The space in between

Believers are urged to be cognisant of their own mortality. It sounds morbid, but in fact can be the exact opposite: recognising that life is transient can be the most freeing realisation we can ever come to. This is especially the case when it comes to relationships. In my last post, I spoke about competition for spouses. It’s an icky topic and not one I particularly enjoy speaking about, but this doesn’t mean it’s any less important than other, ‘fluffier’ concerns. In fact, the topics that make our skin crawl are often the most pressing and immediate.

Yes, competition does exist. It’s downright silly to be a climate change sceptic when its by-products are felt on the skin and in the air i.e. they affect us in tangible ways, regardless of whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Conditions are certainly not conducive to meeting a partner when:

a.) the overwhelming majority of the population are off-limits

For those of us who live in countries with overwhelmingly non-Muslim populations, 99% of the people we meet are not potential partners, as cool as they are to discuss stuff over the water cooler with.

b.) the opportunities to meet eligible people of the opposite sex are scarce

I don’t want to weigh into the segregation debate because it’s a topic far too heavy (yes, I did go there-lame) for the likes of me, but in practical terms there are few opportunities for Muslim men and women to even converse. The flip-side of this issue is when Muslim men and women begin to mix so closely and on such friendly terms that marriage doesn’t even enter the equation, as is the case amongst in some circles. Neither set of conditions provides fertile soil for the seeds of romantic interest to grow and blossom into fruition.

c.) let’s not even speak about opportunities, do Muslims of the opposite sex even exist? (as the popular catch-cry goes)

For some, it’s not a question of opportunity: they’ve begun to doubt that people of the opposite sex even exist in equal number or quality. They haven’t seen evidence of it, and have stopped waiting to be proven wrong. They’re more hopeful of encountering a dodo (and a flying one, at that) than a ‘decent’ man/woman.

If this was where the narrative ended, we’d all be tearing our hijabs and kufis off in despair. We certainly shouldn’t, given the hopeful state a believer is meant to uphold, but it’s all too understandable, this fear of being forever alone. The strange truth of modern life is that for all our means of staying ‘connected’, true connections feel more tenuous and elusive than ever. The worst type of loneliness is that which we feel when standing in the middle of a crowd, and there’s no escaping the crowd in today’s world, whether on Facebook, Twitter or the multitude of annoying Whatsapp groups.

So where do we go from here? Do we all clamber over each other like wild beasts whenever someone half-decent pops up? Do we simply give up and wait for ‘fate’ to take its course? There must be a space in-between, surely. A space between fear and hope, between action and passivity. A space which allows us to be open to giving our heart to someone, but closed enough to maintain our sense of self-worth. A space in which we recognise the Divine as sufficient, but human company as the greatest comfort of this world. A space where we can laugh at the absurdity of it all, (c’mon, as if the phrase ‘getting to know someone’ doesn’t make you laugh too) but still maintain the sanctity of our feelings and the feelings of others.

All this may sound wishy-washy and idealistic in the face of the tedious, painful slog many people face on the path to marriage, but let’s put things into perspective. I’m not advocating we all adopt a meek, resigned form of fatalism; I truly believe that we’re meant to get right in there and tie that smelly old camel. But we should do so with regard to that middle ground. In real-world terms, this means giving someone a go where no obvious incompatibilities exist. It means not waiting for that state of mythical ‘readiness’, but saving our pennies for the fridge and dryer we might need one day.

When we’ve tried and tried and it still hasn’t worked out, it’s not unexpected that we bang our heads against the hardest object we can stand. (For most of us, this is our long-suffering pillow.) Once we’ve exhausted this option, we can tell ourselves that life is transient and that whatever was meant for us would never have missed us. All these platitudes are no less true for all that they’re clichéd. And if they help us get to that space between InshaAllah i.e,  I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure this one works out and Alhamdulillah i.e. you know what, I’m cool either way as long as I have my faith, family and those Nutella jars, then I think we might just be doing okay.

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4 responses to “The space in between

  1. I feel like being a Muslim living in non-Muslim countries makes a lot of us crave for romance so much. In the U.S., love is heavily advertised, so naturally, it makes sense for Muslims to feel left out and basically want “what we can’t have.” Not only that, but like you said, not all of us have the same objectives in mind. If we do happen to find someone, they may just have a friendly personality or they’re probably looking for something not-so-exclusive. These are the only reasons I would ever appreciate gender segregation.

    • Pop culture definitely plays a part in making people feel inadequate for not being in a relationship-you can see this especially as we get closer to Valentine’s Day!
      And you’re right, it’s always tricky to know who’s ‘looking’ and who’s not. The boundaries are often unclear and difficult to ascertain.

  2. Excellent post. I especially like the bit about saving up for marriage even when there’s nothing on the horizon. In my own marriage quest, I partly did that, but also went about buying books about marriage to educate myself – even though it seemed that there was very little chance of marriage happening to me.

    It also helps to work on yourself – your deen especially. Instead of obsessing about potential spouses, when it will happen, etc, it’s far more productive to work on yourself, so that when that special person comes along, you’ll be a much better person – both for yourself and him/her/your marriage. That strategy is also really helpful on the emotional side, because it’s just too taxing to always be focussing on the marriage quest, especially if it means you neglect so many other good things in life.

    Regarding pop culture and romance, personally, I was someone who was ingrained in the culture of romantic movies, music, etc. But I reached a point where just seeing that on screen became too painful for me – because it made me long so much for what I didn’t have (and knew I couldn’t have immediately). That pain drove me to make a choice to turn away from such movies, videos, etc. In other words, I ‘lowered my gaze’ from the romance of pop culture.

    And that step really, really helped emotionally. When you deliberately cut yourself off from those things – when you avoid exposing yourself to that – it’s one less aspect of loneliness to deal with.

    As for making an effort even when you don’t think there’s compatibility, I consider that good advice too. When my wife and I first met, she didn’t see me as someone she’d marry. But she realised that she had been making so much dua for marriage, and Allah was giving her this opportunity, so she couldn’t just throw it away. She gave it a shot, and alhamdullilah, we’re now in the 7th year of marriage.

    Before marriage, all those superficial factors (looks especially) weigh heavily in the heart (for guys more, I think). But after marriage, those things fall away – or at least, you figure out how they’re not actually the most important thing. What matters more is character and how you treat each other as you live your lives together, in the same home.

    Mentally, I don’t think you can convince yourself to adjust your mindset this way before marriage. You have to be married first, before it’ll truly dawn on you.

    Anyway, apologies for the essay here, but a lot of the points in the post and comments brought up issues that I wanted to speak about. May Allah make this post and its comments a means of benefit – for both the unmarried and the married.

    • Please don’t apologise-I really enjoyed reading your ‘essay!’
      I definitely agree about the part on working on yourself, essentially becoming the kind of person you’d want to marry. But I don’t think that marriage would inhibit personal growth, nor do I feel that at some magical point you’ll feel ‘ready’. But obviously working on yourself should be your primary commitment, whether marriage is a part of your present or not.
      That’s interesting about cutting yourself off from popular culture. I’ve also felt at times that movies and songs re-enforce a particular mindset which can be harmful and make you become fixated on romance and wanting to ‘experience’ a range of feelings. Although we can say that it doesn’t affect us, that we don’t take it seriously, I think on some level it inevitably permeates our subconscious.
      May Allah swt protect your marriage and continue to bring you much happiness, ameen. Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

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