Thursday, November 28, 2013

Is The Great American Experiment Over?

Today, as Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, and Canada gives thanks that we are our own country (with better healthcare, low crime, and no guns), it is appropriate to ask if the great American empire is in decline.

Great empires fall in many ways. Some fall over night, much to the surprise of everyone. A good example of the former would the USSR, which crumbled almost overnight in 1989 - 1990 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. No one could believe the USSR would collapse so thoroughly, and it did. An ancient example of this would be the Sassanid Empire, which at one point was poised to gobble up the Romans, controlling Damascus, Jerusalem and parts of Egypt. Yet, almost overnight (in historical terms), in merely a decade or two, it collapsed so thoroughly and was taken over by the Rashidun Caliphate.

Other great empires take their time to decline. The decay and stagnancy is known to all for sometime, yet the empire still continues to be a force to reckon with. Until, at a critical moment in history, it simply ceases to be a power. Two great examples of this would be the Roman Byzantium empire and the Ottoman empire. The Romans would gain and lose territories in wars for over a thousand years, before slowly continuing to wield less and less power, until the Ottomans ended their misery. The Ottomans in turn were at their peak under Suleiman the Magnificent, after which the rot set in and they were referred to as the "Sick Old Man of Europe".

Others may appear dead, yet rise like a phoenix from the ashes. A good example of the later would the Russian Federation, the successor state of the USSR. No one could predict Russia would once again be a strong force in 2013, and it is.

The question is, which scenario fits the United States of America?

The signs of stagnation have been there for some time. America's political system is broken. The parties hate each other and block each others' legislations on the slightest pretext. Lobbying, which is another form of legalized bribes, is paramount - money talks. China has overtaken the US in terms of academic papers published. Manufacturing has mostly gone over seas. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is huge (the so called 1% 99% divide). For the first time in generations, the incoming generation is going to earn less, carry more debt and have less benefits than the previous generation. The population is growing older. America's foreign influence and power is on the wane, as new, young nations start to throw their weight around. They have a leader who seems to have embraced this new status quo as inevitable.

And, yet, it's not all gloom and doom for an American.

First, the United States of America has an enviable and unsurpassed military strength. Their armed forces are stronger than the next few nations combined, and have a huge technological lead over their rivals. I was recently in San Diego, and had the occasion to visit a naval aircraft carrier. The power and might of this ship, now decommissioned but used as late as the war on Iraq, demonstrates the capability of the US to strike anywhere in the globe in a manner unprecedented in history. And this is just their federal forces. Their National Guard and the reserves alone could defeat the armies of many other nations. Combined.

Second, while the strength of the Chinese (current) or the Soviets (former) comes from a projected show of force, from the dictatorial leadership at the very top, America's power comes from values. Every American believes in freedom and everything that entails, and it's their shared values system and self belief that has driven this nation forward. For a Chinese, their government is the power. For Americans, the government derives its power from the people. That is a powerful weapon to have.

America has seen dark times before. Vietnam nearly turned the country into a recluse. The second Iraq war and the needless in fighting between the right and left drove them to near bankruptcy. Yet, they have always managed to turn around quickly, and sharply. There's no reason to believe that behavior is going to stop. Yes, there are now more upstart nations such as India and China on the horizon, but they still have a long way to go.

As long as every American believes the union is still worth fighting for, as long as every state believes it's better to be in the union rather than try to wing it alone as a state, as long as they have their military might without getting sucked into a deadly, vicious, bloody war, there is no reason to believe America is even close to beginning their decline. I don't see them falling any time soon.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

When Searching For Right Becomes Wrong

I recently published a post over at Love Inshallah entitled "How I Met My Son's Mother" (the title was a play on my favourite sitcom How I Met Your Mother) which outlined my thoughts on the whole arranged marriage process, as well as some provocative conclusions I had of the whole situation. Of course this has resulted in some ladies getting mighty upset. There has been posts and counter posts against my original post, the editors thought it wise to add a disclaimer, and even altmuslimah got into the act. The kicker was the paragraph on the altmuslimah article that actually seemed to say being involved in relationships prior to marriage is a good thing.

