By Mohja Kahf
“A secret locked” is supposed to mean, a Muslim woman’s beauty, which she has kept under her physical hijab, “A tale untold” is supposed to mean her personality which she has kept reserved with her inner hijab which is her sense of modesty Wedding Night of a Muslim Woman My secret locked, a tale untold,The only key, within your hand,
Too sacred for them to be hold, To pure for them to understand.
Tonight I tell that tale to you,An open book for you to read,Your book, I yearn to read it too,And share each breath, your every need.
Gone the lonesome years, weeks, days,For now our hearts have taken flight,
You look at me with longing gaze,And I, at you with shy delight.
Love me; love all that I am,Cherish me as precious treasure,
Teach me with gentle guiding handEndlessly seeking His pleasure.
Poem By Fatima Barkatulla
This poem is from Sisters Magazine
What did your wedding night mean to you? I wrote this a few days ago and tried to capture the feelings one has after ones wedding: that evening when for the first time I prayed with my husband, and spent my first hours with him. My wedding day and the early days or weeks after marriage were the dearest days of my life to me. Alhamdulillah since then Allah has given us even more depth to our relationship and has given us wonderful days too, but those early weeks, they are unique. And for a girl from a religious family, who had worn her hijab from the age of 9, it was a totally new experience. Alhamdulillah for the blessings of this life which give us a glimpse as to how wonderful the blessings of the next life might be…
Explanation of the poem: (just to prevent any misunderstandings!)
Well, actually it is about the beauty of Muslim Marriage in general, not just my own personal experience. And it is about how the Wedding Night is the first time that a Muslim couple get to really understand each other’s personalities.
“A secret locked” is supposed to mean, a Muslim woman’s beauty, which she has kept under her physical hijab, “A tale untold” is supposed to mean her personality which she has kept reserved with her inner hijab which is her sense of modesty.
“The only key within your hand”: means that the only person who has access to see her and to get to know her is her husband. The next two lines mean that the people around her, men and women who don’t understand hijab, can’t see the purity in it and are not allowed to see the precious nature of the Muslim women beneath.
“Tonight I tell that tale to you” is meant to mean: that tonight the Muslim woman is able to freely express her personality and tell her life-story to someone at last who really is interested and wants to hear.
The “open book” meaning the story of her life, her biography so far. And the next lines: That she too longs to understand her new husband and where he has been, what he has done and what experiences have made him who he is.
“For now our hearts have taken flight” means that it is on the Wedding Night that Allah puts true love between your hearts, as you get to spend more time with each other.
“You look at me with longing gaze, And I at you with shy delight”, well, there I tried to capture the fact that now the couple can freely look at each other.
The last four verses contain the message that a Muslim woman has for her husband about their marriage to come: to love her and all the good in her, to cherish her and value her, to correct her gently if she needs correcting, to teach her with wisdom, bearing in mind that their life is all about seeking Allah’s pleasure.
Crimson chiffon, silver lamé or green silk: Which scarf to wear today? My veil collection is 64 scarves and growing. The scarves hang four or five to a row on a rack in my closet, and elation fills me when I open the door to this beautiful array. Last week, I chose a particularly nice scarf to slip on for the Eid al-Fitr festivities marking the end of the month of Ramadan.
It irks me that I even have to say this: Being a Muslim woman is a joyful thing.
My first neighbor in Arkansas borrowed my Quran and returned it, saying, “I’m glad I’m not a Muslim woman.” Excuse me, but a woman with Saint Paul in her religious heritage has no place feeling superior to a Muslim woman, as far as woman-affirming principles are concerned. Maybe no worse, if I listen to Christian feminists, but certainly no better.
Blessings abound for me as a Muslim woman: The freshness of ablution is mine, and the daily meditation zone of five prayers that involve graceful, yoga-like movements, performed in prayer attire. Prayer scarves are a chapter in themselves, cool and comforting as bedsheets. They lie folded in the velveteen prayer rug when not in use: two lightweight muslin pieces, the long drapey headcover and the roomy gathered skirt. I fling open the top piece, and it billows like summer laundry, a lace-edged meadow. I slip into the bottom piece to cover my legs for prayer time because I am wearing shorts around the house today.
