There is no gender pay gap, but that doesn’t mean the workplace is fair to women (Part 1/2)

January 15, 2018

Making equal pay the main issue women face in the workforce is a mistake. Women make $0.76 compared to every dollar men make —black women make even less, on the surface that seems pretty outrageous, sexist and an issue that deserves continuous attention until resolved. But that’s on the surface. When you delve into the numbers you begin to see that painting the picture in this way is a bit deceptive. The figure $0.76 for every man’s dollar is a comparison of all women’s wage earnings and all men’s wage earnings over a lifetime.  Comparing the wage earnings of all men and all women then attempting to close that gap is both impossible and potentially unjust. For one, more women work in minimum wage jobs, more men are willing to ask for a raise, and men do in fact work longer hours than women —43 minutes a week more, which adds up in the long run. So at this point some may be tempted to assume that all is well for women in the workforce, women simply make different employment decisions, they value home and family life more than men —according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “85% of women compared to 67% of men often spend some time doing daily housework, and on the days that women do housework they spend an average of 30 more minutes doing so than men and… spend as much as double the amount of time on childcare than men do” and don’t desire to take the risk of asking for raises or spending any more time on the job than necessary. The problem with that conclusion is that it pretends these are easy choices for women to make when the reality is that women are often forced into these decisions because the workforce continues to lack women-friendly policies. Knowing that women make $0.76 for every man’s $1.00 is useful in that it begins to tell us something may be awry, but it is not the issue in and of itself.

In discussing how we can make the workplace more women-friendly we have to have a discussion about the differences between men and women, it’s unavoidable. If we don’t talk about our differences there will never be any justice for women in the workforce and I believe more women will begin to choose home over work if the US continues to ignore their needs —this past decade was the first time in decades that the number of women not in the workforce, rose. One of the differences between men and women is how their work habits change when they have a family. When men have a family, they tend to work harder. When women have families we tend to work less. Is that inherently a bad thing? Of course not, women and men are free to choose their own path in raising their family but if we want to support women, we have to acknowledge that when they have family they don’t want to spend as many hours in the workplace, how can we allow someone to spend more time with their families while still excelling in their work? We have to fight for both flextime and maternity leave.

Fairness for women without injustice to men

Some feminists have acknowledged that men work more than women, their solution? Get rid of overtime. That’s not only injustice to men, it doesn’t support women in any way —especially the women who benefit from their husbands’ overtime when they take time off of work to be home caring for their family. If we want to support women, we have to focus on what women actually want, and what a lot of women want is to spend less time at work when they have a family and even less when they have a new baby. On the other extreme conservatives may say, well that’s a personal choice women make I.e. why should anyone have to support someone’s personal choice. But having a family is not merely a personal choice, it’s a part of life that most women will experience —most women will have a family, and so it is as much a personal issue as it is a social one. Let’s also think of what would happen alternatively if women decided not to have children in preference for having a career, then we’d be in a panic about slowing birthrates —which has already begun to creep up

Ignoring the needs of women is a degradation of our value that stems from the aftermath of World War 2. After WW2, women in the US were asked to leave the jobs they’d taken over from men during the war, return home and let the men work. Alternatively, in Europe, many countries, who also had women working in place of men during the war, wanted to retain those women after the war, and so they incentivized the workplace in order to keep women working. The US stills sees women as expendable and doesn’t see fit to help women, most of whom will have families, retain their jobs or succeed in them. Considering the fact that over 70% of women are in today’s workforce it’s strange that it remains as unfriendly today as the day it asked them to leave.

Gender-neutral policies won’t cut it

And gender-neutral policies like FMLA don’t cut it. FMLA gives workers 6 weeks off unpaid for family or medical emergencies. If a pregnant woman attempts to use this, that’s 6 weeks to have your baby, recover from pregnancy and bond with that baby, unpaid. Again, someone may say, Well it’s her choice to have a baby but how can one hide behind the “personal choice” argument when it’s an issue that most women will face —that’s like saying menstruation or menopause is a personal issue, personal sure but it’s also a women’s issue and therefore a societal issue. To listen to women calculate how they’ll group together their sick days, vacation days and their 6 weeks from FMLA -how they’ll work until the very last moment of their pregnancy so they can take most of their time after the baby is born, is heartbreaking.

A workforce that benefits from the labor of women needs to figure out how to support those women in their time of need, the only way to honestly do so is to acknowledge and support a woman’s role as caregiver. The “equal pay gap” is a distraction that removes us from acknowledging the real issue, which is that the American workplace was never built to accommodate women with families, the questions that are far more valuable then asking why women only make $.76 on the dollar is to ask why more companies don’t have nurseries, nursing rooms, flextime and maternity leave? These are the questions that matter most and their resolution will have a significant impact on the lives of women.

When life gives you lemons

January 13, 2018

I was blessed that for the first six months of my marriage I was able to be a housewife. That was something I always knew I wanted to do at the very beginning of marriage and so I’m grateful to God that I did. Unfortunately, because I had no real preparation for being a housewife it was mostly filled with trial and error —something I’d warn any woman of, please don’t go into marriage without knowing how to and having ample practice in the daily management of a household. And I warn anyone, simply knowing how to cook or clean is not the same as cooking and cleaning every single day, learn and practice at least a few months before marriage so you don’t have to go through the frustration —with yourself or from your husband, of learning on the job. I think we all take the idea of being a housewife for granted, the name doesn’t help, as it implies a passive state of staying at home. In reality, a woman who chooses to be a housewife should be adding value to her home, her marriage and her children, ideally her not working should be not solely an individual choice but a choice for the benefit of her family. As so aptly put in her article on why she chooses to be a housewife, “There’s more than one way to add to your worth.”

So, I’d always imagined myself being a housewife at two crucial moments in my life —the beginning of my marriage, as I just stated, and once I had children until they were at least young teenagers. Though I’d still want home and family to be the focus of my life I think I could put more focus on other areas of my life outside of those above stated crucial times without causing harm to either.

