"Half Our Deen" as described by Elizabeth Gilbert

I am doing my best to prepare for my marriage every bit as much as prepare for my wedding. As part of the former, I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed. I had heard about the book’s topic, but was never interested enough to read it until recently, since its relevance has increased by a hundredfold.

couple-294284_640I am glad to be reading it now. The book is a researched meditation of sorts on the subject of marriage. Gilbert writes it on the eve of her own impending marriage, weaving together history (Western history, that is), research, and insightful personal reflections on the topic. It’s good. And much, much better than her last book.

Halfway in, I read something which was glorious, but of course did not make the connection with Islam—which is why I am sharing it here. It is the perfect explanation for why Islam discourages monasticism and celibacy. It explains why the Prophet urged his followers to marry and establish households. It’s also a much beautiful and precise version of what I was trying to convey in my previous post.

With all respect to Buddha and to the early Christian celibates, I sometimes wonder if all this teaching about nonattachment and the spiritual importance of monastic solitude might be denying us something quite vital. Maybe all that renunciation of intimacy denies us the opportunity to ever experience that very earthbound, domesticated, dirt-under-the-fingernails gift of difficult, long-term, daily forgiveness…Maybe creating a big enough space within your consciousness to hold and accept someone’s contradictions—someone’s idiocies, even—is a kind of divine act. Perhaps transcendence can be found not only on solitary mountaintops or in monastic settings, but also at your own kitchen table, in the daily acceptance of your partner’s most tiresome, irritating faults.

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Why I'm Getting Married

I didn’t wake up one day and decide I wanted to get married. I have always wanted it. However, my reasons for it have changed throughout the years. This is the final, honed version of all those years of reasoning. 
Married is said to be half our deen, an scholars have emphasized that that is because it involves stepping up to a significant challenge. Conversely–divorce is one of the most hated acts by God, an allowance only made for extreme situations. For giving up on a marriage means giving up on that challenge.Wedding_Rings
I am getting married because
a) I am stepping up to the challenge, and
b) It is no longer in my path to keep being single.
What being single made me realize is that relationships—whether in the context of marriage or otherwise, inevitably involves the reduction, the shrinking, of both people’s realities. Even the most spirited and adventurous spouse will reduce the degree to which one is present in the world.
This became very clear to me when, upon reflecting on my previous prospective suitors, I remembered a very peculiar factor of things not working out. As disappointing as it was, there was always a glimmer, however small, that I would no longer be living a narrowed reality. That I was free to experience the world as I chose. With nothing anchoring me, I let myself go in my inner life.
And experience it I did. I took trips at the last minute, discovered dance as a form of self affirmation, and grew to love my family in completely new ways. Every day was full of adventure and possibility.
But with this, it eventually became clear why it was no longer in my path to keep being single.
It was too much.
It became emotionally and mentally exhausting to find equal potential and joy to have to seek joy in so many places. Seeing the unique beauty in each of these experiences and being open to them all left too much shakiness in the foundation of who ‘I’ was.
Getting married, I grew to understand, would narrow my experience of the world. Just like bing vegetarian resolved the paradox of choice when ordering at a restaurant, getting married would reduce the amount of experiences I can have. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s the whole point. In a functional marriage, two people lean back from life at least enough for the space of a marriage to remain intact. In a healthy marriage, they lean back further.
Having loved my life as a single women (well, most of the time), getting married is a bittersweet experience. My fiance is everything I want in a man. I already love the life we will have, and the children, God willing, we will bring to this world. Yet, sometimes, I wake up at night to the sound of a door closing. Shaytaan smiles. “Are you sure?”, he asks. I try not to pay him any heed. I say a prayer of gratitude that I no longer have to shine my light through all those open doors. There was a time I did—a time I described as a peculiar state of being One, just as Allah is One. But constantly shining through all of those doors are His ability and right alone.

On Reading The Gifts of Imperfection

This book piqued my interest when I received a notification from Meetup telling me that someone was forming a group based on this book. As you might imagine, the notion of a book that warrants a group unto itself definitely makes one want see what it is all about. So, intrigued by the book’s currency, needing a gentler read, and feeling a bit empty in the soul food department, I permitted myself to splurge and download the book, hoping against hope that it would give me a formula to live by, some explanation of the inexplicable contortions my nafs can take sometimes.

