Category Archives: Meeting a Partner

When Muslim meets Tinder

The rise of Tinder and Tinder-esque apps clearly demonstrates that we’re still trying to answer the age-old question: how on earth do I meet someone when I’m busy, permanently glued to my phone and more adept at a Facebook stalk than a real-life conversation? Of course, being part of any minority group compounds the issue, so it was only a matter of time before Muslims jumped on the app bandwagon and got cracking with their own versions.

I’ve spoken to a few people about whether they’d use these apps and responses have been mixed. Some people are open to it, seeing it as convenient and discreet. But others feel that swiping left or right to meet a partner cheapens the process of meeting a partner, that it erodes the seriousness and sanctity of getting to know someone within a Muslim framework. Others feel like it’d be too awkward to use an app like this because the chances of them having a cyber run-in with an ex or unwanted acquaintance are just too high. (The Muslim community in Sydney particularly is  like a squishy anthill, so I don’t blame them.)

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Whatever your feelings are on these apps, the demand for them is undeniable. I decided to head straight to the source and had a chat with Khalil Jessa, the creator of Salaam Swipe, and Hamid Saify, the creator of the Crescent app. While both are based in North America, they anticipate that their apps will have global reach across Muslim diaspora communities.

Jessa experienced these issues first-hand as a young Muslim in Canada and felt that “it is just too difficult to meet one another within our communities”, citing lack of opportunity and space to meet people as a key issue for Muslims. Saify echoed this, saying that “[y]ou either know all the Muslims in your community, or you live in a city without many options to explore the potential of love.” He noted that there were few “inclusive” spaces for Muslims of all stripes and colours to meet other Muslims, something he hopes will change with apps such as his.

Both apps have similar functionality to Tinder, which I flagged as a potential issue for some Muslims, given that app’s rather (cough) seedy reputation. Jessa stated that “[t]he fact that people are making a conscious attempt to find someone of their faith on Salaam Swipe shows that they are looking for something more meaningful than just a casual relationship.”Saify emphasised the flexibility of using Crescent, noting that while some may be on there to get married, others may just be looking to make friends.

Privacy and discretion are key in this game. For those worrying about their Facebook friends popping up as potential matches, Salaam Swipe has a feature which specifically weeds out Facebook friends. Saify admitted that there is a stigma attached to Muslims meeting people online, and while he notes that it’s already happening,  “no one is going to readily admit it.” However, Jessa believed that “it makes total sense” to search for someone online, particularly for Muslims who are looking for very specific characteristics in a partner.

Both Jessa and Saify feel that their apps provide a safe space for young Muslims who may have few alternatives. Saify noted that there is often “friction” associated with Muslims meeting partners and that apps like Crescent can play a part in making the process smoother and more natural, while Salaam Swipe reflects an attempt on Jessa’s part to “level the playing field and make it as fun and easy to meet people within our community, as it is to meet people outside of our community.”

Studies have shown that a third of couples in the US now meet online, and it appears that many Muslims are jumping right on board. Jessa laughingly notes that he would definitely use his own app, while Saify also tried his hand at Muslim and Afghan matrimonial sites before meeting his wife (offline, as it so happens). To swipe left, or right, or not at all? The choices are now all at your fingertips.

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Would you use apps like this? Why or why not?

The most annoying things you can say to your single Muslim friends

Like pretty much everywhere else, the Muslim community can be a cruel and inhospitable landscape for singles to negotiate. If you’re too overt about wanting to get married, you’re seen as some kind of insecure, hormonally-charged weirdo. If you don’t seem all that interested in getting married, you’re seen as self-centred and are told to ‘grow up’. People are seldom shy about offering their ‘advice’ about what you can do to change or reconcile yourself to your relationship status, but this frequently descends into cute, well-meaning but rather hilarious clichés, as demonstrated below:

1.)    It’ll happen when you least expect it.

This is so incredibly clichéd that you can’t help but roll your eyes every time you hear it. What if you’re always expecting it? What if you’re not expecting it, but it just doesn’t happen either? Can you synchronise the moment you stop expecting it with the moment it actually happens?