Housework to “real” work

After the initial six month mark, I went back to New York from Morocco and began looking for work. Another six months went by and no success, so we decided I would go back and visit. Only two weeks after booking my ticket, I got a call back from a job inquiry I’d sent a few weeks ago, went in for an interview on Thursday and got hired immediately. After so much job disappointment I’d almost given up on ever finding a job,  suddenly everything shifted and someone saw the value in hiring me.

One of the things I often hear women say about being housewives is that they miss the outward validation of working outside the home. I think a lot of women work for that very reason, at work you get promotions, paychecks, and other forms of acknowledgment to let you know what you’re doing is of value, at home you rarely do.

Many husbands will complain if their stay-at-home-wife doesn’t clean or the kids aren’t well kept, but how many husbands will actually compliment their wives when floors are gleaming and the kids are well behaved? Traditional women’s work is rarely rewarded in ways that are easily apparent. A women can feel accomplished knowing she is doing God’s work, knowing the hardship that she alone faces, juggling a million tasks at once, but the missing outward validation can take a toll on some women to the point that they themselves begin to internalize their work as unimportant —how many housewives say, “I’m just a housewife/stay-at-home mom,” belittling their own work before anyone else gets the chance? When women decide to be housewives we need a strong dose of self-confidence and internal validation, the world —which often includes your own husband, won’t give it to you.

Job over family?

I canceled my tickets. I’ve never had a real 9-5 job before, I’ve had a few internships, I worked a short gig at a chaotic bakery, and a summer at a variety store. I expect that working will be a dramatic shift in my life, I’ll no longer be able to go to bed whenever I want or wake up whenever I want, my life has to be structured. But I’m happy, happy for the experience and, inshaAllah for the money it will bring me. Money I can use to support my own interests and fund my own projects -how good it will feel to fund my own projects and not “beg” for other people’s money.

But how will my marriage be affected? Probably not well at the onset. But I think the structure work provides will benefit me when it’s again time for me to be a housewife. In reality, I should already have a structured life, because a life without structure is a chaotic one, but it’s not easy to force yourself to change when there are no real consequences to not doing so.

Nevertheless, it’s difficult to be in the exact situation I never wanted to be in, where one would choose work over family. I canceled my tickets in order to work at a job, isn’t that the exact type of woman I don’t want to be? But in our situation, or anyone’s situation where a woman working allows the family to excel in their long terms goals, isn’t it worth it? I don’t know, I could have gone to Morocco and hoped for a better job to come along when I got back, but after months of disappointment I couldn’t help but say yes to the first job offered to me.

When life gives you lemons, sometimes you just have to cut it open and take a bite. Which is to say, sometimes lifetimes life won’t give you exactly what you want but you have to accept it graciously anyhow.

Have a blessed weekend.

 

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Fumio Sasaki’s Book on Minimalism, Goodbye, Things

January 10, 2018

The Author, Fumio SasakiI find some people are turned off by minimalism and somehow believe it is something only the privileged might indulge in. Only the one who has known “the good life” can denounce it. I suppose this assumption is warranted, many of the popular minimalist stories -including the story of The Minimalists, feature people who lived the good life then realized they weren’t happy and began to downsize. While that may inspire some others may feel the same wouldn’t apply to them, “give me the money and I’ll show you how happy I’ll be”. This is why I find Fumio Sasaki’s book particularly valuable, he wasn’t rich, he wasn’t living the good life, he didn’t “have it all”. He simply realized he had too much of the wrong stuff.

As modern people, we all have too much stuff, too many products, too many services, too many expenses. There are poor people in America with cell phones, flat screen TVs, and video game consoles. I often talk on this blog about the value of traditional women’s work but the truth is, it’s very difficult to have that conversation without talking about our consumer habits. If we’re all required to have smartphones, phone plans, tv, cable service, Netflix, etc. it becomes impossible to imagine a family living off of one income, but when we start to question our consumer habits it becomes easier to question our work habits.

“Why do we own so many things when we don’t need them? What is their purpose? I think the answer is quite clear: We’re desperate to convey our own worth, our own value to others. We use objects to tell people just how valuable we are.” 

We also have to question what our stuff means for us. How much of the things we buy are just for show? The things we buy are easy ways to signal to others who we are and what we’re about, an easy and expensive way. He also asserts that our stuff often serves as an excuse to be anti-social, people were shocked by one Japanese minimalist who threw out her high school yearbook, how could anyone throw away something so precious? Yet, in reality, Sasaki replies, she will actually gain far more by not having the book because it will give her a chance -whenever the mood strikes, to call up an old friend not only to see the book but also reminisce about the old days, together. This point rung quite true for me,  why do I personally need to own so many books? Wouldn’t it be better to give them to the library where they’ll be accessible to everyone? I’m not quite ready to do something so radical, but I heed his point.

“Minimalism is just the beginning. It’s a tool. Once you’ve gone ahead and minimized, it’s time to find out what those important things are.”

In the end, Sasaki tells us, minimalism is not a goal but a tool. A tool that helps us better discover what’s actually important to us. Whether you take this approach to your clothing, your home or your office space, the more you get rid of what you don’t need you’ll also discover what you do need. Though this isn’t a major point in the book, I don’t think the connection between minimalism and a host of other issues can be downplayed. Overconsumption is at the root of environmental issues, worker’s rights, obesity, clutter, hoarding, waste, anti-social behavior etc. A lot of our modern issues boil down to an issue of over-consumption and a minimalist approach is one valuable solution.

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Teaching our daughters to be resilient, resourceful and unafraid

January 9, 2018

I’ve heard it a lot, particularly in the black community and steadily growing sentiment in mainstream culture -partly influenced by feminism, we need to teach our daughters to be independent. It seems like an obvious statement, teach your daughters to be independent so they don’t have to depend on men and they can take care of themselves with or without them. But something has always made me uneasy about this statement, and I realize now that it’s because it comes from a place of fear. I understand that many think it’s simply practical —men die and people do get divorced, but I can’t help but hear a sense of fear under the guise of pragmatism.

We live in a divorce culture, meaning that even if my parents, in particular, are married, a great deal of people I know don’t have parents who are married, that divorce is a common part of our lives and the mere fact of many people experiencing divorce in our society creates in us a fear that we too may go through the same thing and the sense that it is only practical to prepare for one just in case. And we also worry about the woman who goes to the opposite extreme, we see women who aren’t financially independent and put up with abusive relationships primarily because of their fear that they won’t be able to support themselves and or their children on their own —we don’t want our daughters to end up like them either.