Well, no book can ever live up to such grand expectations. But I’ll be forgiving, and do my best to focus on what’s important: the self awareness this book gave me by taking on the form of an emotional glossary.

I may have not found the book to be overwhelmingly brilliant or life changing, but I do give the author props for being an academic who so sincerely, earnestly, and passionately shares her work and her findings for the betterment of the human condition. Often, attempting to capture the human experience from a sociological or psychological standpoint tends to engage with distilling, freeze-drying, and vacuum-packing material in the form of obscure academic journals that few people will ever read. So one especially refreshing aspect of this book was how such work becomes humanized, how Brown breathes life into the patterns that emerge from her qualitative research to reveal what it is about people who are living full, wholehearted lives.

One might expect this book to make a case for how imperfections are our saving grace, but the true essence of the book lies in the second part of its title: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Cliched as the sentence sounds, I believe there is something is to be said about how Brown outlines this process. Embracing who you are, she says, is about engaging in wholehearted living, and wholehearted living “is about engaging with the world from a place of authenticity and worthiness.” By letting go of what people think, practicing courage, compassion, and connection, and feeling worthy of love and belonging every bit as much as wanting it, Brown illustrates how we can live in the now rather than elusively chase happiness.

If that sounds too vague and New Age-y for your liking, I don’t blame you. (If you do care for it, then you should read the book. You’ll like it a lot.) But even though this book’s “feel-good” aspect is cloying at times, even though it panders to Oprah-watching soccer moms with social calendars bursting at the seams, I’m glad I bought it, and here is why.

The Gifts of Imperfection does an incredible job in describing the phenomena that constitute our beings. The book did not completely work for me a whole, but Brown’s definitions of concepts such as shame, faith, and joy have created portals in my understanding of myself that I know I will work onwards from. I may not have the full picture that Brown intended me to see, but I now have a self-aware emotional vocabulary that helps me understand myself, my relationships, and my being part of this world in a way I could  not before having read this book.

So this isn’t a review as much as a compilation of a few of the definitions I found especially powerful:

  • Connection is “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” Kind of ties back to my post on friendship. Maybe a relationship that’s so focused on giving doesn’t qualify as a connection, simply because those are no more than one-way streets. Brown goes on to highlight that we need to receive with open hearts as liberally as we give with open hearts, and that attaching judgement to receiving help means attaching judgment to giving help. One of the things that drew me close to Islam was the discouragement of reminding another person of the good you did for them. What Brown says here is taking that one step further: don’t just not remind them. Don’t think of the fact that you’re not reminding them.
  • “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.” The things that hinder love include shame, disrespect, and betrayal and “love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed, and rare.” How’s that for wisdom that can save thousands in couple’s therapy?
  • Shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Brown makes a compelling case for why the silence about the things that trigger shame is destroying the fabric of our beings and societies. Since shame is her area of expertise, she was especially eloquent in drawing out its dark forms, its connection to vulnerability, and how it can be mastered as a means of connection.
  • Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us.” I suppose I always adhered to a definition that factored out the “each other” part. Spirituality, I tend to think, is about me and that greater power, and that’s it. But maybe not. Our rows for prayer are made to resemble that of the angels. Even angels pray in a congregation. Even angels are social.
  • Addiction is “chronically and compulsively numbing and taking the edge off feelings.” This is one of the profound lessons the book taught me. We often tell ourselves that because drinking is forbidden, we as Muslims are made to confront our realities rather than escape from them. What Brown points out, however, that the numbing process doesn’t have to just be through food or drinking or drugs or sex. It could be watching eight back-to-back episodes of a sitcom. It could be–and this was news to me–staying busy. Yes, staying busy to numb oneself is an addiction, a phenomenon Brown calls “busy-aholicism.” The idle mind may be Satan’s workshop, but I suppose too much of something is never a good thing.
  • Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.” It was surreally unnerving to see, in print, the definition of something I’ve practiced for years, but have never really been able to put words to. And now I think of faith in strange times, and wonder if this is why the ummah is so fragmented, so confused, so figuratively plagued. The stranger our times get, the greater leaps of faith are needed to hold fast to our tradiiton.
And that is why we need more. We need more than to know that being there for a friend is the be-all, end-all. We need to know more about what it takes to sustain a marriage. We need to truly let ourselves go, allow our loved ones to see our real selves and not have them look away. We need to counsel and be counselled in the light of our faith. We can’t let our cultural baggage be a means of division and have self-help books come in and save the gaps. We need to go back to the tradition and build on it. And we need to pray to Allah to make us worthy of the majestic bounty that can result from a fusion of advances in sociological and therapeutic research and the wisdoms embedded in our beautiful traditions.

