The Point of Marriage in Islam (and the Problem with Romantic Relationships Outside of Marriage)

In the Souk, Tunis by Frederick Arthur Bridgman

An essay on the question of whether romantic relationships outside of marriage are acceptable in Islam, and if not, why. Why is marriage such a big deal in religiously conservative societies? Why can’t people just enjoy themselves without involving everyone and their mother in their private affairs?

Islamic law does not have anything strict to say on the topic of romance. As religious scholars admit, falling in love is something we cannot help. But there are ways to engage in romantic relationships that fit within Islam’s framework of ethics and morality, and there are ways that conflict with it. Islam is not made to be applied in a vacuum. It is assumed that people who embrace Islam will, generation after generation, build their own culture around it, using its morality and ethical teachings to create their own standards of manners, etiquette and appropriate behavior. We see this in all Muslim societies. They often have a vast set of standards of behavior that cannot be found in any religious text. The reason for this is simple. Human life is so complicated that there is no way to define every single detail of their lives in a religious text. Rather, Islam provides general guidelines, people fill out the specifics, except in those rare cases where specifics are given (such as in the case of dividing an inheritance). If you were brought up in a devout Muslim family, you know that your parents will likely not think very highly of your being in a romantic relationship without their knowledge. To understand why there is a good reason for this taboo on romantic relationships outside the knowledge of your family and society, we have to talk about the point of marriage.

In Islam the appropriate, safe and socially integrated way for a man and woman to be in a relationship is through marriage. In many Western societies that have lost their religion and culture, marriage is just a silly formality, so that many people engage in intimate relationships without seeing a need for officially marrying. That is the primitive, natural way for humans to do things. Islam (and Christianity, and Judaism, and most sophisticated cultures) add an extra layer of formality to the relationships between men and women that greatly complicate matters. What is the point of that?

The point is that the formality enables the man and woman to relate to each other as socially integrated humans. A religiously conservative husband (assuming he is a relatively well-educated and civilized man) does not just see his wife as a piece of attractive flesh that can be treated however he likes. The solemnity of marriage, the fact that it involves so many people’s approval and attention, means that he is forced to look at her and see her not just as a body, but as someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s niece. She is not detached from her society and background. She is a great deal greater than her body and her personality. And that means he is forced to respect her as a person. He is beholden to dozens of other people who will all have something to say about it if he mistreats her. Through the constant interactions with her family, he is reminded over and over again that she is more than just a body, that she is a person with an honored social status. One could say that we can have such relationships without involving our families; we do not need our families to force us to be nice and considerate toward our spouses. But the reality is that human nature always “reverts to the mean”. At the beginning of a romantic relationship we can treat the other person with the greatest consideration. But once the honeymoon is over, the couple start to take each other more and more for granted and start to do less and less for each other. This is something that has been experienced by most people, who may have at first thought they would be the exception to the rule. The point of socially integrating a romantic relationship into society is to extend the honeymoon-level of consideration to the period that comes after the honeymoon. That is the magic that social integration achieves and that is almost impossible to achieve without it.

A wife, in a religiously conservative society, is not just a random woman who signed some paperwork. She has a defined and honored social status. It is similar to the way a queen is honored and respected by the virtue of her social status, without anyone caring what her body or personality are like. Just by being queen, she gets all kinds of rights and privileges. In a similar way, marriage in a conservative, religious society forces men to treat women as if they are more than their bodies, their beauty or their personalities. You can see this at work in classical English-language novels like Pride and Prejudice, when the West was still highly religious. Mrs. Bennet, the mother of the novel’s heroine, is an extremely ignorant and annoying person. But thanks to the institution of marriage, everyone around her is forced to treat her with great respect. This is respect that she does not “deserve” if we were to look at her personal qualities. That is the point of marriage; it integrates people into society, gives them a status and position, and in this way protects their honor and dignity. Today a person like Mrs. Bennet would be made fun of by her children for being stupid and ignorant. She would probably have to take antidepressants because no one will treat her like she matters. In a society like that of Pride and Prejudice or like today’s conservative Muslim societies, she will be treated like she matters, because the society’s values and the institution of marriage force everyone around her to treat her with great respect and dignity and to take her opinions seriously regardless of how ignorant or stupid she is.

That makes her feel like she is important, like there is a place for her in society. She feels appreciated and is happy with her lot in life.

Such a system has its own problems. But as a person who has experienced such societies in countries like Iran and Iraq, and their opposite in the United States, I can say that such a social system is far superior to the disintegrated societies of the West (of course, things are not bad everywhere in the West and there are still many happy families and societies). In secular societies a woman has to prove her worth to be respected and taken seriously. In a traditional society she does not need to prove anything. She is a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, and since these social roles are taken very seriously, they grant her all the respect she desires without having to do anything. She is like a queen who is born into a social position without having to work for it.

