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 got 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 very little. I seldom saw her leave the house, or for that matter, I seldom saw her visit the kitchen. My mother, however, tells me that my grandmother was very active when she was young. I picture her at the head of the long verandah of their house, on a big easy chair, with a phone on her left, like a wise 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 changed suddenly. He didn’t know what to do or even what to say. He found it very difficult to take decisions. 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 essentially the executor. The meaning of the saying, “Behind every great man there is a woman”, finally 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. 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 a pilot as well, what would have happened to the business, the household and the children? Would these have survived?
Long Term View and Short Term View:
In a men-women relationship, is it natural for women to fall into the role of a navigator while men 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. A woman, while 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 generally deal with benefits in the long run, whereas a man’s concerns are for the moment ? mainly taste!
Imagine that a man and a woman each are given Tk.100 that they do not need. After a week, if you ask for the money back, what are the chances of each being able to return the money? Most likely 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 for example, in Bangladesh, has found that giving loans to women not only benefits the entire family; women have a more responsible attitude towards their commitments.
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 capable of earning a good income? 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?
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 generally overlook such considerations. Is it surprising that many women have taken it upon themselves to set up ‘O’ Level schools in Dhaka and other cities of Bangladesh, given the discouraging state of the education system? My hats off to these women ? they are navigating the future generations of Bangladesh!
Cultivating Characteristic Views:
Compared to the household of my grandfather and grandmother, what is the state of our households today? Are our children growing up to be stable individuals who can one day stand on their own feet? Do they have a balanced 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 have taken a downward plunge. Where have we gone wrong? Have we lost our sense of direction? Are we navigating our children in the right direction? Have men and women lost their characteristic views? Do women nowadays want to take on a more “pilot” type of role? If both parents were “pilots”, who would then be navigating our households? Is it because of the ?lack? of navigation that we have lost our direction? Would a man better understand this situation or would a woman?
Can a man easily take on the role of a navigator? Men generally find it difficult to take a back seat. On the other hand, because of their overall views, women can easily take over the role of a pilot, if and when necessary. If women want to take over the role of ?pilot only? permanently, there are likely to be serious problems. If, for instance, women adopted a short-term view of sex, men would enjoy temporary unattached relationships very much, however, would then women find their rightful places as navigators of society? Would it be more constructive 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 has been accomplished by women in seductive poses in advertisements and in the film industry? On the contrary, has projection of the ?physical side? of women (a short term, male prescribed view) become the role model for our children? Has ?exposure? and ?amplification of beauty? become driving preoccupations of girls today?
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 promoting the development of “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 our lives as complete human beings to the fullest.
Nowadays, boys acquire girl friends and girls acquire boy friends at a progressively younger age. Not only is it “cool” to have such relationships, many of these are quickly turning 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 put these questions in context, 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 others till we discover what suits our own natures. Our teenage character is in a state of continuous change till we become settled in our preferred 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 exactly know what we want or need as we are in the process of discovering our preferences. The person with whom we want to be friends with, is himself/herself in a process of understanding his/her own character, while we are in the process of understanding our own. The decision to select a partner at this age is based upon changing likes and dislikes and is therefore a gamble.
Self-Rejection: Without the “expected” responses, one may start thinking, “may be I’m not worth it!” This may lead to self-inflicted torture. Some may take to drugs or other anti-self activities. Not only does self-development stop, we may destroy whatever chances we have of leading a good life. Just as easily as relationships are formed, they also breakup! Instead of concentrating on developing one?s personality and unique characteristics, many are left nursing wounded egos. Instead of developing understanding and respect for each other, we sometimes end up hating the opposite sex.
Expectations: Given their natures, boy?s expectations are derived from their “short term views”, whereas a girl?s expectations are in line with “long term views”. Girls may be looking for a steady relationship, whereas a boy may be happy with a short-term relationship. Each expects the other to have similar views. Not being able to understand the long-term views of girls, boys ultimately prefer unattached girls for marriage. Judging girls from their own short-term point of view, they are likely to conclude, ?girls who can enter into a relationship without marriage, may continue to do so after marriage!” To understand the views of girls evaluate the following from a girl whose boy friend had recently ended their relationship, ?I gave him all I had, I have nothing left to give another ? I would rather be dead!?
