There are just no good Muslim women out there

I shouldn’t take this any further. Apart from not being true, it’s a diatribe that obfuscates something deeper (just as the parallel, but unnervingly more standard retreat, “Where are all the good Muslim men?” does). The degree of intelligent, sincere, socially conscious, and admirable Muslim women I meet is staggering, many of whom in a previous life I wouldn’t have hesitated asking out to dinner to get to know better. Yet, I find myself simply put off by Muslim women.

 
I need to be honest; it isn’t just Muslim women, but the whole relationship process in Muslim communities that utterly perplexes me. I can’t help but feel as though I am wandering aimlessly confused through two concurrent tempestuous storms – that of the normal bafflement that marks emotional relationships between people, and that of the Muslim relationship paradigm, the absurdities of both obscuring my ability to progress to something meaningful.

This is exacerbated by the context from which I come. As someone who converted to Islam, the difference in male-female dynamics can be astounding. More than the physical barriers that I learned to adopt, it is the emotional ones that have proven the most difficult. Charles Blow wrote an article for the New York Times last year on the demise of dating in American relationships, where he described the dissolution of traditional dating and the shift to ‘hooking up,’ where you “just hang out with friends and hope something happens.” Approaching relationships from this background, and then inverting it to fit the Muslim experience that, even when it involves dating seems to be primarily focused on practical matchmaking, is difficult. It takes what was a personal, intimate, organic process and changes it into something that feels hollow and decidedly detached. I miss how things used to be.

I miss being able to meet someone interesting and show that I am interested. It could simply be that I have a tendency to utterly strike out, but more often than not I get the sense from many Muslim women that it is an insult to be attracted to them, that it is some way an assault on their purity of character. I miss the openness to romance and acknowledgment of one’s own sensuality. Façade, reality, or a false impression on my part, it didn’t use to be like this.

I miss finding out what I want from companionship. Nearly 60% of women say they have been attracted to someone, only to lose interest after a first kiss. While that indicator is generally beyond the pale of discussion in a Muslim context, it calls into question what other non-physical, yet intimate moments (like traveling together) can immediately tell us if we are with the wrong person, but are inaccessible to Muslims until after marriage. I balk at initiating anything because of this anxiety I didn’t use to have that I won’t be able to tell if I am making a huge mistake.

I miss “emotions getting involved” being the whole point. The knowledge that defines a well-established relationship can’t be conjured out of thin air; it requires experience. And sometimes the pain that “emotions being involved” causes is a necessary part of that. Moreover, a lifelong partnership is based on an impervious emotional connection—yet, even ‘halal dating’ scenarios seem to grapple incessantly with the frightening prospect of getting emotionally attached to someone you may not end up marrying.

What I miss most is public relationships. In an article earlier this year, Zeba Iqbal fronted the proposal that we need a “dating dialogues” among Muslim youth. This couldn’t be closer to the truth. That some reformed notions of the pre-marriage process among American Muslims is needed is accepted vernacular and heavily discussed. Moreover, that many Muslims engage in some form of dating is a reality. Yet, especially for someone like myself who came in as an outsider, these relationships are all but invisible. And this is a problem.

In a community where reputation is paramount, the pre-engagement phase of Muslim relationships is completely concealed from the public eye. Because they are kept on such careful public lockdown, romantic relationships in Islam appear either to be ruinous, messy disasters that split communities in two, or these magical fairy tale courtships. There are few tangible examples of constructive, realistic relationships from which one’s peers can learn. Is it possible to create an improved, more normalized standard if we refuse to display what is already going on?

I recognize that there are a number of both petty and serious considerations that have constructed this reality, one of the most prevalent being the danger of premarital sex and pregnancy. From my point of view, it is a rather silly logical leap to say emotional proximity will lead us from no physical relations to sexual relations. If we are going to commit ourselves to principles, we need to demand, expect, and have faith in a higher tenacity of consciousness from all of us. Why is it we have confidence that we can fight temptation in our abstinence from food and drink when we fast, or alcohol when we attend college or have dinner with coworkers, yet dwell on this slippery slope that any greater degree of emotional proximity will overthrow the entire community’s commitment to physical boundaries? We need to believe that we can step up to the plate and build constructive models while maintaining core principles of our faith.

In many ways, I feel as though Muslim communities, and my experiences with Muslim women in particular, have stunted an emotional maturation the friends I grew up with were privileged to experience. I am back to a high school, or even middle school understanding of how to navigate this process. Apart from the dearth of good German bratwurst, adopting the American Muslim dating paradigm has been the most convoluted, confusing, and challenging part of converting to Islam. Most poignantly, I don’t think it has made me a better person.

In the end, my assumption is I will become better at the game, grudgingly play it, and end up all right. Some of what I miss is exclusive to an archetype I am just never getting back. Still, I feel as though my confusion with this excessively essential element of the young adult Muslim’s life is reflective of our community’s evolving sentiments and common frustrations. Can we have a public conversation about dating without it being a bad word we must tiptoe precariously around? Do we expect to construct healthy relationship models from the secret, under-the-covers norms we have set? And in so doing, are we damaging the sensual and emotional maturation of our young adults to the point that all we can do is throw our hands in the air and say, ‘there’s just no good Muslim women (or men) out there?’

 
Adam Sitte is a writer based in Washington, D.C. working on civilian empowerment in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. 

