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The Ethics of Chivalry

The Ethics of Chivalry

Issue 67 April 2010

Islam is not a religion of empty laws and strictures but one which points towards a higher ethical order.

 

In the literature discussing Futuwwa, which has been translated as Muslim chivalry, there is the story of a young man who was engaged to marry a particularly beautiful woman. Before the wedding day, his fiancée was afflicted with a severe case of chicken pox which left her face terribly disfigured. Her father wrote to him informing him of the situation and asking if he preferred to call off the wedding. The young man replied that he would still marry his daughter, but that he had recently experienced a gradual loss of sight, which he feared would culminate in blindness. 

The wedding proceeded as planned and the couple had a loving and happy relationship until the wife died twenty years later. Upon her death the husband regained his eyesight. When asked about his seemingly miraculous recovery he explained that he could see all along. He had feigned blindness all those years because he did not want to offend or sadden his wife.  

From our jaded or cynical vantage points it is easy to dismiss such a story as a preposterous fabrication. To do so is to miss an important point that was not lost to those who circulated and were inspired by this and similar tales. Namely, our religion is not an empty compilation of laws and strictures. The law is important and willingly accepting it is one of the keys to our salvation. However, the law is also a means to point us toward a higher ethical end. We are reminded in the Qur’an, “Surely, the prayer wards off indecency and lewdness.”(29:45)

The Prophet Muhammad mentioned concerning the fast, “One who does not abandon false speech and acting on its imperatives, God has no need that he gives up his food and drink.” (Al-Bukhari) These narrations emphasise that there is far more to Islam than a mere adherence to rulings. 

This is especially true in our marriages. Too many Muslims are involved in marriages that devolve into an empty observation of duties and an equally vacuous demand for the fulfillment of rights. While such practices are laudable in their proper context, when they are divorced from kindness, consideration, empathy, and true commitment they define marriages that become a fragile caricature. Such relationships are irreparably shattered by a silly argument, a few wrinkles on the face, unwanted pounds around the waist, a personality quirk or a whimsical desire to play the field to see if one can latch on to someone prettier, wealthier, younger, or possibly more exciting than one’s spouse. 

These are issues that affect men and women. However, we men must step up and do our part to help to arrest the alarmingly negative state of gender relations in our communities. The level of chivalry the current crisis demands does not require that we pretend to be blind for twenty years. However, it does require some serious soul searching, and it demands that we ask ourselves some hard questions. For instance, why are so many Muslim men averse to marrying older or previously married women? The general feeling among the women folk in our communities is that if you are not married by the age of twenty-five, then you have only two chances of being married thereafter –slim and none. This sentiment pervades our sisters’ minds and hearts because of the reality they experience. Many brothers who put off marriage until they are past thirty-five will oftentimes marry someone close to half their age, passing over a generation of women who are intellectually and psychologically more compatible with them and would prove wiser parents for their children. 

Despite this problem, and the clear social, psychological and cultural pathologies it breeds, many of us will hasten to give a lecture reminding our audience of the fact that Khadija, the beloved wife of our Prophet, was fifteen years his senior. We might even mention that she and several of his other wives were previously married. Why is it that what was good enough for our Prophet is repugnant to ourselves or our sons? 

A related question would be, “Why are so many of our brothers so hesitant to marry strong, independent and intellectually astute women?” Many women in the West lack the support of extended family networks, which is increasingly true even in the Muslim world. Therefore, they must seek education or professional training to be in a position to support themselves if necessary, or to assist their husbands; an increasingly likely scenario owing to the nature of work in postindustrial societies. This sociological fact leads to women in the West generally manifesting a degree of education and independence that might not be present among women in more traditional societies and times – even though such societies are rapidly disappearing. 

Many Muslim men will pass over talented, educated women who are willing to put their careers and education on hold, if need be, to commit to a family. The common reason given is that such women are too assertive, or they are not the kind of women the prospective husband’s mother is used to. As a result a significant number of our sisters, despite their beauty, talent, maturity, and dynamism are passed over for marriage in favour of an idealised, demure “real” Muslim woman. The social consequences of this practice are extremely grave for our community.  

