August 25, 2006

A Discussion over Chick Peas

I'm approximately 33,000 feet above Alberta or Saskatchewan right now. I should be sleeping, since I have a busy day of working, driving, and partying tomorrow, but 20 minutes of sleep early in the flight has made it very difficult to keep my eyes closed since. Hopefully, writing a few irrelevant anecdotes should help put me back to sleep, so here goes.

Once a week, I'll have dinner at an Indian restaurant situated between my office and hotel. It's a fairly nice place in the heart of downtown Vancouver, but going there alone every week was always tiresome. Because of the surprising unavailability of halal food in downtown, Subway is my usual dinner destination, and I often prefer it mainly because of the lack of awkwardness of eating without any company. But in the absence of home cooking and real spice, I would always get drawn back to the Indian place, where I would sheepishly walk in requesting a table for one, and sit alone awaiting my order.

After a few weeks of pestering my Jewish colleague, he finally agreed to join me at the Indian place for dinner on Wednesday night. As I was somewhat of a regular there, it was very refreshing for both myself and the staff that I entered the restaurant requesting a table for two. I advised my colleague on the best options for him which would satisfy his kosher constraints. Finally, he settled on shahi paneer, which he had served with mattar chawal and roti.

I sincerely hoped that my colleague would enjoy his meal, as I didn't want to continue coming to this restaurant alone. He didn't like the papadum that is always served as an appetizer, so I was banking entirely on the paneer. When the food arrived and I instructed him on how to eat it, I waited anxiously for his verdict.

"This is really good!" I sighed with relief. "And it isn't too spicy at all!" He requested the mild meal, while I was burning up with the extra-hot cholay. My meal, in spite of the overwhelming spiciness, was delicious as well. We both sat there enjoying our meals while discussing and comparing the concepts of sanad in hadith sciences and the laws governing rulings from the talmud.

At one point, he asked me, "This is the type of food your mom cooks every day?"

I nodded. "This is the stuff I grew up on." Cholay has always been one of my favourites, and is staple Ramadhan food in our household. "My mother makes this stuff really well."

He looked up, shook his head, and sighed.

'Isn't it sad that there aren't any girls out there anymore like our mothers?', he asked.

The question caught me off guard, but I agreed. My colleague, who is of Moroccan Jewish descent, understood the common lament of many young Muslim men like myself. I explained my personal situation to him, while acknowledging that I have three wonderful sister-in-laws that have helped keep my hopes up. "But they're not from here, are they?", he asked, sounding much like a mentor of mine who often seeks to convince me about the merits of importing. "Actually, only one of them was born in Canada... the other two are from back home."

"There you go." Though we heavily differed in background and religion, he clearly understood and shared concerns around the eroding principles of tradition. We discussed the issue further. I was surprised at how similar our feelings were on issues of marriage and family relationships. "Ce qui mari la fille, il se mari la famille," he said. We both acknowledged that the 'traditional' system worked, and how important it was for the family to be involved heavily in the whole process.

Many close friends of mine have tried doing things outside of the usual process. While I admired them for looking past cultural barriers, I worried about conflicts between the respective families. Though they were very religious people in each case, they neglected the importance of respecting their parents wishes. They intended to prove that they knew better than their parents by leaving aside nationality and culture, focusing purely on the Islamic character of their prospective spouses. As noble as their intentions may have been, in each of those cases, the engagements (and marriage, in one case) failed, and all of them suffered greatly. Hearts were broken, parents became bitter, and some very close friends fell into despair and misery. I was usually the first person these friends reached out to when things were going awry. I did my best to comfort them; however, I could clearly identify where things had gone wrong, and was incapable of reversing it. And even after years have gone by, some of them still have not fully recovered from the frustrations of those days. I continue to pray for them, but consistently hear bad news every time I give them a call.

This is not to say that we must restrict ourselves by culture. However, I do believe that such decisions must be made only with the consent and full approval of parents. If a young man ignores the wishes of the parents who raised him, sacrificed for him, and who understand him like no one else, he is doing a great disservice to himself. He is shunning the advice of those who have the deepest understanding of his needs, while embarking on a path devoid of the necessary guidance. I assume the same applies for young women as well; many would be incapable of making wise decisions without assistance from her parents. I have seen intercultural marriages work, but the parents on both sides were heavily involved in the process.

