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The BBC’s “Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade” doc Reveals Some Ugly Truths

 “Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves.”

IMAM HUSSAIN (AS)

Last week, the BBC released a documentary called “Undercover with the Clerics – Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade”. The documentary highlighted that some clerics in Iraq are selling young girls for mutah, or temporary marriage, or as the documentary refers to them, pleasure marriages.

In harrowing detail, the film highlights that the cover of mutah is being used to sexually exploit women and rape young girls, in some cases, allowing men to rape children as young as 12. It is important that it is made absolutely clear that this is rape, as children are not able to give consent.

Given that the documentary is associated with cities that are home to some of Shia Islam’s holiest shrines (including Kāẓimiyyah and Karbala), the documentary has been accused of stoking sectarianism, promoting Islamophobia and presenting a biased view, particularly given that the timing of documentary is close to Arbaeen (the observance of 40 days after the day of Ashura).

After watching the film, although some aspects of the film were problematic, overall the documentary was well-balanced, providing the view of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani (who unreservedly condemned these practices). This post looks at some of criticisms of the documentary, and why these criticisms are minor compared to the bigger, uglier truths depicted in this film.

If you love the Holy Prophet (SAW), and his Holy Household, then you must also love truth, and therefore, we need to recognise some of the facts that were presented in the BBC film, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. Our discomfort at seeing such crimes is secondary to the pain and suffering of vulnerable women, who are raped, sometimes by men old enough to be their fathers, on a daily basis.

This is happening and we cannot turn a blind eye. It is not the first time that the western media has covered the issue of the exploitation of short-term marriages. In 2006, NPR’s Anne Garrels’ interview highlighted the rising popularity of temporary marriage after the fall of Saddam.

One of the criticisms of the film relates to the use of the phrase “pleasure marriage” as being inaccurate and sensationalist. This is a fair criticism, since the word “mutah” is more accurately defined as temporary marriage. Mutah is a point of contention among Muslims, and is a controversial and poorly understood practice. It can be utilised appropriately but it is also open to abuse.

However, the film was talking about the abuse of temporary marriage for a very specific purpose, i.e. primarily for sex, and so in this case, “pleasure marriage” is a phrase that encompasses the purpose of the men pursuing a temporary marriage for a distinct and specific purpose: for no strings attached sex in exchange for a price. In other words: prostitution. There is no other purpose than the pursuit of pleasure for the man.

In addition, such pleasure marriages violate the rules of mutah where there must be a two-month waiting period after the marriage expires.

Let’s make it clear that this practice as shown in the film is an abuse of religion and certainly does not reflect the beliefs of the majority.

A second criticism is that the film asserts that places of Shia pilgrimage are “dens of prostitution”. We don’t get an idea of exactly how widespread these cases of abuse are across Karbala or Kāẓimiyyah, but the film does state that many places around the shrines facilitate mutah marriage.

This takes nothing away from the sanctity of the pilgrimage itself. It is obviously not the reason why millions of pilgrims flock to the holy sites, year after year.

The key point is that it is happening, whether we like it or not, whether we choose to accept it or not. It does not need to be widespread to recognise it as an injustice.

In addition, it is crucial to understand that this abuse is not happening in the shrines themselves, but rather in the cities that are associated these shrines. And while Karbala of course resonates with Shia Muslims especially, as the final resting place of Imam Husayn ibn Ali (AS), the city itself is a city like any other city in the world, with normal people, and unfortunately, sinners, like in every other place in the world.

We cannot deny the reality of these crimes simply because they are happening in Karbala, a revered and holy place for Shia Muslims. Karbala holds a special place in the hearts of those who love Imam Husayn (AS), as a place where people go to seek truth, spirituality and nearness to Allah, and to pay their respects to the King of Martyrs.

However, it is also a city of abject poverty, widows, and orphans who have suffered in the aftermath of the Iraq war. And with poverty, comes desperation. It’s a toxic environment of desperation and poverty that allows sexual predators to exploit vulnerable women.

This injustice happens everywhere in the world where you have poverty and war. The bombing of Iraq’s infrastructure and fifteen years of war left people (especially women without a support structure) no option, but to resort to any means possible to survive.

It is argued that the so-called clerics shown in the documentary are fakes and charlatans, and have no standing in the Shia world. While this may be true, it is important to consider this from the point of view of the victims shown in the film. Potentially, anybody can claim to study at a hawza, or at an Islamic University and declare themselves an expert on Shia theology.

We see this clearly in the world of social media. The so-called “Imam of Peace” is neither an Imam, and arguably, nor does he stand up for peace. According to independent journalist, CJ Werleman, he’s nothing but a fake. He has also been denounced globally by many Muslims.

While it may be true that Sayyid Raad (shown in the film) may be nothing more than a pimp, from the point of view of women on the ground (and the men seeking such marriages), he is someone who claims to be qualified to perform the rites and rituals associated with temporary marriage. Women approach these kinds of clerics for help and charity, and some are advised to engage in temporary marriage as a solution.

The film could have made it clearer that the clerics were mutah brokers, although at least one of the men featured in the documentary was dressed in traditional religious garb. The film could have done a better job of getting commentary from more authoritative sources, although it was made clear that these men are abusing the religion. In no way were the men associated with the entire religion.

Of course, prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, and it happens everywhere, but the key difference is that in Iraq, the men are falsely claiming abuse to have been made halal and religiously sanctioned. The film included a statement from “Ali” (who regularly uses pleasure marriages for sex): “This is not about religion, it is about money.”

