I haven’t written a short story in years. Inspired by reading “Living Islam Out Loud” I decided to try to place myself in the brothers’ shoes. Let’s see what happens when Islam is used to oppress the male gender (second revision 8/14/2008):
In a masjid somewhere in America, two Muslim brothers sat in a musallah after the Maghrib prayer. With a sense of urgency, most of the other brothers shuffled out, jumped in their cars, and headed home. But these two brothers lingered a bit longer. They had recently become regulars. At this particular masjid, only a handful of the brothers attended the daily prayers regularly, like the owner of cell phone shop down the block who also lived 15 minutes away, the building caretaker who was rumored to have a cot in one of the utility closets despite having a home a lovely family in distant suburb, and the brother who always saw jinn in everyone’s eyes. He was crazy enough that he didn’t need to work, but spent his days thumbing through Sahih Bukhari looking for proofs and signs of the Last Days. Then there were commuting brothers who came for Friday Jumu’ah. The ones who came for Maghrib prayers dropped by the masjid on their way home. For them, the masjid was a buffer between the high paced demands of the workforce and the relentless demands of their families.
For the most part, it remained unspoken, but the musallah was a place of respite for all weary, lonely, and even the few crazy brothers. Not only did they fulfill a duty incumbent upon the Muslim community by attending the masjid, but they found solidarity. They were not alone in carrying their burdens. The whole society looked down upon them as villains and oppressors. Yes, maintaining their manhood and dignity in a world that vilified them was often hard to do. Even the partition wall behind them reminding them that even the Muslims saw them as sexual beasts and and all Muslim women needed to be rescued and protected from the Muslim male threat. No one discussed how heavy male gender definitions could be. They were the protectors, the providers, the guardians, the gatekeepers, the initiators, the listeners, the doers, the deciders, the leaders, and the supporters. Everyone made demands for their time, the mothers, wives, children, extended family, co-workers, bosses, even the Muslim community, everyone. But there were times when only the handful of mosque regulars seemed happy to see them. In the masjid they could have some peace of mind. Their wives, children, and families could not fault them. Establishing salah at the masjid could never be considered a blameworthy thing. Thus the masjid was a refuge where these brothers could consolation and solidarity in the silence, as they remembered their Lord in unison.
One day burdened with the shame and humiliation that he had long endured, one of the brothers finally broke his silence and turned to his friend: “Ya Akhi, please make du’a for me. I’m asking Our Lord to give me strength.”
“May Allah make it easy on you, brother,” the other replied, sensing his brother’s verge of emotional collapse. He urged him to open up.
The brother seemed reluctant to share his burden, but with some prodding he finally said: “Marriage is hard, akhi. I have prayed istikhara I don’t know what to do. ”
“Have you talked to the Imam, brother?” The other asked.
The brother lowered his voice: “I’m not even sure if he’s going to be able to help me.”
“Brother, this is all new. You seemed so happy at the iftar this Ramadan. Masha’Allah, brother, your deen seems so strong, you are representing the faith well with your courage to dress sunnah. My wife commented on how well your family seemed to be doing.”
“Ya Akhi!! Please can I confide in you?”
“InshaAllah, please brother,” He gestured to the exit, “Let us step outside of the musallah.” The brother passed, looked around. “First I gotta call wifey to let her know I’m coming home late. She gets real sensitive when I don’t eat dinner while it’s hot. But I’ll tell her some crisis came up at the masjid. That’s telling the truth, right?”
“Right! My wife is going to be upset cause I should be doing stuff with the kids. I’m already in hot water akh.” So the two Muslim brothers walked out of the masjid. One brother called his wife and walked out of earshot.
Ten minutes later, he returned to his friend with a distressed look on his face. It was clear he had been chewed out. “Okay brother, this has better be serious. Im dead meat when I get home. Ya Rubi!”
As they walked to the car, the troubled brother burst out: “This whole Islam thing is supposed to make you help you feel whole, like a man…but…but….I feel emasculated.”
“Brother, what are you talking about? You clearly are the man of the household. Why does your wife insult you? Maybe you should correctly guide her to proper etiquette between husband and wife. Have her read….umm…that book something about Muslim marriage. You know,
Gender Equity and not EqualityIslam teaches us that—”
“You see! That is the problem, akhi, she is using Islam to belittle me, to undermine me, to make me feel so inadequate! Basically undermining my manhood with all these rules!!”
