بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
An edited/abridged version of this post was first published in SISTERS Magazine.
Over the hill.
Past her prime.
Off the shelf.
And the worst: “hag!”.
How many subtle and direct titles and tags does modern media and journalistic chick-lit use nowadays to remind a woman who is approaching, or has already passed, the 35-40 age range, that she is no longer young and beautiful, and hence, by some fallaciously presumed and mass-endorsed correlation, not that desirable any more, especially as a wife?
When you hear or think of a woman past 40 today who has been widowed twice, what picture crops up in your mind? Perhaps a lady who is rotund, portly, loud, irritable and cranky; a woman insecure about her physical appearance, struggling to get back into, or establish anew, a fledgling career in order to make ends meet?
Someone sharp-tongued and crabby, who is angry with the hand fate has dealt her? Someone whose innate insecurities fuel her bitterness and jealousy towards younger, happily married, successful and productive women? Someone who has lost all hope of getting married again to a righteous, noble man; of attaining marital bliss and enjoying the rewards of motherhood?
The history of Islam provides examples of amazing women who were not just strong in faith, spotless in character, and righteous in deeds, but were also successful in areas of worldly life, such as education, marriage, business and motherhood.
Reflecting Upon the Effect of Aging Upon Women’s Self-Esteem..
As I traverse my mid-thirties, I find myself pondering on the self-depreciating psyches and self-esteem issues that contemporary women my age adopt and experience as they grow older, primarily those related to physical beauty and self-worth, both of which are, – for many of my feminine counterparts, – two sides of one coin.
I wonder why some (rarer) older righteous women do not attempt to hide their age in public, nor resort to using loud, tarty makeup, nor hide from view the white hairs on their heads when in the company of younger women and girls, like you’d expect most older women to do (and yet they look more beautiful)?
Why do they not hide their year of graduation, or date of birth, in an effort to obliterate their older age?
Why are some women secure, while others are not?
The human mind is a complex piece of work, I must say. Which is why it baffles me why perfectly talented and efficacious women sometimes tie their feelings of positive self-esteem and level of self-worth to their relationship with, and the approval received from, other human beings, when they should be doing so solely with their relationship with Allah?
Wives are no exception. In fact, I often find myself wondering, especially after I behold an oppressed, ill-treated, servile, and docile wife, who may otherwise be a decent and righteous woman, continue to allow her husband to treat her unjustly, all in the name of “sabr” (patience)?
Surely Allah has not allowed any believer to lose their self-respect in the name of honoring and serving a higher ‘authority figure’, not even the leader of a family, namely the husband?
And as I muse, I find myself admiring with more and more fervor the lovely Khadijah Bint Khuwailid (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنهَا).
Posthumous Envy in a Younger Co-wife
The much younger girl who became Khadijah’s third husband’s wife after her demise – the only nubile female virgin he ever married – felt pangs of envy stemming from natural, territoriality-based “gheerah” because of the way he remembered, mentioned and praised the much older Khadijah, long after the latter was gone. This girl had never even met or seen the much older woman whom her husband found hard to forget:
A’ishah (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنهَا) reported:
“I never felt jealous of any of the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) as much as I did of Khadijah, although I have never seen her, but the Prophet (ﷺ) used to mention her very often. Whenever he slaughtered a sheep, he would cut it into pieces and send them to the women friends of Khadijah. When I sometimes said to him: “You treat Khadijah in such a way as if there is no woman on earth except her”. He would say, “Khadijah was such and such (commending her and speaking well of her), and I had children from her.””
Another similar hadith in Sahih Al Bukhari mentions how Allah conveyed glad tidings to Prophet Muhammad via Archangel Jibreel, of a special palace reserved in Paradise for Khadijah:
Narrated Aishah, “I did not feel jealous of any woman as much as I did of Khadijah, because Allah’s Messenger used to mention her very often.
He married me after three years of her death, and his Lord or Jibreel ordered him to give her the good news of having a palace of ‘Qasab’ in Paradise.”
And yet another similar hadith narrated by A’ishah that occurs in Sahih Muslim ends like this:
“….I annoyed him one day and said: (It is) Khadijah only who always prevails upon your mind. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “Her love has been nurtured in my heart by Allah Himself.””