Best Foot Forward: During dating or courtship, we are generally on our best behaviour. We do not show our weaknesses or our “bad” sides. Much to our surprise, marriage may reveal a different person. If we cannot put up with the “newly” discovered traits of the person, we are trapped. We cannot throw away our marriage and neither can we stomach it! Since we do not like blaming ourselves, we may even start blaming our parents for not being assertive enough and forcibly stopping the relationship, conveniently forgetting that we hid almost everything from our parents.
Liking someone of the opposite sex is natural. As a teenager, I myself (being of the male species) 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. Teenage women actually do not need to worry about getting a man – they need to worry about getting a man that would give them the respect and importance that they deserve!
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 how much media has influenced our views. In the long run, a woman or a navigator needs “to be needed”. It is the fear of not being needed or wanted anymore that sometimes makes it difficult for mothers to let go of their youngest as they grow up. However, media have conveniently interpreted and portrayed this noble need as a need for sex. The portrayal of women in seductive poses not only emphasises the sexual side of women, it suggests (to men) that women actively need sex. This is a short-sighted view and turns men “on”. The advertising industry uses this view of women to promote their products. We have to work out whether this is 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 are thereby encouraged to think 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 womens long-term views as guidance for 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: “…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 appreciation of the woman as a valued human being. For a woman, is it worth ensuring that the man seeking marriage is attracted by the person and not by her shape and form? A point to note here is that other women also have a similar shape and form, but do not possess the same personality! Which aspect of a woman is more likely to hold a family 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 – man or woman, unique. He has given each of us beautiful personalities and characteristics that we like.“He it is Who shapes you in the wombs as He pleases……? [Sura Al-Imran, 3:Ayat 6]
We generally like and value our own selves. Allah has given us the potential to discover our unique selves, excel and become somebody. ?It is He Who brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers when you knew nothing; He gave you hearing and sight and intelligence and affections…” [Sura Al-Imran, 16:Ayat 78]
Our individual job is to first discover and develop the unique potential qualities that Allah has given to the fullest. If we get side tracked into boy-girl relationships, our focus shifts from developing ourselves as we divert all our energies into such relationships.
When we were created, did the Creator ask for a “specification” to make us? Likewise, does He need a “specification” to make our partners? Given that we like the self (ourselves) that Allah has made, would it be not be unreasonable to assume that Allah would not arrange for partners that suit us? Would He not want the best for us? Or do we feel that we know better and need to force the issue by selecting a partner prematurely?
It took me fourteen years to realise that the woman I’m married to be the best possible match I could have. Surprisingly, it is not because of the qualities she directly possesses, it is because of the qualities she has helped bring out in me. We complement each other. She makes up what I lack and I make up what she lacks!
I was in a serious dilemma the day I was asked to consent to the girl my parents had chosen for me. I thought to myself, it is easy for my parents to approve or disapprove; they are not the ones getting married! 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 am totally lost, please tell me what to do!” After my prayers, I imagined that I saw the same girl playing records on our hifi set – we have Alhamdulillah completed twenty-four years of blissful marriage. Allah tells us:
“And among His signs (miracles) is this; that He created for you wives from among yourselves, (so) that you may find repose (peace of mind) in them, and He has put between you affection and mercy. Verily, in this are indeed signs for those who reflect.”?????????????????????[Sura Ar-Rum, 30:21]
Unique Self: 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 and arranging marriage to our partners? Our job as teenagers is therefore to concentrate on developing ourselves as unique individuals to the fullest. Women should develop an interest in the lives of great women both Muslim and non-Muslim and concentrate on developing their individual long-term views. Compared 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. Does the saying, ?a good woman is worth ten good men? make sense?
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 woman can easily steer this respect to extend to herself! A man can be a good son, a good father, a good brother or a good husband, but to do so the man needs a good navigator!
Yousuf M Islam,