In Honour of Women and Relationships
– Yusuf Mahbubul Islam
Towering at six feet two, my grandfather (Nana) instilled fear in most people he met. He had had many achievements. He brought the first printing press into the then East Pakistan and held the first car assembly license. He was the Founder President of Dhaka Chambers of Commerce and a Founder Member of Dhaka Stock Exchange. My grandmother (Nani), on the other hand, I remember as a meek, docile person who spoke little. In her elderly age, I rarely saw her leave the house, or for that matter, I rarely saw her visit the kitchen. My mother tells me that Nani was very active when she was young. She used to sit all day at the head of a very long verandah, on a big easy chair, with a phone on her left, like a queen. Somehow, everything from my grandfather’s business to the children’s education and the household seemed to run smoothly.
When my grandmother died, a strange thing happened. My grandfather suddenly changed. He didn’t know what to do or even what to say. He found it very difficult to take decisions. The towering man of six feet two suddenly became a mouse. This change had me puzzled and set me wondering. Finally, after many years, I worked out the only logical explanation to this puzzle. My grandmother was the guide behind everything. My grandfather was the executor. The meaning of the saying, “Behind every great man there is a woman”, suddenly became clear to me.
The nature of my grandmother, my grandfather and their relationship can be likened to that of a navigator and a pilot. My grandmother was the navigator and my grandfather, the pilot. For a successful journey through this earthly life, both helped each other and clearly understood each other’s roles. Starting from a successful business to a successful, well functioning household, everything ran smoothly. All six children are well placed throughout the world. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if my grandmother hadn’t played the role that she did. If, for instance, had she also wanted to be only a pilot as well, who would have navigated the business, the household and the children?
Long Term View and Short Term View:
In a relationship, is it natural for a woman to fall into the role of a navigator while a man to fall into the role of a pilot? Women, by nature, hold a “long term” view of things, whereas, men, hold a “short term” view of things. The differences in views can be explained by the following examples:
* Who are the best chefs in the world? Men! Is this because women are bad cooks? No, certainly not! A woman simply looks at cooking from a different point-of-view from that ofa man. A woman, when cooking, has questions like: Does the food have proper nutrients? Does it have the protein required? Will it fill the stomachs that it is supposed to feed? A man, on the other hand, in the same situation, would simply ask: Is the food tasty enough? How do I enhance the taste? A woman’s concerns about food deal with benefits in the long run, whereas a man’s concerns are for the moment.
* Imagine that a man and a woman are given an extra Tk.100 each. After a month, if you suddenly ask for the money back, what are the chances of each being able to return the money? It is likely that the man would have spent the money almost immediately, whereas the woman is likely to have put the money away, i.e. she would’ve saved the money for a rainy day. Grameen Bank, in Bangladesh, has discovered this fact and gives loans only to women. They have found that if a man is given a small loan, he often misuses the money, whereas if a woman is given the same loan, not only does the entire family including the husband benefit, the loan installments are returned timely.
* Is there any difference between a man and a woman when each evaluates the other for marriage? What does a woman look for in a man? A woman has questions like: Will this man honour and respect me? Is he stable? Is he capable of earning a good income? Is he capable of acquiring a proper home? What would he be like, as a husband? On the other hand, what does a man look for in a woman? He has questions like: Is she pretty? He is unlikely to ask: Will this woman be a good mother to my children? Similarly, a physical relationship is generally a permanent choice for a woman, whereas for a man, it may be a temporary fulfillment of a need.
The influence of a woman’s “long term” views extends beyond her husband to her father, brothers, sons, daughters and society in general. Proper rearing of children would be important to women, whereas a man would overlook such a consideration. It is therefore not surprising that many women have set up private ‘O’ Level schools in Dhaka and other cities in Bangladesh, given the discouraging state of the education system in our country. My hat’s off to these women; they are doing an excellent job in navigating the future generations!
Cultivating Characteristic Views:
Compared to the household of my grandfather and grandmother, what is the state oftoday’s households? Are our children growing up to be stable individuals who can one day stand on their own feet? Do they have a correct point-of-view of the world? Do they end up having successful relationships and peaceful lives? We may not like to admit it; nevertheless, we are looking at households and a society that has taken a downward plunge. Where have we gone wrong? Have we lost our sense of direction? Have we lost our characteristic views? Do women nowadays want to take on simply and only “pilot” types of roles? Could my grandfather have taken on a navigator type of role? If both parents are “pilots”, who is then navigating our households? Is it because of this that we have lost our direction?
