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Photo credit: photodune

The plight of the Muslim single parent

Photo credit: photodune

Photo credit: photodune

By Marina Ali

TMO Contributing Writer

Single parent. Those two words alone bring about 34% of this country’s population to a jolt[1]. Article after article, statistic after statistic, we read and hear about the rise of single parent homes. It’s only logical, considering how the rate of divorce steadily increases year after year.

Yet, we, in the Muslim community, sometimes overlook this. Though there doesn’t seem to be much statically evidence for how prevalent single Muslim parent households are, it is worth noting that almost everyone knows at least one other single parent in our communities. Growing up, I’ve become acquainted with a number of these individuals. I saw both men and women take up the reins of continuing to raise children as single parents. One thing that is seldom discussed in our Muslim communities is how to deal with this and ultimately help both the parent and the children.

First, let’s start off with causality. An individual could lose a spouse in a number of ways. There’s divorce, death, or abandonment. There are all kinds of reasons behind these; thus, it’s really important to understand that we, fellow brothers and sisters, not judge a single parent in our Muslim community. It’s hard as it is, and it will not help this individual become a better parent. Sometimes we may try to offer advice and may genuinely care about the single parents in our community, but it’s ultimately up to them to decide what’s best for their families.

Another thing that we must keep in mind is how disproportionately our respective cultures tend to disfavor a female single parent. No matter who is at fault or how the situation came about, it is not in the rest of the community to judge a single parent by his or her gender. I can say from personal experience that the South Asian Muslim community tends to look down upon single female parents, even if that parent had no fault at all. Thus, we all have to do our part in dispelling malicious stigma.

Additionally, it’s important to discuss the problem of remarriage. It’s more difficult for a single parent to remarry in the Muslim community than an unmarried individual. This is extremely problematic for those who want a new parent for their children. Though there are all kinds of Facebook groups and dating sites, their effectiveness is still uncertain.

It’s also crucial to mention at this point that just because a brother or sister in your community may be a single parent, it is not your duty to play matchmaker for this person without his or her consent. We must all respect each other’s boundaries, even if we think that we’re helping. What a single parent chooses to do for his or her family is that person’s own decision. You are in no place to judge, because their familial matters are none of your business. This also applies to blood relatives like cousins, grandparents, and siblings. You may love and care for your kin who is a single parent, but you are not them and you are not the parents of their children.

The last, but most important idea to consider is how a single Muslim parent can maintain a halal household. Divorce is permitted in Islam, with certain restrictions and guidelines. You can read about them here[2]. Both mothers and fathers have roles and responsibilities in a parenting; thus, it’s vital that both parties try to fulfill this.

If the situation is so bad that the ex-husband or ex-wife can’t even be around each other, then it’s suggested that one look for a third party who can act as a mediator.

Generally, the best situation is to have a positive, enriching, and stimulating environment for children. This includes having a mother and a father figure. Just because one of those people is out of the picture does not mean immediate failure on behalf of a single parent. That missing parental figure can be replaced by a new spouse, a close relative, or someone you trust who is almost like a lifelong mentor to the child. The crucial aspect of this is to ensure minimal pain in part of the child/children involved.

It’s never the kid’s fault for a failed marriage; however, many children will feel bad about this or feel like they’re the cause of it. This is never the case and it’s the duty of the care taking parent to stress this. Moreover, honesty is the best policy. Thus, speak about the marriage and your ex in a frank but respectful manner with your children. Don’t leave them in the dark, because they have a right to know.

Another great thing about the age that we live in is that technology has greatly helped our Ummah in many ways. One such way is matchmaking. It’s easy to go on an app or a website that matches you with suitable potential spouses and thereby giving you the opportunity to just see who’s out there.

South Asians, in general, have a smart app known as Dil Mile. But a new Muslim matrimonial app, SalamSwipe, is out now. It’s still a bit glitchy, since it’s so new. Hopefully, fixes will be on the way.

