Category Archives: Age

Life after 30 as a single Muslim woman

by Anonymous

If you’ve hit 30 and are still single, you’re probably not going to find your habibti/beta/canim.

Well then, now that’s I’ve gotten you all angry at the defeatist introduction, why not stay a while and read on yaar?

I remember reading an article once about women in their 30s missing from the marketing world, like they aren’t a desirable market to sell goods to – lingerie is for toned women in their 20s, domestic stuff is for mothers in their 40s and anything ‘cool’ is for the teen market. The writer lamented about being a demographic no one wanted to appeal to, like she had no market share valuable enough to target. It got me to thinking about how in Islamic cultures women in their 30’s are seen in the same light- you’re just not a marketable product to sell for marriage. Sorry hun, you’re like an iPhone 4…Apple don’t even want to sell you anymore.

I’ve had two friends in their early 20s actually say to my face they wanted to get married soon, as they were scared if they approach my age their prospects were next to none. As bi*chy as it sounds they honestly didn’t mean any malice by it; it was a sincere fear of theirs. This is what it’s like to be a single Muslim woman in your 30s-you’re not fabulous, you’re a warning sign that girls in their 20s will hear by their aunties not to end up like.

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Single, practicing Muslim women entering their 30s are a rising demographic. I feel like my generation of friends are the first to go through this new phenomenon, the battle between feeling like a suitable and eligible candidate for prospective men vs the shelf space put aside for you by everyone else.  I never realised moving to the next age box in a survey would dictate my self-worth so much.  I wasn’t taught this in school or at Islamic classes…

I’ve lost track of how many people have asked around about me casually and stopped as soon as they found out I was in my 30s. This means people had a good impression of my character from hearsay or having met me, or in the males’ case they clearly were attracted to me physically to want to pursue some more background information – the only thing that deterred them was my age. You can also forget the scenario where a brother is interested in meeting a sister for marriage and asks around – his requests always come with an age group – and you guessed it – 30 is the limit.

Our respective Muslim communities have failed us. Muslims living in the West are surrounded by other nationalities and religions in successful relationships with older / divorced women so it’s not a foreign concept to them. Our biggest male role model the Rasul (s.a.w) married older, divorced and single mothers – in fact the only younger wife was Aisha (ra). Men rush to lead by his example and grow a beard, use a miswak and give to charity… but when it comes to his example of marriage they simply have too much pride to consider a woman in her 30s, even then they are in the same age bracket too!

The shelf life of a woman is dictated by the elders in the community who reinforce the desirable ‘young beautiful virgin’ ideal to their sons, who are actually ‘old ugly and oversexed’ losers that frankly no self-respecting woman deserves to end up with. I’ve learnt long ago that just because community elders have lived longer doesn’t mean they know what’s best for your dunya and akhira, rather they were married off in a village at 16 and don’t really know any different to the lives they’ve led decades ago.  Can you count on your fingers how many Muslim women in their 30s have gotten married in the past year or so? Probably not even a handful, and most are to reverts who they met at work/social scenes who refreshingly don’t come with the cultural stigma attached.

Then you get told to have tawakkul and faith in God’s decree. It’s all ‘naseeb’, they tell you (after making you feel like and undesirable loser). Yes, definitely have tawakkul ladies, we do not know what it written for us, but I also believe in the ‘tie your camel’ story as a metaphor for how to then go about your life. I decided a few years ago to stop waiting for my knight in shining jilbab. I had too many dreams, and this life isn’t a fairy-tale. Start a relationship with your mind. Go back to studies if there are any topics of interest you’ve put off. Start dating your passport-instead of dinners, collect stamps and see the world! A honeymoon in Fiji shouldn’t be the only travel goal left for you. The world is too awesome to wait for someone to hold your hand and explore it with you. As lovely as it may sound, the longer you wait you’ll just end up renewing that passport with no stamps after its 10 year validity.

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You are not ‘half a Muslim’ because you’re not married. The ‘half your deen’ statement pertains to the fact that half the problems you will face with your iman will be marriage-related, and that is the specific test for married people.  Allah created you as complete in every way, and if men can’t see that, it is a product of their stupidity. So just politely ignore the gossipy aunties at the next social gathering where you are quite frankly the most fabulous woman in the room regardless of how you are made to feel.

