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When Muslim Marriage Fails: Divorce Chronicles and Commentaries Paperback – July 2, 2010
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In this important work, author Suzy Ismail takes on the topic of crumbling Muslim marriages in the West. Using a refreshing storytelling approach, this book gives readers a view into five different failed marriages, both from the husbands and the wives perspectives, followed by commentary on why each marriage failed. Each story is different, and yet common themes such as miscommunication and a lack of common life visions repeat themselves again and again. By telling each story from both sides, the author also gives us a chance to truly see how two people can have such different perspectives and feelings on a shared situation, and in this way, reminds us of the great importance of communication in all our close relationships. The stories span from young couples unable to survive the early stages of marriage to parents of adult children leaving each other after decades in loveless relationships. They also tackle important topics such as domestic abuse, cultural differences, and infidelity. This book will undoubtedly enter into the must-read category for family literature for Muslims here in the West. --Dr. Mohamed Rida Beshir
About the Author
Suzy Ismail currently teaches in the Communication Department at DeVry University. She received her Bachelor s in English, Communication, and Middle Eastern Studies, her Master s in Communication and Information Studies, and attended Rutgers University as a doctoral student in the field of Intercultural Organizational Communication. She is also the author of The BFF Sisters and other pending works. She resides in New Jersey with her husband and three children.
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From Newlyweds who become disillusioned after the honeymoon is over, to men and women who leave a loveless marriage after living together for a lifetime and raising a family, these stories are sadly familiar to anyone who is married, has been married, or who is friends with at least one married couple. That sounds like just about everyone, and that's exactly who should read this book, everyone. Because although details and language from the Muslim religion are threaded throughout the stories, told twice each, one from each partner's perspective, this makes the book a richer read if you are not Muslim and I assume creates even more resonance if you are a practicing Muslim.
Following each story the reader finds an analysis by a Muslim scholar. Each of the biographies that follow the analysis tells the reader that these are accomplished people who walk various paths in life. This emphasizes what I stated above, that these stories are for everyone, because failing marriages affect everyone, the individuals involved and their immediate families, but also extended families, entire communities, and sometimes, whole cultures.
If you are experiencing difficulties in your marriage, this collection of stories may provide you with a mirror that will help you see what needs to happen next for you. If you are in a happy marriage, the stories serve as a reminder of how to keep your marriage happy, or perhaps may simply show you just how lucky you are.
Love, communication, commitment as well as the lack of all those things show up in Ms. Ismail's tales about relationships as they begin and end. I feel that these same qualities are most definitely present in Ms. Ismail's writing and her choice of topic.
The stories are very well written, and the fact that Ms. Ismail has written them at all reveals she is a compassionate person who has valuable ideas to share that can help the modern marriage to survive these complicated time.
A deconstructionist artist, Ms. Ismail shows us the ways the married couples in her stories could have stayed together--by taking them apart. In her stories, just like in life, Ms. Ismail shows us that marriage is impossible unless each partner can grow, change, and develop the ability to truly love.
With that said, I have some issues with this book:
1. I don't like that these stories are fictional. The basic assumption when reading a book like this is that the stories will be real, and so the author should make absolutely clear that they're not. What really irked me though was that apparently the fictional stories written by the author are loosely based on interviews she did with divorced couples, however, rather than one real case of divorce being the direct inspiration for one of the book's stories (which would make the stories more realistic), each story is apparently an amalgamation of many stories. Now it makes sense that as I was reading, I kept thinking about how outrageous these characters were, particularly the husbands. They were often represented as the most despicable of people, with absolutely nothing good about them. And the wives were often depicted as the most pathetic of victims, with very little common sense. The only exception is the last story. While I'm sure there's some truth to the stories, I think the author got too carried away with her storytelling. These characters were more like caricatured stereotypes than realistic people.
So why is this damaging? Because this is not how most people are! The sad part is that most Muslims will read this "realistic" book and not be able to relate to the characters. They will think that they themselves are fine in comparison to these crazy characters, even when they're not. The book seems to say that only crazy people in crazy situations need to address their problems. Most divorces I've seen are far more nuanced and have to do with small things that add up over time, not headline-grabbing controversies. The only story in this book that seemed to even dip its toes into nuance was the last one. For most people, to see how a marriage slowly and almost imperceptibly unravels would be more interesting, because that is the more common occurrence, and one that's a lot harder to understand and work through, whereas something like abuse is clearly a situation that calls for divorce. To some extent I do appreciate the author tackling stereotypical issues like abuse and the save-a-convert story, because these do happen and Muslims need to deal with them, I just think that in a book with such a broad title that attempts to capture such a broad community, yet only 5 stories, the stories should be more representative of the majority of cases.
2. I don't know if this author mainly interviewed Arab/Arab-American Muslims, but it would seem so since she decided to make 4 of the 5 stories involve characters of Arab ethnicity (the 5th story doesn't clearly state ethnicity). Shouldn't this book then be called, "When Arab Muslim Marriages Fail"? Being very familiar with the various ethnic groups in the American Muslim community, I think that while there are many general similarities, culturally these groups can be very different, which is not surprising when you consider how self-segregated they usually are. Arab Americans have a different culture than South Asian or African American Muslims, yet I feel this book mainly represents Arab American Muslims, not Muslims in general. The author should take a more even-handed sampling of the American Muslim community, and if/when she does, she should make it very clear she did so in her introduction. Simple considerations like this would have given her book more legitimacy.
3. I strongly disagree with the author's statement at the end that all the individuals in her book could have succeeded in marriage if only they had more realistic expectations and willingness to compromise. For most of the stories, yes, but for the wife in the first story, this is a totally wrong conclusion to draw, and it should have been singled out as such. There's nothing she could have done to compromise with her husband, he was deranged and would always have found a reason to beat her and eventually kill her. This is one case in which the problem was entirely one-sided, yet in an attempt to stay "objective" the author sacrifices a major opportunity to make a strong moral statement. How dare anyone not encourage her to escape such a dehumanizing situation, and by extension not encourage any abused woman reading this book to end her marriage? This only reinforces the stereotype that abuse of women is acceptable to Muslims. We need to change this attitude.
Overall, while I know I've loaded on the criticism, I do appreciate this book. I want to see more like it, ones that take the conversation further. I'd like to see more that explore the nuances of when divorce should be considered vs. when there's more hope for things to work out, more that encourage marriage counseling (sadly still a major taboo for many Muslims), and more that discuss actionable steps couples can take towards improving their marriages.