Sunday, March 11, 2012

Guide me to heaven.

There have been more friends than I can count off one hand (maybe even two hands) that have gotten married in the past year. Sometimes, it seems like marriage is just one of those things that happen after graduating with a bachelor's and working for a year or two. Especially if they have been with the other person since their undergraduate days.

But today I don't want to talk about marriage as a predictable life phase, I want to talk about one of the reasons some people marry. Several young women have said that they are not looking for a soul mate, but they are looking for someone to 'guide' and 'help' them get to heaven.

Waitaminnit. So women are helping men get into heaven, but they can't get to heaven by themselves?

Better to say that women are 'garments' for men and men are 'garments' for women (2:187). The word in Arabic for 'garment' is libaas, used literally to refer to clothing: used to cover our private parts (7:26-7), for decoration (7:26, 22:23, 35:33) to protect us physically during fighting (21:80). As metaphorical clothing, one could also wear the libaas of taqwa (righteousness, piety).

Libaas is also used as metaphors for nighttime, as a time for sleep and rest (25:47, 78:10), and the spread of  hunger and fear in a town, because the people in this town did not share their abundant provisions with their needy (16:112). Here the word has the idea of a comprehensive phenomena.

Getting back to the use of libaas to refer to spouses, perhaps we can look at it with a wider perspective. The idea of a metaphorical garment goes beyond protecting one another from sin (as is commonly promoted). A spouse works to be protective in many aspects: spiritual, financial, psychological, physical. Being with someone legally in the eyes of God will not prevent adultery, but you can at least be happy to know that someone likes you enough to stay with you (for a long time you hope!).

It's no secret that living together with someone else economises much of your spending needs, and having someone to talk to everyday is like having a therapist, but for free (haha!). And if you need a workout buddy, who else but the person you'll share your sleeping and eating habits with?

So clearly, we help each other live a full, useful, and balanced life, and then hopefully to go to heaven together too. However, I find that much of conventional Islam emphasises the guidance that the man must give the women in his life, and the sacrifice that the woman must make for the men in her life. Women are often also framed in relation to the men around her and the 'roles' she must play in each of these relations, whereas for men, this is not often the case.

It's like hoping to marry Prince Charming; that by marrying the right person, we will automatically solve all of our problems. I don't agree with women who look for the most religious (looking) man around to marry, to guarantee themselves guidance and by default, heaven. I also don't agree with men who insist on their wives wearing headscarves for the same reason. At the very simplest level, it's imbuing normal people with power and symbolism, giving them authority which they do not have otherwise.

2 comments:

qrratugai said...

Thank you for writing this post! I agree with and like especially this part: "Women are often also framed in relation to the men around her and the 'roles' she must play in each of these relations, whereas for men, this is not often the case."

So glad you pointed it out!

Not sure how much I agree with this part, though: "However, I find that much of conventional Islam emphasises the guidance that the man must give the women in his life, and the sacrifice that the woman must make for the men in her life." If by conventional Islam, you mean traditional Muslim societies worldwide, I fully agree; if you mean Islam as in Islamic law or Islamic exegesis, I would hardly agree. But then again, according to Islamic law, the woman really can't do anything except with the permission/consent of her husband, and this includes working, visiting her parents, etc. She just theoretically doesn't have ANY obligations other than being sexually available to her husband any time he demands it, whether she's in the mood or not.

By the way, there's one other meaning of the "garments for each other" phrase that a Gender, Sexuality, and Islam professor pointed out last year. I'm going to review it with him first, though, and once I'm sure he meant what I think he meant, I'll share it here.

Sya said...

I meant 'traditional Muslim societies', but I can never find the most satisfactory term for this. :)

Would love to hear more about the other meanings of 'garments'! Exploring words in the Qur'an is still new for me, and more information is always appreciated.

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