Dwell in Tranquility
(Interiew of Author Kamal Shaarawy, From Suhaib Webb)
Dwell in Tranquility: an Islamic Roadmap to the Vibrant Marriage is aimed at helping Muslims—at any stage in the marriage process— to understand themselves and what they want in their marriage in order to build a strong and loving partnership. The following is an interview with the author, Kamal Shaarawy, who is also the founder of SalaamHearts.com, an online Muslim matching service, and LivingEman.com, for couples preparing for marriage.
Q: How did you get involved in marital counseling?
KS: My background is originally electrical engineering at Al-Azhar University where I studied a dual major, Islamic Studies along with the engineering. But when I came to the United States roughly 35 years ago, I was really attracted to the subject of psychology. Even when I was studying at Al-Azhar, I was often asked for advice because the people knew that I was becoming more knowledgeable about Islam and it was almost like I was counseling people from a young age. So, when I came to the U.S., I finished my masters in psychology and I started to work in the public schools as a behavioral specialist, as a consultant for various school districts. In whatever available time I had I was counseling Muslims. I began to see that so many married couples are suffering in their marriages and in many cases, in my view, they simply were not compatible as husband and wife.
Q: What led you to write Dwell in Tranquility?
The more I counseled Muslim couples the more I focused on the fact that so many had no preparation for marriage. Really this is what led me—the sadness about all these unhappy couples and of damage already present because we don’t have the orientation of prevention—to begin to write this book. Even though most of the Islamic teachings are about prevention and about planning, there are a lot of misconceptions in this area: Put your trust in Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He)—tawakkul (reliance) in Allah—and Allah (swt) will take care of you. But actually, as the hadith (record) tells us, it should be tie your camel and then put your trust in Allah (swt).
But what really woke me up was counseling an Imam and his family. He was complaining that his kids resisted him when he tried to teach them Qur’an and Islamic knowledge. He was a wonderful person and had all the theoretical knowledge necessary to be well-educated about Islam. He had memorized the Qur’an and maybe also memorized Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim; but when it came to translating what he knows theoretically into practical terms, he was unsuccessful.
Q: You mean translating what he knows so that his children will understand.
KS: Exactly. In fact, I asked him about the ways the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) used to teach. He said, “Wallahi akhi(By God, brother), I know thirteen different, creative ways the Prophet ﷺ used to teach. He didn’t lecture people but spoke to them in a way that made them want to listen. And if he wanted the attention of the people, he would say, “May I tell you something? Shall I tell you something better, so-and-so?” But the Imam admitted that when he tried to teach his children, he would neglect all that wisdom and approach them in a way that pushed them away and alienated them. So in Dwell in Tranquility I focus a lot on practical steps the reader can take to translate the knowledge and information into daily living.
Q: So how did you conduct the research for this book? You had a team of researchers, or…?
KS: Yes, we had about four researchers. I wrote an outline of about 5-6 pages of what was needed to include in this book. Some of the research topics were questions like what is the definition of love, what does Islam say about jealousy, or how do mental health issues affect marriage. The researchers were to scour books, articles, and research studies. After all the research was summarized and put together in a first draft, we had roughly 500 pages which were reduced down to the final 300 and some odd number of pages.
Q: Were the articles all research that’s been done in the West? Or did this also include Islamic articles?
KS: We had an imam—alhamdulillah— who was the consultant on issues of Islamic knowledge; on divorce, on any Islamic concept, we consulted him. We used both Islamic and Western knowledge and sources.
Q: So you researched the question, and, to top off the professional research, you have stories to exemplify the situations. Right?
KS: Yes, and let me give you an example. On the topic of jealousy so many people are confused and this includes professors of psychology and working psychologists. At one point I asked my colleagues and, like most others, they perceive jealousy always as something negative. In fact, there are types of jealousy. The Qur’an is the guidance, making us understand jealousy in the right way; and according also to the hadith (record of the words of the Prophet ﷺ) there are types of jealousy that Allah (swt) dislikes. That type of jealousy is when there is no basis for an individual to entertain those thoughts and feelings. Yet, the Prophet ﷺ said, “I am a jealous man.” And those who don’t get jealous, he described them as not normal. And this really anchors us in our understanding. The West does not really understand the positive side of jealousy and how it ensures that both husband and wife stay committed to the relationship and careful to protect its sanctity. We need to protect our homes. We need to protect our spouses, which is exactly what Islam teaches us. The negative type of jealousy is one which is based on suspicion and extreme possessiveness which translates into a desire and a need to control. This is not healthy.