So it’s only practical to want your daughter to be independent so she can leave a marriage if necessary and never have to worry about taking care of herself if it fails. The problem with this conclusion is that it may perpetuate the fear we’re fighting against. If the fear is divorce, being financially independent does not “divorce-proof” one’s marriage, in fact, women who work outside the home are far more likely to divorce than those who don’t. And despite most women working outside the home, after divorce, 1 out of 5 live in poverty (1).

Should our daughter’s independence be our primary goal?

In encouraging our daughters to be independent (which in reality means being dependent on a corporation to fulfill her needs instead of her husband) we’re also treating divorce as a passive occurrence. But the fact is, people actively get divorced —arguments are unresolved, problems aren’t fixed, and papers are filed, no part of a divorce is passive. Yes, people do get divorced, and the divorce rate in our society is quite high, but every divorce is an active choice. Instead of teaching our daughters to be independent in case of divorce why don’t we teach our daughters to take care of their marriage so they won’t have to divorce? We prepare our daughters their entire lives for careers, so is there any surprise that their marriages often fail? Instead of handing us the tools for independence why not hand us the keys to a happy long lasting marriage? And yes, I can feel your fear creeping up as you read this, after all, people do get divorced.

But can we not teach our daughters to be resourceful and resilient outside the context of a possible divorce? If we teach our daughters how to be resourceful, they will undoubtedly know what to do if her marriage ends, but if we also ensure that she pours a great deal of energy in to the maintenance of her relationship, divorce will only come about when absolutely necessary. One of the great powers money holds is the ability to walk away from a bad marriage, and so our daughters should know how to acquire money even if they don’t work outside the home —every woman should know how to make passive income. Most of us will want to take time off of work when children arrive or even wish to follow our mates if they get a new position in another city, but if the only way we only know how to make money is through a job and we hold the fear of divorce in the back of our minds we will force ourselves to work even when our intuition tells us its best to take a step back.

“Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.” —Mary Matalin

Another, but I’m sure less popular means of our daughters having money without tying themselves to a 9-5 is through a large dowry. Despite dowries being a part of marriage in Islam, large dowries are often looked down on within the Muslim community because many believe high dowries prevent marriages from occurring —since many men simply can’t afford it. But large dowries needn’t be paid off at once, they can be paid in installments and the security it can offer women usurps all other concerns. I deeply believe every woman (in the West, I couldn’t give an estimate for anywhere else) should make her dowry at least $5,000, this is enough money to pay for a studio apartment for about 3- 5 months in New York City (And several months more if you live in a cheaper city). In Islam there is no concept of alimony and even in the West the concept seems to be waning, despite the notion that women “win big” after divorce, the fact is 1 out of 3 lose their homes, 75% don’t receive full child support and as already mentioned 1 out of 5 will fall in to poverty. So a large dowry allows for a woman to have some finances to depend for at least a short amount of time while she decides what to do post divorce —dowries must be paid off even if the couple divorces. Setting up an allowance could also achieve a similar outcome, as long as it’s contractual and agreed upon before marriage (i.e., not up to the husband’s whims).

Money is not the only way our daughters can protect themselves from devastation post-divorce.

But money is not the only way our daughters can protect themselves from devastation post-divorce, money is only one resource. Yet there are other resources available like having a useful skillset or being economical, having the characteristic of resourcefulness is what matters —essentially an inner power that ensures her if it all falls apart she’ll make a way. But parents are also one of the greatest resources a daughter can have. If her husband commits a devastating offense, she needs to know that she can come back home and her husband needs to know that as well. In fact, deep family ties allow for a woman to more easily get out of a bad situation —in its immediacy than money can. And parents can also set up a monetary emergency fund for their daughters “just in case”. Resourcefulness, passive income, dowry and/or allowance and deep family ties armor more than enough to protect our daughters from staying in awful marriages or being in financial straits if their marriage must come to an end. But the differences between what I’ve mentioned and the insistence on women working outside the home and being independent is that working outside the home and being independent actively takes away energy from the marriage while resourcefulness, passive income, dowry and/or allowance and deep family ties, do not.

Many women of my generation are slowly moving away from the previous generations’ focus on career to one more centered on family, Ann Marie Slaughter quotes Mary Matalin —who worked in the Bush Whitehouse, as saying, “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.” (3) Maybe that’s in part because we live in a divorce culture and realize our marriages aren’t just going to work, we’re going to having to make them work. So we choose career paths in consideration of our families, sometimes even before we have one. Women have spent too many days contemplating if they can afford to stay home with a sick child knowing they’d be risking their jobs, too many days longing for more time with their children and too many days chasing after independence for fear that their will be no one to depend on. Is this really what we want to pass on to our daughters? Can we not free them of this fear and give them the possibility not of being independent in a masculine results-driven way but to be independent spirits who let their hearts guide them (while still taking the measures listed above as security).

Teaching our daughters to be interdependent.

What if we shifted more of our focus towards being interdependent? Taught our daughters how to take care of the home and their husbands and their kids, after all, there are tons of programs teaching them how to do good in school, get a career and climb the career ladder, but who is teaching them how to have and maintain their households? It’s not the case that our parents don’t teach us anything about how to have a good marriage —they give us tips here and there and they’re our first go to in times of trouble, but living in a divorce culture, we need so much more than that. We need to know how to “divorce-proof” our marriage as much if not more than we need to know how to take care of our selves in the event of divorce.

We live in a culture where marriage often fails, we need more than pep talks and occasional advice, we need all the help we can get including time to prepare ourselves for a union that so many no longer value but many more of us deeply want to. And we also live in a culture that is in more desperate need of homemakers than ever before —cheap clothes, are made in inhumane factories where men and women are paid slave wages, fast food makes us increasingly sick, too much screen time hurts our memory and socializing capacity, etc. So much of the world’s modern issues could be fixed if more women were able to focus primarily on their households instead of a false sense of independence tied the very corporations that contribute to modern ills. Many women are beginning to realize how valuable their contribution to the home can be, but they don’t have the support of their parents —especially their mothers. If you’re afraid that she’ll be financially dependent and unable to leave a bad marriage —teach her how to be resourceful, and if you’re afraid she won’t know how to take care of herself after a divorce —teach her how to be resilient. But don’t teach her to live in fear, a fear that never allows her to truly live.