 

(Photo Credit: Sean Molin)

43 Comments

  • belladonna2054 says:

    Salam Adam,

    I, too, am a convert and it is hard getting used to what is Islam “dating”.  I sympathize with your situation.  We as converts have to get used to looking for potential relationships that may or may not lead down to marriage in a new light.  Personally I have yet to meet a Muslim man to build a relationship in the Islamic sense, but then again I only converted just a short time ago so I must be patient :).  But to be honest, I do have a fear of not being able to get to know a potential partner fully, in a emotional and personality sense, before marriage.

    My only advise is perhaps talk with a Muslim male and female friends and get their perspectives and perhaps advice on this situation. 

    Best of luck and keep us up to date!

    belladonna2054

  • ScarfGirl says:

    AMEN to that, brother. You just said everything that I have ever felt about Muslim courtships/relationships/Idunnowhatthekidsarecallingitthesedays. Apart from the part where you like girls. I can only say that I hope, oh so much, that one of these days (girls?) things will be different for you. For us all. Or at least for those of us who just aren’t that into the clandestine secretitude of it all.

  • shariati says:

    “I get the sense from many Muslim women that it is an insult to be attracted to them, that it is some way an assault on their purity of character.”

    I have gotten this as well—or maybe it just strikes me that way because I’m also a convert. The crazier part is, it’s often not a matter of “being attracted” for me, as I’m happily married already (and was before I converted—my wife’s not muslim). I just like to meet people, learn about them, make new friends, etc. However, I’ve definitely met a large number of sisters who strike me as acting as though I’ve offended their piety in some way by so much as offering a friendly “salam.”

    Of course I’m more than open to the possibility that I’m just interpreting this the wrong way. Or maybe it has more to do with nationality/culture than Islam itself. Regardless, I have to say it stings a bit, and I have no idea what to make of it all. Moreover, I’m just not into the idea that now that I’m muslim, that automatically means I have to limit my platonic relationships to 100% men. I’m sure that’s a cultural thing for me, but it’s been the hardest aspect of the “conversion experience” for me to get past. That is to say: I’m still not past it. In fact, I’m not sure I really *want* to be past it.

    I’ve always had a lot of friends that are female; maybe more than friends that are male, even. It doesn’t mean I secretly want to ravish all of them—c’mon. In the end it leaves me feeling utterly reduced to some Islamic gender stereotype, as though I just have to recognize that really, deep down, I want to (or would) sleep with every woman I know if given the chance and so I shouldn’t even be friends with them; that all men are like that and that’s why there is so much emphasis on gender separation. I don’t feel like I fit into that, and I get tired of being told I do (or should).

  • Aneesah says:

    WOW! Great article! I share your sentiments!

  • smirza says:

    Salaam alaykum.

    Here’s a couple of clues
    (1) if men come on too strong, women will run away, that is in ANY case, whether it be ‘halal dating’ or western dating
    (2) things ARE changing, slowly but surely, alot more marriage forums have opened up in many communities
    (3) there is a wisdom in the rules of Allah – most surely about women and men being alone together – we must abide by these rules, it’s easy to abstain from food and drink and alcohol, but emotional bonds and physical urges are not AS easy to contain, especially when the other party is just as willing to be close to you
    (4) perhaps the way that you show that you are interested is not correct, find another way, perhaps a more gentler approach
    (5) frankly, if i was “interested” or “dating” someone, I wouldn’t want the whole wide world to know about it. It’s my business, why should it be public knowledge?
    (6) any woman who is “insulted” by a man being attracted to her is a liar. She’s not insulted, she probably is scared and doesn’t know how to react. Be kind. Nowadays, we know too many things, women (myself included) are afraid of the intentions of men. So if it takes time for us to come around, be patient, make dua, and talk to her as a friend.
    (7) I share your sentiment in that everything seems superficial, it’s all about money or looks. I cannot simply marry someone for those two reasons, I want more than that. I want a friend, a companion, but most men I’ve come across are intimitated by a woman with a job and education.

    Be change that you desire.

  • Adam Sitte says:

    @belladonna, scarfgirl, et al. Thanks so much for sharing all of your comments. I was trying to hone in on the reflections I have had since stepping into this world, and I am encouraged to hear the different experiences/perspectives you all have. Keep them coming!

    @missmango – I think this is definitely true and we need to hear more conversation about the topic. There has seemed to me to be an over-intellectualization of sexuality in general. I would love to hear some of your ideas on the effects what you described has on this current young Muslim generation.

    @haqqul_yaqeen – Thanks for the comments. I understand where you are coming from, but I am primarily approaching this from my own background – and prior to converting to Islam the idea that something like a hug leads anywhere close to fornication would be an absurd, absolutely absurd presupposition, and that isn’t a perspective one simply drops. It isn’t just emotional proximity that leads to premarital sex in this country; for instance, it is also a culture that has accepted premarital sex as a standard for half a century. I’m not sure that I have a firm idea of what dating in a Muslim community should look like, or that it needs to have a singular model, but I do believe the concern that sex could happen is far too often constructed into some inviolable impasse that prevents necessary conversations from going anywhere.

    @smirza – Thanks for the thoughts –  I have to push back on the idea that men are intimidated by a woman with a job and an education. I understand that what you say probably comes from personal experience, and I accept that my own experience likely is self selective and doesn’t include a reliable sample, but I have never in my life heard an American man – Muslim or not – express this view. How pervasive is this attitude? Are there any male readers who have a grasp on why intelligence or success would be anything but attractive?

  • Saadia says:

    While I don’t think that emotional connections are reserved for dating (if I think about freinds and relatives), I do think they are important to this process (any mind games and manipulation aside). I think dating should be enjoyable, and if nothing else, then chivalrous.

