The Great Muslim Divide

I’ll make a Halal bet that when you read the title, you expected to hear about ideological, theological or some other -ogical split. Granted, there are plenty of those, but I’m referring here to another divide: the one between married people and non-married people. This divide manifests itself in all kinds of ways, both overt and subtle.

Because Muslims don’t live together before marriage, marriage is a much bigger step into the unknown than it is for most people today. Therefore, married people in the community tend to attract a certain mystique. Whether the married person is 18 or 28, their status in the community is instantly upgraded. This can be somewhat frustrating for single people, who complain that they’re treated as less mature and responsible than married people, even when those people are younger than them. They can sometimes feel discarded by married friends who were formerly their inseparable sidekicks, while married friends may feel their single friends are less than understanding when it comes to their lack of free time.

Marriage is an idealised state of existence. This is a universal phenomena, common to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. To be married is to be ‘complete’, to be single is to be lacking. While there has been a movement lately, a la Yasmin Mogahed and co, to redefine the love story of life being with Allah swt, this viewpoint hasn’t penetrated to all sectors of the community and most likely never will. There is still a great deal of emphasis on fulfilling half our deen and a great deal of suspicion towards those who seem less than eager to do so. People feel entitled to ask others about their relationship status and it’s not uncommon for girls (and probably guys too, though I’m obviously not in on those discussions) to sit around bemoaning their singledom.

A large part of this idealisation is attributable to an inherent human need for companionship. Marriage is the only way for a Muslim to achieve this intimacy and as such, will to some extent always be highly sought after as a state of being. The desire to get married isn’t solely to do with marriage itself either. For Muslims, marriage entails moving out of the family home for the first time, gaining autonomy over all aspects of life and making plans for the future independent of external constraints. It’s no wonder that single people living at home can feel as though their lives are in a permanent limbo, caught between being a child on the one side and being an adult on the other.

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Once people get married, many of them disappear from the Muslim community. It’s as though single people are conscripted to do their time until such time as they meet a partner, at which point they are released from their duties. Participation in community activities almost seems like a rite of passage for many Muslims, something to fill up the time until they enter the real world of full-time work and matrimonial bliss. This disappearing act also allows the idealisation of marriage to continue unabated. (Single people tend to assume their former comrades are off having the time of their life, when in fact they’re probably just doing boring things like sorting out their sock drawers.)

Of course there are married people who remain active in the community, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Let’s face it: under-employed students are always going to be the lifeblood of many community events. They have the time and energy and haven’t yet been stripped of all their illusions about changing the world. Maybe young Muslims get so burned out by their constant whirl of lectures, dinners and training workshops that marriage is simply a convenient exit point. I know I feel like I need time out if I get too immersed in Muslim community activities. Maybe married people simply get so used to their time-out that they never return from it. Life marches on mercilessly, and it’s as easy to fall out of the swing of things as it is to fall in.

As an unmarried person, there’s only so much I can surmise about marriage. I can and do talk to my married friends about their experiences, but until I get married myself, there will always be some element of guesswork involved. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal of marriage; it’s like a club with exclusive membership and secret codes of honour. The absence of married people from the realm they once inhabited is felt by those closest to them, but there are always new foot soldiers to make up the numbers at the registration tables and the da’wah stalls. As Mufasa would say, perhaps it’s all just part of the circle of life.

Have you noticed the disappearing act in the Muslim community? Do you notice a divide between married friends and non-married friends?

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6 responses to “The Great Muslim Divide

  1. Interesting thoughts πŸ™‚ when I was single I had a theory that if my friends disappeared then its either because they have some sort of trial in life or are getting married.

    Ps. Im worried about our dear single author.. Perhaps her deep or perhaps over-thinking of marriage will make her thought process very intense when its her turn.

    • And the trial in life is often related in some way to marriage :p Jazaks for the concern, but human relationships are just so fascinating! Some people like to analyse microbes, some like art, my academic interest is this area..but hopefully not confined to just this area!

  2. Having crossed this divide, I can think of three reasons why recently married couples are less visible in the community: relationships need to be cultivated and developing a healthy marriage is probably one of the most important acts of worship, social needs that were fulfilled by others are now being met by your spouse (at least partly), and adjusting to a different lifestyle and getting into routine takes time. Oh, and the fact that spending time with your spouse is just so much fun. πŸ™‚

    I do think it takes a lot of effort to get back into the swing of things in terms of community work after you’ve settled, but then again priorities shift and community work may not be as appealing as the rewards (and challenges!) of developing a family of your own.

    • I agree with all your reasons-as an unmarried person they all make sense, especially the part about spending time with your spouse πŸ˜€
      It’s definitely a juggling act. Family comes first, understandably, and when you get married you form your own little family before you even have kids, so I imagine after kids it’s an entirely different (juggling) ball game!

  3. This is an interesting topic. Before being married I use to see my friends one by one change and detach themselves from our group of friends as they got married. Possibly due to the reasons you mentioned, and whenever we met up again, it would be a disappointment seeing how boring they’d become. No common topics for conversation anymore. I made a point of not wanting to change and kept in touch with single friends, I was lucky (right choice of word?) to still be able to go out till 2 am with the single friends (not clubbing and yes all hijabis). I was very careful to not become a “boring, old married person.”
    7 years down the line, retrospectively, I think I was being immature.

    But once you reach this side of the divide, you will find a huge wall between those couples who have kids and those who don’t have any yet. And how they look at you and say “one day you’ll understand” is very similar to how married friends use to talk down to me when I was single…

    Never really thought of it in this way until now, thank you for sharing your interesting ideas and observations.

    • I know what you mean. Married people’s lives seem to follow a different course to their single friends, and there’s a gulf between their day-to-day lives that translates into their conversations. Married people generally tend to become less sociable and less in tune with what’s happening in the community, and single people may feel their concerns and issues seem trivial to their married friends. Then there’s the other gulf you mentioned. It’s just about the stage of life you’re in I guess.

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