1, 2. 1 in 5 Women Experience Post-Divorce Poverty, http://www.thelawcorner.com/news/1-5-women-experience-post-divorce-poverty

3. Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/

This woman’s work

January 5, 2018

Momma and I in my college years“Women have to work.”

This is a statement I rejected from really early on. As a young woman growing up with both parents who worked and shared parenting responsibilities, I always had a distinctly different feeling about my mom working than I had about my dad working. Of course, I need to make it clear, before anyone assumes otherwise, I completely respect my mother’s choice to work now that I am an adult woman. I do not believe women must martyr themselves for the sake of their families, it is a choice and everyone can freely decide for themselves what’s best for their lives. Nevertheless, I certainly wished my mother didn’t work when I was younger up until my late teens (weird, no?), it wasn’t until I was in college that I could begin to respect her as much as I loved her and through that respect of her as an independent adult woman I could appreciate the fact that she was allowed to make choices based on her own desires and was under no obligation to do what I wanted her to do.

That being said, I missed her. It was a distinct missing that I didn’t have for my dad. When my dad was out working it seems noble, when my mom was working I just wished she was home. When my mom was home, home felt like home, there was something that could not be replaced in her absence. Because of my stance on SAHM/Ws many may mistakenly believe I must have been raised by a SAHM myself or that I must have some deep pain associated with my mom working, neither is true. I just knew from a very young age that there was a distinct value her presence gave to our home and to our lives and that I wanted to do the same one day for my own children, that I wanted the home and family to be my main focus.

Momma and I when I was just a baby

I was also fortunate that my mom didn’t have to put us in a nursery/daycare -not that I think she would have, her and my dad juggled their schedules so that one person was always home with the children while the other was at work, and so we always had the fortune of being primarily reared by our parents.

I also felt there was something valuable about serving others from a young age, at thirteen my first niece was born and I became enthralled with being a caregiver, caring for another

human life gave me immense purpose and value, I knew this was something I hoped to do when I have children of my own.

I make a lot of generalized statements on this blog about what I believe to be true whether based on my personal feelings, experience or research but there is no doubt that what is true for most may not be true for all.

When my younger sister gave birth the first thought that came to me after the sheer amazement of the event was this, “Your mother doesn’t owe you anything”. When God speaks in the Quran about mankind being grateful to his mother He says, “His mother carried him with hardship and gave birth to him with hardship”, He does not say “your mother sacrificed her entire life goals and career for you”, what a mother does in the months of carrying us and delivering us is more than enough to make us fall to our knees in gratitude. I do not believe that mothers must or should forsake their lives for their children, but I do believe there is immense value in doing so for both the mother and the children.

As I heard a woman say recently, women have “seasons” in our lives, I wouldn’t mind working before having children and while my husband and I are attempting to work on some specific goals that would be helped by my working, but I couldn’t foresee myself working with young children, or working just for the goal of financial independence, or working when there is no higher purpose in doing so.

There’s a lot more I can say about the value of cooking, cleaning, relationships, balance, etc. but my last thought for now is that we as women should feel comfortable about our life choices as long as its good/halal and we honestly believe it best for our lives and current situation, my hyperfocus on the value of women’s traditional work should not make a woman who decides that working outside the home is best for her, uncomfortable. And if it does, maybe that should be a push for you to reflect on your choices and if it’s really yours or rather an outcome of economic and social pressures.

Happy Friday and have a blessed weekend.

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New blog schedule:

InshaAllah, our plan is to write our more formal topic based essays on Mondays, book reviews (even if short) on Wednesdays and reflections (which may include bits of my personal life) on Fridays. Hope you’ll enjoy this new format.

We have to talk about male modesty

December 5, 2017

The bare minimum for a man to cover his ‘awra’ (‘nakedness’ according to Islamic law) is much less than that for women. Men must cover from their navel to their knees and women must cover all of themselves except their hands and face. That is the law, but the spirit of Islam dictates that male modesty in practice is relatively similar to female modesty. It’s always baffled when the West criticizes the way Muslim women in particular dress around the world (calling their style of dress ‘backwards’ or ‘oppressive’), I think to myself But the men are dressed almost identically? In the Emirates where women dress in long flowing abayas, covering their heads and often covering their faces as well, men dress in long white thobes and also cover their heads. That is just one example among many, throughout the Muslim world the standard dress for both men and women has been long and loose clothing covering most of the body, some men —like the Tuareg (Mali), also cover their faces.

This is not the case, however, in the West. While many Muslim women retain their Islamic head covering and relatively modest clothing. Many Muslim men opt out of looking distinctly Muslim. They give no outward signal that they share the faith of their covered female counterparts, they instead look indistinguishable from non-Muslim men. And for the most part, as with women’s fashion, Western men’s fashion is immodest.

The typical style of men’s clothing is ‘separates’, i.e. pants and a shirt that give maybe 1-3 inches of space from the body, this being the case it often outlines the shape of a man’s body to the point that you could recognize the one who exercises regularly from one who doesn’t. On top of showcasing the outline of one’s body, exposure of one’s ‘nakedness’ is highly plausible. A typical shirt will reach slightly above the hip bone (far from the knees). Despite the very low requirement for the coverage of male ‘nakedness’, many men are barely fulfilling it, a man in the typical t-shirt and jeans outfit is likely to expose his back throughout the day —when he sits, when he bends down and other minor movements. While men’s hair is by far not as attractive as women’s hair, traditionally it would be covered, instead, in our culture, Muslim men mimic their non-Muslim counterparts with the latest trendy haircut.

