Last weekend, H and I attended a course by AoM (you know which one I’m talking about). To be honest, I admit I didn’t research much about which organiser is good and which is not. I chose AoM simply because I heard a lot of good reviews about it that I didn’t bother researching about the rest, because the syllabus is standardised anyway right? Wrong. The whole course was conducted by only one trainer, who is not an asatizah. Let’s call her N. We were seated in groups of 3 couples per table, and each of us are given a folder and a few notebooks with the whole syllabus in them. Lunch and 2 tea breaks for both days were provided. Throughout the whole course, we were given some activities to aid in the lesson as well as case studies to discuss among our group members and come up with solutions. I will try to elaborate as detailed as possible here, since pre-marriage course is not something that a lot of BTBs blog about thoroughly. So this is going to be a super long entry.
Chapter 1: Aspire for a marriage that lasts
We reflected on the reasons why we are getting married and wrote down our individual criteria in choosing a life partner, before sharing our personal answers with our partners and talked about it briefly. N also talked about attaining mawaddah and rahmah to achieve sakinah in our marriage. This is the part where it starts getting a little shallow. She basically said like okay, we need to have mutual love and compassion with each other in our marriage to attain sakinah. But there is no concrete advice or detailed explanation on how exactly or why this is important. It’s like she’s just following the book, without basing it much on Islamic values or making enough references to fundamental principles of marriage in Islam, if you know what I mean. We also talked about what kind of values are important to us in our marriage. There was a list of values in the book like honesty, commitment, sacrifice, devotion to parents etc and we had to rank them in order of importance. Then again, we shared our ranking with our partner to compare and discuss. N also briefly touched about how to prepare ourselves for marriage financially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. So basically this topic is about the importance of having a vision in your future marriage and family. And we talked about our dreams and goals to achieve within the first 10 years of our marriage, as well as what kind of values we want to build the marriage upon. Each couple drew a map of their dreams and some were chosen to share them with everyone. This part really amazes me at how super sweet some couples can be, with all their specific goals planned out throughout the 10 years.
Chapter 2: Building a collaborative marriage
In this chapter, it is about how well you know your partner. We learnt the importance of focusing on our strengths rather than weaknesses to build a good marriage. Then we also played this Jenga kinda activity which I thought was quite lame. Our family backgrounds also affect our personality, values and ideas about marriage. For example, if your husband’s mum is a housewife who always serves her husband, then most likely your husband expects a similar service from you. Something like that, and vice versa. We also learned about the 5 love languages. Each of us did this online quiz to discover our love languages and made some love plans on how to express love to our spouses in their own love language to fill up their love tanks. This part was a breeze since I have already read Gary Chapman’s book.
During lunch, there was a guest speaker who gave a short lunch talk. He is a financial advisor, who is also the trainer’s friend. N said that we will cover the financial portion on the second day, but since it was going to be very brief, she invited this friend for our lunch talk. Konon bonus gitu. Initially I thought bagus jugak, got additional things to learn. His presentation was okay, but then we quickly realised that he is trying to get clients through N’s class. I was still open to listen to him speak. He explained the process about the process of buying a BTO/resale house, and generally planning out your finances, insurance and what if you live too long. But H was already turned off and sceptical. The financial advisor gave us a form to fill up if we are interested to make an appointment with him. He was giving a free first consultation. We figured N would get a cut out of his earnings if couples were to engage him, so H refused to entertain this idea. I don’t think it’s wrong to fish for clients like this, but we just decided that we were not very impressed yet. This talk was conducted while we were eating our packed lunch at the same time. It was not a buffet lunch as I had expected lol. After lunch and before we resumed class, all of us were made to stand in one row and massaged each other’s shoulders. I love this part haha.
Chapter 3: Accept and fulfill marital responsibilities
This is actually a financial topic more than a topic about the responsibilities of a wife/husband. Again, we did some quick excercise on the book to identify our stand and behaviour about handling money in general and compared our answers with our partners. We also talked about differentiating needs and wants and overcoming cash shortage. On the second day of the course, the first part of the day was spent playing this straw activity. Each couple are given a bundle of straw, whereby each straw represent $50, so the whole bundle represents your total salary. Then you’re supposed to use the straws to make payments for every purchase or financial commitment like bills, going out for a movie, contribution to parents etc. Before that, we also talked about the different forms of nafkah and wedding expenses. I was very very turned off by the way the N talked about wedding expenses, because basically, it lacked Islamic bases. It was disappointing the way she failed to tell everyone how nikah is supposed to be simple in Islam, which did nothing to relieve a little bit of the already huge pressure to have a typical grand Malay wedding to please society instead of Allah. I mean, she made some of us share a few tips of how to reduce wedding expenses, but it was just for financial benefits that’s all. She didn’t bother advising people to start the marriage right by having the wedding for the sake of Allah instead of to live up to society’s superficial expectations.
