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The Ethics of Chivalry in Islam

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 emphasize 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?

man wearing white shirt near white surface
Photo by elCarito / Unsplash

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 Salamah 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 color. 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 color. 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 “colorblind” 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 color 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).

Written by Imam Zaid Shakir

1 month ago

Get married, free, on muzmatch.

muzmatch x My Big Fat Halal Blog

Hey everyone, it’s Ayesha from My Big Fat Halal Blog (MBFHB)! MBFHB is one of the UK’s biggest halal food platforms where I share halal restaurant reviews, recipes and travel guides! You can find out more about what I do on my website or Instagram.

Today, I’m collaborating with muzmatch to share some of my top Ramadan recipes. We hope you try them out and we would love to see any of your recreations.

DATE SUHOOR SMOOTHIE BOWL:

Here’s a simple recipe for this delicious, filling smoothie bowl packed with nutritious dates… the only dates you should be having this Ramadan! ;)

Suhoor Smoothie Bowl

INGREDIENTS

1 banana, plus extra slices to garnish

5 pitted medjool dates, plus extra, chopped, to garnish

250ml semi-skimmed milk

2 tsp cocoa powder

1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp ground nuts, to decorate

METHOD

Simply put all the ingredients in a blender, and whizz until smooth. Pour into a bowl, over ice, if you like, then arrange the nuts, extra banana and dates over the top to serve.

POTATO CUTLETS:

Let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be Ramadan without fried treats! Below is a recipe for my spicy, moreish potato cutlets.  They’re always a hit with everyone!

Potato Cutlets

INGREDIENTS

750g Maris Piper potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

11⁄2 tbsp garam masala

2 tsp chilli powder

1 tbsp ground coriander

Handful of coriander, roughly chopped

2 tbsp plain flour

1 egg, lightly beaten

60g breadcrumbs

3 tbsp vegetable oil

Chutney/spicy salsa, to serve

METHOD

1.Put the potatoes in a large pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then cook for 18-20 mins, until tender. Drain and set aside for 15-20 mins, until cool enough to handle.

2. Add the garam masala, chilli powder, ground coriander and fresh coriander to the potatoes. Season, then mash until smooth.

3. Wet your hands, then shape the mixture into 10 round patties, about 1cm thick.

4. Put the flour, egg and breadcrumbs onto separate plates, then dip each patty first in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs to coat.

5. Heat the oil to medium-high, then fry the patties in batches for 2-3 mins on each side, until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper, then serve with a chutney/ spicy salsa for dipping.

UM ALI:

A feast would not be complete without dessert! Try out this delicious Egyptian bread pudding known as Um Ali. It’s made with croissants, nuts and condensed milk and it’s absolutely delicious!

Um Ali

INGREDIENTS

850ml semi-skimmed milk

1⁄2 x 397g can condensed milk

1⁄2 tsp ground cardamom

1⁄4 tsp ground cinnamon, plus extra to serve

1 tsp vanilla extract

100ml double cream

1 tsp unsalted butter

4 all butter croissants, roughly torn

2 tbsp desiccated coconut

2 tbsp flaked almonds

2 tbsp unsalted pistachios, chopped

2 tbsp seedless raisins

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/Gas 4.

2. Stir the milk, condensed milk, cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla extract together in a saucepan. Slowly bring to the boil and simmer gently for 2mins, stirring occasionally. Add the cream and carefully bring back to the boil, then remove from the heat.

3. Using the butter, grease a round baking dish, roughly 22cm in diameter and 5cm deep, and cover the base with half the croissant pieces.

4. Sprinkle over half each of the coconut, almonds, pistachios and raisins, then pour over the milk mixture.

5. Top with the remaining croissants, nuts and raisins, plus an extra pinch of cinnamon.

6. Bake in the oven for 20-25mins until golden and bubbling, then leave to stand for 10 mins before serving.

I hope you enjoy these recipes and will try them out! You can find more of my recipes at mybigfathalalblog.com.

1 day ago

One-Week Married! #muzmatchsuccess

My husband and I got married last week! I wanted to share our story with you. Jarred and I started talking earlier this year and had an instant connection.

Jarred is from Connecticut and I'm from Texas. He was in Arkansas for school and recently graduated and was interested in meeting someone so he downloaded muzmatch.

We started talking and realized how much we had in common and quickly became serious about each other. We complimented each another in so many ways: prioritizing our deen, family and wanting to make a positive difference in the world.

Jarred then drove to see me. After that, we were certain we wanted to get married and decided to have our nikkah before Ramadan. We've been married almost a month now and it's been a wonderful adventure!

We're so happy! Jazakallah khair for connecting us!

1 day ago

Our Mixed Race Marriage #muzmatchsuccess

Alhamdulillah, thank you Allah and the muzmatch team!

I'm from Indonesia and my husband is from Germany, but he is Russian.

What a blessing it is to have a mixed raced marriage!

I knew my husband from muzmatch since May 2017 and then he visited Indonesia in November 2017. I didn't believe he was serious until he visited me and my family.

Months later, I flew to Germany and found work there because I wanted to be close to him.

I was in love.

Finally on 28 Dec 2018, we had our nikkah which fell on the last Jumu'ah of the month and in March 2019 we got officially married.

Thank you to the muzmatch team!

2 days ago