A fundamental practice of any Muslim couple who wish to make their marriage last and beautify it through the ages is to first and foremost strengthen their relationship with the One is whose hands is everything between the heaven and the earth and beyond. Cultural norms might not always support this line of thought. In a world which converts anything Islamic into archaic, Maha and Sherbaz are a couple who challenge a lot of societal norms and embrace Islam as it was meant to be embraced: simple and easy to follow.
While reading through this short glimpse of their journey, a thousand thoughts ran through my mind. Thoughts which I will try to emulsify at the end of this series; just one more feature later. Thoughts which raise questions about me as an Ummati. But for now, I will let you decide.
If you were to tell their story, how would you introduce it?
Allahumma Barik Lahum.
Tell something about yourselves.
Sherbaz: “This is Sherbaz Khan – a fitness enthusiast who does a lot of things but graphic design is the main focus.”
Maha: “Hi, I’m Maha – a mom of three – running a start-up and working as a Project Manager for an international company.”
What is your marriage story?
Sherbaz: “I met her online. I was working for a company as a freelancer where she was coordinating for the project and I soon discovered she’s divorced and has kids. At that point, I was contemplating marrying widows and divorcees. I was following a lot of Islamic talks on the subject and trying to understand the pros and cons of such a marriage. So, I approached her. There was a lot of friction from my family but eventually I saw my goal of fulfilling this Sunnah to completion.”
Maha: “Loads of drama, introspection and contemplation went into my marriage because I had three girls and was caught off guard when I received the proposal. The idea of marrying again was not alien since we were already considering matches. I did not imagine someone a couple of years younger than myself and someone who had never been married before would ever want to marry a mother of three kids. It took me a year to understand his motives and my parents played a huge role in convincing me and helping me trust him. We’ve been married 9 months so far and I have never found myself happier.”
How has this time gone by?
Sherbaz: “Our relationship has been a mix of everything. Playfulness, seriousness… Most importantly, I feel she complements my personality in every way I can think of.”
Maha: “The time has passed slowly – in a good way. It feels like I’ve known him for years maybe because we both work from home and spend a lot of time with each other. From a wife’s perspective, I find our relationship very peaceful and steady, Alhamdulillah.”
What role does Islam play in your private lives?
Sherbaz: “Islam is what lead me to this marriage. I’ve grown closer to Deen after marriage.”
Maha: “Our marriage was based on following a sunnah and that I believe, has shaped everything in our lives. Our day starts with ‘It’s your turn to make wudhu first’ at Fajr and ends with ‘Witr parh liyay thay?’ (Are you done with Witr prayers?) or ‘Miswak, Maha’. We make conscious efforts to improve each other and appreciate reminders. There is no such thing as ‘My deen is my private matter’ in our household.”
Did you have any preconceived notions about marriage before getting married?
Sherbaz: “Married life is easier than what I expected it to be. I thought it would have a lot more stress. But I feel my stresses as a single guy were more and I’m more relieved now.”
Maha: “I was wary of expectations being broken and people getting hurt because of it. I braced myself very hard for the reality to hit. I think being cautious helped and neither of us set the expectation bar high. Kept life simple and immaterial. No dramatic highs and lows. There were some preconceived notions about this being my second marriage and that I would have to work harder than usual and should be even more of a ‘perfect’ wife as society defines it. Alhamdulillah, Sherbaz has never made me feel that I need to fulfill such standards or that I am any different than a girl who was married for the first time.”
Do you have set roles in your relationship?
Sherbaz: “I do believe that my role is different as Islam has prescribed it to be but overall, we share responsibilities wherever required to support each other. We thoroughly discussed our roles before marriage, so we knew what to expect. We share loads, so responsibilities don’t affect our relationship.”
Maha: “We understand that we are both accountable for our own set of responsibilities and we owe it to our Deen. Despite that, we generally share all responsibilities whether at work or at home. Not that I endorse this being the only formula for a successful happy marriage, but this can work too. I’m glad Sherbaz understands how much I help him at work, and he doesn’t shy away from doing the same with chores at home. Sharing responsibilities has brought us closer and made me respect him even more.”
