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.