A Time to Celebrate

One of my best friends had a party last Friday night which I was fortunate enough to be invited to. It was partly a going-away party because she’s moving to another state in three weeks. But it was mostly a party to announce and celebrate her marriage.  She was married a couple of months ago but hasn’t been able to have the big wedding back home because of the situation in Libya right now. So she had a party here so that she can celebrate with her friends, both old and new, here in the U.S.

Other than baby and bridal showers, I’d never been to an all-women party until I was invited to one by my friends from Libya. Not all Muslims are strict about the separation of the sexes, but Libyans definitely are. The first time I went to a party where the men and women celebrated in different rooms, it felt strange. But I’ve become used to it and discovered that I don’t really mind it. Even at mixed parties in the non-Muslim world, men and women tend to split up into separate groups. So it wasn’t all that different.

The party Friday night was unique for me because I got to see my Muslim friends in all their finery. Off came the hijabs and niqabs and abayas and what emerged was dazzling. Everyone looked so beautiful, especially the beaming bride. The atmosphere was festive. Which was wonderful because Allah knows the Libyans have a lot to be worried about right now. But when isn’t a wedding a time of joy and hope?

We visited for over two hours before the meal was served, but it was well worth waiting for. I only took one portion of each dish and I still stuffed myself silly. I would love to learn how to fix Libyan food, but I doubt I could make it as good as Libyans do.

It was wonderful to see all my old friends and meet new ones. My youngest daughter came with me and I proudly introduced her around. The women made over her because she’s pregnant. There were a lot of “Mashallahs” and “Alhamdulillahs” going around!

I love the way Muslim women greet one another. There are the “asalaam alaykums” and “wa alaykum salaams” and a flurry of hugs and kisses. It’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced before. One of the things I’ve been most impressed with about Muslims in general and Libyans in particular is how hospitable they are. You never feel like a wall-flower when you’re invited into a Muslim home or to a party. My daughter and I left feeling very blessed. Alhamdulillah.

It’s not that long before Ramadan will be here again. The fasting is difficult, but the fellowship is amazing. I’m looking forward to celebrating it with my fellow Muslims.

My Faith Journey: The Lost Years (Part 3)

No matter what has happened to me in my life, I’ve never stopped believing in God. If anything, I stop believing in me.

After my divorce from my children’s father (the minister), I felt unworthy to be in God’s Kingdom. I stopped going to church for several years. I left my children’s religious education up to their dad. (Which only made me feel worse, as if he was the “good” Christian and I was the “bad” one.) I certainly didn’t feel forgiven for all my sins.

But when things got tough, I still prayed to God for strength and comfort. I knew He was still there, waiting for me to…what? Return to church? Was that all it took to be a good Christian? Or was it enough that I believed in the Trinity? There were times when I felt like anything but a Christian. But I clung to that definition of myself, because what else could I be? I believed in Jesus and I still thought that he had died for my sins and brought me eternal life.

Even so, I had doubts. How could Jesus be both God and man? Was it really true that only people who believed that were going to Heaven? What about all the other people in the world who weren’t Christians? Were they condemned to Hell, no matter how much they loved God and tried to live according to His principles?

And then there were the Christians themselves. I knew plenty of Christians who were sincere and loving people. But I also knew just as many (if not more) who were narrow-minded and judgmental. If Christians were supposed to be transformed by their faith in Christ, where was the evidence?

Not that I thought I was a good example of a Christian. I made a lot of poor decisions during this period. Six months after my divorce was final, I remarried, and of all people, I married the man I’d gone with in high school. The one I’d gotten pregnant with. I think now that I was feeling guilty because I’d aborted his baby. I was also feeling very vulnerable: my first husband had rejected me, the Church had rejected me and most of my friends had rejected me. It felt good to have someone come along who really wanted to be with me. Plus I was feeling shaky about raising my children alone.

Turns out, I’d been right to break up with him the first time. He was verbally and sometimes physically abusive to my children. I tried to make excuses for him—he’d never been a dad before, he was frustrated that the children didn’t warm to him right away, he’d been physically abused by his own father. We all went into therapy and I thought it would get better.

And I felt trapped. I didn’t want to admit that I’d made such a huge mistake. And I was terrified at the prospect of being a single mother. How would I support myself and my children? I couldn’t go back and live with my parents. I had no education and no job prospects.

And then I got hired by the post office and suddenly I had the ability to get out of the marriage. Fortunately my husband agreed to a dissolution and moved out of the house. I had a chance to start over.

Part One

Part Two

Part Four

 

 

 

My Faith Journey, Part Two

When my grandfather died, I was devastated. I’d always considered him my best friend, my advocate and my ally in a world that so often seemed hostile to me. I was a lonely child and I often felt like an outsider. My grandfather made me feel accepted and unique. And more than that, he represented God to me. Most of what I knew about God, I’d learned from him and I would forever equate him with godliness and mercy.

