Monday, 22 March 2010

Shaadi or Barbadi?

Shaadi is a Hindi/Urdu word meaning marriage. In recent times however, Shaadi has largely been taken to mean the ceremony its self (Niqah), rather than the institution, and the ramifications of this are far-reaching! Before I even came to Islam 13 years ago, I was fascinated with all things Asian. I listened to Hindi music, and dreamed of becoming a playback singer, even though I had no idea what I was singing about. Churrian, payals and sarees were a regular feature in my wardrobe, and of course, taking on Asian culture meant that I was constantly bombarded with images of Asian marriage/Shaadis! Indian films, dramas, music and dance, largely evolve around romance, love and ultimately marriage, and thus the ideal of every Asian female is to find a tall dark Prince Charming (not too dark mind!), who will appear on a white horse dressed in raw silk, while she waits for him, adorned in red and gold and with exquisitely patterned hands of hennah. Islam too promotes marriage, in fact the observance of it is considered to be half of one’s faith! However the simplicity of an Islamic marriage/niqah is not something that has largely been embraced/welcomed by the Asian Diaspora. The glitz, glamour, red/gold and hennah have all been carried forward by the majority Hindu sub-continental descendents who came to Islam centuries ago. Not that there is any thing wrong with culture in principal: however, what troubles me about all this, is that most women become so drawn in with the theatre of a perfect wedding, that the life after is rarely considered (I did the same!). Moreover, families view marriage as something of a business transaction: just something you HAVE to do! And because you HAVE to, there are a great many expectations pivoting on the right match i.e., wealth, children, respect/izat, family honour and the general preservation of faith/culture. This too, would not necessarily be a problem in theory: after all, aren’t these traits to be desired within a life partner? But they manifest themselves in the exclusion of a great many in our community (if you are not Sayed, you are out! If you are disabled forget it: you’ll produce dodgy genetically modified children! If you are a convert, forget it: your family drink and you are probably a closet spy/drinker too! If you are dark: forget it: you will produce black children) (their views, NOT MINE!!).
And, so the list goes on, and on, and on!!
It is sadly now common place to find stock piles of both men and women, unable to marry because they spent their twenties being rejected by others, and are now considered too old, (and perhaps also possess some of the above aforementioned evils!).

As a convert, I was something of a novelty to people, I was not desired marriage material because of my visual impairment, but my eloquent Urdu and supposed Ethnic disposition made me rather more accessible than other reverts, coupled with the fact that I started looking for a husband at aged 17 (for reasons we’ll discuss in another post!).
Any way, a husband was found for me, fresh from Pakistan, an asylum seeker who’s prime concern was securing UK citizenship! You would not be wrong for asking (why? Was I completely stupid? Marrying a man I knew would eventually cheat/leave me?), perhaps I was, but I had my agenda too: I needed to leave home, and my new husband provided a respectful opening through which to do so. Despite my many reservations, at aged 18 I was taken in by his gifts, the attention he lavished upon me and his beautiful Urdu poetry (which I didn’t understand at that time), it was all good! I spent weeks preparing the perfect Asian wedding (red clothes, ornaments, flowers hearts and great food), only to have it all blow up in my face, when my parents approached the police in an attempt to stop me getting married! Clad in a yellow mehendi suit and with a face dripping in oil and turmeric, I struggled to make the police understand that blind people are not necessarily brain damaged and can actually make informed balanced decisions about whether or not to marry!
Given that I was above the legal age of consent, there was little my family could do, and so they returned home, and I got on with my niqah (only on a much lower key than my original frivolous desires had longed for!.

Shaadi, rimes with ‘barbaadi, as in the title of this post, another Hindi/Urdu word which translates somewhere between captivity and ruin! The phrase is used more generally in jest, however, as life after marriage is rarely thought about by the sub-continent, the phrase has more truth/resonance than many care to admit! People thrown together in a bazaar mutual dependency, sometimes against their will, and more often than not with little in common, most marriages fall in to a droll set of rules and living arrangements, with more low points than high ones, and a relationship built on the need to exist and fulfil the wishes of others, rather than one another!