I’m by far not making a “what about men” argument as a retort to the excessive attention on the way women dress —women, in general, are more attractive than men and so maybe it is appropriate to spend more time discussing female modesty, its requirements, and its virtues, but that doesn’t excuse the overwhelming silence from many male shuyukh concerning male modesty. There are few exceptions, of all the lectures I’ve attended or listened to I’ve only heard male modesty discussed three times. Both Shaykh Rami Nsour and Imam Zaid have suggested Muslim men wear kufis in solidarity with Muslim women. This is a valuable contribution to the relatively mute discussion on male modesty. As Muslim minorities, Muslim women often get the brunt of Anti-Muslim abuse (though on the opposite end it allows us to be on the frontline of dawa), if more Muslim men would boldly “dress like Muslims” maybe some of that negativity could fall on to them. But this should not be the only reason Muslim men consider dressing more modestly. Modest dress is a part of our faith and so it is their duty as much as it is ours to dress as modestly as possible.

The third exception to this nearly mute conversation on men’s modesty was during a three-day seminar with Sheikh Nuh Ha Meem Keller, may God preserve him. He dictates a particular code of dress for those who come to seek knowledge with him —both men and women. Once during a gathering, he told a man in the audience, who was in the process of asking him a question, that he ought to cover his head, then tossed him a kufi. I recall him saying that it did not befit the status of knowledge (that one should have their head uncovered).

What we wear contributes to our mood, says something about who we are, and advertises our values to the world —it doesn’t tell the whole story, but it says something and both Muslim men and Muslim women need to be conscious of that. Umm Sahl, a shaykha in Jordan, once told us, “The dress of righteous people has always been the same”. Look across religions and cultures at priests, monks, nuns, Imams and their followers, the dress is always the same —loose, long, covered and often unassuming. Modesty is not gender-specific, somewhere along the way Muslim men in the West got way too comfortable with barely fulfilling the minimum all while criticising Muslim women —a bit of a ‘pot calling the kettle black’ scenario, this has been the case for far too long. While the conversation on women’s modesty should continue, male shuyukh need to take the time out to scold their brethren for opting out of modesty and taking the easy road of assimilation.

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More women are asking: Why should I suffer?

October 31, 2017

Marriage is an institution that forms the foundation of society. Marriage provides order, security, and protection through stable relationships and deep ties to other human beings. Ideally, it also provides love and companionship. But I would never suggest —along with the author of the Unexpected Legacy of Divorce (who painted a grim picture of life after divorce for the products of those broken unions), that anyone should sacrifice their personal happiness in marriage for the greater good of upholding the institution. No one wants to go back in time to a place where women stayed in bad marriages primarily because of the social stigma attached to divorce, this is part of the reason the divorce epidemic becomes a difficult problem to address. On a societal level, divorce is bad (One reason among many, it increases the number of children living in poverty who will then need to rely on government assistance —our tax dollars, see how personal decisions affect the whole?), and we need to address how we can decrease its occurrence, but on an individual level, no one can tell a woman or man who wants to divorce that they shouldn’t. No one knows the individual pain that both parties have suffered and so the decision is theirs alone.

It’s ironic that many magazines, publications, and speakers focus on how a woman can “keep a man,” in reality, there should be more of a focus on men “keeping their women,” since 70% of divorces are initiated by women. Women are often the ones to identify issues in the marriage, initiate resolution and initiate divorce when they feel the time is right. In reflecting on why this might be the case I came to the conclusion that many women may come to a point where they simply ask, Why should I suffer?

Despite the popular depiction of men having to be dragged to the altar, it’s actually men and not women who benefit most from marriage. Married men make more money than their unmarried peers (An average of $16,000 more), “In general, marriage seems to increase the earning power of men on the order of 10 to 24 percent,” as cited in the National Review (1). They also have more and better quality sex than their unmarried peers (51>39). Lastly, they’re healthier than their single male counterparts. Strange enough, the comment section of this National Review article is filled with men regurgitating negative stereotypes about marriage despite having just been given evidence that marriage benefits men… I guess ignorance really is bliss?

But what about women? Well, their health doesn’t seem to benefit, they make less, not more money —not due to a “pay gap” but to the fact that, “women, more so than men, subordinate themselves and their careers to their relationship, their children, and the careers of their husbands.” Along with this, “Women on average do more of the unpaid and undervalued work of households, they work more each day, and they are more aware of this inequality than their husbands. They are more likely to sacrifice their individual leisure and career goals for marriage.” (2)

This is part of the reason why I focus so much on the value of housewifery if you’re a woman who’s not only working but also contributing far more to housework and childcare (while also stalling your own career success to do so), eventually, you may not see much value in marriage. And statistics reaffirm my gut feeling, “Compared to non-working women, those with a full-time job have a 29 percent higher odds of divorce. Women who work more hours are found to have a higher divorce risk.” (3)

Marriage no longer has a unique benefit to women —most men are no longer primary breadwinners while simultaneously not doing an even share of housework and childcare, is it any wonder that once the love is gone, women ask themselves why they should suffer, and find no reason why they ought to? And while children are still a good reason to suffer through a less than satisfying marriage, the social stigma of divorce —even when children are involved, has largely been removed, as Eleanor Holmes Norton puts it quite plainly, “With children no longer the universally accepted reason for marriage, marriages are going to have to exist on their own merits.” If we want to keep this institution alive, maybe there need to be more national conversations on how men can “keep your women,” otherwise women who don’t seem to reap many benefits from marriage will continue to walk away, and that’s bad news for all of us.

Sources:

1— Hey Guys, Put a Ring on It, bit.ly/2lupgha

2— Women are less happy than men in marriage, but society pretends it isn’t true, read.bi/2gVQWyC

3— Working women more likely to seek divorce, ind.pn/2zkoEFD

4— 1 in 5 Women Experience Post-Divorce Poverty, bit.ly/2z1sVuU

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Freedom to choose

October 16, 2017

Art by Bobbie Burgers

There’s an old saying that behind every great man is a great woman, I think most of us still believe that but we nevertheless would rather the woman stand for herself instead of behind her man. A lot of what feminists —Muslim feminists included, complain about and fight against are legitimate concerns, but in reality, within an Islamic framework, that fight would cease to exist. In American society, there was a time when women were told they ought to stand behind their man. That the only appropriate role for a woman was that of housewife and mother. That is a deeply limiting view of women and one that should have been —and successfully was, fought against. But it’s a fight that has no relevance in Islam.

