I recently started following pages on Instagram relating to South Asian heritage and saw this caption posted by @southasianqueens:
“I feel like marriage conversations and pressures often start much before the age of 24. I finished university at 22 and the conversations started the next day.
How old were you (or are you currently) while experiencing these pressures?”
The caption had questioned when women had first heard this and how they had responded. It did not surprise me that many women are considered to have a “sell-by” date as they are treated like consumer products. This is rife within the South Asian community and the subject of most social gatherings – “so-and-so’s daughter has got divorced” or “so-and-so’s daughter isn’t even married yet!”
Personally, I was lucky! I met my husband when I was sixteen and told my family that this was the guy that I wanted to marry. We got married when I was seventeen and the rest is an incredibly happy history, Alhamdullilah. I managed to escape the conversation and the attached pressures of a suitable age for marriage. Looking back now, I do not believe for one second that I had the emotional maturity for marriage, but I did not have to succumb to the same familial pressures that I witnessed my friends go through.
Now that I am in my thirties (painful to write) I have friends from all walks of life and who have been through an array of experiences. However, I keep hearing the same style of complaints regarding the subject of marriage. I spoke to a friend who is currently twenty-seven years old; she has the traditional markers of material success – degree, car, career. She is on her deen and beautiful both inside and out. Her personality is amazing, and she is incredibly perceptive and intelligent. However, she is unmarried. I can assure the reader that there is nothing “wrong” with her and she simply has not met a person that she thinks is compatible. On the other hand, her mother is trying to push her into accepting proposals that are unsuited for her ‘because of her age’. She keeps questioning her “Who will marry you?”, “You’re not getting any younger” and my personal favourite “So-and-so’s daughter has had her second child and you are still unmarried”. These conversations have caused many phone calls and tears – feelings of low self-worth and insecurities and for the sake of what? Social pressures? Cultural expectations?
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident.
Another friend is divorced and has not remarried. She had no children from her first marriage and since she returned to her parent’s house, the proposals she has received are not from people she would consider. This is where it becomes controversial, and I assure you that this does not come from a place of judgement. The proposals she has received are from either: divorced men with children, men who have serious medical conditions, older men, men who are looking for second wives or men lacking in emotional maturity.
Not for one second am I arguing that men with these circumstances should not be seeking marriage, rather I am highlighting the lack of single, unmarried men in this list. It seems that because she is divorced – that section of society is no longer attainable. A man she was getting to know had told his family about her and when they discovered she was divorced, the mother declined the proposal and forced her son to look for someone who was not “damaged”. And these people claim to be religious, na’auzubillah.
Why does society think like this? So-and-so’s daughter is on her second marriage – obviously, she must have done something wrong, but so-and-so’s son is on his fifth girlfriend, but he will grow out of it he is only young! It is precisely these double standards that are the cause of haram in our Ummah today. I do not recall hearing that “boys will grow out of it” and that zina is only haram for girls.
The mind baffles.
Why are we enabling our sons and disabling our daughters? Why are daughters considered a burden to be ‘married off’ but sons need to remain at home with their mothers? My own daughter does not want to get married – she is eleven and boys are gross. Truthfully, it horrifies me. I do not want her to enter a society where her worth is judged at how successful she is at marriage and ‘handling’ her in-laws. Or how many children she can produce, or the career her husband has, how big her house is and what car she drives. How have we become so detached from deen that financial or societal gain is better than the future of the Ummah?
Recently, I bought my daughter a book on Muslim women in my search for positive role models. I want her to know about the female warriors of Islam. Like Saffiyya bt. ‘Abd al-Muttalib who descended into the battle of Uhud, or Nusaybah bt. Ka’b who defended Muhammed ﷺ with her sword in battle – injuring an assassin sent to kill the Prophet ﷺ. A lesser-known women warrior, Khawla bint Al Azwar not only fought alongside Khalid ibn Walid but freed her fellow sisters from sexual slavery during the battle of Adnajn encouraging them to fight against injustice. I want my daughter to see Islam as the beautiful religion it is, instead of the oppressive and misogynistic image that culture makes it. Why has society decided to use Khadija as an example of sacrifice but refuse to treat their divorced and older daughters with the same respect and curtesy? Why are men so quick to marry our white revert sisters with children but hasten with our brown sisters because they are “damaged goods”?
We should be teaching our daughters to be warriors who carry the flag of Islam with pride instead of how to please their mother-in-law. We should be teaching our daughters the value of education instead of insisting they are at ‘the age of marriage’. We should be enabling them alongside our sons and instilling within them the equality that Islam brought for women. The difficulty lies within protecting our children male and female from zina and ensuring that they keep their actions halal whilst encouraging them to value other aspects of their lives. Maybe if we raised our sons the same as our daughters then marriage would not be the oppressive vehicle as it is for some women. Marriage could then be as it is supposed to a partnership where two people encourage each other’s growth. It should not be the end of a woman’s education – or her dreams – or her life – but a new chapter. It should not matter whether you are twenty-seven, or thirty-three or divorced. Whether you are a revert or a single-mother – black, brown, white, or yellow. The only thing that should matter is that we are teaching our children that marriage is a partnership.
Helping you wife with the household chores is a sunnah. Women are not obliged to assist with chores – it is a form of charity. Aisha, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ narrated when asked about the Prophet’s role in the house:
He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was the time for prayer, he would go for it (Bukhari).
It is mentioned in another narration that the Prophet ﷺ used to patch his sandals and sew his garment showing that housework is not something that should be deemed as derogatory for men. That is not to say that women should do nothing – marriage is a mutual understanding but by solely teaching daughters how to cook and clean – we are hindering the conjugal bliss of future generations. It is a shame that the only sunnah that certain men seem to want to revive is polygamy instead of maintaining one marriage. It is a shame that parents are forcing their children to focus on ‘pleasing their husbands’ through household chores and other so-called duties instead of reminding them our first duty is to Allah.
It is a sunnah to marry divorced, old, young, reverted women too! Marriage should not have a prescribed age or certain social limitations but should be encouraged for protecting our children and brothers and sisters from haram. We need to stop placing pressure on unmarried or divorced sisters by using misguided cultural beliefs as a battering ram. Stop making them feel unworthy or rushed into making decisions that will impact their entire lives because YOU think it is the best decision. Stop forcing them to remain in situations that oppress them because it will bring ‘shame’ to the family. Who do you care about more, society or Allah?
We need to implement the changes we want to see, or our future generations will be forced to relive the same cycle of toxicity where culture has a higher status than Islam.
Great Women of Islam by Mahmood Ahmad Ghadanfar.
Qur’an and Women by Amina Wadud.
A History of Islam in 21 Women by Hossein Kamaly.
The Forgotten Queens of Islam by Fatima Mernissi.