بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيم
As a child raised in a home with a running television set, I innocently formed my opinions about things in adult life based on what I observed, both in real life and on the screen. Thankfully, local Pakistani television had restricted transmission hours during the eighties, and was heavily pre-censored.
Nevertheless, it was not long before I began to form, based merely on casual observation, an opinion about what an adult Pakistani woman was expected to be like, after her marriage.
How a society functions depends on its dwellers’ mindset. You can make all the rules and laws you want, but it’s the people and what they believe deep inside their hearts that produce the actual results. Media – books, newspapers, magazines, television, Internet – contribute greatly in either rejecting or reinforcing society’s long-held myths, ideas and stereotypes. It is a two-way road actually. What the media shows is often a reflection of society; and when it shows it, it might further reinforce those beliefs, unfortunately.
In a country where majority of the population is illiterate i.e., they cannot even read, mass media is required for ensuring that something is communicated to them effectively. Marketers and advertisers have just one major aim as far as using the media to reach this illiterate majority goes: ensuring that it buys their product and/or service that is on sale. They therefore use spectacular images, music and subliminal messaging in their television advertisements to garner the audience’s attention.
Be it a mobile phone or a one-rupee candy, the attention-grabbing tactics employed are the same.
Advertisements that I found off-putting as an adult
By the time I hit my thirties, it had been over two decades since I’d been viewing advertisements on television; they usually caught my eye for the colors, situational characteristics, quality and choreography employed in their production.
Years after I had been married, however, the underlying stereotyped ideas being promoted via these advertisements did more to engage my attention – or, should I say – my indignation. Even though we (my husband and I) have never kept a television in our home, screens had begun to pop up everywhere in public, from restaurants, to the waiting areas at doctors’ clinics, to airport lounges, and the cheesy advertisements they blared, like I said, often caught my attention.
Maybe it had got to do with the fact that I was no longer a happy-go-lucky, gum-chewing youngster. I guess, as the hair starts to grey and the hormones calm down a bit, the brain starts to work a bit more efficiently. Just 20 minutes of random television viewing in-passing anywhere, would fill me in with the head-whirling advertisement bombardment more than amply.
Now let’s get the stats right: more than 50% of any country’s population is female. In Pakistan, for most part of the day, television is viewed mostly by the female population – the stay-at-home wives, mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers, and house-maids, particularly in the time-slot of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Consequently, most of the content broadcast in this time interval is targeted at this predominantly female audience. It’s no wonder then, that cooking shows and home-centered programs rule the roost.
In ads promoting cooking oil, tea, or even dish-washing detergent – the basic backdrop always remains the same. A young, exquisitely-dressed woman is shown in the kitchen, hovering over a pot on the stove, or even worse – in this age of automatic washing machines – loading her washer with a huge pile of laundry in the middle of her lawn. As she swirls around and gives the viewers a huge smile, singing the praises of the said product, we get a generous view of things that have nothing to do with the product.
I mean, which woman sings and dances, whilst all decked up, when doing the daily laundry?!
In ads promoting brands of tea, this pretty young lady serves her family cups of tea on a tray. And who is ‘her family’? A father-in-law, mother-in-law, a husband and children – the scenario is the same in every advertisement. If the ad is selling cooking oil, it shows this family seated around a huge dining table, as super-mom/wife/daughter-in-law lays the table with steaming dishes. In the end, she convinces the viewers how she gets extra love, acceptance, respect and praise by her ‘family’ because of her delicious culinary skills. One particular detergent ad showed a husband lauding his wife for successfully removing the stains of dirt off his shirt, while she winked at the viewers and admitted that the detergent did it. Another ad showed a prospective mother-in-law intentionally dropping in to visit her son’s fiancé very early in the morning, in order to see the latter’s “saleeqah” (home-organizing-and-cleaning expertise) of keeping house. The ad showed the frazzled daughter-in-law-to-be scurrying to clean up the kitchen before this scheming “aunty”, who was soon to become her mother-in-law, entered the house. When the latter saw the gleaming dishes next to the sink (yes, the ad was that of a dish-washing soap), she looked at her prospective ‘bahu’ (son’s wife) with approval. The ‘bahu’ sighed with relief.
