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?

What makes a successful marriages?

“And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put Love and mercy between your (hearts), verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” [ar-Room 30:21]

In what is one of the best pieces of marriage advice I’ve ever heard, Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan lays out a common sense explanation of the difference between the genders and how we can capitalise on these differences to build strong marriages. He uses basic pyschological principles to explain why men and women think differently and follows up with advice from the Qur’an and sunnah to prescribe behaviours that can make us better spouses to each other. After listening to his lecture, this is what I learnt:

Wives:

Men’s biggest weakness is women. As soon as wives understand that God created this desire in men, they will understand that their greatest role is in supporting their husbands, and NOT to fighting them. If you are angry, he will feel angry too. Men are not as emotionally expressive as women are, so he will not tell you if your actions hurt him. If you are angry often enough, resentment will build up and over time it will spill into other areas of your relationship. All of a sudden, he will start picking on minor things such as too much salt in the food or a stain on his shirt. If this goes on long enough without being resolved, he will eventually lose interest in you and start seeking attention elsewhere. If you notice that your husband is picking on ‘small’ issues, it’s time for an honest talk with him.

Understand that a man is surrounded by temptation all day: a smile from the lady on the train, a sexy model on a billboard, kind words from the cute secretary.  Instead of constantly interrogating your husband and checking his phone for potential affairs, be his rock instead. Offering something as simple as a smile will make him feel wanted, loved and appreciated.

Husbands:

The biggest mistake that men often make is trying to understand their wives using logic. Woman are wired to be more emotional (and that’s not a bad thing!) Women may be complicated creatures but this does not mean that you should dismiss their thoughts and feelings. Instead of arguing with her using logic, try adopting the sunnah method. When she is expresses anger, answer back with kind words and empathetic silence. Never answer back harshly or roll your eyes. A reasonable women will take silence as a sign of discomfort and will often come back to you with questions of concern and reconciliation. Also, never reprimand her for her behaviour and retort with phrases like ‘I wish you could be like the Sahabiyya.” This does nothing but make her build her defences up. If you cannot be like the Prophet (PBUH), don’t expect her to be like Lady Khadija.

Speaking of expectations, the greatest source of frustrations in marriages today is unmet expectations. We expect so much out of each other, yet we constantly fall short on delivery ourselves. If you want to receive something, you must first give it. If you want your spouse to show you love, you must be willing to give it first.

May Allah grant us tranquil marriages and blessed homes.

If you’d like to watch the video in full, please click on the link below: