THURSDAY THOUGHTS | THE MARRIAGE CONFERENCE

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About a month ago, international and local speakers and leaders gathered together to tackle a very important and inevitable part of our lives as Muslims: marriage. I was very eager to attend the event; despite the negativity that surrounded it, despite those who mocked it and thought it was so lame, or worse, those who thought it was so Haraam.

But it was so worth it.

The amount I learned about not only romantic relationships and marriages, but about myself, about friendships, about Deen and about parenting is too much to encapsulate in one sitting. I’ve been taking forever to write this, because there’s just so much I would love to share.

I’ve divided this post into 5 main categories that were discussed:

  • Your own character
  • Social media
  • Parenting and Family Life
  • Love for Allah
  • Marriage

(Please note that I will be referencing all the speakers at the conference, and whilst I will try and cite to the best of my ability as to who said what, it won’t be perfect. Please comment if I incorrectly referenced anyone so it can be corrected)

Your own character

Haleh Benani was one of my favorite speakers, simply because unlike the others who gave mainly examples, she gave practical approaches and advice that we can apply in our daily lives (which I will go into detail about in the relationship category). She said something that really struck me: you are an annoying person too.

That may sound so basic and not life changing at all, but it’s something that really stuck with me. It’s so easy to think that you’re better than your spouse/sister/friend and that you’re close to perfect and they are the one that needs fixing and improvement. You’ll always believe that you do more right and he or she does more wrong therefore they’re the problem. The key here is that you need to work on yourself before anything else, and before criticizing anyone else.

Omar Suleiman touched on this topic as well by posing the question: “who are you?” But he didn’t just leave it there: “who are you aside for being a wife? Aside for being a mother? Aside for what you portray yourself to be on social media? Who are you as a person? What have you done to build and improve your character? What are you doing to build and improve your character?”

It truly gives you something to think about.

At the same time, however, you should acknowledge your flaws but don’t highlight them. Haleh Benani touched on asking questions like “do I look fat in this?” “Is this okay?”, and how it takes away from your confidence, and confidence is a lot more attractive than insecurity. Try and avoid it.

In terms of marriage, remember that you and your partner both bring strengths and weaknesses to the table. You need to be your own person, especially in a marriage. One of the worst terms (this is personal opinion) is “you complete me”. A marriage isn’t going to complete you or fix you in any way; you need to work on yourself and work on your character first and foremost.

Sheikh Saadullah Khan encapsulated all of this in a simple sentence: “walk together as a couple, but on your own legs”.

On the other hand as well, while marriage should not define you as a person (especially as women), similarly, not being married or being in a bad marriage or being divorced should not define you as a person either. Omar Suleiman reminded us that we are so much more than that, and in society it becomes a norm to judge or look down upon a person who is unmarried or divorced.

Social Media

This topic was given to Muslim Belal, but most of the speakers touched on it a little. I found this topic particularly interesting and profound, because it of course resonates with me so much as a blogger, and because I have nieces that are teens during the social media era, which has its pros and cons. Muslim Belal emphasized mainly on the negatives of Social Media, where he shared the most interesting video of a normal teenage girl who got caught up in normal teenage feelings towards a boy, who in turn ruined her reputation via Social Media by spreading vicious rumours.

It truly made me stop to think: how many of us have been victims of cruel rumours? Or, worse, how many of us have group chats on Whatsapp and discuss other peoples’ lives and problems? Criticize them? Make fun of them? How many of us have said things like “Oh she’s pretty but I’ve heard she’s so loose and so bitchy”. If we’re being honest with ourselves, it stems from a place of jealousy and pride and arrogance, and Omar Suleiman emphasized that these traits are sickness and disease of the heart, and Muslim Belal reiterated this by saying that envy is so poisonous; it can consume you and change you as a person. Social Media makes this so easy to do; to not be happy for the next person or to believe whole heartedly that you deserve what they have more.

We don’t even have to look far from the topic for examples of the ferocity of Social Media: right before the seminar took place, a few members of the Ulema took to Whatsapp to broadcast a message about Yasmin Mogahed, belittling her, shaming her and calling her promiscuous and Haraam. She obviously got a whiff of this message, and she addressed it subtly by talking about knowledge: she said that knowledge is nothing if you have it in your head and not in your heart. Having knowledge of Deen and closeness to Allah is nothing if it doesn’t make you a softer, more humble person. We live in a time where the more religious you become, the more mean and judgy you become too; and this is a problem. It takes us back to the point of arrogance and pride.

Parenting and Family Life

Somehow, from all the topics this one was the one I enjoyed hearing about the most. Every speaker mentioned something about parenting and family life and the responsibilities that come with it. Idrees Kamisa said something that I always tell people: Parenting is more about your relationship with your spouse than your child; the best thing you can do for a child is love your spouse. You can shower a child with all the love and affection you have to offer, but if you don’t love and respect one another as parents, the child will always feel that lack of love.

