The search for a life partner may be filled with several disappointments and rejections, and can prove to be a daunting, challenging and frustrating life experience for both men and women in general; and some people have given up on the idea or hope of ever getting married not just because they haven’t found Mr or Ms right as yet, but because they have seen many bad representations of what a marriage should look and feel like, either within their own homes and families or within their own communities. And today, the genders are for the most part, not on par economically, educationally, religiously and morally.
These experiences are not exclusive to Muslims. In fact this challenge of finding a life partner, transcends race, religion and culture or ethnicity. And I think it is important to recognise that there is a lot of pressure, especially for women, unlike men, to get married and to marry young, whilst it seems to me, acceptable for men to marry and settle down at an older age. Women are harshly judged and criticised and made to feel as though something is wrong with them if they choose not to marry or to be single and husband-less especially if in their 30’s and beyond. There is immense family, religious and cultural expectations of marriage followed by babies – in that specific order. Anything that is contrary to this sequence is deemed unacceptable, rejected or looked down on – ‘something must be wrong with her!’ You may disagree, but from where I stand, that’s the reality.
Let’s focus on the Muslim man and the Muslim women’s experiences of finding a life partner in the 21st century. I’m not a Social Scientist or Sociologist, so these are my thoughts on the challenges of finding a life partner based on my own experiences, conversations over the years with friends and acquaintances on the subject of love and marriage and my observations.
Finding ‘The One’ Online – Matrimonial Websites
A quick glance through any Muslim Matrimonial site and or magazines geared towards single Muslims, and it quickly becomes obvious that both men and women are guilty of the same things they both complain about. Both seem to be guilty of looking for superficial and unreasonable expectations. For instance, a profile containing no profile photo but just a description of the person is less likely to attract more attention. Many of us who have used a Matrimonial site before I’m sure will agree with me when I say that most of us prefer to visit profiles that have a profile photo so we can see what the person looks like and in many cases if that person does not physically meet our expectations or desire, then most likely we reject that person even if we were impressed by what they said in their profile.
Many advertise themselves as Lawyers, Engineers, university graduates, financially secure, Sheikhs etc.. Some men upload and send photos of themselves topless revealing a six-pack, eek! This begs the question, do men and women only include information on their profile which they think is most likely to attract interest in their profile? Is it because of some of the rigid demands men and women make that causes many of us to exaggerate and to even go as far as to include false information about ourselves for fear of not being accepted for who we truly are? For example, I remember one brother on a particular matrimonial site who advertised himself as a poor man who didn’t have money and much education, but said he would make a good husband. I admired his honesty, but considering where he lived and my family circumstances coupled with my educational and other ambitions, I did not respond. But I wondered how many of us are that honest about our material and financial reality?
What do Men and Women Complain About?
Many men complain that Muslimahs have too many unreasonable expectations and a long list of expectations – the brother has to be ‘cute,’ not ‘fat’ and in a lot of cases he has to be light skin or from the same culture or race. Brothers also complain that sisters want to marry only Sheikhs or Imams, Doctors or Lawyers, he has to be rich or have a house; and if he’s poor, well, the family wouldn’t accept him and the girl wouldn’t have a second look. Then there is the issue of the dowry/mahr. This many men say is what causes a lot of problem because sisters are asking for expensive dowries – some want jewellery and others want a house among other things. On the other hand, women complain and are disappointed that there is a lack of good practicing brothers. Some of the brothers are not working and are not financially viable or don’t own their own home and are not intellectually compatible. And others complain that some brothers seeking marriage are not ambitious enough and are lazy, but want a lot of children and they can’t even afford to efficiently provide for them, which can put added strain on a marriage. And even though some want to be married to religious brothers, the brother cannot be ‘too religious.’ This often translates as the brother might be extreme in his views or too strict or rigid in his practice of Islam and will therefore restrict the wife from doing certain things like agreeing for the wife to work, can’t listen to music or can’t wear western clothes. But of course, this is not always the case.
When I was seriously considering marriage, I was ideally looking for someone who had all the ‘fundamental’ qualities I desired in a man. For starters, he had to be a practising Muslim – practising more than I was, that is, but not ‘too religious’ or a religious fanatic; and he had to share most or all of my values and have good character. He could be very religious, but not too religious. There’s a difference. I didn’t want him to be ‘too religious’ because coming from my cultural background and where I was spiritually in my life, I felt that someone like that would be a mismatch. I wanted someone to either grow spiritually with me or was practising Islam more than I was which meant at the time that such an individual would help support me and be an example for me on my spiritual journey. And it wasn’t a case that the brother had to be drop dead gorgeous, but at least I had to be physically attracted to him or I just couldn’t see any possibilities for marriage. And of course for me, he had to be able to financially maintain the lifestyle I was accustom to or to provide me with a better lifestyle. I expected him to be educated, preferably at university level because I went to University and I wanted someone to match me intellectually or even at a higher level – not saying that a man who doesn’t go to university would be less intelligent, but I had too many real life examples where couples were a mismatch intellectually and it really brought about issues and feelings of inferiority in one spouse, usually the man.
