What Black American Muslim Women Are Reading, Isn’t it Fascinating?

It’s not just Black American Muslim women, but a number of college educated Muslim women are reading this book. No, they are not reading some Muslim feminist manifesto outlining the steps to unreading patriarchal interpretations of proper gender relations. They are not forming study groups to closely read Nawal Sadawi or Fatima Mernissi. They’re not even studying Amina Wadud or Asma Barlas. No, the are reading a book written in the 60s by a Mormon woman–Fascinating Womanhood. I’ve met half a dozen Muslim women who personally swear by it. FW is their marriage manual.

It has been nearly a decade since I went through my phase of reading popular psychology and self-help relationship books. I had read several books, including John Gray’s Men are from Mars Women are from Venus and Deborah Tannen’s You Just don’t Understand, Women and Men in Conversation, to try to get a grasp on the different ways men and women interact. My quest for understanding reflected my desire to improve myself, as well as my relationships. My life circumstances changed, and I focused on myself. I wanted to improve my condition by finding a purposeful life and pursuing my dreams. But that’s another story. Needless to say, I’ve am skeptical of any book or program that makes broad sweeping guarantees of transforming your life.

In the 90s, I was really into understanding relationships. I even took a Fiqh of marriage class. Those classes agitated some brothers. They were taught by traditional scholars who taught women their traditional rights in Islam. As any of us Muslim know and one of my Muslim professors affirmed, Muslim women are not even granted their rights accorded to them in Shari’ah. So, when women would march home demanding their rights and telling their husbands that they were not obligated to do housework, some husbands tried to ban their wives from attending classes. Back then I devoured the gender equity in Islam literature, along with fiqh books. It was all about my pursuit of the Islamic ideals of marriage and gender relations. But I also wanted to break the cycle in the Black community, raise a healthy family by beginning with a solid marriage.

In my peer group, I was one of the first waves to get married. So, relationships were new for many of them. And for many of us coverts, serious relationships were just as new. Marriage was a whole new territory. At the same time, it was an exciting and new topic. We were full of ideals and we talked about relationships constantly. I think one friend had ordered a whole series of relationship tapes. I knew she was trying to gain the upper hand in that engagement, to be able to get what she wanted without direct confrontation. After that engagement failed, we never really talked about the self-help literature after that. So years passed by and all that men are from another planet stuff went by the way side.

This past year I began mingling in my old Muslim circles and finding myself in new ones, I found that FW was a hot topic of discussion. Most of my friends are married, some for almost a decade and others more recently. A few of my friends are divorced, some within the past few months and others have remained single for almost a decade. You get women together and we are going to talk about relationships. So, this book came up. I first heard of it from a friend who hated it. But just last night, a young woman swore by it. So I asked my friend what did she think. She said that even though she was unable to apply the principles, she believed that’s how things worked. I began to look it up, to see what other Muslims thought of it. It looks like a number of Sheikh Nuh Keller’s female students were reading this book.
The website, “Marriage the Fascinating Way” states:

Muslim women, for example, claim that the teachings of FW are fundamental to their religion, and found in their book of instruction, the Koran. Women of the ancient Shinto and Buddha faiths make similar claims and Jewish women rely on teachings found in the Old Testament. The Mennonite and Amish women also claim that FW is supported by their strict Christian doctrine.

One well read Muslim woman blogger wrote:

fascinating womanhood by Helen Adeline , ok this book taught me all about men , it beats men are from mars and woman are from Venus , this book I would recommend it to anyone if they want to know how to win their husbands heart . It totally destroyed my feminist ideas and views. Oh and it actually works.

Surprising I found a number of Black American Muslim who read the book did not dismiss it outright. These sisters believed in the principles and they were applying it to their lives. What makes it so interesting is that their views on femininity contrasts with the negative perception that Black women are these independent, domineering, emasculating, ball busting hell on wheels types. I know dozens of Black American Muslim women who are the Martha Stewart types. They are baking, doing crafts, sewing, educating children in the home. They are articulate, charming, soulful, and beautiful. They are smart dynamic women with a wide range of skill sets, from business to engineering as well as cooking. Almost all these women keep immaculate homes and devote a great deal of attention to rearing their children. The second wave feminists dismiss their contributions. But I read one Black woman intellectual write that the form of feminism dominated pitted Black women against Black men. It undermined the solidarity of the Black nationalist movement. But these women are beyond the nationalism phase. They are trying to find a way to rebuild families and healthy relationships. These women are trying to do something that we have seen fail in those earlier movements. They are promoting a revolutionary agenda by being conservative and maintaining traditional values. Now, that’s a fascinating read.