Moreover, in a piece from Muslim Matters[3], it’s chock-full of resources, both specific by region and by the whole U.S. for single Muslim parents. There are even more helpful resources in the comments section, albeit the occasional ignorance that’s omnipresent in every comments section on the Internet. I define rely encourage the reader to look through the resources section and pass on the information to others. You never know when you might be helping someone!

 

[1] Link to http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/22/less-than-half-of-u-s-kids-today-live-in-a-traditional-family/

[2] Link to http://www.al-islam.org/islamic-laws-ayatullah-ali-al-husayni-al-sistani/divorce

[3] Link to http://muslimmatters.org/2013/09/27/muslim-marriage-crisis/

 

Editor’s note: The views expressed by the author are solely her own.

Sania & Shoaib’s Marriage

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

2010-04-12T135448Z_616342459_GM1E64C1OVD01_RTRMADP_3_INDIA-PAKISTAN-WEDDING

NEW DELHI/HYDERABAD: Though theirs is a love marriage, with full support of their family members, it certainly has not been an easy “game” for either the Indian tennis star Sania Mirza (23) or Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Iqbal (28). Beating even Bollywood movies and Indo-Pak diplomatic “feuds” over the drama staged from day one, the “news” generated has had the media and public across the sub-continent “united” at least in being totally interested in developments regarding this wedding.

Soon after their engagement was formally announced, in addition to the media coverage and congratulations the couple received, strong objections were raised from several quarters. The primary one being from Ayesha Siddiqui, claiming to be Shoaib’s first wife. She is also said to have furnished substantial evidence of being married to him through the telephone. Though Shoaib claimed to have been tricked into having married Ayesha, over telephone, the matter continued to hit headlines, till the former finally signed the divorce papers.

Interestingly, while most politicians across the sub-continent have described the Sania-Shoaib wedding as their “personal” decision, a few with an anti-Pakistan attitude have gone overboard in criticizing it. These include Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray who expressed apprehension over Sania’s marrying a Pakistani. Despite Sania having clarified that she would continue playing for India, the likes of Thackeray said that after her marriage she would cease being an Indian.  

Of course, Sania-Shoaib’s wedding is not the first instance of a marital bond between families from India and Pakistan. Numerous marriages between Indian and Pakistani Muslims have continued to take place, even though Indo-Pak ties have often been fairly tense. Nevertheless, theirs is one of the few weddings between celebrities and one that has had people with the media keeping a track of developments taking place. 

Credit must be given to Sania and her family for having virtually remained unfazed by hue and cry raised over Ayesha’s claims and objections to her marrying a Pakistani. Defending Shoaib, Sania even said that her family had been aware of Ayesha’s stand from the beginning.

Sania and Shoaib’s wedding is also one of the few ones that has kept the Indian Ulema (Muslim clerics) fairly busy. When Ayesha’s claims were in the news, clerics were busy answering questions on whether her nikah with Shoaib was valid or not. Interestingly, even though Shoaib has signed the divorce papers, doubts prevail over the authenticity of “evidence” provided by Ayesha. The intriguing questions raised are regarding identity of witnesses from the two sides at the time of nikah over phone in 2002; what prevented the two from living together since then and so forth. In general, it was held, irrespective of whether Ayesha’s claims were correct or not, Sania and Shoaib’s wedding could not be prevented by them. This is because, Shoaib can have two, three, even four wives at one time, as per the Muslim law. In this context, rather than encourage speculations about Sania being his “second” wife, by signing the divorce papers on April 7, Shoaib clearly laid out that she would be his only wife. Besides, as Ayesha had also filed an FIR against Shoaib, blaming him for fraud and criminal intimidation, he apparently was against the case getting more complicated and controversial.

Explaining his decision to finally sign the divorce papers, even though earlier he had claimed that Ayesha had tricked him into nikah over phone, Shoaid stated: “I am no one to judge what is wrong or what is right as the one above knows the truth. I have done what was the best amicable thing to do as it was getting beyond reasoning as each day unfolded.” “I have realized that media is part of my family, and request all of you to pray for me and Sania as we are embarking on a beautiful journey of marriage,” Shoaib said.

