Book review: The White Elephant

by Aishah Adams

white elephant

by Aishah Adams, published House of Ganiyah LLC (18 Sept. 2016)

Available on Amazon.

Chai rating: 4.5 out of 5 cups


Practical, insightful, and wise, The White Elephant is an essential read for anyone who is looking into settling into marriage or is going through a divorce. The author, a Public Health Consultant and Personal Development Coach, is herself a divorcee. She addresses and examines the mistakes that she made in her own personal marriage journey and uses them to teach others how to avoid them. Using the teachings from the Quran and the Hadith as foundation for her writing, Ms. Adams provides compelling arguments on how to navigate marital relationships complicated by extended families and culture in the 21st century.

The book is broken down into 3 distinct parts. The first part addresses what too look for in a spouse and the things to consider when you are ready for marriage. The second part talks about the realities of a marriage: the day to day issues such as sex and communication , dealing with in-laws, and defining your identity within a relationship. The third part, which is is a personal big one for me because it was so painful, is divorce. It discusses complex questions such as how to know when to call it quits, how to manage societal expectations and judgements, and how to manage yourself when your marriage ends.

Finally the book addresses domestic abuse within the Islamic context, an issue that I feel is not spoken about enough within Muslim communities. The author makes a strong case for identifying, and leaving, abusive marriages.

“When you stay on in an abusive relationship – whether verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive – it’s almost as though you are teaching those around you to embrace the oppression, especially when there are children present.”

This section also includes interviews from real-life women who share their post-divorce experiences so that readers may learn them.

The Good

Many relationship books that I have read in the past have in addressed relationships in broad, universal, all-encompassing terms and theories.  This book, however, is written specifically for the Muslim woman (and man) in mind.

Islam places a huge emphasis on marriage and many young adults, in their zeal to want to be good Muslims, rush into marriage without examining a marriage prospect carefully and thoroughly for compatibility. It is not uncommon for some to agree to get married on the just the fact that both partners are practicing Muslims who pray and fast. The White Elephant argues for the contrary: that a study of personal characteristics and personal lifestyles and goals of potential spouses are actually in line with Islamic teachings:

And of His signs is that He created you from dust; then, suddenly you were human beings dispersing [throughout the earth].”(Quran)

“It is from His signs and it is important that you cohabit in love and mercy with the person you choose to spend the rest of your life with as explained by this verse. At this point, you’d probably wonder why do we then have so much rancour going on in our marriages today? Why has there been an increase in rates of divorce in our communities today? While it could be a consequence of our straying away from purpose-filled unions, I believe it goes back to a lack of adequate preparation for the journey ahead, which then results in avoidable turbulence, which sometimes leads us to call it quits instead of retracing our steps to continue the journey on a stronger footing. ” 

Why I didn’t give it 5 stars:

The book is so beneficial to anyone who is contemplating marriage or divorce but because it uses Arabic heavily when referencing to the the Quran and the Hadith, I feel like it may not feel as relevant (or useful) to non-Muslims. Perhaps a glossary of terms explaining Arabic words and phrases and Quranic principles would given it more appeal to a wider global readership.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely! I remember talking to a young Catholic couple years back when I was in university who were about to be married. I  was absolutely fascinated when they told me that their priest wouldn’t marry them until they finished taking mandatory pre-marital counseling classes.  This book is the pre-marital counseling class that I always wish my own local Muslim community had.

My favorite quote:

Do not be fooled by a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. Dig deep so you can uncover what
is really in the parcel and not what the cover of the parcel tells you is in it. How many times have you bought a box of an item with the colour of the item in the box being
different from the colour of the item displayed on the cover of the box?

Have you read this book? What do you think of it? Have you read a similar book that you would like to share?

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Do you have an un-bucket list?

Have you ever seen the movie, The Bucket list, in which the characters played by Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson make a list of all the things they want to do before they die? I watched it a few years back and was hugely inspired by it.  I made my own bucket list- a very long list of fantastically adventurous things to do, places to visit, new things to try – until reality hit me on the head and I realised that I didn’t have nearly enough money, time, or energy to do half the things on that list. This is my problem with bucket lists: more often than not, they focus on the failure of the things that I haven’t done and often leave me with a sense of anxiety for the future.