Naturally, the system also provides similar benefits to men. A wife has to treat her husband, even if he is not very intelligent or attractive or interesting, as a person who matters. In a class I was attending in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a woman side that her husband had “the most boring job in the world.” It was a funny statement, but it made wonder why a woman of my society would consider it extremely vulgar of a woman to say such a thing about her husband in public. The reason, of course, is that in my society a husband is not just any random man. A wife and her husband together rule their own little private kingdom where they are honored and valued, and it would be as foolish for her to make fun of her husband as it would be for a queen to make fun of her king in public. In a religiously conservative society, a wife does not treat her husband as if he is a random male, she treats him according to the demands and duties of the offices they both hold; the offices of “husband” and “wife”. It is similar to the way a company executive treats another executive; or one government official or minister treats another. They cannot treat one another as random humans who met on the street, they have to respect the office or rank held by the other person and treat them according to that.

Marriage as Election

If you think about it deeply, in a religiously conservative society a marriage is an election. The extended families on both sides are given a proposal and study it, until they cast their votes in favor of or against the marriage taking place. This process is sometimes taken as seriously as the cardinals take the process of electing a new pope. Once the marriage is approved, the husband and wife end up wearing the “robes of honor” that signifies their new offices or ranks that society has elected to give to the two of them through its approval. In a disintegrated society “walking down the aisle” does not have that much significance (although it can still be quite affecting), while in a religiously conservative society “walking down the aisle” is quite similar to the coronation of a new king or queen and just as serious and solemn. It is how society integrates these two new people into its future.

The Marriage of the Prince of Wales with Princess Alexandra of Denmark, Windsor, 10 March 1863 by William Frith (1865)

This extra layer of complexity and formality that religious societies have (and truly primitive societies lack) helps create a society where most people feel like they matter regardless of their personal qualities. By the mere virtue of being in that society they get a great deal of respect and honor. The society as a whole acts like an aristocracy where everyone hold some important position and has to be treated according to it.

Romance Outside of Marriage

The reason that a romantic relationship outside of marriage is not liked by religiously conservative societies is that it does not fit well within the above picture. It is perfectly fine to be in love with someone and to know that they love you back, and to work toward getting married through socially-approved methods. The problem is when two people in such a society try to bypass their society in order to enjoy the benefits that come with marriage without doing the hard work of getting the approval of their society. They want to enjoy the benefits of the office of marriage without bothering to get elected.

A man and woman who build a romantic relationship without involving their families are insulting both of their families. The pleasures of love are something granted by society to people who go through the process that society has designed for creating romantic relationships in a safe and integrated way. A religiously conservative society honors you, takes you seriously and treats you like you matter very much just because you were born into that society. You did not do any work to deserve being honored by your society the way they honor you. The honor is granted to you by the mere virtue of being born into that society. But in return for honoring you, society demands that you honor it back. The way that people take their relationship with you seriously, treating you as if you are a worthy and important human being just because you are a daughter/sister/niece and so on, you have to take your relationship with them seriously.

And that means that when it comes to a romantic relationship, you cannot act entirely on your own initiative. You can do so at first, for example you may love someone and think they love you back. You can act on this and find out if they are interested in marriage. If they are, then that is when you should involve your family. The longer you wait, the more you involve yourself romantically with them, the more insulting your actions become toward your family. Your family’s involvement and approval are necessary to integrate your relationship with your society. This ensures that the person you wish to marry will become beholden to their office and the duties that come with it. A husband cannot treat a wife in any way he likes, he has to treat her in the way that his socially-granted office requires of him. In the same way, the wife is beholden to her office. These offices force them to be nice and considerate toward one another and toward one another’s family even if they do not feel like it. They act according to their office, not according to their personal desires.

The worst cases of abuse that I have heard about in the Middle East have often involved a man taking a wife then separating her from her family, such as by moving to a different city or country. When that happens, when the woman is taken out of her social context, he no longer feels beholden to her family and society. He starts to treat her however he likes. If he is a good and kind man then she would be in no danger. But if he is not, then there is nothing forcing him to be kind and considerate. She is fully at his mercy. Even if there are laws in their country against domestic abuse, these laws rarely do anything until things get really bad, sometimes after years of abuse. Most cases of abuse will likely not involve the law, and emotional abuse, which the law largely ignores, can be just as bad as physical abuse. In a religiously conservative society, by integrating marital relationships within society, a woman gets a great amount of protection for her rights and dignity.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet cannot start beating or insulting his wife even if he feels like it, because he knows everyone around him will be seriously angry and upset with him if he does that. Any undignified treatment of his wife will bring upon him a great deal of negative consequences that have nothing to do with the law.