My colleague and I split the bill, and proceeded to our respective destinations. As I walked back to my hotel, I thought about all the decisions I've made in my life, and how often I strayed from the guidance of my own parents. Thankfully, none of those decisions have caused me much grief, but I often look back and recognize the deeper wisdom of parental advice I neglected. Alhamdolillah, I am where I want to be right now because I listened and followed them to a satisfactory extent; I may have been further if I listened and followed even more.

Rabbirham huma kamaa rabbayaani sagheera.


  1. This would prob. be a good time to inform thou that I'm the neice of the sister-in-law who was born in Canada. Naveed was over last week and we figured it out somehow. Small, strange world. :)

  2. Here I was thinking this post would be about channa masala, and BAM, something serious.

    You know, I don't think it's fair to say that there aren't any girls out there who are "like our mothers." I think it's a common bias that guys tend to have when they go back home to find a wife (not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that). There are amazing sisters (and brothers) here in Canada. People just don't want to spend the time and effort to look for them. And hey, who's to say what our mothers were REALLY like when they were young? ;) My dad taught my mom how to cook when they got married, now she's the best cook around :D

    But listening to the advice of your parents is usually the best way around every situation. Because their advice has two elements to it: 1. Knowledge and experience and 2. Love and mercy.

    I wish I had realized that earlier in life, it would have saved me a lot of angsty years.

  3. Don't have much time, so I can't fully comment on the post...

    My family is of Indian descent, but the last two generations are from South Africa, so we're more watered-down Indians than anything :P
    We don't always eat Indian food, but my grandma makes the BEST biryani, takkari, barfi and muguj. Okay, my mom makes good food too, but not like Grandma :)

    As for marriage, well, there are a lot of new Muslimahs who want to get married... but because of their pasts (relationships, divorces, what have you) and the fact that many of them have kids from previous relationships, they have a very hard time getting married.
    There are many brothers, but lots of them seem really picky - they want young, beautiful, educated girls... not older women with kids.
    And then also the women want their husbands to let them go out a lot, work, be earning a lot of money, and so much more.

    It's sad, really.
    But may Allah help us realize that the best things in a spouse are not wealth, outer beauty, and everything else, but true Iman and Islam.

  4. I don't think I'm old enough (being almost 20) to comment about the "Chick Pea" conversation. :P Not old enough in terms of anything that I feel I could contribute.

    Still, I would definitely say the same thing about men... i.e. it's hard to imagine good young men, conscious of their duties in life and the Hereafter, to come walking down the road. But then, such a thing hasn't been possible for many generations. With many girls, I think, atleast in the East, it hasn't been long (only this century, at the most) that they've thrown away the good things.

    Cooking traditional food is one thing associated with the big bad Conservative mindset so when you decide to eliminate, you eliminate everything... even the good. It's considered cool to be able to say, "Yaar, I can't cook a damn thing!" (btw, I don't like the word 'amn' but that's where it's used much)

    About your incident, that was really nice to read about the Moroccan Jew. It's really refreshing to read about something like that with all the hatred between our communities. Food is one big leveller.

    I've said more than I thouhgt I could say here. :P And now, reminded of chick-peas, I shall sniff 'em out in the refrigerator.


  5. Interesting post.

    I agree that many couples walk into inter-cultural marriages without parents' support and that causes serious problems down the road. While it's a commendable and admirable act as you said, it requires much thought.

    In regards to the parents choosing your spouse, I think that depends on the individual. In some cases, yes, the parents know their child well enough to pick out his wife/husband. But to make a general blanket statement that it is always the best solution is not accurate.

    Parents' opinion should be valued high and greatly but it should not be the final word, especially in a serious case like marriage. It is our Islamic right to do what's in our best interest and if that means marrying someone that your parents are not completely happy with, then you have every right to do so.

    Of course, serious considerations should be given as to why there were objections. Maybe the parents see something that we've missed. But if at the end of the day, you believe with full conviction that it's in your best interest in this world and the next to marry a certain person, then you should do it. Though the best way is always to make sure your parents are happy with it.