Note: In compiling these quotations, I have done my best to adhere to the fair use guidelines outlined here

On Love Then and Now: 2 States and One Day

Note: this sinfully indulgent and long post fails every test of being spoiler-free. If you were planning on reading either or both of these books, it would probably be a good idea to hold off reading this until you’re done. 

I had the fortune of reading two highly engaging love stories in one go. And I’m going to do something different and slightly bizarre in this post: I’m going to do two reviews in one go and attempt a comparative review of these stories.

Some readers may look at me askance, thinking that one book is anything but in the league of the other, but my comparison isn’t based on literary worthiness or geographic proximity. It’s based on what makes them uniquely literary worthy to me and the way I read them and saw them as a testament to the state of love in strange times.

The premise of this comparative review is the following quote from Lori Gottlieb’s Marry Him:

It used to be that lovers knew they wanted to be together but couldn’t. Now it’s that lovers can be together but aren’t sure they want to.

This line is something that needs to be unraveled, that needs to be meditated on through several more dimensions outside of this piece. But for now, I will explore it in terms of these books. Because you see, Bhagat’s story is a funny and delightful interlude into the good old times when people were actually sure they wanted to get married. Nicholl’s beautiful work, on the other hand, is a study of two friends who make the choice of getting together an exquisitely drawn-out work of art that spans a decade.

So let us begin.

2 States–apparently a a fictionalized memoir of how the author met his wife–is a throwback to the former good old times of lovers whose struggles lay in external obstacles rather than internal ones. But it’s a throwback with a clever, modern, twist, a climax that makes a literature major want to shoot herself in the head, and the eventual warm, fuzzy feeling of a happy end.

The protagonist, Krish, is a smart alecky but strangely endearing Punjabi fellow from Delhi. His girlfriend, Ananya (who, notably, I did not find as endearing) is a South Indian Brahmin Tamil girl from Chennai. They’re both in what appears to be a healthy, loving, mature relationship, but alas, come the Romeo-and-Julietesque wrist-to-forehead conflict: their families don’t want to marry outside their states and resent each each other. Through arduous struggle that included accepting a job placement in Chennai (which might as well have been China), Krish jumps hoop after hoop in a series of hilarious and heart-warming endeavours with his eye always on the prize: the hand of his beloved Ananya with their respective families’ love, support, and approval.

As the numerical use of the word “two” in the title demonstrates, this book seemed to have gone through next to no publishing process. (I wouldn’t be surprised if it went straight from Bhagat’s laptop to the press. Yeah. That bad.) There are gaping holes that put it at the very bottom rung of notable literary endeavours: the settings are poorly described, characterizations–including that of Ananya’s–play heavily on stereotypes, and the climax of the book was quintessentially Bollywoodesque: predictable, hackneyed, groan-worthy, and, well, unbelievable to the point of being laughable.

With that out of the way, I will now go on to what makes this book wonderful. 2 States isn’t just a love story. It’s an examination of how two extremely disparate cultures can exist within a single nation. It’s not just about overcoming odds to gain approval, it’s about why that validation is important and how it ties in to living in societies whose culture fabric consists of closely-knit family and community ties.

And, dear me, the book is funny. For someone getting into the flow of grad school and needing a break from mind-numbingly dry reading material, it was a relief to have this book’s company on the subway, to have bits of respite before moving on to the real world. It’s entertaining, charming, amusing, and clever, and I was sad when it ended.

That said, it’s time to turn the tables again: I wonder how relevant this story is to the condition of lovers in today’s age. It’s hard to grapple with the idea that a couple managed to live together and spent all their hours–asleep and awake–together, without apparently having any friends, and not having killed each other. And as someone of my generation it is difficult to not be cynical about this book, about the ability for people to put up with anything to be together. We’re living in a time where people look for excuses to bolt rather than fight external obstacles to say.

People like Emma and Dexter in One Day.

These two are self-absorbed and confused. They may mean well, but the luxury of choice, of being able to wait before settling, plays out in its full form in the way they fumble about in their lives.

