Love and marriage – it is a topic that keeps on giving. In the past few months, there were several stories on AltMuslimah and other sites echoing the need for an easier environment for Muslims to meet and marry other Muslims. In January, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding published a report on the trends in American Muslim marriage and divorce and in February, “Love: InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women,” was published. In May, the Vancouver Sun republished an archived article from 1997 on why Muslim women marry non-Muslim men and it went viral through social media.
The Muslim marriage puzzle, it seems, is something everyone is trying to figure out.
Could it be that American Muslims fallen out of love with the idea of love?
Abdullah Antepli, a Muslim Chaplain at Duke University thinks so. He says college-aged students have a long checklist of things to accomplish and looking for love is not one of the “things to do.” They do not believe they can have it all – love, a family, a marriage, a profession, so they delay getting married. And if and when they are ready to start thinking about marrying, many an obstacle arises.
Young Muslims must balance cultural and religious values while in an American-Muslim identity, and they are only beginning to figure out how marriage fits in, Antepli said. American-Muslims are tiptoeing around how to meet and interact someone of the opposite sex and same faith without crossing religious edict but they are also dealing with familial and cultural expectations of what qualities they should find in a “special someone.”
“There’s a group of us who basically move out of everything traditional and establish the institution of marriage within an American framework,” Antepli said. “Or there’s a group of us, who unfortunately have developed a nostalgic utopia that’s neither Islamic nor real nor rational that basically looks for those ideals and reflects where you want to be, not where you are.”
Antepli says American-Muslims must “create a space so that relationships will form in an American-Muslim way to fall in love with each other.”
So what is an American and Muslim way of finding a better-half? Sure, there are speed-meeting events and online matrimonial web sites for Muslims. There are also traditional matchmaking options available, but these matchmakers are usually focused only on their respective ethnic communities.
In the South Asian diaspora, matchmakers are called “aunties,” women who have the best intentions at heart to fix-up couples. Aunties will act as a go-between for families trying to find a match for their son or daughter.
A woman’s weight, skin color, height, profession, educational status, connection to culture and religion, domestic skills are all scrutinized before boy meets girl.
For many South Asian American-Muslim women, finding a soul mate is like being on dizzying episodes of “Survivor” and “The Bachelor” combined into one. Instead of men and women asking each other what they want out of a spouse, it is almost like the auntie is standing in the middle of the room with a rose in hand but she will kick you off the island if you do not meet the criteria.
A college-educated woman who can cook a mean biryani, fry a samosa, blend a mango lassi and start whipping up a halwa all in 60 minutes and who also volunteers at a health clinic, may be just the domestic goddess someone’s looking for— or not. Some aunties think being the American version of famous Pakistani TV chef Shireen Anwar is not enough, she has to speak Urdu too — therefore, she must pack her knives and go.
Since many of the matchmakers use photos to determine attractiveness, even woman who can speak three languages including Urdu, has a Masters degree, is well-versed in everything from Islamic text to Jane Austen and who makes sandwiches for the local homeless shelter on the weekends might be out of luck simply because she is not fair-skinned — the South Asian standard of beauty.
The fact that a woman has lived away from her parents immediately sends the signal she is a wild child who parties every night. When it is more likely, the young woman in question barely has time for socializing between studying and work and sits home still wondering when Ted will meet his kids’ mother, already.
Some women have been asked whether they wear hijab, others have been asked if they would be willing to take it off.
Men go through this to some extent, too. Farrah Mohsin, who along with her family helps organize a speed-meeting event yearly in New York for Milanus.com, says mothers of women interested in attending often ask how many doctors or lawyers are registered to attend.
However, with every story of matchmaking sessions gone awry, there are matchmaking successes.
Women, for whom, Allah sent soul mates before they turned their tassels on college graduation day. Women, whose new husbands and families paid for their education or encouraged their continuing studies and work ambitions. Women, who long thought about wearing the hijab but did not when they said “I Do,” have been embraced by their husband and in-laws for her decision to wear one after marrying.
And finally, there are women who check the 30+ boxes on the Census, who have found happiness with men who did not see an expiration date stamped to their foreheads.
If we are true to our faith, we know everything happens for a reason and we are not to question God’s pre-destined plan. Ultimately, He is our matchmaker, but there is no guaranteed soul mate or promised marital bliss. Not all of us will even want to marry, but for those who are searching for that special someone, as Antepli suggests, we need to create comfortable meeting spaces, free of judgment and preconceived notions of who is a “suitable match.”
A former reporter, Afsha Bawany has written for media outlets such as The Boston Globe, Las Vegas Sun, Henderson Home News, The Orange County Register and Las Vegas Business Press. She currently works in media relations in Las Vegas.