    Trying to get married shouldn’t feel like a chore and women shouldn’t feel like they are being overly harassed and pressured.

    I haven’t looked online for a husband lately because it seems to be a chore (partially because of the frivolous and sometimes disrespectful approaches some people take). I would rather not date with 100% publicity.  However, I agree with your sentiment that at least some of this could be more public, and perhaps a little more subjective. Also, I think some sensuality should at least be acknowledged because I think that its more mature then some of the crass options,

    (and I’m not just saying that because I’m from Florida, where people wear bathing suits on the beach).

    This was a nicely written article.

  • shariati says:

    Of course I forgot to mention that—at least in the Shia community—there’s always mut’ah, which is also used by younger people to be married for a set period of time to see how they work as a couple, and who are then able to decide at the end if they want to commit to a permanent marriage contract. It may not be a perfect solution to the issue for everyone (particularly non-Jafaris), but it could be a good starting point.

  • zehra rizavi says:

    Really enjoyed reading your piece!

    While I disgree with your statement that ???it is a rather silly logical leap to say emotional proximity will lead us from no physical relations to sexual relations,??? I can understand that as a convert, it is a leap to think that sitting alone with a woman (or man) and talking or sharing a friendly hug as a greeting will spill into fornication. We must be confident, to a degree, in the strength of our iman and our ability to resist temptation, but we do not need to place ourselves squarely in front of it.

    On a different note, I doubt Muslim women are insulted when a man expresses interest, but we will feel uncomfortable/put off if he does so in a manner that seems to cross lines of modesty…ie. trying to exchange phone numbers with us or invite us out for coffee.

    I would encourage Muslim men to go the route haqqul recommended—expressly say that you would like to get to know a girl for the intention of perhaps marrying her, ask her parents (or have your elders ask on your behalf) to speak to her and if you do suggest coffee or lunch, make sure to invite her siblings/male cousins along so the two of you are not alone etc.

    I personally am also in favor of performing the nikkah and then waiting some time to become intimate/share a home and in the meantime spending time together without chaperones cultivating a companionship. This proved successful for me and a number of my friends! Now of course, I am not suggesting you don’t develop some understanding of your potential mate prior to the nikkah but this closeness must come from limited interactions that respect rules of modesty. The deeper friendship/love and the will take root after the nikkah.

    Hope you continue to share your experiences with Altmuslimah!

  • May I perhaps be so bold as to suggest that you might consider seeing non Muslim women with the hope of bringing them to Islam. I have known many young men and women convert to Islam through love for a Muslim woman or man – and become very strong and active Muslims. I am not talking about converting for convenience for marriage, which is done in some Muslim countries and perhaps short lived, but through finding someone taking your Deen seriously enough to consider it as a lifestyle for themselves. The relationship will ultimately have to end if there is no interest in converting, or proceed to marriage – hopefully with you, and a life of love of each other, and Allah and His Messenger! People spend too many years in relationships ‘with partners’ these days with fear of committing to marriage. Definitely an interesting new way to chat someone up.

  • Anjum says:

    What a great and honest article, Adam. The secrecy and privacy of potential relationships that you mention is frustrating, but it is well-intentioned (protection of a girl’s reputation if it doesn’t work out). If it’s any consolation, the navigation can be difficult for many young Muslims, not just converts, especially if they are not necessarily part of a solid community through which to meet and/or interact with other young Muslims.

    I know there is a huge leap from “there’s a girl I’d like to know” to informing her elders of your interest in marriage, and its not just one that converts have to grapple with. But I would advise you to be social within your Muslim community and actively let an elder you trust, or married brothers who have connected wives, know that you are looking to get married, and to what kind of girl. While I’ve known several people who’ve met their spouse through some form of internet networking, most people are still meeting through the generations’ old “my wife’s cousin has a friend who…”

  • haqqul_yaqeen says:

    Assalaamu ‘alaykum Adam

    Interesting article, very well written. Just a few comments:

    As for taking it as an insult when a good Muslim man is attracted to us, this is not true. It is an insult only if he acts insulting, if he tries to do something we are not comfortable with… even if it’s as simple as talking casually or receiving phone calls from him just to chat casually.

    In Islam, a woman is regarded as a pearl that must be covered and protected. Keeping her modesty is very important, so she would not want to be immodest.

    If you were interested in a Muslim girl, you would have to be a man and contact her parents. Talk to her father and tell him that it would mean the world to you to marry his daughter. If you can’t do it, have someone respectable do it for you.

    It doesn’t mean that you marry her the next day. It just means you can go over and formally ask for her hand in marriage. You get to talk to her and go out with her. Sure, her father or brother or uncle must be present, but they don’t have to sit at your table. When you visit her house, they don’t have to be in the same room as long as the rooms are open to each other. Allah does not say in the Qur’an “Do not commit adultery/fornication”…He says, “Do not come NEAR adultery/fornication” Therefore my brother Adam, it is not correct to say what you have said, that “it is a rather silly logical leap to say emotional proximity will lead us from no physical relations to sexual relations.” One thing leads to another, especially when a man and woman are alone.

    If after the first initial visits you both liked each other and saw no serious obstacles to marriage, then you will get engaged. The period of engagement can last as long as you need to make sure she is “the one” and to make preparations for marriage. However, if you ARE sure, then it shouldn’t be prolonged for reasons of attachment and temptation.

    You ask each other lots of questions during this time, and you get to know each other as much as anyone can know his or her future spouse outside of marriage. If you’re looking for “interest” and the spark, this is definitely an interesting part of the process.