“Oh no brother, she’s not one of those. She must have attended classes over at that center! I’ve been telling brothers to avoid sisters who frequent that place!”
Tears welled up in the brothers eyes: “Yes, she is. She’s no joke! Look you see this beard! You know I was clean shaven before I got married. She said she liked the way I looked when we first began courting. She started attending halaqas, then she took the marriage rights class….after that, everything changed. She said she was tired of representing Islam wearing full hijab while I blended in. After every night of her insulting me for saying I looked Western, like a little boy, like I hadn’t gone through puberty, I couldn’t take it anymore. She said I wasnt a true Muslim until I followed the Sunnah. She was right, clean shaven wasn’t Sunnah. So I grew this.” The brother pointed to his face.
“Brother, you should do things because you want to please Allah. You have to correct your intention.”
“But akhi, my beard is not good enough. She said that I must grow it long, long enough that I can grab it in my fist. She keeps telling me I am vain!! Of course my co-workers started looking at me funny. I’d come to work and they’d look at me like, ‘wha?…” I started getting profiled wherever I went. I now hardly go anywhere except from home, to work, to the masjid. At the same time, she started talking about my dress. She said I was imitating Westerners by wearing suits, slacks, dress shirts, jeans and t-shirts. She threw out all my clothes and said I have to wear either thobe or shewar khamis!! Now I am wearing the pajama pants all the time, Akhi! I had nothing else to wear at work. Of course this caused problems working at the advertising agency. Clients didn’t feel comfortable with me. They weren’t buying that religious freedom argument. Eventually I lost my job!!
“It doesn’t stop! She also criticized all the men who prayed with their heads uncovered. She told me it was not sunnah to go with my head uncovered. So now akhi I cannot leave the house without a kufi, turban, or kefiyya on my head. I have tried looking for a job, but the only place I can get a job is stocking cans in the local halal store!!”
“Wow brother, your wife is extreme. How are you holding up, financially. I mean do you need some help?”
“This has been a calamity!! Financially, though, things are going fine. She has begun working from the home. Her business is soaring. But now that I bring so little in, she says that I have relinquished many of my rights. Akhi, I have no rights in my own home! Now she says it is her home since she pays the rent. She is demanding her mahr. I have no money left! You know her family made me sign $10,000 for the marriage contract. She has made me pay back money for nursing our children. Four kids, times two years nursing each one of them, times 365 days of the year, times 4 hours a day, times thirty dollars an hour!! You do the math!! That was all of my savings. Now, my little bit of money goes for paying for a maid. She says she has no obligation to clean up. She tells me that she can go to the imam and divorce me just because she doesn’t like me. I mean, come on man! How I am supposed to feel like a man, like a human being under these circumstances!”
“Brother, may Allah make it easy on you. I have seen sisters use Islam to oppress their husbands. Can you keep a secret?”
“Of course Akhi!”
“Brother, sometimes, I don’t feel like a man either. My wife, man, my wife….oh this is so bad. Astaghfurfullah!! I know we’re not supposed to talk about what goes on with our spouses, but this is hard. You see, when we do it, she makes me keep going. She says that according to Islamic law I do not have permission to finish until she is satisfied. You see how hard I work. I’m tired sometimes and she never is. She then says I am a sorry husband for not fulfilling my duties. She sometimes says she can leave me, that she has a case according to this book she read on marriage law.”
“Ya akhi, that is hard. I didn’t know you were going through it.”
“That’s why I come to the masjid after Maghrib and hang out long past ‘Isha. I have to get reflect, meditate, get some rest before I head home and have to deal with her demands.”
The other brother sighed, knowing his misery was a part of a broader system of oppression, “Yes, that’s why I’m here, Akh.”
“Brother, don’t get me started. This stuff goes deep. Don’t get me started about my mother, whew!! Paradise lies at her feet sometimes. But wallahi, she makes me carry her on my back. No kidding, really like in the park sometimes and even in the mall!”
The brother sighed, “Ya akhi, I don’t know who has it worse, you or I?”
“Brother we both do. But our reputations would be ruined if we’d commit the most hated thing by Allah by divorcing our wives. I believe we will be rewarded in the next life is we just bear it.”
“Ya Rubi, surely with every difficulty comes ease.”
akhi: my brother
Ya Rub: My Lord
Astaghfurullah: God forgive me
(c) 2006 The Oppression of the Male Gender: Dialogue Between Two Muslim Brothers