One of Mr. Bennet’s daughters (Lydia) tries to have a romantic relationship with a man without involving her family. Her family are naturally greatly upset and insulted by this. A modern reader might think their reaction illogical and unjustified, a silly and hysterical response to an unimportant matter. But within that religiously conservative society, they have every reason to be upset and insulted, because she is being disloyal to her society. Her action is similar to a minister making an important decision about his country without consulting the other ministers. It is also similar to an employee making an important decision about his or her company without consulting the other employees. It is a betrayal because she is making a decision that affects everyone around her without bothering to get their opinion, approval or involvement. It is also similar to your daughter deciding to sell the family car or the house without consulting anyone else.

The result of her action is that her family lose their respect for her. They continue to treat her with the basic dignity that everyone gets in that society, but her action has proven that she is either foolish, disloyal and ungrateful. She has been treated with the greatest honor all her life even though she has done nothing to deserve it, yet instead of repaying that treatment in kind by honoring her parents and relatives and helping her society continue in a healthy way, she thinks she can make a decision that affects everyone without consulting them.

Now a person may ask why marriage has to be such a serious decision (it is like selling the family car like I said). Why shouldn’t it be her own business? The reason is that marriage is a fundamental aspect of society, similar to birth and death. It is how society creates new humans and integrates them into itself. Marriage, in a conservative society, is very serious business because it has everything to do with society’s existence, survival and continuation. Selling the family car is serious business because it affects everyone’s fate and happiness in the family. Marriage is serious business for the same reason. Everyone around you wants you to marry in a way that enables them to continue having you as a beloved daughter or son. Marriage should be about you entering a higher and better stage in society while everyone continues to love and appreciate you. They want to grant you the office and all the honors and respect that come with it. But if you bypass this, if you try to create your own happiness without regard for your family, this will break apart the way everyone around you relates to you; they could in fact lose you forever, and what you did could give them as much sadness as if you had died. It is quite similar to an aristocrat betraying his or her country. They lose their honors, their place in society, and their own families can no longer relate to them.

When we are young and desirous of love, we wish to avoid the difficulties society throws before us when it comes to love and romance. We wish to find a lover and go live in the woods together without anyone interfering with our lives. The young man will treat his lover like a queen, she will treat him like a king, and everything will be happy ever after. But those who are naive enough to actually go through with such a plan almost invariably end up suffering the greatest misery. All that it takes is a month or two for the honeymoon period of the relationship to be over. When it is over, the two start to take each other more and more for granted. Neither of them sees the other in a socially integrated way; he is no longer a king but a not-too-attractive male with all kinds of annoying habits and shortcomings. She is no longer a queen but a demanding or needy female with an anxiety problem. Neither of them is capable of being the other’s “everything”. They start to miss their previous, socially integrated lives that so effortlessly granted them so much respect and honor, and they wish to get that back. They will enviously look at those who “married right” and who continue to get the love and respect of their families, while they themselves are outcasts who have the tiresome task of being everything for each other.

The problem with romantic relationships outside of marriage is that such relationships have their own gravity that pulls people away from their families and societies, unless they quickly involve their families. As most classical fiction and poetry tells us, romantic relationships make demands on us that can break apart our families and lead to much misery. So an intelligent and pious Muslim girl will avoid romantic entanglements like the plague, knowing that despite the pleasures such relationships bring they can also do the greatest harm to her long-term happiness among her family and friends. Like a good girl in a Victorian novel, she finds it far beneath her to develop a romantic relationship outside of the knowledge and approval of her family. That is something done by low-class and uncultured women, it is not something she does.

If a man falls in love with her and approaches her, if she likes him then she will refer him to her family. She can introduce the matter to her parents, who may ask to see him. If they think it is too early for marriage (maybe they want their daughter to complete her university degree first) but they approve of the man, they can perform the nikāḥ ceremony for them without performing the wedding. This would officially engage them and make it perfectly fine for them, from the point of view of Islamic law, to become romantically attached to one another and to do whatever the typical engaged Western couple do before marriage. This is how marriages work in Iran, whether among Sunni or Shia Iranians. The nikāḥ ceremony makes their engagement official. During the engagement period the man and woman are given freedom to spend time together and go out together, they are considered to be dating. But it is culturally taboo for them to become sexually intimate until after the wedding. If they do become intimate, they do not break any Islamic laws because they have performed the nikāḥ ceremony and are already married according to Islam, they are merely delaying the consummation of the marriage.