    Then, when you are ready, you write the marriage contract and are officially married. Mind you, this doesn’t mean that you must have your wedding and consummate the marriage. During the period between official marriage and the wedding, you don’t live together, but you are husband and wife. No doubt this is your opportunity to date, and it will definitely be halal!

    The steps to marriage in Islam are really clear and simple. Heck, one of my friends (a young Muslim girl) recently got engaged to a good Muslim man. She got to know him over a few months and they got married only a few days ago. They had a party to celebrate, but they don’t live together yet. The wedding is not scheduled yet.

    Even if you are a convert, insha’Allah it will not be difficult. When you are mindful of Allah and seek to do what pleases Him, He will help you. Just remember that. And remember this verse: ?? ??? ?????? ????? ???????? ??? ?????????? “And whosoever is careful of (his duty to) Allah, He will make for him a way out (from every difficulty).” [Qur’an, Surat At-Talaq 65:2]

    I remind myself before I remind you.

    And Allah knows best.

  • smirza says:

    Adam- I was referring to my personal experience and that of some of my friends. We have degrees, we work in the professional environment, engineering, doctors, etc, etc, but when it comes to spouses, ‘religious’ men (the ones that we come across anyway) are repelled by our success. They want a wife who’ll cater to their every need. It’s rather comical, actually, and I thought independent women were exactly what men wanted. I guess I have alot to learn, but then again I could be biased because it is only my experience.

    There is a renewed interest in marriage though, marriage forums (in the Shi’a and Sunni communities) and websites and such that give me hope that we are taking this seriously. And alhumdulilah, articles like yours bring out issues that need to be discussed. Keep up the good work!

  • Saadia says:

    I actually liked the sensitivity of this article and agree with its constructive approach, although it acknowledges difficulties. Thanks to the writer for his efforts at tackling problems in a way that promotes better relations between various types of people, freinds, and neighbors, both overtly and subtly – its something the Pope talked about in his Christmas mass after all.

  • asmauddin says:

    I have to agree with smirza – there are plenty of men out there who are intimidated by a woman’s success. And if they happen to marry one of these women, they’ll try their best to stunt their professional or educational success.  Even if they profess ‘women’s equality’, they are rarely willing to make the sacrifices to their own comfort that that entails.

    Again, this applies to some, not all, men, but it’s sadly not a rarity.

  • Adam Sitte says:

    smirza and asma – thanks so much for sharing, would love to hear more discussion about this issue!

  • Enith says:

    I second that motion!  I think there is a great need to address the issues surrounding successful, highly-educated Muslim sisters and the challenges they face 1) getting married, 2) staying married, and 3) making friends with other Muslim sisters.

  • missmango says:

    For sure, Adam.  I think it goes back to our inane sense of sexuality.  Islam theoretically embraces it, but really—it’s something the community needs to work on.  Sexuality is not something one develops upon marriage—and the community needs to own up to this—and not simply by requiring a shutting down of sexuality before marriage.

  • Snowday I have to tell you that the people who I was referring to were mostly young Muslim women I know who met non-Muslim men that converted, not the other way around. But, these women were also converts themselves, as our writer of the article is. However I do realise that this could cause deep controversy in some families.

  • I would like to further add to the topic that smirza and asma referred to, and Adam requested more information on, about the professional Muslim woman being intimidating to a Muslim man. Not something new. Just want to extend it out of the realm of Muslims and into society in general. Please do not feel this is a problem unique to you as Muslim women. The only reason that many professional women outside of Islam may find it easier to be in relationships, and please note the plural form of the word, is because marriage is not part of the equation, which is obligatory in Islam of course. They would be in the same position for sure if the same relationship constrictions were put on them. They have had to settle for another kind of commitment, or lack of commitment may be a better way of expressing it. This has made a mess of the whole view on marriage unfortunately. They live in fear that if they do marry that it will put an end to the relationship, and prefer to keep things as they are. The early ‘womens libbers’ of the 60s long ago admitted that they ‘got it wrong’, and those women were frustrated by not being able to find ‘real men’. Just as, in some instances, a man may want a woman that will take care of the home and children, and not return to a microwave meal in the oven when he arrives home from work after it being his turn to pick up the screaming parental attention demanding kids from daycare. This lifestyle has been forced on us just by the basic fact that a household now requires two incomes to survive, so how to change it? Some try by working from home. Be it the man or woman, whoever can make the leap out. The definition of the roles of the man and woman in a relationship has become very blurred. You are living in western societies and the ailments of those societies are going to affect us all. Sorry Adam this is not meant to put you off the thought of marriage, just the extreme side of what is happening today that puts so much pressure on relationships. We are filled with the notion of love and physical attraction everyday in the media, but in the end Marriage is a contract between two people, in front of witnesses, who are signing up to work together on it everyday for it to grow and prosper, hopefully for the rest of their lives. Hope you find the right partner to work with.

  • smirza says:

    My point is this:
    Is an egalitarian marriage really a bad thing, where both the man and woman give equally, whether it be financially or splitting duties at home?

    As for this lifestyle being “forced” on us, I have to disagree. I know plenty of people who live in NYC on 1 income and are alhumdulilah, fine with it. And it all depends on whether or not one wants a family. Every married couple is different.
    My being educated and going to work is not “forced” upon me. I chose it, I chose my field, and I chose to pursue a job where I can cultivate my skills and develop new ones, and working is also a form of dawah. I travel for my job and when I go to new places in the country, I am the first Muslim woman that many Americans meet and I have a chance to give them a view on Islam that they have never seen/heard of before. And I want that in my life, I want a career that is enriching, that makes me learn. And I would want my husband to have that, as well.