Before I go on to discuss some even more degrading past advertisements, I must highlight how almost all of them used to reinforce some fixed stereotypes regarding women in Pakistani society. One of these stereotypes is that a wife or daughter-in-law’s primary duty after marriage is housekeeping, cooking, and serving her husband, children and in-laws – and not necessarily in that particular order.
Now how is every young, college-going girl to achieve this “Pakistani dream”? That is, how is she to bag an eligible bachelor in order to spend the rest of her life thus serving his family?
Well, we have more cheesy advertisements telling us how.
Top of the list: fairness and beauty creams. ‘Use this cream, catch the eye of that hottie in your college, or the one at your cousin’s wedding or at the family-friend’s dinner party, and voila! Out comes the engagement ring. You’re all set’.
It is one thing for this message to be made via imagery in ads, it’s quite another to have some sickening dialogue going with it. I swear I have myself seen an ad in which a “dark” (dusky-complexioned) girl was shown in her college uniform, crying to herself and thinking “Who is going to marry me?” After using a certain turmeric-based cream to magically transform the color of her skin, she eventually got married, and was shown all dolled-up and giggling away as her husband followed her around the house, gazing at her lovestruck.
If that wasn’t enough, she then turned towards the camera and said, “I know that every girl wants her husband to praise her looks and fall in love with her like this, so you also use this cream!”
I could just gag with disgust!
The same message is given by shampoo advertisements; they are too innumerable to discuss here. In them, it is a flick of the long, lustrous hair that achieves the same husband-snag very effectively.
Cut to the reality show “Shadi Online”, which aired back in the early 2000’s, in which single people seeking marriage, or “candidates”, were aired on live television so that they could receive proposals via the media: in every episode of this show, an experienced married couple was also present, to offer advice regarding success in marital life.
Once, I remember vividly, a former Pakistani film-actress and her husband, who was also a film actor, were present on an episode of the show. When she was asked by the hosts what the main requirement for a successful marriage was, she promptly replied, “Every Pakistani/Muslim girl should think of her husband as her ‘majazi khuda’”.
In Urdu or Hindi, the term majazi khuda means “metaphorical god”.
I will elaborate more on that in a bit.
As for her husband, he had forbidden her from working in films after marriage, and she even had to visit her mother’s house only after asking him first, as he, according to her own admission, did not ‘like her going out of the house’. As for him, like I mentioned, he was still doing films, prancing around on hilltops in the arms of young lovelies.
Apparently, in Pakistani culture, a ‘majazi khuda’ can do whatever he wants, even if it involves disobeying the actual, one and only God, the all-great Allah; but his wife needs to be tightly-controlled by him, in order to be worthy of his love.
Now I know what you must be thinking. That I am the hijab-and-niqab wearing woman promoting an Islamic way of life, and in Islam, a woman’s husband is akin to her ‘majazi khuda’, right?
Wrong! A thousand times!
In Islam, there is NO God except Allah. The Urdu/Hindi word “khuda” (which means, a deity that is worshipped) can never be used for any being besides Allah, let alone even consider some other created object or temporary, worldly entity as a ‘khuda’, even in one’s heart.
This amounts to ‘shirk’ i.e., associating a partner with Allah, which is the gravest sin.
Prostrating to other than Allah
There is a hadith (Prophetic narration) that most people refer to when they mistakenly consider the “majazi khuda” concept to have originated in the religion of Islam. It is reproduced below:
The Prophet ﷺ said, “If I were to command anyone to prostrate to anyone other than Allah, I would have commanded women to prostrate to their husbands. By the One in Whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, no woman can fulfil her duty towards Allah until she fulfils her duty towards her husband. If he asks her (for intimacy) even if she is on her camel-saddle, she should not refuse.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
There are other authentic Prophetic narrations that endorse the greatness of the husband’s rights upon his wife in Islam, particularly his right for physical intimacy. First and foremost, he has the right to be obeyed in all matters that do not go against Allah’s commands. Secondly, he has the right to deny her permission for some matters – if the need so arises, rightfully – such as her visiting certain people or places he does not approve of, as I have already discussed.
