The Marriage Project: A Project Nation
In my career as an instructor of “Fiqh of Love” and “Love Notes” with AlMaghrib Institute, the activity and survey sessions conducted in the class environment included many personal questions submitted by students (both men and women), regarding marriage and marital life. Through this, and the overwhelming marriage counseling sessions and advices given in the course of the past four to five years, I was able to collect enough data and statistics to open a window on the status of social life in the Muslim community in America and provide an insight into the crisis of marriage we face here. The findings com from multiple locations all around the country including places such as Houston, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, The Bay Area and elsewhere – and the results were startling. The marriage crisis is a big crisis indeed, and while many of our respected older generation are unaware of it, or at least act like that, the youth were left helpless and sometimes hopeless.
In my lecture at Ilmfest in NY “The Crisis of Marriage” back in March 2008, I attempted to speak for the youth, voice their concern and highlight some of these findings, which I’m working on publishing as a separate research insha’Allah. Many of these problems fall into systematic categories that can be summarized into three:
1. Conventional -mixed- views of marriage.
This includes, but not exclusively, issues such as ideals of love and marriage, the premarital life and experience and the determination of readiness in terms of education, career and finances.
2. Gender issues (and yes we do have a gender issue in the Muslim community).
This in this age is a natural contribution of the western culture to the American Muslim community. It includes issues of feminism, gender expectations, sexuality and marriage patterns especially egalitarian marriage and its challenge to the traditional Islamic version of patriarchy.
3. The cultural expectations.
We cannot deny the existence of at least two generations from two different cultures widely misconstrued as one culture, first generation of Muslim immigrants and the second generation of Muslims who were born or grew up in America.
The Muslim community in America is also one of the, if not the most, diverse community in America in terms of ethnicity, race, culture, education, economy, background and religious affiliation (on juristic, political and sometimes sectarian ground). With all this diversity and without getting into the details of this matter, different cultural expectations arise.
Parents (for too many different reasons) are unfortunately rated as the number one reason why too many men and women are delaying their marriages. Surveying the youth, they admit that once they hit the road of career -per their parent’s demands- and pass the emotional cycle of love and enamor, the desire for marriage becomes for no more than a social requirement that influences their choice. Hence the decision for marriage is usually pragmatic. These marriages are what I call ‘Technical Marriages’ and many people today are technically married but not wholeheartedly married. Some decide to delay their marriages further fearing they might fall into this abyss of technical marriage not realizing that by doing so are increasing their chances of falling into it.
One other crisis facing the Muslim community largely overlooked by many observers is the issue of sustaining the few marriages available among the youth in America and the West. There is an illusive feeling of satisfaction among the crowd that once the marriage is done, the job is also done. Well, not so fast.
One of the very famous statements repeated in my love and marriage lectures is when you decide to get married: “Never Make Failure an Option” i.e. do not just try it; commit to it and put all your heart and effort into make it successful. Your spouse does not come with a 30 day return policy or ‘satisfaction guaranteed’, so stop whining and do not waste your time looking for the 1-800 number on your marriage contract…you won’t find it.
The divorce rate among Muslim families is higher than it should be, and higher than it used to be. Muslims who once were proud of their marriage institution as one of the most successful in the world can no longer take pride in that. We are facing a serious problem here; “Divorce.” It seems that most of the solutions presented to the market are focusing on one single issue, initiating the marriage. Now that I’m married, as someone might say, what shall I do next? That’s a question that many matrimonial services do not answer and hence increase the chances of divorce.
Many young men and women are left to experience marital life on their own once they initiate the marriage, thinking that if my parents managed their life, I can do so as well. The complexity of our time and life does not permit this simplicity anymore. There has to be a premarital education plan for those who are seriously thinking about marriage, and truly it should also include those who are not serious at all as well. Let them learn to be serious for once. Special programs, and that is another challenge by itself, should also be designed to educated parents – the in-laws to be.
This educational program should include, besides the conventional lectures on marital relations, topics pertinent to spiritual life after marriage, parenting in the west, economics and finances of marriage, psychology of marriage, the sociality of marital life and any area that experts believe essential to build a healthy marital life. Remember that sooner or later you will at least have to deal with the delicate issue of the in-laws. In short even marriage requires ‘coaching’. Our youth need ‘Marriage Coach’ services for at least the first year of marriage.
Once the marriage is been established and life starts going smooth for the first year, change will begin. Some changes happen rapidly and faster than the couple can comprehend in a timely manner, for instance a newborn child. Once this rapid change settles down – the child starts going to PK school – it becomes a new norm and the change turns slow and creating a routine. This, as it sounds, brings boredom to the marital life. Both scenarios put too much pressure on the family and cause lots of problems. The solution?! Regular or conscious marriage counseling. Muslims inherited the cultural bias against marriage counseling as a mean of intrusion. For some, a marriage that requires counseling is not worth saving. This view has to change and a professional ‘Muslim Counseling’ needs to be developed on national level.
My proposal for a solution, therefore, lies in developing three services:
- Practical and realistic eHarmony Islamic style ‘Matrimonial Services’ with clear comprehensive criteria.
- ‘Marriage Coaching’ educational service that springs from Islamic teachings and Muslim culture.
- Long term ‘Marriage Counseling’ to handle sever scenarios of difficult marriages.
As ambitious and idealistic this project might appear, I do not see it impossible to achieve, but it requires the participation of diverse sectors of the Muslim community in America and the West. This is not a one local Imam job or a single Islamic center or organization work. It’s a polycentric Islamic social movement on a national level that should involve think tanks and experts of multi groups of Imams, psychologists, sociologists, economists, educators, community leaders, parents and many more, and most importantly ‘the youth’. It is ‘A Project Nation’ – a Marriage Project.
Discussing the details of this project is beyond the scope of this article, but I hope by bringing this issue up for discussion we can further contribute to the solution.