In the above way, a man and woman can safely date and get to know one another in a way that enjoys society’s approval and protection. While in the West we often have boyfriends and girlfriends treating each other with the meanest and most disrespectful and hurtful attitudes, by solemnizing the relationship before dating can take place, the couple are forced to be nice and considerate toward one another regardless of how they feel. In the West we run into many people whose self-esteem has been completely shattered because of an abusive partner’s actions toward them. This solemn dating system helps prevent that. Since their families are greatly involved, they feel beholden to everyone around them to act responsibly and respectfully. To a Muslim woman who understands the benefits of this system, it would sound like utter madness to involve herself with a man without enjoying these protections. It would be like a queen going anonymous and getting into a relationship with man on the street who, of course, can treat her with the greatest disregard and disrespect. A queen, by going through the formal, socially approved methods for getting married, ensures that her husband will continue to treat her like a queen. In the same way, a self-respecting Muslim woman demands a husband who will continue to treat her like she is someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s niece. The husband is forced to take her social status very seriously, and this ensures even if she has the most infuriating and annoying behaviors, he will tolerate her and not insult her. She, of course, is forced to have the same respectful attitude.

The above is how things work in many relationships in religiously conservative society. Of course, things do not always go perfectly and we have cases of the greatest disrespect and abuse. But the point is the nature of the average relationship in such a society compared to the average relationship in other societies. If 90% of Muslim marriages involve a husband and wife who respect each other greatly compared to 50% of secular Western marriages, then that is a great proof of the superiority of the conservative, Islamic system.

Love and Duty

Sometimes we cannot help it and fall in love with someone our families do not approve of. In such a situation, we have to balance our responsibilities toward our family and friends on the one hand, and our desire for personal fulfillment on the other. It would be highly irresponsible of us to bypass our families and let the romantic relationship take its course (even if we desire to do this with all of our hearts). We should instead try to convince our families to approve of the relationship, and if they are adamantly against it, we should patiently wait. When they see that we are refusing all other marriage opportunities, then they may slowly, after months or years, change their minds. That is the price way pay for enjoying the honors given to us by our religiously conservative societies.

We are free to ignore our families and do whatever we want. But the costs of doing this are very high and very few romantic partners deserve this sacrifice. When your family sees that you are staying loyal to them and patiently waiting for their approval, that is likely to soften their hearts, compared to if you were to try to keep a romantic relationship going out of their sight and enjoying it regardless of what they think.

It is not always easy to be patient or to make the right decisions. But it should always be our goal to mend things between us and our families and friends. We should remain loyal to them and honor them as much as we can the way they honor us. If we make the error of engaging a romantic relationship without their knowledge, we should try to tell them as soon as we can. Our desire for the pleasures of love should be counterbalanced by our knowledge that we have many decades in front of us. The honors our religiously conservative societies grant to us are extremely valuable and we should not let them go to waste, we should instead work to maintain and improve our societies.

In the United States, you have homeless people who have rich family members and relatives who do not care about them. That is what things look like when a society has disintegrated. The reason why society gets in the way of your desire for casual romantic relationships is to prevent that from happening. Our conservative Muslim societies, despite of their myriad problems, are infinitely superior to a society where things are in such a state. Romantic relationships outside of our families’ approval almost always end up damaging our relationship with our families unless things go perfectly, which they rarely do.

Romantic entanglements often force us to make a choice between our loyalty toward our families and our loyalty toward our lovers. The wise and pious thing to do is to not put ourselves in such a situation. Our religiously conservative societies are not against our enjoying ourselves. What they want is for us to do this in a way that enables to keep enjoying society’s benefits, to keep the love and respect of our families and to contribute something back to their happiness. And the way to do this is through having our relationships critiqued and approved by them. Once we have their blessing, we can enjoy ourselves as much as we want in a way that adds to their happiness and to the health of our societies rather than causing harm to them. It is, of course, sometimes a great sacrifice to put our romantic relationships at society’s mercy, letting it decide whether it can go forward or not. But in return for this show of loyalty, we continue to enjoy the great respect and honor that such a society has for us and that we did not do anything to deserve them to begin with. By continuing to respect our religiously conservative societies and holding ourselves to the high standards they demand of us, we can continue to enjoy our Pride and Prejudice-like world.

As for those who have never enjoyed living in such a world (converts, for example), through following traditional Islamic values you can be the initiator of such a world (although it can take generations for it to fully develop and flower).