    Many people cite the low divorce rate in Pakistan because parents choose the spouse. I can assure you that the divorce rate would be astronomically high if cultural stigmas, financial concerns, and family abandonment were not associated with divorce.

    As the Prophet (pbuh) consulted the companions on important matters, we should also consult those around us, namely the parents and give their opinon the highest of regards. But, the decision for marriage that is half our deen, should be the individuals and no one elses.

    If the individual relinquishes the responsibility to his/her parents, that's another story. But in no way can it be considered your 'Islamic duty' to obey your parents in matter that you deem to be harmful, be it related to the deen or the dunya.

    My two cents....actually much more :-)

  6. Wow, great comments. Not bad for something I wrote on a plane in the middle of the night.

    Saira: So if my sister-in-law is your aunt, that means that you're the cousin of my little nephew and niece... which gives me the impression that you're a little toddler. Wow.

    In all seriousness, that's neat. That makes you the second relative I've "discovered" through Irrelevant Opinions. That's pretty awesome.

    Asmaa: You should read my other blog, "The Channa Masala Chronicles: Ruminations on the Profound Philosophical Parallels of Indian Dinner, Delights, and Delicatessen". Except that it doesn't exist. So, um, yeah.

    I'll slightly disagree with one statement, that "people just don't want to spend the time and effort to look for them." I think it's more likely that people just don't know how to spend the time and effort to look for them. I remember having lengthy discussions with roommates and friends about how that whole process is just so confusing for people accustomed to lowered gazes for so many years. The annoying part is that whenever one of our friends does succeed in the quest, he'll never share the secret.

    AnonyMouse: I can only assume that sisters are probably equally as picky, but I don't really know. I don't think it's unfair for people to look for prospects that have similar histories; that is, I think unmarried brothers who have protected themselves from any sorts of relationships should be allowed to expect that their prospective spouses have similarly refrained from such relationships. I think it's hypocritical when someone who does whatever he wants prior to marriage decides to "settle down" and look for someone young and never previously married; but I think it's within reason to hope and look for that if one's own history is similar.

    Ameera: Food is definitely a big leveller. A few years ago, I started this big campaign at the university to get our cafeterias to provide halal food. I ended up also leading the campaign to bring kosher food for the Jewish folks, thinking it would be a good way to express the respect Islam has for ahlul-kitaab. The whole venture was only partially successful, but it definitely opened up good communications between the various religious groups on campus. In that campaign, we got all sorts of groups on board (Ahmadiyya, Shi'a, Bahai, etc.), because hey, everyone needs to eat. And they were all happy to have the Sunnis leading the charge, because we highly outnumbered any other group in terms of numbers and influence. (approx. 1500 Sunnis compared to about 150 Shi'as, 70 Jews, and 6 Ahmadis.)

    Faraz Ahmed: I always get confused whenever you leave a comment. It shows up in my e-mail with just the first name, exactly as it shows up for my own comments, so I tend to ignore them until I actually visit the site. But thanks for the wise words regardless!

    I'll agree that sometimes, parents might not have the best interests of their children in mind, favouring highly cultural aspects while compromising religion and other values that the Prophet sallallaho'alayhi wa salam encouraged us to consider. Alhamdolillah, that's not the case in my family.

    I have seen others being pushed into something which simply did not work, but they just settled with it to satisfy the parents. I know they're not happy, but they're willing to swallow all their frustration and feign a happy disposition to protect the honour of their family.

    And that's probably why, as you said, the divorce rate is low in Pakistan and similar places. There are so many that are unhappy, but they'll live with it for the sake of the family. I don't think that's a bad thing; honestly, I admire that. They're putting the needs of their families and children above their own personal whims and desires, at the expense of their own personal comfort. I don't know what's better; for a child to have his parents together but unhappy, or to have them separated but content. In any case, the ideal remains to have the parents together and happy, and that is possible if both parents have the right mindset and expectations from the beginning of their marriage.


    Yikes; that was long.

  7. I didn't have much to say about the post, but your comment on the other hand...

    I think it's hypocritical when someone who does whatever he wants prior to marriage decides to "settle down" and look for someone young and never previously married; but I think it's within reason to hope and look for that if one's own history is similar.

