Between your wife and your siblings
In the name of the Almighty, the Beneficent, the Merciful
They ask you as to what they should spend… (Quran 2: 215)
Yes. Sometimes, what becomes of your soul, your heart and your destiny lie in that extremely tenuous and dangerous space in-between your wife’s “wifely’” ways and the ‘authoritative’ conduct of your siblings. In other words, whenever marriage is the issue, the relationship between these two “authorities” could determine whether the man in the house lives in “hell” or in ‘paradise’. Here the reference is to two entities both of which enjoy Quranic patronage.
The wife’s position is established. She is the home; she can make the home homely; she could make the home unhomely. One of our elders used to say: “ten good air-conditioners would not be enough to cool the temperature in the home once a woman decides to make the house hot”. Whenever a man is seen sweating profusely even under the serenity and coolness of the weather, ask either his wife or his physician for the reason. Nobody learns how to be a woman; she is.
But unlike the wife whose connection to the man is contractual, that of the sibling is paternal. Whereas marital relationships can be voided based on legal reasons,-the connection between a man and his siblings, just like his parents, is usually bound to him eternally. Once a child is born, it is lost for him forever the opportunity to choose from whose loins he would want to come to the world, or from whose womb for that matter. It is equally not within our power to choose who would be our younger brother or sister. I cannot cease marvelling at how the same womb that bore the hero equally produced the anti-hero. It remains a matter of wonderment for me how I became the seed, out of millions, that succeeded in entering the ‘palace’ in my mother’s womb; and how my elder brother came to choose a path that is different from mine. Yet, the womb was the same even as the loins remained unchanged.
Thus unlike marital privileges, that which our siblings enjoy in our lives are closely linked to the womb that bore us all. To them are rights and privileges which are firmly established. After all, we grew together. After all, the same blood runs in our veins.
“While that is true”, the wife would argue, “I am the one who stood by his side when he had nothing. I am the mother of his children. Or who among you could play that role? Impossible. I give him comfort whenever he is disturbed. I satisfy his emotional desire whenever and wherever. Where he is today, the prosperity he enjoys today is largely owed, beside the Almighty, to me” she would conclude. In fact, there are women who would not even factor the interventions of the Almighty into the equation. To them, they are the reason their husbands are successful. To those women, their husbands are theirs; “my husband is for me and for me alone”, she would say.
Such is the imbalance in marital life that men would always have to negotiate. It is your destiny and mine to mediate between the authoritarian powers of the wife and the authoritative postures of our siblings. The story below taught me some of these lessons creatively and in more ways than you can ever imagine. It is the story of Talhat, son of Abdulrahman bn Awf (r.a).
Talhat was one of the ornaments of the Quraysh society during the early Islamic period. As it is in this society of ours, so it was among the Aras. To be successful is to make success for your siblings and relations. He is the happy one from whose happiness his siblings derive and find happiness. Talhat recognized this very well and constantly strove to balance the difficult equation. Now one day his wife said this to him: “I do not know of any group deserving of ignominy and disgrace other than your siblings”. Talhat was taken aback. He then asked gently: “why?”. She said: “I have discovered that whenever things are rosy for you, they flock around you but whenever things are hard, they abandon you”. Now here is the punch; below is the response from Talhat that makes my day. Talhah calmly told his wife; “that exactly is one of their honourable habits: they always come to us whenever we are in a position to assist and honour them; they leave us whenever we are not in a position to give them their rights”!
Imam al-Marwardi, the author of the popular treatise on the Ethics of this World and Religion, comments on this awesome response of Talhat thus: “look at the way Talhat deploys his own honour in interpreting manifestly evil conduct of his brethren such that it became good and how he changed their disloyalty to brotherly affection and love. Talhat succeeded in doing that simply because his heart is free of evil. Lo and behold: one path to paradise is a heart that thinks only of good.
I pondered this incident more closely and came to the conclusion that it is those who enjoy special favours from the Almighty who could join Talhat along that path. I pray you and I do.
(08122465111 for texts only)
Afis Ayinde Oladosu Ph.D
Professor of Middle Eastern, North African and Cultural Studies,
Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies,
University of Ibadan, Nigeria