Of hardship and relief.

This haze is crazy isn’t it! The latest PSI reading as at 12 noon today was 401!

I was silently thanking God that our wedding is in October (I can only assume the haze would’ve cleared up by then — I can’t imagine having to live through this for another day, let alone four months), but just as soon as I felt relief, I felt really bad also for couples whose weddings are scheduled this weekend, and in the coming weeks.

I wonder if they’re going to postpone their weddings? Unless they’re holding them indoors, I imagine it can get quite bad. Will guests turn up?

Whatever it is, I really hope the haze clears soon so no one will have to postpone anything!

Just the other day, as we were going over venue issues, Faz shared with me two lines from the Quran in Surah Al-Insyirah:

For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.

Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.

– Quran 94:5-6

Allah has assured us relief with every difficulty not only once, but twice! So for anyone who’s going through rough times with the haze, wedding preparations, or just anything at all, let’s remember this.

What could be more comforting than assurance from our Creator?


Like pillars to a building

I thought I’d share my main takeaways from the marriage preparation course as well:

  1. Start your marriage with a clean slate.
    You ended up marrying each other, so forget your spouse’s history with Mr X or Miss X. Also try to erase prior negative perceptions or stereotypes you may have had about husbands or wives in general.

    Now this second point is going to be a challenge for me. I’ve seen women suffer at the hands of oppressive husbands, and as a result I’ve become very defensive, swearing never to let myself be bullied in my own marriage in future. No one can deny that this is an excellent principle to hold, but the inadvertent problem with being prepared is that you’re expecting it to happen, even if just a little. And this will affect the way you act in your marriage.

    Will I allow myself to do things (e.g. cooking or cleaning) for my husband out of sheer love, if at the back of my mind I’m constantly worrying that he will eventually identify with my acts of generosity and kindness as an obligation on my part?

    This is an area in which I have to moderate myself. I have to establish boundaries, yet I cannot let my defensiveness be a hindrance to doing good for my husband because as we all know, marriage is an edifice of rewards. I need to let him prove himself first as opposed to going into the marriage with my stereotypes and punishing him with them, because not only will it be unfair to him, he may also turn out to be absolutely nothing like them.

  2. Protect your marriage like a fortress.
    How? Stay away from anything that might jeopardise or weaken it. And on top of that, fortify it by doing the things that keep each other happy.

  3. It takes work to make a marriage/family work.
    This may seem like the stupidest thing to say because everyone knows that. But why is it then that couples stop working once they get off from work? The work has to continue, even at home! It’s an irony, really. When asked who, in essence, they’re working for, they answer “Family”. But isn’t it ironic that they reach home understandably tired but in a foul mood, firing at the very people they work for to provide a comfortable living — the ones they supposedly love?

    Where’s the “work” in that? 

  4. Method is just as, if not more important than outcome.
    Naturally we want the best for our families — the best in values and morals, and a spot in Jannah. But sometimes we’re so focused on the outcome that we neglect the method. Our thoughts are only as good as our actions. So if our intentions are noble, our methods should also be noble. 

    If we impose caustic methods to fulfill a noble intention, isn’t our purpose defeated?

A tragedy.

Can anyone tell me what’s wrong with this picture?

Conversations with a chauvinist pig 1

I hope women and men alike can identify the issue here. Because if not, we are doomed. This, among other things, is why many 20- to 30-year marriages go down the drain.

This conversation took place on my facebook news feed. I was fuming when I read it. Of course I had to say something.

Conversations with a chauvinist pig 2

His reply below, I swear, was the most tak bersalah reply ever. In my head it triggered a trail of possible replies, mostly consisting profanities. I surprise myself how I managed to sound the least bit civil.

Conversations with a chauvinist pig 3

The bugger apparently just did not know when to drop it and said dunia dah terbalik. Yeah? Well, indeed. Because the last time I checked, our beloved Prophet didn’t banish any of his wives to a lifetime of housework.

Conversations with a chauvinist pig 4

And as if one male chauvinist pig wasn’t enough, along came another — and was even “Liked” twice. Total facepalm.

It is my personal opinion that many Muslims (in Asia, at least) are gravely mistaken about the roles of the husband and wife. Looking back, perhaps I was too quick to blow my top. Perhaps he too, like me — and many others — were brought up in the typical Asian home environment in which our fathers were the sole breadwinners and our mothers would stay at home to tend to the children. Inevitably, staying at home also meant that they had to cook and clean — and they did so out of their own free will.

Until.

