Sunday, March 13, 2016

Unmet Relational Needs in Muslim Culture

One of the most astonishing things I am noticing about Muslim culture is the widespread tendency to marry a woman and then physically and emotionally abandon her. Men are now using a new excuse:

"It was just an arranged marriage."

Abandonment, whether or not required by economic necessity, is reinforced by shame related to divorce, and the belief that 'good' women don't remarry.

"She is just someone my late mother chose."

A married woman becomes property of her in-laws, as opposed to a life partner of her husband, who feels no shame leaving her alone and pregnant. She is merely a tool to provide his parents with grandchildren.

The cultural taboo against divorce even after abandonment often assumes that a 'decent' woman would never consider gainful employment. So even if a marriage is totally unsatisfactory, the woman would beg the husband not to divorce her. She would pretend that she is still in a marriage, even when the husband has clearly moved out forever, or visits only every few years.

Muslim men seem to think that marriage is defined purely by financial support. There doesn't seem to be any awareness of the relational needs (including sexual) of women. While men are encouraged to marry as many women as they need to make sure there is no buildup of semen, women seem to almost happily consent to the degradation of their internal organs through non-use, as long as there is money coming in, and even when there is not. While financial support is better than no financial support, what is the deal with a man deciding that any woman has no right to have sex, ever again, in her life? He can divorce her and pay child support, maybe alimony.

Surat al Baqara, Verse 229 states: "either you retain her on reasonable terms or release her with kindness."

There is a lofty egotism that says, "as long as I am paying her bills I own the non-use of her body."

We know from hadith that the early Muslims did not have taboos against divorce and remarriage. If Hussain (RA) were alive today, he would be considered quite the gigolo. Pre-Islamic pagan Arab women could initiate divorce merely by turning their tent so that the entrance was facing in a new direction. The newly instituted Islamic concept of marriage was primarily a contract to make sure that parental lineage and responsibility were never in question.

The influence of Hinduism and Christianity added to Islamic practice the concept of shame in remarriage, which is based on the assumption that sex is purely for procreation and not a human right in itself, which is based on the idea that women are innately filthy, that men should try to avoid women, and that a woman should only ever taste one husband, even if that means she spends the majority of her life alone.

The book, "Law of Desire" by Shahla Haeri is based on a study of marriage practices in post-revolutionary Iran. It describes many instances where wives are divorced by their husbands and become destitute, even homeless. Because remarriage is very rare in the culture, this creates an underclass of women who are essentially prostitutes, except that they have to wait 2 months in between sexual encounters, during which time they are merely beggars in front of the shrines. There is such a gross class difference between "kept women" and "husbandless women" that women will compete with each other for dominance instead of welcoming second wives as sisters.

Interestingly, the women most likely to be free to remarry, even if impermanently or non-residentially, are those who have a bad relationship with their parents. This would imply that the parents themselves are preventing the 'good' divorced daughter from meeting a man, because of fears of disgrace overriding their concern for her health.

I'll never forget the day when I was trying to discuss our relationship or the lack thereof with my Pakistani husband, and his solution to the problem was to "send me back to my parents." As an American woman over the age of 30, who had worked in jobs and rented her own apartment before marriage, this sounded completely absurd. I will go to my parents if I decide to go to my parents. I am not a parcel to send somewhere! I was completely baffled that he really viewed me in such a dehumanizing way, as a person without personhood?! He eventually became the perfect ex-husband, but I now notice more and more how people think this is a "man's world."

I do not wish to conclude that non-Muslim culture is superior. I notice the politics of greetings in American culture, where men always greet each other while women are usually mute on the side. While laws do not prevent non-Muslims from marriage and remarriage, gainful employment of the woman seems to be a prerequisite, and her ability to get time alone away from her children. In other words, the man either wants the woman to pay half the bills or else he only wants to visit her when she is alone. He is not volunteering to be the head of a family. This usually requires a third party to be available to take care of the children so the woman can date, which means that the woman owes someone, rather than the man providing for her and her children.

It is hard to know which situation is more humiliating. There are pros and cons to each situation: the man providing for an estranged wife vs. the woman being financially independent. Divorce is never an ideal situation, especially when children are involved. It is a wonderful gift of this century from God, to have the opportunity and freedom to be able to pick and choose wisely between religious and legal laws, to provide the best possible security and outcome for families.

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