In the majority of these cases, religion has been used as a tool for sexual grooming. Initially, the women are made feel that entering into a temporary marriage is a legitimate (and “halal”) way to alleviate poverty. It is only when they enter this dark world of exploitation that they find themselves trapped with no way out. It’s the shame that keeps them quiet; their groomers use the tactic of fear to keep them from telling anyone.

The documentary provides balance in three ways:

  • It makes clear that these so-called clerics are violating both Islamic and Iraq’s legal laws. In reality, the age of consent (or marriageable age) in Iraq is 15.
  • The clerics are offered a right of reply via telephone. The unabashed lying shown on camera makes it clear that these frauds have no moral standards and certainly no Islamic credentials.
  • Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Sistani is approached and the respected scholar makes it clear to condemn this practice. It isn’t covered up, nor does the Ayatollah make excuses for these crimes.

I do not see the film as an attack on Shi’ism, nor is it anything to do with the holy pilgrimage itself. The power of Arbaeen, and the call of the prominent personalities is so great, that nothing will stop this movement. It is certainly true that the BBC could do more to cover Arbaeen, but I do not understand why we would expect the BBC to promote Shia beliefs. That said, in 2004, the BBC covered the pilgrimage to Karbala that many Muslims from the West undertake during Arbaeen, in their documentary ‘2004 Karbala: City of Martyrs’. In addition, this film isn’t about Shi’ism itself; it is about the topic of exploitative criminal behaviour by a minority.

It is quite possible to be nuanced enough to understand that sexual exploitation in Iraq is a reality, while also recognising that the BBC could do more to cover Arbaeen, which is one of the world’s largest peaceful gatherings. That being said, these critiques of the documentary do not reduce the authenticity of the narrative.

It is clear that so-called clerics (or perhaps more accurately, mutah brokers) are enabling bad men who take advantage of short-term marriages for their own sexual perversions.

There will be many who will use this documentary to make an attack on Shia beliefs, but that should not prevent anyone from exposing the practices shown on camera. Because this isn’t about Shi’ism, and it certainly isn’t about Islamophobia. It is about the victims, and this is happening everywhere.

Ultimately, as Ayatollah Sistani said in the film, it’s happening (and notably, the Grand Ayatollah did not deny this as a reality) because the police are not doing their jobs, and this is because women are not empowered enough to speak out. How can anything be done unless we recognise that this is happening? We need to stop putting our heads in the sand and wake up to reality.

We have seen this all over the world through the MeToo movement. By no means are sexual crimes or exploitation restricted to religious groups or the Shia community. It is happening in Hollywood. It is happening in mosques. It is happening in churches. It is happening in Hajj. And yes, it has happened historically at the BBC. This is not about particular groups of people. Sexual exploitation is about power.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves that just because someone wears religious garb or prays five times a day or “acts religious”, that such things are not possible.

Last year, female pilgrims spoke out about sexual harassment at hajj, which started the #MosqueMeToo hash tag on Twitter. Women used the platform to talk about their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault while they were at pilgrimage in Mecca. It is still taboo to talk about sexual harassment within the Muslim community, but things are slowly changing.

Just last week, GBBO’s Nadiya Hussain bravely revealed that she had been sexually abused as a child. Nothing will change unless women have a voice to talk about their own experiences.

This documentary is one part of the beginning of that journey, and the target of people’s outrage should not be the BBC. Rather, the focus should be on the criminals shown in the film who have the audacity to try to legitimise such heinous crimes in the holiest cities in the world in the name of Shi’ism.

Don’t be outraged that the truth has been revealed; be outraged that it is happening in the first place.

The writer of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Love Love Love

Love is such an elusive thing, there seems to be an art to it, some of us get it and others well, we just don’t. If you’re in search of the one or if you have already found them it’s important to realise that you are in control and true love is not such an elusive thing.

We often think we are alone in love, that the plight we suffer is ours alone. However, if we look a little deeper we will find that we all experience the same joys and sorrows, the same gains and losses, in relationships we are all in the same boat. Men and women all experience the same emotions in relationships, we are often so focused on the differences between us that we forget how similar we are. The key is to transformation is to understand yourself first and then to share that with others around identifying commonalities. Most importantly to share what you find with a spouse and find your way together.

We often think that love comes from our partner, in the way they treat us. We begin to believe that if a partner is treating us well then there is love, in the absence of that there is no love. If we shift our focus and for a moment, see that love actually lies in each of us. We are the ones who have the power to generate love in our lives. When we feel unloved and disconnected it is something that Is happening within us and not outside in the other, so to feel love and connection we must be brave and turn that on within ourselves. The love that we get from others is a bonus, the real work is to be someone who generates loves for yourself first and then also for others.

We often feel that if we give away too much love we will have less love and therefore we have a fearful response to love. However this could not be farther from the truth. Love has no measurable end, there is no way of running out of love. The universe has an amazing way of looking after us, when you give in abundance you also receive in abundance. The love we give away comes back to find us. The more love you choose to give away the more love you will have. When you begin to withhold love is often also when you feel unloved. So give away your love and watch it return manifold.