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What it’s like to get married at 18

by Aisyah Shah Idil

It was my first year of university, and I was missing my friends desperately. None of them attended the university I did, so I made regular trips on the 891 bus to see them. It was the midday bus stop crowd – full of bored, listless students. I sympathized – UNSW’s stairs were nothing to scoff at.

I milled about, checked my watch, looked to my right – and stopped, dumbstruck.

Him! I knew him! I’d met him years ago, at an Islamic class. We knew each other, but lost contact soon after. That I had a huge crush on him was of little consequence.

I crept up behind him and said hi. He tore his earphones out of his ears and grinned widely at me – the both of us erupting into excited catch-ups. I noticed his hands were shaking.

Half a year later, we were married.

My husband was seventeen, and I was eighteen. By most people’s standards, that’s a fairly young age to get married. It’s been two years since I saw him at the bus stop, and in that time, I have learnt so much more than I ever imagined. About myself and my husband, our flaws and our strengths – how difficult it is to assert your standing in family gatherings where you are both the youngest and just how fun it is to be in the same uni tutorial as your husband.

But being married young does have its challenges. Neither of us had jobs when we got married – or all the trappings of wealth that it came with. My wedding dress was a present from my mother, and he wore his beat-up Vans. We had no lavish buffet, no honeymoon abroad. We didn’t have the immediate aura of Adulthood ™ – but we were honest in our love for each other, and we were willing to learn.

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(Also, we’ve been accused of adultery far more than is reasonable. Hanging out at a bus-stop with my husband wasn’t exactly asking for a car full of men to stop outside and shout ‘haram!’ at us, but hey, what do I know. It seemed pretty clear to them, considering they came back three times.

Pro-tip: don’t accuse people of adultery. It will never end well.)

I always feel a little bemused when people ask me what it’s like to be married young. Young marriage is my only experience of marriage, and it’s about as strangely wonderful as it gets. When I procrastinate for my university assignments, I have my husband to hug me and tell me everything will be okay. When I realise I’ve been on my laptop too long and miss my friends, it’s my husband that makes sure I text them. When my husband got his P’s, I was the first person he told.

This is my normality. It is nothing like I thought it would be, and yet so, so much more beautiful.

When you have people mocking the idea that you, you with all your wide-eyed inexperience, your freshly framed school graduation paper, your lack of whatever adulthood is marked by, could ever love deeply enough to want marriage – could ever love deeply enough to make it last – it can hurt.

And when enough people do it, it can sound true.

But this is the thing – I believe that every single one of us is capable of immense, wondrous love. Love that is a tiny reflection of the sheer mercy and rahma of Allah, Most High. However it manifests is up to you – be it to your spouse, your friends, your parents, your teachers, your pets – or all of them! Because at the root of it, I believe love is the same throughout. It is the sincere concern for one another, the want to have the other be well, and whole, and happy and healthy. It is that longing to truly know one another, and to be truly known by one another.

And that is never bound by age.

Marrying my husband was a wonderful decision: A+ would do again. But it was still only a single decision. Far more important were the little ones – the decision to let my husband sleep in while I sort the groceries, the decision he makes to comfort me when I am scared of losing him. Loving is in action, and if you are worried that youth cannot love, then perhaps we haven’t taught them well enough.

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I’m not here to convince you that young marriages are worthy of respect. Opinions have no influence on worth, and every single person is worthy of love, respect and kindness. Whether they marry young, old, or never at all does nothing to change this. If I had married when I was thirty (as my younger self aspired to) with a career and car and savings all in hand, that would have been just as valid as my marriage today – no more and no less. No more deserving of people’s understanding, kindness and compassion; and no less of people’s condescension, judgment and assumption.

When I told the people around me that I was getting married, I took their ‘congratulations’ and ‘alf mabrooks’ with a healthy dose of surprise. Where was the ‘what are you doing with your life?’ or ‘you are far too young to make this decision’. The people I loved trusted my judgement more than I did, and that was humbling. They gave me loving advice, a soundboard for my fears and an assurance that no matter what: Allah SWT has me safely in His plan.

I got married with the quiet confidence that no matter what age I was, I would love and endeavor to love the man that Allah SWT opened my heart to. And at the age of eighteen, I promised Him to do just that.