Another thing that I found interesting is how Saadullah Khan spoke about the lack of emotional well being in kids. How often do we find ourselves in a situation where kids are almost disconnected from their parents and siblings? One of the reasons is the lack of affection displayed: we’re almost embarrassed as parents to say I love you to one another in front of children, and give hugs and show affection in front of them which is unhealthy.

Muslim Belal spoke about two things that I really loved: pray Salah as a family and speak about Quran and Hadith to your children from a young age. Yasmin Mogahed spoke about this as well, and highlighted teaching your children about Allah’s Mercy before Allah’s Wrath. I remember in Madressa constantly learning about Allah’s punishment and what will happen to me if I commit sin and how I should fear Allah.

Yasmin spoke about how mercy is mentioned a lot more in the Quran than fear, and shared such a simple but striking example: If you tell your child from a young age, “if you do anything wrong, the police are going to come here and they’re going to put you in jail”; and every day you remind this child that if they do one thing wrong they police are going to come and take him or her and put them in jail. When they grow up, they’re going to be so fearful of the Police that they will run and hide from them and avoid them as much as possible, and in turn, dislike them.

Similarly, if you emphasize to a child that if they do one thing wrong Allah will send them to hell, they will do everything like Salah, etc. begrudgingly and not have that sense of closeness to Allah. You need to teach kids Allah’s mercy, and the rewards they will get and how beautiful Jannah is and most importantly, how Allah wants that for them and most importantly how Allah is looking for sincere repentance if they sin, not any opportunity to throw them in hell.

Love for Allah

I spoke about how working on yourself is priority before working on your marriage or relationships, and one of the ways you need to work on yourself is working on your relationship with Allah. This should be done before anything else. Omar Suleiman spoke about Jannah: the best part about Jannah that surpasses everything, is meeting our Creator. Some people will meet Him once a week, some twice a week, some twice a day. We should treat our Salah like this: we should look forward to it like we’re meeting Allah to speak to him and, In Sha Allah, it’ll transpire to actually meeting Him every day like that in Jannah.

Daood Butt spoke about how when you’re going through a trying time: people say “make sabr” (have patience); the Hadith actually says something to the effect of: seek patience through Salah, and Daood reiterated that Salah repels evil. Some of us might think (this is personal opinion) “well Salah doesn’t really help me” and one of the problems is that we don’t understand our Salah. We know the gist of Surah Faatiha, but can’t give a translation Ayat by Ayat even though we read it at the very least 20 times a day. We need to read more and learn more to gain that closeness to Allah. It’s important to know the meanings of Surahs and the stories behind Hadith, and this brings me back to Madressah’s as well. More emphasis is put on knowing your sabak well, but there’s barely any mention on what the Surah’s mean and how they were revealed. I think this is a lot more beneficial, especially from a young age. Nouman Ali Khan (who was not a speaker at the Marriage Conference but I think this point ties in quite well) gave Tafseer on Surah Baqarah this past Ramadan, and in every Taraweeh Salah as opposed to reciting the entire Quran, they would recite only the verses they learned so that those who are praying actually have an understanding of what they’re reading and actually appreciate it. It’s a huge disadvantage that we don’t understand Arabic and therefore that sense of closeness, especially in Salah, becomes limited too.

Marriage

This was the hardest part to get to, and I’ve been procrastinating in writing it so much, because my mere blog post will never be able to give you that sense of understanding like it does when you’re sitting in front of these speakers, absorbing everything in.

All speakers spoke all the wonderful, scary and realistic things about marriage, but I think Sheikh Saadullah Khan hit the nail on the head with a lot of things. He joked, and said “often when you say I do, you look back and think what have I done?!”

An important thing to remember: you need to consider your spouse your best friend, reliable confidant, and only lover for life. You are intertwined, an insult to one is an insult to the other, and an insult to one’s family is an insult to the other. His recipe for a successful marriage? Love and compassion that ultimately leads to tranquility. You need to see your marriage as a union for eternity – you must see your spouse as a companion until Jannah.

One of my personal favourite topics that was spoken about, was the act of being romantic. Our Prophet SAW was one of the most romantic men to roam this earth, and there are countless Hadith’s depicting not only his love for his wives but how romantic he was towards them. They touched on the Hadith where the Prophet SAW stopped the army at night to find Hazrat Aisha RA’s necklace, despite the uproar of the army. They spoke about how he would subtly, in the most decent manner possible, flirt with Aisha RA, how they would share inside jokes and anecdotes, and how he would refer to her as Ya Aa’ish, meaning my life.

In this day and age, romanticism is not only very rare, it has been reduced to posting pictures of your hundreds of roses on Instagram because the world has to see it; the single rose picked from a garden isn’t good enough anymore.

