Dr. Laura Schlesinger, a self-proclaimed conservative talk show host recently published “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands,” a sort of handbook proclaiming the merits of treating men with respect and care. Dr. Laura, herself a Jew, draws upon biblical narrative, and mostly anecdotal discussions to let women know that they have gone terribly wrong in the way they treat their husbands.
Despite the fact that she issues women in general a sober scolding for being spiteful nags, her book has a loyal following, and her points are basic. She insists that a husband be respected, fed well, given “guy time” to himself, and given free access to “intimacy” with his wife. The more I read this book, the more I realized that many Muslim families living in the West could indeed benefit from these points as well. Dr. Laura's outline sounds simple enough; Yet why must these things even be said? What is the status of American families in regard to the treatment of men as husbands? And how does this reflect upon the bond between a man and his wife in a Muslim family?
One of the reasons I was drawn to this book is because, as a Muslim woman, the conversation is usually quite one-sided. Most educated Muslim women can rattle off lists of amazing rights that Allah, in His great mercy and bounty has awarded them. For example, in a time when much of the world still treated women like chattel and forced women into slavery-like conditions of unconsentual marriages, Islam gave a woman the right to vote, own property, choose her own spouse, among other things. Most talks, papers and discussions usually focus on these aspects of women's rights in Islam: rarely do we hear of a special speech entitled “the rights of man in Islam.”
Admittedly, in some areas of the Muslim world, many men have infringed upon the rights of women, resorting to un-Islamic practices such as abuse and forced marriages. However, one must emphasize that the reason for these behaviors is the absence of Islamic knowledge, not the practice of Islam itself. The Muslim men who mistreat their women in Muslim countries do so because they have left the shariah, and the gentle, patient ways that our Prophet (pbuh) exemplified in his dealings with women. Thus discussions of women's rights and roles in Islam are perfectly necessary and appropriate in this context; they serve as a reminder to Muslim families that women are on equal footing with men in their humanity and in their acts before Allah.
So when did this paradigm shift? When did it become necessary for Dr. Laura to publish a book extolling the virtues of men and chiding the women who do not commend them? What has happened to Muslim families in the West? Let us begin by answering the latter question. Muslim families in the West, particularly in America, are quickly becoming a reflection of the pseudo-Judeo-Christian culture in which they live. I say pseudo not necessarily to suggest doctrinal inaccuracy, but rather as a description of the cultural practices of a nation that does not really even follow the Judeo-Christian traditions accurately.
The culture in America is indeed one that is increasingly hostile to men, with much “man-bashing” as the author puts it. Dr. Laura frankly illustrates this in story after story in her book, describing hyper arrogance and unappreciation in women of the qualitites that make men, men. She describes the postmodern feminist era as masculinizing women and begrudging men of the respect, admiration, intimacy and power they deserve in their own homes. Fair enough. Few people would disagree that the boundaries of roles have blurred since the 60's when Father would come home from work with Mother at home caring for the home and children.
Will skyrocketing divorce rates and families in crisis change Muslim families as well? Will young Muslim couples be a part of these statistics? Yes, they will. Unless they actively and clearly step away from the culture of the pseudo-Judeo-Christian society in which they live. As a woman, I can appreciate that the matter is not always about a woman's rights. Of course, we have our rights, but the common, important matters that Dr. Laura suggests are already ingrained in the very fabric of our religion. Husbands are to be respected in Islam; a woman's allegiance in her lifetime is to her husband above any other person, including her parents. A woman earns rewards from Allah by protecting the chastity of her marriage and the sanctity of her home in the absence of her husband.
Furthermore, there are stern warnings about punishments for women who are deemed ungrateful to their husbands (understandably, since they are enjoined with many, many more responsibilities than women). A sort of hierarchy is to be preserved where the husband is the moral/spiritual leader and economic provider, while the wife is the general caretaker of the home. The creation of a comfortable, nurturing home environment where a husband's word is respected and honored is emphasized in Islamic traditions. Finally, there are numerous hadiths that encourage spouses to be intimate with each other, even earning rewards from Allah in fulfilling these needs within a “halal” context. Our Islamic tradition has already written the book on the proper care and feeding of husbands.
Thus one must agree that restricting marriage relations, nagging, disrespecting and annoying one's husband is un-Islamic behavior. Muslim women do not need a pseudo-Judeo-Christian guide to fixing marital problems when the problems themselves stem from overadoption of this very culture. Muslim women have their own guide in the Shariah. With that said, I have risked that some self-righteous male readers will immediately pound their chests and say to themselves “I have been wronged. I've got my rights.”
But, beware my brothers in Islam. For this extreme situation, where men have been indeed wronged, has sprung from an over-compensation of another extreme situation—since the very beginning of time, when women have been wronged. The Prophet (pbuh) also has reminded men that “The best of you are those who are kindest to your wives.” Furthermore, our holy Prophet's very last sermon atop Mount Arafat urged men “Be good to your women.” We are not extreme people. Our Prophet has taught us that “My way is the Middle Way” and so it shall be our way.