I should mention that I have never actually seen a Muslim society that lived up to the high standards of good manners and ethics depicted in Pride and Prejudice. It represents an ideal that we can aim for. I should also mention that when young Muslims engage in illicit relationships, their families and societies are often partly responsible. When our children do not get the love and respect they deserve, they seek these things from others when they grow up and get the chance, and a romantic relationship, by promising them a lover that truly loves them and cares for them, can appear as a highly attractive alternative to the lowly lives they currently suffer in their families. Some families treat their children, especially their daughters, as part of their home’s furniture rather than as proper humans to be honored and respected and treated as integral parts of the family’s life. The beautiful thing about Islam is that when everyone tries to follow it as best as they can, they naturally tend toward the beautiful society depicted in Pride and Prejudice. It is when we fail at following Islam’s values, whether through disrespecting our parents or neglecting our children, that we suffer the painful consequences mentioned above.

On the different origins of Kurds, Hawramis and Zaza People

Regarding the Hawramani people – are they not Kurds? How come you write: “Like the Kurds around them, the Hawrami people are largely Sunni Muslims.” ? Do you consider yourself as Hawramani and not as a Hawramani-Kurd?

The cultural and linguistic evidence suggests that Hawramis are descended from the Persians of Gilan. They are most closely related to the Zaza people of Turkey, who are also descended from the people of that area (the lower edge of the Caspian Sea). On the other hand, Kurds are a separate race who inhabited the borderlands between Persia, Turkey and Arabia.

So while Hawramis live among Kurds, they are a different race. Kurds may themselves be anciently descended from the Persians of Fars province then mixed with Turks and Arabs. Hawramis are descended from the people of the Caspian sea area, who might be a mix of Persians, Armenians and other Caucasian races (such as Circassians) who inhabited the Tabarstan area.

Below is a representation of the migration of the original “Kurds” out of Fars province in Iran, perhaps between 600 and 1000 CE. They settled in that oval area and mixed with Arabs and other original inhabitants.

Below is a representation of the origins of the Hawrami and Zaza people. The came out of the Western edge of the Caspian Sea and settled in Hawraman and Dersim as a separate race from the Kurds. I know that most Kurds, Hawramis and Zaza are unaware of these facts so that they think the label “Kurd” applies to them. The origins of the Hawrami and Zaza people were only worked out by scholars in the past 50 years. Vladimir Minorsky spoke of his theory of Hawramis coming out of Gilan, and another scholar whose name I cannot remember worked out the relationship between the Zaza language and the Daylam area of Iran. The extreme similarity between the Zaza and the Hawrami languages, their similarity to the Caspian languages (Gilaki, Mazandarani), and their extreme difference from Kurdish, all made Western scholars realize that they are in reality non-Kurdish languages coming out of the Western Caspian.

I am aware that today in this era of Kurdish nationalism it is rather politically incorrect to suggest that the Hawramis are not Kurds. But that is what the facts suggest.

While many younger Hawramis have been convinced by Kurdish nationalist propaganda that they are really Kurds, the older generation of Hawramis are very clear about not being Kurds. They use “Kurd” literally to mean “non-Hawrami”. My grandmother would be highly insulted if someone called her a Kurd. I have seen a similar attitude among other old Hawrami people. They see the people around them as either Hawramis, Kurds, Arabs or Persians. Kurds are a separate category in their minds.

Another clue for the different origins of Hawramis and Kurds is that while Arab-like features are very common among Kurds (darker skin, thick black hair, short stature), they are rare among Hawramis. Tall stature, very pale skin, soft colored hair and colored eyes are very common among Hawramis while they are less common among Kurds.

For the Zaza people, the word they use for themselves is a clue: Dimli is an alternative pronunciation of Dilmi, which is a localized pronunciation of Daylami, which means “from Daylam” (the area by the Caspian Sea in Iran).

Questioning the Concept of “Kurd”

In his important paper “Prolegomena to the Study of the Kurds” (you can view it here for free), the respected Armenian scholar Garnik Asatrian suggests that the word “Kurd” was not used to refer to a race, but to any of the various differing transhumant (migratory) tribes inhabiting the lands between Persia, Arabia and Anatolia. They were likely originally came out of Fars in Iran, moved northwards and mixed with various other races. They originally spoke a version of Persian that slowly changed over the centuries into what we now call Kurdish.

The nationalistic Kurdish idea that the Kurds were an original race (like Persians or Arabs) of the area is inaccurate historically for the simple reason that Kurds speak an Iranian language, rather than an independent language like Armenians do. Kurdish is similar to Pashto (the language of Afghanistan’s Pashtun people). Both of them originated from Iran and slowly developed in new directions. So while among Kurdish nationalists there is a desire to make Kurds into their own independent race, the reality is that they are just another Iranian group similar to the Luri, Fayli, Bakhtyari, Pashtun and Baluchi people. All of them were probably originally one Persian race that slowly developed in different directions and mixed with surrounding peoples (similar to the way Norwegians, the Swedish, the Danes, the Dutch and the English were all originally Germans).