    And you are correct, marriage is a contract, that is the reality, therefore we have a right to ask for what we want and to make sure it is written in ink and signed by everyone. The whole clue is knowing what we want and having the ability to compromise and to continue working at it. If we understand that, we’ll all have successful marriages, inshallah.

  • Adam Sitte says:

    I think this has moved a bit off topic. Despite the apparent existence of people being intimidated by success and knowledge, I can’t help but believe this is a subsidiary problem, possibly too often used as a retreat, and not the core of what plagues the general relationship situation.

    And I don’t agree with the reduction of marriage to simply nothing more than a contract. That’s a part of it, but it’s not the end of it. I enjoyed this article on Goatmilk Blog, and think it makes a solid point –

    http://goatmilkblog.com/2009/12/17/muslims-talking-sex-series-the-other-half-bringing-lust-back-to-love/

    There are these play-by-play, standardized models of relationship progression that quite frankly are way beyond the pale of what many contemporary American Muslims find any comfort operating in. But in constructing new models, these ideas still persist – that love, romance, passion, etc. are things to turn one’s nose up to, that marriage is nothing more than a sophisticated business deal, the sum of a normalized, balanced equation. I have to wonder if the willful neglect of our emotional selves is a far greater reason for why people don’t find each other, and something deserving much more conversation than it gets.

  • snowday says:

    Great article! Our community definitely needs to start speaking more openly about these issues.

    I have to take issue with Hajjah Salama’s recommendation though. Pursuing non-Muslim women for the purpose of avoiding the confusion in the Muslim community really isn’t a productive solution and to be frank, our community is already facing a marriage crisis and really doesn’t need that right now.

    Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah briefly mentions the challenges of marriage in the American Muslim community in his paper “Living Islam with a Purpose,” which is really worth reading (and can be found here: http://www.nawawi.org/courses/index_reading_room.html).

    JazakAllah khair Adam for speaking out on this issue!

  • Saadia says:

    I agree with Asma about the need for marriage with someone or friendliness with people who will support success, knowing that it can be of mutual, synergestic benefit. Men shouldn’t feel afraid of women who would be in charge, tugging them along by the ear as it were, but instead help them to develop their leadership and various potentials and visa versa.

    I think I remember with rational loyalty those who help in hard times as well, and therefore, although conflicts and things I don’t like do arise, I can also see the good in people nonetheless – a trait I’ve witnessed through osmosis.

    I’ve looked over the 5 operational principles in Dr. Umar’s 2007 paper:
    – Trusting Reason, Respecting Dissent, Stressing Societal Obligations, Setting Priorities, and Embracing Maxims.

  • snowday says:

    Just to clarify my comment above, I’m not condemning marrying non-Muslims across the board. I’m just saying that I don’t think that’s a solution to the problem we are discussing here. We need to find solutions that are long-term and beneficial for the community as a whole, both men and women.

  • Well Adam, to get back to the topic, do you believe in love at first sight? I certainly do. And though there can be a very emotional beginning to this kind of love, it also needs to progress to a stage assessing if you respect the person you have fallen in love with. By finding out who the person is and what she/he is doing with their life, and thinking if you want to share your life with them. Could they add something to your life that would only make it better. 

    Though dating can be one way to get to know a person, it can be very deceptive. How many people have said that their spouse was ‘not like that when I was dating them’ (if they had the chance to), when all the joy fell out of their relationship and day to day living began? 

    I think one way to discover who a person is to see how they are in their day to day life. Where they work, their goals, the way they interact with people, their causes that get them actively motivated, are all indications of ‘is this the right person for me’. If having a family is one of your goals then see also how they behave with children. You can assess this stuff from a distance through people who know them, before even having a one on one with them. Or friends might even tell you “I know just the person for you, she thinks exactly the same way you do!’

    Once you have decided that this is a woman who you would like to get to know better, then you can meet and see if the chemistry is really there and your lives can merge together without too many crashes along the road to the Garden. Emotional love does not always withstand the tests that life puts on it, so mutual respect always needs to be there to be able to hear what the other person is saying.

    Though you are talking about the dating process it goes hand in hand with marriage I am afraid in Islam. No wonder people have so many

  • divorces today. And that is each, not in general. They do not get their priorities right in the first place.

  • Jehanzeb says:

    This is a great article with a lot of valid points.  Thanks for writing it, Adam.

    It made me reflect on how I do not even have marriage on my mind.  It’s not because I don’t want to get married or meet someone, but because I don’t think there’s any point in actively looking for a partner right now given “where I am” in life.  And I’m not talking about marriage in the traditional sense; I’m talking about True Love; what the Sufis refer to as Ishq-e-Majazi and Ishq-e-Haqiqi, where Love between partners are fused with their deep Love for the Creator of the Universe.

    I am still recovering from an experience I had two years ago.  Because of those experiences, I’ve been telling myself for the past two years that there’s no point in looking for someone right now because (1) I’m not finished school yet, (2) I haven’t established a career, and (3) I’m not financially independent. 

    Not to give away too many details, but the main reason why I believe I was not married two years ago is due to the fact that I didn’t have a job.  Being madly in Love with someone and watching the days, months, years go by as you work your hardest to finish school and get established so that you can finally get married is very difficult and challenging.  I believe this reveals another problem about Muslim dating/relationships, i.e. there are so many expectations placed on Muslim men and women.