The whole hullaballoo reminded me of one wise saying that I feel is a guiding principle of my life.

"Right is right, no matter how few follow it, wrong is wrong no matter how many acclaim it."

Having said all that, let me distill it all down to five main points which even those that had a go at me will have a hard time disproving. I don't mind criticism, and I ignore insults (both Prophet Musa and Muhammad, peace be upon them, far better men than lil 'ol me, faced insults and harassments over far more complex issues).

1. It is good to get married early. It is the Islamic thing to do.

Can any one really deny that Islam encourages us to get married early? The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) got married early (25 years of age), most of the Sahabah got married in their late teens or early twenties, and it was the practice of the Muslims to get married as soon as they were able to and were of age. And we are talking about guys here. Girls used to get married as early as 13 or 14.

Times and societies differ, but I think in today's day and age, a man should start looking for a wife sometime after finishing his university undergraduate degree (say around the age 24), while a woman should start looking sometime before (perhaps at the age of 21).

2. It is easier for a younger woman to get married as opposed to an older woman. Men generally prefer a wife younger than them.

Of course, whenever you say this, someone will then bring up the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him)'s marriage.

Muhammad (pubh) married Khadija who was 40 and he was 25, and she was much older than him and married 2 times prior to marrying the prophet, and had several children previously ...

While quoting this famous example of Khadijah, many people conveniently forget three main parts of her story.
  • To be academic, Khadijah was only 28 years old when she married the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), not 40. This is the most authentic opinion. She was thus only 3 years older than her husband, who was 25 [Source, go to 21:30].
  • Khadijah herself married at a very early age (her first marriage).
  • Muhammad (peace be upon him) married Aisha, Hafsa, Zainab etc. all of whom were much younger than him (and who had all, with the exception of Aisha, been married before, and at an early age). In fact, Aisha was also very young, having just stepped into puberty.
  • He encouraged young, single men to marry young, single women.
It is common sense that a woman is much more desirable as a marriage partner when she is 21 as opposed to when she is 31. And of course, no one decides to get married and poof! the next day they have found someone. It takes about 1-2 years of searching before you find someone. Starting at an age of 21 means a woman will generally get married when she is 23 or 24. If you start at 25, it's much harder.

Most guys who are in the arranged marriage process will be of the age 24-29. When you factor in that the average age difference between the husband and the wife in an arranged marriage is about 2-4 years, then you know why, as soon as a woman crosses the age of 25, she finds the pool of available men diminishing, and it gets harder and harder to find a suitable match.

A small disclaimer. I am not criticizing girls or guys who started looking but didn't meet someone. They are not single by choice. No, I am criticizing those who delay marriage for career, for education, for "I want to relax and have a good time".

3. Be chaste. You should avoid relationships before marriage and be professional in dealing with the opposite gender.

Surah Qasas verses 23-28 is a great anecdote of how Musa (peace be upon him) met his first wife. Men and women can and will interact, and this interaction should be professional, to the point and exactly what is necessary. A woman, if she likes a man, can initiate the proposal and Musa, as a young man, deals with the marriage proposal with the girl's father in a proper and honourable manner. There is no flirting, no "going out", no improper behavior at all. In fact, Allah praises his wife as "being shy".

Lo and behold.

I don’t appreciate the idea of if someone has been in a relationship then she’s automatically off the list

We’ve both had relationships before we met each other, and they made us more complete and interesting individuals, with a better idea of what we want and don’t want in life and in a partner

And of course, the altmuslimah paragraph (kind of strange for an article on a site with 'muslim' in its name to promote this sort of activity).