In Islam, women are told that within their marriage they must make their bodies available to their husbands, that is the most explicit command. Cleaning the house and cooking are not explicit duties of the wife. As one Islamic teacher explained, “At least in the Shafi’i school… the wife’s primary obligation and role is not taking care of the house, but taking care of herself for her husband to enjoy being with her physically”. While I’m sure there will still be women and non-Muslims who find that responsibility “oppressive,” it is still a lot less restrictive than what was expected of the ideal 1950s American housewife (and less overwhelming than what is expected of the modern wife —that she works full time outside the home, be sexually available to her husband —and still end up taking care of most of the housework and childcare). One cannot simply take the feminist fight to any and every community, sometimes it simply doesn’t apply (Hence my issue with “patriarchy” being seen as a worldwide system that oppresses women and uplifts men). But, it is important to make the point that some Muslim men, some Muslim communities and some Muslim-majority countries will reinforce these narratives of the ideal housewife as if it is part of Islam —some also think wives have to serve the husband’s mothers or that having a daughter is shameful, these are unfortunate cultural attitudes that persist in some Muslim-majority countries despite Islam, not because of it.

As Muslim women we have to realize that our framework is completely different, outside of “conjugal rights” to our spouses, we have a great deal of freedom in choosing our life’s path —in some ways we have more freedom than the men who are charged with making a living to take care of us. This freedom opens a world of possibilities that neither chains us to a particular narrative nor forces us to fight against one. That allows us the freedom to work outside the home, yes —but it also gives us the freedom to be homemakers, to fully embrace either role without force or embarrassment.

And a lot of women would choose to be homemakers if they felt free to do so:

“Working mothers with small children now say they work, “Because I have to.” Why do so many women say that? If we have been freed from oppression and are supposed to be liberated, then how has it come to pass that so many women are forced to do what they do not want.” — Wendy Shalit, Return to Modesty

Islam gave women the perfect framework —freedom to choose homemaking, working outside the home, or something else entirely. We have to stop fighting a fight that isn’t ours. In fact, we have a way out for all women through the lens of Islam.

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Related: Daniel Haqiqatjou’s (pronounced: Ha-qee-qat-joo) article on feminism, here and my video response, here.

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Family Ties

October 2, 2017

A week or so ago my dad, sister and I were talking about the family, not simply our immediate or extended family but our entire lineage as far back as we knew it. My dad held a lot of people in his memory, my sister had done some extensive research. Family trees go something like this, first you pick a parent, then you look at their parents, their parents’ siblings and their parents’ parents, once you look at their parents’ parents and their parent’s siblings you can either briefly avert the ascending order to go down and discuss your parent’s cousins or continue up. We could also simply start with my sister and me’s generation including all siblings and cousins they proceed upward to our parent generation continuously until we get as far as we can, or we can start from my niece’s generation —which would be the youngest generation, explore cousins then move up to parents —essentially start with the youngest, move one up through parents note all peoples (cousins and siblings) of that generation then endlessly move upward in the same manner until memory and research wanes. So there are two things we use when exploring lineage: Relation through marriage and relationship through blood. But what about when the first begins to fall apart?

Looking back at our lineage there were two categories of people that didn’t quite fit, “Outside children” and adopted children. These are only a few instances but they stood out —the first had blood relations but were produced outside of marriage, the second had neither blood nor marriage relations but was chosen to be part of the family for one reason or another. Adopted children, though notable, aren’t alarming. Adopting a child is a noble act whose good deed will always be remembered, however simultaneously it’s understood that though this person is a chosen part of our family they technically aren’t part of our family, they have their own parents, their own siblings and their own roots. But “outside children,” feel like a stain on the family name —a permanent reminder of one person’s misstep, disloyalty, and sin. The mother or father of the child born out of wedlock and not related by blood will more than likely be remembered as a ghostly figure from an incident everyone wants to forget —they conjure up images of a sneaky, deceitful, lying family member whose sin was brought to light through the birth of a child. One incident disrupts the entire family tree.

But “outside children” were an anomaly as far as we know —one or two names could be recalled as ancestors born outside of wedlock. And despite its mark on the family tree, the lineage continues since there was at least still a legitimate family, the “outside child” stands outside of the legitimate family. But what about now? Again, lineage is through two things: Marriage or blood relations. It started in my parent’s generation and to a greater extent in my own generation, blood relations continue i.e. people continue to have children, but creating relations through marriage is nearly disappearing.

One parent’s parent has children out of wedlock, that we still haven’t met. We don’t know who these people are and they remain shadowy figures. On that same parent’s side, all siblings are married, though most had children before wedlock and later married the parent of their children, there is no divorce in that generation, in the following generation (mine) only one has a child out of wedlock with plans to later marry the parent of that child, everyone else is either married with children, married without children, or still single —and two were previously married before their current marriage —one with children from that marriage one without children from the previous marriage. In my other parent’s generation (siblings and cousins), most are divorced or never married, those who are still married with kids are in the minority. In the following generation (mine), of people with children there is an even split between those who are married with children and those who are not married with children (and have never been married, i.e. had children out of wedlock), people divorced with children and people who are single with no children are in the minority.

