A response to “Single Childless Muslim Women”: Embrace Spinsterhood

It took a while, but after protracted discussions, my late mother finally had come around to the idea. “Habiba, you don’t need to get married” she’d said. I had finally convinced her that the opportunity cost of marriage was too great to sustain.

I read Fatima Adamou’s piece with great sadness and felt moved to reply. “After years of anxiety and confusion” she writes, she has come to accept her status as a single Muslim woman “on the periphery [of the Muslim community].”  She alludes to the depression into which single Muslim women “inevitably” fall. But I believe there is nothing inevitable about it at all.

Fatima speaks of spinsterhood as though it is foisted on us like a curse, or as though it is a slur. Many women view their status from entirely the wrong vantage point. What Fatima mightn’t realize is that she is a position of unprecedented, unrivaled privilege as a single, educated Muslim woman in 2015. You ought not to be an outsider, you ought to be leading your community.

“A Muslim woman’s place is where she is needed most. And it is for her to decide where that is,” my father would tell me. He hoped I’d make my mark by marrying my interests with a sense of civic duty. Throughout my 20s, my mother politely declined proposals on my behalf, as she knew I would dismiss them offhand. 50 or 60 proposals later, the  offers soundly dried up, along with the skin on my face. Welcome to life on the self-imposed shelf. With greying hair and the inability to remain a perpetual size zero, I make no apology for this.

My parents hammered home the idea that my identity or sense of self-worth is not a function of my marital status. Not a word was ever said about becoming a dutiful wife. We didn’t sit around trying to bleach our skin with lemons to attract a man. And I remain convinced that time spent focused on securing the affections of a husband is an extraordinary waste.

Was I foolish to have run for the hills in my 20s? Was it foolish to throw myself into varied interests and reject those offers? No. This self-enforced spinsterhood is an intended, necessary consequence of putting specific values first.

The Readiness is All – Planning For & Embracing Spinsterhood

As Hamlet said: the Readiness is All. It seems Fatima was in denial when she talked of grief and of depression. Martial your thoughts, I would say to her. Do not plan for a life with a husband–plan for a life alone. I’m doing now what I should have done a decade ago.

It’s not that it is easy to embrace spinsterhood.  There are three scenarios in which you are unreasonably tested: (1) you must be financially more self-reliant; (2) in sickness you must tend to yourself, and; (3) when facing loss, you must husband (I use that word with intent–you are the ‘husbander’ of) your own resources. Having come through all three scenarios, I have good news. You live to tell the tale.  Having lived in twenty-three cities in my thirty-four years, there have been equally startling and educative times which have tried and tested.

To all the single women out there, I say: Plan for a financially independent and self-supporting life, where you alone are responsible before God for the state of your finances, your health and those around you.  Embrace that a life alone is not a life unexamined or unlived. Travel far and wide because the majority of those around you simply cannot. Commit to public service or interests–some of which require odd hours and extraordinary commitment. Tethered folks invariably cannot do this, and if they do, it’s never quite effective. You are facing a tremendous opportunity to travel, to explore, and to be true to yourself.

I was struck by Fatima’s assertion that she had spent a great deal of time in depression over her unmarried, childless status. I was struck that she was gifted with her own time and chose not to use it more effectively.  All that time worrying about your singlehood prevents you from leading just, true lives. It might take awhile, but now is the time to focus on putting on your own lifejacket. You can read, you can no doubt write, you have internet access. Even in constrained circumstances, you have the power of your mind, and your conscience. The gifts you have are powerful and ought not to be contingent on one man bending down on a knee.

But to do all that–and I have tried to–it is virtually impossible without first having a strong, stable foundation for yourself. So plan, and ready yourself for this adventure.

All this is not to say that I haven’t thought of marriage. Each time I have, the opportunity cost of marriage has terrified me. I frequently pay lip service to the notion of marriage and of an ideal partner. But it is merely that.  Marriage is a mirage for women like me. The reality is that for 2% of the time, I might have a thought of marriage. Most of the rest of the time, I focused on specific interests, cultivating joy, kindness and having fun.