I’m tired of the attitude that women should be blamed for the relationships they’ve been in, and I’m frustrated that dating implies sex in the minds of so many Muslims. Spending some time with members of both sexes can be done in a halal way, can lead to a successful marriage in the best case, and (if nothing else) is a healthy way of developing comfort and a mature attitude towards relationships – a time investment that pays off when you get married ...

If you are "dating", you are going out with some member of the opposite gender just to have a good time, and you are then in a relationship (emotional, physical, doesn't matter) with someone ("he's my boyfriend"), then you are doing something that is not sanctioned by Islam. Can anyone really argue that? If you love someone, get married to that someone.

Some disclaimer, I don't think a broken engagement, or time spent with someone in 'getting to know them' (for a short while, for the purpose of marriage), or a divorce counts as a bad thing. Engagements break, you spend time getting to know someone honourably to find out that it won't work, and marriages fail - these things happen. No, what I absolutely cannot recommend is getting into an emotional (and perhaps physical) relationship with someone where all of society knows you as a couple and yet you are not married for years - why?

This applies both to guys and girls. I don't like the double standard that sometimes gives men a free pass for their behavior (boys will be boys) but holds girls to strict standards. A chaste, Muslim woman who has kept herself in check should have the full right to say no to a prospective suitor that has 'played around'.

4. Don't follow those who are not into arranged marriage.

It has to be said, if you are going to go the arranged marriage route, than don't follow as an example those who are NOT going to go through this route. Let me give an example.

There are many people who will have found their special someone through dating, or perhaps they met in the university and kept in touch, and then later started to "go out" with this person on dates and so on. These people are not the 'arranged marriage' type. They are in a long term relation with their special someone, and after some suitable time, they will get married. If the relation breaks, then they will find someone else to date, and marry.

These Muslims, while still being officially "single", are in a relationship. They live alone, work after graduation, further their careers while being in a relationship. However, they are not married, and will probably get married after a long courtship, perhaps at the age of 28 or 29.

If a Muslim man, or worse yet, a woman, looks to these people as examples, and thinks, "Wow, I too get remain single until I am 26 or 27, and then get married" they are in for a delusion. The two processes to marriage are completely different.

5. When it comes to children, women make the greater sacrifice, and Islam encourages having children.

A righteous son can act as sadqah jariah, and a daughter can be the key to paradise.

There is a reason why the mother has a very high status in Islam. In modern times, it's not sexism, or the glass ceiling, or the 'old boys club' that is the primary reason men rise higher in the corporate ladder than women. It's motherhood.

At some point, a couple will face the decision to start a family. And this will put the woman's career in jeopardy, even with great maternity benefits and laws. While she's at home, male colleagues will get that promotion, gather that extra experience and take that training. This is a sacrifice.

Moreover, most fathers will say they would prefer their wives to take care of their kids at home if money wasn't an issue.

This is another reason a woman should marry early. Then she has enough time to focus on her career or fulfill her dreams of higher education, whatever it may be, and still leave enough time for children.

These were my main points from my Love Inshallah article. As I expected, many feminists attacked me at once for my "privileged views" (whatever that may be). However, the truth has to be said. If people ignored their own opinions and their own "feelings" and dedicated more time to loving, understanding and following the sunnah, the Marriage Crisis that we in the Western Muslim community are facing (largely as a result of our own actions) will be no more.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

On Wearing a Chain

As a young kid in the Middle East, one of my "phases" included wearing a metallic chain around my neck and a steel bracelet on my wrist. It was 'cool' and everybody at school was doing so (remember, this was the 80s). On the other hand, I was still brought up with good values and was quite religious. So this one time, I went to visit this city (Abu Dhabi - the now famous, bigger brother of Dubai) with a couple of friends and it was time for afternoon prayers. We entered a mosque.

After we were done with the congregational prayers we saw the imam making his way towards us. As soon as he was upon us he started to gesture wildly and say something. Whey I say "say something" I really mean "shout". And in Arabic.