Again, we can ask ourselves, “To what extent does this practice conform to the prophetic model?” Our Prophet was surrounded by strong, assertive and independent women. His beloved Khadija, who we have previously mentioned, was one of the most successful business people in the Arabian Peninsula, and her wealth allowed the Prophet to retreat to the Cave of Hira where he would receive the first revelation. 

Ayesha, despite her young age was an assertive, free-spirited, intellectual powerhouse who would become one of the great female scholars in history. The foundation for her intellectual greatness was laid by the Prophet himself who recognised her brilliance. Zainab bint Jahsh ran a “non-profit” organisation. She would make various handicrafts, sell them in the market and then use the proceeds to secretly give charity to the poor people of Medina. Umm Salama had the courage to migrate from Mecca to Medina, unescorted, although she was ultimately accompanied by a single rider. She also had the vision to resolve the crisis at Hudaybiyya. These were all wives of the Prophet. To their names we could add those of many other strong and dynamic women who played a major role in the life of the fledgling Muslim community.  

Another issue that is leading to many otherwise eligible women remaining single relates to colour. If a panel of Muslim men, whose origins were in the Muslim world, were to choose Miss World, the title would likely never leave Scandinavia. No matter how beautiful a woman with a brown, black, or even tan complexion was, she would never be quite beautiful enough, because of her skin colour. This attitude informs the way many choose their wives. This is a sensitive issue, but it is one we must address if we are to advance as a community. We may think that ours is a “colourblind” community, however, there are legions of women who have been relegated to the status of unmarriageable social pariahs who would beg to differ. 

God has stated that the basis for virtue with Him is piety; not tribe, race, or national origin. (49:13) The Prophet reminded us that God does not look at our physical forms, or at our wealth. Rather, He looks at our hearts and our deeds. (Muslim) We debase ourselves when we exalt what God has belittled. God and His messenger have belittled skin colour and body shape and size as a designator of virtue or distinction. What does it say about us when we use these criteria as truncheons to painfully bludgeon some of the most beautiful women imaginable into social insignificance? 

Marriage is not a playground where the ego thoughtlessly pursues its vanities. This is something the chivalrous young man mentioned at the outset of this essay understood. It is an institution that helps a man and a woman pursue the purpose of their creation: to glorify and worship God and to work, within the extent of our capabilities and resources, to make the world a better place for those we share it with and for those we will leave it to. This role is beautifully captured in the Qur’an, “The believing men and women are the supporting friends of each other. They enjoin right, forbid wrong, establish regular prayer, pay the poor due, and they obey God and His Messenger. They expect God’s Mercy. Surely, God is Mighty, Wise.” (9:71) 

 

To read more Imam Zaid Shakir pieces, visit our Reflection Section




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Comments

32 Comments

1

Majed Jazairi

9 Aug 11, 11:53


Another wonderful article...

It's an uphill struggle changing perception...

Make God give you strength...

Thank you!

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2

laylaq

14 Apr 10, 21:28

Perhaps I live in a completely different world than all of you here! The girls in my town are DESPERATE to get married. They've been looking for suitors since we got to our 20s. I know nobody, absolutely nobody, who hasn't been seriously considering marriage at the age of 21. (I'd have to disagree with 18 being a suitable age for marriage. Have you been to a public high school in the US? Girls and boys are incredibly immature at that age.) The main problem is the brothers. Most of our brothers have gone to Islamic madrassas for education, but they are ALL the type who party and drink and have girlfriends. There are NO suitable boys to marry. What I've personally seen is that once they reach their late 20s they grow a beard and marry a nice virginal hijabi from out of town. Personally, I'm too afraid to go on one of those online nikkah websites or ISNA conventions to meet a guy for fifteen minutes and marry him, because I don't want to be that deceived 'out of town hijabi.'

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3

mary32

12 Apr 10, 23:58

Br. Mospeeda, thank you for your comments! I am a big fan of Imam Zaid Shakir, but I think he was off the mark this time. How about addressing the epidemic of sisters rejecting good, honest, stable brothers? And it's true, early on my fellow sisters reject good prospects but after some years, they get "desperate" and blame brothers for not marrying them!

