Bismillah hir rahmaan nir raheem
Before I begin, I’d like to highlight three things:
Firstly, like everything in life, this is not a blanket statement that applies to every teenager/young adult, but rather an assessment of the feelings of many, many youth who have confided in me or expressed their thoughts with regards to this issue. This will be expanded on in due course.
Secondly, this letter has not been written on a whim, though it has been on my mind for quite some time. I recently sent out a survey pertaining to this issue, that was responded to by approximately fifty young adults, and this is simply a reflection of the answers and thoughts of the respondents. I’ve also interacted extensively with people on social media platforms, and this is the sum of those conversations.
Finally, while this letter is a plea to our parents to understand the perspectives and experiences of the youth, we do not, by any means, seek to undermine your capabilities and judgement as a parent. We merely hope to portray the full picture to you, and thus make you aware of some realities, thoughts and feelings that you yourself may have had as a teenager, but may have forgotten, or that are new occurrences in this ever-changing world.
I am writing this letter to you on behalf of your daughters and, to an extent, sons, who may be too shy or scared to say this to you. The subject matter – marriage, romance and hormones – may be uncomfortable (as a disclaimer, this letter is candid, explicit and honest) to read about, but nevertheless, it is an important topic that I plead with you not to ignore.
As Muslim parents, one of your greatest hopes is for your children to maintain your izzat (respect), maintain their chastity and eventually, through this, marry a pious spouse who will be their first romantic partner and their introduction to romance. Unfortunately, my objective in writing this letter is to make you aware that though noble, this concept is close to impossible to maintain, especially when the process of obtaining this halal introduction to romance is delayed.
Firstly, let’s look at the concept of “teenagers.” Biologically, we know that hormonal changes occur within pubescent girls and boys that are beyond their control. From around the age of 9 for girls, and 12 for boys, physical and emotional changes, as a result of hormones, become apparent in pre-teens. By the time girls reach fourteen and fifteen years of age, and boys reach sixteen or seventeen, these hormones tend to play a massive role in their decision-making and their choices. During this period, teenagers become interested in sexual topics, replace many of their hobbies with obsessing about the opposite gender, and begin needing, not just desiring, some level of love and romantic fulfillment. At this point many non-Muslim teenagers, and less Islamic Muslim youth, are given the green light for dating and getting to know the opposite gender. As Muslim teenagers, we aren’t sheltered from what’s happening around us, and our curiosity is naturally heightened by the exciting, illicit nature of romance (as most of us girls are strictly forbidden from interacting with males).
Now, given that our biological makeup naturally leads to sexual and romantic curiosity at the rather tender age of thirteen and fourteen, it is even more concerning that as youth, we are exposed to such a large variety of explicit content. I recall the girls in my Grade 6 class excitedly discussing the newest edition of Cosmopolitan magazine that they had taken off the shelves of a supermarket and skimmed through when their parents weren’t looking. Back then, the majority of us didn’t have access to phones and the girls would huddle together to discuss topics that they found both intriguing and confusing. Looking back, the situation is incredibly disconcerting and as an adult now (if 18 qualifies me as one), it concerns me that children have access to content that delivers a false and glorified perspective on rather sensitive issues. Nevertheless, the situation then, in our phone-less age, was much less concerning than it is now, when most children from as young as 6 years old have access to technology, from iPads to phones, even if it isn’t their own. The app Tik-tok has risen in popularity during 2020, and the sheer amount of borderline pornographic content available on the app is appalling. What age are the majority of their users, you may ask? 9. I repeat, NINE. While children who are given their own devices to use unmonitored at such a young age are most vulnerable, children without devices but with access to family devices are also susceptible. If your child is using Instagram on your phone, or has access to the family computer, they are equally capable of viewing this content and hiding the evidence, or of speaking to the opposite gender and removing all traces of that content. Thus, regardless of whether your child is homeschooled or attends a public school, their exposure is not restricted.
