As salaam alaikum,
My favorite topic over the last several years has been gender relations among Muslims...because we're just so darn bad at it!
It's part of the reason why, of all of my Muslim friends I've known since college, I know only two who have gotten married...and one of them married a Jewish guy.
It's also part of the reason I've felt so long like a dysfunctional human being. But the fact of the matter is, it's not me who's dysfunctional...actually, everything's working just fine, just the way God intended. No, it's our society and our communities that are dysfunctional. I think so many of us have yet to find a courtship paradigm that makes sense not only in terms of our values and morals, but also makes sense given our surroundings and backgrounds.
I was 10 years old the firs time I saw pornography. I was in my uncle's house with my younger cousins, and they were playing up in his "play room" above his garage, where he kept his musical instruments, a pool table, among other things. There was also a television and a VCR up there, and I guess at some point my cousins had found his porn. They called me to look at what they found. And I mean, it was hardcore. I stood there, looking at it. I knew what sex was at this point, but I'd never seen it before. There was a lot going on. "Isn't it nasty?" one of my cousins said. She was 8 at the time. "Yeah, I guess." I said. I guess...
Before I really knew what it meant to be Muslim and before I decided to be more practicing, I was propositioned by a boy. I was 15 and he was 16, and for some reason, he decided he wanted to have sex with me. I found this very flattering, though I was as unprepared as most 15 year olds are. Never mind that I had sex ed in fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades. At that moment, I wasn't thinking about condoms, about STDs, about waiting until marriage. We were at a conference, we were all staying in a hotel...it would be now or never, because my parents kept me on a tight leash at home. The 14 year old boy who had a crush on me saw this boy lying his head on my thigh and chased him out of the room. "Get away from my woman," he shouted. The boy found another girl to sleep with, so it wasn't me. As my ex-roommate said a couple of months ago, I was this close to becoming a teenage mother, the way I was...the way I am, the way things are.
Having seen pornography at such a young age, listening to R&B all the time as a child where all women sing about is men...the man that did her wrong, the scrub, the man who makes her weak, the man that makes her cry during sex, the man she wants to marry. And men about women...about hos, about bitches, about chicken heads, about getting head, about sex, about being on bended knee. My parents tried to shield me but ultimately they couldn't shield me from this society...
Then, at 18 and 19, I come into Islam, and fast forward to me sitting alone on the sisters side of the room during an iftar, adjusting my shayla around my face and two Muslim sisters who I know by name but don't know me come up to talk to me out of pity, because I'm sitting by myself. Completely isolated, they try awkward conversation but eventually go on and meet up with their friends. I look over to the brother's side...now, how is this supposed to work?
Fast forward again. I'm 26 now. I've tried the Western paradigm of things, and I got crapped on by my ex. So I'm sitting here, turning away yet another man who seems to be exclusively sexually attracted to me, and I'm still asking, how does this work?
I will tell you, we do not live in normal times. We don't live in normal times when children have access to and do watch illicit sexual acts on television (or now, the internet) with no buffer, no explanation. We don't live in normal times because our media, our music, everything is just laced with sex, wherever we go, and kids get that all without anyone helping them to sort out the words and images. I grew up in this jumbled mess with parents who were actually very protective, who did not let me have my own television or even listen to the radio for years when I lived in the house, but I was still inundated with this all from the outside.
And with all of this in the background, there is a boy and there is a girl. And somehow, we're supposed to handle relating to each other in a healthy way.
And then we grow up, and here is woman and here is man. And somehow, we're supposed to handle relating to each other in a healthy way.
Add to the mix that we're practicing Muslims who came up outside of any culture with a strong Muslim tradition, and somehow, we're supposed to relate to each other in a healthy way.
Not, not, not!
It's just a disaster, really.
I've heard young Muslim men talk about seeing women and "all [they] can think about is marriage." No, all you can think about is sex...which is also a problem. I mean, I understand that testosterone is no joke, but really, brothers, if you can't even be in the same room in public as a fully-clothed female without just wanting to pounce her, that's a problem. And I admit, I was once a Muslim sister who waited with bated breath for a certain brother to say salaam to me, and I started making plans for marriage and what we would name the kids.
Okay, I exaggerate, but honestly, it didn't take much.
There's got to be a better way of doing things!
The problem is that sometimes we try to force a paradigm that worked in a different backdrop, in a different society, in a different place and time and it just can't work here. It's purity and piety that we're aiming for and there are other ways to do it than what we are doing. The answer is not to separate the sexes...that is dysfunctional in so many ways. The answer is not to simplify marriage...marriage means something different now necessarily that it meant before because of the different structure of our society, and marriage is different for each couple by a little bit.
I'm a woman who is not going to be going from my father's house to my husband's house, insha'Allah. Insha'Allah I will be making my own money and will be totally dependent from my father by the time I get married. I will be carrying my own weight and will not need to be financially supported after I marry, and given maternity leave I could probably sustain my own children if it were necessary. It would not be for the stability of a man that I would get married...it would be for the partnership with another human being that I am getting married, a partnership that is complimentary, not only sexually complimentary, but in terms of aspects of our persons...
This entry is all over the place. But the thing about it is, there is more than one way to not have sex before marriage. One doesn't necessarily have to deny that love exists, one doesn't have to deny their sexual nature, and I think that for fear of sex we have unnecessarily separated the sexes. Exercising restraint and saving sex for the right place and time is a worthy exercise, yes, but people should be allowed to make it on their own, forge forward on their own relationships and learn how to relate to each other.
Women need to know how to handle themselves around men, and men around women.
So after all of this, I still have nothing really to add as a suggestion. I'm just saying...there's no simple solution, it'll depend on the two people, we live in a society where sex is free and sex is everywhere and...let's not get distracted by it and remember that marriage is about so much more than sex, so don't get married for sex, and don't avoid relating to the opposite sex because of sex...there's so much more about us, really, it's okay.
There is part of a man and part of a woman that isn't either of our genders and is just human. We have so much in common...people need to stop acting like we come from different planets or are different species. We really need to get to know one another and work better together in this world of ours, in our societies and communities, and nature will take its course and yes, people will pair off, share their dreams and discover that together, they can make things work. In a world where women are no longer protected by our fathers and are living life on the outside, and in a world in which marriage no longer has that transactional element, this may be what we have to do...