Scholars have written many books and articles regarding a husband’s and wife’s mutual rights in Islam, and I don’t intend to add to them here. However, what I want to emphasize here, is that Muslim women should look at both sides of this picture, and not overlook the fact that they too, are not completely devoid of rights in this relationship. Some of their basic rights are: adequate food, shelter and clothing, and kind treatment.
Yes, it is obligatory for a husband to provide all of these for his wife, and to treat her kindly.
Now, about the advertisements promoting a wife’s complete and devoted servitude.
First of all, after most of my friends and I myself got married, a question that eventually arose – not surprisingly – for most of them, was whether or not they could dare to ask their husbands for separate accommodation. Even biological siblings and cousins get into tiffs when living in close proximity, so what can we expect from people who were hitherto complete strangers?
The attitude rampant here in Pakistan is that it is a grave disrespect and rude disobedience on the son’s part if he even thinks about living separately from his parents after his marriage. Consequently, it is a very commonly-witnessed, and quite sad, scenario in every other house having a joint family, that each married son is living in a single bedroom with his wife and up to two or three children. It is not even considered unusual to find families living like this for years on end.
As for the Islamic aspect of this issue, whether or not the daughter-in-law can live separately, you can find out by reading my other books that are on the topic of Muslim marriage.
As mother of a son myself, I am strictly against the idea of expecting personal servitude from someone else’s daughter, i.e., wanting her to prepare breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner for me, while I lounge around issuing orders. For example, a ‘well-wishing’ close relative – an ‘aunty’ who is a grandmother, with most of her children married off, launched into a tut-tut-laced diatribe when she heard of a family who had built for their adult son, an upstairs private house-portion before his marriage: “They have separated (their only son) already?! They should not have done that. Instead of giving him an upstairs house-portion of his own, they should have kept him and his wife with them downstairs at first, so that they could see how both of them are getting along. They should make sure that she eats with them, lives with them, and goes upstairs only to sleep at night. That way, she will care for them later on. By giving her, her own portion/kitchen beforehand, they are telling her that it is okay for her to live separately. Is that why parents raise sons? So that they leave them and live separately?”
I was speechless. Back then, I’d wanted to say, “Trust me, aunty, I am NOT raising my son so that he and his wife become bonded labor in my old age”. However, anything that I tried to say to her in response, was interrupted and brushed off, so I just left the argument. As for me, it had really hit me then why most Pakistani families desire sons. The aunty said so in her own words, “is that why parents raise sons?”
Well, maybe she has raised her four sons for this reason, but not me. That is not my intention.
As for the act of prostration to the husband, were it allowed…. well, once upon a time, there was a righteous young lad who dreamt that the sun, the moon and eleven stars were prostrating to him. When he reached middle age and acquired a position of authority in his region, both his parents and all of his eleven brothers did, in fact, prostrate to him i.e., his dream came true.
Who was he, you might wonder?
He was Prophet Joseph/Yusuf [peace be upon him].
It says so in the Qur’an, in Surah Yusuf:
“Behold! Yusuf said to his father: “O my father! I did see eleven stars and the sun and the moon: I saw them prostrate themselves to me!”” [12:4]
“And he (Yusuf) raised his parents high on the throne (of dignity), and they fell down in prostration, (all) before him.” [12:100]
Just because his father, Prophet Yaqoob (Jacob) and his mother prostrated themselves to their son, didn’t mean they thought of him as their ‘majazi khuda’. No: it was an act denoting respect and acknowledgement of authority, because when this happened, Prophet Yusuf occupied a high post of the government. In the Divinely-revealed religions before Islam (i.e., the undistorted monotheistic religions preached by all Prophets of Allah, from Noah, to Abraham, to Moses and Jesus [peace be upon them all]), “prostration” or the act of sajdah (which Muslims do in their daily prayers) to rulers, kings, and other position-holders of authority, was allowed, to show obedience and respect.