In today’s society, children are far more knowledgeable about romance, sexual activities and much, much more. Most of this knowledge is learnt from “the streets,” which alludes to informal learning from friends and peers. At best, it may be taught to them through the education system, which is in itself an unislamic system that does not focus on the core issue of abstinence and controlling of desires, but rather, on protection and “safe methods.” Due to the taboo nature of the topic, most parents don’t speak to their children about it, which, though it may be virtuous to maintain this level of hayaa, is detrimental to the overall development of the child as children are not receiving the correct information from Islamic sources. Instead, they consume warped, sexually-charged and enhanced pornographic content, believing it to be true and reliable.
The reason I’ve delved into such a considerably lengthy explanation of the current circumstances is because it all leads to one thing: teenagers are naturally sexually and romantically curious, which has been heightened by the global (and technological) environment, and this pent-up carnal energy has to be dispensed in some way or form. So, what happens? Teenagers turn to avenues like texting the opposite gender (or, in this warped world we live in, interacting romantically with the same gender) and worse still, falling into the trap of pornography and masturbation. While I fully believe that resisting temptation is a lifelong journey and that we need to control our nafs in all situations, I also strongly believe that this pandemic of Zinaa and its variants (which is far worse than the Coronavirus), is worsened by the lack of halal outlets for their desires. The solution to this disastrous phenomenon is, often (but not always), marriage.
As already mentioned, this period is one of heightened sexual desire, and as a result, many youth fall into the trap of haraam relationships and Zinaa. While boys often pursue a relationship for sexual fulfilment, even if their intention is to stop at a “boundary” such as kissing, girls tend to desire emotional and romantic fulfilment. However, these lines have been blurred over the past few years, with both genders wanting to fulfil their sexual, emotional and romantic needs in a way that humans (and animals) naturally fulfil it – companionship. As teenagers, we are told to suppress our desires and to wait until we’re old or mature enough, with little to no consideration for how difficult that is. The reality of companionship in Islam is not taken into account, nor are the concepts of age and maturity critically analysed. In the following few pages (or letter parts), I’ll attempt to dissect this thoroughly so that it can be concluded that encouraging your children to marry young and supporting their desire to do so, is the safest and most viable option in a world riddled with trials and tribulations.
Firstly, most of the parents reading this may be bewildered by the concept that teenagers want to marry young and by the description of how intense carnal desires amongst the youth are. You may be thinking, “Not my child. I know my child very well and they have NEVER told me that they want to get married or that they have these feelings. She acts like boys are gross and he doesn’t even care about girls! This is definitely not applicable to me.” Unfortunately, I hate to break the safety of that cocoon, but it’s unlikely that your child, no matter how close you are to them, will express their desire to get married explicitly. Often it will manifest in subtle hints, like a pique in interest when the topic of marriage arises; blushing, looking away or acting shy when the opposite gender is discussed; craftedly inserting their thoughts about how relationships should be or about their future plans into a conversation and, ironically, avoiding discussing marriage with you. After reading that, I’m sure you’re beyond confused: didn’t I just say that they would be interested in discussions about marriage, but then almost immediately contradicted myself by saying that they would avoid such discussions? Your confusion is valid, and the only explanation is that different people express their desires differently. The reason why parents may never get a clear indication that their children want and need to get married is because in the Muslim community, especially the Indian Muslim community, speaking about marriage and the opposite gender is considered a taboo topic, particularly for females. It is difficult for teenagers to express their desire to get married when they are too embarrassed to even say the word “boy” in front of their parents, and when they know that their desires will be frowned upon, at the very least. Many girls have said to me that they want to get married but their parents don’t believe that they should rush, or they’ve been told that they need to be older or more mature. This creates a communication barrier between parents and children because children don’t feel heard. Although I cannot speak for males, I quickly skimmed through the Twitter pages of some young Muslim boys, and the amount of marriage content, from duas to jokes to observations about how many young people are getting married, was astounding. From this I can conclude that boys do have an equal desire to get married, but for a reason I cannot attest to, are unable to express their feelings to parents.
