Money Money Money

An article by Rabia Chaudhry titled ‘Give Muhammad a Chance’ has been doing the social media rounds lately (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/splitthemoon/2014/04/give-muhammad-a-chance/). The 100+ comments on it ranged from giving the author a huge pat on the back to accusing her of being heartless and having a ‘superiority complex’. If you haven’t read the article and can’t be bothered clicking on the link above, the key argument the author makes is this:

And ladies, I ask you to please, don’t overlook the young men who may be struggling with studies, with finances, who may not have a house or even a car, who don’t necessarily have all the material trappings or the pedigree of a dream husband. 

We all know that Islam imposes certain obligations on a male when it comes to marriage. By default, he’s entrusted with the responsibility of supporting his wife; his wife has no obligation as such to contribute to the household finances. But in today’s rather awful real estate market, in practical terms what usually happens is this:

1.) If both hubby and wife are working, both contribute somewhat equally

2.) Hubby is much more well-established than wife due to the norm of men marrying younger women, and so does the lion’s share of the contributing

3.) Hubby and wife are both working, but hubby insists wife doesn’t pay anything towards the household expenses

But let’s take a step back for a moment. Before you even get to thinking about who’ll pay the electricity bill, the real question for the ladies is this: would you even consider marrying a guy who, as of right this second, can’t pay the electricity bill? (Or the internet bill for that matter, because let’s face it-who wants to be without WiFi?) The question for the guys is this: would you even consider someone for marriage when you know you can’t pay the electricity bill?

Question number 1 can only be answered with reference to a number of variables. The first is the stage of life the lady in question occupies. If she’s a uni student, it’s unlikely she’ll be turning down a guy simply because he goes to uni too. This makes little logical sense-after all, where will they get money from if neither of them have a steady source of income? But if they’re both facing the same challenges at the same time, she’ll know that to expect him to have it all ‘together’ when she doesn’t would simply be unrealistic.

If, however, our lovely lady is enslaved in some form of stable employment, things will either go one of two ways. In Scenario 1, she’ll refuse to consider anyone who isn’t employed. This will again have less to do with logic (she’s working-she is in no real need of his income) and more to do with a perception that a guy who isn’t employed just isn’t in the same stage of life as her. She may even deem an unemployed guy of her own age bracket to be distasteful, a ‘loser’. A 19 year old guy being unemployed may be somewhat acceptable in the eyes of the society, but it’s doubtful that society would be as forgiving of that same guy being 29 and not having a job.

Scenario 2 is where things get a little more interesting, and is the kind described in Rabia Chaudhry’s article. In this scenario, we have a gainfully employed lady who decides she really doesn’t care that much if her Prince-Charming-to-be has a job or not. She has one, and this is enough for her. She’s willing to make an investment based on the potential she sees in him, but is well-aware that at this stage potential is all that he has to offer in material terms.

This scenario naturally assumes that the lady in question is completely autonomous in her decision-making. Often, this is not the case. Now, let’s not get carried away and assume that a lack of complete autonomy equates to being under the thumb of some scary male authoritarian figure; the simple fact is that marriage is not a decision many people, male or female, make independently. Nor should it be, necessarily. The input of family and friends certainly has its place, and often that place is embedded with certain values, such as a woman not marrying a man who isn’t at least her ‘equal’ in education level and/or income at the time they get married.

Understandably, the fear of not being able to support a wife scares many men off from even thinking about getting married. They feel they don’t have it ‘together’ enough to seriously approach a girl, knowing that in many cases either her or her family will have serious misgivings if he doesn’t have at least some kind of job. Many parents will also forbid their sons, whether expressly or implicitly, from thinking about marriage before at least graduating from uni. But should this be the case? Well, not entirely. Obviously, some thought should be given to the practicalities of marriage, the logistics of how-much-will-that-cost and where-on-earth-will-we-live-if-this-works-out. But the answers to those questions can really only be determined by asking: how much are we both willing to forego?