Allot of this pressure comes from family, but in the case of my former husband and I, the pressure worked in reverse: both his family and mine were united in one thing and one thing alone (the desire for us to break-up, as quickly and painlessly as possible, and ideally without children involved to prolong unwanted relations between us and them!).
By the time my hennah had darkened and faded, I realised I had made my proverbial bed: I was alone, yet stuck in a marriage that I had to preserve, because I had chosen it (consciously or unconsciously), because Islam demanded it and because, if nothing else, I had to prove all those enemies wrong! I learnt Urdu, learnt to cook and did my best to satisfy my husband, but 0 and 0 do not equal 1, or 2, or any thing: they merely emphasise yet another nothing! The years swept by, and when my husband was certain of his citizenship and my lack of resistance, he left for Pakistan, and was never seen again!

On his departure, I threw myself in to work: I went off to Pakistan, worked 18 hour days and banished all thoughts of what might have been: I somehow kept my head above water, clinging only to the reality that I NEVER, EVER wished to marry EVER again!

Our Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), advises never to embrace extreme hate or extreme love, as these emotions may reverse one day: similarly, he (PBUH), advises that promises made in haste rarely hold true: and both proved all too telling in my case! I felt neither love nor hate, simply indifferent about my former husband, and as I got older, I became increasingly aware of my isolation: from family, from community, even from those I called friends. The world around me was moving on, marrying, settling: and I wasn’t keeping up with the pace, the only way was to attempt to resettle myself, to look for a spouse, only, one who was slightly more on my level, who was an open-minded practising Muslim, and, above all, who could see me for me rather than getting lost in the divorce/revert/visual impairment baggage Allah (SWT) has asked me to carry!

And so it was that my search began again! When I expressed the same in the community I was met by uncompromising silence and uncomfortable looks of pity and grief. They felt for me, the poor divorced blind woman who every one wanted to “help”, but no one wanted to be married to! I was viewed as an unattainable wonder woman with a guaranteed insurance policy to jannah because I was blind, yet despite this blessing, I was oh so fragile, helpless and useless (I still spend my visits to the masjid fending off stupid questions about how I cook, clean and know what clothes to put on each day, what hijaab matches my dress and so on).
It wasn’t long before I reached for the websites: most reverts ultimately do as they somehow think that those resorting to the net will either be braver than the traditional conformists, or else divorced like them, or else other reverts who don’t belong any where else! All of the above is true in parts: but most of those I met were either others out for an easy visa, some casual sex, or an affair (or all 3!).
I had a few offers of marriage via the net, but mostly from people who wanted to marry me because “it is a good thing to do”, because “I’ll get to jannah if I take care of you”, or because, “I have a first wife who can look after you”, great! At aged 26, I’d be a trophy object, an asexual figure with no hope of a passionate, vibrant future, with children and that would right all the wrongs I had previously experienced. I was so disillusioned with the internet that when I eventually met my husband-to-be, I ignored him completely! After all, he did not fit my own picture of my ideal, he was from Iran (so out for a visa), he wouldn’t appreciate, value or understand me because (well, he just wouldn’t!). He pursued me for months before I’d even talk to him in real time. I agreed to chat simply to get him off my back, and because, as a determined soul myself, his perseverance was something of admiration for me! Little did I know that I’d fall in love with him the very first moment we talked: his smoothness, loving nature, commitment to his faith and his quiet confidence were dreams I thought were unattainable for me. The chemistry was amazing, yet it took yet more years for this wonderful man to win me over: I set traps for him, expecting him to fall at every turn. When it came to my visual impairment, he knew nothing, and fell in to all the traps around political incorrectness, he made no apologies for these: only expressed a desire to know and learn more. His Iman fascinated me, and above all, his commitment to nurturing what we had and not give up on me as so many others in his position would have. Now that we are soon to be married, I often find myself riddled with guilt for all that I put him through, yet on the other hand, had I not done so I would never have discovered the immense depths of this magnetic man: the like of which I have never encountered before. Moreover, had I stuck to my rigid empty image of what an ideal husband should be, would I simply have let this man slip away? Would I still be alone for fear of taking a risk with the one man on this earth who could love me for me and give me real happiness?
How many are prepared to settle for second best rather than trust their hearts and fight for number 1, How many marry the person who ticks the boxes, rather than the one who stirs their very soul. I have a young male friend who can list me the physical characteristics he desires in a wife, but his list doesn’t venture far from the external, and I often wonder what he’d do with such a woman when she reaches her thirties and forties and loses the looks he craves: moreover, what worries me is that he is so intoxicated with what the media has told him to look for, that he is even prepared to leave Islam to find it!
I came to Islam because of its foundation in divine love: how indescribable is the love of Allah (SWT) for his creation, how elemental is the love of one who submits (a Muslim), and how complete is the love of a man for a woman, and a woman for a man for his (SWT) sake. I chose a man with love, faith/Iman, but who filled all gaps in between simply by nature of who/what he was, a unique beautiful divine entity who was created for me, and me for him, and by the grace of Allah (SWT) my heart was not too closed to see it!

