This is a topic close to my heart and one that has been on my mind the last year or so. I don’t write to be controversial as I don’t like to upset people and I certainly don’t like to encourage trolls. In the past when I have written about marriage I received a very mixed response (here) including comments around – “what do you know about it anyway, you’re married?” which I found a little galling (“oh ok then, I won’t have an opinion or even dare to think about it…”)
Yet this topic affects friends I care about and people I love. Each of them valuable, precious, with much to offer and many beautiful qualities. Each of them unmarried. I have been mulling over a conversation I had with a friend recently about being in her 30’s, not yet married and feeling a little fed up of being pressurised by those around her to hurry up and marry. It reminded me of an article I read recently by a Muslim sister who questioned whether she even wanted to get married and have children and in the absence of doing so, wanted to have something else in her life that gave her purpose and pleasure.
It made me think that we are in a position in the Muslim communities in the western world where there will be many women who will likely never end up being married, often not through their own choice or for lack of trying. How do we accord these women with the respect they deserve?
In the past, an unmarried Muslimah was often considered as an object of pity. People could especially not imagine how a women without children could ever be fulfilled. There was also the thinking that a women without a husband and then children her to care for her financially would be vulnerable and potentially a burden to her parents and then her extended family.
Times have changed for Muslim women I many ways. Out lives can be fulfilling and full of purpose outside of the traditional roles of wife and mother if we choose. We are able to become financially independent if we choose and we live in countries that are able to provide a safety net that should stop us from starving to death in old age in a worse case scenario (you would hope).
What doesn’t seem to have changed in tandem is our attitude as a community. We seem unable to discuss the issue of unmarried women in our community in a measured and mature way, or even include women in that discussion in a respectful way that seriously takes their opinions on board.
But the questions remain: What is the place of unmarried sisters in our community? I certainly don’t believe that they should be a source of embarrassment or pity as has been in the past. I believe that we have to face up to the fact that these women have immense value to add. I believe that if Allah (SWT) has decided that marriage and motherhood is not on the cards for some sisters, He has a deep purpose behind this.
The examples are there for us: Lady Aishah (RA) was widowed at 18 and spent her life into her 80’s teaching Islam as a great scholar. Rabia Al-Adawiyya of Basra (RA) never married despite offers from great scholars of her time such as Hassan Basri (RA), she was too engrossed in her love for her Beloved – her Lord (SWT).
In both of these examples there is no lack of spirituality, productivity and benefit to their communities and beyond. This doesn’t mean that I don’t value marriage and children. I still pray that Allah (SWT) blesses my sisters with kind loving spouses, and wonderful children. But I do so knowing that this is not His will for every woman. What I would like to see is the conversation around my single sisters change. An acceptance that some sisters may not marry. That this should not mean they are relegated to some dark corner of our community as spinsters, but respected, accepted as valuable and supported in living the purpose and path that Allah (SWT) has set them on for all of our benefit insh’Allah.
I dedicate this post to my cherished great-aunt. As a young women she found she could not conceive and was sent home by her husband with divorce papers sent swiftly after her, only to be replaced very quickly with another woman. She spent her life in her sisters home (my paternal grandmother) in prayer and helping with the household duties, squabbling with her sister but always loved by everyone. Now all my grandparents and almost all of their siblings are gone, she is left as a reminder of them, loved and respected by everyone in our clan – neither a burden nor without purpose. I often think of her and the sadness she endured and how the things we worry about for unmarried women: sustenance, companionship, lack of status were not the main things that were issues for her, but perhaps being treated with respect rather than pity by people outside of our family may have been.