The Conquest of Paradise

The conquest of paradise

I have always believed I had a purpose. Ever since I was a little child I used to ask myself often “Why did God create me?”, “What if I didn’t want to be born?”, “What if I wanted a different family?” I have been so far unable to find the answer. I have hardly ever been convinced by what philosophers or clergy has to say about it. After years of search for an answer, I have managed to shut myself up on the concept that human life exists on a delicate balance between predestination and free will.

I have learned from personal experiences and observation that there is only so much that one can do about a given situation. The end result is not something one can always control, there are simply so many ifs and buts in life. What really matters in the end are the choices that one makes in that given situation. We are born by the physical coercion of our parents, and hardly any of us will part with this world willingly.

The moral of the story is, as I have been told, that there is no point whining about what happens to us, and who does what to us. There is an absolute Lord who wills it, one just has to accept that “willingly” or by force, one simply doesn’t have much of a choice. But, we are humans after all, aren’t we? We like to complain, and blame, cry and whine all the time. We don’t like to confess, but this complaining and blaming do help ease out the frustration on God. Because as a matter of faith, we believe whatever happens, happens because God willed it.

I am sure, by now, an intelligent reader can identify the paradox I have lived my life with.

We live in a society where children are torn apart between their own aspirations and the expectations of their families, particularly of their parents. These expectations are made devoid of children’s capabilities and feelings. These complex expectations are further complicated by the joint family system where everyone is an unwanted or uninvited intruder especially if one is the youngest in the family.

The marriage in Islam is a gateway to paradise and the context is often misused
English: picture of girl signing a ‘nikahnama’, the Muslim marriage certificate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arranged marriages are one of the defining characteristics of this social order. Normally, the bride and the groom are completely unknown to each other – in other words it is a blind marriage. The two people who are expected to spend the rest of their lives together are kept completely in dark. They are rather bargained like in a sale of goods contract where the bride’s family not only give up proprietary rights on their daughter but is also expected to submit a handsome material price in shape of dowry so that the groom’s family may try to keep their daughter happy which, more often than not, they simply don’t as a matter of principle.

Immediately after the marriage, the groom’s family realises that there are serious deficiencies in their daughter-in-law and her family. Depending on the bride’s luck, these deficiencies may be related to her looks, her ability to handle domestic chores, her willingness to serve the groom’s family, the wealth of her father and the size of the dowry, how much time she sleeps in a day and out of that how much she actually sleeps with her husband. There is simply no ethical limit to the problems which groom’s family may find out in the bride afterwards who only yesterday looked like a “Chand Si Bahu” to them.

And if the bride isn’t too lucky, this unhappy business which commences immediately after marriage, can go way beyond the psychological and verbal torture. In all this gloomy trade, wives are the usual casualty. But in the end, how much she decides to tolerate depends on three variables, which are; whether she has any children in the marriage, how much she cares about the “honour” of her father in the society, and whether her husband supports her in all the relentless torment she faces.

Husbands, on the other hand, inadvertently are forced by their families and wives to make a choice – they get to decide whether they want to become good sons and good brothers or good husbands. The two identity groups are often mutually exclusive in our society. One simply cannot become a good husband and a good son at the same time. Most men in our society consider “Zan Mureedi” to be an unforgivable crime.

Unfortunately, all this drama occurs, very conveniently, in the name of Islam. Like all other shit that we do and put the blame on God’s will, our family system brutalises the sanctity of marriage in this inhuman and un-Islamic way and then cowardly hides behind religion.

What many fail to understand is that marriage was the first ever human relationship which God created. It was the marriage between Adam and Eve that gave birth to humanity itself. And the Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him, told us that the best of us are those who are best to their wives.

But this brutalisation by groom’s family goes on without a glimpse of shame or conscience that the bride in question was handpicked by them after rejecting several eligible candidates. No one even bothers to pause and reflect that they are not just destroying the life of someone else’s daughter, but the family life of their own son as well in the process.

I rarely dream, and even if I do, I don’t usually remember it after I wake up. No matter how hard I try to recall it, the dream simply slips out of my mind like sand. I never bothered too much about them as I used to believe that most of our dreams are random thoughts or fears locked away in our subconscious. I also never believed that ordinary people like me with a heavy conscience baggage ever dream something of a prophetic nature.

I stood there in the cold, dimly lighted post-surgery room in Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, Lahore, and the memory of a forgotten dream came back to me. I walked out of the room, and came here to sit in the lobby to write about it.

As someone who grew up dying to become a good son and a good sibling – I chose to have an arranged marriage as well. I didn’t even know how my would be wife looked like before I saw her on the eve of our engagement.

I now recall that several months before my engagement and even before my would be wife was discovered by my family, I saw a dream; a dream that I had completely forgotten by the time we got engaged.

In that dream, I saw that I was about to get married to a very beautiful girl. Everything in that dream was going on very happily till someone in my family stood up and shouted “Ye Shaadi Nahin Ho Sakti” in classic Lollywood style. This unhappy and unromantic intrusion caused a lot of panic and chaos in the dream, and a fight broke out in my family. Almost everyone who mattered was against the marriage including my parents except for a few nieces and nephews in the family who liked this kind and pretty girl about to become their Chachi or Mumani.

As the fight went on to a dangerous level, someone dared to ask “what’s wrong with the girl anyway?”, and my father responded, “she is blind”. No one even in the dream paused to ask me what I thought about marrying a blind girl. As soon as someone in the dream added on, “you should have checked before, this blindness runs in her family”, I woke up. Months on, I completely forgot the dream.

I recall someone recently asking me, “didn’t you guys check earlier that cancer runs in her family?”

The dream came back to me as I stood there in the post-surgery room and looked at her wrapped in needles and tubes, unconscious and breathing very slowly. I couldn’t believe my eyes what had happened to the beautiful and kind girl I got married to. I couldn’t behold any further, I walked out of that room. I actually wanted to hold her hand and whisper in her ears, “don’t be afraid, I am with you no matter what they say, no matter if the whole world and the destiny are against you, it is my free will to be with you till the very end and nothing will change that” but I didn’t as I feared transferring germs to her that I might be carrying.

I now believe that dreams do become prophetic. I now know she was blind, it was not the cancer, but her blindness to marry someone she didn’t know, in a family who was completely opposite to her’s. She was blind enough to fall in love with a man she didn’t deserve. And that blindness runs in her family, in her father who cries asking me to forgive his daughter when there is nothing to forgive, and in all her siblings and cousins who love me like an elder brother.

I now believe that it is destined for me to watch her on the day of Judgment walk through the gates of heaven. I don’t know how some self-professed religious people I know feel about that, but I do know for sure that she has already conquered paradise.

Author: Bilal Khan

I am a Lahore, Pakistan, based researcher in the fields of Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration.