American Muslims, College, Random

The Right Conversations About Marriage

Here’s my piece that went up the Townhall Dialogue Series website. The Townhall Dialogue was founded by a few of my friends in the Muslim community on the East coast, and I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing firsthand the phenomenal space that they’ve created. They’ve covered topics such as relationships and mental health, and this time around they’re talking about taboo and secrets in the Muslim community. The Washington, D.C. Townhall is taking place on November 15th— if you’re in town, you should check it out.

It’s ironic how much Muslims make countering LGBT rights such a headlining position— and spicy MSA Wallah Bros hangout conversation starter— above the myriad of other concerns that pertain to us. Understandably, I do see why a group of single, theoretically celibate 18-23 year old males would sit around a hookah pipe on a Saturday night and talk about marriage of any sort. True story-based humor aside, marriage is a big deal. It is supposed to be “half of our faith”! But we don’t seem to realize that the marriage situation in our community is to us what global climate change is to the world (like basically minus the death and so on). As in, in not having the right conversations about marriage, we’re setting ourselves up for disaster. Why do we get so militant about issues like gay marriage when we aren’t even doing that well incentivizing, facilitating, preserving and adapting, supporting, and preparing young American Muslims for ‘straight’ marriage?

There is an enormous, ISNA bazaar hall-sized gap between the demand for a loving marriage and the supply of practical answers, innovative solutions, and open-mindedness for the process and journey to an emotionally responsible relationship. From a very young age, our American culture promotes and contributes to the mixed messages we receive about love. From television and the internet to college campuses, the idea of a long-term, fulfilling partnership has become less and less prioritized for adolescents and young professionals. Campus hookup culture, twerking, pumpkin spice–these are the trends among all American millennials (I know what you’re thinking with me dropping the word ‘millennial’. This author is so pretentious. Oh yeah? Watch me cite a study in the next sentence, haters). According to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), which surveyed the North American Muslim community regarding marital issues and causes for divorce, our community’s divorce-rate pattern is pretty much on par with the national trends. The American Muslim divorce rate is upwards of 35% (the national divorce rate is about 50%), a sharp spike over the past couple of decades, with one of the largest culprits being differing opinions on gender roles and the challenge of incorporating gender equality and work-life balance at home— a burden that has traditionally been slammed on the shoulders of women across the country, regardless of religious background. Our imams, however, are content with blaming most marital issues on porn and Lucifer TheThirdWheelWhenYouAndLiterallyNotBaeJustACoworkerOrFriendAreAloneTogetherButLikeNotActuallyAloneWeWereAtACrowdedStarbucks Satan. And LinkedIn.

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And already we’re starting to see what that gap— our “deer-in-the-headlights” approach to marriage— is producing. There’s that overused (but true) example of young professional Muslim women who “Leaned In” to their studies and careers, who kick ass in real life but struggle or choose not to fit into the community’s mold for marriage and femininity. There are also the insecure manchildren that can’t keep up with these women and won’t even try due to the privilege of having many more options, with the ability to walk away from a relationship far more easily, and with pressures and the incentive to get married young (before even establishing oneself as an emotional mature/available adult) due to the cultural emphasis on having children and the religious ban on premarital sex. Given these incentives, why would Wallah Moe (not to be confused with Mo Breezy… best fades and haircuts for $15, I guarantee it) or Mashallah Subhanallah Zubair wait for you to finish grad school and get that job at the World Bank?

As one of my mentors would often say to me, in classical Arabic prose, “Adham, where are dealing wizard shet-ton of issues.” To paraphrase, as English doesn’t do the Arabic language any justice, “Adham, we are dealing with a sh*t ton of issues.” As a community we’ve done a superb job in saddling young Muslims with unnecessary mental baggage. For example, there is lack of willingness to marry across racial, ethnic, or sectarian lines. Another one: there are far more women than there are men in some pockets of the community. Here’s a big one: in many of those pockets we have created a culture of gender segregation and awkwardness which spurs unnatural, unnecessary dynamics that promote the leading of a de facto double life. This double life is a spectrum, with one end not saying ‘salaam’ to a hijabi on campus yet being entirely and respectfully social (read: normal) with a female who isn’t Muslim. The other end is being Admiral General MSA Shura Council Bro by day and being the Wolf of [insert main campus bar street] Street/OkCupid by night. Like Batman, just using Islam as his mask. Also, a million times more lame. He’s not the hero that this city wants. He’s also the hero that no one ****ing needs.

