenly became very interested in me. Gripping me eagerly as I spoke, she excitedly enquired after my age, job and parents with a big grin and wide eyes. Naturally I was bemused; it was Friday prayer and, as my workplace was located so close to the mosque, for months I had been attending the jummah prayers and khutbah (sermon) at this very masjid – why was this Friday any different?
Only later that week when my mother told me that she had been approached by an auntie at the mosque who had, it seems, taken a liking to me, did I realize that this kind (but probing) woman had stored the nutshell of information I had given her in her cheek, like a squirrel with an acorn, to be taken home and opened before her single son.
I fear that I am giving off an impression of disinterest in marriage, that I had never thought about it before or that perhaps I don’t want to get married. This is NOT the case; I’m happy to start thinking about it, but the problem is, I don’t know what I think about it…
There is a scene at the Netherfield ball in the classic novel Pride & Prejudice in which Elizabeth Bennet says, ‘I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly,’ (Austen). Though the heroine of the novel is referring to her sworn enemy-cum-true love, Mr Darcy, she could just as well be talking about marriage.
Like Elizabeth Bennet’s confused opinion about the proud Mr Darcy, my opinion and knowledge of married life has been formed mostly from what others have told me on the subject. Much like a collage, the cuttings and clippings of information that I have collected and stuck on to my mental pin board are mismatched, pieced together haphazardly.
As single Muslims and Muslimahs, we are told that marriage is half of our deen (religion) (Al–Bayhaqi). Contrary to this, we are also told that once you marry, seeking knowledge and learning about our religion is put on pause and, mysteriously, we are not informed of when the ‘play’ button of our lives will be pressed once more.
So, what are we meant to feel? Are we, as currently unmarried people, supposed to want to get married, knowing that our deen is from that point onwards going to remain stagnant? Or should we put this warning from our minds, brush it off as unnecessary advice that does not apply to us, and run full-pelt into imagined marital bliss?
Just as I was beginning to worry that I was perhaps the only Muslimah to feel like this, I found my – and, it seemed, many other sisters’ problem too – worded eloquently in sister Maryam Amirebrahimi’s article Wifehood and Motherhood are Not the Only Ways to Paradise on the SuhaibWebb.com website, in which she asks ‘Why, as a general community, are we not putting the same pressure on women to encourage them to continue to seek Islamic knowledge? Higher education? To make objectives in their lives which will carry over and aid them in their future familial lives, if such is what is meant for them?’
I now understand that I am not the only one struggling between wanting to be a learned, independent woman and a learned woman in a happy unit; and the reason that my vision of marriage is so distorted is that these things are frequently presented to us as mutually exclusive.
Often the Islamic literature directed at women is on the topic of marriage; even if the book title or blurb does not directly link to the subject, somehow the text turns into a handbook on wifely duties.
So, here is what I propose to all single people: let us push away this confusing array of text, talk and tips being thrown at us, which, even whilst writing this article, have clouded my mind further. Let us return to perhaps the only words that have our real best interests at heart, which tell us the true meaning of marriage; to make us come closer to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (glorified is He) by becoming so close with another: ‘And among His Signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He put love and mercy between your hearts. Verily in that are Signs for those who reflect.’ (Qur’an 30:21)
Finally, let us strive to feel that thinking about and wanting to get married are both healthy practices, but doing this with a mind foggy with what others have told us or a heart heavy with external pressures is not a healthy approach to an institution that has been designed for us by our Creator on the foundations of love, mercy and tranquillity and not, as some might have us believe, on anxiety, idleness or doubt.