If someone would ask me what One Day is about, I’d find myself paralyzed with emotion, yet finding that I have nothing to say. Nothing happens in this book, in the story per say. But life happens. Two lives, to be specific. Two people have a relationship that in some way or another touches upon every possible way a man and a woman can relate to one another. This happens while they grow up, while they suffer their respective crises, while they’re there or not there for each other. No longer was I in a world where there was some solid reassurance to base everything else on, which, in the case of 2 States, was the desire to get married. This is a story that pulled the ground out from under me, that had me think of what happens when there are no absolutes, when two people develop as they wish and how the process is not nearly as liberating as it might seen.

Nicholls does something cruel, terribly cruel, in his killing of Emma that took me a long time to recover from. When I finally emerged on the other end, blinking in what felt like a blindingly bright light after the darkness of the deep abyss I was thrown into, I found myself not hating Nicholls for pulling what one heartbroken reader calls a Nicholas Sparkesque stunt, but realizing this: this book is godless.

Apart from pondering over how God has created people to be so incredibly complex that they need to grow, that circumstances need to gain a fine balance in order to finally be able to execute something they have wanted all along, there is nothing in this book that made me think of divinity. There’s occasional brushes of what seem like hopeful possibilities, but for the most part, things go wrong. For the most part, it’s chaos. And the fact that Dexter and Emma finally get together for what seems like too short a while is not a cause for a celebration for how life leads us to the right things as much as a kind of grand coincidence that for a brief amount of time everything intersected to make this work.

I loved experiencing the tragedy, the vicissitudes and different shades of longing and resentment, and the complexity of the barely-platonic relationship Emma and Dexter have for most of the book. I didn’t need some grand, blissful ending like a white wedding with confetti and lace. I thought the way they finally got together—which was almost a kind of resignation—was incredibly romantic in its own way. For the realist side of my being, it was blissful to see the complexities that unfolded during the course of their relationship, to see them grow older and imperfect and irritable.

But Emma dying still makes no sense. Given where this book was coming from, I was happy to go through her pain of not having Dexter, of Dexter’s pain of losing his mother. I was happy to wait until they got together. I wouldn’t have minded so much if they broke things off at the end. What I resented, however, was going through was Dexter’s state of being on the first anniversary of Emma’s death. It has no meaning. It’s needlessly tragic. Hence: a godless book.

There’s an interesting inverse comparison that emerges between the two stories. 2 States was terribly written, but as the memory of the bad writing fades, the memory of the overall story becomes warmer. One Day was the opposite. The writing, especially in terms of dialogues, character descriptions, and settings, was blissful to read. But when I think back to the literal story in terms of plot, I find myself wondering what all the fuss is about. It’s of little surprise that–at least according to what I’ve heard–the film adaptation was so unsuccessful. The story is about the journey rather than the destination. It’s about the process of growing in love, while Bhagat’s story is about how love triumphs over everything.

What does all this mean? Does it mean that divine stories inherently lend themselves to happy endings, giving us the reassurance that all of this means something, that there is a God after all? Do bumblingly tragic stories that deliberately push all conventions of human existence have no hope of offering a faith-based reading? I can’t say. I’d be curious to see whether other stories of this nature give me the same experience that these ones did.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time talking about books I have incredibly strong feelings about, but I also have trouble fully loving or fully hating. For books that didn’t have any particular lessons to teach me that I didn’t know before, I probably devoted more space to them than they warranted.

For several Muslims, such stories cannot be related to firsthand, only lived through vicariously. And I feel that by reading these two books, that’s what I’ve done. I’m strangely grateful to have been able to be a part of these worlds, to step out of my context and laugh and cry over these lovers’ stupidities, obstacles, triumphs, and failings. Perhaps Allah, in His infinite Wisdom, has some reason in keeping me from having to go through it myself. But He is gracious enough to give me a glimpse of this dimension of existence in the form of these books.


On Singlehood

“Half our deen” is the chanted mantra when it comes to attitudes towards marriage. I like it, I respect it, and I have no doubt about the fact that the institution of marriage is intrinsically beautiful. It’s a form of companionship that is the foundation of a family and is, without question, one of Allah’s infinite mercies upon humanity.

But because I’m all about acknowledging realities, here’s another set of realities that  we need to work with. Divorce rates are climbing. People are waiting longer to settle down. Well-intentioned relationships are failing. So a great majority of Muslims are voluntary or involuntarily single. It might be simply because the right person hasn’t come along yet. Or it might be because they’ve been through failed relationships/marriages and don’t believe being that being in such a situation is for them.