I didn’t care about skin colour or race and I wanted someone I could relate to and talk to about anything and share by dreams and deepest fears.
In terms of culture, someone from the same cultural background was a huge plus for me, but certainly not a deciding factor. I was open to marrying a man from another culture. But from my perspective, two people from the same cultural background would be better able to relate and understand each other much easier than two people from totally different cultures. But I guess it depends on the openness and humility of the parties that will counter all cultural differences and challenges.
Culture and Religious Expectations, Education and other Factors
I came across an interesting article in the Guardian some months ago written by Syma Mohammad, a Reporter for Archan. Her article immediately reminded me of my own experiences in my search of a life partner. In her article, Syma discusses why Muslim British women, particularly Muslim women in their 30’s and over in the Asian community struggle to find marriage partners. She mentions that there is a greater chance that Muslim men will end up marrying non-Muslim women because they tend to “work and socialise with British Christian women than their female Muslim counterparts.” Plus Muslim men are allowed in Islam to marry non-Muslim women i.e “women of the book” (Christian or Jewish women), while Muslim women are not allowed to do so, unless the man converts to Islam. Furthermore, she mentions that there is a tradition of men from the Indian subcontinent marrying women from their country of origin for reasons such as cultural expectations “that girls from ‘back home’ will stay with and look after their in-laws.” Sounds familiar? She continues: “For Muslim women, marrying men from their country of origin is rarely considered an option as they tend to want social, economic and intellectual equals or superiors. Men from their country of origin tend to have different mindsets and struggle to find jobs no matter how well qualified they are, thereby leaving women as the main breadwinners.
This situation can often create a strenuous dynamic in relationships with men from patriarchal cultures. Moreover, in line with national trends, Muslim women academically outperform the men. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s How Fair is Britain? report, Bangladeshi and Pakistani women are more likely to be employed as professionals than their male counterparts. This means that professional Muslim women have an even smaller pool of intellectual and economic equals to choose from. This is exacerbated by the fact that Asian men are likely to choose partners of lower economic and intellectual status as they traditionally grow up with working fathers and stay-at-home mothers, and generally choose to replicate this model. Unfortunately, these imbalances are not widely acknowledged – many label older unmarried women as fussy. The effect on women is crippling. Many become depressed as a huge amount of importance is attached to marriage, and unmarried women are made to feel that they’ve failed.”
Should I Propose or Should I Wait on Him to Propose Marriage? That’s the question.
Even though in Islam, it is honourable and permitted for a Muslim woman to propose to a Muslim man, it’s often frowned on by some women and some feel uncomfortable about making the first move – ‘it’s the man who is supposed to propose and profess his love,’ sort of attitude. This is especially true for those brought up in western societies which basically dictates that a woman should be pursued and chosen by a man rather than the contrary. So many women are still waiting and hoping that the brothers make the first move and propose marriage for fear of seeming too aggressive or desperate.
Some women feel as though if the man proposes it is a sign of their worth, and the more proposals, the more their worth. After all, some Muslim communities share the view that Muslim women should be shy and some go as far as to consider women subordinate to men, and, therefore, women are expected to be passive and reserved in the way they think and act. However, such views and expectations are cultural rather than Islamic and arguably sexist. We should remind ourselves that it was Khadijah (RTA), the first wife of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him), who proposed marriage to the Prophet (PBUH) via a trusted friend. And mind you, she was very independent and capable of providing for herself since she was a successful business woman. And several other women proposed to the Prophet (a.s) as well. But despite this, Muslim communities make it out to be taboo and shameful for a woman or her family to approach the brother or his family to propose marriage.
I think it is empowering when a woman feels she is ready for marriage and is able to express her intentions of marriage to a potential spouse. What’s wrong with that? If it was acceptable and permitted by the Prophet, why do some have a such a negative view of this? I personally have no problems with making the first move, but that’s just me. I think a woman should be able to say exactly what she wants and expects from a man and if marriage is what she expects and wants, why not ask for it? If there is a brother out there that has most or all the qualities you desire in a spouse, then what’s wrong with letting your feelings and intentions known? You don’t have to ask directly if you are uncomfortable asking – ask someone you trust to ask on your behalf or to express the interest of marriage on your behalf. Forget this notion of it’s the man who has to propose ladies! Make a move! Whilst you’re waiting for him to pop the question or to approach you, another woman might come along and steal the brother’s heart. Warning! You may be rejected, but come on, it’s not the end of the world.