Can a man easily take on the role of a navigator? If women adopt a short-term view ofsex, men would enjoy temporary unattached relationships, but would then women find their rightful place as navigators in society? Although a woman can easily take on the role of a “pilot”, would it be more useful if women adopted roles that bring out their “navigational” skills? Society has gained a lot from women as principals of educational institutes in Bangladesh, however, what have women in seductive and erotic poses inadvertisements and the film industry accomplished? Has the physical side of womenbecome the role model for our future generations?
Many of our schools are co-ed. Boys and girls are treated as though they have the same type of views. Would it be worthwhile developing “long term” views in girls and “short term” views in boys? Cultivating characteristic views would not only help each sex understand their own nature, it would also help them understand the nature of the opposite sex. It would help us understand the importance of our individual roles and live fulfilled lives.
Nowadays, boys acquire girl friends and girls acquire boy friends at a progressively younger age. Not only is it “hip” to have such relationships, many of these quickly turn into physical relationships. To frowning adults these children have questions like, “What’s wrong with having a girl-friend or a boy-friend?”, “Is it wrong to be in love?”, “Is it wrong to love someone?” or “He/she is just a friend!”.
To answer these questions, let us examine the characteristics of teenage boys and girls:
Developing Characteristics: At this age, we often copy what we like of our role models. We continue copying a thing from others until we discover a way that suits our own individual nature. We are therefore in a process of discovering our likes and our dislikes. Our characters are in a state of change, till we become settled in our ways. Something that we like today, we may not like tomorrow. Something that we would like tomorrow, we may not like today. Essentially, during this changing and exploratory period we do not know clearly what we want or need as we are in the process ofdiscovery. The person, with whom we want to be friends with, is himself/herself in a process of understanding his/her own characteristics, while we are in a process ofunderstanding our own. Selecting a partner or taking a decision at this age, is at best, a gamble.
Random Actions and Reactions: When we approach someone, we do so hoping for an “expected” response. As each is in the process of learning, the person may not know exactly how to respond. A positive response may be even be interpreted as a negative response simply because it does not fit the “expected” response. Actions and reactions are therefore necessarily random, with random interpretations to boot.
Self Rejection: Without the “expected” responses, one may start thinking, “maybe I’m not worth it!” and start rejecting himself or herself. This may result in self-inflicted punishment or even self-torture. Some may take to drugs and other anti-self activities. Not only does self-esteem take a dive, self-development may stop and in the process we may destroy whatever chances we have of eventually leading a good and fulfilled life.
Expectations: Given their nature, boys’ expectations are coloured by their “short term views”, whereas girls’ expectations are in line with their “long term views”. Girls may be looking for a permanent relationship, whereas a boy may be looking for a short-term relationship. Each expects the other to have the similar views as themselves. Not ‘expecting’ the long-term views of girls, boys prefer unattached girls for marriage. They think, “a girl who can enter into a relationship without marriage, may continue to do so after marriage!” not understanding the permanent view of a girl!
Best Foot Forward: During dating or courtship, we put on our best clothes and are generally on our best behaviour. We generally, intentionally, do not show our weaknesses or our “bad” sides. The problem is that the partner may start taking this ‘best’ behaviour for granted. Much to our surprise, marriage reveals a different person. If we cannot put up with the “newly” discovered person, we are trapped. We are unable to throw away our marriage and neither can we stomach it! We cannot go back to parents who did not give their whole-hearted consent in the first place, nor are we happy with the marriage. Since we do not like blaming ourselves, we may even start blaming our parents for not being assertive and forcibly stopping the relationship, conveniently forgetting that we hid almost everything from our parents.
Damaged Egos: Just as easily as relationships are formed, they also breakup! Insteadof working on developing individual personalities and unique characteristics, many are left nursing the wounded egos. Instead of developing understanding and respect for each other, we sometimes end up hating the opposite sex.
Liking someone of the opposite sex is natural. As a teenager, I myself imagined that I fell “in love” with almost as many girls as I met – luckily, my feelings were only in my head – I never had the courage to approach anyone. Women do not need to worry about getting a man; they just need to worry about getting the ‘right’ man – a man that would give respect to their ‘long-term’ views!
So how does one find a partner?
Correct Views: One of the first things to do is get our “views” in order. To do this, we have to find out whether the media has influenced our views. A primary need of awoman is “to be needed”. It is the fear of not being needed anymore that sometimes makes it difficult for a mother to let go of her youngest child. However, media have conveniently interpreted and portrayed this need as a need for sex. The portrayal ofwomen in seductive poses not only emphases the physical aspect of women; it suggests (to men) that women actively need sex. This is a characteristically shortsighted view and turns men “on”. These views are promoted by the advertising and film industry to further their commercial greed. Is this the correct view of women?