Until our fathers got a little too comfortable with the arrangement, and henceforth deemed it an OBLIGATION. They developed an expectation to come home to food laid out on the table, in a house that’s in tip-top condition — or incur their displeasure, and therefore God’s displeasure.

And people think: So this is Islam.

But this is NOT Islam, as I’ve learned. I’m ashamed to say it took me 25 years to learn this but I’m grateful to know now that this is not religious. This is cultural.

Sure, incurring the husband’s displeasure is incurring God’s displeasure. But Islam does not make it difficult for the wife by setting household chores as a requisite for entrance to heaven. It is the husband who burdens the wife and makes it difficult for her. So husbands, if you claim you love your wife, enlighten her duties. Why make her journey to Jannah difficult over something as worldly as household chores? If she requests help and if you have the resources, hire a helper. If you don’t have the resources, what’s wrong with rolling up your own sleeves to help her? What, too lowly of a job? Indeed, in Islam it is the husband’s honourable responsibility to lead and provide for the family. But some husbands think that it’s the ONLY responsibility — they forget about the house, home and and children.

I must clarify that I’m not campaigning for wives to shirk housework. What I’m campaigning is for husbands to change their attitudes and mindsets.

Every other chore that the wife does around the house apart from caring for you, nurturing your children, and protecting the good name of the family, is not her obligation, but an extension of her goodwill to you. So thank her and show appreciation for her help. Of course, it indeed is a bonus for her as well if she chooses to help you because the pleasure of her husband is next to the pleasure of God. But again, in no way is it an obligation.

Husbands, please also realise that her job as a wife is no less important than the one you hold. Safeguarding your good name and nurturing the very children that will grow up and continue your bloodline are also huge and honourable tasks. So treat her with the respect and honour she deserves. If you need her help, ask nicely. Anyone would be a little more willing to help instead of cursing you under their breath.

To put it simply, your wife is not your maid. Wives, know your role and know that it is not to be a servant to your husband.

For most of my life, I thought that being a good wife in Islam meant, well, carrying out household tasks well and dutifully carrying out what your husband tells you. But to be honest, the idea never really settled within me. Apart from being brought up with this thinking, I think the type of Islamic education that we get here in Singapore also shares the blame. I’ve attended my fair share of religious programmes growing up, and I’ve always had the impression that the man had the upper hand. This was of course never explicitly mentioned because it is not an Islamic principle to begin with, but my impression could probably be attributed to the fact that there was a lack of focus on the rights of the wife. It was always about the duties of the wife towards the husband, and not so much the reverse, apart from provision for the family.

Watching Islamic programmes from elsewhere around the world online made me realise how different Islam is preached outside of Asia. In this post, I shared a video of Sheikh Khalid Yasin talking about the roles and responsibilities of the husband and wife. I have never EVER heard any of our religious figures in Singapore say (or tried to say) what he did with such straightforwardness and clarity.

But I think the situation in Singapore is much better now, with the younger next generation of religious educators being more open-minded and objective, and less conformant to cultural expectations.

I must also thank the recent Obedient Wives Club (with a name like this, you can replace ‘Wives’ with ‘Dogs’ and it will make little difference) furor for casting the role of the wife under the spotlight, opening doors to discussion, and inadvertently creating awareness on the true role of the wife in a marriage (read Ustaz Haniff Hassan’s commentary with regards to the OWC’s infamous book about “sex in Islam” here).

Discussing this issue always gets me all riled up because it’s one I feel very passionate about. I feel like I owe it to myself and other women and men who might not be in the know to dig deeper into this.

My key takeaways from the video and commentary I spoke about:

  • A successful marriage does not depend solely on the wife carrying out her responsibilities.
  • Men are not the commanders of women — they have a responsibility to them.
  • Men and women are equals but because men have this added responsibility, they are granted respect one level up. And fairly so.
  • But before commanding respect, a husband must be worthy of that respect.

Taking resolutions to a whole new level.

Old habits really die hard, huh. I intended for this post to go out before 2012, but no prizes for guessing what happened along the way. Don’t worry, I’ve stopped listing “Stop procrastinating” on my list of resolutions a long time ago.

Now on to the post.

In retrospect, it’s a little sad that in my 25 years of life, this is the first time that I’ve felt really rooted in my resolutions for the new year. Better late than never, you say?

Maybe this had to with the type of frivolous resolutions I’d made in the past. Or maybe it was because there weren’t any serious repercussions if I didn’t actually follow them through.