When I started this all too long post, I was unsure how to end it. On Saturday, I watched ‘the invention of lying with my family. Though a comedy film, it struck a great many chords with this very subject: in particular, the fickle nature of man, and how we have become so programmed to accept the superficial. It is indeed a sad day when Muslims equally base their marriages on genetic perfection, how much is in the bank and how culturally compatible the partner is (praying, hijaab, intellect, values and above all, love, rarely figure!). If we have high divorce rates in our community, it is because when you strip back the demands, the money and the fleeting nature of media defined beauty, there is very little to hold our marriages together, yet we blame the other person, certain that in blame there is refuge, and in disregarding Islam, there is progression and success, rather than reverting back to basics and reviving the parched heart within through divine love and the unfailing beauty of togetherness and companionship.
I end this post with an extract from a moving poem on marriage by Naeema B. Roberts. Perhaps if we opened our souls, expose our vulnerabilities and ask the questions that hold us back from aspiring to love and perfection, we would truly get somewhere and take our marriages from institutions of confinement, to vehicles of spiritual excellence that elevate us higher and higher, setting a bench mark for ourselves and our children to grow on!

And now that my first buds are about to open, they have entrusted me to you.

How will you tend me?

Will you coax my buds to unfurl with words of love and kind attention?
Or will you pluck them before they’re ready, crushing their new petals and delicate stems?
When I bring forth delicate blossoms of talent and inspiration,
Will you smile at their dreaming petals and share in the blush of hope?
Or will you watch as blossoms wither under your disapproving gaze,
Your criticism, your scorn, and your self-righteous censure?
Will you guide my wilder branches, gently, coaxing them to grow straight and true?
Or will you simply break off the ones that displease you, trampling them carelessly underfoot?
And when, insha Allah*, I come to bear your children, will you continue to water me?
Or will you pluck those precious fruits, one by one, and turn away from the empty branches?
And when my trunk grows wide and thick with age, will you marvel at my strength?
Or will you recoil from touching my rough, brown bark?
When the years have become mere memories, will you admire how tall we have grown?
Or will your restless, selfish heart long to reach out for another sapling?
When I am as weak as the waving branches of a weeping willow – will you protect me?
When I am as strong as the trunk of the mighty Redwood tree – will you support me?
When I am as wise as the age rings of the old, old oak tree – will you respect me?
When I am as foolish as the fickle blossoms of early Spring – will you be patient with me?
When I am as fragile as the flowers of a jasmine tree – will you keep me safe?
When I am as bold as the roots that break through concrete – will you believe in me?

How will you tend me?

For now I have shown you my heart, its dreams, its hopes and fears.
Look carefully as we stand at the edge of the water.
Are you willing to bare your soul and show your heart to me?
So that I feel safe as the two of us swim on out to sea.
Remember that I am like a sapling, a creation of Allah.
Take care when you hold me between your fingers.

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