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This is about love, satisfying our souls’ desires, and embracing God’s blessing; it’s also a story of coming of age and developing into an emotional available adult. Why are we making a naturally complex (and sometimes confusing) human learning process that much more difficult for ourselves? Do we not understand that by continuing to carry this baggage (treating love like it’s taboo), we are setting ourselves up for more heartbreaks, one-way tickets to thirsty singlehood islands, or bulging portfolios of toxic relationships? We deserve better. Many young Muslims deal with the claustrophobic pressure and gossip culture of their families and peers, especially if they live close to their families or home community where everyone basically knows each other. It becomes nearly impossible to “date” someone, to get to know the other person’s likes and dislikes, character virtues and flaws, quirks and kinks, pressure points, sense of humor, sensibilities and perhaps even level of sensuality. You want that person’s full story, right? Do you really want to ask a friend who knows a cousin of a friend of the potential girl’s roommate about her “history”? Or do we want to give that person a chance to be a real person and open up and see who they really are?

It takes a while to find the strength to be vulnerable and honest with someone you might spend the rest of your life with. That’s not an easy process. It takes real courage (just ask Mary from Downton Abbey), and that’s a real human process and moment(s) of growth that we aren’t given the chance to experience. Oftentimes we grow up in a community that doesn’t allow for such vulnerability, where we treat anything that makes us uncomfortable like “dirty laundry” and so on. How will we be prepared to be functional, emotionally-aware adults and true lovers, if the incentive is always to hide and lie? How will you know that you’re actually compatible with someone? At what point can you decide to put it all on the table and share the stories that defined who you are today— even if those stories are uncomfortable ones that would jeopardize your communally defined marriage chances (i.e. past relationships, sexual history), or accept someone else’s full story and fall in love with the version of that person you’re getting to know today?

It goes without saying— people need to get the chance to meet and get to know one another, one on one, long before the tea is poured and the engagement party is thrown. I don’t know the statistics for the amount of people who had pregnancies after a simple cup of coffee or dinner or group date, so for now I’m going to go completely on a hunch: very few pregnancies. If we wish for each person to find the soulmate that God has promised for them, people should be put in the best position to do so. If we want that amazing partner, we should be given the chance to become and be the most amazing version of ourselves. Or, we can continue to act like “good character” means the subjective presence of a certain membrane (I took AP Biology so I know what I’m talking about), or that modesty equals a headscarf and copious “mashallahs/inshallahs” in our sentences and not adding the opposite sex on Facebook or acting holier than thou, or that a good partner equals the presence of a medical degree, or that a good future is something you can “settle” for at the expense of happiness and spiritual fulfillment. Parents will almost always have our best interests at heart, but at the end of the day, this is your heart. We need to have courage when it comes to fulfilling half of our faith and intertwining our lives and souls with another person.

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Progress does not mean we need to discredit more traditional cultural practices, the things that worked beautifully and fruitfully for people like my parents. Even though this is a very different time, it still works and is preferred to some, and I respect that. But for many, it’s not enough to sit on a girl’s couch with your moms in the other room and try to make small talk like “so, how about that local sports team, do you think Derrick Rose has got it in him this year” or “Okay. This will tell me a lot about you. Favorite food that you will cook for me. Actually no. Favorite FouseyTube video. Actually no. Jennifer Lawrence. Cop or drop? 1,2,3 go!” Furthermore, a lot of people don’t want to buy into problematic rituals such as treating our weddings, fundraising events, political rallies, and ‘activist’ conferences like the meat markets that they’ve become. Even the new ideas aren’t cutting it for many— do you really want to stare at a dating profile and read stuff like “I’m an INFJ and a Gryffindor tee hee I’m basic”?

I think this problem above all else poses a challenge to the fundamental nature of our community. And a community problem requires a community answer. How we sacrifice and make decisions to establish a culture of inclusivity and promote the Prophetic tradition— which upheld equality between genders and emphasized accountability and responsibility of commitment— will define what our children will face (especially if this trend runs parallel to other factors that create an assimilated American community of “cultural Muslims”/Muslims-by-name-only). Right now, however, it starts with more people taking ownership of their happiness and being more mindful of what really matters— and by that I most definitely mean caring less about what everyone else thinks, falling in love with one’s self and nurturing from within the type of person you would be bold enough to ask out for coffee (and not “coffee” à la George from Seinfeld).