Personally I have no nationalistic feelings, so to me the historical reality is far more interesting than nationalist ideas. I consider the Kurds my brothers and sisters, and my own family has married into Kurdish families, but that doesn’t make me want to deny the different origins of the Hawramis.

The truth is that all humans are migrants from somewhere. The Persians, Kurds, Hawramis and the various other Iranian peoples themselves are Indo-Europeans whose ancestors, the Proto-Indo-Europeans, came out of the Central Asian and Siberian Steppes. These ancient ancestors in turn probably came out of earlier tribal groups, who themselves were descended from Adam .

On fighting back against postmodernism and “social justice warriors”

Assalaamu 'Alaikum In the west now, postmodernist indoctrination is present not only in universities, but more alarmingly in the public school systems (kindergarten to grade 12). It seems as though their curriculums are meant to breed future sjws and postmodernists. I was curious about your thoughts on this matter and what precautions you'd take for your young children (or would-be young children). How can parents go about preventing that cancer from sprouting in them?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

I used to worry about the postmodernist type of thinking (which teaches that there is no objective truth) spreading and corrupting everything. I have spent many years thinking about this problem and have read many books by writers who have tried to fight against it (especially the British philosopher Roger Scruton). My conclusion is that it is not actually a threat to faithful Muslims. The Quran can in fact be thought of as an anti-postmodern manifesto: God exists and one of His names is Truth. There is an objective truth “out there” that we can seek. This is like a wrench thrown into the postmodern machine that breaks it apart, because the whole basis of the postmodern worldview is that there is no objective truth “out there”. According to them we are all worthless bags of matter in a meaningless universe, and power is all that we seek in life. We are supposedly in desperate need of postmodernists to point these things out to us to “enlighten” us out of our ignorance; the supposed ignorance of believing in objective truth, in considering our fellow humans intrinsically worthy, of having an attitude of love and sympathy toward people rather than seeing them as machines controlled by selfish genes and having an all-dominating obsession for subjugating others.

A pious Muslim who believes in the Quran and has appreciated its beauty and has been uplifted by its morality could never bow down to postmodernism, because everything they call for always comes down to: disbelieve in God.

It is true that there are some Muslims who have to some degree adopted postmodern ways of thinking. The most unabashed postmodernists who call themselves Muslim are invariably extremely secular. There are also some faithful Muslim intellectuals who adopt some of the beneficial teachings of postmodernism (such as being extremely aware of systematic biases) without adopting its dystopian worldview. As long as they continue believing in the Quran and taking their inspiration from it, they will never adopt the really insane things inside postmodernism.

So my advice for countering postmodernism is simply for Muslims to be good Muslims who take their inspiration from the Quran. Most Muslim children will grow up believing in God and His Prophet and that in itself will easily counterbalance whatever indoctrination the schools will try on them. The exception will be Muslim children who are never taught Islam’s basics and grow up to be irreligious and secular, such people will have no defenses against such indoctrination. But the fault here is not with the indoctrination itself, but with the fact that children’s parents and relatives failed to pass on Islam to them.

Marxism, postmodernism and these various other isms that have come about in the past 200 years are nothing, in my view, but man-made mimicries of religions. Like religion, they claim to possess central truths unknown to others. They have their own messiahs and cults of personality. There is Marx and his disciples. Within Marxism questioning Marx is heresy and can result in the severest attacks by other Marxists. Within postmodernism the same dynamics are at work. A person either submits to the ideology and in this way is accepted into the cult, or they show too much skepticism and is in this way thrown out of the cult (their works and opinions end up being completely ignored by those inside the cult).

Regarding those people known as social justice warriors, from what I have seen they are following an incoherent mixture of the Marxist-postmodernist worldview that is promoted by radical leftist university professors in the United States. I believe that being a pious Muslim is all that is needed to prevent a person from adopting such a worldview. Some of those people known as social justice warriors, in the name of social justice and defending the rights of the poor and the oppressed, often dehumanize large groups of humans that they dislike. It is extremely easy for a pious Muslim to notice this contradiction, and once they do so, they will have no inclination to be associated with these people. The Marxist element inside the social justice movement teaches that we should have a murderous hatred for the “enemy” that supposedly gets in the way of progress. Islam teaches us to treat people fairly and according to universal standards of truth and justice, meaning that that Marxist hatred for large groups of humanity is quite foreign to Islam and does not fit in with it. Marxism teaches us to dehumanize a certain section of humanity (the “capitalists”, the middle class or bourgeoisie, white people, men). Islam teaches us to have open hearts and to respect the sanctity of human life. There is a fundamental conflict between the two worldviews: Marxism (and Wahhabism, by the way) tells me to dehumanize people except those defined as good by the ideology, Islam tells me to never dehumanize anyone, and to, like Prophet Ibrāhīm/Abraham, defend even the worst supposed sinners, have sympathy for them and protect them from harm.