Even “bowing” – as we do in rukoo in daily prayers – was allowed.
Here is a hadith (Prophetic narration) that proves this:
When Mu`adh Ibn Jabal, the Prophet’s companion, came back from the Sham Area (Syria) to Madinah, he prostrated before the Prophet (peace be upon him) who asked him, “What is this, O, Muadh? ” Muadh said, “I visited the Sham Area and witnessed them prostrate before their priests and patriarchs. I wished to myself that we did the same for you.” The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ” Do not do it. However, if I were to order anyone to prostrate before anyone else besides Allah, I would have ordered the wife to prostrate before her husband.” [Sunan Ibn Majah]
Commentary: Imam Ibn Taimiyyah said, “How can it be concluded that prostrating to something indicates worship of it, when the Prophet said…and he mentioned the hadith above, saying afterwards, “It is known that the Prophet did not say, ‘If I were to order anyone to worship anyone else…’”
The hadith above, and its commentary, clearly state that the act of prostration exemplified for a wife to her husband is not that of worship, and hence, he is not to even remotely be considered a ‘khuda’ or ‘god’, as that would go against Islamic monotheism.
Rather, this act of prostration is that of “ta’zeem”, or a physical expression of showing respect, giving honor, and acknowledging someone’s higher authority as compared to one’s lesser status (such as the historical European bow and curtsy done in front of royalty).
Islam came and abolished this norm of prostrating to people in authority. From then on, bowing and prostrating was permitted only before Allah.
Now it is quite noteworthy that a majority of the women in Pakistan willingly attribute to their husbands the higher authority in their marriage, acknowledging his higher position, and molding themselves into what he wants them to be.
That is good, isn’t it? Yes; but that is also where the problem starts…
The problem, in this case, being an increasing, over-the-top sense of entitlement that is blown out of proportion.
“I don’t know why he can’t make his own dinner when he knows that I have 104-degree fever!”, cries a lady relative over the phone, “he keeps asking me to serve him his food.”
At another point in time, she had proudly claimed to me, “Not once, in our entire marriage, has [my husband] had to leave to embark on a trip, be it night or day, that I wasn’t in the kitchen at the time, preparing his meal for him before his departure. Not once has he left the house with me sleeping in bed.”
Congratulations then, aunty. Now go make him ‘his’ food, even in your high fever. Giddyap!
Another piece of advice dished out by another aunty: “Ensure that your husband becomes so used to you, that he cannot get by for even a single day, without you!” I guess that would mean: iron his shirts, lay out his clothes for him before he goes to work, buy his clothes for him, run all his errands…. perhaps even put his shoes on for him with your bare hands, right?
“[My husband] cooks better than me, that’s why I don’t let him cook.”
This one hit really the bull’s eye! Insecurities-R-US, that’s the bottom-line, isn’t it? Insecurity.
Married women think, weak that our faiths are, that if something happens to our breadwinner, our provision will be lessened or stopped. If we lose control over him, he will run after some ‘twinkie’ in his office, and we’ll be kicked out of this wonderful house over which we currently rule. So, what’s the best way to make sure this doesn’t happen? Take care of the jackpot… I mean, the husband, and slog at the kitchen, laundromat or ironing board, while he devours eye-candy on his multiple screens, secretly rolls his eyes at our constant nagging, and stifles his yawns during shopping trips. My wife……eh, who is that? This lady is more like a cross between my nanny, mother and a perfectionist control-freak!
