November 25, 2012 By KC Saleem

Memoir of a Brave Muhajjiba

Shelina-Zahara-JanmuhammedOf supreme importance though it is, marriage is not given the gravity it deserves in our society. In the East, marriage is a social contract with religious and cultural significations and values. As for Islam, someone who is married has completed one third of his/her religious duties. For centuries, someone getting prepared for marriage considers his/her would-be’s faith, family, wealth, and beauty as criteria. Of these, the Prophet taught us to give more regard to faith.

Do those who are eager to get married take as much precaution and homework as they do as regards every issue of significance? That they don’t to a great extent is borne out by the rising divorce rates. Often, women are at the receiving end of hectically ‘arranged marriages’, where the tastes of boys are given more consideration. Once she develops her own conjugal ideas and perceptions, she would have become a mother. Then comes the exigency of living as a mother and wife in her priority. And she does not get a chance to correct the gravest error in her life.

In Islam marriage comes to effect in the form of a contract signed between the groom and the guardian of the bride in the presence of two witnesses. The contract carries with it the sanctity of inviolability so that it should be respected at all cost. The bride and groom reach the inviolable stand via the contract to live together for the rest of their life in peace and tranquility. It is assumed that they reach such a contract after mature deliberations. Such deliberations should also involve future programs of the two and the accommodation of the futures of one by the other. Since women are now more educated than they had ever been, the deliberation as regards future is of more importance. Love in a Headscarf written by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed (published by Aurum Press Limited, London, 2009, Indian Edition, Amaryllis, New Delhi-110003, 2010) deals with as grave an issue as this. Shelina Zahra is a graduate from Oxford University and is a columnist with EMEL Magazine and Muslim News. She also writes for Guardian, BBC and Channel Four. Her programs are regularly aired in television and radio. Her blog Spring 21 was voted for the Brass Crescent Award for the best blog in 2007.

She graciously narrates in the book her own ‘adventures’ to choose the right man in her life. The cover of the book itself testifies to her religious stand, the original edition carrying her photograph in pink headscarf and the Indian edition the photo of a girl in pink headscarf with symbols of love and camel. The book is a memoir of a scrupulous, brave and educated believer in search of a meet partner in her life. She ‘meets’ several people (in lieu of the custom of ‘meeting girl’ in oriental cultures). She vividly describes the preparations therefore: cooking tea and snacks; putting on make-up in front of mirror etc. She also narrates the interventions of those middle-aged fat women to spoil the prospects of women and thereby break their heart; her narration of the immaturity, impropriety and conceit of those who propose to her.

One ‘meeting’ was to be held with a man who fixed the appointment in the evening. He came two hours later, saying he was watching a cricket match on television. Aware as he was that the match would take one and half hours more, he had not informed her beforehand. He deliberately kept her waiting. Another proposal was that of a man who had earlier informed her of his refusal for a mere difference of 5 inches in height. Her father responded to this saying that a woman is not bought measuring her with a tape. She had another ill feeling from the same man, who had now become a dentist after being graduated in London and was handsome in features. Both of them had snacks and tea at a restaurant. The waiter handed the bill. She said she would pay the bill, which he did not agree. She placed half the amount. When the waiter returned the balance, the man pocketed the full amount, including hers.

Another one did not turn up in time. Waiting, she spotted a stranger looking at her. She turned her face from him and walked towards another direction. The stranger called her from behind. When she asked him how he came to know her name, he said he is supposed to be the man she was waiting for. ‘I was testing you if you would go after a handsome stranger,’ he said. The interesting meeting resulted in her decision not to receive such immature ones.

Shelina Zahra teaches us that we could measure the day-to-day behavior of people from brief encounters with them. Brief experiences could help her fully evaluate the man who married her.  She writes and thinks with a strong consciousness of her faith. The memoirs are woven around with strands of wisdom regarding courtesy and manners between people, especially the newly-weds, security, love, happiness and care partners should provide to each other, consciousness of one’s personality, and consciousness of freedom to build one’s own life etc. The right and freedom safeguarded by religion are reflected in book from its beginning to end.

She corrects the mistakes regarding the marital perception of Islam in a patriarchal social order, where the husband provides for the family, the wife maintains home and grow the children. As per the marital system of Islam, a woman is devoid of responsibilities to provide for her family. The man has to spend for the family, build a house for them and earn livelihood for them. If she thinks it necessary, she can be part of the expenditure. But she is not legally obliged. She is not supposed to maintain home, cook food and grow children. She is only supposed to be a good spouse to her husband. So she may alleviate his burden by doing jobs. Islam expects generosity of the married partners (page 117), the strong pillars of marriage in Islam are love and co-operation (page 138). She is free to earn wealth and should not give it to him when he forces (page 145).

She describes in charming words the rite of ablution Muslims take before the five-time prayer. When Muslims clean their body, it does not merely constitute physical cleaning, but the internal spiritual cleaning with the accompaniment of prayer:  Before every ritual prayer it was a requirement to wash certain parts of your body, not only for physical cleanliness, but also for symbolic spiritual purification. Each step had a prayer that accompanied it. I washed my mouth: please put sweet words onto my lips. I washed my face: let light shine from my face. The words made me feel focused and uplifted. I washed my arms between elbow and fingertips: let my hands do good, let them prevent bad deeds and injustice. I ran my fingers gently across the top of my head: when things get pressured, let me stay calm. Finally, I wiped my feet: let them walk me to places where I can do good. (page 99). She also says that she dresses neatly and charmingly. “God is charming; he loves charm.” She loves pink colur.

A memoir, the book enlightens readers in the affairs of religion. The book is a must read for girls and girls who dreams of a calm and pleasing family life and parents who can’t measure the mental horizons of their children.

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