Let me give you another example. At the beginning of my career, psychologists would advise clients that when you feel angry, you should punch a pillow or throw something, or break dishes. Just get your anger out. But according to Islam, you don’t do that. You need to control your anger and channel it in healthy ways. And here is amazing thing—now finally they realize that indulging in anger, venting anger, actually strengthens the neural pathways in the brain. This demonstrates the beauty and wisdom of Islam. And I appreciate this because, as human beings, our knowledge is limited.
Q; So what do you see as differentiating your book on marriage from other books out there? I know there are some others that are written from an Islamic perspective.
KS: I’ll share with you two examples why this book is different. One because the book is based on my experience in the trenches, and all the anecdotes support the theory and practical information presented in the book. And secondly, it is based on the research of the most up-to-date information and studies. This includes the issue of compatibility when a man and woman are considering marriage. When I do pre-marital training with a couple, they complete a compatibility questionnaire with 177 questions. We considered including the questionnaire in the book but it would have made it just too long and also the reader(s) would have no way of scoring it. That is how the idea for the matching website,SalaamHearts.com, came about. The compatibility questionnaire is used on the site to determine compatibility for potential matches. But getting back to the book, there are many exercises and action pages for the reader to use to acquire better knowledge of him or her self as well as to help understand if a potential match would be compatible.
Q: Who is your target audience? Is it specifically Muslims, or is it a specific segment of the Muslim community? Who do you expect and want to read this book?
KS: The primary audience are those who are getting ready for marriage. However, we included many chapters that apply to married couples. It is an interesting point that the imams in Malaysia will not oversee any marriage contract unless the couple goes through pre-marital training about the Islamic rights and responsibilities, about the fiqh (jurisprudence) of marriage in Islam, about communication, and so on. When I heard that, I said, “Masha’allah! (What God wills!)” Imagine if all imams followed this policy. We keep passing dysfunction from generation to generation and we included in the book a whole section about the family of origin and how it can positively or negatively affect the children in that family. So many people are not aware that the issues they have that come from their family of origin will affect their marriage. Because you know, the early child programming really impacts us deeply and only by becoming aware of that programming and using our God-given resources of intellect and will can we begin to change for the better and to heal ourselves.
Q: What were some of the initial reactions to the book when it came out?
KS: We gave the book to 15 brothers and sisters to review. One of them was Sheikh Suhaib. Others included Imam Zaid Shakir, Shaikh Hamza Yusuf, and three or four other imams. I wanted to make sure that there was nothing included that was Islamically wrong. One sister said, “We enjoyed the stories so much; they really brought the information down to a real life level.” Another one said that he loved the approach, that we have the Islamic principles, the Islamic concepts there and side by side with the scientific research and Western ideas. The combining of Islamic knowledge with the Western research in psychology—people are fascinated by that.
Q: So how can people purchase the book?
KS: They can order it from SalaamHearts.com or www.LivingEman.com. They can also order it from various Islamic bookstores.
Q: Are there any other books or resources you’d recommend to people who are interested in the topic of marriage?
KS: The book by Br. Bashir, Blissful Marriage, is very good. From the Western books, there’s a book called Why Marriages Fail or Succeed by John Gottman. I would recommend these two books, in addition, of course, to Dwell in Tranquility.
Q: Yes, of course.
KS: And let me just share one last point. I describe my role today as a firefighter. I am just running around trying to extinguish fires. But that is not effective. We have to be proactive so that we don’t end up with fires of conflict and misery in marriages and families. But what we have been doing for so long is addressing the damage that has already taken place in families. And this is really not the Islamic way. We need instead to work on prevention and making sure that our young people are fully prepared for marriage. Dwell in Tranquility, insha’Allah, makes a contribution to that endeavor.
Below is a preview of the topics covered in Dwell in Tranquility. You can find out more about the book here.
- Why is Marriage Important?
- Self-Understanding is Crucial to Success in Marriage
- Marriage, Love, and Intimacy
- The Islamic Rights and Responsibilities of Spouses
- An Islamic Roadmap to the Selection Process
- Pinpoint the Negative Influences of the Past
- Identify Negative Habits
- The Unhealthy Marriage Model
- The Islamic Model of Marriage
- Foundational Skills for a Healthy and Blissful Marriage
- Essential Skills for a Vibrant and Successful Marriage
- Marriage Q&A