Some practical tips to implement these ideas in your life are as follows:

  1. Show interest – If your partner is telling you something they are interested in be interested even if it is not your thing. Encourage your partner to discuss the things they find interesting this will make them feel loved and regarded for who they are. Extend this across their joys as well as their sorrows and do this from the get go.
  2. Be the person you wish to see in a relationship – Ask your partner what you can do to make them happy instead of looking at what they do for you. Assess your effectiveness as a partner as opposed to assessing theirs.
  3. Be happy for your partner – If your partner has an outstanding success be happy for them. Be a sponsor for their growth and development. It’s better to have two people bettering each other than two people tearing each other down due to insecurities.
  4. Be open and honest about all things – Talk to your partner about the things you think and feel, sharing vulnerabilities and asking your partner to do the same will build trust and honesty in your relationship.
  5. ‘Fight’ kindly – If you do disagree on something be mindful that the intention of the fight is not to hurt the other person but just to share your concern. Manipulating your partner through guilt/anger or stories from the past is likely to lead into a power struggle which no one ever wins. Be honest about what hurts and be responsible for your own feelings.
  6. Touch often – hold hands and welcome each other into your space, it builds affection. A practical exercise for you to try with your partner. Look into your partner’s eyes for three minutes without looking away or giggling. See yourself in their eyes, see their vulnerability and see their love.

“Be the love you wish to see in this world” Angela Gwinner

By Aamna Khokhar

For more information and to access e-learning modules or book a one-to-one please visit leafcoaching.com

Aamna Khokhar is determined to equip people with the tools to strengthen communication, regard and love within their relationships. She helps people overcome destructive thought patterns, obstructive emotional responses and manage stress and anxiety. She believes that the management of these can help people heal their relationships and reclaim their self-worth and improve their lives. With a background in Psychology spanning 20 years and a qualification in life coaching Aamna has chosen to specialise in Relationship Coaching. She works with individuals as well as in groups and runs workshops on self-development and the creation and maintenance of healthy relationships, including finding love. She has recently begun creating e-learning modules allowing individuals to work at their own pace and leisure to ensure that self-development is a pleasurable part of their everyday lives. 

To contact Aamna please email on info@leafcoaching.com

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image taken by Akeela Ahmed


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My mother in law made my first year of marriage hell

muslim woman wedding

My honeymoon. My wedding dress. My glasses…

These are just some of the examples my mother in law (MiL) felt justified to tell me I’m in the wrong. I was in the wrong to go on honeymoon for two weeks because she “might die”. I was in the wrong to wear a wedding dress that had short sleeves because I’m a hijabi (I didn’t wear hijab on my wedding day, a whole ‘nother conversation with my MiL – but my husband wanted to see me look extra nice for just one day). I was also in the wrong to wear my glasses day to day because “a new bride should always look beautiful”.

“When me and my husband have been so close to divorce several times in this first year, it feels unnecessary and inaccurate to “celebrate” our first anniversary.”

I’ve just marked one year of marriage. I say “marked” rather than celebrate because it has been a such tough year. When me and my husband have been so close to divorce several times in this first year, it feels unnecessary and inaccurate to “celebrate” our first anniversary. What would we celebrate? Surviving? That we held on? That I spent so many nights and days crying, begging my husband to give me – and us – some distance from his family so that we could work on us. I know the first years of marriage are always tough, I never expected it to be a bed of roses and all romance and glamour. But I also didn’t expect my in laws to criticise me on every little thing. And it is EVERY little thing.

It started very very early. Before I was even married. I was told what I could, and more importantly, COULDNT wear on my own wedding. I dreamt of my outfit, like all girls. The princess dress, the jewellery, the tradition. But I was told “no, that’s old fashioned. I don’t like it. You should wear this.” I respectfully disagreed and said this is what I’ve always wanted. So I wore what I wanted – and more importantly, what my husband was happy with. And boy, a year since my wedding and I STILL hear about how wrong I was…

I don’t live with my in laws, there’s no space in their house. Everyone told me this was a blessing. And considering the strain they’ve had on my marriage, I know for a fact if I did live with them, I would have been divorced by now. But everytime I do go round – which used to be several times a week, but now less – I was always always criticised. For not wearing jewellery. For not wearing make up. For wearing my glasses. I dress modestly. Abayas and long dresses, I’m not a flashy person. But my MiL wanted me to be more “beautiful”. Then I was constantly made to feel like a bad wife and daughter in law. Pointing out things to me like my husband hasn’t had a hair cut, or he’s wearing an old tshirt – apparently it was my fault that my husband chose comfy clothes over dressy ones, it meant I wasn’t looking after him. Because I didn’t spend every single day with them, “so and so’s wife stays at home everyday and cooks with her MiL”. Then there was the time I was in an and out of hospital for over a month, seriously ill, close to multiple organ failure if my illness hadn’t been caught in time. My MiL didn’t come to visit me in hospital. But she would ring me. To ask when I’d be home again because “my son is alone and I don’t like it when he’s alone”….