Chapter 4: Demostrate love, passion & intimacy
Here comes the exciting but another disappointing topic about sex. I could sense that N feels a little uneasy talking about certain parts of this topic. Some of them can be understandable, but then I think you should just be as direct and explicit as possible to reduce the possibility of any misunderstandings in your audience. Basically, N said that pornography is haram (duh) and will affect marriage/sex life. She also told us the different scenarios when we cannot have sex (during menses etc), and the general graph of the sex drive of men and women. The sex drive of men peaks at about 25 years old, while women peaks at about 40. She used some general word to replace the term “sex drive”, which got me confused for awhile. Pffft. The foreplay part, she barely touched on it (pun inteded HAHAHA). But the part about reaching orgasm, she said this “When you eat, the guy will burp first. The girl burps later. So the guy has to be considerate and not forget about his wife to finish burping.” Geddit??? It took me awhile to understand what she meant, but when I did, I was a little annoyed because I feel she should just be explicit about it. Sex is also an ibadah (boleh bunuh setan!). There was this hadith in the book, which I was a little unclear about. “You may come to her using whichever way as long as in the vagina”. I was wondering whether the word “come” in the hadith means penetration, or ejaculation. Because I am pretty sure I have heard of this hadith, but using the word “approach” instead of “come”. So I asked N personally during one of the tea breaks. Unfortunately, she gave me some vague answer which did not answer my question at all. The reason why I asked this was because I wonder whether oral sex is okay in Islam or not, or to what extent. I guess I have to find out myself from other more reliable sources. Then we talked about contraceptives and family planning. According to the book, practicing some form of contraceptives is allowed, as long as the intention is not about not wanting kids, but to be able to manage the family or quality of parenthood. It means that when you want to close shop, we can tie up our fallopian tube, but we are not allowed to cut it to reduce the chances of conceiving to zero. Apparently, the withdrawal method is also allowed. The book also contains the dua and advice us to perform solat sunnah before having sex as a good practice so that our children will turn out pious and filial insyaAllah. I just realised that N did not even mention about mandi hadas.
Chapter 5: Invest in building supportive relationships
This chapter is supposed to be about dealing with in-laws, but it is probably the shortest topic that we went through because I can sense N losing her steam already. We basically talked about discussing how we want to keep in touch with the two sides of families and other people like relatives and friends after marriage. And basically that’s it. To wrap up the whole course, the final activity was where all the girls and all the guys are grouped separately. So all the girls discussed about a list of things we appreciate about guys, and a list of things that guys generally have to improve on. And vice versa for the opposite sex. So the things girls appreciate include things like their ability to remain calm when we are crazy, how practical and realistic they are etc. Areas of improvement include things like punctuality (lol), paranoia/jealousy, lack of expressiveness etc. And then both groups will have to present everything we listed. The guys listed things like how they appreciate our loving and caring nature etc, and how they want us to improve on things like our punctuality as well, being more direct instead of beating around the bush and controlling our emotions better instead of crying over the smallest things. Lol. When each group presented their lists, we were also given the chance to rebutt or defend ourselves on the areas of improvement part. So that made it more fun.
I was hoping they would also talk a little bit about divorce, and what kind of lafaz and niat makes the talak valid or invalid. N briefly mentioned that it is a little complicated and not so straightforward, because when it happens, we have to rujuk to mahkamah shariah. Fair enough. Other questions that I had that were not answered include things like whether it’s true that life insurance is haram, how to avoid riba in investments, the permissibility of oral sex and the adab of sex in general, as in why must we cover our bodies with a cloth or blanket while having sex.
Overall, H and I find that this course is a little too basic. It is true when other girls say that pre-marriage courses are very shallow and superficial. We find that the cert is definitely not worth our 300 bucks and 16 hours of our lives. Maybe it depends on the organiser, trainer and the way they conduct the class. But this particular one is not worth it. We think that another reason why we feel kinda disappointed could be due to our expectations and the fact that N was not an asatizah. It makes the whole course a little too secular and not Islamically inclined enough. It’s like even non-Muslims can attend this course and it would be applicable to them too. So probably H and I should have signed up for a course conducted by a qualified ustaz/ustazah in a masjid, since it is frustrating how our religion-based questions are not covered and how most of the advices given lacks Islamic basis. We also find that N might not be a very suitable trainer for this kind of course. She introduced herself very well, revealed all her credentials and family background. But she is 50+. It’s fair enough that she has experience in couselling and training, but I think because of the age gap, she does not connect very well with the audience. I actually mentioned in the feedback form (anonymously) on the first day that the trainer might be too old for this course. And then in the morning of the second day, she addressed my feedback HAHAHA. She said that this course must be conducted by someone senior and experienced and that most of the other courses are also conducted by trainers around the same age group as her. I don’t know how true this is, but okay lah, whatever lah. I just feel that a suitable trainer for this kind of course must be someone relatively young who can understand and connect better with the audience. Probably someone who has been married for about 5 years, or at least less than 10 years. Not 25-30 years or old enough to be my parent.
BUT, we could tell that some other couples really enjoyed themselves and learned a lot from the course. So it could also be due to the fact that H and I have been dating for quite long already and whatever that they covered during the course, are nothing really new to us. We have had deep conversations about our future many times, so we think that the course is not really necessary to us. The course is generally good, especially the discussions and activities because you don’t always talk about certain things to your partner. H and I actually feel more bonded after the class. So I guess this course will be more highly encouraged for younger couples, like couples who have been dating for a short while then nak cepat-cepat kahwin, or couples who are under arranged marriage and have not had much deep conversations about their future. Maybe couples who prefer very much to sit together with their partner, or who would feel too intimidated if it was conducted in a very formal and religious environment such as a masjid with ustaz/ustazah, then you can attend this AoM course too. But if you are a very solid couple and have been dating for like more than 6 years (subjective) and are super confident about each other, then save your weekend and your 300 bucks. I actually bumped into one of my friend in this course. This couple have been together for like 10 years or more. We shared the same sentiments on the first day of the course, because we find that it is quite basic. In the end, she didn’t even bother turning up on the second day lol.