I’m an old married lady. Forty-four, five kids, married almost twelve years. I’ve been Muslim for seventeen years, and through the years I’ve seen most mistakes that men and women make on the way to finding a spouse. I’ve made a lot of those mistakes, too.
I’m a Facebook addict with about two thousand friends, and I have noticed a trend lately. Many of the women are opining about the impossibility of finding a good husband, or complaining about the one they have, or dealing with living without the one they just lost. This is not an occasional issue; I see it hour after our, status update after status update, from a wide variety of women. A young niqaabi in Philly, a fortysomething revert in Michigan, a British woman with a new baby in London. I see little soundbites from their lives, messages of sadness, depression, despair, in 425 characters or less. It breaks my heart, but what can I do? I’m comfortable in a marriage to a scatterbrained bear of a man with a heart of gold who will fight monsters to save his family but can’t manage to keep his gasoline receipts so I can do the monthly paperwork. I can sit here on my oh-so-married soapbox and counsel women, tell them what to do and what they should have done, but that would be a complete fraud. Many of these women did exactly the right thing. They read their Qur’an, read all the good books about marriage in Islam, went to the lectures, scoured the internet to find articles about how to be a better wife. They post verses from the Qur’an and favorite hadiths. They appear to be normal, good women who simply ended up in crappy marriages or were abandoned by their husbands.
For all of you women who are alone now, I wish I could offer you solace and tell you that there will be someone for you. But I can’t. Honestly, there might not be someone for you. Oh, yeah, there are tons of guys out there, but a lot of them simply aren’t good husband material and you’d do well to run the other direction if one turns his attention towards you. And, yes, many of the good ones are taken. That leaves a relatively small pool of brothers who are looking to get married, and they naturally will gravitate towards the young, cute, never-married, don’t-have-kids women in their community. Plus there’s the culture thing. A Pakistani might occasionally break away from family pressures and marry someone who is not his cousin, but woe betide him if he marries, say, a Black American, even if she’s a scholar in her own right and exudes intelligence and imaan.
It’s a numbers game. More and more people are reverting to Islam, and the majority of those are women. So there are more women looking at fewer men who share not only their religion, but their cultural background. Having someone who has lived in the same milieu as you have is important; one reason there are so many challenges in marriages today is the cultural disconnect between, say, an American woman and her Arab / African / Indo-Pak husband.
I’m put in mind of an authentic hadith that tells us exactly what is to come:
361.Narrated Anas (Allah be pleased with him): I will narrate to you a Hadith
and none other than I will tell you about after it. I heard Allah’s Apostle
(peace be upon him) saying:
Religious knowledge will decrease (by the death of religious learned me(Religious) ignorance will prevail.
There will be prevalence of open illegal sexual intercourse.
Women will increase in number and men will decrease in number so much that
fifty women will be looked after by one man.
(Sahih Al-Bukhari Vol 1).
How can I offer hope to my sisters in the face of this knowledge? We haven’t actually reached this point yet, but we’re on our way there and the situation will continue to deteriorate. What are we to do, knowing this? What are we to do from an Islamic point of view? What is my unmarried, or divorced, or widowed sister to do?
I could get all pop-psychology on you, or I could go the other way and quote verse from the Qur’an and tell you to be comforted and to look for your reward in Jannah. I know it’s so easy to cut and paste a verse and then get on with my life, which includes someone to warm the bed beside me at night and help me with the kids and occasionally wash dishes. I don’t want to patronize you and I don’t want to demoralize you, but neither will I lie to you. No, my sister, there may not be someone out there for you. I’m sorry, and I wish it were not so, but that’s the way it is.
So, what can you do now? Do you give up the search, take down your profile on the Muslim marriage site, change your status to “I give up”? I don’t advise that. Even though there’s not someone for everyone, the situation is not hopeless. There are some good brothers out there, men willing to look for a wife based on her imaan and not the size of her, um, attributes. There are men who don’t need a virgin, can handle a woman with kids, who are not afraid of a woman with an education, and who would be happy with a wife who is more mature (read: over 25). They are out there, and you don’t know when Allah will put you two together, so don’t give up.
