December 31, 2017
Assalamu Alaykum Dear Students,
I hope you receive this letter with the best of health, integrity, and Iman.
As we finish this calendar year, I hope to discuss one of the two topics that are the most discussed among undergraduates. Muslim Junior High School students love talking about Hell. And Jinns. Muslim High School students love talking about the end of the world. And Jinns. Muslim College students love talking about marriage. And Jinns. Now, we can talk about marriage.
I expect that the number of readers of my Chaplain Letters will double to 4, give or take. This Letter is going to be more graphic than most of my Letters.
What do you seek in a spouse? I am not asking about biodata or appearance. I am asking what you seek from a spouse to give to you. Bollywood and Hollywood have convinced many of us that marriage is this exciting festival with shallow emotions that get resolved within 90 minutes. Instead, most of marriage is boring. Most of marriage is mundane. Most of Marriage places focus on living a life together: that is boring.
I am entertained by how many students push back against this idea, convinced that marriage is some exciting non-stop celebration of feelies and goodies. Imagine you and your spouse went on a vacation every weekend -- Friday through Sunday -- to some exotic corner of the world, like Lahore, Hyderabad, Lincolnwood, Bridgeview, Damascus, Bitunia, or Ramallah. Imagine you even went to one of the earthly paradises, like Karachi, Patna, or Orland Park. Every weekend. That still leaves four out of seven days of boring life.
Let's face facts. I know most of you. I love you each to death, but most of you are boring people. You would think that with the amount of Marijuana (Forbidden) or Alcohol (Forbidden) you consume, these external substances would make you more interesting, but isn't happening. Upgrading your narcotic (Forbidden) intake will make you even more boring. Isn't it sad that when you visit my office, the most exciting person in the room is a nearly fifty-year-old overweight man dressed in carpenter jeans who has made Dad Jokes an art form? That is sad. And boring.
Rather, that is life, because life is boring. Life's richness is in the relationships. When each of you comes to my office, it is the relationship that we are building with each other.
So, what I am suggesting here is not yet that we re-orient what we seek in marriage. Rather, I am suggesting that we re-orient what we seek in life. Pick one: a solitary life full of immense wealth or a life of middle income with some strong relationships. Of course, the former appeals to me because that would allow me time and money to buy more and more books. But, anyone with any sense would pick the latter.
Take this point a step further. The friendship is a process that requires cultivation, and I admit that I am the worst at this. Different friendships require different approaches to cultivation, just like what we find in the "Love Languages" idea.
Friendships are also training for married life. Forgiveness, apology, compromise are the difficult parts of friendship. Learning, living, growing are the joyous parts of friendship. So, if you are not strong in cultivating friendships, then most likely, all that you are seeking in marriage -- whether you realize it or not -- is a trophy and a sex partner. In both cases, you are not seeking a friend or a life partner, but someone to fulfill your appetites for narcissism.
We have to address sexuality in the marriage. For starters, all those of you who are -- to put it politely -- "practicing" with sexuality before you get married, even if it is with your fiancé, need to learn how to keep your clothes on. If you realized what sins your characters reveal, you'd all (men and women) dress in niqab. The Qur'an teaches us that your body parts will testify against you for making them engage in sins. You may not realize that they testify against you in this world as well, for those who can read the testimonies. And, let's face it, ours is a patriarchal society: promiscuity will affect the man far less than the woman. But, that does not excuse the man: both of you have to be gatekeepers of your own bodies and souls.
But, sexuality is one of the functions of marriage. Of course, if I have to hear another sermon from an “uncle” telling us with great force that “the marriage makes the Zina the halal and you know who you are! And the Angels curse you!” etc., I may have to bust my head on my keyboard. Anyways, the most common complaint from husbands *and* wives to me are about dissatisfaction with sexuality. Often the complaints are first focused on excessive anger, but that particular anger finds its fuel in sexual dissatisfaction. Its is a vicious circle: the s/he is not satisfied and gets frustrated. Their spouse closes off further. Then s/he gets angrier. Then, the spouse closes off even more.
The legal texts are so frank in their language that they sound coarse, stating that when you sign on to the marriage contract, you are giving ownership of that part of your body to your spouse. In theory, that would mean that you have the disposition of always being ready to be ready for your spouse. In theory, that would say -- on a side note -- that there is no such thing as marital rape, though there is, today especially because we have convinced ourselves that marriage is a Cinderella fairytale fantasy and sexuality is a fringe benefit rather than a central endeavor. Meaning, even though sexuality is a right, it cannot be attained by force, but by love, gentleness, generosity, and most of all: partnership.
A common line students share is, "I want someone better or more knowledgeable, who will help me grow." More narcissism. The mentor or teacher is someone you turn to to help you grow. Your spouse may be your keeper of secrets, your cushion, or your loyal protector but is not your therapist.
The most ridiculous line, of course, is the, "If it's meant to be, it will be." Aside from the fact that it makes me want to throw my shoe at your head, and say, "If it's meant that the sole of this shoe will hit you the soul within you, it will hit you," and aside from the fact that we still invoke fate in all the wrong places...nobody believes it. If you truly believe that if a relationship is "meant to be, it will be," then you do not need to do anything. Every time your potential spouse tries to contact you, ignore them. If it’s meant to be, it will be. If their family comes over to begin the engagement, then run to the store, get a pie, and put it in your face and walk in. If it’s meant to be, it will be. So, it is a lie we tell ourselves, thinking that it is theology. I wonder if Jinns tell each other the same line when they are looking to get married.
So, I am suggesting that you shift focus toward cultivating relationships. You are still in school to get a job, and hopefully an education. But, invest some of your brain space in cultivating your friendships, and invest some of your heart space in the vulnerability and trust that comes with friendships. There is a meme somewhere on that internet-thing calling on us to nurture memories rather than possessions. Memories happen with people.
Friendships are training for married life. Married life is training for worship of the Divine. Marriage is training you in your service to the Divine: you are compromising every inch of your being, with the conviction that it is for something better, you give and give and give, you fail and seek forgiveness, you are failed and give forgiveness, you support your partner and your partner supports you. If, however, you try to impose your will on your spouse, then you are not submitting; you are coercing.
By the way, another topic that all age groups love to ask about is Nazar (the evil eye). There seems to be a direct correlation between arguments for legalizing marijuana and Nazar as explanations for everything in life. Perhaps there is causation along with the correlation.
And Allah knows best.