However, there are cases when your teenager will clearly express their desire to get married, which is possibly one of the greatest moments and acts of courage a teenager can take (and this letter has been written for the parents of those teenagers who have messaged, emailed and inboxed me saying that they cannot do so but need to convey their thoughts to their parents). When a youngster takes that step to boldly make their parents aware of their desire to get married, it is a rather worrying signal that parents need to pay attention to. Moulana Ridwaan Kajee (www.spirituallight.co.za) has mentioned in his 2017 Surah Nur bayaan series, which will be linked in subsequent articles, that when a boy, and more especially a girl comes to their parent and says, “Daddy, I want to get married,” it means that they are standing on the edge of Zinaa and they are begging you for a safety net. They are begging you to save them from falling into a sin that they know they are on the brink of falling into. This does not excuse the sin nor does it give concession for youth to lose control of their nafs, but when a youth does take the courageous step of asking you to find them a spouse for Nikkah or to marry their chosen partner, it means that they seriously are trying to suppress their nafs and feel as if they are going to fail. This is because, as has been mentioned, the naturally prevalent carnal desires within human beings can drive a person to a point that they would never, in their wildest dreams, have thought they’d reach, and now they need a lifeline. YOU, parents, are that lifeline. Allah has entrusted you with the duty to raise your children and assist them in obeying Allah and preserving their chastity, so when your child tells you just how impossible this task is becoming for them, listen. Listen to assist, not to admonish, because no teenager who is holding himself or herself away from the fire of Jahannam by the finest of threads wants to be chastised for the battle they are fighting. Their hearts and their nafs are already bleeding from the sacrifice, and you can aid in finding the solution.
Teenagers who strongly desire to get married are also encouraged to “love themselves” and to find paths that will fulfill them. Simply put, parents and society emphasise that there are much greater opportunities and dreams for youth to grasp onto other than marriage. These notions are completely incorrect and unsubstantiated for the majority of teenagers, though they may be true for some. Firstly, the assumption that teenagers desire romantic partners due to an inherent lack of confidence, self-esteem or self-love is largely incorrect. Most teenagers, like most humans, desire companionship. If you had to ask a boy or girl above the age of seventeen why they want to get married, their answer would most likely be companionship. Now I know what you’re thinking – needing companionship means a person is lonely, right? That’s not true, though. Self-love and your own company was never meant to replace romantic love. Even the Quran says. “And we have created you in pairs,” indicating that companionship is a natural and necessary part of life. Wanting a companion is simply the desire to have someone you can share your thoughts, experiences, joys and sorrows with (which is basically what a best friend is), but also the desire to have someone exclusively yours. Teenage marriages are frowned upon by society but nearly no one blinks an eyelid when non-Muslim teenagers involve themselves in romantic relationships at very tender ages. Are we not all human with the same carnal desires? And more importantly, doesn’t Islam provide us with a perfect and honourable avenue to fulfil these desires, that is Nikkah, as opposed to falling for the bed of roses that haraam relationships have been made into by Shaytaan?
Secondly, the concept that marriage is a less honourable path to take is a secular, western notion. The Hadith states, “Oh young men, whoever among you can afford it, let him get married, for it is more effective in lowering the gaze and guarding chastity.” However, the standard of “afford it” has been severely misconstrued in the present-day. To afford to care for a wife means to be able to satisfy her needs, and to an extent, her wants, such as a home, food, clothing and security. It does not mean that a man has to complete his degree and start earning a six-figure income, or be so financially stable that he can buy a BMW on a whim. Again, as addressed by Moulana Ridwaan Kajee in the Surah Nur series, parents of girls need to look past the car a boy drives or the job title he holds, and look at his character and traits. Parents of boys should be willing to assist their sons in running a home and sorting out finances until he can support himself, should he be too young to do so, such as an eighteen or nineteen year old boy. While this may seem counterproductive, would you as a parent rather have one extra person added to your household expenditure or would you prefer for your son to spend his nights online, telling a girl that he loves her and asking her to send him immodest pictures, in a relationship that has no security and may dissolve in a split-second?