This hard-hitting realisation came one day when I was sitting down, just starting to make resolutions for the new year like how I always do. Immediately I recognised that something just felt different. The process felt so much weightier, unlike in the past, where it was always…flighty.  Some of the resolutions I made then were even made just for the sake of it!

This time, as soon as the thought of resolutions popped into my head, it was like a gatling cannon firing away. I had thought about a lot of these things prior, and I already knew what had to be done. Some of these resolutions were also past years’ resolutions – the difference now is that there WILL be repercussions if I don’t follow them through.

In a nutshell, these are the four most important ones:

  1. Stay healthy by being conscientious with taking my meds, which will allow me to run again, which in turn will allow me to lose weight. I definitely do NOT want to look fat on my wedding day. Interjections of “…but you’re not fat!” will not be entertained. As long as I think I am, I am.
  2. Think far and exercise frugality to the highest degree possible. I’ve been doing quite well in this department but I think I can do better if I can fully avoid windowshopping.
  3. Education. By equipping ourselves with knowledge on how to tread the waters ahead of us, we’ll have a better shot at a lasting marriage. This includes getting spiritually in tune.
  4. Book important vendors by June. We’re still shortlisting – it’s so hard to choose! Especially when the ones that we want are out of our budget. My brain is still working hard to persuade my heart to embrace the concept of settling. It’s just not in my nature, with things that are especially important to me. :(

So, there. It’s really do or die this time.

Now being able to say “I’m getting married next year” freaks me out, so at least that’ll help!


Birth order and compatibility

I wonder if anyone really uses the study on birth orders and personality traits as the definitive guide before making a decision to marry someone. I highly doubt it though, because when love comes a-knockin’, even the ugly duckling is hailed as a swan.

Mother and I got talking about birth order and compatibility some time back – I think it was when I needed an outlet to vent my anger after something the fiancé (referred to hereon as “the boyfriend”) did — something that led us to ponder upon birth order traits. It was an interesting conversation we had, so I looked the subject matter up.

Just some background information to share — I am the eldest of three children. My brother is the second sibling and my sister, the third. The boyfriend on the other hand is the youngest, also of three children. His eldest sibling is a brother and the second, a sister.

Our relationship is a firstborn-youngest relationship. What do the studies say about this combination?

Generally, our birth orders make us a good match for each other. In a rather loose summary, this is because the firstborn can keep the youngest in check, whereas the latter can teach the former how to let loose and have fun.

And if you want to go beyond birth orders for the best match, gender also plays a part. According to Dr Kevin Leman in his book  Birth Order Connection, a female firstborn and a male youngest who has elder sisters make the absolute best. This combination totally describes us, by the way.

What he says of this relationship:

The last born with older sisters is going to be the sort of person who brings out the maternal instinct in women, and the oldest sister is likely to have great maternal urges. The young man has grown up with girls who have doted on him, cared for him, and generally treated him like one of their cuddly toys. This is the same sort of treatment he seeks in a wife, and the best place he’ll find it is with an oldest sister. The match works both ways. The first-born needs someone to show her pleasures of sunsets, rainbows, and to remind her that it can be fun to let her mind wander and do something crazy or different. The last-born needs someone to show him that while having fun is a wonderful thing, it takes hard work and perseverance to turn those daydreams into reality.

Let’s see what holds true for us, and what doesn’t.

True, I am the serious, authoritative half and he’s the humorous, good-natured half. I like to set the direction most of the time, and he usually lets me, except when he doesn’t agree with me. One might be led to think that I’m the type who always knows what I want, but that’s not entirely true. While he can be indecisive (even more than I can be at times), he’s always been clear about certain things for instance, his career path. I fail miserably in this aspect, drawing grand ideas in my head that I’m still struggling to materialise. I’m a dreamer. He’s a realist. This is where he keeps me in check.

Other firstborn traits he embodies (some of which are shamefully absent from my existence as a firstborn myself): neat, organised, responsible.

I’m not too sure about being the maternal type, though. Being the eldest, I naturally am protective of my siblings — just not in a doting way. I prefer that they learn to fend for themselves, than having to depend on me all the time. In this area I follow in the footsteps of my father, who doesn’t tend to show much affection.

This is the way I think I show care in my relationship as well. I am protective (read: not possessive) of my other half, but don’t expect me to show love in a way that requires me to do his laundry and iron his clothes. In fact, having come from a place back in time where my parents expected me to do things for my siblings, I now yearn to be pampered because I never was back then.