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American Muslims, College, Random

Emotional Plank

Check out my piece for the budding Muslim matchmaking site Ishqr (formerly known as Hipster Shaadi):

“This past Ramadan I attended a weekend-long Muslim social bonanza in New York City. I was away from my family for the summer, so it was wonderful to find a spirit of community in such a big city. But by the time the weekend was over, I felt like I had a major hangover. Being around Muslims for such a concentrated time can be both contagiously exciting and claustrophobic all at once— it was like another ISNA convention (and yes, that is the real reason why Tariq Ramadan boycotted #ClubISNA). I was not alone on this sentiment. Running on fumes from a sleepless night and an undigested suhoor/sehri pancake baby growing in our bellies, my friend— the one driving us all home— shut off the old Kanye West Graduation album blasting from her stereo, looked out at the road, and asked, “Why is it that all Muslims know how to do is b*tch about marriage and relationships… ALL THE TIME?”

But really though— why?

As Muslims we are conditioned to understand the fulfillment of marriage as encompassing of half of our faith. And if the analogy of the car works here, with regard to issues of love and companionship, it often feels like both as individuals in the car and as a collective community— the vehicle itself (much like this sentence)— we don’t really know where we’re going. Or, rather, we might have an idea of the promised destination, but no clue as to how or when we’ll get there.

We end up taking various detours and U-turns; we sometimes run into potholes and dead- ends; some of us take the highway/freeway/fast-lane for the conventional A-Z engagement and marriage, while others drive slow or prefer local roads, taking the time to figure it all out. You might spend too much time driving down one road and then realize, “Sh*t I should have taken the left turn on that fork instead of right, screw you Apple Maps!” Others are on Tinder while driving, swiping left like they are God’s gift to womankind. Yeah. You. You piece of sh*t. You should watch where you’re driving. Someone could get hurt.”

Click here for the full article.

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American Muslims, Chicago

Friday Sermon Blues (V. 1); latest reads regarding Muslim Americana

I hope this doesn’t become a series. It probably will. Yup. You know it will.

I attended Friday prayer this afternoon at a location I shall not disclose so that I do not embarrass anyone or call any person or group out in particular. It’s been a while since I’ve made the commitment to go out and attend the Friday khutba– and anyways I normally have class during the afternoon prayer time slot, but seeing that it was midterms week and classes were on-and-off, I decided to join a local prayer in downtown Chicago. One of the key reasons why I haven’t been motivated in recent months to attend Friday prayer is because the sermons that I usually go to do not fulfill at least one of the two following criteria:

1) I leave the prayer feeling spiritually replenished or uplifted

2) I leave the prayer having been intellectually challenged

Instead, I find myself making this face most of the time when the preacher is giving their half hour monologue:

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You all know that face very well, I’m sure. (Her name is Chloe, also known as Side-Eyeing Chloe).

Example. The preacher/imam uses the word “kuffar” (apostates) to describe non-Muslims:

side eyeing chloe

The imam includes every instance of suffering around the world, except any suffering experienced by people who aren’t Muslim, in his final prayer:

side eyeing chloe

The imam spends the whole khutba talking about Masjid al-Aqsa, the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, or Burma, being extremely graphic and emotional, again and again and again, every week:

side eyeing chloe

 

The imam talks very passionately about how everyone is misrepresenting Kanye West and how Yeezus was a brilliant album and that Kanye is in fact a genius and that we are all haters:

side eyeing chloe

Etc.

Today I found myself just as disappointed. The imam was a  young Desi/Pakistani/Indian American man. He opened the khutba recalling the beautiful story of Salman al-Farisi, one of the famous companions of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). It’s a remarkable story about personal growth, endurance, and soul-searching– basically, a gold mine of lessons and takeaways. But we as a collective audience were not ushered into this gold mine of lessons and takeaways.