Are boundaries important between spouses?
Sherbaz: “Boundaries can raise trust issues and should not be made into a big deal. I don’t mean to be nosy, but I think transparency is important to me.”
Maha: “Boundaries are important and should be set and respected by both parties. It’s the guy’s responsibility to make it easier for the girl to be able to say no to things without being sent on a guilt trip. And in some cases, vice versa too.”
What is the most special part of your marriage?
Sherbaz: “That I have someone whom I can take sound advice from.”
Maha: “We both are willing to improve ourselves and are quick to accept our mistakes. There’s no ‘I am like this, live with it!’ mentality between us.”
How do you deal with a difference in personality and perspective in your marriage?
Sherbaz: “I welcome the difference of perspective. I’m always surprised of the new angle I get to see. She has guided and grounded me a lot. I can’t go without discussing everything with her. I admire how hardworking she is. Her ability to get up to work regardless of how tired or lazy she might be feeling. She is not always calm in tense situations, but she doesn’t lose it.”
Maha: “We tackle it through communication and creative problem-solving. Alhamdulillah, both of us respect each other more than the love we hold. Sherbaz has calmed me down. I was too energetic and frantic most days. I am always in awe of how considerate and sensitive he is to my needs and weaknesses. I appreciate how he has created a concept of home being a ‘safe place’ which means no taunts, sarcasm, mockery or rude criticism allowed in any case. Sarcasm and making fun of each other casually can poison the relationship in unsuspecting ways.”
What is the best part about being married to your spouse?
Sherbaz: “Err…which one? (KIDDING) I can be myself. All the versions. Even the ones I hide from the world. Our biggest strength is that we enjoy being together all the time (mostly because we have no choice!)” ::playful tone::
The biggest challenge was the set of fears that accompanied this marriage. My family still hasn’t accepted us. I did worry about bonding with the children and if they would accept me but Alhamdulillah we all handled this very tactfully and the kids accepted me with open hearts.”
Maha: “The best part about being married to Sherbaz is that I have someone to grow with. We have the best company we could’ve asked for and we never stop talking. The biggest strength we have as a couple is our contagious positivity.
Our biggest challenge was becoming business partners and umm…somehow keeping that role separate from the husband-wife relationship. It was a little frustrating at first since I kept my reservations to myself. I knew it wouldn’t last us long, so I sat him down to talk. I asked him if he has the heart to accommodate some of my concerns without getting mad at me or judging. We clearly defined roles and work boundaries and our equal shares and contributions at work and home. Communication in time helps. We don’t have to tolerate up until the point our bubble bursts.”
What practical aspects should a couple intending to get married, be prepared for?
Sherbaz: “I believe it’s essential to discuss all these topics (emotional/financial/physical) before getting into married, so its clear if you both know how to work through differences. It’s important to know what YOU want and then be honest and transparent about it to your potential partner.”
Maha: “These are the important things to know before you get married. How does one handle conflict and are they willing to learn and improve? Communicating in the right way, tone, words and at the right time is important. It’s not okay to blurt out anything in whatever form it comes to your mind. This is THE most important relationship of your life and it’s not okay to take it casually. We handle conflicts through dialogue. I have learnt to choose my battles. We can’t be rigid about all our opinions and values. We allow exceptions and arrive at compromises. Once we measure the pros and cons, and try the other’s way, it’s almost like trying a new flavor. Also, if Deen is the judge in your matters, agreeable solutions become so much easier to find.”
How have you evolved in your marriage, individually and together?
Sherbaz: “I have learnt to relax more. Earlier I’d always be worried thinking about the future. Becoming a father has motivated me to become a better version of myself and set the right footsteps for the kids to follow in.”
Maha: “I am learning something new everyday. Being with Sherbaz has humbled me. I see how talented he is and yet so humble about it. We’ve become an unbreakable team as a family. Even the kids add to the energy of our family’s goal which is not taken passively in our family Alhamdulillah – to reach Jannah In’Sha Allah. All thanks to Sherbaz’s leadership.”
There is such negative stereotyping regarding marriage in these times. What do you have to say about it?