However, I digress. To go back to the issue of marriage being less honourable than a career or so forth in the eyes of society, let’s discuss the notion that a girl needs to “find her passion” or pursue a career as opposed to accept a marriage proposal, so that she can be independent and “fulfilled.”
Firstly, if a girl chooses to pursue a career within the boundaries of Shariah, such as through UNISA, this can always be done after marriage and it will not affect her future in the least.
Secondly, there is nothing more honourable than fulfilling a tenet of Deen, and as we know, marriage is half of Deen, so how could any career or position be more honourable than something our own Beloved Nabi (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) declared to be so important? A woman can only become more through a good, Islamic marriage, as she now has the opportunity of pleasing Allah through pleasing her husband, and raising children who will be assets to the Ummah. As for boys being teased and ridiculed for wanting to “settle down” at the young ages of 18 to 22 instead of embracing their years of freedom, it is imperative that we understand that in Islam, freedom isn’t a concept of letting loose and going wild, but of feeling the freedom from the shackles of this Dunya through Ibadah and following the commands of Allah. Also, what can be more pleasurable than experiencing the most energetic, active years of your life with a partner by your side – someone you won’t need to tell your life story to, but instead one you can write the story with?
Now to address the idea there is a suitable age to get married. When doing research for this letter, I sent out a survey to about 50 youth, with one of the questions being, “What age is the right age to get married, for a boy and girl respectively?” The answers ranged from 16 to 26, but for me, the answers that really stood out were the ones that read, “There is no perfect age. It’s not a one-size-fits-all concept.” This is especially important in understanding that every teenager has to deal with different challenges. Factors such as a higher libido, being surrounded by pornographic material or peers who are in relationships, biology and personality all contribute to what age would be suitable for a girl or boy to get married. Some youth are fortunate enough to not be overcome by urges until the ripe age of 23 or 24, while others are extremely desirous of romance from as young as 15. As long as the chastity of every teenager is kept in mind, the age can differ and no one should feel pressured to get married until they are ready, or to not get married when they are ready. During the time of Nabi (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa Sallam), girls and boys would get married from a very young age, as can be seen from the marriage of Aaishah (Radhiyallahu Anha). This was because the concept of “teenager” didn’t exist as a hindrance to prominent positions and feats – instead, it is a concept created by the Western, secular world almost a century ago. If we take a look at youth like Muaadh and Muawwidh and Sa’ad Bin Waqqaas (Radhiyallahu Anhuma) and Muhammad Bin Qaasim who conquered the lands of Sindh at the age of 17, we bear witness to the fact that young men led armies and fought valiantly. If such great responsibility could be placed on the soldiers of a boy we’d label a “teenager” now, wouldn’t they be encouraged to get married, which is a task that requires similar responsibilities?
Now I’m not saying that we should get girls married at 9 or consider children to be marriageable as soon as they reach puberty – what I am saying is that once a person reaches the peak of their desires, at roughly fifteen for girls, marriage should be considered. Parents tend to be afraid that their children are not mature enough, but so long as we continue instilling this idea that they cannot be mature and that they are somehow deficient, we will always have youth who excuse their behaviour using their age. We need to raise our children to see themselves as smart, Allah-fearing, mature individuals who are capable of embodying the youth of the past. Additionally, Moulana Ridwaan Kajee points out in his bayaans that even if a girl isn’t mature, marriage will naturally mature her. When anyone steps into a school or job arena, they will inevitably lack the necessary skills, but can pick this up through first-hand experience. In the same way, it is only first-hand experience that will showcase a person’s ability to deal with marriage.