“Get me my fork,” says a husband, without taking his eyes off the television, as he begins eating dinner at the table. Just as depicted in the colorful cooking-oil advertisements, the entire table is laid out for him by his wife, before he is summoned for dinner. He doesn’t even look up long enough to see that his tired wife had just taken her seat at the table, after dutifully preparing for everyone in the family their fresh roti or paratha with her own hands. Sighing, but not saying a word, she goes back into the kitchen to fetch him ‘his’ fork. This scenario has been repeated every single day over the years, so by now the ‘majazi khuda’ has lost the habit of having his wife eat at the table while he eats. His wife has made it clear by her persistent servitude that her position, while he eats, is in the kitchen, preparing his food, while he dines. The children don’t help in laying the table or cleaning up after dinner, either. Serving the entire family ‘their’ food at the table is always the woman’s job.
“From now on for the rest of your life, you have to do the khidmat (servitude) of your husband and children”, resonates an aunty’s advice in my ears.
Is that a dong of doom I hear in the background? It sure sounds like it. 🙂
“What are you doing here?” asked a wide-eyed neighborhood aunty when she saw me living at my mother’s house beyond the forty-day period after my son’s birth, “Why aren’t you at your own home?” Before I could even start stuttering a response, one about a water problem and how it was difficult for me to climb the many floors with two children, she prods on, “What is your husband eating then? Oh, you must have cooked all his food for him and frozen it, right?”
*Sigh* Why do people answer their own questions? And why do they ask such intrusive questions in the first place? The accusing look that she gave me even before listening to my reply, was evidence enough of her opinion of me as a wife. As if to say, ‘you-should-be-serving-your-husband-his-food-not-still-be-living-here’. Everyone knows my husband lived alone for years abroad before he got married. He didn’t starve then, did he? So why would he be starving now, just because his wife is recovering postpartum?
“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” insist mothers and aunts. Yes, we create our own monsters: misogynists and chauvinists. Each man who roams the streets, offices and roads today, disrespecting women or treating them as inferior, was once a keen, observant child watching his mother mutely allow his father to mistreat her, deride her, or not give her due respect/importance in the household. By silently taking unfair treatment in stride in the name of ‘patience’ (sabr), mothers teach their male children that it is perfectly alright to consider women inferior beings.
By ladling out her adult son’s food for him on his plate, or fetching him a fork when he demands one, a mother teaches her son that this is a woman’s status before a man, that of a personal valet, available at his beck and call. Forget about commanding respect, or demanding it….do women today even deserve the respect of their male family members?
Or do they act in a manner that invites everyone to walk all over them?
Our pious male predecessors cooked and served food
☞ “And surely Our messenger-angels came to Abraham with good news of a son. They greeted him with, “Peace!” And he replied, “Peace be upon you!” Then it was not long before he brought them a fat, roasted calf.” [11:69]
☞ Abu Ayyub al-Ansari slaughtered a young goat, cooked half and grilled the other half. He also asked his wife to bake, because she baked better, he said. When the food was ready, it was placed before the Prophet Muhammad and his two companions (Abu Bakr and Umar). The Prophet took a piece of meat and placed it in a loaf and said, “Abu Ayyub, take this to Fatimah. She has not tasted the like of this for days.”
When they had eaten and were satisfied, the Prophet said reflectively: “Bread and meat and busr and rutb!” Tears began to flow from his eyes as he continued: “This is a bountiful blessing about which you will be asked on the Day of Judgment. If such comes your way, put your hands to it and say, ‘Bismillah’ (In the name of Allah) and when you have finished say, ‘Alhamdulillah alladhee huwa ashba’na wa an’ama alayna (Praise be to Allah, Who has given us enough and Who has bestowed his bounty on us). This is best.” [This incident has been narrated, with different wordings, in Sahih Muslim, Muwatta Malik, Mishkat al-Masabeeh and Riyad al-Saliheen]
☞ One day `Umar Bin Al-Khattab (during his rule as the caliph of Madinah) noticed a tent pitched in an open space outside Madinah. A person was sitting outside the tent, and someone inside the tent was groaning. `Umar went to the man, greeted him, and wanted to know who he was. The man said that he was a man of the desert, and had come to Madinah to wait on the Commander of the Faithful and seek his assistance. `Umar next asked who was groaning inside the tent. The man said that inside the tent his wife was groaning with labor pains. He said that he was a stranger in Madinah and did not know what to do. `Umar enquired whether he had any woman to look after the confinement of his wife. He said that there was none. Umar said, “Do not worry. I will make the necessary arrangements.”
