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.