I don’t know how this will fit in with the supposed characteristic of the youngest male who seeks from his wife the same doting treatment he’s received from his older sister. Being the youngest, naturally he’s depended a lot on his other family members to do certain chores. But he also adapts well, so I believe he has the capability to be independent when the need arises. I dread to think otherwise!

So far though, I’m mighty pleased to report that he does in fact pamper me. A lot. I think I can even consider myself spoilt (not in the bratty way, I hope!). And I do hope this wonderful treatment will continue throughout marriage.

While all this birth order stuff is interesting, I think it’s important not to take this definitively and go, “Oh firstborns are dominating. That’s just how we are.” or “We lastborns are naturally lighthearted. We just can’t be serious.”. My take on marriage is that it takes mutual understanding and a lot of compromise to make it work. Getting out of your comfort zone can also pay off. I may not like cooking but if my husband likes it, sure, I’ll whip up something nice once in a while. If my wife doesn’t like cooking, sure, I’ll eat out once in a while. Everyone’s happy.

No matter what your birth order is or what your personality traits are like, everyone has a shot at successful relationships if they educate themselves. My mother is a huge advocate of this. She just cannot keep stressing the importance of education enough. She’s always asking us to read books or go for classes. An excellent yardstick to know if you’re doing things right is to ask yourself — is this what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would do? But firstly, in order to know him and the way he lived his life, one has to educate himself.

I couldn’t agree more.


The Engagement: What Next?

My engagement ring

So now that I have this gorgeous engagement ring on my finger…what next?

Friends warn me that this new status doesn’t come without its pressures. I, for one, have also seen countless instances where engaged couples get subjected to pressure — self-inflicted or not — and end up calling off the whole thing. It’s like a phenomenon, almost. Very scary.

The pressure could be the result of a variety of factors. It’s possible that with the new status, couples become more possessive toward each other, restricting the other’s freedom. Or that they get freaked out at the idea of commitment and responsibilities that they get cold feet. Or they realise that they actually have totally opposing aspirations and are headed for different directions in life. Or that their families don’t get along. Or that they let the stress of the wedding preparations get to them. There could be 101 factors, really.

Our strategy to keep pressure at bay, is first of all not to think much of our new status as fiancé and fiancée. Truth be told, I would much prefer to refer to him as my boyfriend, still! It’s not that I’m trying to delude myself or run away from reality, but I think it’s more fun and carefree. It’s just a way to inject a little fun into the seriousness of planning to get married and starting a family.

A personal pet peeve I have is when engaged friends keep referring to their fiancé or fiancée as “tunang aku” over and over again…even when we know who they’re engaged to, or worse — are even friends with them! It gets really stifling.

One of these days I’d like us to sit down and have a rather serious chat about our aspirations in life. We have talked about it but very briefly a couple of times throughout our relationship, but now that we’re engaged it kinda needs to be more extensive. Ideally we should’ve done this prior to getting engaged but I suppose we were too caught up in the preparations that we…forgot. Not really a good excuse, I know.

We basically need to start educating ourselves on the Islamic ways to making a marriage work and raising a family. We need to ready ourselves, starting from now. I wouldn’t want us to be all clueless and lost when we get there because when you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.

On a lighter note, on our engagement day, his aunts were commenting how young my parents were — and understandably so, because there is a considerable age gap between my family and his. He’s the youngest of his siblings, whereas I’m the oldest. His oldest brother is almost my mom’s age, which makes his dad about my grandfather’s age.

I’m pretty concerned about how I will integrate. My spoken Malay is atrocious because I speak a mix of English and Malay at home, with English being the dominant language. I’ll have to brush up on my conversational Malay if I want to win the hearts of the elders in his family!


Ground rules.

For the longest time, our mothers thought that cooking, cleaning and ironing were responsibilities and obligations toward their husbands — basically being at their beck and call.

And our fathers, for the longest time, believed the role of a wife was to serve them after they come home and put food on the table.

It’s high time these notions be dispelled.

I’ve seen women suffer silently but force themselves to swallow the bitter pill all because they believed it was in a wife’s duty to serve her husband. By the time they realise the truth about a wife’s responsibilities, it’ll be too hard to turn things around. This false notion would’ve grown roots so deep in the marriage that it would’ve already become a lifestyle.

No way am I going to let any man — not even my own husband — treat me like a servant, and that is a vow to myself. If I am to do anything, it will be out of love and my own free will.

That, is love — one that is voluntary. And love first begins with me.