A peculiar feature of the UAE is that many of the people who live there, even for decades, do not speak Arabic. Us included. So while the imam ranted and frothed at the mouth, we could only look on helplessly. Some Pakistani labourer then took the trouble to translate to us.

"He doesn't like that." He pointed to the chain and the bracelet. "It's very un-Islamic. Please don't wear that to the mosque."

Silly me, I didn't know that bad 80s grunge look existed in 6th century Arabia to be banned by the Prophet (along with, say, soccer). I remember being shocked at the imam's behaviour (we were only 10 or 12 at that time!) and thinking, "I am never coming to this mosque again!"

I remembered this incident, years later, this summer.

It was a nice summer's day in Toronto and I went biking with a neighbor. We cycled through routes and hills and were riding home when it was time for Maghreb. As luck would have it, we were riding past the biggest mosque in the city.

"Let's go in," Was my decision but I was a bit apprehensive in what I was wearing. A white t-shirt with the Toronto skyline picture on it, and the long shorts. The shorts reached past my knee, which was good (and made it halal), but still left a LOT of the ankle exposed, which is probably not people normally wear to the mosque.

I went in, expecting another frothing imam.

I was pleasantly surprised. No one paid any attention to me.

I went in, enjoying the refreshing blessing of God that is Air Conditioning, did my ablutions, did the congregational prayers, and then even said salaam to the imam (just to tempt fate) and then left. While leaving, I saw plenty of people dressed like me.

They seemed happy to be there. And I wondered, how many attendees does a frothing imam lose?

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Cruise to The Thousand Islands

A baby will not change our travelling habits, my wife and I had decided, when we found out we were having our first born. We will still travel the world like when we were first married.

Yeah, about that. That boast went the same way as "I will not resort to using television to get my kid to eat" and "my kid will not throw a temper tantrum".

So this summer, while deciding on a place to visit near home and with not much preparations, we decided to take the Thousand Islands Cruise near Kingston, Ontario. Now, Kingston is a great Canadian city not too far from Toronto (about 2 and half hours of driving), but the better Thousand Island cruises depart from Gananoque, which is about another half an hours driving. So, three hours, not too bad, we thought.

Cue a huge traffic accident (a truck rollover) that blocked traffic all across the province, and we arrived five hours after schedule to catch the 3 pm cruise.

The cruise ships were huge, and since this was the middle of the week (did I mention I was on vacation), we had the whole ship mostly to ourselves. Which was good for the toddler so he could walk run about, and bad for us as I wanted to just curl up and sleep, not chase after a baby. But then we imprisoned strapped him safely him in his stroller as he went to sleep, and we could enjoy the beautiful scenario that is The Thousand Islands.

The islands (there's actually more than a thousand, believe it or not!) were mostly privately owned, and we saw the houses (and resorts) of the rich and famous as we cruised by. Oh, to have an island of your own! The famous Kirrin Island of the Famous Five fame (Enid Blyton fans will get this) came to mind.

The cruise ship stopped at the Boldt Castle. Since the Castle is on an American island (the islands are between US and Canada), only those allowed to enter USA could visit it. Which included any Canadians on the boat, but you had to have your passport). We had chosen not to do the castle, as it wasn't very stroller friendly, so we just admired the view from the outside. To think, at one time, this was the property of just one man!

Of course, we were not the only ones enjoying the water on a lovely summer day.

The next morning we spent a bit of time visiting some of Kingston's other tourist attractions. These included Bellevue House, the residence of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A Macdonald. it was interesting to see how simply he lived, for a man of his importance.

 Of course no visit to Kingston would be complete without trying Chef Rahim's biryani. Halal food was pricier in Kingston as compared to Toronto, but it rounded off what was an excellent weekend visit.

Amongst other attractions that we didn't visit as I had been there previously is Queen's University. If you are in Toronto and looking for an interesting day trip or a weekend trip, Kingston is highly recommended.