Posts from January 2017

How to be a good wife? Go back to the 1950’s

January 28, 2017

There’s a popular page from a 1950’s textbook that tends to make its rounds every couple of years. It always amuses me when this list of rules on how to be a good wife pops up on social media or some random blog, usually, to be made fun of. But in all honesty, as much as people joke about it, could it be that we’re also desperate for information? Growing up my parents, may God continue to bless them, never raised me to one day be someone’s wife. It was a given that I would get married. But the idea that being a wife was a distinct role that I should prepare for was nonexistent. I don’t blame them, like most modern parents they raised me to get a good education, do well in school so I could one day have a good career and support myself. Other parents, most likely in some other place, would raise their daughter to learn homemaking skills so she could one day be a good wife and be supported by a husband. In reality, the goal of all parents is the same -to raise their children in a way that will guarantee them a successful future.

But now that I am a wife and a “homemaker” (though I doubt I’ll be calling myself by that title very often), it seems that learning on the job is not as easy as I thought it would be. Men and women both come to marriage with their expectations. I was raised in a fairly egalitarian household. Mom and dad both worked, both cooked, both cleaned. It certainly wasn’t split completely down the middle, which is nearly impossible, but for the most part, it was as close as it could get. Growing up, despite never being raised by theory or practice to be a housewife I always knew it was something I wanted to do. Fluidity is important to me, so being a housewife or homemaker doesn’t mean I won’t have a million other things happening in my life but it does mean making the home, husband and hopefully future children a priority. I’ll have to learn along the way, but in all honesty, this list of rules about how to be a good wife don’t repulse me, I may not do them all but any advice on a role I was never prepared for is better than nothing:

“HAVE DINNER READY: Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal–on time. This is a way to let him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned with his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home, and having a good meal ready is part of the warm welcome that is needed.

PREPARE YOURSELF: Take fifteen minutes to rest so that you will be refreshed when he arrives. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift. Greet him with a smile.

CLEAR AWAY THE CLUTTER: Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up children’s books and toys, papers, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you lift too.

PREPARE THE CHILDREN: If they are small, wash their hands and faces and comb their hair. They are his little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part.

MINIMIZE ALL NOISE: At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise from the washer, dryer, or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet.

SOME “DO NOT’S”: Don’t greet him with problems and complaints. Don’t complain if he is late for dinner. Count this as a minor problem compared to what he might have gone through that day.

MAKE HIM COMFORTABLE: Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest that he lie down in the bedroom. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

LISTEN TO HIM: You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

MAKE THE EVENING HIS: Never complain if he doesn’t take you to dinner or to other entertainment. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his need to unwind and relax.

THE GOAL: TO MAKE YOUR HOME A PLACE OF PEACE AND ORDER WHERE YOUR HUSBAND CAN RELAX IN BODY AND SPIRIT.”

 

The Marriage Contract

January 21, 2017

You should include the right to divorce in your contract, but I didn’t

Over three years ago I took a course on marriage with Umm Al Khayr, a Shaykha of mixed descent residing in Amman, Jordan. In that course, I learned a great deal about women’s rights in marriage, the marriage contract and advice on having a good marriage. I continued to learn a great deal from Umm Al Khayr when I was able to travel to the gatherings of Sheikh Nuh Ha Meem Keller and able to later reside in Jordan. Growing up I always had the idea of being a homemaker and the “backward” belief that a woman’s focus should be the home. Umm Al Khayr relieved me of feeling like an outlier in modern society by addressing marriage in it’s most basic format -men work outside the home, women work inside the home. One of the greatest things I remember her saying to me is that you can’t leave your obligations to help your husband with his. Housework isn’t a real obligation in the truest sense of the word (at least in Shafi’i fiqh) but it is the logical conclusion in a marriage where the man is the primary breadwinner.