 

Muslims and Pre-marital Sex

A few months ago I stumbled on a Christian website called Relevant Magazine, and I’ve been hooked ever since, right-wing politics aside. I love the way commonalities between practising Christians and Muslims just jump off the page at me, but most of all I love the honesty and openness of many of their featured articles, particularly when it comes to relationships. (Duh, what else?) Perhaps someday I’ll get around to setting up something like this for Muslims, given the pressing need for it.  But in the meantime, I recently had a read of an article on the prevalence of pre-marital sex called ‘The Secret Sexual Revolution’ which really got me thinking.

The article was interesting to me because it raised several points I’d been mulling over in relation to this topic. Obviously for Muslims, the rule is no touching at all before marriage vs. no sex before marriage for Christians, but nevertheless many of the points really resonate with the Muslim experience. I found this point particularly relevant:

“We have to recognize that people are not married during the years when their hormones are hardest to control,” McKnight says. “So weʼre dealing with a very serious issue that needs to be treated from a variety of angles and not simply the moral angle that itʼs wrong outside of marriage.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought it was a bit rich of parents to urge their kids to wait for years until until they’re ‘ready’ to get married, but then be shocked to the core if their kids are caught out doing something . In fact, it seems some parents are willing to turn a blind eye-in effect, a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. They hope that their kids aren’t doing anything, but if they really turned their minds to the issue, they’d realise that being in a relationship for years outside of marriage presents plenty of opportunities to succumb to temptation.

There are very few studies, if any, on levels of sexual activity amongst Muslims outside of marriage. Very few people would admit to it, partly out of social conditioning, partly out of the very real shame which accompanies any type of sin. We’re told to keep our sins secret, after all. But does that mean no Muslims ever do anything at all outside of marriage? Of course not. In saying this, I’m not trying to normalise or condone it, but simply acknowledging reality.

If people are doing things the ‘traditional’ way i.e. some stranger coming to their house to get to know them, it’s generally quite easy to avoid physical contact before marriage. Even if the thought crossed either party’s mind, circumstance simply wouldn’t present itself. But for some people an engagement is enough license to have some level of physical contact. We’ve all seen the photos of engaged couples standing very close together, or maybe even with a sneaky arm around the waist. When it’s parentally-sanctioned, it can be easy to forget that it’s not necessarily God-sanctioned.

When people meet of their own accord at uni or community events, things can get a bit sticky. Things get especially sticky when you put two young people together who are both at uni and thus are unlikely to be able to get married any time soon. Not only are their hormones running wild, but they also have a lot of time on their hands as full-time students and a lot of chances to ‘bump into each other’ in various places. Hormones + opportunity=plenty of temptation. If you don’t acknowledge this, you’re simply in denial.

Then there are those Muslims who date non-Muslims and thus enter a world where sex before marriage is the norm. Many of these people will re-enter the Muslim scene at some point and if they’ve managed to keep their ‘double life’ quiet, can do so without attracting much notice or suspicion. These people tend to discard their past sins like rubbish and hope that it never surfaces and starts to stink up their new ‘Halal’ relationship.

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For Muslims who do succumb, the guilt, shame and self-loathing can be difficult to bear. These factors can often contribute to the complete failure of the relationship in question. These people will then often feel the failure of the relationship is a punishment for their sins and will come to terms with it as such. For others, the physical intimacy can act as a glue: the parties can feel they have no choice but to get married, even if they don’t necessarily want to. They feel that once they’ve taken the step of having physical contact, there’s no way out. They may fear a new person would find out about their past and as such feel that they’d be ‘safer’ just sticking with the person they’re already with.

From my perusals of Relevant Magazine, I’ve stumbled across the concept of ‘restoring virginity’. This is where individuals or couples who have previously engaged in pre-marital sex make a commitment to abstain from now until such time they get married. Again, it’s hard to say how many Muslim couples make commitments like this, but I’d imagine it’s not unheard of. I’ve certainly observed couples who were quite openly ‘dating’ make the switch to a more socially and religiously accepted form of courtship. This public switch may then also necessitate serious overhauls of the rules of private engagement.

As I’ve said many times in many posts, no one is perfect. No one. While it’s unhelpful to think that ‘everyone else is probably doing it too’, it’s also unhelpful to think that no one has ever done it, because that means that the issue is simply swept under the rug. I’m pleased to see a few tentative steps towards more openness in discussing these issues in the Muslim community, but we still have a long way to go. It’s not enough to simply tell people it’s wrong; that much is obvious to even the least observant of Muslims. In another Relevant Magazine article, I was struck by the practicality of some of the tips on avoiding pre-marital sex, including, rather hilariously, advising women not to shave their legs.