The Arabic words in the latter hadith are رُزِقْتُ حُبَّهَا (“ruziqtu hubbahaa”) – which mean that Allah Himself had given Prophet Muhammad the “provision” (rizq) of the love (“حُبَّ ”) of Khadijah. In other words, it was Allah who made the Prophet love his deceased first wife years after she was gone from his life, even after he married a beautiful girl who was decades younger.
Khadijah was also one of the wealthiest women of Makkah at the time she married Prophet Muhammad. She was the first Muslim to accept Islam, and the first family member to support Allah’s Messenger emotionally and financially in his mission.
Her legacy lived on after her demise in the form of she ruling as “queen” of her husband’s heart; a continuing lineage of righteous offspring/descendents, and the joining of relations that she formed and upheld.
Entitlement vs Obligation: Not a Part of Healthy Marriages
As I said, the Quran and sunnah provide timeless guidance to Muslims in every arena, including the realm of marriage and husband-wife relations.
A healthy marital relationship is devoid of the love-killing duo of “entitlement” and “obligation” viz. one spouse feeling ‘entitled’ to a certain kind of treatment from their partner, even if the other cannot provide it for valid Shari` reasons, and the other feeling “obligated” to mete out this treatment, even if they cannot.
In the culture from where I hail, husbands are usually raised from childhood to feel “entitled” to unflinching servitude from their wives, with the result that some wives become no more than their husbands’ personal valets, chefs, secretaries and housekeepers, instead of soul mates, comrades, best friends, confidantes, trustees and consultants.
The spouses just live like two cohabitants under one roof, not emotionally close to each other at all. This sense of “entitlement” in the husbands is juxtaposed by wives feeling “obligated” to perch them up on high pedestals; pedestals that sometimes surpass those on which they should place Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ)!
I often end up shaking my head in dismay when I behold Muslim wives of all ages, who are otherwise righteous, consistently think and act insecurely on the basis of worldly fears and apprehensions regarding their husbands’ love for them.
For example: fearing his hatred or indifference if they do not beget a son to carry on his family name. Fearing not being attractive enough to prevent him from looking elsewhere: at younger, more readily available ‘specimens’. Fearing not being needed by him any more, even if his ‘need’ of her reduces her to no more than just a personal assistant performing his domestic chores.
Fearing financial insecurity in old age with the curtailment of his career or life, but not using their brains and spare time to attain financial independence via halal online or home-based business, despite being highly educated and otherwise enlightened. The list goes on.
With age, women’s fears and insecurities not only get more set into their psyches, but also increase in variety.
Set Aright Your Intentions, Witness Wonders Unfold
When a wife has her intentions and loyalties in the right place – aiming for the highest goal: the pleasure of Allah, supplemented by the love of His last Messenger (ﷺ) that supersedes the love she has for any other human being – she automatically achieves the much lower goal of pleasing her husband as well.
Khadijah had it all: she pleased Allah so much so that He sent her glad tidings through His special angel, of an abode reserved just for her in His Paradise.
As a result of Allah’s pleasure with her, she also acquired the undying love of the most exalted human being who ever walked this earth, not to mention the most noble of husbands – Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ);- a love so strong, that it did not die with her death.
She was also blessed by Allah with righteousness of progeny;- children/bloodline descendents who were chosen by Allah to not just propagate the legacy of Islam, but who also attained ultimate success in the Akhirah.
It really makes me wonder then, how we modern women can become like Khadijah, whose successful and prosperous Muslim life literally started at 40 – an age at which most of us women consider ourselves “past our prime”?
I say: when you aim for a score of 1000, you automatically achieve 50. And aiming for 1000 automatically reduces the significance of 50 in your eyes.
We should therefore make our intention in life solely the acquisition of the pleasure of Allah, and stop associating – even slightly, – anyone else with Him, even our husbands.
Only then, we can hope to watch Allah’s wonders unfold in our marital lives, as He turns our husband’s, in-laws’ and other people hearts towards us, granting us higher levels of honor, respect, love and self-worth that will hopefully leave a trailblazing and lasting Islamic legacy behind us too, long after we are gone from this world.
And even then, the abode waiting for us at the other end will be much better than the one we leave behind – insha’Allah.
Lastly, here’s a thought: I think that young single girls, as well as young wives who haven’t yet had children, should aspire to be like the vivacious and passionate knowledge-seeking A’ishah.
As for those women who are close to hitting, or have already traversed, the age of 40, they should try to emulate the wise, generous, motherly, loving, supportive, and (not to mention) the affluent and socially well-connected Khadijah!******