As I thought about all this I began to conjure up an image in my mind of all these newly nonexistent horizontal relationships, all we have left is vertical. This is how my mind saw it, horizontal is marriage, two people choosing to come together, two people choosing to continue their family lineage together. Two people making a choice to choose each other in the union of marriage that will produce a new generation of children (that is the vertical relationship). Think of how powerful that is? The horizontal (marriage) is the only relationship in our family we get to choose, we don’t get to choose our children, our siblings, our parents, our cousins, Aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. but we get to choose our spouse (which also means actively choosing the person we have children with since many will consider whether or not someone will be a good parent before committing to them in marriage whereas that consideration doesn’t often take place when people have children out of wedlock). And that spouse leads to a connection with an entire lineage of their own. And even more powerful than the individual choice, we bring this person into our entire family, this person becomes —simply through marriage, they become someone’s Aunt/Uncle, Cousin, Granduncle/GreatAunt, Son (in law), Brother (in law), and Nephew (in law). But what about when you simply have a child with someone? That person becomes nothing to no one, s/he is simply the mother/father of that child. More than likely we won’t even remember their names. Admittedly I didn’t have a big wedding myself but I do appreciate what big weddings do, they explicitly bring two families together through the union of two individuals. But even without the big wedding, marriage still holds the same weight, when you get married people rightfully want to know who is this person that you’ve brought into the family —what’s their name and when can we meet them? We don’t take the same interest in the parent of someone’s child not linked through marriage. We take some interest if the family member is in some kind of relationship with that person, but without marriage, we unconsciously note that this relationship isn’t serious enough to take a real interest in —one year they’re at the family gathering, next year they’re not and no one will think much of it. That person was never a part of our family, only the product of their union is. Blood or marriage, nothing else.

In the conversation of marriage, divorce, children out of wedlock, and “outside children” we can’t fail to include the larger picture of ours ascending and descending familial connections, people who never marry or produce children don’t add to our family, people who have children out of wedlock passively add to our family, those who divorce with children break family ties and those who have “outside children” create a black spot on the family name that people would rather ignore. Only the people who marry and produce children through that marriage actively shape the fate of our family.

Is it any surprise then that in many other cultures families involve themselves in choosing the spouses of younger generations —that they want a say in the shaping of their family? It’s also why divorce, out of wedlock births and “outside children” are taken so deeply personal by every family member (dishonor, disgrace, shameful), in reality, they’re not the ones in err, we are for not realizing how impactful marriage is for the entire family.

One of my uncle’s recently remarked at a family gathering how important education was to our family. His parents were educated, instilled education in him and his siblings and they instilled education in us. Looking around the room at our family we could all feel proud of our educational backgrounds, some with college degrees and others in the process. For at least three generations the importance of education was actively instilled in our family, we already know the importance of having intergenerational values yet somehow forgot to pass on the importance of creating a family in and of itself.

There have been black families in the U.S. that actively decided —generation after generation, only to marry light skin people. This wasn’t internalized racism, this was a matter of survival. Back then and there are still remnants of it now, having lighter skin could not only give you better opportunities, it could save your life. And so they preserved their light skin, in order to protect their family.

Kings and Queens have, for time immemorial, only married other people of royalty. Not because there weren’t beautiful kind people among non-Royalty but because they wanted to continue the legacy of royalty for their entire family lineage.

Many of the prophet’s marriages, peace and blessing to him, actively linked together warring tribes —in one such marriage immediately after his marriage every single bondsman from the tribe of his new wife was freed. His cooled tensioned between the tribes and linked them together for all time to come.

Black Muslims often view the Pakistani imperative for their children to become doctors and lawyers and only marry Pakistani doctors and lawyers with disgust. Yet, however racist or elitist it may be, at least they understand what exactly the point of marriage is —actively choosing who becomes a part of your family and making an effort to shape their family as they choose.

Black people in particular and slowly American society at large, have forgotten what marriage is for and what it can do. Marriage creates a family, people who are a part of your family through marriage are the only members you get to choose. So why are we so mum on this issue? Why are we passing up the opportunity to create the family we want? Why don’t we have a vision for the kind of family we’d like to create? That doesn’t mean adopting the ways of Kings or discriminating cultures, but it does mean taking family very seriously. That starts with ourselves, we can continue to talk about how “unrealistic” abstinence before marriage is -for instance, or we can begin to understand how damaging having children out of wedlock is, not merely to the products of that union but to our entire family lineage. We need to understand how grave a mistake it is to not actively establish a family instead of passively having one (having children out of wedlock), and we need to think about what exactly our contribution to the families going to be.

When we discuss the breakdown of the family in the Black community and society at large we can’t forget the magnitude of what that means. We are failing to actively create our families we are failing to shape our future —we’re failing to even have a vision for what we might want it to be. Passively adding to the family instead of actively establishing a family is a dishonor on the entire family —immediate and intergenerational, precisely because the one who does so passes up a powerful opportunity to shape our legacy. We need to instill intergenerational values in our families —like education, honesty, and hard work, but the most important thing we can instill is the value of family itself. We should tell future generations to find someone out there in the world that will add value to their lives, a positive contribution to your entire family, and someone whose family would greatly benefit our own.

When we talk about what we want in a spouse we should be focused primarily on the things that will have a positive lasting impact on generations to come. If we considered the reality of our interconnectedness as a family we’d think twice before stepping out on our spouse or engaging in pre-marital sex, really wouldn’t seem worth it. The reason so many people are divorced, having children out of wedlock or outside of one’s marriage is that we’ve made marriage into a selfish act that is solely concerned with the happiness of two people but that was and never will be the reality. It’s no wonder God calls divorce the most hated of allowed things —there is a need for it, sometimes things just don’t work out but the destruction it causes becomes perfectly plain when you consider the consequences on the entire immediate family, extended family, and generations to come. And it’s no wonder one of my shuyukh compared a child being born out of wedlock to death itself if we could see long-term fruits of its destruction we’d run away from it quicker than we’d run from a blazing fire.

We don’t have to refine our marriage choices as much as Kings and Queens do, nor do we have to engage in honor killings to understand the grave importance of marriage selection and reserving one’s virginity until after marriage. All we have to do is think about the family tree, what would we like it to look like? Do we want our lineage filled with vertical lines of child to parent but missing the horizontal lines that should go from husband to wife? Do we want our descendants to have second-hand shame because distant relatives didn’t honor their marriage? Do we want there to be a ton of blurry parental figure whose names we don’t know because they and our relatives never married? And do we want broken horizontal lines from failed marriages? And though it is no sin to remain unmarried and childless, do we really want no part in shaping the family lineage? Our lineage, these vertical and horizontal relationships, are the very core of who we are. We have complete control over the latter —so why aren’t we using it?

