More often than not, when we hear lectures about gender roles and responsibilities in Islam, these pertain to women. Occasionally hearing a lecture dealing with men or male responsibility, it’s done only with criticism. But there’s no discussion of solution. We’re really good at pointing out the problem, but not so good at dealing with it.
Someone can tell me that I need to be a good son, a good husband, or a good father. Unfortunately, no one is telling me how to actually be these things, especially through lens of Islam.
The absence of strong, male role models in society in general, and within the Muslim community in specific, makes it that much harder for a young Muslim man to know what responsibility really means religiously.
How many of us were taught how we’re supposed to treat women from an Islamic standpoint versus a cultural standpoint? It’s important here to not think in absolutes. Meaning, not knowing how to treat a woman doesn’t necessarily mean that one mistreats women.
How many of us were really ever sat down as young men, explained how to respect and uphold our responsibilities? And then did we see those words manifest into actions by the male figures we admired while growing up?
If I don’t know what my responsibility is as a young man, how will I really know what to look for when I am trying to find a woman to spend the rest of my life with? More importantly, why would anyone want to marry me?
True stories among us
I travel a lot for speaking engagements. On a trip to the south I was approached by an elderly man at a mosque after a lecture I gave. He asked me if I could speak to him in private and when we sat down he began to cry.
He said that when he was younger, his father hardly spoke to him. He only really engaged with his son when he did something wrong. His father was always very somber and distant. This now elderly man found himself being the same way with his wife and children after he got married.
His wife left him eventually and then his children stopped talking to him. He said his father never seemed happy in his marriage or with his children. So he didn’t think it was a big deal that his own marriage wasn’t a happy one. Nor that he never tried to be a part of his own kids’ lives.
Now, after seven decades of living, he was alone. He had no idea how to bring them back into his life, and regretted not ever learning how to be better for them.
Is chivalry an Islamic concept?
In the Qur’an, the Prophet Abraham, (pbuh), is referred to in Arabic as fata, a young, noble man who knows how to handle his responsibilities. His sense of integrity and commitment are remarkable.
From the word fata is derived the Arabic word, futuwwa, essentially translating as chivalry. Being gentle, loyal, modest, honest, compassionate, humble, trustworthy and selfless is having futuwwa.
In the medieval period of Islam, orders were established around this principle of futuwwa that emphasized members uphold these traits and seek to serve society, putting their needs after the needs of those around them.
Then they were teaching teach young men how to honor their responsibilities, while today we are forcing them to figure it out on their own. Chivalry is in our tradition. We just have to embrace it again and empower individuals to be those role models that our communities desperately need.
I have long been impressed by an undergraduate club at NYU called “The Gentlemen of Quality“. Their mission statement reads:
“We, the Gentlemen of Quality, are a brotherhood dedicated to the principles of leadership, service, and scholarship. We seek the academic, social, and cultural enhancement of our communities, irrespective of race, color, creed, and religion. We recognize, respect, and affirm the diverse backgrounds that bring us together to positively impact the NYU community. We aspire to set standards that will be built upon by future leaders. Through these principles we strive to Keep Inspiring and Nurturing a Gentleman’s Spirit.”
The Muslim community needs a similar program or organization for young men that emphasizes and redefines success and achievement for us in terms of character, not just simply job titles, credentials and salaries. Patterns of emerging adulthood are much later these days in men across diverse backgrounds than they were years ago.
Take a move
The maturity of an 18-year-old today isn’t the same as his counterpart from twenty or thirty years ago. Our communities need to bring in well-rounded individuals who understand youth development as a science and build programs from an early age that help boys embrace their sense of responsibility. We should hire professionals in this regard and not rely on volunteers, as good as their intentions might be.
While much of the same could be said about women, we don’t need to always present both sides of an issue, especially in one little article. But this argument sometimes justifies for us our complacency. This isn’t meaning to be a moment for “well girls also need to be better” just as it’s not meant to be a “let’s hate on men” moment.
Islam is about learning to deal with reality and the reality is we right now have many issues around marriage in the Muslim community.
Race and ethnicity, culture, socio-economic realities, divorce, ego, domestic violence, mental health issues, pornography, adoption, infertility, loyalty, intimacy, communication, fidelity, in-laws, and much more are all things that can be a part of this discussion. The main point being that young Muslim men need the nurturing to grow into true Muslim men.