The best was when we had to go to a relatives house soon after marriage. My husband chose my outfit, a pretty black abaya with turquoise sequins and embroidery – AND I wore make up. In front of my husband, my MiL said I looked nice. As soon as my husband left the room –

“You shouldn’t listen to him when he tells you how to dress, you look rough.” And then when my husband would question her on it “I was just joking, where’s her sense of humour?!” If had a penny for everytime she’s used that after saying something to me…

All marriages come with strains, pressures and expectations. But when they come from the in laws rather than the couple itself, it can have devastating effects. My husband and I have barely managed to scrape through our first year of marriage. And it saddens me, because it’s not due to us. We haven’t failed as a couple. We love each other, and obviously have our normal ups and downs. But our culture needs to change. Our parents generation needs to understand that their boys don’t get married for the sake of their parents, that their son’s wives aren’t for them to belittle and dictate to. They need to understand that their son’s wives are human. That they’ve sacrificed everything when they got married. They left their own family behind, possibly even moved cities. And the last thing they need is to be told they’re not good enough. Instead they need to be welcomed. To receive kindness and love. This woman is your son’s happiness. She is someone’s daughter. And if you wouldn’t speak to your own daughter like that, then why would you think it’s ok to speak to someone else’s daughter that way…?

by Anon

Image credit: https://flic.kr/p/5xfM1X

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website

If you would like to submit a blog post, sharing your experiences or perspectives, then please email us on shespeakswehear@gmail.com. You can submit poems, short stories or any other type of post! You can also submit anonymously too.


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The Top 7 Expectations On Young Muslim Women And How To Overcome Them.

For many Muslim women in the UK, we are expected to achieve a top 7 definitive ‘checklist’ where marriage and children have been the ultimate goalpost for generations. Thankfully, the walls have begun to crumble and we have seen many wonderful examples of fellow Muslim women who have worked hard not to attain the perfect rishta, but who have worked hard for their own development and growth.

Those in the public eye include Ibtihaj Muhammad, Ayisha Malik and Nadiya Hussain to name but a few. They have demonstrated that Muslim women everywhere are intellectual, free-thinking, creative, strong, funny as hell and can be anything from an Olympic fencer, to an author, to the undisputed queen of cake. And yes, we are also daughters, sisters, mothers and wives – in this day and age our identities can no longer be defined by a singular adjective or milestone.

While our own communities have certainly begun to see positive change and progress, I believe that we are still subject to what I call “The Checklist”, something which has been entrenched in the lives of Muslim women for far too long. It goes something like this:

  1. Study hard for exams.
  2. Progress academically throughout school.
  3. Ace that university interview
  4. Get those three A’s in front of you on the UCAS screen.
  5. Graduate with a First.
  6. Outshine the competition during those rounds of job applications.
  7. Get married and have kids.
    The end.

Seem familiar?

Growing up, we put in years and I mean years of hard work whilst enduring copious amounts of pressure and stress moving from one life milestone to the next be it A-levels, university, internships, placements, graduating and first jobs. But there is still this unspoken rule that all that grafting serves one sole purpose: appearing as a desirable candidate for potential husbands and in-laws.

Sure, having a degree and a brilliant job which you love doing is a sure-fire way to gain you a good match but what happens once the wedding is over?
Traditionally speaking, we eventually find ourselves leaving behind all that we have worked for along with our interests in order to be wives and mothers.
This makes absolutely ZERO SENSE.

If a woman decides to get married the union is something that should become a wonderful part of her life, not something that defines her life. She has worked too hard and gained too much just to leave it at the door for the sake of being called a “good wife” or “dedicated mother”.

Why do we need to sacrifice one in order to have the other?

In the UK today young Muslim women are at the forefront of education, with the Guardian reporting last year on how there are more of us outperforming boys, more of us attending universities and more of us entering and surviving the job market. We possess ambition, drive and determination to succeed at whatever we do. With education and life experiences that come with growing up, we are beginning to value the idea of self-growth which extends beyond the stereotypes that have plagued us for so long.

The harsh reality is that these stereotypes come at us from both inside and outside of our communities and relate to “The Checklist”. Firstly, Muslims from both previous and current generations who uphold the patriarchal and quite frankly backward view that women shouldn’t be encouraged to grow as individuals through education, work or just experiences in general limit young women to aspire only to what’s on the checklist and nothing else. On the other end of the spectrum, because these stereotypes of who a Muslim woman is and should be are so openly projected throughout society it becomes a surprise to everyone else when we supposedly ‘deviate’ from the checklist.

The result is usually the following questions and statements (some of which have actually been said to me by Muslims and non-Muslims):

“Wait, you’re not going to have an arranged marriage?”
“You’re really outspoken for a Muslim woman”
“Did you sneak out to get here?”
“You’re allowed to move out for your year abroad?”
“I bet your parents lost it when you didn’t get top grades right?”

And the classic one-liner: “You’ll quit once you have kids, work will be too much for you”.

But here’s the thing, I know that we are smashing it in all aspects of life be it education, work and raising a family because I’ve seen it with my own eyes: women with children putting in 150% at work and loving every second of it, women who have recently married being promoted and women pursuing their own interests for the sake of their own happiness and development.
We should not be made to feel as if we have to choose between the things that make us who we are. Instead, we need to support and encourage one-another within all spheres to go beyond the checklist that is expected of us and create our own.

By Raisa Butt

Raisa is a London born -Hong Kong raised – Pakistani currently working as a secondary English teacher but her love for writing both creatively and academically has never wavered. Her particular interests lie in exploring concepts of gender, feminism and multiculturalism in works of fiction, non-fiction and in the pieces she writes about wider societal issues which affect young Muslim women today.

Image credit: Muhammad Faizan

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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Three Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting Married

Sabrina Mahmood pens her top three tips on getting married.

1. Compromise forms part of daily life

Getting used to living with a new person is difficult, you each have your own way of doing things and have to get used to living around someone new. This can be especially difficult if living with in-laws because the initial few months do take work from both of you, and you need to devote plenty of time to this. Before you get married it’s so important to think about whether you are prepared to compromise. Will your potential partner accept that you wish to work, study, meet friends. Will you be able to share the household tasks, or is all this expected to be your responsibility. It’s all well and good before you get married, but once the Nikah is signed, the responsibilities become real. Are you ready to handle this?

