In this Fajr Club session, I lead a discussion on how the collapse of meaning has led to, amongst many things, the inability of people today to navigate and experience all aspects of human existence, especially grief and pain, as we continue our class, “Islam In-depth”.
There are few topics more sensitive than sexual ethics in the Muslim community. This can undoubtedly be explained, admittedly in part, due to the secularization of the Muslim mind, particularly in the West. The result of this secularization process cannot be better seen in the way Muslims, especially younger Muslims, simultaneously perceive that there is a god whilst at the same time denying that same god any authority over their lives. One particular manifestation of this is what I now dub the “low hanging fruit” syndrome.
What I mean by low hanging fruit is the increasing tendency for younger Muslims to delay marriage while at the same time engaging in fornication. They have, however, not arrived at this decision without a number of pressures being exerted on themselves. Some of these include oppressive and unrealistic marital expectations such as demanding that young suitors (men in particular) must have six-figure bank accounts, advanced degrees and a number of impractical demands that make it nearly impossible for young Muslims in the West to marry at a young age. The fault for this lies entirely at the feet of the parents of such young Muslims who themselves have been reprogrammed by colonial/post-colonial constructions of what constitutes suitable marriage material. Other pressures include the societal prioritization of leisure over responsibility and especially the collapse of traditional forms of manhood which not only produced men who would be providers but also produced men who would police other young men (vs. the almost exclusive practice today of policing women), correcting them when they are wrong and applying pressure to encourage them to conform to normative Muslim moral and sexual ethics.
What we have now, in the absence of virtuous manhood are young Muslims, especially men, who seek to satisfy they normal sexual urges through immoral channels. The role of the elders (read parents) here cannot be overemphasized in their infantilization of Muslim youth. I meet young man after young man who, even into their 30’s, live at home with their parents. Conversely, I also meet and talk with distraught mothers lamenting over the lack of prospects of available suitors for their daughters. So what will give here so that we may turn the tide of this misplaced cultural practice?
When I spoke earlier of the secularization of the Muslim mind part of what I mean here is the way in which an ever-increasing number of Muslims no longer look to Islam as a means of solving their life’s problems. Additionally, many have bought into the hogwash that the entirety of problems Muslims face today (including the current predicament presently discussed) is due to their Islam instead of in spite of, or a lack of applying, Islam. Parents and youth alike often bemoan to me behind closed doors, “how backward Islam is” not realizing that the backwardness is due to the absence of Islam not only in their lives but in the minds and hearts, the very agents interpreting their realities.
So how do we solve the dilemma of low hanging fruit: the practice of young Muslims (again, particularly men) who seek sexual gratification from non-Muslim women precisely because those women will place few, if any, demands, on having sexual access to them. This, coupled with the embarrassing truth that despite these immoral acts, many Muslim parents continue to materially support their children even in the face of blatant disregard for God’s commandments. The result of this is a confusing and conflating material support for moral support.
When asked of a solution I did not pretend to have any simple one-stop-shop resolution to the conundrum but nonetheless, I do believe it will start with men, especially the elders (by elder I mean those who have children), placing demands on the youth. Our, as Lauren Knight describes, “everybody’s a winner” culture, has defanged and disabled the current (and most certainly the next, if we don’t change course) generation of young Muslims from not only living fulfilling lives but we ourselves become accessories to the crime of secularizing the Muslim mind by giving credence to popular theology: “God exists, but He doesn’t matter”. How do we understand this phenomenon? It is nothing other than the internalization of secularism that says, if God exists, He plays no role in our daily lives. God is now a choice, in the way in which one might choose Android or Apple for a phone, chicken or barbacoa for a burrito; it’s the buffet and salad bar of postmodernity, or rather, what Dr. Sherman Jackson writes, “the sanctity of individual desire”.
Until Muslim men rise to the challenge and the station set before them, there is little hope that any secular philosophy will come to our rescue and may God have mercy on us should that come to be.
In discussing the topic of postmodernism today with a colleague we arrived at a conclusion that the main opposition to polygyny in today’s postmodern world—including from Muslims—is rooted in the notion that (a) polygyny is a right that men exclusively enjoy and (b) that men may enjoy that right unabashedly (that is, having legitimate sexual relationships with another woman).
The reason we touched on polygyny, a marital practice very few Muslims enjoin, is because of its “controversial” status in the minds of those who claim Islam to be a misogynistic religion. A claim now held by many Muslims who’ve been infected with postmodern sensibilities and methods of interpretation.
Our challenge to this was thus: postmodernism would tell us in general, and women in particular, that it is preferable to either (a) commit acts of sexual immorality (fornication) or (b) remain alone and face the cold hard reality of modern life by oneself. To me, this is a ludicrous and inhumane proposition based on the false myth of “fairness”. What I intend by myth here is the notion that postmodernism claims it’s unfair for a man to have what a woman cannot enjoy. Additionally, there is the assumption that every woman should be or can be in an ideal situation for marriage. What postmodernists (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) fail to recognize is that life is foundationally not fair. Further, as of yet, no society, philosophy, or even religious tradition (including Islam!) has been able to arrange the pieces on the proverbial chess board to ensure that life treats everyone “fairly”. Our rebuttal was that it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to create a sexual utopia in which everyone can have a monogamous relationship. What Islam does propose, however, is that everyone can have dignity. A woman who is married to a man—in the eyes of God according to Islam—is not merely some sexual object to be exploited but rather a woman—a human being!—to be given rights and dignity. And while this admittedly may not be an optimal relationship (a claim, by the way, Islam never makes), it is though, a dignified one. And people, especially women, should not be asked to make a choice between loneliness and immorality and dignity.
The other specter in the room regarding polygyny is (a) the general attitude the West still has about sex: it is a dirty and taboo thing, the result of which is both the hyper-sexualization of society whilst at the same time creating a downturn in actual sexual enjoyment. In other words, sex is now everywhere, and nowhere (how utopian!). And (b) the even further objection to men enjoying sexual relations unabashedly. For brevity sake, I believe this is connected to the false notion that (a) this is a result of patriarchy and (b) all forms of patriarchy are inherently evil or bad.
To conclude, postmodernity has rewired the modern Muslims mind to see bad where there is good, detriment where there is actually benefit. It is my hope that the thought leaders, imams, scholars, and shuyukh of our time will wake up to this growing interpretive threat and begin the process of de-programming and healing our hearts and minds.
And to God belongs all praise.