BTW, no one is saying that sisters shouldn't be educated. The issue is that, as Mospeeda says, sisters put off marriage for years and years in order to be "uninterruped" with their studies. Then at age 26 or 27, desperation kicks in. Seriously, how many sisters would be willing to get married at 18 as a freshman in college? Not many. But just remember, 18 is really not an impractical age to get married at- society and parents have made it seem as though 18, 19, or 20 is too young. But that's okay- the side effect will only be a marriage crisis and fitnah...

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4

laylaq

11 Apr 10, 15:45

(Cont.)
Thank Allah she is in medical school, because where would that lead her life? She needs the career as a back up plan. And most of you brothers know that obtaining a mere bachelors degree is completely worthless in this economy!
Second, the problem I have had with getting married is that most of the brothers we find are ones that have been in prior relationships. I understand that I am not supposed to accuse one of committing zina, but I would prefer that I marry someone who has never been in any sort of relationship with the opposite sex. I think I deserve someone who has no experience just like me. Why is that so difficult to find?
Third, most of the brothers I find are just plain boring. They don't seem to contemplate Islam critically or approach religion spiritually. They are always the same manufactured product to me repeating the same mantras that they were told since they were 5 years old in Sunday School. Why are all Muslim men the same? Where are the intellectuals?

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5

laylaq

11 Apr 10, 15:40

I really loved Imam Zaid's post and thought it was brilliant. It deals with a lot of what I have been going through. I'm a 22 year old Muslimah, obtaining a professional degree. I know that's a shocker to some of your Br. Mospeeda supporters, but I would disagree with what he has to say. Many of my female friends have gotten married before or during their entrance into professional schools. The problem is that in today's society, especially with the economic climate, it is very difficult for a family to be financially stable with one breadwinner. It is almost a MUST for a woman to get a career, and increased education allows for more financial security. My sister just went through a nasty divorce, because the man lied and conveniently forgot to tell her he was schizophrenic. He mentally and physically abused her. She's one year older than me and now that she's a divorcee we ALL know here that she will most likely NEVER get married, even though the marriage wasn't consummated!

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6

laylaq

11 Apr 10, 15:39

I really loved Imam Zaid's post and thought it was brilliant. It deals with a lot of what I have been going through. I'm a 22 year old Muslimah, obtaining a professional degree. I know that's a shocker to some of your Br. Mospeeda supporters, but I would disagree with what he has to say. Many of my female friends have gotten married before or during their entrance into professional schools. The problem is that in today's society, especially with the economic climate, it is very difficult for a family to be financially stable with one breadwinner. It is almost a MUST for a woman to get a career, and increased education allows for more financial security. My sister just went through a nasty divorce, because the man lied and conveniently forgot to tell her he was schizophrenic. He mentally and physically abused her. She's one year older than me and now that she's a divorcee we ALL know here that she will most likely NEVER get married, even though the marriage wasn't consummated!

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7

laylaq

11 Apr 10, 15:38

I really loved Imam Zaid's post and thought it was brilliant. It deals with a lot of what I have been going through. I'm a 22 year old Muslimah, obtaining a professional degree. I know that's a shocker to some of your Br. Mospeeda supporters, but I would disagree with what he has to say. Many of my female friends have gotten married before or during their entrance into professional schools. The problem is that in today's society, especially with the economic climate, it is very difficult for a family to be financially stable with one breadwinner. It is almost a MUST for a woman to get a career, and increased education allows for more financial security. My sister just went through a nasty divorce, because the man lied and conveniently forgot to tell her he was schizophrenic. He mentally and physically abused her. She's one year older than me and now that she's a divorcee we ALL know here that she will most likely NEVER get married, even though the marriage wasn't consummated!

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8

TexanMuslima2010

10 Apr 10, 20:10

I am going to go out on a limb here and agree with everyone. I think every single comment on this article has some truth to it. If that is the case then it means the solution is not to change the opposite sex but to A.) Do a better job of matching up people based on common beliefs and sensitivities. B.) Educate both sides on their blind spots to get them closer to meeting in the middle on view points. C.) Defining what it means to be successful in Western/American marriages D.) Educating our children to better prepare them for marriage in our society through not only Islam101 but also Chivalry 101 for the boys, Home Economics 101 for both sexes, Communication 101 for both, Charm School 101 for the girls, and Financial Management 101 for both. Delusions of grandure? Perhaps.....