Luckily for me, my husband and I share much of the tasks. As I am still studying, I often come home late. On these days my husband will prepare meals, and vice versa when he works and comes back late. Small things like this are so important, not only does it show an immense love and respect, it just makes life that bit easier when you are both making the effort to take care of each other.

2. Are we really compatible?

At the beginning, it can be really hard to determine this, because human nature means that once we like somebody or are interested in them, it can be easy to overlook their flaws. We can accept aspects of their personality which once you are married might become a lot more difficult to handle. I hear a lot of, once we get married ‘he will change’ but the best way to think is that the person you marry will be the same person before and after marriage, so don’t expect any major changes.

I’ll use an example to illustrate what I mean; if the potential partner likes to meet friends out a lot, at first this might seem insignificant. However, if you live with family (or even alone) after marriage, it is hard enough to find time to spend together. So, if the other person spends most of their free time out, how will this affect you? Will you mind spending many evenings/week-ends alone? It might seem a small thing, but later it can become much more troublesome, so it’s best to iron out these things before making any big decisions.

Another important thing here is whether you have the same inherent values. Does the other person believe in the same things as you. To me education is important, and female empowerment. My husband has always been supportive of these things, so when life sometimes gets tough I always feel supported and as if my opinions are valued. This is really important to build a strong relationship. If he thought the work I did to support women’s casues was pointless or insignificant, this would put a strain on our relationship. Is your potential partner mature enough to understand your needs and support you?

Remember, once you are a married you start to rely on each other and emotional support becomes really important. 

3. Communication is key

One of the key things in marriage is effective communication. We all know this but how does it work in practice? Are you a person that needs constant love and affection or do you need more of your own space. I’m the first of these, and I’ve had to communicate to my husband that a text or a small gesture goes a long way. Do you think you will be able to communicate your feelings to your potential husband?

What about the more serious things, like when you feel down or stressed. Will the other person be able to guide you and support you through these times, or are they more of a silent person who doesn’t tend to offer advice. Remember, once you are a married you start to rely on each other and emotional support becomes really important.

Lastly, and probably very important, how do you both react when you are angry. Luckily for me, my husband’s gentle nature will always diffuse my anger. But if you are hot headed and the other person is too, it can become quite difficult when you argue and say things in the moment you don’t mean. You have to be able to communicate through these times, talk through problems and come out stronger. If you know the other person gets angry easily, or likes to avoid dispute resolution, think about whether you can really live with them, because arguments between people that live together, even family, is inevitable!

By Sabrina Mahmood

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Altmuslimah (David Campbell)


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Marriage Tips for Muslim Women (and Men)

Image of a Muslim couple

Image of a Muslim couple

I love married people, really I do, I am surrounded by them on a daily basis in both my corporeal and virtual life. Some of them are my closest friends, I work with them even and I feel that my approach to married people is largely tolerant and caring, despite everything.

I am one of those people that Mr Amin choses to slight in his article, I am divorced and over 30 and therefore not fit for giving advice on marriage despite the fact I have been married and I am part of a family. You could say I am the polar opposite to Mr Amin; not only am I divorced and unashamedly not married I am also unmarriagble, something I regard as a bit of an achievement. As a married friend said to me recently, and it was meant kindly, finding someone who I could realistically marry would be a miracle. Since Islam is not big on miracles I am not holding my breath.

I am often bemused at married people and how they communicate their marriedness to others. Usually they just get on with it and don’t make a big deal out of it and certainly never attempt to involve you in it. But there are exceptions and Mr Amin is one of them.

Mr Amin is what is known as a smugly married. One of those blessed individuals for whom life has been a series of making the right decisions. For whom life has simply been knowing the right thing to do and when it is done knowing that the right outcome will be achieved. Life is reduced to a series of choices in a geography of opportunity or a slightly complex recipe, if followed correctly and performed perfectly will achieve the satisfactory outcome. This result is then presented to the world for us to either desire to imitate or for us lesser mortals such as myself, to remind us of our poor decision making and our failures.

“Not only am I divorced and unashamedly not married I am also unmarriagble, something I regard as a bit of an achievement.”

For many of us life has not been so simple, and I am aware that there will be many married people out there who also grind their teeth in frustration when presented with the smugly married, because there are a lot of unhappily married people out there who made the right decision and the right choices, who married a desirable commodity but who found they had married a human being with all their failings and imperfections and who found that life is complex regardless of what you do and that for many reasons things didn’t go according to plan.

There are also a lot of single people who know that their chances of marriage are hugely reduced or non-existent but we chose to never consider the fates of these individuals. Individuals who in Mr Amin’s capitalist marriage market do not constitute a desirable acquisition, such as women over 30, the disabled, people from the wrong type of family, the divorced obviously.

In Mr Amin’s world these are people who simply didn’t make the right choices.

The reality is that a happy marriage is an accident for which there is no explanation. As an observer and a great listener I am often amazed and delighted at the variety of ways in which people have found contentment with another human being, and how many people, even undesirable acquisitions have, despite the prejudice, also achieved this. Often it is the stories of these individuals that make for far more interesting and relevant reading.

“Divorce is a necessary release and is often the beginning of a far more positive and meaningful phase in a person’s life but again, this is something that is taboo to discuss in positive terms.”