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20 thoughts on “What Black American Muslim Women Are Reading, Isn’t it Fascinating?

  1. intresting ! , that book really did work , but sadly I have a lot of issues going through me were It has led me to not love my husband . FW is not complete;ly easy to apply , I realized that being a wife ( that goes same for men) you need to let go of your ego ,and realize being married is not based on FIQH rules , yes their are the basic rights of each other , but it is about love and mercy for one another and letting go , it is not about ‘well you over stepped my rights I will ask allah to punish you for it ‘ , honestly life does not work like that .

    Really that is what is missing from even non marital relationships , lack of love and mercy . We have onelife and one life live it for allah .

    ps. it is sad that only sufis ( sheikh nuh ) do this I wish to see more salafis to be more intrested in what non muslims have to say . I pray we start to have more muslim woman writing great marital self help books ameen .

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  2. I must say, good post!

    Hmmm, self help books huh? I don’t want to go on a tirade, suffice it to say that I don’t think too highly of self help books. In fact, in the last few years I’ve come to think fairly dimly about the whole counseling/therapy thing. Going to therapy if you have genuine mental illness to deal with, but now I’m beginning to notice a whole bunch of fairly well balanced individuals who are going to therapy like its a normal part of their everyday lives. Don’t get me wrong, I went through a number of brief phases myself where I sought out therapy, but I’m seeing individuals attend therapy way beyond what they ‘need’. The action of the therapist is changing from helping you through a tough time to being somewhat akin to your best friend/guru. And you’re paying these people so there’s a conflict of interest thing there as well.

    There’s a great line in Crocodile Dundee where Linda Kozlowski’s characters tells Mick Dundee that some person they just met goes to a therapist. Mick Dundee asks what for, and she says to talk about problems in their life etc. Mick Dundee responds with “Hasn’t she got any mates?”. What a classic line, yet so poignant.

    Biases aside, I wouldn’t totally dismiss therapy or self help books, but grain of salt please! I think the best way to learn is experiential, go out there, be prepared to fail a little, and learn on the go. Psychology, and anything that so called science deems normal is based on averages. Statistics don’t mean jack when you’re in the middle of the situation yourself.

    As a flipside to the books mentioned, I should note that I learned a lot of things about women from Chris Rock, Dave Chapelle, Homer Simpson and Al Bundy (Married with Children). If I was to try and condense it all down to one sentence and give advice to men about women is that your first mistake is trying to understand women.

    However, I don’t know if my experiences fit well within the rest of the Muslim diaspora. Being a Turk puts you in a strange place within the rest of the community. There isn’t as much patriarchy within Turkish culture (although you do get a wide variety of different situations), and most of the women that I’m related to are quite determined strong types. However, anyone married to a Turk (especially a male Turk) ends up having to deal with the “I’m the conqueror” attitude.

    One thing that I have noticed in Turkish/Mediterranean relationships is that we tend to be less concerned about getting into a confrontational situation. I have been in relationships with White/European women and they were horrified about arguments/disagreements. Unfortunately for me, I like to discuss occasional issues louder than normal. In my mind, a relationship without regular disagreements isn’t a relationship, its one being dominant over the other. So people, for God’s sake, have confidence in your relationship and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself when necessary.

    Though I could go on forever, I want to make one final comment. I’m all for gender equality, but there is one thing that men and women will never be equal on, and that is carrying a baby. Men can do housework, men can cook, clean etc etc, but a man is never going to able to carry a baby for 9 months. And that will have its consequences. It may mean putting a career on hold just as you’re getting somewhere, it may mean giving up a good chunk of your life and making sacrifices, and unfortunately the man in your life will not be able to do that (though he can aid by giving the right kind of support etc). What I’m trying to say might sound stupid, but the simple act of conception has different impacts on either gender, and some parts of that will never be equal or able to be shared.