These create a tent of tranquility. The serene spirit sent from God is called by a feminine name, “sakinah,” in the Quran, and I understand why some Muslim women like to wear their prayer clothes for more than prayer, to take that sakinah into the world with them. I, too, wear a (smaller) version of the veil when I go out. What a loss it would be for me not to have in my life this alternating structure, of covering outdoors and uncovering indoors. I take pleasure in preparing a clean, folded set for a houseguest, the way home-decor mavens lay elegant plump towels around a bathroom to give it a relaxing feel.
Tassled turquoise cotton and flowered peach crepe flutter as I pull out a black-and-ivory striped headscarf for the day. When I was 22 and balked at buying a $30 paisley scarf, my best friend told me, “I never scrimp on scarves. If people are going to make a big deal of it, it may as well look good.”
I embraced that principle, too, even when I was a scratch-poor graduate student. Today I sort my scarves, always looking to replace the frayed ones and to find missing colors, my collection shrinking and expanding, dynamic, bright: The blue-and-yellow daisy print is good with jeans, the incandescent purple voile for a night on the town, the gray houndstooth solidly professional, the white chambray anytime.
As beautiful as veils are, they are not the best part of being a Muslim woman — and many Muslim women in Islamic countries don’t veil. The central blessing of Islam to women is that it affirms their spiritual equality with men, a principle stated over and over in the Quran, on a plane believers hold to be untouched by the social or legalistic “women in Islam” concerns raised by other parts of the Scripture, in verses parsed endlessly by patriarchal interpreters as well as Muslim feminists and used by Islamophobes to “prove” Islam’s sexism. This is how most believing Muslim women experience God: as the Friend who is beyond gender, not as the Father, not as the Son, not inhabiting a male form, or any form.
And the reasons for being a joyful Muslim woman go beyond the spiritual. Marriage is a contract in Islam, not a sacrament. The prenup is not some new invention; it’s the standard Muslim format. I can put whatever I want in it, but Muslims never get credit for that. Or for having mahr, the bridegift that goes from the man to the woman — not to her family, but to her, for her own private use. A mahr has to have significant value — a year’s salary, say. And if patriarchal customs have overridden Islam and whittled away this blessing in many Muslim locales, it’s still there, available, in the law. Hey, I got mine (cash, partly deferred because my husband was broke when we married; like a loan to him, owed to me whenever I want to claim it) — and I was married in Saudi Arabia, a country whose personal-status laws are drawn from the most conservative end of the Muslim spectrum.
I had to sign my name indicating my consent, or the marriage contract would not have been valid under Saudi Islamic law. And, of course, I chose whom to marry. Every Muslim girl in the conservative circle of my youth chose her husband. We just did it our way, a conservative Muslim way, and we did it without this nonsensical Western custom of teenage dating. My friends Salma and Magda chose at 16 and 17: Salma to marry boy-next-door Muhammad, with whom she grew up, and Magda to marry a doctor 10 years her senior who came courting from half a world away. Both sisters have careers, one as a counselor, one as a school principal, and both are still vibrantly married and vibrantly Muslim, their kids now in college.
I held out until I was 18, making my parents beat back suitors at the door until I was good and ready. And here I am, still married to the guy I finally let in the door, 22 years (some of them not even dysfunctional) later. My cousin, on the other hand, broke off a marriage she contracted (but did not consummate) at 16 and chose another man. Another childhood friend, Zeynab, chose four times and is looking for Mr. Fifth. Her serial monogamy is nothing new or radical; she didn’t pick up the idea from reading Cosmo or from the “liberating” influence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It’s simply what a lot of women in early Muslim history did, in 7th- and 8th-century Arabia.
And would you guess that we’ve also been freer to divorce and remarry than Christian women have been for most of history? In medieval times, when Christian authorities were against divorce and remarriage, this was seen as another Islamic abomination. Now that divorce and remarriage are popular in the West, Muslims don’t get credit for having had that flexibility all along. We just can’t win with the Muslim-haters.