Instead of sharing with you a list of the things that I haven’t done, I’ll share with you a list of the things that I have accomplished in the last year or so. Welcome to my un-bucket list:

  1. Quit drinking soda-I challenged myself to quit soda right before I started fasting for Ramadhan last year.  I’ve been drinking water and very occasionally, fruit juice. These days, I won’t drink soda even if it comes free with a meal.  My clothes fit better and my skin feels more hydrated.
  2. Turned my wardrobe into a ‘joy’ only zone-I went through an intense purging period where I got rid of clothes that didn’t fit well, didn’t look good on me, or that I just flat-out didn’t like. I read about Marie Kondo‘s philosophy on surrounding yourself with only things that ‘spark’ joy, and I have slowly started cutting out the joyless stuff out of my life. Which brings me to….
  3. Picked my battles-This is another big un-bucket item. I try very hard to allocate my time and focus on people that fill my life with beauty and laughter, and really, really try to stay away from anything that will make me angry or sad. There are always the inevitable sad/angry situations of course, but I intentionally keep these to a necessary minimum. When confronted with a conflict, I tend to ask myself “will this matter in 5 years time?” and proceed accordingly.
  4. Explored my city-Remember how I mentioned that bucket lists often involve significant chunks of money, time, and energy? This specifically relates to travel. As a working mother with two active toddlers,  I have little of those three resources to spare. I haven’t been travelling to many new countries, but I have been a very busy local tourist.  I make a point of visiting a local attraction at least once every week. London has many fantastic free attractions like museums, parks, gardens, and events. I pack a lunch and snacks for the road, load up the kids in the stroller, and off we go to explore the city. It’s so much fun!
  5. Started a library-This is probably the biggest un-bucket item on my list. Since childhood, I’ve always enjoyed reading immensely (I talked about it in this blog post). One of my dreams was to start a library in the coastal region of Kenya, where literacy rates are so low compared to the rest of the country. In late 2014, this dream came true. The library started out with a collection of a few donated books and now has grown so big that we are running out of space! You can read more about the library here.

How about you? What’s in your un-bucket list?

Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women

Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women
A brilliant work on authority in Islamic law, and its application with particular regard to women and legal responsa (fatawa) on women. Includes a powerfully insightful analysis of many controversial fatawa on women, and illustrates why they may or may not hold authority. The book provides depth of analysis for the specialist, as well as engaging and enlightening discussion for the non-specialist.

(http://www.scholarofthehouse.org/speakingodna.html)

Mother of the Believers

I want to introduce you to an author that I am enjoying reading, Kamran Pasha. He is an established script writer, producer and author. He has worked on projects such as NBC’s “Kings” and ShowTime’s “Sleeper Cell.”

Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam

A stunning debut novel illustrating the birth of Islam from the perspective of the prophet Muhammad’s young wife Aisha.

Deep in the desert of seventh century Arabia, a new prophet named Muhammad has arisen. After he beholds a beautiful woman in a vision and resolves to marry her, the girl’s father quickly arranges the wedding. Aisha becomes the youngest of Muhammad’s twelve wives and her feisty nature and fierce intelligence establishes her as his favorite. But when Aisha is accused of adultery by her rivals, she loses the Prophet’s favor—and must fight to prove her innocence.

Pardoned by her husband after a divine revelation clears her name, Aisha earns the reluctant respect of Muslim men when their settlement in Medina is attacked and she becomes a pivotal player on the battlefield. Muhammad’s religious movement sweeps through Arabia and unifies the warring tribes, transforming him from prophet to statesman. But soon after the height of her husband’s triumph—the conquest of the holy city of Mecca—Muhammad falls ill and dies in Aisha’s arms.

A widow at age nineteen, Aisha fights to create a role for herself in the new Muslim empire—becoming an advisor to the Caliph of Islam, a legislator advocating for the rights of women and minorities, a teacher, and ultimately a warrior and military commander. She soon becomes one of the most powerful women in the Middle East, but her passionate nature leads to tragedy when her opposition to the Caliph plunges the Islamic world into civil war. The women of Islam view her as a hero, but Aisha is filled with uncertainty and regret whenever she considers her legacy.

Written in beautiful prose and meticulously researched, Mother of the Believersis a compelling work of historical fiction that portrays an empowered Muslim woman who helped usher Islam into the world.

Courtesy of Kamran Pasha

Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith and Jurisprudence by Kecia Ali

 

Whether exploring the thorny issues of wives’ sexual duties, divorce, homosexuality, or sex outside marriage, discussions of sexual ethics and Islam often spark heated conflict rather than reasoned argument. In this ground-breaking, lucid, and carefully constructed work, feminist Muslim scholar Dr. Kecia Ali asks how one can determine what makes sex lawful and ethical in the sight of God.” Drawing on both revealed and interpretative Muslim texts, Ali critiques medieval and contemporary commentators alike to produce a balanced and comprehensive study of a subject both sensitive and urgent, making this an invaluable resource for students, scholars, and interested readers.