    So I simply do not look for romantic relationships until I am financially independent.  I do not mind meeting or falling in Love with a woman who establishes a career before me, but so far, I have not met anyone.  My friends tell me to keep myself open and that “you never know, you might meet someone.”  But it is indeed difficult for all of the reasons you wrote in your article and more.

    On a spiritual note, I believe Love for God will guide us to our Soul Mate.  We need to stop discouraging Love, especially when talking about marriage!  We need to stop treating the opposite sex as “threats” to our physical and spiritual “purity.”  It always confused me how our communities speak so highly of marriage and yet practice such strict gender apartheid.

    Anyway, despite the awkward gender relationships and other social problems we face in our community, there is a desire from many Muslims to change it.  Just by writing this, you are inspiring change.  As I said, I may not be looking now, but I certainly keep myself and you’ve given me something to think about.  Thanks.

  • Saadia says:

    Also, people have mentioned modesty in this blog, and I think that is a valid point. However, this article is in the context of the privacy of marriage and approaches.

  • Sobia says:

    “I get the sense from many Muslim women that it is an insult to be attracted to them, that it is some way an assault on their purity of character.”

    Your sense is absolutely right because for many Muslim women that is exactly what is going on. Many of us are taught from a young age that if a man flirts with you, you make sure he knows that is inappropriate. In many cultures a woman who responds positively to flirting or attention is viewed as a “loose” woman. A woman with “good character” is supposed to be insulted that a man would think she is the type of girl who would enjoy attention because those types of girls are “loose.”

  • ScarfGirl says:

    Well, I hate to further confuse the issue, but look, we’re (i.e. Muslim women) not all identical in this way. I, for one, would *love* it if some guy was bold enough to say, “Hey, I dig you. Let’s hang.” The thought that accepting such an invitation would make me a “loose” woman or a bad woman or a woman “with a reputation” (what does that even mean, anyway?) has literally *never* occurred to me. Perhaps it’s the convert in me thinking, but I can brainstorm few, if any, more harmless ways to spend an afternoon than sharing a cup of joe (and if things go well, a scone, maybe) with a Muslim guy who is enough of a non-stranger for me to be relatively assured that he’s not a psycho. If such activity destroys my “rep” with the aunties, well, I’m afraid I became a lost cause many moons ago.

    For what it’s worth, too – for those of you commenting here, I don’t want to put words in Adam’s mouth/pen, but there is little use in responding to the not-uncommon square peg/round hole social complaint of your average well-meaning convert with a list of shoulds. It *may* be improper, or vulgar, or whatever (for the record, I don’t think it’s any of the above, but the point is that it’s up for debate) for us to want our relationships to appear to the world and our hearts and psyches a little bit more like your average American courting ritual, but to tell us that it’s simply “wrong” or “improper” to want and/or miss that, or to feel uncomfortable with the sanctioned alternatives, doesn’t really help us get over our nostalgia. That’s what we’re comfortable with – just as you are comfortable with the rituals with which you were raised. I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that something akin to dating is adaptable in a Muslim context; after all, culture is awarded the same weight as fiqh, unless it conflicts with fundamental principles. So some people may prefer a private courtship, or to meet with a chaperone, or through relatives, but for us, all of the above probably feels like we accidentally stepped onto the set of a Bollywood film. It should and will and does feel strange, weird, uncomfortable, like shoes that don’t fit. Just something to keep in mind before we shrug off these critiques.

    And for what it’s worth, Adam – everyone I’ve spoken to about this article is clapping their hands in appreciation. You’re not alone, man. Keep us posted.

  • is it just me or is everybody just ignoring the obvious? this really seems to be a cultural problem for Adam.  It’s pretty evident from the comments given by other converts/reverts on this article.  Let’s face it, the bulk of the Muslim population in the US is immigrant, and have brought a lot of their home culture with them which gets passed even as far down as the 3rd generation.

    Bottom line: what one culture considers flirting, another can consider vulgar or ridiculous.

    Muslim guys from immigrant communities have developed their own form of flirting, usually through Facebook or GChat. If You’re looking to marry a girl from an immigrant community, learn to be subtle. Get to know someone without making it so explicit.  After all, the point is that you’re still trying to figure out if you even WANT to marry her.

    If you don’t want to deal with this confusing style of courtship, find a Muslim girl who shares your ethnicity/background.  It’ll be 10 times easier to deal with someone who understands courtship the same way you do.  There is no lack of women who have reverted to Islam in this country. So maybe you really just haven’t found the right girl yet.

    Last but not least, a supplication my mother taught me to find your soulmate. Everyday after ‘Isha prayer, recite: Glory be to him, who created all things in pairs, of that which the earth grows, and of themselves, and of that which they know not! (It’s ch. 36, verse 36, easy to remember)

    He’s the only One to ask from, and the only One Who can provide!

  • rdar says:

    i myself have only recently come to find the whole process rather befuddling too, and i know i’m not alone in “coming out” about the issue, despite the fact that i don’t come from a convert background as adam does (and hence why it probably took me a bit longer to open my eyes to it all).

    in the article adam writes how “muslim communities…have stunted emotional maturation” through these sorts of under-the-cover courtship regimes, and i couldn’t agree more. in fact i’d say that this sort of rather cowardly approach to tough issues (i.e. by “not coming near” to them altogether) is indicative of an larger attitude prevalent among muslims in america today. there are two basic approaches here that i’ve noticed that i’ll attempt to describe.

    what i mean by this in the first instance is that muslims that to engage with tough problems (like the relationship issue) will inevitably come at our iman’s detriment, and though this is a valid fear, it does not necessitate such a frigid kind of attitude. if i could be so bold, i actually love being an american muslim precisely BECAUSE of the fact that i am forced to engage with a nonmuslim society and nonmuslim values on a daily basis – this causes me to constantly reassess and reassert my own values, and insha’Allah if one’s intentions are good, it leads to what i see as a more resilient sort of faith.

