There’s not denial that the rate of divorce has reached unprecedented levels in modern times. An average of one in three marriages never make it to “death us do part”. A sobering thought. Even more interesting is that this is not a Western phenomenon. It is a sad fate that is familiar to those in more traditional or Eastern cultures too. Muslim marriages have also succumbed.
A lot of debate surrounds the reasons as to why the number of divorces is so high. I guess there will always be heated conversations about it. Perhaps the reason why marriages amongst the older generations survived is because there was a deep sense of shame attached to divorce. That burden was (and still is) invariably carried by women. A divorcee was therefore deemed a failure. So, it’s not so much that people were happier in the olden days; it’s more the case that there was a greater social stigma involved so women (especially) simply tolerated their lot. Their reputations would be sullied whereas men would move effortlessly onto their next project. That is why it is important to look beyond the raw statistics. They don’t tell the full story.
I say this having seen and heard many examples in my own life amongst family and friends. Many women of bygone days endured emotional, physical and financial abuse simply because they had no recourse to an alternative solution. Without a source of income, they were caught between a rock and a hard place; their only option would most likely have been to return to their father’s home – a fate which would bring dishonour to everyone in the family.
I know there are people today who would argue that things have not changed much. Yet, from my own observations of Muslim (especially Asian) families, I see a burgeoning group of modern 21st century young Muslim women who refuse to be cast in the same mould as their mothers or grandmothers before them. They dare to do things differently. They don’t hesitate to vocalise their grievances in their marriages and risk divorce. In some cases, they find it difficult to get married at all because they refuse to bend to the demands of others, namely a potential spouse. Today, the more financially-independent and educated young woman will not stand for nonsense. But this saving grace has also inadvertently been her own downfall. It is a cruel irony.
So, what has gone wrong? I think the problem stems from two root causes. The first is that for those older mothers who suffered silently in their hollow marriages, they have unknowingly taught their daughters that such a life for themselves simply won’t do. We now have smart, articulate and educated women who refuse to live the same torment their mothers and grandmothers endured. Thus, they are not entirely dependent on their menfolk like the previous generations were. For some men, this boldness is intimidating and their masculine pedestal now stands on shaky ground. Let’s face it. Most women are adept at multi-tasking. When she can hold down a job and run a home with a family, a woman becomes a formidable force. The man is now not as indispensable as he would like to believe. I think deep down the male ego takes a silent beating.
To complicate matters, despite their academic and financial achievements, young women still need to meet the timeless definition of ‘wife’ – a definition which has been immortalised by culture. A good wife is one who acquiesces to her husband’s whims and plans; she sacrifices her own wishes and lets him ultimately decide the big decisions about family and future. This is confusing. She must be independent and dependent at the same time; she must make decisions but waive her choices in preference of someone else’s; she can be disappointed but she can’t voice her disagreement for the sake of peace. I wonder how anyone can embody the contradiction of independence and cultural conformity without going insane? A young Muslim woman has become her own worst enemy, it seems.
Meanwhile, the second root problem is that our menfolk have not been taught life skills pertaining to harmony in a marriage. There are so many prescriptive measures for women to have successful marriages but much less is laid out for the men. Yes, they are the traditional breadwinners but beyond that, how many are in tune with their wives’ emotions or needs? For some men, women are simply a neurotic species that need to be tolerated. This is an unfortunate position to take. Mothers have seemingly spent more time training their daughters for marriage yet have conveniently overlooked the lessons that their sons desperately need too. It is not a one-sided coin. As long as men refuse to compromise or try to understand their wives, a successful marriage is not going to happen.
To be honest, this whole topic about why divorce is rife even amongst Muslim communities is one which can’t be explained in one short blog post. There are just too many layers and factors to consider. I have risked the wrath of many (Muslim) men by ignoring those who really do go out of their way to do right by their women. I acknowledge that they do exist. However, they are a rare breed. I actually was fortunate to have had that experience in my own marriage. One thing for sure is that whilst religion does not need updating, cultural attitudes need to shift. And if they refuse to shift, Muslim women of today will choose themselves over society. This trend has already started. I can already hear the words ringing out…