Since social justice warriors are concerned with the rights and interests of Muslims as part of their ideology, some Muslims (especially “secular” ones who have never read the Quran in their lives) will likely be attracted to them. But these are going to be a minority. The moderate majority of Muslims are going to want to have nothing to do with them the same way that the majority of Muslims have never been attracted to the Marxist (or Wahhabi) worldview.

On reducing unnecessary physical contact with the opposite sex

Salam. I have a question to ask. I have a friend at school, who is a boy. We have been friends for 3 years, and our friendship has always been respectful and decent, but lately we’ve been having physical touch. For example, his hair was growing out a little, so he asked me if I could help him try tying his hair. I had to touch his hair plus a little bit of his forehead. He’s also held my hand during the cold recently to give me warmth. What should I do? Thank you.

You could politely inform him that you do not wish for any further contact because of your religious views. The things you mentioned are innocent enough. The problem is that as young persons, both of you will probably have a strong desire to keep increasing your physical contact and intimacy, until, like so many others, you end up getting in a situation that you deeply regret later.

Repenting from ghayba (backbiting): You do not need to tell the person

my grandmother always chats a lot and gossips. I am working on my nafs to avoid talking a lot of things that wont benefit me and to not talk in other peoples absence but I am failing at this. I share room with her and because that she is old I respect her and can't tell her to stop. I don't want to get sins because of backbiting. How can I fix this? Is it true that you have to go to the person who you backbit about to seek forgiveness? thats impossible for me.

Regarding repenting from backbiting, according to the early Islamic scholar and ascetic ʿAbdullāh ibn al-Mubārak (d. 797 CE), one should not ask for forgiveness from the person because this would only hurt them a second time. He says the way to get kafāra (to get the sin forgiven) for backbiting is to pray for forgiveness for the person. This is also the opinion of the Shāfiʿī scholar Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ (d. 1245 CE).1

Since it is your grandmother who is initiating the backbiting, you will not be blamed for hearing what she says if there is no easy way of avoiding it. You can try to gently discourage her. If this is the most you can do, then this is all that you are responsible for. One strategy for discouraging her might be to mention good things about the person she is backbiting. If she says so and so did that bad thing, you could say, as part of the conversation (not in an argumentative manner), “And remember that time when she did that nice thing for you?” That could make her feel abashed for a while. If you keep doing this she may get tired of it and reduce how much she tries to involve you in her backbiting.

Is marriage compulsory in Islam?

In islam is marriage compulsory or is it a sin if one chooses not to get married. I'm a female and I feel like marriage is not meant for me nor do I think it'll bring me any happiness. I'm always been told marriage completes half of our deen so therefore it's a must in our religion.

Marriage is not compulsory. Please see these two previous answers for more details:

Are Muslims allowed to never marry?

Marriage is not necessarily “half our religion”

What to do when feeling far away from God

I’m far away from Allah, I don’t pray anymore and I say everyday I will start tomorrow, I don’t read quraan or even islamic post or videos and I feel nothing spiritual.. and every time I try to get closer i fell like I’m pushed away. What should I do?

I would say speak sincerely to God. Tell Him you do not feel spiritual and that you do not know what to do to get closer to Him. Keep asking Him every day to guide you and make things easy for you. If there is nothing you can do, you can at least speak to Him. I do not think there is such a thing as a person asking God for guidance and not being guided. You will be guided, it will just take time. Keep asking for His help and guidance and He will bring about the conditions for you to be guided. This can take months or years. Never despair in His ability to fix your life and make it happy and meaningful. He can do that, but sometimes we have to go through periods of suffering that teach us important lessons and make us better people down the road.

Do you pray the sunnah before the iqama or after when praying alone

Salaam, I just wanted to know when praying fajr at home do I pray the sunnah as soon as I hear the Adhan then the fard or do I have to preform the iqamah to pray the fard?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

The mainstream view is that saying the athān and the iqāma are voluntary acts when praying alone rather than obligatory.1 Therefore when the time for prayer comes in, you can pray the sunna then the farḍ prayer without saying the iqāma. But if you wanted to say the iqāma, then you would follow the same pattern that is followed at the mosque: first pray the sunna (without saying the iqāma), then say the iqāma right before the farḍ.