Another thing Umm Al Khayr taught me is that women can get divorced in Islam. Of course, I knew of Muslim women who were divorced but it seemed to me that attempting to initiate divorce as a woman was a great difficulty from a legal perspective. Men could simply say “I divorce you” while women had to go through the court system and since there was no Islamic court system in the secular West, women were at the hands of their husbands or their Imams to release them from an unwanted marriage which could sometimes prove impossible. I remember sitting in front of Umm Al Khayr in one of those gatherings Sheikh Nuh and co. provided once a year for their students across the globe. We were all crowded around Umm Al Khayr, which was common. Sometimes we enclosed her until the point where there’d only be a small circumference surrounding her, probably the very least amount of personal space we could provide while being as close as possible. I recall how much my legs ached with all of us bundled so close together to get as close as we could to her words and her presence. And she never seemed to mind, I actually was a bit afraid of her upon first seeing her because of the grandeur of her presence until I realize how jovial she was and felt at ease. She said to us, the first thing I say to women when they come to me crying about their marriage and saying they can’t get a divorce is “Yes you can”.

In the Marriage course I took with her I learned that as a woman you can request the right to divorce (in the marriage contract) -in a similar way in which the man does, I.e. verbally. Everything she taught us in that class I promised myself I’d do when the time came, but I didn’t. Way before I married my husband I was speaking to another man with the potential of marriage I expressed to him that I wanted the right to divorce to be in our contract, he basically responded with a “hell no”. On the morning of my marriage to the man, I am blessed to be married to we decided -at my mother’s request, to print up a contract. I did a quick google search for “Islamic Marriage contract” and went over each page line by line with my soon-to-be husband. Now that I think about it, I’m amazed that by the time I was ready to marry my husband I would have done it without a contract if not for my mom’s insistence, I didn’t even think about it.

When we got to the line about “both parties having the equal right to divorce” my soon to be husband responded in somewhat of an agitation “I’m not agreeing to that”. In all honesty in the last few months, because of discussing the issue on a podcast with my mom and on Facebook, as much as I encouraged women to do so I wondered if I wanted the right myself. As I recall, though my Fiqh on the issue needs refreshing, when a woman has the right to divorce it’s one finalized divorce, unlike men who have at least two chances for reconciliation at each pronouncement. Did I really want to give myself that kind of power? Years ago when I first took Umm Al Khayr’s class I would have insisted but more recently I wasn’t so sure. In a moment of anger, sadness, depression, I could end up uttering words that would ruin my entire life. And knowing my past issues with being able to live in that dark hole of depression where suddenly the entire world turns black, I wasn’t sure I could trust myself.

I do recall something about Umm Khayr saying a couple discussed this and had such a marriage contract with this provision and I recall her distinctly saying the woman was “level headed”. Am I level-headed? Sometimes, but there are certainly times when emotions rule the day. So when my husband refused to agree to the part of the marriage contract where I would be able to verbally divorce, I wasn’t strong enough on the issue to argue against him. So we crossed it out.

I learned also from Umm Al Khayr was that there was no such thing as alimony in Islam, once the waiting period is up, you’re on your own. Someone in the class described to her an example where a woman was a housewife, no work experiences, and how difficult it would be to support herself, “well then she shouldn’t have gotten herself divorced”. Obviously, a woman being divorced is not always her fault but it withstands that the best insurance against divorce is a good marriage.

So I didn’t include the allowance of verbal divorce in my contract, I still think women, in general, should. In a Western society where there are no Islamic court systems and women have to rely on our local Imams or husbands, we are presented with a kind of oppression were hoping to get a “fair day in court” is unlikely. Some women should probably be advised more strongly to have such a contract while others may not have much to worry about one way or the other or may even be disadvantaged by such an arrangement (hotheads who may divorce themselves at the first sign of trouble).

Whatever someone decides to put in their marriage contract, should be tailored to the needs of both parties. It goes without saying that no one gets married with the intention to get divorced. Once the ink dries on the signed marriage contract the goal is to use the example of our beloved messenger, peace to him, to create the best marriage we can -leaving divorce as a near impossibility.

And real protection comes from Allah alone.

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