Here’s another one: Medieval Christianity excoriated Islam for being orgiastic, which seems to mean that Muslims didn’t lay a guilt trip on hot sex (at least within what were deemed licit relationships). Now that hot sex is all the rage in the post-sexual revolution West, you’d think Muslims would get some credit for the pro-sex attitude of Islam — but no. The older stereotype has been turned on its head, and in the new one, we’re the prudes. Listen, we’re the only monotheistic faith I know with an actual legal rule that the wife has a right to orgasm.
Of course, I’m still putting in my time struggling for a more woman-affirming interpretation of Islam and in criticizing Muslim misogyny (which at times is almost as bad as American misogyny), but let me take a moment to celebrate some of the good stuff. Under Islamic law, custody of minor children always goes first to the mother. The Quran doesn’t blame Eve. Literacy for women is highly encouraged by the traditions of theProphet Muhammad. Breast-feeding is a woman’s choice and a means for her to create family ties independent of male lineage, as nursing creates legally recognized family relationships under Islamic law. Rapists are punishable by death in Islamic law (and yes, an atavistic part of me applauds that death penalty), which they certainly are not in any Western legal code. Birth control allowed in Islamic law? Check. Masturbation? Let’s just say former surgeon general Joycelyn Elders’s permissive stance on that practice is not unknown among classical and modern Muslim jurists. Abortion? Again, allowances exist — even Muslims seem not to remember that.
It’s easy to forget that Muslims are not inherently more sexist than folks in other religions. Muslim societies may lag behind on some issues that women in certain economically advanced, non-Muslim societies have resolved after much effort, but on other issues, Muslim women’s options run about the same as those of women all over the world. And in some areas of life, Muslim women are better equipped by their faith tradition for autonomy and dignity.
There are “givens” that I take for granted as a Muslim woman that women of other faiths had to struggle to gain. For example, it took European and American women centuries to catch up to Islamic law on a woman’s fully equal right to own property. And it’s not an airy abstraction; it’s a right Muslim women have practiced, even in Saudi Arabia, where women own businesses, donate land for schools and endow trusts, just as they did in 14th-century Egypt, 9th-century Iraq and anywhere else Islamic law has been in effect.
Khadija was the boss of her husband, our beloved Prophet Muhammad, hiring him during her fourth widowhood to run caravans for her successful business; he caught her eye, and she proposed marriage to him. Fatima is the revered mother figure of Shiite Islam, our lady of compassion, possessed of a rich emotional trove for us. Her daughter Zainab is the classic figure of high moral protest, the Muslim Antigone, shaking her fist at the corrupt caliph who killed her brother, her tomb a shrine of comfort for millions of the pious. Saints, queens, poets, scribes and scholars adorn the history of Muslim womanhood.
In modern times, Muslim women have been heads of state five times in Muslim-majority countries, elected democratically by popular vote (in Bangladesh twice and also in Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan). And I’m not saying that a woman president is necessarily a women’s president, but how many times has a woman been president of the United States?
Yet even all that gorgeous history pales when I open my closet door for the evening’s pick: teal georgette, pink-and-beige plaid, creamy fringed wool or ice-blue organza? God, why would anyone assume I would want to give up such beauty? I love being a Muslim woman. And I’m always looking for my next great polka-dot scarf.
For those of you hungry hippos waiting for round two of my foodamentary… thou shalt hold thy digestive juices another week yet… I’m taking a slight detour of the musical kind this week… so here goes.My relationship with music has been a long and somewhat tumultuous one. There’s been a lot of chasing, hide and seek and sulking involved. Now before you think music is just another corny pet name for my boyfriend let me tell you our story.
I went to a kind of school where music was part of the syllabus and mandatory for all children till their teens. As my mother taught in the same school she gathered soon enough that singing is something both her children have taken a liking to and seem to have a talent for so a music teacher or ‘master ji’ as he liked to be referred to was promptly employed to make sure our untrained voices could be guided into some sort of tamed discipline.