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9

TexanMuslima2010

10 Apr 10, 20:09

I am going to go out on a limb here and agree with everyone. I think every single comment on this article has some truth to it. If that is the case then it means the solution is not to change the opposite sex but to A.) Do a better job of matching up people based on common beliefs and sensitivities. B.) Educate both sides on their blind spots to get them closer to meeting in the middle on view points. C.) Defining what it means to be successful in Western/American marriages D.) Educating our children to better prepare them for marriage in our society through not only Islam101 but also Chivalry 101 for the boys, Home Economics 101 for both sexes, Communication 101 for both, Charm School 101 for the girls, and Financial Management 101 for both. Delusions of grandure? Perhaps.....

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10

Ahmad90

5 Apr 10, 22:40

continued

...something for the sake of Allah or for the sake of pleasing their spouse? Whatever happened to give-and-take and cooperation? What is the alternative if neither the male nor the female are Islamically responsible to these icky, shameful, and repulsive "domestic duties"?

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11

Ahmad90

5 Apr 10, 22:40

MashAllah Mospeeda, your reflections bring to light many issues that many are unfortunately too afraid to address. Also, may Allah reward you sister3, for being courageous enough to speaking truth. It is really sad when when I see American non-Muslims marrying and starting a family earlier than Muslims. I don't hear many American non-Muslim women complaining about their familial responsibilities. Why? Because the reality is that they are more practical. They have gotten past the allure of getting empty degrees, while we Muslims are in fact still behind and failing to prioritize our lives. A jumble of letters beside a person's name has become more important to us than the promise of Allah's reward to those who are good their wives and husbands and who raise upright Muslim children. When everyone is out frantically searching for their own rights, where does a relationship go? How can their be love between a man and woman when neither wants to go beyond their legal responsibilities and do

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12

Ahmad90

5 Apr 10, 22:39

MashAllah Mospeeda, your reflections bring to light many issues that many are unfortunately too afraid to address. Also, may Allah reward you sister3, for being courageous enough to speaking truth. It is really sad when when I see American non-Muslims marrying and starting a family earlier than Muslims. I don't hear many American non-Muslim women complaining about their familial responsibilities. Why? Because the reality is that they are more practical. They have gotten past the allure of getting empty degrees, while we Muslims are in fact still behind and failing to prioritize our lives. A jumble of letters beside a person's name has become more important to us than the promise of Allah's reward to those who are good their wives and husbands and who raise upright Muslim children. When everyone is out frantically searching for their own rights, where does a relationship go? How can their be love between a man and woman when neither wants to go beyond their legal responsibilities and do

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13

Ahmad90

5 Apr 10, 22:39

MashAllah Mospeeda, your reflections bring to light many issues that many are unfortunately too afraid to address. Also, may Allah reward you sister3, for being courageous enough to speaking truth. It is really sad when when I see American non-Muslims marrying and starting a family earlier than Muslims. I don't hear many American non-Muslim women complaining about their familial responsibilities. Why? Because the reality is that they are more practical. They have gotten past the allure of getting empty degrees, while we Muslims are in fact still behind and failing to prioritize our lives. A jumble of letters beside a person's name has become more important to us than the promise of Allah's reward to those who are good their wives and husbands and who raise upright Muslim children. When everyone is out frantically searching for their own rights, where does a relationship go? How can their be love between a man and woman when neither wants to go beyond their legal responsibilities and do

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14

sister3

5 Apr 10, 22:19

Br. Mospeeda, thank you. I am a muslim american sister who alhamdulillah was able to get married early on. Many of my friends rejected proposals from honest and good brothers because, precisely as Mospeeda says, they saw it as a hinderance (eg in terms of losing "freedom" and education...). Now that they've finished their MDs, DDS, and masters, they are desperate to find brothers... How do you expect brothers to get married early if sisters don't want to get married early? A big part of this problem of marriage falls on sisters as well. Allahu a'lam.