A Man’s Viewpoint: Men already have a short-term view of sex. Media have successfully played on this and turned women into playthings to be desired and used.Women in advertising and films become role models for young girls today, who may start thinking that the job of a woman is simply to look pretty and wait for things to happen. On the contrary, mankind needs women as mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. In addition, mankind needs a woman’s long-term views for guidance and meaningful survival. If women do not develop and share their long term views and guide society, what will happen to society in the long run?
As for men, Allah guides them as to their intentions towards women:
“…Ye seek (them in marriage) with gifts from your property, desiring chastity, not fornication” [Sura An-Nisaa, 4:24]
Therefore, the basis of marriage should not be lust for the shape and form; it should be attraction to the woman as a valued human being. Is it worth ensuring that a man seeking marriage is attracted by the person and not to the shape and form? A point to note here is that other women also have a similar shape and form, however, do not possess the same personality! Which aspect of a woman is more likely to hold a marriage in the long run? Would a woman rather have a man marry her for her shape and looks or for her personality?
Development of the Unique Individual: Allah has made each of us, whether man orwoman, unique. He has given each of us beautiful characteristics.
“He it is Who shapes you in the wombs as He pleases…” [Sura Al-Imran, 3:Ayat 6]
We generally like our own selves and value the person that Allah has made. He has given each of us the potential to discover, learn and be somebody unique.
“It is He Who brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers when you knew nothing; and He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affections…” [Sura Al-Imran, 16:Ayat 78]
Our individual job is to discover and develop the unique qualities Allah has given to the fullest. Instead, if we devote our energies into boy-girl relationships, our development is hindered before we have fully discovered the unique individual that we are.
Did Allah ask for a “specification” so that He could make the unique self that we like so much? Does He need a “specification” to make our partner? Who is the best to know the characteristics of the partner that would best fit our nature? If we like the self (ourselves) that Allah has made, would it be difficult for Allah to make partners that we like? Does He not know the best match for us? Does He not know for sure what we are like?
It took me fourteen years to realise that the woman to whom I’m married to be the best possible match I could have. Surprisingly, this is not because of the qualities she directly possesses, it is because of the qualities she has brought out in me. We complement each other. She makes up what I lack and I make up what she lacks! Is it possible to evaluate qualities in other people that I myself lack?
I was in a serious dilemma the day I was asked whether I approved of the girl my parents had chosen for me. A decision was required, after a brief meeting where I was a silent observer. I thought to myself, it is easy for my parents to approve or disapprove; they are not the ones getting married! It is not as easy to say “no” or “yes” for me! It is a lifetime matter for me.
I took the only recourse I had. I sat on a prayer mat and said to Allah, “I’m a total failure as far as deciding is concerned. It may be that the person You have intended for me is standing in front of me, but You haven’t given me the ability to realise this; or it may be that You have given me the ability but I never find the right person. I am totally lost, please tell me what to do!” After my prayers, I was in a sort of a trance as I entered the drawing room; I imagined that I saw this girl playing records on our hifi set. I immediately ran to my mother and asked her to say “yes”. In August 2006, by the Grace of Allah, we will have completed twenty-five years of blissful marriage.
“And among His signs (miracles) is this; that He created for you wives from among yourselves, (so) that you may find repose in them, and He has put between you affection and mercy. Verily, in that are indeed signs for those who reflect.” [Sura Ar-Rum, 30:21]
Unique Importance: Being unique and the fact that we like ourselves is proof that our Creator has given each of us a lot of importance and made us with a lot of love and affection. Is there any logic to suggest that this love and affection would not extend to making our partners? Our job as teenagers is therefore to concentrate on developing ourselves as unique individuals to the fullest. Women must develop an interest in the lives of great women both Muslim and non-Muslim and concentrate on developing long term views. As opposed to the views of a man, a woman’s long-term views have the potential of influencing everyone in the near family. A good navigator influences her father, her mother, her brothers, her brother’s friends, her sisters, her husband, her mother-in-law, her father-in-law, her sons and her daughters. It can safely be said that a good woman is therefore worth ten good men.
When Allah presents the opportunity to decide, it is best for both men and women to seek Allah’s help in choosing the right partner. Men already respect their mothers, their sisters and daughters. A wife can easily steer this respect to extend to herself! A man can be a good son, a good father, a good brother and a good husband, but to do so he needs a good navigator.
The writer is a professor of Computer Science in the Department of Software Engineering, Daffodil International University, Bangladesh. He is an expert in the Inductive Teaching methodology and has developed participatory engaging teaching techniques that also utilize the power of Social Media. His engaging question about life is, “Why am I here?” He attempts to answer this question in a weekly column in the Bangladesh newspaper, The News Today which he has been writing for the past seven years. His most recent articles can be found at https://www.scribd.com/ymihere.