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  3. Because my husband, mother and other dear friends work the social work/therapy field I may be a bit biased ; ) Not to mention the fact that his training makes my husband the most attentive listener I’ve ever met.

    Anyway, Margari I’ve never heard of this book but I can definitely relate to the search for a balanced womanhood as this has been my journey for many years. I do enjoy my home life and my intellectual life. Most importantly, they inform each other in often interesting ways because I love being a wife (a Muslim wife) and working in/through the university. The central problem is often how hostile the academic environment can be to women who want to be mothers and wives. The double standard is horrendous.

    My undergraduate training was heavily based in feminist theory and I’ve spent many years sorting out the life I want to lead as a Muslim, African-American woman. At this point in my life, I’m probably like the women that you mention in your blog; unapologetically charting a path based on my own sense of wholeness not on another woman’s idea of what makes me liberated or intelligent. It is so freeing!!!

    As usual, your blogs are thoughtful and timely. I appreciate your voice and insights.

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  4. I read Fascinating Womanhood some years ago. I picked it up for kicks, as I was not even thinking of marriage at the time. There’s alot of good advice in there and any woman would be well-advised to at least read the book and consider what the author has to say.

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  5. It is unfortunate that the gate keepers of Islamic knowledge (Arabic-speaking male publishers) do not hasten to fulfill the intellectual/spiritual/emotional/whatever literary needs of English-speaking Muslim women. Dr.Laura Schleshinger’s books were being passed around here amongst sisters for a while…even if their is valuable insights in her books-I just can’t read her as she is such a Muslim-hater…and Mormons…c’mon…why are we being backed into this corner?
    Granted, I read plenty of child-rearing, pedagogy and tons of other non-fiction non-Muslim books, but I spent over two hours this morning trying to download one measly chapter from a “soon-to-be-released” Islamic book and I am just eager! English-speaking women are coming into the deen in droves, alhumdiallah, and we need MORE literature…and yes, I (most of us) would love to learn Arabic, inshallah…
    Love and Peace,
    ~Brooke

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  6. yeah know their should be a book called ‘facinating manhood ‘ !lol

    the downside of fw, is that it relys on woman to do the job , wherease men are from and woman are from venus , it is the couple together doing the work .

    by the way I am not african american , im iraqi living in the uk , I noticed the post was about african americans . I have been reading quite a few blogs on the issues that african americans have to go through , I even read one post about how african american men are going to morroco to get married . er sorry off the topic ๐Ÿ˜›

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  7. BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    as-salaamu ‘alaikum. Margari I really liked this post ๐Ÿ™‚ . Marriage is one of those topics that most adults have a hand in. And even if one is not married, one may still have valid feelings about marriage, one way or another.

    One thing of note, that you wrote, was this passage,

    “What makes it so interesting is that their views on femininity contrasts with the negative perception that Black women are these independent, domineering, emasculating, ball busting hell on wheels types. I know dozens of Black American Muslim women who are the Martha Stewart types.”

    I would agree, that there are a number of Black women across America that are Martha Stewart types. But being a Martha Stewart type says nothing about how a woman behaves with respect to her husband. And although baking, doing crafts, sewing, educating children, being smart, dynamic, beautiful and charming are great qualities, however they say nothing about the way a woman acts toward the opposite sex and more specifically in her marriage with her husband.

    What does FW say about how a woman should interact with her husband. For example, when taking a position of disagreement, what is the book suggesting?

    -Saifuddin

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  8. BismillaharRahmanirRahim

    as-salaamu ‘alaikum. I see… the “Surrendered Wife” is a pretty good book IMHO. I also like Dr. Laura Schlesinger’s “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands”, I know the title is… well… quirky, but its got some good insight. Much of it seems to be taken from traditional Jewish wisdoms on marriage.