If you’re the kind of guy who thinks you need to do everything and pay for everything and sort out everything before you can even think about getting married, you’re going to be waiting a while, especially in this current climate of economic uncertainty. If you’re the kind of girl who wants all the trimmings and wants them paid for, you may also be waiting a while. This is fine, as long as you’re fine with it. I pass no judgment whatsoever against people who want the house and the car and the big function centre wedding with 500 guests. These are deeply embedded values for many people. They simply cannot comprehend doing things another way.

But there is another way. You can opt to have a small wedding, or even no ‘wedding’ at all besides the obligatory nikah. You can choose to honeymoon locally, or even not honeymoon at all. (Gasp!) You can live with his parents, or yours, at least temporarily. You can live in a tiny studio or a granny flat. You can both study part-time and work full-time. You can both work part-time jobs and make enough to survive. Neither of you may have a job, and you can still find a way to make it. There is always a way, as long as you’re both practical and very, very determined.

So ladies, should you consider a guy who doesn’t have his finances sorted? You don’t have to. You have every  right to say no on this basis and no one should label you as being a gold-digger. (Stupid Kanye.) But if you want to, know that you can make it work together if you’re both committed. As for the men, should you stay away from all things marriage-related if you’re not financially stable? Not necessarily, as long as you have a plan. Don’t pre-empt the ladies and assume that you shouldn’t even try simply because of your lack of financial stability. Have faith that if you sincerely want to get married, there will be someone who can look past your tiny bank balance and see the many other things you have to offer. (But don’t label a girl who rejects you based on your finances a gold-digger, because that’ll just make you a jerk, and no one wants to marry a jerk.)

Guys, where do you stand on this? Ladies, would you consider a guy who doesn’t have his finances sorted?

5 responses to “Money Money Money

  1. You separated well between two important categories: the “student”, and the “unemployed”. If you’re a ‘normal’ student, i.e. 3 years of university after school, then to be honest, one could/should chill out a bit until graduation. Marrying and moving in together before 21 is quite an exceptional case, and must take a lot of parental approval and support. If, however, you’re in study more long-term, e.g. doctorate, medical, dental, or mature students, then you could easily be studying and without income until 24 or 25. That’s starting to push it, given the natural inclinations kicking in much earlier and fuelled by the temptation-ridden western world.

    This situation has lead to the “halal boyfriend/girlfriend” phenomenon. Perks of the relationship, without the responsibility. It has a number of variations, with the most “halal” option being signing the papers as an “engagement”. Not living together, but being free to chat or get coffee. Like you said above, this scenario necessitates a decent “plan”, but I think it could work in a scenario where the male in particular is studying. If the girl is much older, then she could support them, but that would probably be a decent age gap.

    • It’s interesting though-if someone gets married at 21, this is considered very early, yet if this is their first ever romantic relationship, this is considered very late by societal standards! As you said, a lot depends on the kind of study you undertake. Someone who studies Commerce/Business often works a professional job while studying and tends to be financially in a much position at 21 than a medical student, who often doesn’t work at all while studying. It makes you wonder to what extent these external markers should be used as indicators of when someone is or isn’t ready to get married. It certainly isn’t realistic to think that someone who’s in their early 20s isn’t going to be considering people of the opposite sex, regardless of whether they’re still studying or not.

      The ‘engagement’ scenario is very common, but many of these are lengthy and the time delays involved can place strain on a relationship. Alternately, it could strengthen the bond between the couple as they have more time to get to know each other.

