In modern Muslim society, it is a rare and beautiful thing when a husband shows affection to his wife, but it can be a death knell for the man’s mother, with whom they live.
We recently read this in the “joke” section of a local newspaper: “A mother, concerned for her son who had recently moved out of the extended family home with his wife and children, called her daughter-in-law one day. She asked after her son’s well-being. Her daughter-in-law replied to say that he remained unchanged: “He’s a drunk, he’s an adulterer, he doesn’t work and he beats me.” “Praise be to God,” the mother replied, “I’m glad to hear his health is good!”
Generational Male-Female Dynamics in Muslim society
As we read the following quote by a secular Moroccan sociologist to “Rachel and Robert”, a local young couple with two small children, a lightbulb almost visibly lit up in both of their minds: “When a young woman gets married she cannot find true love from her spoilt husband. She just has sexual relations with her husband, but there is no meeting of their hearts or their souls. So, when the first child is born the mother pours her whole heart and being into this child, whom she loves much more than her husband. Under these conditions the child, especially if it is a boy, is very close and strongly tied to its mother, but this is not a healthy relationship. As time passes, this boy’s body matures and he becomes a young man, but he is emotionally immature and is not at all ready to commit himself in love to a young woman. His mother, whose own heart is still entwined with her son’s, is unable to give her son over to a bride. After the wedding, this mummy’s boy is unable to leave his mother and for this reason he finds it difficult to be united with his wife. So the new bride, who cannot find love or tenderness from her husband, continues this circular process and the situation is perpetuated to the next generation.”*
Over the next several days, other locals heard this quote and immediately linked it to their own culture; something they’ve always known has suddenly been named. We have female friends whose mothers-in-law forced them to divorce out of jealousy – they could not cope with their son having a closer relationship with another woman. After all, they themselves are in a precarious position – if their son doesn’t love them, who will?
Well now, if ever there was a prime situation for the love of the Bridegroom and the faithfulness of the Father to be extolled, here it is!
Over the last few months, it has been our joy and privilege to run a series of marriage evenings with three young local couples. The wives decided to rename it “The Marriage Party”! Of the six twenty-somethings, one professes to follow Jesus, one is hard to pin down, and the remaining four profess to be Muslim to varying degrees of adherence.
What a heart-exploding joy it is to see their eyes transfixed and minds drinking it in as we sit down with them and teach them from our Holy Book about God’s original plan for marriage: why it is broken, what he has done and how he can fix it…and us. In so doing, we get to let God speak to them through his Word about who he really is and how much he loves them.
Each fortnight, we have them and all their children round, have a happily chaotic dinnertime. Then kids then go off and play whilst the couples continue at the table with teaching from Genesis, Ruth, plus links into the New Testament. Then we send the couples off to find a quiet spot around the house with the Bible passage and some questions to chat through together.
Two of the three husbands have badly physically abused their wives in the past, so what a miracle it is when we peek in to see them holding hands and crying together over the passage and questions. What an honour it is for us to champion intimacy in marriage and genuine soul-sharing in a culture where the opposite is expected.
Binding up the broken hearted
A verse that has been precious to us in this ministry has been from Isaiah 61: that Jesus came “to bind up the broken hearted.” Most of these young people have had their hearts broken by relatives, parents and/or spouses.
It is our joy to hold up Jesus as the One who can bind up their wounds and heal their pain. The more we spend time in these people’s lives, the gospel just gets more and more attractive both to us and, we trust, to them.
It’s come at a bit of a cost though – the Enemy has been raging and it has not been easy on us or on them. Every time they step through our door to read the Word together, it’s nothing short of a miracle. It’s obvious that the Enemy doesn’t want to hand over these precious people without a fight.
We recently heard the story of a mother-in-law here who years ago became a Christian out of an entirely Muslim family. When her son married and his new bride moved in with them, she told her new daughter-in-law that her aim was to show her Jesus in the way she dealt with her not as the average local mother-in-law does (usually as her slave). Now, because of God’s work in that one woman, the next generation in that family is almost entirely Christ-following. That’s the power of the gospel.
Our prayer is that the young couples we are working with so grasp the truths of God’s love that the terrible cycle of heartbreak stops with their generation. May they receive from him in abundance “the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair… for the display of His splendour” (Isaiah 61).
Anon, working in Central Asia