The reasons don’t matter, as they for the most part can’t be helped. For now, we need to put aside the cause and look at the symptom, the state of the younger Muslim generations. We are single. And there’s too many of us who are miserable because we are single.

This makes me wonder whether in there’s a place for elongated singlehood in Islam. Singlehood that is not just as a transient state, but a valid life choice that one deeply, genuinely enjoys. If we can’t seem to settle down with someone, can we afford to keep being marriage-centric? I don’t think so.

I think singlehood shouldn’t just be a limbo one is passing through until they get married (a life that, by the way, has its own set of complications that for some reason are highly understated by parents and married friends). Singlehood has a tendency to be stigmatized across all kinds of cultures and communities, but I think it should be a way of being that needs to stop being looked down upon. And I think the process starts with accepting one’s singlehood and perhaps even rejoicing in it.

In my search for the “single yet happy” equation I ended up reading a book called Living Alone and Loving It by former television actress Barbara Feldon. The great thing about the book is that she doesn’t delve as much into the reasons for being single (or whether one chooses to be single or just happens to be one) but how to make the most of it and rejoice in it. Some of the lessons and wisdoms from the book that made a huge impact in my perception of my singlehood include

  • The realization that it’s better to be single and open and available than to be in an unhappy marriage. Not all marriages are unhappy, granted, but I trust that–for now– if the only alternative to being single is being married and unhappy, then I’m in the best of all possible worlds.
  • The ability to open myself and seek comfort from the world at large rather than one person in particular. This keeps me from putting all my eggs in one basket and makes me independent and self-secure.
  • The importance of forging bonds with friends–especially other friends who are single, and rejoicing in the ability to have the independence and freedom to be there for and have a good time with such friends.
  • The importance of having a life and passions that provide food for the soul. Things like reading, praying, being in activity groups, or even watching sports can provide nourishment that makes one feel less lonely and more connected with the world as a whole.
  • The most important realization of all: when the right person does come along: he or she should be a delightful addition to your life, not the focus of it. We all have friends who disappeared  after getting married and no longer kept in touch or made themselves available to meet up. While I understand that marriage comes with a new set of responsibilities, I don’t understand why people–especially women–are expected to leave their old lives and friends behind and orient their new existence around their spouses. Being married without having one’s own social resources and activities results in a very single-tracked existence that’s draining and even detrimental to a marriage.
The general idea posited in the book is that we can’t stop searching for that significant other, and that we as humans are made to want and need such a connection. But we also owe it to ourselves and our future partner to be independent and happy and with our own set of goals, dreams, hobbies, and social networks.

It doesn’t end there. Here’s something else that I think we as Muslims need to think about when it comes to being single. Being one.

God is One.

Some of us might be yearning to find that significant other and be done with it already, but shouldn’t we take a moment and ponder the fact that, for however a short period of time, He has given us independence, self-subsistence, and the possibility of being happy while being alone?

The spinster stigma’s gotta go. Being single doesn’t have to mean being miserable. For it also means having even more time for seeking knowledge, being an active member of the community, being a good role model as an older sibling or aunt or uncle, or being able to be there and spend quality time with one’s parents.

I won’t pretend that I’m joyfully single all the time. But I am grateful to have had eye-opening realizations thanks to having read and pondered about the virtues and vices of being alone. I’m also lucky to have strong, content, independent single female mentors who demonstrate to me that there is a life outside of being married. As a result, I’d like to think I am beginning to understand how I can make the most of the gift of singlehood. And it is my deepest hope and fervent prayer that other single Muslims make the most of this gift as well.

On Relationships

Here it is. The big one. Regardless of whether it’s right or not, it’s a reality. Muslims. Have. Relationships.

Not all of them do. A lot of them are extremely conscientious and want to save the whole thing for marriage. Good for them. But for those who do, it is often in secret. Which is unfortunate. But necessary, given some of the cultural baggage that we drag in with us.

Because we are so closet-y about relationships, however, some dangers arise. For some relationships are done in fun and perhaps are made more to be what they are. They have that “This is so wrong but it feels so right!” vibe, which makes the hormonal rush even more misleading.

Some people argue that relationships help us learn about the fairer/gruffer sex a lot more than we could have learned otherwise. Arguable, but I see their point.