Let me use the NBA for a moment to help describe what happened here. One of my favorite articles on Phil Jackson’s recent employment by the New York Knicks discussed the mismanagement of the franchise, and how its ownership ditches real, organic, proven championship-contender building methods for gaudy, knee-jerky, and irrational decisions. (Examples: throwing away a pretty solid young core to sign Carmelo Anthony; inking Amare Stoudemire, a big man with a history of knee injuries to a $100 million, 5 year max deal; signing Chris Smith, JR Smith’s scrub brother, just to convince JR, one of the least trustworthy, most lazy, and most on-and-off players in the league, to re-sign; picking up Andrea Bargnani.) The author depicts this strategy as akin to walking thirstily in the desert and being presented with the option to drink either champagne or water. Or better yet: you’re allowed to have both! But the Knicks opt for the champagne (max contracts and hiring a septuagenarian with no front-office experience to magically turn things around), and open the bottle of water and spill it all on the ground because “f*** the water.”

These khutbas  feel just like that. We ditch real critical thinking, soul searching, spirituality, and raw openness for cliche, feel-good chest-thumping about how great Islam is and how being a good Muslim will lead to converting everyone around us. Because f*** growth. Here we are with the brilliant, borderline tear-jerking story about this amazing historic figure (and to the imam’s credit, he was a solid storyteller). The speaker DID touch a bit on what he thought were some morals of the story. But he devoted the longer, more memorable parts of his sermon to talking about how by us trying to do good things and being better Muslims, people will notice us more and iA people might ask for a copy of the Quran and iA maybe they’ll get interested so that iA they can make an awkward shahadah in front of a convention hall audience, taraweeh crowd, or, as is the case 98% of the year, in front of the few, the proud, the elderly who do in fact show up to the mosque during Asr time. (And iA there’s a solid convert/revert support system and an inclusive, not-single-ethnically-dominated community to incorporate them! mA)

Instead of talking about how it is inherently GOOD to take care of one’s environment, or how it is inherently GOOD to take care of oneself– to not lie, cheat, backbite, or steal, we talk about appearances or the random anecdote “where someone somewhere at Disneyworld once saw me and Brian smile and we explained that it’s Sunnah and I gave him a run down on maqasid as-sharia while we were on Magic Mountain.” For a community that talks so much about what we as Muslims look like, it is amazing that our PR and representation in the mainstream media is as bad as it is today. We could really use some work on the inside. That’s what’s missing– that’s what Salman al-Farisi travelled across the Middle East to find: salvation, purification of the heart, inner-peace, purpose. That’s what I’m looking for when I get myself to go to Friday prayer– something that I don’t want to take for granted or brush aside. I’m really trying.

I know that this is a multi-layered problem that touches on the fact that most of the imams and boards at these mosques or centers are mainly immigrants probably trying to appeal to an immigrant crowd or a community that still has a displaced, immigrant/otherness mentality. God bless the immigrant generation for building our institutions and keeping them afloat. But they’re still pretty much foreign institutions. That’s why you still see the community trying to build mosques that resemble Andalusian or Umayyad-era architecture. Like, guys, we’re in Illinois: we should be building Frank Lloyd Wright prairie-house style mosques with open, green, energy efficient, minimalistic, woody spaces. That’s why you could listen to most of these khutbas and imagine those same khutbas being presented in Egypt or Pakistan (and LOL you probably wouldn’t have to change the language either). They’re not American products reflecting an owned, empowered identity or a sense of rootedness or stewardship in the local city and community. They’re political rallies or “seasonal” sermons, and we’ve all heard them– the same ones– many, many times.

Our products only reflect our nostalgia, a word which in and of itself reflects something very much detached from the present reality. And when we keep hiring good-hearted people simply because they have a degree from Al-Azhar and we keep them on board because they give you a weekly emotional tirade about Syria and Burma and “may Allah destroy our enemies and whatnot,” when we keep running into the same problems but point to Islamophobia as the cause and then pine about the omnipotent “youth” and how they are somehow going to figure everything out on their own and lead our “ummah” one day (should the elders ever give us the authority and time of day), this is what comes to mind:

side eyeing chloe

Thank you Chloe. HAVE A GOOD WEEKEND.

Latest reads regarding Muslim Americana:

It’s a pleasure to share these two pieces by my friends–

Layla Shaikley wrote for The Atlantic about “The Surprising Lessons of the ‘Muslim Hipsters’ Backlash.”

Laila Alawa had a piece in the Islamic Monthly titled “Let’s Stop Talking About Being Muslim In America.

#mipsterz

-Adham

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