    (the other option is, of course, to isolate one’s self from anything potentially harmful – a sort of constant ietikaaf from the temptations of this world. all defense and no offense. we all know muslim brothers and sisters like this, who view any sort of reconciliation with the surrounding society as somehow unbecoming of a muslim. these sorts of people surround themselves with people just like them in order to reassert what is their , i would argue, rather cowardly – if not outright paranoid – worldview. i understand fearing God, but there is a point where this fear morphs into something weird and contrived. further, these well-intentioned muslims subsequently have a hard time seeming like normal, functioning members of society – an unsurprising result of their having done everything in their power to isolate themselves from it.)

    i remember speaking to a skeptical friend about the former approach (what i promote personally), and saying to him that though such a way of going about things is potentially dangerous, “sometimes your iman needs to dip a little bit before it shoots back up.” and hence the resiliency.

    this approach of increased resiliency can, i feel, translate to the love game as well, though most muslims nowadays follow the latter approach on this issue. as an undergrad myself heavily involved in my MSA, i can personally attest to the sort of emotional retardation amongst my fellow muslim brothers and sisters, myself included (it’s what happens when you avoid tough questions). i only just within the past few years realized this (a product of being indoctrinated into muslim gender-relations culture from an early age). i mean, there’s a reason why its easy for muslim men to hold a conversation with a suzie, but once a sehar comes along, we freeze. sehar was always taught as something to actively avoid – hence the mad awkwardness and roundabout approach that adam finds rather bizarre.

    what needs to be advocated i feel is the sort of engaging sort of attitude that i described above. go ahead and talk to a girl or a boy. get acclimated a little bit. let yourself feel what its like to crush on someone and then have it perhaps not work out. these are the “emotions getting involved” that i think adam was referring to. i’m not saying go overboard, but there are methods and ways to talk to the opposite sex in a safe way, but those safe ways have to be decided upon by the two actors involved. what is “near” to zina is not as easily defined as some may make it out to be.

    i dunno i kinda ranted there, but i hope it had some semblance of structure…i’d love to elaborate on any points that may have been weak or confusing. people say i go on tangents a lot…

    ps: for some laughs, check this: for some laughs, some people may enjoy this: http://stuffdesislike.wordpress.com/2009/02/09/42-undisclosed-item-status/

  • Saadia says:

    Regarding the point that Adam made about taking romance, passion, etc. out of the equation, I remember reading that spirituality, “rahma” etc. are part of the equation, in addition to the legal aspect.

    I think that Onessa’s point is that some of this is over-intellectualized, and on a blog it could appear that way, of course. But it also has to do with rethinking approaches to the approach of marriage in a way that opens a larger discussion.

    Sometimes I read the acknowledgements that people make to their wives in their books (including my latest favorite one) and its certainly sweet.

  • XManNY says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful article. This is an issue not only for converts but for Muslims in general and I find this problem all the time. Communication and relationships between Muslim men and women are frought with problems precisely because men and women do not naturally communicate (outside of family) with each other as they grow and have no idea how to form emotionally relationships with members of the opposite sex. The result is that single men and women communicate (as you pointed out) at high school level. The guidance that you can only talk to a women after making marriage intentions known strikes me as ludicrous. As a Muslim professional woman once confided, that she has much more adult (as in mature) conversations with her non-mulsim male colleagues on a daily basis than she has ever had with Muslim men. I find myself in a similar predicament. My female friends who I delight in discussing issues with, are all non-muslim, current or former colleagues and NO there have been no non-halal activities accompanying these discussions. We are far to pre-occupied with the issue of sex and our potential weaknesses to succumb to risk developing emotionally rich relationships that may or may not lead to marriage. To use an analogy, we are afraid to light a candle in the darkness for fear that we will burn the house down.

  • green.owl says:

    I confess to being one of the girls who has gotten offended at a salaam. In my defense, I have been in the situation where my reputation was maligned because I spoke with a male.  This male was older than my father and an immigrant.  Our conversation, held in a public space during a conference, was about labor law. The male was in a dispute with a former employer and I am a lawyer by training (as any lawyer can tell you, when we meet non-lawyers they tend to mention the legal cases they have been involved in).  This conversation was somehow interpreted by the male as showing a potential romantic interest on my part, which the male promptly spread throughout town. Not only did I receive phone calls from his intermediaries, but my family was getting calls from concerned third parties about the rumors of my “involvement” with a man twice my age.

    In the end the rumors were shut down and this male was told I had no interest in him, but it goes to show why Muslim women may be weary of conversations. 

    This incident was one crazy guy and it has led me to be weary of speaking with people raised in countries with less interaction between the genders least my conversation be seen as showing a romantic interest.  If a guy raised in the US or Canada were to approach me in a respectful manner (i.e., without giving me the very dirty one-over that I have seen guys in a bar give women) I would be happy to talk.  If things went well, we could then navigate the “secret world” of Muslim dating together (which just requires keeping prying Aunties/Uncles out of the loop).