Muslims should weary of the elevation of marriage to a state that it is only accessible by the economically and physically perfect that excludes and divides; it causes misery for those deemed not perfect enough to marry and misery for those who are married but find themselves suffering with that particular misery that can only be found in a relationship. Marriage can also ruin and cost people their lives. Divorce is a necessary release and is often the beginning of a far more positive and meaningful phase in a person’s life but again, this is something that is taboo to discuss in positive terms.

Mr Amin, what us elders should be talking about is how to have emotionally healthy loving relationships and also educating young people on what is unhealthy. We should be giving people the permission to know when a marriage is at an end and that divorce is not in fact the end of life. This would be far more productive and caring than creating the illusion that you can control all your outcomes and that people are simply commodities that are more or less valuable to be traded in.

By Mrs Rumiyya

Image courtesy of Cara_VSAngel on Flickr

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.


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The Henna In Our Hands

By Burhana Islam

@Burhana92

Image courtesy of Burhana Islam

Image courtesy of Burhana Islam

Lately I’ve been wondering why I’ve fallen deeply and quickly in love with the ancient art of henna. I’m not entirely sure what was so enticing about the deep red ink that seeped through my flesh and found itself trapped within the depths of my fingertips. I felt like I fooled myself into believing that something about this was deeper than the colours that stained my skin. On the surface, I lost myself in paisley patterns, intricate swirls and elaborate floral lace. Underneath, I was trying to grasp on to an almost forgotten part of my heritage, my history. Time would freeze for a moment, hours would slip away, half-hearted conversations would be long discarded and the darkness would embrace the sunlight which once held a warmth that kissed my bare skin. I’d drag my eyes away from the paste only to be mildly surprised to see that life had pressed forward without me.

Life had pressed forward without me.

Let’s rewind these memories back to a time when we laughed under the stars of that wedding we never talk about, under a love that we were forced to leave behind. We painted our hands while they joined theirs. It felt permanent. It felt raw.

Pause.

We painted our hands while they joined theirs.

That’s the thing about henna. You pay attention to detail.

Image courtesy of Burhana Islam

Image courtesy of Burhana Islam

Her hands were pale save for the crimson ribbons which scarred that delicate skin. Ropes not ribbons, ropes. The colour ran down her arms, twisting and turning like blood in her hands. He said he never liked henna anyway. But she was like a porcelain doll dancing dangerously on the edges of a dusty shelf. She was like a porcelain doll ready to shatter onto the concrete earth. Those painted hands wrapped tightly around his like a promise that would never break.

Press play and watch that marriage fade as quickly as the red stains on her skin.

Fast forward seven years and freeze the frame with the happy ending. The porcelain doll paints her daughter’s hands, telling her stories from another life, tales which are woven into the tapestry of the fingers she holds on to. Narratives of strong women, single mothers, caught up in crossfires, surviving the flames of the past, flow through her lips. Those words ignite small flickering smiles. ‘You’ll take after me,’ she promises. ‘Those little hands will be much stronger than mine.’

Replay.

Let’s switch to a more recent memory- the aftermath of Eid after a month of self-reflection.

I trace my fingers around tired palms. She tells me she was young once. In those days, henna was freedom and solace in the unstable arms of a brutal war. It meant warm nights under sleepy lanterns with stifled laughter. She reminisces and I listen to the words that tumble from her lips, the treasured stories that still hold light in her eyes. There seems to be centuries between the lives we both lived. I will never walk through the corridors of her memory palace. I will be spared that pain. That war faded with the hands of time. It faded like the prints on her palms. ‘You’ll forget these stories, my sweet girl.’ She says this sadly in a tongue that I find difficult to decipher. ‘They’ll die with us.’

I don’t have the words to promise her otherwise, but I pay attention to the details of her past with the deepest conviction. That’s the thing with human nature, we don’t want to be forgotten.

Perhaps that’s why I spend so many of my days now practising those lines, leaves and vines. It’s that attention to detail that I want to practise in life. I’ve learnt so much by simply listening that I’m beginning to understand the significance of the stories we choose to leave behind. I’m trying hard not to waste my words. I’ve been taught to learn wisdom that way.

But lately I’ve come to the realisation that henna is a means of swapping stories and since I don’t have many of my own just yet, I can lend an ear and listen to echoes of the past that I left back home, that I left behind. Sometimes I can’t help but reflect on how different my life could have been had tiny moments in history played out another way. Our stories seem to intertwine so easily with others. There are similarities in each so know we’re not alone. But it’s human nature to forget. These narratives tangle themselves in the branches of complex family trees. They scatter across foreign sands, spill out into the Indian Ocean and meet us on the concrete shorelines of the West. I guess it’s then we realise we’re a second generation struggling with our identities. Hopes of belonging fade like old stains on skin. ‘Our kids will have it easier,’ we say. ‘Their future will be more stable than ours’. Perhaps this explains the recent revival of religion amongst our youth, amongst ourselves. We long for an acceptance that we lacked rights to the moment our elders crossed those seas. Their ships set sail in a wind without flags and we struggled to find ourselves under waves of nationalism. So we resort to the only alternative we know, we find some understanding in deen, or at least we cling on to the hope that someday we may. But how can we forget about the hands that raised us, the hands which have allowed us to be the people we are today? There are lessons in their stories. We just have to listen.