`Umar came home, and asked his wife Umm Kulthum to accompany him on a mission of service. Umm Kulthum got ready and took with her such things as might be needed for the purposes of confinement. `Umar took with him some provisions for the purposes of cooking a meal. Umar returned to the camp with his wife.
Umm Kulthum went inside the tent to attend to the woman in pain, while `Umar sat outside the tent with the Bedouin and began cooking some meals for him. After an hour or so, when the meals had been cooked, Umm Kulthum from inside the tent addressed `Umar: “Amirul Mumineen! Congratulate your guest on the birth of a son.”
Hearing this the Bedouin felt quite embarrassed. Turning to `Umar he said, “Amirul Mumineen, why did you not reveal your identity? You have overwhelmed me with your benevolence.” `Umar put all his fears to rest saying: “That is alright. There is nothing to worry about. Thank God I have been of some service to you at the time of your need. You may come to me tomorrow and I will see what can be done further to help you”. It was late at night when Caliph `Umar and Umm Kulthum left. The Bedouin thanked Allah and said, “Allah be praised! I came to seek the Commander of the Faithful, and Allah sent the Commander of the Faithful to seek me.”
The above verses of the Qur’an and Prophetic narrations clearly show how Allah’s Prophets and their companions helped their women in preparing food and serving it to guests, especially during special circumstances. There is absolutely nothing wrong with men helping women out in the kitchen, or eating simple food.
Contrast, then, the actions of our noble predecessors to those of the men depicted in some of our local television advertisements, sitting at the dining table with pot bellies, waiting to be served like kings. One advertisement even showed a husband surveying the several dishes laid out before him by his wife, then looking up complainingly to ask, “…and my halva?” No surprise that she promptly produced the steaming pot containing ‘his’ halva (a traditional South Asian dessert), which was supposed to be a surprise for him.
So, what exactly am I advocating here? That women stop cooking meals in their homes? That men should instead do the honor? That everyone should employ a full-time cook?
Well, all I am saying is, as I have already said before, we should give cooking and eating the priority in life which it deserves. It really is not as big a deal as it is made out to be. Cooking good dishes should not be the grand purpose – per se – of anyone’s existence. And Allah has not made men generically superior to women in Islam, except when they occupy positions of leadership (such as a husband possessing a degree of authority over his wife).
Therefore, women should not feel guilty if they “fail” to serve the men in their homes (i.e., fathers, husbands, brothers or sons) three or more fresh meals, cooked by themselves, from scratch, each and every day. Eating out or getting take-out food is just fine, as long as it is halal, healthy and clean. Or the husband can try his hand at cooking, if he wants to. There is nothing wrong with this.
After all, aren’t most of the best professional chefs in the world, men?
“I cooked a month’s supply of food for my family before my trip abroad,” comments an aunty, “On my return, I discovered most of the food frozen as it was when I left. They had decided to eat out instead, in my absence…”
Take a hint, aunty.
Please live a little, and let others live too! 🙂
عَنْ عَمْرَةَ، قِيلَ لِعَائِشَةَ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهَا: مَاذَا كَانَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَعْمَلُ فِي بَيْتِهِ؟ قَالَتْ: كَانَ بَشَرًا مِنَ الْبَشَرِ، يَفْلِي ثَوْبَهُ، وَيَحْلِبُ شَاتَهُ
`Amrah reported that A’ishah was asked, “What did the Messenger of Allah ﷺ do in his house?” She replied, “He was a man like other men. He deloused his garment and milked his sheep.” [Al-Adab al-Mufrad]