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15

Meeeha

5 Apr 10, 18:35

The one thing I'd like to address is to Br. Mospeeda: "Domestic duties"? This is the crux of the matter for many sisters & brothers. Too many brothers--some who have even asked for me--expect a sister to miraculously hold up a full-time job (b/c let's face it, in this economy, most households need 2 incomes) & still commit fully to their "domestic duties." Meanwhile, Islam never gave me domestic duties. No hadith or ayah said "And get thee women to the kitchen."
This is not an issue of feminism, which so many brothers address w/ disdain. B/c the Prophet was a feminist. Islam is inherently feminist, & thats hardly debatable. (Cue those who will now take that as a personal challenge to debate Islam's feminist qualities.)
Its an issue of "duties." Islam never put domestic duties on women, I dont see why many brothers insist that it does & thats what makes a good wife. The Prophet made his own bread, & washed his own clothes. If more brothers followed his sunnah, more sisters would marry.

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16

Ahme

5 Apr 10, 06:58

All I can say: jazakallahu khair Mospeeda. Ppl really need to read Mospeeda's comments as they are very true...

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17

cowgirl

2 Apr 10, 15:54

I strongly disagree with your statement Spiderman,
"Regarding your last comment, our older unmarried
sisters should be respected. You know nothing of
the piety or life experiences of those women." I do
know a lot of unmarried women in their mid to late
thirties who now are having difficulty getting
married. Many of these women are happy living a
single life, socialising, travelling, working late
because they see the idea of marriage and raising
children as a hinderance to their lifestye. While I
am sure there are pious religious Muslim women
who cannot find a partner I believe they are in the
minority and living the 'single lifestyle. I think the
writer is in denial if he cannot see that this is
happening. Marriage is a compromise and both
men and women need to understand that sacrifices
need to be made. There is absolutely no reason
why a women cannot further her education or have
a career whilst married. Sure, sacrifices have to be
made but that is the whole idea of marria

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18

cowgirl

2 Apr 10, 15:52

I strongly disagree with your statement Spiderman,
"Regarding your last comment, our older unmarried
sisters should be respected. You know nothing of
the piety or life experiences of those women." I do
know a lot of unmarried women in their mid to late
thirties who now are having difficulty getting
married. Many of these women are happy living a
single life, socialising, travelling, working late
because they see the idea of marriage and raising
children as a hinderance to their lifestye. While I
am sure there are pious religious Muslim women
who cannot find a partner I believe they are in the
minority and living the 'single lifestyle. I think the
writer is in denial if he cannot see that this is
happening. Marriage is a compromise and both
men and women need to understand that sacrifices
need to be made. There is absolutely no reason
why a women cannot further her education or have
a career whilst married. Sure, sacrifices have to be
made but that is the whole idea of marria

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19

MsMuhiyadin

2 Apr 10, 06:06

what he is saying is the truth. So what if a woman rather finish her education before getting married, Women should be applauded not appalled. When they finish their education they can go on to marry and raise beautifull children because now they have education to be able to home school children, they can provide for their families if god forbid something bad happened to their husbands. They will be strong enough and assertive enough to to stay stead fast in their deen and no compromise to societies needs. It should be a compliment and honor to have a strong minded sister, in todays world we need that.
Masha Allah Imaan may Allah bless you for your knowledge Ameen.

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20

saed

1 Apr 10, 23:18

(cont. from prev post)
I'm not here to play the blame game, but, with repect to Imam Shakir, I don't think he (and most scholars and speakers in this country) is seeing the entire picture. And in fact, this rhetoric, in my mind, is making the situation worse. Certainly there are many sisters who really want to get married young but aren't able to for a variety of reasons, but I also know that there are many sisters who see marriage early on as a hinderance and an obstacle to their professional dreams.
-As a final point, I heard this comment being made by a young sister at a halaqa event (along these lines...): "why should I (at age 18) get married, when I'm having the time of my life in college, am able to have fun with all of my girlfriends whenever I want, and am able to focus on my education."

The pt is, again, many sisters think a) they are too young to get married, and b) see marriage as a hinderance. And once they get older, they complain that no one in marrying them...

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