Even in these modern times, our community does not support the older generation of unmarried Muslim women who are struggling to find compatible spouses. These women are calling the community to account for this problem, and as a young man who sympathizes with them and seeks to marry one of them, I have encountered the same extremely negative attitude from the community.
Last year many of my friends shared Zaid Shakir’s “The Ethics of Chivalry,” which criticizes the dismissive attitude Muslim men generally take toward older women. While everyone praised the essay and realized the need to challenge these attitudes, I was more surprised and wondered, “Am I the only ‘freak’ who already wants to marry an older woman?”
For many years I have observed the difficulty our community causes for Muslim women. While pursuing academic and professional success, they are scolded for not making marriage their priority, as if their personal fulfillment and professional success are mutually exclusive. They are bombarded with talk of marriage in their early twenties, a time when many don’t feel ready, and then they are forgotten in their late twenties and thirties, when they are ready to take that step. By then they no longer have “marketable beauty” and “marketable fertility” to satisfy many Muslim men and their parents. Noticing this problem, I decided in my early twenties to pursue them for the purpose of fulfilling my faith. However, such an initiative was not considered respectable by most other Muslims.
It is hypocritical for the community to marvel at all the accomplishments of these women, yet maintain that they are not good enough to marry men my age. The community further contradicts itself when telling me that I am too young or not established enough (basically not rich enough) for these women. I am told my preference is not “normal.” The rishta aunties (informal community matchmakers) cannot fathom such unorthodoxy and give up on me after one week. The elder men constantly badger me, saying, “She is not going to get any younger and is unable to tend to the house and other needs of a man.” Worst of all, in my experience, some of the greatest skeptics have been the older women I have pursued. These women have been more concerned about child-bearing and maintaining a certain cultural image, rather than finding true compatibility. In cases when women have given me a chance, some relationships ended when they mentioned the need to have children immediately, and I expressed that I am not yet ready. In other instances, they automatically assumed our age difference would cause incompatibility, and so they saw my marriage proposals as immature follies. These women would rather risk staying single than broaden their search to include younger men.
As a Muslim-American boy who plays baseball, watches demolition derbies, and enjoys eating roast beef with apple pie, my interests tend to be unexpected. The fact that I prefer older women may not be the norm, but it should not be seen as wrong. Many Muslims cling to cultural baggage and assume it is more “Islamic.” Fortunately growing up in America and away from much of this baggage inspired me to find guidance directly through the example of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW – May God’s blessings and peace be upon him).
The Prophet did not simply marry multiple women for the socio-political rise of the Ummah, but also to exemplify how he treated women of different generations, cultures, and personalities. Many men will only refer to the marriage of Aisha (RA – May God be pleased with her), placing emphasis on her young age and ignoring the widows and divorcees he married. Most other times they refer to the story of Jabir b. Abdullah, in which Prophet Muhammad (SAW) questioned why Jabir was marrying a widow instead of a virgin. He suggested that Jabir should marry a young woman for more exuberant marital relations. At first glance this hadith seems to suggest that men should aim young, but we must contextualize the conversation in order to understand it. After Jabir explained that he had many younger sisters and wanted an older, more mature wife to help look after them, the Prophet (SAW) agreed that he had chosen wisely. I agree with his initial suggestion encouraging Jabir, who was no older than eighteen, to consider age and sexual compatibility. However, these considerations that apply to seeking women also apply to seeking men. If men can pursue young women for these reasons, why can’t women pursue young men? Ultimately, upon learning more about Jabir’s circumstances and preferences, the Prophet (SAW) whole-heartedly supported his decision to marry an older woman. Therefore this hadith encourages us to look practically at marriage, at our circumstances and preferences, rather than simply at what is expected of us.
The Prophet (SAW) himself made unexpected choices. Despite the fact that Khadijah (RA) was fifteen years older than him, previously married, a powerful entrepreneur, his boss, and the initiator of the proposal, this is somehow not an ideal marriage scenario for Muslims today. She is not the only exception. Sawda bint Zama (RA) was also older than our beloved Prophet (SAW). Many of his other wives were previously married, thus negating the assumption that only young virgins are ideal for Muslim men. The status quo does not support the example of the Prophet (SAW).
I would rather have a woman who has more experience in life, an established profession, and a refined sense of her Muslim identity, rather than one who is less aware of the world. I would prefer a woman who has learned from a previous marriage how to make the next one better, rather than be one of two newlyweds starting from scratch. I may seek an ideal beauty like anyone else, but to me, fine lines can be part of a woman’s beauty. Maybe she and I will have very different points of view, but disagreements are inevitable regardless of the age difference. Child-bearing might be a pressing concern, but a couple’s choice to have children is a necessary discussion before any marriage. If infertility becomes an issue, adoption is an option.
In the end, our primary objectives are fulfilling our faith and supporting one another, just like Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his wives (RA). The purpose of a wife is not to take care of my house, my status, my bedroom life, or my stomach, but to remind me of Allah (SWT) and the Last Day. My goal is not to win a “trophy wife,” but rather to share my life with a true believing woman who keeps me from going astray.
Sajid Hassan is a Virginia Tech alumnus currently working as an engineer in Raleigh, NC.
Photo Credit: Ali Nishan