Ultimately, as a parent of a male, you may have reached this point and are actually considering looking for suitable girls for your son. On the other hand, if you are the parent of a young woman, you may understand the situation slightly better but are at a loss about what to do because getting proposals is beyond your control. However, Islamically, Allah has allowed for the female to seek a spouse too, and after reading a few Facebook articles and the comments, it is clear that girls do want to find a spouse even if it is from their side. Thus, many girls fall into the trap of replying to DMs from boys because it may or may not solve the crisis that parents aren’t aiding in solving. Hence, it is the duty of every father to look for a suitable match for his daughter, because while Taqdeer exists, initiative must still be taken and this can happen from either side. Otherwise we risk both young boys and young girls falling into the social media spouse-hunting trap. If parents of both boys and girls are finding it difficult to find a match for their child, there are many matchmakers in South Africa who would gladly assist. A directory of numbers and websites will be posted shortly in the future. We plead with parents to please use these resources as it could be the line between your child falling into Zinaa or pursuing a happy married life.
Before I conclude, I’d like to narrate some true incidents that I’ve been told first-hand. Names have naturally been concealed, but I believe the incidents will be beneficial in understanding the reality of the situation as these are real people and real stories (though edited slightly), affecting both learned youth and the common people:
- Boy A messages Girl A on Instagram, complimenting her on her Islamic posts. Girl A feels flattered as she has never received attention from a male before as she has been homeschooled her whole life and attended a strict Madrassa. Girl A then checks out Boy A’s Instagram account and sees that he posts Islamic content too. Girl A is intrigued by Boy A and accepts his advances. Girl A is, however, using her mother’s phone, so when she adds Boy A on Whatsapp, she changes his name to a girl’s name. Whenever they speak, she sends him a code word to start chatting and then another code word to say that her mother will have the phone from then on. The two continue speaking and eventually, this girl who has always been in full pardah, never spoke to males, and maintained her hayaa, begins to call the boy and speak on the phone. Soon after that, she would sneak into her parent’s room at night and use the phone when they were asleep. The two would whisper and giggle on the phone all night, and then one day they decided to share nudes. It was then that she realised that she had gone from a good girl with hayaa to a girl who had bared herself completely for a male on camera, and could never take it back. No amount of taubah could remove the guilt in her heart.
- Boy B and Girl B knew each other from school. Girl B was adamant on keeping her distance as she wanted to maintain her hayaa, but eventually, because her parents were friends with his parents, she began to speak to him at family events, despite the pardah facilities ensured by her family. Once she was done with school, she maintained minimal contact with him, but saw him on occasion. However, Girl B struggled immensely with her desires, and would often fall into the trap of pornography and masturbation. She desired to be with someone, as she was now 18, but her parents refused. One day, when she was particularly sexually frustrated, Boy B’s family came to visit. While the parents were chatting, the two began to catch up and one thing led to another. Two months later, she called him to tell him that she was pregnant. She knew just how terrible this would look considering that everyone knew her to be a strict Hijabi and a good Muslimah. It had been a once-off thing that happened only because of her terrible urges. The consequences were, however, forever. The couple made Nikkah soon after that, but the beautiful moment that she’d dreamed of since childhood was a rushed, forced nightmare. Everyone knew, and she couldn’t hide it.
To conclude, while it may be daunting to allow your children to get married young and to encourage them to do so, the onus is on you as parents for not ensuring that your child’s chastity is protected, should something happen. As harsh as this may sound, marriage is risky but rather a halal mistake than a haraam one. On a positive note, marriage is meant to be beautiful, with silly moments, random giggles and a lifetime of memories. It’s a love that has been divinely ordained – one that begins after Nikkah and never ends, because you will be united in the gardens of Jannah for a blissful eternity. Every person’s Taqdeer is written by the Most Perfect, perfectly. Hence, we plead with you, as parents, to understand the struggles youth face and work as our allies, not opponents, in ensuring that we make the right decisions in the right manner. Trust me, we are not trying to escape from you, nor do we think you aren’t enough to make us happy. However, there are certain things that every teenager needs that parents, family and friends can’t satisfy. It’s a natural process of life, and you will always hold the Number One position in your child’s life. Always.
Bint Yunus Essack