So there we were, my brother and I enrolled in our first formal music lesson. Very early on we learnt a few things about our new teacher. Sweet guy and all but took some 7 lessons a day so by the time he hit our place he was so knackered that by song two, like clockwork, he’d be nodding off on the harmonium our mother purchased for our learning benefit thus turning the lessons into one big pillow fight. Picture this – master sir asleep on the keys, kids jumping from couch to sofa pulverizing each other.It didn’t take long for mum to realize that mister guru man was nothing short of a sleepwalker thus ending our short-lived training of the musical kind, well mine at least. My brother carried on his training in classical guitar and turned out to be what can safely be referred to as musical genius.My musical career in the meantime was restricted to the school choir where invariable owing to my ‘alto voce’ I was made to sing with the boys. Torturous to say the least given this was the phase of adolescence when every boy was “just disgusting” even though small crushes were quietly developing under the surface. Anyway that is where music stopped for me for many years with my audience restricted to shower faucets and toilet rolls.
Let’s backtrack a little to the beginnings of my curiosity with music.
Ours is what one would call a highly musical household complete with my parents’ insane LP collection to the rarest and oldest analog recordings of the masters of the classical (both Indian and western) scene. Not to forget a large collection of folk from the depths of Punjab and the north west frontier (Sind, Baluchistan). Also a sizable collection of the great dames of ghazal singing Begum Akhtar, Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanum.
Needless to say our education was varied. Where as on one hand Chopin and Bach reigned supreme, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb and Kumar Gandharva had their own special place. Mum and dad made sure our ears were trained in every possible way not because they wanted to produce little musical protégés but because according to them music is essential to life.Then of course came the teens where everything your parents have shown you is hogwash and you must find your own style to contrast theirs.
This is where MC Hammer, REM, Mr. Big, the unbearable Enigma, 2 unlimited, Khaled, Snow and most importantly the Beatles make an entry, this phase reliant entirely on the then very anglicized FM radio and cassettes was quick to pass and thankfully so leaving behind but one survivor- The Beatles of course.The next phase borrowed from much older (read cooler) cousins by my brother filtered down to me by default in fact now that I think back it wasn’t until my brother left home for college and I was rendered musically dry that I started acquiring a music collection of my own.
At this point it is important to mention some of my current favorites across all genres stuff I listen to now I wonder if you guys dig someone in here…Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Air, The Strokes,
Miles Davis, Ali Farka Toure, Morphine, Iggy Pop, Bebel Gilberto, Buena Vista Social Club, John Renbourne, the Gershwins, Toots and The Maytals, Spoonbill, JJ Cale, Chet Baker, Traffic, Django Reihardt, Squarepusher, Gotan Project, Prince, Steely Dan, Betty Davis, Jamiroquai,The Stooges, Battles, Mazzy Star, Flying Lotus, Robert Johnson,The Kinks, The White Stripes, Trilok gurtu, ZZ Top, Joni Mitchel, The Yardbirds, Jefferson Airplane, Tom Waits, and so many more everyday growing passing through phases…disappearing for many years and reappearing by accident.
A very important part of my involvement with music came from being audience to some exquisite live performances ever since I was knee high- whether they were drunken fakirs from Pakistan, Pete Seeger, Kishori Amonkar, Pandit Jasraj, Bhimsen Joshi, Roger Waters, Baul musicians from Bengal or drawing room ‘baithaks’ at my uncle’s place.
Ma’s involvement in organizing some of the largest music festivals across the subcontinent at the time gave us an exposure that was not only difficult to come by but highly eclectic and influential to say the least.
My first band (Catharsis) came while I was still in school I was one of three singers and we performed covers from classic rock bands. My next brush with performing outside of the bathroom came post school at many inebriated jams at friend’s places where I slowly from behind large pillars acquired the confidence to sing in public, since then its been one winding road singing for many bands, studio sessions, impromptu lyric writing all along trying to acquire the tools to produce the kind of music I’d like to listen to. Soon soon moon moon!!