I’ve never idealized about a wedding, a dress, or kids.  I have, however, had to warn my friends that they ought to bear with me if biology attempts to override rational thought. Perhaps it would have been wonderful to marry the activist, the thinker who lives by his ideals. But one cannot hold one’s breath, or you’d die in the process. Although a life alone might seem daunting, it is equally as exciting to imagine a life unfettered, where you are always free to contribute and stand on your own two feet.

It appears to me that single Muslim women are living in a death of their own making. And it is high time they woke up. Fatima, live a little. You have a mantle to adopt.
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Habiba Hamid is a former editor, writer, and governance specialist. At the moment she is in Bristol, UK her 23rd city.


  • Kawthar says:

    I agree that as single Muslim women we should definitely embrace our freedoms that maybe our married friends don’t have we should travel, contribute to society and to many more things that our freedoms allow. However companionship is one of the most natural urges of the human being and to deny yourself this I personally can’t do it. The only way in Islam that you can have a relationship with the opposite sex is through marriage. Therefore I personally would rather try to find that no matter how old I get.

  • I agree that, like any person who feels something is lacking in the community, instead of complaining about it do something about it. Organise events, halaqah, use your skills to suppport Islamic organisations and activities. Then you will be at the centre of the community.

  • MMiah says:

    I too have come to understand recently that being shackled to the notion of some day getting married and serving a family is futile and that what really counts is the present day. I urge others to pursue and chase their interests instead of waiting for a man to save you from yourself. I feel that I wasted so much time being dormant, willing for marriage to come and save me. For me the first place to start is with yourself. It is through education of our faith that we can liberate ourselves from negative social constructs. Let’s empower each other. Thank you to Habiba Hamid for such a great article and positive outlook.

  • Aaaliyah says:

    I agree with Kawthar but I do see alot of value in the Habiba’s advice. Yes you should live for the present day and get involved in community. Live fully and live passionately but it’s human nature to want to feel a special connection with another human being. You should not have to feel bad or immature about wanting that. After all I don’t see why you should have to “accept spinsterhood” at 32 or even 42. Yes some will become depressed at the thought of staying single. And that’s natural too. But instead of chiding them, let’s support them. Single women are criticized by our community for not being married and then criticized again if they express their sadness at not being married. So no I do not accept spinsterhood. I will continue to live with the hope that Allah answers my duahs and grants me a spouse. But I do accept that its a waste of time to watch your life sail away while waiting for Mr Right.

  • OppforHapp says:

    AAALIYAH hit it on the head. Sorry, but you shouldn’t have to shame anyone who wants to get married because YOU’VE consciously chosen not to. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to get married or feeling like your time and energy would be better spent elsewhere. But, let’s just give women the room to be themselves and decide what they actually want. Maybe Habiba doesn’t want to really imagine it, but there are relationships in which someone feels MORE free. There are women who travel the world with their husbands; there are spouses–men and women–who are reminded each day to be a better version of themselves because they admire their significant other; and there is no shelf-life on this journey–trust me. Not 34, 44, or even 54. If something is for you, you will see it. But I agree with Habiba, it all starts with focus on the self, and if anyone else comes along who happens to want to stand beside you, walk beside you, run beside you–then all the better. We should accept both those who are open or closed to the enterprise of marriage. There is merit in both.

  • R says:

    Aaaliyah, you said is just right.

  • Saadiha says:

    Thank you Habiba! This was wonderful!

  • Fareshta says:

    An interesting perspective, but I must respectfully disagree with the author. Yes, no woman should give up all else in life pining for some man to ‘save’ her from a miserable and lonely existence. However, there is no replacement for the intense love that is shared with a significant other in a lasting and binding relationship. Any woman who tells you that friends, family, travel, career, money or community involvement are enough to satisfy her life has never been in love or is fooling herself. My advice to young Muslim women is to go for it all. Pray to Allah for your dream career, for financial independence, for a fun and adventurous life which should absolutely also be filled with romantic love and a fulfilling marriage. Why do women feel we have to choose one or the other?

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