Like the wedding that precedes it, there is no doubt that a new marriage is an exciting time. There are so many firsts to experience with your bridegroom that being a newlywed becomes a time of discovery, and just as your new husband will start to learn about you and your ideas, your quirks and your habits, you will equally be learning about his. These discoveries about each other don’t just happen in the first year – this is a continual learning process for the rest of the life that you will share together, insha Allah. Often, the more you learn about his character, the more you will also learn about your own.
As Muslims we are encouraged to be on a constant journey of self-improvement, and sometimes what we find out about ourselves through the eyes of our spouses can help us towards this goal of becoming better slaves of Allah (SWT).
It is not always the case though that as soon as we find out about one of our own shortcomings that we can or want to immediately change; sometimes it can be difficult to see and accept our flaws, particularly when presented with them through the eyes of someone else. However, learning to be open-minded, flexible and humble is all part of this life-long journey.
Consider the scenario of a sister close to me, Jameelah*, who has recently experienced first-hand what it means to realise that letting go of certain characteristics within yourself is sometimes necessary. Having just moved into a new apartment, Jameelah and her husband had been planning a meal dedicated to ‘The Parents’; both his and hers had been invited, along with their elderly grandmothers. As a family, they observe segregation. So as hosts, she and her husband had even gone so far as to arrange between them a room-swapping schedule, deciding which one of the two of them would sit in which room (with either the mothers or the fathers) for each course of the meal.
Being a somewhat over-enthusiastic organiser with a list-writing habit, the planning of this would-be simple meal was thrilling to her! But as we all know, meticulous planners often do not handle changes to their plans very well; so, when other family members heard about the small gathering just a few days ahead of the arranged date, they thought it would be nice if they could come too, adding more callers and also small children to the party.
As I mentioned, planners do not handle change very well!
In an authentic hadith, it is reported that our Prophet (SAW) said “Food for one is enough for two, food for two is enough for three and food for three is enough for four.” (Tirmidhi). This is an excellent piece of advice, not only practically speaking in that really a little will go a long way (and often further than you think) but also in terms of being hospitable; this hadith is a far more eloquent version of that old adage, ‘the more the merrier’, encouraging us to be welcoming and easy with whoever might turn up at our door, even if they show up unexpectedly. But these words were not the ones our dear sister had in my mind during this time of fussy organisation and so Jameelah felt irritated that, firstly, she hadn’t been asked by the extra guests if their coming would pose a problem to her (as both cook and hostess) and secondly, she had then very casually been informed of their visitors by her husband just a few days before the event.
Looking on as outsiders, perhaps we can see that our sister hadn’t realised how selfish and rigid she was being. Desperately trying to work towards an idea of how she felt this simple gathering should go, Jameelah began to feel stressed and upset by the possibility of it going any differently to how she envisaged. Of course as onlookers it is far easier to get a clear sense of perspective, but when your face is pressed so closely to the painting, as Jameelah’s was, it is often difficult to see the whole picture.
The irony is of course, Jameelah thought it was her husband and not her who was the one being stubborn and unfair, but perhaps it was our sister’s judgement which was at fault. She believed that by not seeing any problem with more people coming, he was putting the extra weight of a bigger party than expected on her hosting shoulders.
She was even troubled by how differently each of them saw the situation. Their perspectives could not have been more different; it wasn’t just that they weren’t on the same page – they were on entirely different books!
She began to wonder how she could possibly make him see her side, but he wouldn’t budge, and neither would she – no chance of compromise here! So that night, they put the topic to bed, deciding not to talk about it, and hoped for a solution to come by morning.
Jameelah admitted that as she lay there, she felt secretly smug in the belief that her frustration at the issue was justified and confessed to even expecting, on waking up the next morning, to find her husband to have realised the error of his ways.
When they woke the next day something had changed, but it wasn’t her husband – funnily enough, it was her mindset that had had a turnaround. Jameelah had started to think about the rewards they could be getting for feeding their guests, how the Prophet (SAW) encouraged us to do so: “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him honour his guest.” (Bukhari); how there were always leftovers anyway, so what difference would it make if instead of leftovers, there were people to actually finish the food instead? With that, her petty objections to having more people in the house (limited space, too much noise, not enough food) began to dissolve, leaving only a calm acceptance in its place. She was startled; her change of heart had happened that quickly? She had gone to bed seeing the situation from one angle, but had woken up seeing it from another angle entirely.
In the end, their extra guests couldn’t make it on the day, so all the worry, annoyance and argument had been for nothing, but the subsequent lesson that Jameelah learned (and in turn, taught me) in being easier, cooler, more willing to co-operate, even when your instinct is to become stressed or upset – that has been invaluable.
So now, whenever I think of the example Jameelah gave me, the importance of being generous and hospitable, of putting your guests at ease and not allowing them to feel as though they are a burden on you and your home, my own reservations on hosting seem to disappear and instead are replaced with the excitement of the reward from Allah (SWT).
Readers, I am not saying that we are in the wrong all of the time; but letting go of your stubbornness on the small issues, even when you think that you must be right, may be better for your marriage and your status with Allah (SWT).
As narrated by Anas bin Malik, The Messenger of Allah (SWT) said “Whoever gives up argument when he is in the right, a palace will be built for him in the middle (of Paradise).” (Ibn Majah)
Meltem is 24 and has a degree in English Literature from the University of East Anglia. She loves to read and write and often tries to learn through the life experiences of herself and others.