  2. Great article Z,
    I think you’ve been very diplomatic, but personally I feel that to turn down a guy based solely on his financial standing is a very shallow and immature thing to do. My reasons for thinking so are that first of all, as Muslims we believe that rizk comes from Allah, and for a Muslim to think that we have control over how comfortable we will be in this life by marrying someone who earns heaps of money is an illusion. You might marry a man because he was financially stable when he proposed to you, but he could lose his job a month before the wedding, or suffer a huge financial setback months after the wedding. What then? Or you might turn down a poor student because of his financial circumstances, only to find that 10 years later, he’s a millionaire. These are hypotheticals of course, but I think they demonstrate how unimportant, in the big scheme of things, a potential spouses’ financial circumstances are when deciding whether to marry them or not. I don’t mean to sound naive, I know that having money helps grease the wheels of a relationship, and I know how stressful it can be when you’re young, newly married, and barely have enough money to pay the bills. But if you chose your spouse based on how wealthy they are, I think you are less likely to survive the inevitable tough financial periods in your marriage than if you chose your spouse based on their character.

    The other reason I’m against looking at a persons’ wealth is because the feminist in me rages at the thought lol. Why should I, born and raised in Australia, highly educated, experienced, expect a man to provide for me? To pay for our wedding, our house, all out of his own pocket, while I contribute nothing? In Prophetic times certainly, it was expected that the man of the house provide for his family, but times were so much simpler then. There were no mortgages, credit cards, fancy cars, private schools, ridiculously expensive furnishings to pay for. Expecting a man to fulfill his Islamic obligations to provide for you doesn’t permit you to expect him to provide you with a premium standard of living – to expect that is to put enormous pressure on him and an unnecessary strain on the marriage.

    I would suggest that women look at their own financial circumstances before judging those of a potential spouse. If you are confident in your ability to provide for yourself financially, then you don’t need to consider the potential spouse’s ability to provide you for into the equation, allowing you to focus on more important qualities and characteristics to determine whether he is the right person for you. I would rather a poor but kind, caring and affectionate husband than a wealthy husband any day.

    • Thanks! 🙂
      This is a very complex issue, compounded by familial interference. In many cases, parental expectations of both males and females may dictate that if you are male, you must have your finances sorted before approaching a girl, and if you are female, that you should only consider a male who has his finances sorted. I feel that it’s every person’s right to determine what they feel comfortable with in this regard and I’ve tried to reflect this in the way I wrote about it, but I do agree that money and employment status are very temporal measures of a person’s worth. I think that perhaps what is more reasonable to expect are things like a sensible attitude to finances, a strong work ethic and a sense of purpose and ambition, as these are lasting traits as opposed to being in a certain occupation at a particular time.

      It’s difficult to wade into the issue of the obligation of a male to support his partner as this is a fiqh discussion, but again it’s very personal and needs to be determined according to the context of the parties involved. I am in the same boat as you in that I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable with keeping all my money to myself and expecting my husband to pay for everything, but it does come down to what you said about expected standard of living.

  3. Very interesting piece. I especially agree about the role of parents in influencing your decision. I already have this issue with my mum where she is expecting a “grand wedding” when the idea of any sort petrifies me and I would much rather settle for a much smaller function. But the issue with employment is in my case also a question of character. I mean considering my own age I’m more likely to consider someone in there late 20’s or early 30’s. If, like in my own situation they have have been studying for quite some time then it’s reasonable they might not be financially established if they are closer to my age, I would be willing to wait or work together, but I also can’t help but think what he’s been doing with himself if he’s still unemployed at 30 and beyond. I don’t mean losing a job, people can lose change jobs out of necessity or other reasons. I also understand the job market is scanty world over, but seriously, it would make me wonder if it’s perhaps something to do with his character? Is he lazy? Maybe he can’t keep a job because he has some serious character flaws? I mean as a Muslim we know “rizq”ultimately comes from Allah, but we’re also expected to exert our efforts too. He might have a low-paying job, or maybe he had to settle for something he was overqualified for… I can live with that. But honestly… I can’t understand how someone who has never worked a day in their lives (because they were living at home/on the dole) can be all of a sudden expected to become a responsible, hardworking, provider for his family. The kind of character required for that is built early on.

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