People, Polygamy, and Prayer

400px-Young_Saudi_Arabian_woman_in_AbhaA woman I used to work with is muslim. She is a great person, smart strong and funny, I always enjoyed working with her and we’ve kept in touch.

She reads my blog. Sometimes she has sent me private messages, commenting on posts. She has given me lots of support, but chided me at time too. That’s fine, we’re friends and some of the times she’s right. She has told me several times I should come with her to the masjid, listen to the service try to understand and see for myself the beauty of islam.

Finally I said yes. Yesterday I went with her to the masjid. Dressed in a headscarf and a black coat, I tagged along, trying to keep my mind open.

There was a long line of people entering the masjid. Or no, my mistake – a long line of men. They were queueing up to enter the beautiful main hall of the mosque. My friend and I went aroung the corner to a back door where a throng of women were trying to get in through a very narrow doorway. Many wore niqab, a cluster of unidentifiable people. When we finally got in, a narrow flight of stairs led to the first floor. A small room without any kind of beautification was full of women sitting everywhere, most of them on the floor or on folding chairs. My friend took me up front and showed me that through a kind of roster I could see a couple of people below – the imams. We went to the back of the room and sat down. And so the service began. We could herar through loudspeakers what went on downstairs. Still, it was kind of difficult to hear since many women had brought little children who found it very difficult to keep from playing and talking. Some of the women mumbled quietly to themselves, others sometimes clapped their hands. I could hear the man downstairs talking, sometimes in Arabic, sometimes in English. It was on the importance of zakat. When the service was over, the men downstairs crowded around the imam, to discuss religion said my friend. Of course, the women were not allowed downstairs for this. Some of the women handed out bread and candy. A small group of women were sitting around a young woman who was crying. My Arabic is good enough for me to be able to understand that she was sad because her husband doesn’t allow her out of the house except for the occasional visit to the masjid. Another group of women that I had noticed before because they had changed places mid service were talking angrily amongst themselves. My friend explained that the women were angry because a new wife had chosen to come to this masjid, the masjid of the divorced wife who had not wanted a divorce. They were saying she came only to flaunt herself before the first wife.

My friend was very silent. Afterwards, we went for a coffee. We sat silently, drinking bloody expensive Starbuck lattes. Suddenly she looked me in the eyes and I could see she had tears in hers. “Look” she said “I have never before seen my masjid through somebody else’s eyes. I did today because you were with me. And it hurt. I could see us huddling upstairs in that ugly little room, shut out from taking part, shut out from being a part of it. Just a sorry group of malcontent women. I’m sorry I brought you.”

“If that is what you finally were able to see” I answered “I’m very glad you brought me. That’s exactly what I saw too”.

55 thoughts on “People, Polygamy, and Prayer

  1. Unchained, I love reading your experiences in India šŸ™‚
    Dale, marriage in our culture is not considered husband and wife’s personal business. It might sound strange but this is how things work in most families. These days its practiced mixed with modern/western marriage concept. The degree of influence of traditional marriage system varies a lot from family to family. These days people stay engaged for long time. This allows for communication before marriage through phone and people go on dates. Families are generally kept in dark about this šŸ˜‰ basically these days there is some chance to get to know each other and call the whole thing off if things aren’t working well. Again it varies. Some people get killed for marrying against their families wishes šŸ˜¦ at other times people like my husband and I who are raised in relatively modern families, they ask for their parents blessings subtly informing them that this is the only option they have šŸ™‚ So in most cases its everyones business right from the starting of the marriage in others parents are told that things will be handled differently than they are used to.
    On a lighter note here is a story where bride called off the wedding when groom failed to answer a simple math question on wedding day

  2. Here is some explanation that might help make sense of why marriage in India is not considered husband and wife’s personal business.

    India has a joint family system (which is now breaking down) i.e. grown men and their wives live in the same house with the man’s parents. Its not socially acceptable to move out of your parents house unless you are moving overseas or to other part of country for study or work etc. Women only move out of parents home when they get married only to move in with her husband and in laws. House work is mainly a woman’s responsibility. When a family looks for a daughter in law they are essentially looking for someone to take on this responsibility in the joint family. This is why Indian mothers are possessive of their sons and want to decide who they will marry because this is their only way out of all the housework (and DIL is the only family member that MIL gets to rule over after living a long life of submissiveness!)

    In arranged marriages, its very common for in laws to investigate through relatives and friends if their would be DIL is good at housework and is a family oriented person. When families meet they discuss all these issues and make verbal agreements in front of a matchmaker generally someone known to both families. Girls parents give their word that their daughter is capable of performing these responsibilities, will be respectful to in-laws, will always keep the family together and so on. So once you are married its a commitment for lifetime and to the whole family not only to your spouse.

    Also most Indian parents hardly have a life of their own. They hardly travel except for family obligations or visiting religious places. They invest all their earnings to educate their kids especially sons. They rarely go out to eat. Women of most houses prepare three hot meals every day. Its hard work. After long life of hardship women dream of a time when they will get to sit and eat hot meal prepared by her DIL. If their son becomes independent he will marry woman of his choice who might not feel obligated to take on all the traditional responsibilities. Their worst fear is that a DIL would want to live separately from in laws which is happening a lot these days. Younger generation gets blamed for being selfish and influenced by western culture. Basically Indian families invest a lot (emotionally and financially) in their kids especially sons and in return they want them to conform to traditional family system.

  3. Laila, this is very interesting. I can see why MIL of the traditional background would complain about change in society. They served someone else their entire lives, thinking they would in return be on the bright side someday. Now they’re basically screwed because they do not get anything in return!

    It’s a little like the reform of state pension systems in the West now. Our generation is the first who contributes to the pension system for the ones now of old age, who contributed all their lives, but we are the ones to know likely there will be no state pension when we are old for us.

  4. Swami, please do give us your news. Even though I feel I am not qualified to advise an Indian woman of what to do in your situation, I am moved by your story. And your strength! You do seem to have a fantastic – and powerful – family by your side. Your father should never underestimated your determination! I hope you will be able to go through with what YOU want.

  5. Laila, I love talking about my experiences over there because I loved it there. Truly, that was the one singlemost thing that kept me in the marriage to the ex. Because when the shit hit the fan and I was slapped in the face with the revelation that Miss Thang existed, the first thing that went through my mind was divorce, and right on the heels of that was that I’d never get to go back to India.

    He did peg me right somewhere in the midst of all the misery, the fights and the back-and-forth that went on. He said “I think you care more about going back to India than you do about me.” I admitted that was true at the end of the marriage. It really was the one thing that compelled me to stick through it. Even when he came here to visit just before he left, I strongly considered giving it another try with him and I admit the biggest motivator was so that I could return to Kashmir. I still miss it dreadfully to this day.

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