I have a few friends who managed to avoid any serious entanglements of the heart. Some did so intentionally because they believed that a Muslim should be in control of their feelings and not allow themselves to like someone. Some did so by chance; they simply never met anyone who caught their eye and so opted for the ‘traditional’ route I described in my last post.
But the majority of Muslims, like most people, have experienced the feeling of being romantically interested in someone. The sweaty palms, the averted gazes. (Muslims are the masters of gaze-averting under normal circumstances, but when we like someone it’s even harder to look them in the eye than usual.) The earth-shattering thump of the heart. The desire to know every little detail about the person, down to their favourite colour and whether they like their steak medium or well done. But once a Muslim knows they like someone, what on earth do they do about it?
The answer to this question is largely dependent on several factors. The first of these is the level of conservatism of the parties involved. If you think you can dismiss people at the most conservative end of the spectrum from the world of romantic entanglements, think again. Humans are humans. Just because someone doesn’t interact much with the opposite sex doesn’t mean they’re any less susceptible to forming a romantic attachment. In fact, these people are particularly susceptible to interest of the mooning over variety. (Fleeting glimpses and prolonged gaze-averting tends to have that effect.) Their conservatism just means they’ll go about things a bit differently.
If a person from the most conservative end of the spectrum does develop a romantic interest in someone, they’ll be sure to keep it well-hidden. They’ll be well-aware that in some circles admitting that you like someone is akin to admitting to shoplifting, the underlying assumption being that good Muslims are above such things. Therefore, in person they’ll maintain their usual level of decorum despite the butterflies on speed roaming around their belly. In the meantime, they’ll analyse their interest and ask themselves: is this really someone I can see as a future spouse? Do they have the requisite qualities, or is this just a silly crush? If the answer is in the negative to both, they’ll quietly file the episode away in their mental cabinet. If they’re sufficiently disciplined, they’ll file it so far back that it’ll give them no further cause for concern.
If they do decide that their feelings align with rational box-ticking, they’ll proceed as though the feelings were never a significant factor to begin with. (As I mentioned above, they won’t want anyone to think less of them for being in love. In fact, they probably dislike thinking of their interest in those terms even in the privacy of their own brain.) If they approach the person, it’ll be in measured, formal tones. In many cases they’ll enlist the aid of a third party to convey their interest, which they’ll have watered down so much that the girl in question won’t know any more than ‘this brother thinks you’re a good sister’. Thereafter, the process tends to take on a life of its own independent of any feelings which may have sparked it off. Those feelings will only come to the fore once the contract is signed, sealed and delivered.
For Muslims who are somewhere in the middle , things get very confusing. These Muslims tend to have a bit more contact with the opposite sex, which opens the door to all sorts of covert activities of the does-he-like-me variety. Cue the Facebook stalking, the online banter and the awkward in-person chitchat at Islamic events and classes. The main purpose of all these activities will be to gauge the other party’s level of conservatism. If they appear to be the type who is generally open and friendly with the opposite sex, it’s very difficult to discern whether they return your interest or whether they’re just being themselves. I’ve seen disastrous things go down where A likes B and thinks B likes them too because they talk regularly, but all B was doing was being their friendly self.
If one of these middle-of-the-spectrum Muslims does start to like someone, they’ll suss it out by being slightly friendlier than usual. They’ll be careful not to overdo it. That way, they can make a quiet exit if it appears the person doesn’t share their feelings. They’ll linger slightly in conversations, drag a necessary PM exchange out for a just a tad longer than the topic requires and laugh just that little bit more at their jokes. If the person responds in an equally friendly manner, they’ll keep going. But the interest can remain unspoken for a long time. Even where the parties are constantly talking online or have even exchanged a few text messages and phone calls, someone still needs to express outright interest.
The way this can happen ranges from the subtle to the hammer-blunt. ‘What’s going on here?’ is a common one. The translation of that from Muslim-speak into normal English is: ‘We’re talking all the time, and both of us are single. If you’re not going to take it any further, stop wasting my time, buddy.’ The blunt approach includes simply asking ‘Are you interested in me?’ or ‘What are your intentions in talking to me?’ Placing the focus on intention often makes the other person feel guilty; if they weren’t actually interested in the person they may feel as though they led them on. This is where levels of conservatism come into play again. If both parties are fairly liberal, they may feel free to have frequent interactions with neither party interpreting it as a sign of romantic interest. But for everyone else, regular interaction without a concrete purpose means only one thing.
Another factor I should mention which influences if and how people will act on their feelings is their perceived readiness for marriage. If they feel unready, they’re a lot more likely to keep their interest to themselves unless it’s burning a hole in their stomach with its intensity. But if nothing’s stopping them from getting married, they’ll most likely just go for it, either by telling the person or getting someone else to do the job for them. Circumstance plays a huge part in governing feelings due to the simple reason that Muslims don’t date. Therefore, it’s all or nothing. If a Muslim likes someone and decides to act on it, they have to be prepared to go the whole hog and get married if the getting-to-know-you game works out. This understandably makes a little crush or romantic inclination a lot more serious.
If you liked someone, what would you do about it? Do you think feelings should play a significant part in determining whether to get to know someone?