Where are the real men? The latest book I have started reading is the Al-Azhar translation of “The men around the Messenger” which I was given several years ago. Naturally it goes without saying that we are like flies beside these great characters, but still it would be nice to think we were not a lost cause. Sometimes, though, I wonder. My wife knows a woman who has two severely disabled children and is charged with looking after them single handedly. Because of their fits, sometimes they hurt their mother, but all she can do is cry for she knows they do not know what they are doing. She is able to rest while her children are in day care, but come evening the restlessness returns. Where is her husband? He walked out on her because he could not cope. It is not the only case. Another of my wife’s friends – an English convert – also has a disabled son, now grown up. For years she has cared for him single handedly; another divorce because the man could not cope.
I wish these were two isolated examples, but they are not. Through my engagement with a small charity working with Muslims throughout England, I have learnt that this scenario repeats itself up and down the country. I appreciate that Islam permits divorce, but the scale of it nowadays suggests that many Muslims have missed the words that it is something most hated by Allah. Books concerning gender written by Muslims often emphasise that us men have been given more responsibilities because we are the stronger sex. If this is so, perhaps somebody can explain to me why we are so quick to run away when the going gets a little tough.
If we are the stronger sex, why are there so many instances of Muslim women being left to fend for themselves and bring up their children as single mothers? I fear something is seriously wrong with us today. Could it be that we are not receiving proper advice? We are all told that divorce is our right – we are even told in great deal what constitutes a permissible excuse – but few of us seem to be aware of our responsibilities and, indeed, even that divorce is disliked. I was once enthusiastically informed that one can divorce his wife if she cannot have children. This may be true, but what is wrong with you? There are thousands of Muslim children in “Care” in England, seeking foster parents. Most of them end up with non-Muslim families to be brought up as non-Muslims. Divorce is disliked and looking after orphans is strongly commended, but you want a divorce?
Let me turn it on its head: due to a chromosome disorder I cannot have children of my own. How do I deal with it? Well the Qur’an recounts a couple of stories about great men who were childless for many years: Prophet Ibrahim who eventually seeded two great nations, and Zachariah, whose supplication we repeat. Read those stories and learn about the patience of those old men. Think deeply. Would it be right to punish me for a condition, which I have through no fault of my own, with loneliness for the rest of my days? I say no, not just because I am biased, but because I believe that Muslims are commanded to behave with compassion and mercy. Would you really abandon your wife to a lonely existence – no partner, no children, no grandchildren? Is that how strong you are, oh man? Is that how strong you are?
The fact that I may never have children of my own torments me from time to time, but I recall that the purpose of life is to tests us as to which of us are best in deeds. If this is my test, so be it. All of us are accountable for how we respond to adversity. We have a choice: to behave like men and face it, or to turn and run away. Most of us today choose the latter. The men around the Messenger, however, never ever fled.