A walk down honesty lane: Consensual illicit relationships in the Muslim community

September 26, 2017

I’ve discussed the issue of shaykhy crush/fangirling from both the student and teacher’s perspective before and as much as many seem to enjoy creating villains and victims I don’t think most of these cases are as clear-cut as people would like to pretend they are. A victim is someone who is preyed upon, a villain (predator) is someone who preys upon others. The problem is most of these relationships are quite murky and don’t fit into this clear-cut victim-villain/prey-predator dynamic. In some ways I think people already know this. But newer definitions of what exactly a victim (prey) is, causes us to view even consensual relationships through the prey-predator prism.

It should be clear that a relationship merely being consensual doesn’t make it halal. At the same time, a relationship being haram doesn’t equal it being predatory. Nevertheless, many still categorize shuyookh as predators and their behavior as predatory in consensual illicit relationships. This is because they believe the uneven power dynamics in these relationships to be inherently harmful. The activist wing in and outside of the Muslim community believe that women can be victims even in a consensual relationship especially if the man is in a position of power. If a consensual haram act takes place between a sheikh, imam, or celebrity scholar and his female student he becomes the predator and she the prey. He used his power to tantalize her into a secret marriage, emotional relationship, degrading social (media) exchanges, and the like. I understand this narrative and for the most part, I geared towards until very recently. I understand the comfort a woman can take in portraying herself —both to herself and to the public, as a victim and the man as the evil sheikh. The problem is, it very often isn’t the whole truth. If women were completely transparent about these situations, they would admit to often being just as culpable as the men.

While it’s fair to say the one with more knowledge deserves more blame, it doesn’t take years of Islamic studies to know the basics of right and wrong. But what’s also problematic is the fact that quite often these relationships enter into a “grey area” without ever crossing any technically haram boundaries. For instance, what are we to think when a leader is accused of “spiritual/emotional abuse”? What does that mean and how do we deal with that as a community? Is a shuyookh “predatory” if he entertains marriage proposals from his students? Is it problematic for a female student to “offer herself” in marriage to her teacher? Is it an abuse of power if he accepts? I don’t know that there are explicit answers to these questions and I don’t know that its fair for our shuyookh to be labeled as predatory in any of these scenarios.

Yes, it may be true that a woman leaves one of these relationships feeling used and abused but it’s probably also true that the relationship was not one-sided, while it lasted it’s doubtful that the women in these scenarios didn’t enjoy the attention and special treatment that being around the sheikh permitted. The problem with seeing one’s self as solely a victim is that it alleviates one from responsibility, it creates a false picture whereby the woman is just an innocent party something happened to and not an adult with agency fully able to choose to engage or disengage in that relationship. It important to understand how difficult it is to get out of a relationship with a “power” man, but difficult doesn’t equal impossible and it’s in the difficult situations that we get to test our moral character. Even if you put most of the moral obligation on the man, the woman still has her part to play.

I also question the categorization of these relationships as predatory because I question whether or not an uneven power dynamic is an inherently negative thing. In some ways I agree with this stance because those in power over others naturally have an opportunity to oppress them through that power —if the man is more knowledgeable than she can be manipulated by him because of her lack of knowledge, if he is wealthier than her she can be oppressed through her dependence on his wealth, if he is her teacher she may fear bad grades if she doesn’t cave to his will, if he’s her boss she may fear being fired if she doesn’t do what he wants, if he is the community leader she may fear isolation if she doesn’t give in to his demands, and on and on. As real and as dire as this power dynamic is, it bypasses something more fundamental that we all intuitively know —women (often) desire to be with men who have a higher status (greater power) than themselves.

When things go bad it’s easy to blame the power dynamic and to categorize the more powerful person (the man) as a predator and the less powerful (woman) as a victim —for instance, once the secret marriage is in shambles it’s easy to say the sheikh forced her into such a union but the reality may be that she was willing to bypass her wali and agree to the marriage because she desperately wanted a part of the perceived power this sheikh possessed. If we’re honest with ourselves as women —despite society deeply desiring our dishonesty, we sometimes do crazy things to be with powerful men. Whether it’s the fangirls sneaking backstage to be close to their favorite musician or the fangirls sending secret messages to their favorite shuyokh “offering themselves” for marriage, many of us have a thing for powerful men and will do a lot of crazy nonsense to be around them. To pretend as if we don’t actively participate in pursuing these relationships is disingenuous and frankly, infantilizing.

None of this means men in power don’t bear the brunt of responsibility —they do (with great power comes great responsibility), and no man who engages in unIslamic characteristics should be put forth as a leader —we can do better than to have leaders who engage in blatantly haram or questionable activity especially involving the opposite sex, but it doesn’t do us any favors if we as women continue to play the victim game. Your Islamic knowledge is your responsibility and Allah gives us all an inner conscious to guide us in questionable situations. To pretend as if the women who get involved in these relationships don’t know —for instance, that zina is haram, secret marriages are questionable, sending illicit picture is a bad idea, etc. is to say that women are somehow desperately ignorant of the religion and should be treated like children who don’t know even the basics, that’s insulting and I have a hard time believing it’s anywhere near the truth.

This essay isn’t meant to overlook the actions of the shuyookh, men who behave like that or who constantly draw suspicious attention to themselves through questionable actions don’t deserve to be our leaders. But can we stop treating women like damsels in distress? Even if we put 90% of the onus on men when these relationships are consensual there are no victims and villains, just a lot of sinful folks in need of repentance.

May Allah restore our adab and give us guidance in this increasingly “grey” world.
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What is lawful is evident and what is unlawful is evident, and in between them are the things doubtful which many people do not know. So he who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and honor blameless, and he who indulges in doubtful things indulges in fact in unlawful things, just as a shepherd who pastures his animals round a preserve will soon pasture them in it. Beware, every king has a preserve, and the things God has declared unlawful are His preserves. Beware, in the body there is a piece of flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound and if it is corrupt the whole body is corrupt, and hearken it is the heart.” (Muslim, 1599)

[To note: I hope it’s completely obvious to any Muslim that in the case of non-consensual relationships we get the secular law involved. If anyone (especially among our leaders) is known to be involved in or in serious suspicion of committing domestic violence, molestation, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, etc., they should be prosecuted and punished in a court of law, as one sheikh said, “If someone acts like a kafir, treat them like one”.]

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