Social Media is definitely affecting marriages in some way or another. I’m obviously a very active Social Media user, but I think the how you use it plays a very important role. Omar Suleiman spoke about how superficial we are, and often base relationships on “how good will he/she look in my profile picture”? Another worry of Social Media is how easy it is to compare not only yourself but your spouses to the men and women you see on Social Media, which often leads to temptation. Daood Butt spoke about remembering Allah during temptation like Yusuf AS remembered Allah when he was tempted, but personally I think that’s easier said than done. Most people never look at situations that way, and often think they’re immortal or have such inflated egos that they feel absolutely no remorse or look beyond what they want in that very moment, which is absolutely terrifying. Then on the other side of the coin, some feel the need to show off their marriage or spouse on Social Media – this is just as dangerous.

Almost all the speakers talked about expectations. Every human being has expectations of the next person, but the problem arises when it is unrealistic (Omar Suleiman). We’re not perfect, and we shouldn’t expect our spouses to be either. However, coming back to my first point working on your own character, your spouse will be perfected in Jannah, and you as a person should strive to be that perfect person that you will be in Jannah before putting those expectations on your spouse. You cannot expect to have a perfect spouse, and you cannot expect to have a perfect marriage. Every marriage has its ups and downs and if you think otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Try and always focus on the good parts of your spouse, and never ever bring your spouse down, especially not in front of others.

The point that hit me the hardest was from Saadullah Khan, who said don’t abuse one another verbally. Even small bickering like “shut up” and “no one asked you” is humiliating and can ultimately lead to resentment and a broken marriage. Yaasir Qaadhi supported this point by reiterating that you should always help your spouse, and never put one another down.

As I mentioned in the first category, I think the most beneficial speaker of all in terms of marriage was Haleh Banani, who not only had realistic advice, real life examples and practical approaches on what you can do to improve your marriage. She first spoke about the 5 As:

Acceptance: You can’t make your spouse feel inadequate especially in terms of looks. Embrace their flaws. Make them feel loved

Affectionate: Don’t withhold affection. Show love by hugs and kisses

Appreciation: The same way you want to hear well done that was a good meal, thank him for the work that he does and the hours that they spend. Don’t have double standards. When someone feels appreciated, they want to do more

Attention: Prioritize the person. Don’t have a conversation only when you’re doing other things. Give undivided attention. Look at each other and have a conversation

Allowing the spouse to be themselves: Don’t try and change your spouse. If you’re making changes in your life in terms of religion for example, don’t force them to be the same way as you. They’re not ready. Rather inspire them

In her workshop, she spoke about how communication is key, and that reading the book the 5 languages of love and identifying how you feel loved and show love, and how your spouse feels love and shows love in order to find a happy place. One of her key points: always remember to have fun!

Some simple things to apply to your relationship:

  • Ask your spouse: what are 3 annoying things you do that you can stop?
  • What can your spouse do to make you feel loved? Be specific and have guidelines; not OMG I wish you would respect me.
  • Specify daily good habits you’d like to implement

These little things will ultimately lead to closeness and you’ll end up enjoying your spouse again if you were in a rut.

To end off this post, I want to share two of my favourite stories of the day. The first is about the Prophet SAW and Hazrat Aisha and the second is the story of Makreezi and Sufra.

The following Hadith is from Sahih Bukhari: Volume 7, Book 62, Number 152 but is paraphrased by Omar Suleiman for easier understanding

Hazrat Aisha RA was known for many good things such as her modesty and chastity, but cooking was not one of her strong points. One day the Prophet SAW and his companions were at Aisha’s RA house and one of the other wives sent a plate of food for the Prophet SAW and his companions. When seeing the food, Aisha RA took the plate and threw it on the ground so it broke. Everyone was obviously in shock, and the Prophet SAW responded by chuckling, saying “look, your Mother (my wife Aisha) has gotten a little jealous”.

If something like that had to happen in today’s time, most men would react very differently, but the Prophet SAW brushed it off because he understood that Aisha’s reaction came from a place of love. She always admired his SAW ability to overlook, keep on smiling, be understanding and forgive.

Story of Makreezee from Egypt (as told by Omar Suleiman)

“We got married really young, 15 and 12. I was married to Sufra bint Omar for 8 years. I got Mohammed and Ali from that marriage. Suddenly, at the age of 20 years old, she passed away despite her young age. She was an example of courage and modesty and dignity. When she passed away I was known for my Istikhfar for her. She used to come to me in my dreams, with the same presence when she was alive. I asked her, “do all of my gifts reach you?”, and she laughed. “Oh father of Mohammed, every day your gifts are presented to me”. Then she cried; “You know that I’m unable to pay you back for all of your gifts”. “Don’t worry”, I told her, “soon we will be together forever in Jannah”

This is the kind of love you should have for your spouse.

“Marriage is like a plant that is starting to wither away, and two people arguing over who should water it” – Haleh Banani