Seldom has any wedding created furor over fatwas, as that of Sania and Shoaib. It may be noted, in secular India, while the respected clerics have their right to issue fatwas on what they view as important, individuals are not bound to follow the same. A few clerics voiced objections to Sania and Shoaib appearing together for press conferences, before their wedding. They also objected to Shoaib staying at Sania’s residence. Describing these activities as “forbidden” in Islam, a Sunni Ulema board issued a fatwa against these and even asked Muslims to stay away from their wedding.

Sania’s family promptly responded to this fatwa, by issuing a statement: “We would like to clarify that there has been a misunderstanding in some quarters. The groom has not been staying in the Mirza residence for the last few days.” Shoaib had been staying there since his arrival from Pakistan on April 2. His family members, however, remained there while Shoaib moved out in keeping with traditional customs.

Meanwhile, when questioned on this fatwa, All India Sunni Ulema Board (AISUB) stated: “We have nothing to do with this outfit. Such fatwas cannot be issued.”
The date of the wedding also kept all wondering as to when would it take place. At one point, “reports” floated of their getting married on April 9, later the actual date was said to be April 15, while “news” also circulated about it taking place on April 13. These speculations were settled with their finally getting married on April 12.

Now finally wed, how far will the two succeed in easing tension between India and Pakistan, is the diplomatic angle being accorded to Sania-Shoaib’s “love-match.”

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Marriage 101

By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS Middle East Correspondent

The wedding-cake-recipe-ideas divorce date, in the Middle East, has spiked considerably over the past few years, which has sounded the alarm for many of the conservative Islamic governments. In Saudi Arabia, the rate of divorce has escalated by almost 15% from 2008 to 2009. And in Kuwait, the divorce rate has skyrocketed to a whopping 187% over the last 23 years making it the highest rate of divorce in the entire world according to recent statistics released by the government. Most countries in the Middle East take a backseat role when it comes to divorce, leaving couples to figure it out for themselves. However, one country seeking to nip the notion of divorce in the bud, even prior to the marriage, is Iran.

Statistics on the Iranian divorce rate are sparse given the cultural and language chasm between the West and Iran, however a 1992 study by Sanasarian indicated that about 10% of Iranian marriages end in divorce (family.jrank.org), while according to divorcemag.com, less than 1 out of every 100 Iranian marriages end in divorce.

Regardless, Iran’s government-backed National Youth Organization has recently inaugurated its very first online pre-matrimonial course.  According to the group’s mission statement, the online course will seek to assist young Iranians in finding their perfect marital match while also maintaining strict Islamic values, which frowns upon premarital dating or relations of any kind. The organization also has high expectations, by educating Iranian youth prior to marriage, to cut Iran’s rate of divorce drastically.

The course is held, for free, in virtual classrooms online and lasts for 3 full months. Designed by top Iranian professionals and Islamic scholars, the course highlights the dangers of relationships out of wedlock and upholds arranged marriages as the best recipe for living happily ever after. Participants in the online course must also take a weekly test and, based on how well they do, will receive a diploma in the union of marriage.

However, since its inception, there is very little information known about the specifics of what the course teaches which has whipped critics into a frenzy. At the launch of the program a very general syllabus was released to the media, which provided more questions than answers. In a recent interview, well-known Iranian sociologist Shahla Ezazi said, “Awareness is fine but the question is what kind of a family they are seeking to promote.” In a blatant attempt to quell any controversy, the head of the National Youth Organization Mehrdad Bazrpash summated, “Marriage needs hundreds of hours of education.”

Iranian officials have also used the launch of the program as a soapbox to discourage harmful and extravagant practices when it comes to Iranian weddings, such as exorbitant dowries and expensive weddings that most families cannot afford. And to seal the deal in cementing the union of marriage, President Ahmadinejad has recently promised to give priority to employing newlyweds and providing affordable homes for recently married couples. Quite notably, the age in which Iranians now get married has increased exponentially due to financial circumstances and familial problems. For centuries, most Iranians would get married in their early twenties and today most Iranians marry in their late twenties or even early thirties. More and more couples in Iran are delaying their marriages indefinitely until the time is right or until they can afford to get married.

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