I have told my Gentle Reader before about the woman, so close to my heart, who became a practicing Muslim after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
It is fun, being a practicing Muslim. Religious types are nothing if not extremely and richly sociable, as many lonely, emotionally destitute people have discovered through the ages. This woman too, she made a whole new set of supportive, loving friends, with whom she went to religious lectures. She enjoyed them- she was the most educated of the group and enjoyed talking and showing off her Western education in those groups. Her friends and even the lecturers swooned for her- such a catch! A university professor! A PhD! sitting on the ground with them, leafing through the Quran, listening to lectures on the lifestyle of Ali and Fatemeh, noting down the correct way to do prayers/the pilgrimage/the veiling/whatever! Is this stuff true or what? After the nerve-wracking atmosphere of academia, with its non-stop bickering, criticism and plotting, these little religious groups were like havens of support and safety.
She enjoyed covering her hair and the regular prayer times too. What can be better than such public, visible demonstrations of your faith? What can be more arousing than a vibrant argument about the sanctity of your beliefs? As a bonus point: her husband hated her new-found religiosity, being secular all his life, so she got to piss him off in a self-righteous way too. Her religiosity was rebellion against the imposed values of a western, masculine secularism which her husband represented. It was returning to her warm wonderful childhood and her mother’s arms, a return to traditional values, a return to herself.
Then one day, she came home from those friendly little religious classes a bit bothered. More than a bit, actually. Apparently the lecturer had taught them about husband’s rights under Islam. What had really disturbed her was this gem: if your husband forbids you from visiting your parents, then you have to obey. Have to. No way out. He says no, you don’t go. See, like a poem! He doesn’t have to have a reason or anything. No extreme case scenario, like your father on his deathbed or anything is admitted, either. No rationalizing.
Our heroine had argued with the lecturer, but he had been firm. Kind, but firm. Nope. He repeated the poem: he says no, you don’t go.
As it so happens, this particular point had been long a source of friction in our heroine’s marriage- a point in common with some fifty billion other marriages in Iran and across the world. While her husband did not actually loathe his mother-in-law as an individual, he detested the importance she had in their marriage and the amount of time and energy his wife poured into her mother’s household.
Professionally and socially, our heroine was the equal of her husband. If anything, she was the richer of the two, benefiting from an early inheritance and coming from a higher social class than he did. So, here she is: relatively rich, highly educated, in a well-paying, well-respected job. Living with her husband as a partner, an equal. A slightly inferior equal, truth be told. And now, she’s been told she has to give that up. She has to take orders from him. If he says no, she don’t go.
How did our heroine reconcile this with her newly-found beliefs?
I don’t know. She didn’t stop being religious- she continued right on with the groups and lectures and covering and pilgrimage and prayers and fasting. And she continued right on with whatever else she wanted to do- including visiting and sleeping over at her mother’s place at least once a week. I remember once asking her about the husband thing, jokingly, and she replied in the same joking voice that he can go screw himself if he doesn’t like her spending time with her mom. And that was that.