    -Saifuddin

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  9. Pingback: Sister Margari Got Me Thinking « Umar Lee

  10. Wow! Stimulating post and comments. I am a big self-help book reader and as a newly wed I think I’ll check this book out.

    ma’a salaamah,

    ha

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  11. Salaam ‘Alaikum

    Just a few notes… when recommending FW to Muslimas, Sheikh Nuh, his wife, and Umm Khair Hedaya Hartford (who has lectured on this book numerous times) all tell sisters not to take everything from it. Take what benefits you and leave what doesn’t.

    I read it and was bothered by some of it. At the same time, there are some really valuable pieces of advice in it, and those things have nothing to do with being surrendered or anti-feminist. It’s about simple respect for another human being. I found that this advice can even apply in your relationships with people other than your husband. I found the same with “Care and Feeding.” I’m not a Dr. Laura fan by a long shot, but there is some common sense stuff in there about how to treat a fellow human being.

    I personally would not have found much value in FW if I hadn’t been sitting with Umm Khair at the same time. Umm Khair told me that she has been trying to work with communities to set up programs teaching newlyweds or singles how to start off on the right foot, build a strong marriage that is pleasing to Allah, etc. but there is simply not the willpower or the motivation to do the work among our community leaders. If someone is motivated to pick up a book on their own, then that’s a good thing.

    Ultimately, if you are not pleasing Allah in your marriage and the way you conduct yourself with your spouse, then what’s the point? As many people have written lately, we really have to learn to jettison cultural nonsense (and this includes ethnic Muslim stuff) when it means that we are treating our spouse in a manner that is not pleasing to our Creator. (this goes for men as well as women, which is why I say “spouse”).

    Also, I think there is a Fascinating Manhood book out there. I think it was written by FW writer’s husband or something.

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  12. I have read and benefited in different ways from FW, The Surrendered Wife, and Woman as Chameleon. I dont agree with everything in them as some conflicts with my faith / values / what I’m personally comfortable with. I dont think they are anti-feminist as much as recognizing ways of benefiting from differences in male-female functioning rather than denouncing them as obstacles on the way to some notion of equality of behaviours of the sexes. From a theoretical point of view I guess they could be seen as essentializing m/f differences, but as I say I personally found them helpful and eye-opening in a day-to-day practical sense in the contemporary context. From SW I got the notion of complementarity based on respect for traditional roles “turning up the gender contrast” as she puts it. WAC on the other hand was a complete eye opener to me as a newly married 22 year old. It deals with the whole intimate side of marriage – stuff that I could not and really would not be able to ask any other woman, no matter how close, about men – and what I got from it was basically that men are visually driven creatures that crave variety in physical relations and the appeance of their wife. She recommends frequent changes of hair / makeup / looks to keep a husband interested. Some of the stuff she talks about was not just counter-intuitive to me but completely off my radar. One example: she asserts in the book that husbands will respond well to a wife that dresses young (ie childish) around the house – she doesnt recommend it for outdoors just around the house. I had thought that men responded more to the whole lingerie & ho-shoes thing, and in fact I was a bit ‘eew’ about it. But anyway one day I did as WAC recommends (plaits and ribbons, mary janes, ‘cute’ dress etc) My husband’s reaction when he got home was like an illustration of the saying ‘his jaw dropped!’ It worked for me. Enough said. I have to say that for me these kind of books do address and help understanding men and particularly for those of us that are shy to discuss such things with others – I know I am. But they have to be filtered. WAC recommends complying with pretty much any sexual desire that a husband has. Of course for me / us certain practices are out on faith grounds. But for other things that are harmless to try in a marriage they can lead to new understandings, practices and ideas that enrich a marriage spiritually and physically.

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  13. Asallaam alakum,
    I am one of those sisters who swear by this book. My Mother-in- Law passed it on to me at the perfect time. Needless to say, her son still has a wife. I often go back to it in times of need.

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  14. Hey. I’m glad i came across your blog. Im a 15 yr old black girl born in brooklyn raised in VA. this past year has been the worst of my life. I’ve recently found refuge in the Islam religion. when i thought all else had failed. If you dont mind im looking for some guidance and support in becoming muslim, and fully embracing it.

    -kW.

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