I was really late to the romance and relationships party. I went to an all-girls school, so the closest I got to boys was avoiding them at the train station while I read my textbooks like the nerd I was. I didn’t go to Alpha Omega for tutoring like every other Muslim kid in Sydney, so I missed out on the teenage crushes everyone seemed to develop there. My family didn’t mix much socially and we had no relatives in Sydney, so if you asked me at eighteen to name one Muslim boy I knew well enough to say salaams to, the answer would be a whole lot of crickets chirping. (I still had crushes on famous singers at that age, which should tell you just how clueless I was.) But I know my experience is hardly typical. While Muslims don’t openly date, they tend to get started pretty early on with romance.
I have mixed feelings about young love. On the one hand, I feel slightly alarmed at the thought of a seventeen year old knowing who they want to marry. An observant Muslim is no different at seventeen to an observant Muslim at any age and so is unlikely to just want to date someone. They’re going to start thinking about marriage, and given my own lack of experience at that age it’s difficult for me personally to comprehend that a person of that age would be able to make such a life-changing decision. A seventeen year old has so much to do and see and become. I certainly did. Given this, can they really be trusted to know what they want?
While these concerns are certainly not trivial, I also tend to think that we underestimate young people. In our society, what is considered as ‘youth’ has been stretched out to an extent that would be unrecognisable to our forefathers. Eighteen is old enough to go backpacking through Europe, but way too young to commit. Twenty five is old enough to live with someone but not old enough to have a child, apparently. From an Islamic perspective, these societal notions of the correct age at which to do something are hogwash. If I was immature at seventeen, it was only because I was allowed to be. If I was unready to meet someone, that doesn’t mean no other seventeen year old is.
I’m certainly not advocating for parents to hurry their kids into marriage as soon as they finish high school. In fact I recognise that our society has been geared so that many of us are probably completely unprepared at that age. But I do believe this isn’t the case for everyone. I know people who got married at eighteen and they are still married to this day with a kid or two to show for it. I meet teenagers who are more mature than I am in a lot of ways. Everyone is different, and I feel that instead of imposing arbitrary limits about when people should or shouldn’t get married, it’s important to consider the people in question. Even if someone appears to be immature, being in a relationship doesn’t inhibit their growth. I’ve never understood people who claim to not be ready for marriage because they still have so much to achieve; being in a relationship should enhance your development as long as you have a supportive partner.
Marrying young is viewed favourably in Islam. In our society, sex and sexual images are easily accessible, and so having one person in mind from a young age could be viewed as a protection from falling into sin. Parents who want their kids to finish uni, own a house and God knows what else before they get married are shutting their eyes to reality. In all likelihood, by that time their kids would have liked and perhaps even dated a whole stack of people. Uni is when it really all starts happening, and so I feel parents should really be open to at least discussing marriage with their kids from that time. I know parents who turn a blind eye to their kids dating so long as they don’t hear about marriage until they’re finished uni. To me, that’s just a recipe for disaster. If your kids are already in a relationship from the time they’re in high school, they’re obviously ready for something.
Over to you. When did you get started with the ‘getting to know you’ game? Do you think there’s a right age to get married, or is it really just different for each person?