IImam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his facebook page or follow him on twitter.
My wife, Priya, usually wakes me up to pray every morning before sunrise. This being our first Ramadan together as a married couple, she's also taken on the task of getting me up to eat something before dawn when our fast starts. When I rolled out of bed yesterday, I noticed that she was a little more dressed up than usual for 4am. Before I could ask she told me she was going to the hospital. I gave her a kiss goodbye and asked her to call me if she needed anything.
My wife has been volunteering as a rape crisis and domestic violence counselor at a hospital near our home for quite some time. In the last month alone, she's been called to respond to emergency situations three times, all pretty early in the morning. When an abuse victim is admitted to the hospital, her role is to be there for this person in pretty much any way that they might need her. She has seen women from a variety of backgrounds who, unfortunately, have been abused in a variety of ways. It wasn't until seven hours later that she finally came home, well past the time her call shift had ended. Another case had come into the hospital while she was there and she decided to stay to help with that.
It's clear to see that she is passionate about helping these women and her work. In the last year, she transitioned out of a ten year career in finance to start a Masters degree in Social Work at New York University in order to pursue this passion even further. Her drive and ambition is something that is quite remarkable. Even now, when she and I are expecting our first child and despite being several months pregnant, she still stays committed to her responsibilities. It's one of the reasons why I love her as much as I do.
(For those who are wondering, my wife is not fasting. Pregnant women, amongst others, are exempt from fasting during Ramadan)
Later that evening, we went to a mosque to attend the evening Isha prayer (the fifth of five daily prayers Muslims pray) and Taraweeh prayers (a prayer that is observed by Sunni Muslims following Isha during Ramadan.) Afterward, we were in the car with a few friends and inevitably started a conversation on every young Muslims favorite topic: Marriage. This one interestingly focused on how many men, Muslim especially, have trouble committing to relationships with women who are motivated, driven and ambitious. Seemingly the idea that a woman is accomplished, has advanced degrees, or has been able to make a career for herself is something that is seen as problematic. Or at the very least many are taking it as such. Either way, it's still an issue.
The sad thing that comes into discussions like these are the need for religious legitimacy. Through our Tradition, it's seen as respectable, commendable as well as permissible for a woman to be accomplished. For example, the Prophet Muhammad's first wife, Khadijah, was fifteen years older than him, married him when she was 40, was a wealthy businesswoman, a widow, and also was his employer for some time. For a young woman to have to tell a man or his family of things like this to prove that she is somehow acceptable as a wife is unfortunate.
The Prophet Muhammad, by the way, did his share of chores. His wife Aisha was once asked "What did The Prophet do at home?" She said "He kept busy with housework. He patched his clothes, swept the house, milked the animals, and bought supplies for the house from the market. If his shoes were torn He mended them himself. He tied the rope to the water bucket. He secured the camel, fed it and ground the flour."
As a man, are you entitled to want to marry someone who will stay at home, cook, look after the kids and not work? Sure - but then don't start a relationship with someone who doesn't share a similar vision for her future. You will end up causing a lot more problems than you realize, mostly for the woman who is trying navigate herself through this situation and will then begin to doubt the time and energy she put into getting to where she is in life. No woman who has decided to follow her ambitions and pursue a career should be made to think that she was wrong for doing so and that her being single is a deeper sign of that wrongness.
It's important to realize though that a woman can be family-oriented while at the same time sustain a career or pursue higher education -- these values are not mutually exclusive. Many women whom I know have advanced degrees and are committed to their jobs do so because they become another means of support for their families. If anything, this shows dedication to a family rather than indifference towards one. But like most things, we see what we want to see on the surface, and fail to realize the deeper beauty that exists as a result. Whether you are a man or woman, make sure that you see the person that are you considering to build a relationship for who they are, not what you want them to be.
Accomplishment and drive are not things to be wary of. They are also not the only things to consider. People have many facets to their identity and to make conclusions based off of single variables that don't even necessarily flow logically to the outcome that is reached, can be quite detrimental. Not just for the person that is being cut out because of who they are, but also for the one who can't get over his own insecurities. In passing up on someone for a reason like this, you may be passing up on a great blessing in your life. I, for one, am quite happy, thank God, to be married to my wife, and the fact that she is driven by her passions for her work makes her that much more right for me.