So when I’m painting palms, I pay attention to detail. I hold on to lost words like a promise made with the deepest of conviction. I absorb the stories of a generation that had it harder than us and a generation that may have it harder still. Our stories will intertwine, we’ll make sure of it. They’ll be melodies that wrap around our flesh and absorb into skin. They’ll become a part of our identity and colour our future. They’ll be woven into the tapestry of our lives and it will feel permanent. It will feel raw.

Burhana is a self-professed Harry Potter geek, an English teacher and an avid reader. She graduated in Literature and likes to find meaning in the smallest of things. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter or Pintrest at @Burhana92 and her personal blog www.theteacupthatshattered.blogspot.co.uk

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website. Continue reading


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A Response to the ‘Open Letter To A Single 25 Year Old Asian/Arab Girl’

by Ayisha Malik

@Ayisha_Malik

Unwed Bride, Samah Hamidi, roams Cairo in white dress to challenge social taboos .

I’m not sure whether I should respond to this as it’s a letter addressed to 25 yr old single girls, and so, being 33 I’ve missed the boat. Both on the letter and a man, apparently.

Except I was urged by fellow tweeters to express my feelings so I thought hey, why not! I’m a writer, it’s the least I can do. In fact, I’ve had to take time out of my evening from writing; a career I’ve been trying to forge since I was sixteen (probably younger). If only I hadn’t spent all this time honing my skills, getting a degree and masters and had instead focussed that energy on finding a husband, I’d be happily married with three (or more! Happy thought!) kids. I’d not have a two-book deal with a new and dynamic publisher, nor would it have been optioned for adaptation for TV (a story, by the way, about a London-based hijabi, who’s sick of the dating game). Damn I miss that marriage and three kids. No, but I do. In fact, I’ve been dating seriously for about seven years. My dad (may God rest his soul) wanted me to fulfil my dreams, my (thanks to God alive) mother wants me to get married. I’ve been trying to do both. Crazy thought, eh! Do both? So I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to reconcile dreams with reality and along comes a lady who (with, I honestly believe, the best of intentions) has told me I’ve been doing it all wrong.

But, hang on, she does recognise the window is narrow and unfair. So, I want to know why the framework within which we live and find ourselves isn’t being challenged, rather than the women who are trying to push that framework, widen it for future generations of women who can (I pray to God) dare to have it all without worrying about dying alone.

No! Don’t be ridiculous. We don’t change the system (or mentality). We should be the good Muslim girls we were raised to be and instead push and squeeze ourselves (not just into our designer clothes) but into this unfair framework.

My dad didn’t raise me that way, though. He said chase that which your heart desires; be bold and daring. In fact; be fearless. And then there’s this letter, which exploits the very fear every woman (and man) has: that of being alone forever. Scary stuff, ain’t it? The thought of ending up All by Myself (sing it, Sista). Who wants that?

I believe the lady that wrote this letter had the very best of intentions. I believe she’s trying to help people find happiness in marriage and may Allah bless her for it.

But she has gone against the ethos that every woman of our generation should have: to not be afraid; to rage against that which society dictates to us; rage against the injustice and hypocrisy. Even if it means you make the sacrifice, and you end up alone. As a woman of faith that is when we say, Allah hu Alim. And He knows best. So, put your trust in Him. Be aware of your intentions, strive for what you want, but don’t believe that marriage and dynamism are mutually exclusive, though it might be rare. Don’t believe that we can’t change things through dialogue and literature. And I really do beg that the women who are single and doing extraordinary things: do not mould yourself to fit into an ideal – an ideal that is both wrong and unjust. What is that Ralph Waldo Emerson quote?

‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’

That’s what we should be encouraging women to be – trailblazers.

Ayisha Malik is a writer and managing editor for a leading literary consultancy. Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged is her debut novel about the life of a hijabi Londoner, published by Bonnier, Jan 2016. Follow her on Twitter @Ayisha_Malik

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image of Unwed Bride roaming Cairo courtesy of New Age Islam Blog


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An Open Letter To A Single 25 Year Old Asian/Arab Girl

Image courtesy of Shiraz Chanwala

Dear 25 year old single girl,

Congratulations! You’ve completed your degree, landed yourself a stellar job and are well on the way to carving out an exciting career.

So… shall we talk about the elephant in the room? Marriage!

When it comes to finding ‘The One’ some of you may feel that NOW is the time to begin your search but are unsure on what to do next. The rest of you may simply feel that you’re not ready; you still have your career to think about, you want to travel and you’ll worry about all that later.

As an educated, ambitious woman myself, with friends of similar ilk, I can see where you’re coming from. I totally get it.

But sadly, life isn’t necessarily going to fall into place as neatly as your #HudaBeautyLashes. The reality is that there is an (un)fairly narrow window of opportunity in which to secure your future husband and, from my experience, I’d say it hovers around the age of twenty-seven.

Image courtesy of Ed Garcia

There is no magic formula on how to go about finding ‘The One’ but having spoken to many 30-something year old single women, here are a few of their thoughts.

1. The Search MUST start today and not tomorrow

In my role as a voluntary matchmaker, I’ve come across hundreds of brilliant girls who were in your beautiful designer heels a decade ago. These girls are now in their 30s having grown into successful, strong, independent women who have realised every feminista’s noughties Western dream. They’ve seen the world and they’ve spoken to it. Yet they have fallen victim to the traditional Asian/Arab marriage system, which is inherently biased in favour of men and pressures women to be a certain way. Although, the rules are changing, progress in glacial. But that’s a whole other letter.