I don’t think I need to get into the complications that relationships pose whether in the realm of Islam or not, and I’m certainly not going tell you, gentle Muslim reader, that you are wrong or right for being in one or not being in one. But the fact that it’s technically a no-no, and the fact that because it is wrong Muslims are repressed in an unhealthy way, paves ways to even further complexities.

I have a friend (who, for the purposes of this story, I will call a relatively ‘conservative’ Muslim) who in spite of doing everything she could not to do so, ended up in a relationship with someone who she really liked and who really liked her. A little over a year later, it ended. She was crushed. We did not see each other much while she was undergoing the initial shock of it, but what she told me later still deeply saddens me. “I’m not saying relationships are a good thing, or that it’s all right to go out with just anyone,” she said. “But sometimes I feel that people who are used to it, who have it as a part of their culture, know how to deal with it better than we do.” She was never a stranger to depression, but THIS, this awful black wave that kept swallowing her, what was it? Was she crazy? Was she being punished for what she did? Who could she ask for for help?

Chick lit gives countless accounts of women who upon being dumped are dragged out by their girlfriends and hooked up to IV drips of wine and chocolate. Because those friends have been there. They know of the horrible, horrible darkness that descends upon realizing that someone you really wanted to be with is no longer there. Since high school, and probably more times than necessary, and probably in relationships that were more dysfunctional than necessary. But they knew that black dog.

My friend knew nobody who knew of this. So she toiled and toiled, with no one telling her that she should keep herself busy in as many different things as possible, that this bad as this was, this would pass, that having come upon a bad day she would now know what a good day is, that she should exercise and eat and sleep well. While pretending everything was fine: to her family because they had no idea what she had been through, to her friends because they could not begin to comprehend what this was doing to her. She had to learn it the hard way.

So she could tell me when my time came.

On Noble Intentions and Failed Love

Image source: www.stardusttrailers.com

When I sat down to watch Blue Valentine, I was in the slightly masochistic mode of one who is about to live through a very painful story.

Painful. Wow. What an understatement.

Had I known the film would have made it this difficult to get out of bed the next morning, I don’t think I would have been able to bring myself to watch it. But I’m glad I did. And because it still tugs at the hems of my mind, I must get this out.

The Guardian’s review of the film helped me put words to the problems I did find with it. The review fittingly describes the forces of guilt and desperation that kept this doomed couple together for so long. But while it discussed what the film had the potential to do, it used a phrase that stopped me cold: “Even the best intentioned and most loving marriages can come unstuck.”

So, my fellow Muslims. This is where we come in. This is the truth we must face.

In our faith there’s a lot of lovely talk about intentions. About good intentions outweighing the bad, and good intentions being so highly esteemed that they are treated as if one actually acted on them. What this film brings to light is the much more nuanced reality for us: that even if we go into something with the best of intentions, there is still a possibility of failing. Failing miserably.

Here’s how the trainwreck version of things plays out for us. We meet a Muslim boy/girl, like them, and are convinced by our elders that the only way to go about things is to marry them. So we go ahead with it. And not just because we are forced to. But because we genuinely love the person and are grateful for having them in our lives.

I hope that’s where it ends for most of us. I hope that the reality of work, bills, children, and growing old together unfold as they should.

But in this trainwreck version, the version that is becoming more and common in these times–is some semblance of the following. Muslim boy likes Muslim girl (or vice versa), they get married (again, because that’s the only way to do this), get educated, make new friends, and realize what it is they really want, or that they’re not sure they are who they want to be. They try and try to stay together, but simply cannot. After agonizing Blue Valentine-esque realizations, divorce proceedings finally begin. The families are apalled. The community is stunned. The imams are confused. They don’t understand where things went wrong. There was no physical or emotional abuse. No issues with the in-laws. No cheating. No lying. What went wrong?

Nothing went wrong. They grew up, looked at one another, and realized that they weren’t right for one another. That’s what happened.

What makes this so hard to process is that it’s not really something that went wrong. It was guided with the best of intentions, fueled by prayers and goodwill. But try and try as one might, some things are simply not meant to be. We may not traditionally believe that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions. But some semblances of hell are meant to be lived through, for better or for worse. And if that is the only way to be, so be it.

That excruciating reality is what some unfortunate Muslims must contend with. It would be very easy to tell ourselves that this film has nothing to do with us. But it has everything to do with us. It tells us the gut-wrenching truth of a failed marriage in the way only fiction can. And, fitting to what a work of fiction like this does, it offers no practical advice about avoiding it. It just tells you what is.