Sense and Sensibility and Haram Love or, if Jane Austen was a Muslim

I recently finished reading Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (one of my favorite authors) and I found my thoughts turning to how this story fits into the context of so-called “modern” Islamic life.  I imagine that if the two sisters Elinor and Marianne were Muslim sisters living in today’s world in the so-called “modern” dating scene, there are a few lessons they must have learned by the end of their story:

1 – It IS possible for a man to be engaged to one girl and start having feelings for another.  Edward Ferrars was engaged to Lucy Steele, but this didn’t stop him from falling in love with Elinor.  This is part of the reason why I believe that an engagement holds no weight in an Islamic context and should be treated as such.  Just because a man has proposed to you doesn’t mean that he is no longer looking at anyone else.  Engagements are fragile things, and you hear about them breaking everyday.  Because of this, be careful with how you conduct yourself with your fiancé.  He’s not your husband yet, so don’t give him the privileges Islam has reserved for a husband alone.  Don’t do or say anything you would regret if the proposal dissolves.  It is not appropriate for the betrothed couple to be openly romantic or to see and/or speak to each other without a chaperone.   It puts both parties in a situation where their character could be called into question.  Which brings me to my next topic.

2—Never ever, EVER publicize something that isn’t set in stone.  Everyone saw Marianne and Willoughby traipsing around town acting like they were already engaged.  When Willoughby proved unfaithful and married someone else, everyone and their mother eventually found out about it and it became a huge topic of gossip.   If you DO get engaged, I would highly recommend keeping it a secret until there is a Nikkah. It always confuses me when people celebrate their engagements with grand parties like they would for a Nikkah.  Until the two have signed a Nikkah contract, there’s nothing to celebrate.  God forbid, if something were to happen and the engagement breaks off, it would become a huge topic of gossip and it would open the door to slanderous accusations of the boy or the girl potentially damaging either of their chances to find someone else.

 

Never give a lock of your hair to someone you're not married to.

 

3—Just as Willoughby was able to fake sincere emotions toward Marianne, it IS possible for a guy to seem like he’s madly in love with you when he’s really only using you for a good time.  Willoughby never intended to marry Marianne, even when he realized he truly was in love with her.  The same thing goes for a haram relationship: it is entirely possible for a guy to genuinely have feelings for you, but never intend on making a stand to his parents and actually proposing for you. Some guys chicken out because they know their parents want them to marry a specific girl (or type of girl) and would never accept anyone else.  I have heard plenty of stories of men pressured by their parents to marry a girl who is from a family possessing a specific nationality, caste, status or within a particular socio-economic bracket.  In these situations, the “girlfriend” if any such creature exists, is promptly dumped with only an excuse for an apology.  So my Muslim girlfriends, my suggestion to you is that if you find yourself being tempted towards having a haram affair with a guy that seems too sweet to be true, step back, take a COLD shower and hold out for the guy that seeks you out the halal way.

Do I sound old-fashioned?  Maybe I do, but my advice comes from years of seeing my friends fall into these kinds of traps.  I’ve seen the damaging effect this has on a girl’s spiritual and emotional well-being.  In the end, it just isn’t worth the heartache when it’s all over.  Practicing a little restraint now, no matter how old-school that may seem, will turn out better for you in the long run.

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7 Responses to “Sense and Sensibility and Haram Love or, if Jane Austen was a Muslim”
  1. ZtheWayfarer says:

    Assalaamu Alaikum Warahmatullah,

    I love that you read this book with a pair of Islamic Eyeglasses on.
    I am so passionate about seeing people apply Islam to close readings of literature.
    It’s beautiful. Looking forward to reading more!

    -Z

    • Jazakallahu Khairan!
      I’m so glad to hear that you like it! These kind of thoughts often run through my mind when I’m reading, it’s great to hear the encouragement to share them. Inshallah looking forward to more dialog with you.
      Wa Alikum AsSalaam
      -Rebecca

  2. Umm Tazkiyah says:

    as-salam3laykum

    I used to be quite a voracious reader, and Jane Austen was on my “list.” But then after becoming much more practicing and devoting all my time to Islam, I found it hard to make time for the secular reads. Heck, I found it hard to find anything non-religious to read that would not preach faaHisha or kufr or shirk, etc.
    Sometimes I do want to take a little hiatus and read something a little secular but what to do? On some level, my heart cannot stand them for long.
    I will read a paragraph of it and forget who I am.

    It is up to the point that the only sabab behind me reading a non-religious text would be to improve my grammar, because the majority of religious texts are translated from their beautiful arabic, and thus we are left with the english which is nowhere near as deep, and which often contains grammatical errors.

    • I agree and I feel the same sort of conflicting thoughts about reading English Lit. I posed the question to several learned people but didn’t get an answer. I saw this fatwa on video games: http://islamqa.com/en/ref/2898/games . The part that I understood could potentially apply to secular reading is this:

      Islam does not forbid leisure or having fun in permissible ways. The basic rule concerning these games is that they are permissible so long as they do not get in the way of obligatory duties such as establishing prayer [i.e., praying properly and on time] and honouring one’s parents, and so long as they do not include anything that is haraam.

      Allah knows best, but I took that to mean that I can read secular literature to “relax” my mind from the deen stuff but at the same time, I read to draw parallels to Islam and Islamic life since that is how I approach anything. I also find that the skills I picked up analyzing literary works in class help me to appreciate and extract deeper meaning from the Quran Also, since Literature is a mandatory part of any standardized schooling, it helps to have a resource out there of someone putting these things into an Islamic perspective.. Allah alone knows if this is permissible so I ask Him to guide me and lead my heart away from what is wrong.

  3. Umm Tazkiyah says:

    But let me just mention that I loved the parallels that were drawn here, and I believe it is something that every Muslim woman should read. It is difficult not to fall into these traps, but it is silly to not educate yourself about them.

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