I’m 33-years-old and still single. Well, the “still” is the lamentation some Muslims in the community add when they describe my status.
The Muslim culture, not unlike most others, abides by a set of expectations when it comes to women, marriage and motherhood. A woman’s identity is strongly braided with her walking down the aisle and becoming a mother. Because many women believe that, by a certain age, their life should follow this path, their decisions are dictated by this expectation. I confess, I too have been guilty of this thinking.
In the Muslim community, it is not uncommon for people to ask girls who have just completed high school with questions like, “So when will we be getting a wedding invitation?” Once I turned 30-years-old, the question changed from “When are you going to marry?” to “Why aren’t you married yet?” As if I have some grand scheme to avoid marriage at all cost.
The intrusive questions are not limited to women. I’ve even been bluntly asked by suitors, “Sajdah, you’re in your 30s and never been married. How come?” The implication of this question really offends me; they might as well be saying, “So tell me what’s wrong with you?”
I answer by saying there is no perfect age at which to marry, I am clear on what I am looking for, and I am not willing to settle. I just have yet to find my mate. My self-assured reply has worked well for me so far. Still, I am human and sometimes my confidence cracks. Ever so often, the anxious little voice inside my head pipes up, “Are you sure you’re not doing something wrong? You should be married by now.” This nagging internal monologue was at its strongest right after I finished graduate school. I was 29-years-old at the time and just knew that now that I had completed my education, marriage would follow at its heels. When it didn’t, I felt my self-assuredness crumble into self-doubt.
Islam values marriage tremendously. It is an act of worship and highly encouraged. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said getting married completes half our religion. In other words, a loving Muslim marriage requires both individuals to show compassion, generosity, forgiveness, modesty etc. and when a husband and wife manage this, they have succeeded in completing half their religion.
The weight of cultural expectations, my own desire for a husband and children, and the understanding that marriage is an act of worship all coalesced to create a sense of urgency to find my ideal mate. It is no wonder that waiting to marry the right person has tested my faith enormously.
I had many moments when I broke down crying in disappointment because a potential match didn’t work out. There have been other times when I met someone who I knew in my soul wasn’t right for me, but the thought of letting it go sent me into a panic, so I would put myself through mental gymnastics in an attempt to convince myself why I should settle for this person. I tried to quiet a part of my consciousness that told me to go in the other direction. Thankfully I never succumbed to my anxiety. The thought of settling for something always originates from a place of fear. And fear is the very thing that opposes faith.
As I continue on my search for my life partner, the more I discover the value of remaining patient and trusting that God will bless me with what I am looking for. I have to relinquish the ego, the arrogance that insists that my plan for myself is better than God’s path for me. I have to trust that He can make anything possible because His power and His blessings are limitless. If I were to settle in marriage, it would not only be because I did not believe in my own worth, but also because I didn’t believe in God’s power and responsiveness.
I have to let go of cultural beliefs that women are “old and washed up” and somehow undesirable if not married by a certain age. I know my identity as a woman is not defined by marital status and I’ve become convinced that my life at this moment is no way any less fulfilling or meaningful because I’m not married. That time will come.
As my faith teaches me, I can only trust that this “wait” is not a punishment of some sort, but simply my test. I have to continue to pray to God to send me what’s best and guide me in my decisions. God will not forsake me. I know that my life is evolving just as it should be, just as God planned it.
Nubee is an African American Muslim who was born into a family of Muslim converts who accepted Islam as young adults in the 1970s. She is a blogger for the Huffington Post Religion and currently serves as a regular speaker and panelist on religious issues at the Art Institute at South University of Raleigh-Durham.