The biological imperative remains as unfair as ever. Mother Nature was not, is not and never will be a feminist. And to add salt to the wound, most South Asian/Arab men do not live in an era where they rank a woman’s intellect over her fertility and beauty.

So IF you do want to marry AND have children before the age of 35 (when you begin to enter the realm of ‘higher risk pregnancy’) then I would suggest starting your search much sooner rather than later.

2. Deal breakers and barriers

I have received countless matchmaking enquiries from young women (AND men) that are mind bogglingly specific. For example, one particular 25 year old female teacher was looking for a Gujarati doctor. Or dentist. Or accountant. But strictly NO lawyers. They’re just ‘too argumentative’. Ideally of East African descent although this wasn’t essential. No younger than 27, and certainly not a day over 30. A practicing Muslim; whatever that means these days (she didn’t know either). Facial hair would be ‘acceptable’ but she was averse to ‘full-on’ beards and volunteered her irrational phobia of hairy backs. Speaking a European language was also a plus point, but not a deal breaker.

I kindly advised the young lady that although I know many lovely Muslim doctors who sit comfortably within her specified age bracket, I am completely oblivious on the state of their body hair and general grooming habits, and to be very honest, I prefer to maintain my ignorance. That’s not to say that I’m dismissive of personal preferences relating to things like hair, hygiene and horrible habits, or the ‘3 H’s’ as I like to call them. But regardless of how highly they may sit on your tree of disgust, it’s certainly not a great way to start (or even end) marriage talks.

You need to accept that Mr Perfect doesn’t exist. He is simply a romantic Holly/Bolly/Lollywood myth. Focus instead on finding ‘Mr Suitable’. You find him by making a rational list of the characteristics you’re definitely NOT willing to compromise on. For example: Someone whose strength of faith is not aligned with yours. Someone who lacks humour. Someone who is too intro/extroverted. Someone with a criminal record. Someone with a history of cheating/lying. Outside of your main ‘deal breakers’ the rest is negotiable and I promise you that there are PLENTY of Mr Suitables around. I often hear from them. They are surprisingly lovely, so give them a chance.

3. Don’t rely on your parents

Before I have every auntie in the country wanting to beat me with her stick then please read on.

Far too often I’ve heard of successful mid-30 year old women who had exclusively depended on their parents in the spouse hunt, only to be disappointed later on. Unfortunately, whilst every parent does of course have their child’s best interest at heart, it is important to recognise that their social networks are limited to a smallish pool of friends and therefore a finite pool of eligible bachelors.

As an aside, I have also witnessed A LOT of parental “not-good-enoughery”. This is truly disappointing as many great suitors are being sidelined in the vain hope that the perfect son/daughter-in-law is hiding just around the corner. The reality is that the corner can sometimes be a very long and tortuous road and takes several years to turn, if ever.

4. Always try and look your best.

In an ideal world, a guy would immediately fall in love with your ‘inner beauty’ whilst Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” would be playing proudly in the background. In an ideal world. After all, it IS your character that truly matters in promoting the longevity of a happy and healthy marriage. And so, how I would love to say that ‘looks don’t matter’ but for all the rights and wrongs of it, it’s simply not true. It’s a biological fact rather than rocket science: men and women are attracted to physical beauty. Therefore, first impressions can be last impressions and so I would suggest that you make every effort to look presentable in the same way that you would for your dream job interview.

And for the love of God please STOP pouting in your ‘Rishta photos’!

5. Don’t prioritise career over marriage

It’s difficult growing up in a world where the cultural mantra of marrying young has finally, and refreshingly, been replaced by encouragement to postpone marriage (ever so slightly) in pursuit of high ideals – education, career and true love. However the two can run in parallel as opposed to sequentially.

Life doesn’t stop once you have a ring on your finger. You can pursue your goals AND be in a fulfilling marriage. It’s simply great to have someone with whom to celebrate your successes and it’s even better to have him holding your hand through the difficult and daunting times.

Be open to attending social networking functions, marriage events and accept invitations to private parties. The thought of attending on your own can be a bit daunting. What if you wear the wrong thing? What if you get stuck in the corner sandwiched between Vain Zayn and Awkward Abdul? BUT, what if you end up having a thoroughly enjoyable time and meeting someone great? You may not know anyone else in the room but I’d say that’s all the more reason to go.

Sign up to matrimonial sites and download the various marriage apps. I know they’re a bit hit and miss but what do you have to lose? Tell your friends and relatives that you’re actively looking so that they may suggest suitors within their networks. Of course, none of these measures can guarantee Mr Suitable knocking on your door at a time of your convenience, after all these things are pre-destined, but following this simple advice may be a good starting point.

Finally, remember there is absolutely no shame in putting yourself out there and actively searching for ‘The One’, in fact I’d say it suggests a degree of maturity. Stop worrying about what so-and-so might think. This is about YOU and NOT them. It’s time to woman up and take some control.

Yours sincerely,

Farah Kausar
Voluntary Matchmaker

Dr Farah Ahmed is a London based GP and mum of two boys. She  is a Global Ambassador for ‘Mothers 2 Mothers’, a charity that trains and employs Mentor Mothersto provide essential health education and psychosocial support to other HIV-positive mothers, on how they can protect their babies from HIV infection. Farah enjoys running, writing health articles and matchmaking in her spare time. 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Images courtesy of Shiraz Chanwala and Ed Garcia