    A person should be able to empathize with another if they have a similar history, but they shouldn't have to restrict themselves to someone of a similar history. How many people have some kind of emotional (perhaps literal) baggage that they carry before they look for a spouse? I would say many people do. Honesty is vital, but should such a person be willing to accept someone similar to them in that way? Not necessarily. Having a certain history may teach you some lessons that make you want to stay away from a person of similar history.

  8. Yeah it took awhile convincing the Ottawa lot to refrain from enforcing the Aunt and Uncle namecalling. The strategy was to refer to them as such in a public place. Everyone got over it pretty fast after that. *wicked grin* Thats what happens when both one's parents are the oldest amongst their cousins.

    As for the topic at hand... I wrote some stuff and deleted it mainly because I think my take on stuff happens to be very different from how the majority of the folks who commented. So in hopes to maintain peace I shall refrain. :).

  9. You're probably right about my statement being somewhat of an ignorant assumption. It is difficult (for both males and females) to find good people here. But it happens, so it's not impossible. Being involved in the Muslim community definitely helps.

    I suppose it's the whole idea of going back home to find a bride that doesn't sit well with me. It's as though men (or their parents) look down on Muslim women who were raised here. Which isn't fair, to say the least.

    Then again, my sister married someone from "back home," so it's a bit of a conundrum :D

  10. Dear brothers and sisters,

    My mind now can't stop thinking about some good tandori masala chicken. lol....good way to solve world peace.

  11. Assalaamu'alaykum

    I have little empathy for single men who are searching for "women like their mothers" because, as one sister alluded to, mothers have almost 30 years behind them of household, nurturing experience.

    Marriage means something different these days too in that before you were to marry and stay married and expect little support from your spouse, especially women. I do know that there are a lot of women whose lives are completely dependent on their children. It's not a wonder a man would look for such wholehearted committment, but let's get real for a minute. What are men willing to offer in return for these one-of-a-kind sisters?

    Each their own. For the man who values a woman for her ability to cook superb dishes, he deserves a woman who values him for the money he can make. Each is their responsibility regardless, but in all truth a spouse's worth can't be so easily summed up. To think otherwise would make one quite shallow.

    As for the secret to finding that someone... First, is to get real, i.e. be realistic in that we are all a product of our upbringings, you can either appreciate that upbringing or not and if you don't like it then quit whining about it and look elsewhere. Secondly, to submit to Allah's plan because your spouse is already written for you, and finally, to let those whom you respect know that you are earnestly seeking a spouse and make an effort to seriously consider anyone who seems half decent that comes your way despite her less-than-my-mother-like qualities.

    The topic of spouse hunting always seems to get the most attention. But a lot of the time, the discussions are fruitless and hardly worth it. Each their own. Marriage like everything else has its Islamic guidelines. If things aren't detailed in Islamic teachings, then it's a matter of preference. Again, each their own. There are a lot of good people out there, but good for one isn't necessarily good for another.

    All the best to those sincerely looking. May Allah bless you all with that which you are deserving of and fill your marriage with appreciation for each other's blessings and ultimately with gratitude to Allah.. ameen.

  12. SubhanAllah; it's amazing sometimes how you start writing something and it just goes off in a completely different direction then what you originally intended. I started writing this little anecdote because I found it somewhat amusing, and it would serve my records well. Eventually, I wanted to illustrate similarities between Jewish tradition and Muslim tradition, and then to express appreciation for the loving guidance of parents. The marriage slant was largely incidental; I wrote the thoughts crossing my mind at 2:00am, and among those thoughts was the sympathy I have for those friends of mine who erred in rejecting parental advice. In this case, as with most of my writing on this blog, I just let thoughts flow freely without any attention to editing or revision.

    Shan: I agree, but I was really referring to that situation where someone with baggage won't accept the baggage of someone else. I think that's a bit unrealistic, and both parties should have fair expectations of one another. As you said, honesty is vital. If people are willing to accept one another for who they are, then alhamdolillah, that's the ideal.

    Saira: I think the few readers I have are generally very civil and wouldn't be adverse to an opposing viewpoint. But as you like.

