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"The Ethics of Chivalry"

In the name of God, compassionate & merciful بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ Peace be with you السلام عليكم

Imam Zaid Shakir's article as published in April's issue of emel.

"In the literature discussing Futuwwa, which has been translated as Muslim chivalry, there is a story of a young man who was engaged to marry a particularly beautiful woman. Before the wedding day, his fiancée was afflicted with a severe case of chicken pox which left her face terribly disfigured. Her father wrote to him informing him of the situation and asking if he preferred to call off the wedding. The young man replied that he would still marry his daughter, but that he has recently experienced a gradual loss of sight, which he feared would culminate in blindness.

The wedding proceeded and the couple had a loving and happy relationship until the wife died twenty years later. Upon her death the husband regained his eyesight. When asked about his seemingly miraculous recovery he explained that he could see all along. He had feigned blindness all those years because he did not want to offend or sadden his wife.

From our jaded or cynical vantage points it is easy to dismiss such a story as a proposterous fabrication. To do so is to miss an important point that was not lost to those who circulated and were inspired by [...] such tales. Namely, our religion (Islam) is not an empty compilation of laws and strictures. The law is important and willingly accepting it is one of the keys to our salvation. However, the law is also a means to point us towards a higher ethical end. We are reminded in the Qur'an, "Surely, the prayer wards off indecency and lewdness." (

[...] There is far more to Islam than a mere adherence to rulings. This is especially true in our marriages. Too many Muslims are involved in marriages that devolve into an empty observation of duties and an equally vacuous demand for the fulfillment of rights. [...] When divorced from kindness, consideration, empathy and true commitment they define marriages that become a fragile caricature. [...]

These are issues that affect men and women. However, we men must step up and do our part to help to arrest the alarmingly negative state of gender relations in our communities. The level of chivalry [...] does not require that we pretend to be blind for twenty years. However, it does require some serious soul searching. [...] For instance, why are so many Muslim men averse to marrying older or previously married women? The general feeling among women is that if you are not married by the age of twenty-five then you have only two chances of being married thereafter - slim and none. [...] Many brothers who put off marriage until they are past thirty-five will oftentimes marry someone close to half their age, passing over a generation of women who are intellectually and psychologically more compatible with them and would prove wiser parents for their children.

Despite this problem [...] many of us will hasten to give a lecture reminding our audience that Khadija (ra), the beloved wife of our Prophet (s.a.w), was fifteen years his senior [...] even that she and several of his other wives were previously married. Why is it that what was good enough for our Prophet (s.a.w.) is repugnant to ourselves or our sons?

A related question would be. "Why are so many of our brothers so hesitant to marry strong, independent and intellectually astute women?" Many women in the West lack the support of extended family networks [...] Therefore they must seek education or professional training to be in a position to support themselves if necessary. [...]

Many Muslim men will pass over talented, educated women who are willing to put their careers and education on hold, if need be, to commit to a family. The common reason given is that such women are too assertive [...] As a result a significant number of our sisters, despite their beauty, talent, maturity and dynamism are passed over for marriage in favour of an idealised, demure "real" Muslim woman. [...]

Again we can ask ourselves, "To what extent does this practise conform to the prophetic model?" [...] Khadija (ra) was one of the most successful business people in the Arabian Peninsula, and her wealth allowed the Prophet to retreat to the Cave of Hira where he would receive the first revelation.

'Ayesha, despite her young age, was an assertive, free-spirited intellectual powerhouse who would become one of the great female scholars in history. The foundation of her intellectual greatness was laid by the Prophet himself who recognised her brilliance. Zainab bint Jahsh ran a "non-profit" organisation [...] Umm Salam had the courage to migrate from Makkah to Madina [...] she also had the vision to resolve the crisis at Hudaybiyya [...] we could add the names of many other dynamic women who played a major role in the life of the fledgeling Muslim community.

Another issue that is leading many otherwise eligible women remaining single relates to colour. If a panel of Muslim men, whose origins were in the Muslim world, were to choose Miss World, the title would likely never leave Scandinavia. No matter how beautiful a woman with a brown, black or even a tan complexion was, she would never be quite beautiful enough, because of her skin colour. [...] This is a senstive issue but it is one we must address if we are to advance as a community. We may think that ours is a "colourblind" community, however, there are legions of women who have been relegated to the status of the unmarriageable social pariah who would beg to differ.

God has stated that "the basis for virtue with Him is piety; not tribe, race, or national origin" (
49:13) The Prophet reminded us that "God does not look at our physical forms, or at our wealth. Rather, He looks at our hearts and our deeds". (Muslim) We debase ourselves when we exalt what God has belittled [...] as a designation of virtue.

Marriage is not a playground where the ego thoughtlessly pursues its vanities. This is something the chivalrous young man mentioned at the outset of this essay understood. It is an instrument that helps a man and a woman pursue the purpose of their creation: to glorify and worship God and to work, within the extent of our capabilities and resources, to make the world a better place for those we share it with and for those we will leave it to. This role is beautifully captured in the Qur'an,

"The believing men and women are the supporting friends of each other. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, establish regular prayer, pay the poor due, and they obey God and His Messenger. They expect God's Mercy. Surely, God is Mighty, Wise." Qur'an (9:71)

Zaufishan's Muslimness


  1. Great article ma'sha'allah. Ahh, my favorite ayah at the end there :-)

    Also, on the topic of chivalry, Sister Jannah has just written an interesting blog post on that, which you can read here: http://jannah.org/blog/2010/03/19/what-is-masculinity/

    Jazak'Allahu Khairan Sr. Zaufishan.

  2. u have such great posts

  3. Mashallah, remember that a wife is a garment for the man and a husband is a garment for the wife.


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