Don’t give up, but don’t sit there waiting for your prince to come and sweep you off your feet, either. I mean, c’mon. You’re a dynamic, smart, driven, faithful Muslim woman. You don’t NEED a man to feel validated and you are not less of a person without a husband. So, while you are in your husbandless state, take advantage of your independence and freedom and work on living your life to its fullest. Go back to school, learn a language, take some free online classes, teach yourself how to sew, become the best damn receptionist at your office and make yourself indispensable, start a business, join the Peace Corps, learn how to skydive, take up extreme whittling – do something you love and take care of yourself for a change. Yes, you do deserve it, and no, you’re not being selfish and putting yourself first at the expense of your kids or some image you have of what a Muslim woman is supposed to be. You did not have a lobotomy before you put on that hijaab, and you did not sign a contract saying your only job as a Muslim woman was to be a submissive wife. You are not an appendage to a man, so stop acting like it and go grab the bull by the horns and all those other dynamic metaphors.
But I have three kids and I am on government assistance, or I live with my mom or I take care of my sick grandma or I have a special needs child or I have a bunch of other excuses. I know, I know. You can’t just grab a backpack and tour across Europe; you have responsibilities. But even in the midst of those, you can chip away at your lifetime “to do” list. You won’t be able to do everything you want to do, but you can do something. You are not stuck in a rut with no way out. Sometimes you have to be very aggressive to get what you want, and you have to be able to get by on little sleep and a lot of caffeine, but if you want something badly enough, you can do it.
Look at me. I’m a stay-at-home mom with five kids and an entrepreneur husband, and a father-in-law who is in fragile health living with us. As a matter of fact, he’s in the hospital now after having suffered another stroke and we’re all worried about how we can take care of his needs now that he’s less able to take care of himself. I am physically worn out after having had four babies in a row and as many miscarriages; I am mentally worn out by the economy having taken a toll on our already frugal lifestyles. I am plagued my melancholy, which is a fancy way of saying I suffer depression and anxiety. I am no model of perfection and I have days where I would rather pull the covers up over my head and let the world get on without me. But even with all that pulling at me, I do what I am passionate about: I write. I write, I try to reach out to others, I advise people privately when they ask me how to take care of a problem. I am working towards my goal of having a website for Islamic advice. I am starting to learn Farsi. I am re-teaching myself how to crochet. I am sharing recipes on my other blog. I am writing letters to the editor right and left to try to get published. I’m about to embark on a letter-writing campaign to local churches so I can speak to them about Islam. I am trying to keep the carpets clean and I’m scrubbing the walls with a sponge to get the kids’ crayon marks off. I am LIVING and I am not waiting for someone to give me permission to do what I love. I am blessed with a supportive husband, but I guarantee you if he were not supportive, I’d be doing what I want anyway because I did not stop being me when I became a wife. I don’t have money to get a haircut and I haven’t had my nails done, well, ever, but I save my pennies and take advantage of free stuff and make do with what I have and don’t use that as an excuse to fail. If I, with all my fragility and foibles, can do it, so can you.
So, how can I wrap up this too-long blog post? Well, let me just say to my unmarried sisters. Yes, it sucks that your husband decided he didn’t want to be married anymore. Yes, it sucks that you’re forty-five and the only marriage proposals you get are from guys who want a green card. Yes, it sucks that you were really thinking that that guy was going to make a good husband until you realized he had five other sisters on speed dial. It sucks to not have a good husband to keep you warm and help carry the load. I will make du’a for each and every one of you to be blessed with a pious spouse who will help you complete half your deen. But until that happens, or if, by Allah’s will, it is not to be in this world, I want you all to get up off the sofa, put away the quart of Ben & Jerry’s Pity Me Pistachio Ice Cream, get out of your ugly sweats, and figure out what you want to do with your life. Get busy, and inshaAllah you’ll be so satisfied being YOU that you will be able to get through the lack of US. I love you for the sake of Allah and I know you are stronger than you think you are.