I still remember my mother’s homemade vanilla ice cream. I remember the weekend getaway with my mom and dad, when I was around four. I remember my mom beautifying herself for her husband with an exquisite collection of perfume, makeup and lipstick. My mother was my universe: everything about her felt right, beautiful, and correct. She was a strict parent, but she was just, cheerful and loving as well. This was a couple of decades ago. Today, I am 24, and those beautiful shades of my mother have been fading away with time.
Now, my mother rarely smiles. She stopped cooking for us a long time ago. The maid does everything, including teaching me traditional recipes (something that would be more special coming from one’s own mother). Moreover, she has also stopped pampering herself over the years. Now when I look at my mother, I see a lot of fatigue, I feel a lot of resentment, sadness and anger. Her husband has been unfaithful and unjust to her for decades. She must have wondered: Why bother? Why put all the effort when I am still going to be cheated on? Why try new recipes for a man who does not eat at home anymore? Why give him all of my heart, when I know that I am going to be hurt, over and over again?
In my country, infidelity is common practice among men (Muslims and non-Muslims alike). The double standard in our culture baffles me: Wives are expected to remain obedient and chaste to their husbands, while husbands allow themselves to commit adultery, secretly and openly. This mentality has intoxicated younger generations as well. Young men debate with young girls about “their right” to be unfaithful to their wives. Since I only had limited knowledge about Islam back then (praying 5 times a day, and fasting during the month of Ramadan), I truly began to believe that religion had no say in the matter.
Although my West African country is a secular state, I grew up surrounded by many Muslim neighbors and friends in my hometown. The problem is, many of those Muslims grew up without truly understanding their faith, taking it more as a tradition rather than a complete way of life. Arabic is not our first language, and the sacred texts are sometimes presented to the common Muslims as something harsh, restraining, and — unfortunately — backwards. There is a big gap between Muslim clerics and “modern Muslims”, and one group enjoys making fun of the other. Consequently, the common people have made their own rules as to what is permissible and forbidden, gender roles, and, as you have probably guessed, rules regarding the chastity of men and women.
I used to be very confused about Islam as a teenager. I was going to the madrasa (Islamic school) every weekend to learn Qur’an with tajweed (proper pronunciation), but I had so many questions, I was afraid to ask my teacher (who used to be kind, but a little too conservative for me). Please understand that the following questions were based on my ignorance at the time:
Why are Muslim women not allowed to go to the mosque in our town? Why are (Muslim) boys allowed to go out to nightclubs while (Muslim) girls must stay at home? Why do women have to cover themselves, while men are allowed to dress as they want? Is modesty a requirement for women only? Why is a woman supposed to be a virgin for her future spouse, when a man is expected to have already committed zina (adultery) before marriage?
Fathers do not seem to realize how much their actions impact not only their sons, but also their daughters. Infidelity destroys the family: When dad is not faithful to mom, in most cases, the children know it. They are just too embarrassed to talk about it. Children notice that mom is not happy anymore, and that dad does not stay at home very often. Therefore, they no longer look up to their fathers, and in the case of daughters, many find solace in impermissible relationships. The daughter does not perceive marriage as a source of love, rather, as an institutionalized prison for women. She does not appreciate gheerah (protective jealousy) from her father anymore, because she is still having a hard time comprehending why he would not protect himself from sinning with another man’s daughter.
These facts broke my heart to pieces. I began to believe that our religion was favoring men over women, because nobody spoke out against the issue, and certainly not “religious people”. At one point, I even considered leaving Islam if I did not find clear answers to my questions. I needed a sense of peace, a sense of justice. Little did I know about the gems of surah (chapter) 7: Al A’raf, and surah 24: An Noor. Little did I know about the Prophet’s ﷺ (peace be upon him) love for modesty and his recommendation to Muslim men: kindness to their wives, and being the best to their families.
AlhamdulilLah (thank God), my perception of Islam changed when I went to do my university studies in the U.S. For the first time, I saw sisters going to the masjid (mosque), youth being proud of being Muslims, and sisters proudly wearing their hijab. In this environment, Islamic tradition and modernity went hand in hand. Over time, I learned in the Noble Qur’an verses that bring me peace until today:
“Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.” (Qur’an, 16:97)
Wait: Do you mean that men will have to answer about their misdeeds just as women will? What about fornication and adultery?
“Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do.” (Qur’an, 24:30)
Masha’Allah (what God wills)! Chastity is also a man’s duty. Nobody had told me this. Naturally, I felt a lot more at ease when I read the following verse:
“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests […]” (Qur’an, 24:31)
What a relief! As a woman, a servant of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He), I am supposed to guard my modesty for the sake of Allah (swt), not to accommodate men. A man is supposed to guard his chastity regardless of the circumstances. If my future husband expects me to be chaste by the time we get married, I have every right to expect him to be chaste as well.
“[…] And women of purity are for men of purity, and men of purity are for women of purity” (Qur’an, 24:26)
Islam empowers me as a woman, and inspires me to break the cycle. What can I do differently than my hundreds of uncles and aunts who have broken marriages in our communities today? How can I avoid that path for myself?
- I must educate myself about Islam, as a servant of Allah (swt), and as a future wife and mother.
- Instead of marrying someone solely because of his physical appearance, I must first look at his relationship with Allah (swt): Does he understand and practice his religion? Does he know the rights and duties between spouses in Islam? Is he prepared to be a good father?
- The usual things will still be important of course: education, occupation, hobbies, etc. But these things will all come second, as I ask Allah (swt) for guidance in my prayers.
I do not expect him to be perfect, because I myself have a lot to work on. But I pray that Allah (swt) make him a loving and faithful companion for me, and a great father for our sons and daughters. I am ready to break free from negativity. Allah (swt) has power over all things.
My dream is to conduct workshops in order to restore thousands of teenage girls’ broken hearts, and to restore the respect boys must have for women in general. I hope in the near future to teach the youth of my home country about the blessings of modesty and chastity in Islam. I pray that this helps cleanse our community, and serve mankind at large. I humbly ask you to keep me in your prayers, and to join this noble cause wherever you are, in order to make this earth a better place with happier families.
P.S.: For those of you who are interested, I recommend that you look up brother Nouman Ali Khan’s series on “Shame”, which was truly an eye opener for me.