    Hmm, I wonder if I should add you in to my "Relative Opinions" section since you are, after all, a relative.

    Asmaa: I've had a lot of exposure to both cases (back home and local), but won't commit to a conclusive opinion either way. I think everyone, insha-Allah, will find what they're looking for wherever they may be if they go through the right channels. Whether that means going "back home" or keeping local depends on the person, and ultimately, on his or her Qadr.

    For my detailed analysis on this, you can read my most infamous post, Isti-car-a.

    Muslim Unity: Aside from kalima, there are only two things in the world that humanity can unite upon: the need to eat, and the need to sleep. If you can keep society well fed and well rested, then things should remain civil. Others include liberty as one of these unifiable characteristics, but everyone has their own definition of what liberty actually is.

    Thus, kalima remains the primary source of unification for humanity.

    Sister Farzeen: Wa'alaykum assalam,
    I don't believe this entry was intended to be about "spouse-hunting", but I know where you're coming from.

    On my return from India last year, I wrote something about the lack of a generation gap bothering me. That was my way of illustrating how I didn't sit well with the old mentality; I grew up with certain values, and I appreciated that some of them were different from my parents. Not necessarily better, but different. And the fact that that difference didn't exist in the corresponding generation of relatives in India was somewhat intimidating: I felt that I wasn't in my time, my world.

    Ultimately, that can be extended to misgivings about the whole concept of importing. I don't think most people necessarily want to find people similar to their own parents, in that they would have lost an entire generation of social development in the process. And while that's not important to everyone, it's fairly important to me.

    I don't know if that made sense, but it made sense to me anyway. And as long as I continue to refer to this site as "irrelevant", that's all that matters. Anyway, I think I should go back to writing convoluted metaphors and leave that whole topic cryptic and obfuscated. Allah subhana wa ta'Ala has a Plan for everyone, and that Plan has been working wonders for me, alhamdolillah.

  13. Honestly come to think of it I don't think I have that much of a differing opinion esp. since I get the feeling when you meant "more like our mothers", you were building towards the cultural angle. I think it all depends on how the family reacts to things. Most of the time people who decide to marry outside their culture face more issues from relatives than amongst themselves. I'm betting society and family have a lot more to do with divorces than the individuals themselves. Consequently in line with what you said, people should consider their own families and how they'd end up treating the outsider and how they'd view this union. Otherwise they're going to pretty much get bulldozed into an unhappy ending.

    "Hmm, I wonder if I should add you in to my "Relative Opinions" section since you are, after all, a relative."

    Point. Whatever suits you. Shall not go all psycho on you if the link doesnt show up. :)

  14. Wow. "Isti-car-a" was a disturbing post. I'm not even sure I want to comment on it now. Or ever.

    I'm sure feminists would have a field day with this :)

  15. Let me ask you this, Faraz bhai (et al). Do you think we have a responsibility to give our parents a great deal of control over our spouse-search because their parents had a great deal of control over our parents' searches? Sometimes I feel as though we have an obligation to preserve customs and that not doing so would make me a weak link. It's like there have been centuries' worth of personal sacrifices for the sake of the family strength, and regardless of what we want, we should make those sacrifices too.

  16. Saira: In the cases I spoke of, where things went wrong in intercultural engagements/marriages, it was always because of the family and not of the individuals themselves. I feel bad for all of them, but things just got off on the wrong foot and continued that way until they fell apart completely.

    Asmaa: I think that post has generated some of the best commentary this site has ever gotten. Not to mention the frequent dinner discussion.. though it was probably unwise to reveal my "code".

    Shan Abbasi: I've thought about that, and here's my take:
    When our parents came to Canada, they must have expected some customs would change or be lost. Any future generations (like us) would grow up very disconnected from the society that created those customs, so I think it's only natural that these customs would break apart. I don't consider it an obligation to try to salvage them.

    Consider this: several generations ago, we were from Iraq. Do we maintain any connection to that? Do our parents? Do our grandparents? How quickly was that connection lost when our forefathers came to India?

    In the same way, I imagine that it will only take a few generations before our descendants stop saying "we're from India originally". I say that today, but would my own children say that if both their parents were born in Canada? What about their children?