I was seventeen and was still dating the Jewish boy who by then was in college. It was a very unhealthy relationship, to say the least: he was most probably mentally ill and he frequently threatened to commit suicide and take me with him. While he was away on a theater tour of Europe I mustered up the courage to break up with him.

After that, I fell hard for another boy who rejected me and finally ended up dating another boy who was my age. In the fall after I graduated from high school, I went away to college but I still saw my boyfriend on weekends. The one time we had unprotected sex, I got pregnant and had an abortion when I was nineteen. I felt guilty and confused and didn’t really want to be with my boyfriend any more, but I didn’t know how to end it.

In my second year of college, I met the young man who would become my first husband. I was attracted to him partly because he was planning to become a minister. In my state of mind, that felt like a sign from God. I broke up with my high school boyfriend and started dating the prospective minister. Nine months after we met we were married. We were both twenty years old.

What’s probably obvious to you, my readers, is that my husband was a replacement for my grandfather, but I didn’t see that until years later. I still considered myself to be a Christian at this point, but I didn’t really feel very close to God. Being married to a divinity student made me feel closer. But our marriage wasn’t made in heaven and we found ourselves wondering why we’d gotten married.

About this time I met a “born-again” Christian and she impressed me with stories of how much God cared about and loved me. I realized that I’d never allowed God into my heart and that I needed to know Him personally. My husband and I both came to the same conclusion at the same time and a few months after we were married, we, too, became “born-again” Christians.

My mother didn’t understand my new-found religious devotion. In her eyes, I’d always been a Christian. But I knew that I’d been seeking something more and I felt that I’d found it by finally accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior for myself. I felt that before that I hadn’t really known what it meant to be a Christian. I was finally learning what it meant to be in a personal relationship with God.

But all was not smooth-sailing. My husband took on a very rigid view of what it meant to be a Christian, especially a Christian wife and mother. (We started our family a year and a half after we married.) He insisted that he was not only the head of our marriage but that he was also my spiritual guide and counselor. The problem with that was that he was extremely critical and I constantly felt judged and found wanting.

We struggled to make our marriage work, but after ten years and four children, we separated. He had his own church by then and I had to move, with the kids, out of the parsonage. We moved in with my parents. I was blamed for the break-up and lost all my former friends in the church. I was suddenly a black sheep in God’s kingdom.

See My Faith Journey, Part One

Part Three

 

 

This Feminist’s Look at Islamic Marriage

Maha Muslimah just wrote an excellent post on the distinction between the headscarf and being a hijabi. She explains that observing hijab means much more than wearing the headscarf (which is also known as a hijab). It refers to an entire way of life from dressing modestly to behaving like a slave of Allah. Notice I wrote “slave of Allah.” Contrary to common belief, the Muslim woman is not a slave to any man. Only Allah can, and should, be our Master.

That does not mean that Muslim women—and men—don’t have recommended roles in Islamic society, but I don’t believe that these are hard-and-fast rules. There can be many reasons why a Muslim woman works outside of the home, for instance, or contributes to the financial support of the family. (This is especially true in the economies of many countries where one person cannot make a living wage for an entire family.)

I got a comment the other day that Islam cannot be compatible with feminism because it requires the man to support his wife and family while the woman’s money is her own. Apparently the commenter feels that feminism should stand for absolute equality; in other words, that men and women should not only be exactly alike, but should share all burdens equally. (At least I think that’s what he meant.)

But the brand of feminism that Islam subscribes to, in my view at least, is that men and women are meant to have complementary roles, not competing ones. I like this view because I think it is divisive to insist that all things be split equally. For instance, if a couple insists on keeping their finances separate or making decisions independent of one another, how is their relationship any different than that of room-mates? They may be able to get along, but in the end I think they will have sacrificed intimacy for the sake of individuality.

The Islamic ideal for marriage is that each person gives up at least some of his or her personal concerns in order to create a new organism. Husbands and wives are meant to be shaped partly by their connection to their spouses. They are both meant to change to conform to the relationship. But nowhere, in the Qur’an, or the Sunnah, that I have been able to find, does it say that women are to be obliterated as persons and completely taken over by their husbands.

Feminists have long had the saying that “Marriage is one person, and that person is the husband.” I believe that the Muslim marriage would be best described by saying that “Marriage is an entity made up of two persons who have joined their lives together in order to glorify Allah.” Their mutual goal should be to help each other to submit in peace to Allah.

Marriage is like a microcosm of society. Neither men nor women should treat one another any worse than they would treat someone outside of the marriage. Too often, abuses take place within families that would never be tolerated in any other situation. Islamic marriages should show the world the very best of human behavior.