On adoption, Aisha’s age and the Prophet’s dreams about her

I've got few questions, . I'm just deeply disturbed by the fact that in Islam a man can marry his adopted daughters as stated in Surat nisa. While I understand that they aren't biologically related,, but what if they were adopted when they were babies? . I'm also wondering is regarding your Tariq Ramadan's book review you wrote , on "in the footsteps of the prophet" I'm quite surprised you didn't mention about Aisha's age, that the prophet saw it in a dream twice. Do you agree with him?

I answered your question on adoption on its own page here: Why does Islam allow a man to marry his adopted daughter?

Regarding Aisha’s age, I had already dealt with it in a previous answer, so I did not repeat it there. Many liberal Muslims have often used weak and unconvincing arguments to support her being older than 9. Thankfully it appears that we are in a better position now. Please see this article: Did the Prophet marry a 9-year-old girl? (She may have actually been close to 18) As I mention in that answer, Dr. Salah al-Din al-Idlibi, a respected and traditionalist hadith expert, examines the evidence, including new evidence not examined by others, and finds that there is strong support for her having been born 4 years before the Revelation, which makes her close to 18 at the time of the consummation of her marriage to the Prophet in 622 CE.

Regarding seeing her in dreams, it is mentioned at least in al-Bukhari. Since it was common for prophets to receive commands in their dreams, I see no strong reason to doubt this. If she was approaching 15 at the time of the dreams, then that wouldn’t be so strange as her being 6 at the time.

Why does Islam allow a man to marry his adopted daughter?

I'm just deeply disturbed by the fact that in Islam a man can marry his adopted daughters as stated in Surat nisa. While I understand that they aren't biologically related,, but what if they were adopted when they were babies?

Imagine a rich man who has a very large house. Out of charity he “adopts” a number of young children and houses them in his home, hiring caretakers for them. He is a businessman who travels often, so that he ends up only seeing these children once or twice a year on special occasions. Many years pass and the man’s wife dies. One of the children is now a woman of 20 who wishes to get married, and she has liked the man who adopted her on those rare occasions she has seen him, so she talks to him and asks him to marry her.

Is there a good reason for society to prevent such a marriage? It would only reduce this woman’s chance of happiness in life.

I think your problem is with the idea of a man who adopts a very young girl, say an infant, sees her every day, maybe even changes her diaper occasionally, only to go on to marry her years later when she is still young and incapable of judging things for herself. I have never heard of such a thing happening in the Muslim societies I have known. But yes, technically it could happen. And that is where culture comes in. When God does not prohibit or encourage something, He leaves it to the culture to deal with it in its own way. If you look at the many Muslim cultures around the world, you will find extremely different cultural practices among them. Islam defines a small set of rules on the most important things in life, then leaves it to the culture to fill in the blanks as they see fit. So while a man could technically marry an infant girl he brings up, it would be extremely culturally inappropriate in most cultures; most people would find the idea revolting and therefore the man is strongly pressured by his culture not to do such a thing. Note that Western laws do not forbid marrying adopted children either, they too leave it to the judgment of the culture.

Muslims do not live in social vacuums, they have to please both religion and their social norms. This ensures that by and large common sense and common morality prevail even when it comes to those things not strictly defined by religion. Islamic, instead of making adoption a matter of law, tells humans: use your common sense.

If you wish there was a law to prevent cases where a man who is a father figure to a woman is prohibited from marrying her, then you could make such a law in your own society. Islam does not prohibit making laws applying to things left blank by Islamic law. But what good would such a law do, unless we think the woman is somehow mentally deficient and incapable of judging for herself? Imagine if her adopted father is 50 is a professor at some university, while the woman is 25 and working on her own PhD degree. Is it any of our business to tell her whether it is right for her to marry her adopted father or not? Can’t we leave it to her own judgment and intelligence?

In Islam, forced marriages are prohibited and women are not property (there are of course many abuses in Muslim societies, but here I am speaking of a civilized and modern Muslim society, say a society where most women have a university degree). If we consider women proper humans, capable of intelligent thought and decision, then it is entirely their own business whether they want to marry an adopted father or not. It is only if we have a medieval attitude toward women, considering them mentally imbeciles, that the adoption question becomes a problem.

So I think the law that would clear away your worries would be a law the prohibits adopted fathers from marrying adopted girls who are still too young or who are mentally deficient. A Muslim society could implement such a law without issue if it wants to, and I am sure the majority of Muslims would support it. But why stop at adopted girls? We can have a general law that applies to all girls, prohibiting marriage if they are too young or mentally deficient. The reality is that in cosmopolitan Muslim societies this is already the practice; it is taboo to marry girls who are too young, and it would be considered rather unethical to marry a girl who cannot judge things for herself. But just to be extra sure that abuse is prevented, a Muslim society could make such a law.

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