Sherbaz: “Chuck them out the window and follow the Deen.”
Maha: “Have you noticed how jokes about marriage are always making fun of wives? Wives being mean, jealous, possessive, paranoid, dumb, bossy etc. and men being the victims of marriage, cheating etc. On the contrary, when you go out to receive advice about marriage from elders, they are mostly about men being men implying that they have unbendable egos and to not expect them to change. Rather just learn to make-do with whatever comes your way. We should talk about these things with our spouses-to-be and make a point that the only stereotype which should guide our marriage is Sunnah. Sunnah that allowed Ayesha Radhiallahu Anha (peace be upon her) to be silly, a little jealous, play with her friends, have opinions, question ahkaamaat, debate etc. Sunnah that models men helping around the house, compromising if the food isn’t great, being playful with wife, feeding her morsels, comforting her during ‘that time of the month’ etc.”
What is the best piece of advice you have received for your marriage? What advice would you give to those who are reluctant to get married or are looking to get married?
Sherbaz: “Men have to be very patient while balancing between Mom and Wife. keep it simple. Find a partner who can help you build your life. Don’t focus a lot on beauty, wealth, status. Observe the personality and Deen. After marriage, the challenge after the honeymoon phase is over is to keep the spark alive. You must keep working on it.”
Maha: “The best advice I ever received was from my boss – ‘Don’t set any expectations’. I took it very seriously. I did not set out a mold of a perfect husband for him to fill in. I let Allah’s gift present itself to me. Alhamdulillah, zero disappointments. My advice is: Keep Allah first. If you love or give more attention to anything or anyone that distracts you from Allah, that thing or person will break you and hurt you in the worst way possible.”
“In your marriage – Make Deen your compass. Emulate the Sunnahs of marriage every step of the way. Let Deen be the judge in every conflict. It covers all the following points:
1. Don’t overcomplicate the idea of happiness and marriage with expectations guided by society or media. Both aren’t things that come through destiny alone. You have to work for them. Find someone who is ready to make a conscious effort to make it work with you and know that no one will be perfect to begin with.
2. Communication in the right words, right tone and the right time is an art to master. Not communicating where you should is a crime. Communicating everything can also be a crime.
3. Don’t involve other people in your affairs.
4. Forgive, forget, ignore each other’s mistakes as much as possible. It will save you a lot of precious moments. Remember Muwaddah (love) and Rehmah (mercy).
5. Kill all sarcasm, mockery, rude criticism, taunts.”
Do you think family/friends/communities play an important the married life of a couple?
Sherbaz: “Yes they affect you a lot. We connect with people who most resonate with our energy and offer positivity. With the rest, we meet at a bare minimum of times to maintain ties.”
Maha: “They can if you let them. I have put a lot of thought into how I should carry my married/family life and I will only allow those to affect it who can help me sincerely better my relationship. When I hear negative, weird or toxic comments or advice – I just smile and forget it. It has become easier with practice. I’ve often seen moms misguiding their sons or daughters. Or peer pressure influencing spouses to expect unnecessary things from each other to meet societal standards. It’s sad and silly.”
What does it mean, according to you, to be a good husband/wife?
Sherbaz: “A good husband is supportive, helps out in the house and someone who follows the footsteps of Prophet Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam (Peace be upon him).”
Maha: “A good husband or a wife to me is someone who can provide comfort and security.”
What hopes do you have for the rest of your lives together?
Sherbaz: “Maintaining what we have and achieving the goals we have set for ourselves.”
Maha: “To not get bored of each other and keep having fun while we work hard.”
Lastly, what is the recipe for a successful marriage?
Sherbaz: “Understanding, love and attraction. Giving each other due priority.”
Maha: “Deen as Compass. Communication. Enjoying the little moments instead of always looking for great ones. Forgiving/forgetting/ignoring mistakes as much as possible.
I read this quote in a book by Susan Fletcher – I couldn’t find the exact quote but the meaning stuck with me over 10 years –‘Marriage is like looking out the window. You ignore the bird shit on the glass and enjoy the beautiful snow fall’.”
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