Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s in a culturally conservative, semi-practising Muslim home, I never imagined or even hoped to marry a Shaykh, ‘Aalim, Hafidh or Moulana. Back then, only those girls who were from strong, practising Muslim families, whose fathers or other relatives were involved in da’wah or were madrasah teachers, ever considered the people of knowledge as potential spouses.
Alhamdulillah, today we are witnessing a reawakening of Islam in our communities, especially amongst the sisters. With this, however, has arisen a phenomenon which I had not come across previously. Let’s call it – The Wannabe Shaykh’s Wife Syndrome (WSWS)!
Many sisters, both young and older, fantasise about marrying a shaykh and living the Islamic dream. What’s wrong with this, you ask? The answer is, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it at all! It is a noble path to want to follow, as long as you are aware of the “job description,” and what the reality of such a life entails.
Unfortunately, today it has become a fad of sorts – a way of becoming “known” for whom you’re married to, or “gaining respect” because of who your husband is. There’s also the completely unrealistic idea that marrying a shaykh is tantamount to marrying the Prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) or one of the Sahabah, thinking that such a man will follow their examples in making time to teach their wives and families first before teaching others. Too many sisters have the naïve dream that these brothers will start imparting their Islamic knowledge to them from day one of their marriage!
Dearest sisters, this is not the reality of life as a shaykh’s wife – especially the wife of one who does what he does seeking payment and reward from Allah (SWT) alone. Such a man sees that he has a great responsibility for the knowledge that Allah (SWT) has given him, and that it is his duty to spread Allah’s word, no matter how difficult that path may be.
Speaking from experience
I have been married to such a man for over 20 years. Allah (SWT) chose to guide him in studying and working for the Deen, and although I never consciously dreamed or made du’a for this particular type of husband, this was what Allah (SWT) chose for me. All I asked Allah (SWT) for was a man who would help me become a better Muslimah and a better to servant to Him, subhanahu wa ta’aala. I hoped only for a man who knew and practised his Deen – all I really expected to get was a regular Muslim guy! It was Allah (SWT) who brought my husband to me, and it was by His guidance that I married this man. Allah (SWT) placed it in this man’s heart to offer himself to me in marriage, someone who was already on the road to learning, knowing, and acting according to the Deen.
Dreams vs. reality
After my husband graduated from the Islamic University in Madinah al-Munawwarah, we returned to the West with our young but growing family. Whenever I met sisters in the community who had been attending and listening to his lessons and talks, or were being counselled by him for whatever issues, there was one statement that both surprised me and made me laugh inwardly. “Masha Allah, you’re so lucky to have a shaykh for a husband! He must be teaching you so much! You have 24/7 access to someone who can answer your questions!”
I explained that that yes, I was blessed to have him as a husband, but that when he came home to me, he wanted to be seen as a husband, not as a teacher or imam. The reply I got was always the same: “Well, if I were married to someone as knowledgeable as him, I would NEVER let him leave the house until he taught me as much as he knows!”
Err, sister! Do you realise that it took him seven years to learn what he knows, and that he’s still learning daily? And if I forced him to spend all his time teaching me, then the community would not even have an Imam, counsellor, or teacher to guide or help them?
Dear sisters, know that it is Allah (SWT) who places you with each other and that being a shaykh’s wife is neither easy nor glamorous. You must be ready to make many sacrifices and have unlimited patience. You will have to manage your own jealousy, else suffer from a rocky marriage and family life.
With the young new “superstar” shuyookh and du’aat that we see today, many sisters have a romanticised and idealistic view of what a shaykh’s life must be like at home. They associate him with being like RasulAllah (SAW), or Abu Bakr, Umar, and other Sahaabah (RA). However, it’s not quite like that! The shuyookh and du’aat of today are human beings, men like any other men you know. They have their weaknesses, their strengths, and they also have their own share of marital and family issues to deal with. Being chosen by Allah (SWT) to do His work does not make them better than anyone else; although if they misuse or abuse their families while knowing what the correct way is, that does make them worse than others.
Now, what are the requirements needed to be and to remain a shaykh’s wife, you ask? Here are just some of the things you will have to keep in mind if you truly wish to follow this path.
Strength: You definitely have to be strong, both mentally and emotionally. You must believe in what he is doing, and support and help in those areas you can to make it easier for him. When he makes mistakes or needs reminders, know when the correct times are to remind and advise him. Use the best of words and wisdom to do so. This is the only way that he, or any other man for that matter, will listen to their wives without feeling put down or lectured to.
Do not expect or depend on him to increase your knowledge of Islam – take it upon yourself to do so, for yourself. When you have questions or need explanations or clarifications, wait until he’s relaxed and his attention is on you. You will have to incorporate the characteristics of many of the Prophet’s wives to the best of your ability, such as tact, wisdom, and forbearance while keeping in mind that he is going to be nothing like RasulAllah (SAW)!
Sacrifice: The amount of sacrifices that you will have to make will be many, and in many areas. For example, your husband will not always be there when you need him to help with the kids. He will shorten or cancel family time or outings in order to see to the community’s needs, whether someone is sick, dying, or just needs a person to talk to. Don’t expect to own your own home, go on fancy holidays, or even be able to buy your dream bedroom!
This job comes with financial restraints, so if you love the latest fashions or shopping, want the latest bling or gadgets, then know that the scholars of Islam are the inheritors of the Prophets in that they give up the material luxuries of this world, and face various hardships compared to others around them. Do not expect to live a life of luxury, but make du’a to Allah (SWT) that you are pleased and content with what He I provides for you.
Remember, too, that you will also be an example that the community will look to. Any wrong that you say or do will not be limited to you as an individual, but to your husband as an imam, and to your whole family by extension. You will be scrutinised by both those who love you, and those who are just waiting to find fault in your husband’s words and your actions.
Reward: If you cannot remember that for every sacrifice you make, your reward is with Allah (SWT), then all your efforts will be in vain. Your struggles, your sacrifices, and your efforts should all be for the Sake of Allah (SWT) – this is your jihad, as well as your sadaqah.
Insha Allah, by seeing how you and your husband work together as a team, your children will learn the importance of teamwork in a marriage, as well as in da’wah work.
There will be many challenges, trials and tests that you will be put through. By being patient, making sacrifices, and assisting your husband in every way possible, you are taking part in the da’wah yourself, and insha Allah will receive a double reward.
After all this, do you still think you can manage a life like that? My advice is do not pray to marry a shaykh, but let Allah (SWT) be the One to choose what is best for you, as He I knows us better than we know ourselves.
It’s easy to verbally state that you are ready to make such sacrifices; yet deep in our hearts, we may still want some luxuries in our lives. Think very seriously before making this statement, or else you run the risk of resenting your husband for not providing you with what he cannot afford.
So before you say, “Mum, I want to marry a shaykh!” – remember that it will not be an easy life at all and will come with a lot of personal sacrifice. Are you willing to do that?
UmmZainab Vanker has spent the last 22 years as a wife and partner in da’wah to an imam, in addition to raising and homeschooling four children and living in no less than four different continents.