    Green

  • Saadia says:

    Liberal fundo said:
    “Bottom line: what one culture considers flirting, another can consider vulgar or ridiculous.”

    The reality though is that things much worse and more random than flirting occur in the streets of Muslim countries, especially by some types.

    While I think there is a reason to make someone aware of something they may find egregious, harmful, or which trespasses beyond their dignity and boundaries, I think other things can be taken a little bit more lightly, especially when it appears to be a joke or not dangerous.

    As I mentioned before, 2010 shouldn’t be the type of year where
    people become appalled at the mention of Sarah Jessica Parker, especially considering some of the things that have been already mentioned in this blog and the number of times I’ve requested more privacy.

    Is responding to minor things a good solution? Its time for some fresh thinking.

    Perhaps a better way forward would be to pay attention to the 2010 elections and to comment on the recent 2 security problems (e.g. the attempted bomb detonation on the plane towards Detroit and the 5 convicted in Pakistan). However, I would note that groups have in fact been doing that already.

    For the small and silly stuff, I’d propose overlooking what is . I really don’t think its causing widespread havoc or a security problem because of some culture clash.

  • bigmama says:

    amen to all that.  can you converts please take some leadership here and overhaul the existing systems?  the rest of us are too entangled in cultural taboos.

    but convert, you got some misconceptions.  the practical matchmaking courtship system—although severely flawed—is personal, intimate, and bursting with strong emotions and romance.  you’ve just got to get past the initial hurdles.

    as for public relationships—they exist in engagements.  if you aren’t at the stage where you are ready to commit, then both of you are still fair game to everyone else, aren’t you?  and let me say that many muslim women take jealousy to a whole new level.  it’s probably better for everyone if a lady doesn’t know that her husband approached mariam, jamila, and rana before he approached her.

    in theory the traditional model sounds great—if a guy is interested, he gets the green light from a girl’s parents, then gets to know her. 

    in practice, it’s just too big of an initial hurdle, and i’m amazed anyone gets married that way.

    first of all, it requires a lot of initial attraction just to be motivating enough to get anything going.  so what about all the ugly girls?  what about all the girls who don’t give off a good initial impression because of their style/personalities?  what about all the girls with known “problems”—why would a man even start to get involved with a woman if all anyone knows about her is that she has some disease?  some of the women with any of these issues might be a guy’s incredible soulmate—but he has no way of finding that out.

    second of all, does a guy really want to involve the girl’s entire family and potentially cause lots of pain all around—when he doesn’t even know if there is any basic level of compatibility? 

    in the past, superficial attraction was a good enough basis for marriage.  because people married from their own tiny closed communities.  where everyone shared the exact same expectation of marriage roles and life values.

    but now everything is all mixed up.

    still—as long as the basic compatibility is there—same values, giving personality—you won’t have to worry about huge mistakes.  at least if you don’t have the typical modern american mindset (“i love you but i’m no longer IN love with you”—selfish, emotions-driven monster!).  get back into the traditional idea of what marriage is all about (and no—i don’t mean devoid of passion—but i certainly mean a good dose of practicality).  commit to sticking with it for the long haul (even through the low periods). 

    anyway, my some miracle i managed to get hitched.  so now i’m an informal matchmaker to help the rest of you.  i’ve got some AMAZING muslim ladies (20s to early 30s) waiting for a fantastic husband to show up.  very smart women, good looks, sweet.  and they want to get to know a guy and aren’t insulted by interest.  so if you are a man and you want me to find you a wife, send your details (not just basic stats… come on.  what are you looking for, what are you NOT looking for, what kind of person are you)  and i’ll propose some potential matches for you to consider getting to know.

  • Habib says:

    I also want to add the hypocrisy that muslim women display towards muslim men. Adam, if you were not a muslim you would not have that problem towards muslim women. They don’t act this way when a christian or non-muslim tells them they are attractive. They will even date and have sexual relations with people of other faith, but act like it’s some sort of taboo to do this with other muslims. Then they hide their pasts and come back and expect to marry a muslim man (traditionally, overnight, with no dating or sexual relations prior to the marriage), which I don’t understand. And most muslim men are just not willing to lay down and be the sheep herders in this case. I think first the hypocrisy needs to be addressed, than we can focus on the extremism of the interpretation that muslim men and women cannot be attracted to each other.

  • muqarnas says:

    habib – what you describe is what many muslim men do as well. don’t try and pin this hypocrisy all on muslim women. this isn’t a pissing contest, we’re trying to work through this together and your attitude is not constructive.

  • Muhammad Ali says:

    I commend you for your change of heart. Hope you will become an upright Muslim. I think you should focus on building yourself … make yourself busy with things that intrigue you like science, art, language something that makes you only you,, No woman will do that for you… It is a pure falsehood that man needs a woman to complete him. You need a woman to live a progressive life. Because men need women and vice versa. Never confuse yourself about getting women as a goal in your life.
    Truth is much greater than that.
    As a Muslim it is highly recommended to get married. But don’t focus too much on that.

  • I’m surrounded by tons of Muslim men and women complaining about the lack of suitable options around. And most of these people would make great couples if they got together. I’m single and friendly with both genders of the community and I interact with a lot of single people and often come across good frustrated Muslim men telling me about the lack of good Muslim women around, without realising that I probably am that good Muslim woman?!
    In my limited experience, some Muslim men are simply too excited by the concept of choice and having to move on to the next better option without giving anyone a real chance. And then at the end of the day they throw their hands in the air and go “just no good Muslim women out there” while having friend-zoned a potential amazing love story!

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