A Brother’s Guide to the MSA (‘Matrimonial Services Association’)

*Disclaimer: Author’s identity has been concealed.

I have been involved in the MSA (Muslim Students Association)  for several years now and, by and large, it has been a thoroughly rewarding experience. If you are reading this as a Muslim uni student not yet involved with your campus’ MSA, I can’t recommend enough that you get involved with it. Huge spiritual benefits of doing your bit for da’wah and maintaining brotherhood and/or sisterhood on campus.

In saying that, there have been plenty of instances during my years of involvement at MSAs which more than raised an eyebrow. I am speaking, of course, about the peculiar nature brother-sister interactions on campus and the often unspoken baggage that comes with it. Now, this blog has already talked about a myriad of issues and quirks when it comes to marriage and how young Muslims approach it. Naturally, at some point, MSAs had to come into it, given their notorious reputation as a “Matrimonial Services Association.”

Whether we like to admit it or not though, the matrimony tag has some truth to it, at least from my own experience. Personally, I know of three individuals who, after extended interaction at the head of an MSA, ended up meeting the person that would eventually become their future wife. It’s certainly not as uncommon as some blushing brothers and giggling sisters make it out to be. Something to consider as I run through of my observations during my time involved in a university MSA.

When it comes to marriage and the opposite gender, we – as guys – don’t really talk about it much. It might come up in jocular conversation like: “Are you married yet or what, bro?” but, by and large, it’s not something that is discussed in depth, or at least not as much as I am told the sisters discuss it. It’s a bit of a taboo to even speak of individual sisters as “marriage material,” so marriage and its machinations are often spoken of in very vague terms. I’ve found it’s often their body language that tells you a lot more than their casual “Oh nothing much is happening at my end, bro” response.

Marriage is only approached in a serious manner amongst ourselves in one of several occasions:

1) If a brother needs sincere advice on a potential marriage endeavour and naturally will seek the wisdom of his experienced confidantes. This is quite common, as you would expect, and is indicative of level-headedness and maturity, to some extent.

2) When some guys become a little bit too friendly with a sister, either online or in real life, and it might make things quite obvious to inconspicuous onlookers. Rumours spread quite quickly and the brother involved can sometimes be inundated with nosy questions, wink face emoticons, and suggestions that he should “fear Allah.” This blog has, in the past, referred to the Muslim community as “incestuous”. I don’t disagree. Do yourself a favour and don’t start clicking ‘like’ on her Facebook selfies, no matter how nonchalant you think you’re being; it only raises eyebrows.

3) Then you have the so-called “secret couples.” Note that I use the word couple sparingly here as I am not referring to the haram phenomenon of boyfriend/girlfriend. Unfortunately there is a lack of a better term to use in this instance. In any case, this is when a brother and sister are at an advanced stage of, let’s say, knowing each other, but they’ve hit a road block on their path to marriage. Perhaps their parents don’t approve and they’re lobbying (read: twiddling their thumbs in no man’s land), or they’re waiting to finish uni first. Whatever it is, they’re doomed to be stuck in limbo in an unofficial relationship indefinitely and cannot afford to make it public just yet.

Alternatively, you also have “public couples”: those who are well known to be in cahoots with one another, and are either close to marriage, or happily ‘engaged’. They’re perhaps the worst off, as their relationship is out in the open with everyone’s prying eyes upon them. They’re condemned to walk a veritable tightrope in their public actions while they await officialisation in the form of marriage.

4). Rivalry and competition is a notoriously common theme of the MSA circuit, but it’s rarely spoken of. You’ll definitely know when you’re in one, though. If you’ve got your eyes on someone, you begin to watch every move made by those from your own gender. That trendy Arab guy that she attended the Syria protest with? He’s a threat. The funny guy that keeps bantering with her on Facebook? He’s a threat. The young shaykh-in-training who is a friend of her family? Oh, you better believe he’s a threat. We’ve all been through this phase: one seems to develop a sixth sense when it comes to potential rivals acting suss, or if something else is amiss. Naturally, the sinister implications of such a threat require a heightened sense of awareness. It becomes all the more intensified when the threats are coming from people within the MSA, ensuring that you’re embroiled in a gargantuan struggle – a proverbial arm wrestle, if you will – that nobody else knows is taking place.

Before closing this post (which can scarcely be called a coherent blog reflection and more a serious of haphazard observations and musings), I must mention a few of the situations within MSA environments that I always found amusing. Have you ever wondered why there never seems to be any brothers around when it’s time to set up the da’wah stall or the hall for Friday prayers, but there seems to be – mashallah, mashallah – an abundance of brothers ready to help out with the BBQ, whether it be cooking the sausages, collecting money, or just standing unnecessarily close to the sister’s side of the table for no logical reason.

"Pass the tomato sauce, sister."

“Pass the tomato sauce, sister.”

You don’t need to be member of Mensa International to work out why that is. Everyone seems to be looking at each other and then quickly looking around at the ground or somewhere else. You can cut through the tension with a knife… or a tomato sauce bottle.

Moving right along to your input: have you noticed any peculiar incidents from your time being involved with MSAs? How many of the above scenarios ring true for you or people you know?

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4 responses to “A Brother’s Guide to the MSA (‘Matrimonial Services Association’)

  1. 2 and 3 are OK, if we are being realistic. A few raised eyebrows never hurt anyone. I prefer to see that, over say, the more common non-Muslims and Muslims romancing publicly. Lesser of two evils in my book.

    Few brothers will help out setting up, and this is why I found MSAs to be a total waste of time for dawah. The few shahadas you got weren’t related much to your work, and were by fluke. Otherwise, MSAs are good for those just seeking good company and thats it.

    • I’d have to agree with you. If people are going to try and meet a partner, better in the MSA than elsewhere. As for your point about da’wah, I also agree for the most part. The people I’ve seen in the MSA scene who came to Islam did so independently of MSA activity and just used the MSA for support. And yet Islamic Awareness Week churns on year after year!

  2. I don’t know about uni/MSA relationships or uni getting-to-know-one-another’s. It makes sense that it is simply an environment where Muslims may meet in a relatively professional manner and, thus – in keeping with the human being’s design – form a loose admiration of a person as “suitable material” (read, marriage).

    But then I think of it in a different way. If my younger sister or daughter were starting uni in a foreign city, I would grit my teeth at the thought of any boys even looking at my daughters twice – she’s there to study! Sure, there might be a good boy out there somewhere but certainly there are many more not-so-good boys out there, and I think overall protectiveness would lead this train of thought to conclude that MSAs should not be fertile grounds for matrimony and should not be treated as such! Segregated events/lectures/e-mails, the whole whack!

    But then I come back to 2013. And the fact that uni is just one of many places a person can meet another for marriage. What makes it different, other than that, admittedly, we’re young/jobless? If two decent like-minded people happen to meet, why is that a bad thing? Oh, a conundrum.

    • Personally I see no problem with meeting someone in the MSA. The only problems I’ve seen have arisen when people give others the wrong impression such as by not disclosing their relationship status and also looking with no intention of ‘buying’, if you know what I mean. Open communication is always key. If you know you’re not in a position whatsoever to get married, whether because you’re already getting to know someone or because your circumstances are just not right, be on guard. I also understand for parents it’s hard to stomach the idea of your kids meeting someone in an environment you have no control over. But this is the reality of 2013, as you say.

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