Do you think there needs to be more discussion on these issues? Have they affected you and people around you?

Young Love

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.

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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?

Twenty five, marriage prospects dive

I’m twenty two years old. In Muslim years, this means I’m getting on a bit. I’m no longer the sparkly young debutante I was at 18, when volunteering at events was like totally the coolest thing everrrr. I’m getting to be in what’s known as ‘the marriage danger zone’ i.e. you’d better get married soon or the pickings are going to get slim (disclaimer: I’m just using myself as an example here, don’t get any ideas). But it’s not all gloom and doom. It could be much worse: I could be twenty five.

What’s so damning about the age twenty five, you ask? Well, when discussing this matter with friends we’ve generally agreed that it’s the age at which a woman starts to face some serious difficulties getting married. Twenty five, being a fairly solid figure, seems to indicate a level of maturity that twenty four and three quarters does not. Twenty five suggests a few rungs up the career ladder, solo overseas jaunts and a robust bank balance. (These might sound great to recruiters, but not so great to aunties looking for wives for their precious sons.) It seems to scream, ‘I’ve passed through all these years of awkward lounge room encounters  AND attended countless community events, and yet here I am, ring-finger naked as ever!’ To potential suitors and their families, this seems to suggest either:

a.) The girl is picky. Maybe she’s too ‘into her career’ (tsk tsk, you feminazi), or just too hard to please.

b.) There must be something ‘wrong’ with her, or she would’ve been snapped up sooner.

Let me state clearly: I do not agree with these conclusions. There could be any number of reasons why a woman is unmarried, and it’s horribly unfair to assume that it’s due to some fault or defect as if she were a car lingering for months on carsales.com.au. I also feel it’s somewhat unfair that this rule only applies to women; men continue to be eligible well into their late twenties and beyond. But I acknowledge that there are reasons for the latter disparity. Muslim men are generally discouraged from getting married before they have a stable source of income, and for many this isn’t feasible before at least the age I’m at now. As men, it is their responsibility to support their wives financially, while females are under no obligation to contribute to household finances when they work. That is why you tend to see many girls getting married while still studying at university or even earlier.

Clock's a ticking!

Clock’s a ticking!

In this competitive marriage market, youthfulness is definitely seen as an asset.  In fact, I’ve heard many stories of Muslim men being warned against marrying someone of their own age, or God forbid, an older woman. They’re told that these women will be ‘too set in their ways’. Mothers even warn their daughters against marrying anyone too close to them in age, telling them that they’ll look older than their husband in the distant future. These notions are underpinned, in my opinion, by insecurity and fear. A man has nothing to fear from a woman who has racked up an impressive list of achievements before becoming his wife, and a woman has nothing to fear from a man who, inshaAllah, should be able to look beyond stretch wrinkles, lumps and bumps (surely he’ll accumulate a few of his own, after all).

A certain stigma attaches itself to a woman who remains single years after her ‘prime’, regardless of her own feelings on the matter. Having spoken to many such women, their feelings on being single in this unforgiving climate vary from sorrow to ambivalence to relative contentment. In the words of one friend, ‘I’d rather be a crazy old cat lady than marry someone I don’t like.’ But on the other hand I’ve also spoken to girls who’ve seen their older friends remain single into their late twenties and are taking proactive steps to avoid the same fate. For these girls, the prospect of turning twenty five and still being single is one which fills them with deep sadness and regret.

In non-Muslim years, twenty five is nothing to worry about. The average age of marriage in Australia is just under thirty for a woman and just over thirty for a man, so there’s still plenty of time to date, cohabit and eventually marry. But Muslims tend to do everything on fast forward; we skip the years of dating and cohabiting and go straight for marriage. When there’s no physical or even deep emotional intimacy before marriage, it’s not hard to imagine why the age of twenty five is just right. In fact, it might even be considered fairly late to be getting into the swing of things, if you know what I mean 😉

For those over twenty five, did you notice anything change once you hit this age? For those under twenty five, do you feel the pinch the closer you get to it? Or is age just a number?