2.) You’re just too picky.

This translates to ‘just marry the first dude/gal who isn’t certifiably insane’. Or, ‘marry your second cousin, it’s not like it’s your first!’

3.)    You gotta put yourself out there more!

To a certain extent, this is true. You’re probably not going to meet someone if you’re sitting at home and twiddling your thumbs, unless someone happens to pass by your front door and think your thumb-twiddling is really cute. But this begs the question: why is it often the most active and ‘visible’ people in the community who remain perennially single?

4.)    It’s because you’re too into your career/too opinionated/have a brain

This one is most often thrown at those poor Muslim women who are seen to be ‘intimidating’. Basically, the take-home message is this: alter your personality, lifestyle and values entirely, and then someone will love you for who you are.

5.)    One day, someone will come along and you’ll understand why it didn’t work out with all those other people.

This is one of those quotes everyone posts on Instagram in cursive writing against an ocean backdrop. Ah, the mythical Prince/Princess Charming who’ll redeem you and restore your broken trust in humankind…*tumbleweed blows*

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Image from gossipaunty.com

6.)  Being single is awesome, enjoy it!

Any state you’re in is awesome if you feel it’s one you’ve at least had some say in. But if you feel as though you’ve been relegated there and have no way out, that’s when it tends to feel like you’re a mouse in some really trippy and unethical cosmetics experiment.

7.) Don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll be your turn soon.

Marriage is not a carousel ride with an orderly queuing system, folks. There are no ‘turns’ and no way of knowing where your place in the ‘queue’ is. The simple fact is that some people may never get married at all, and that’s fine if they’re fine with that reality.

8.) You just gotta have tawakkul, man.

Obvious statement is obvious. Besides, would you tell someone not to bother applying for jobs and just have tawakkul that one will shimmy its way over?

9.) Don’t worry, you still have plenty of time!

Time is all you got as a single person, baby. Nothing but time to hug your cat, water your cactus and get into Facebook fights with people you’ve never met.

10.) Maybe you’ve left it a bit late.

Ok, good. Now will you stop talking about it?

Seriously though, duas and love (of the most Halal version) to all the singles. If you’re searching, may Allah swt bless you with the best partner if it’s best for you, and if you’re happily solo, maybe, just maybe, it’ll happen when you least expect it. Now there’s one you haven’t heard before.

Reference checks

Pardon me for the unromantic analogy, but in many ways the process of meeting a spouse is comparable to hiring a new employee. You put out feelers when you’re looking, whether through word of mouth or outright ‘advertisement’. You cull people along the way who just don’t match the selection criteria. When you have a candidate in mind, you may just do some reference-checking to ensure that they’re not wanted for suspect offshore holdings in the Cayman Islands.

Of course, if it’s done the ‘traditional’ way then the reference-checking part is easy. You meet their family from the get-go, a third party will give you the lowdown on the person in question and there’ll usually be some kind of tenuous link between your family and theirs, even if it’s just that your third cousin’s husband’s son knows their great-aunt’s nephew. (By ‘knows’, I mean were at the same wedding with 500 other people ten years ago.) But when you’ve met someone ‘organically’ or are trying to meet people, how do you go about making sure that they actually:

  1. Want to get married
  2. Are single
  3. Aren’t wanted for suspect offshore holdings in the Cayman Islands.

The ‘single’ part is usually the easiest one to find out. While people don’t tend to broadcast their relationships before they put a ring on it, it’s not that difficult to do a bit of digging to find that information. Someone usually knows something, even if it’s .0001% of the truth. At this stage, you can then bow out gracefully and turn your attention to the next candidate/cry into a pillow/wait around to see if they become single.

But suppose they are single. How then are you to determine whether they actually want to get married? It’s foolish to assume that merely being single equates to possessing an active desire to get married. This is the mistake many people make when they either consider X, or consider suggesting X to Y: all they know is that X is single, and they don’t bother to dig any deeper.

It sounds obvious, but I’ll say it again: just because someone isn’t in a relationship doesn’t mean they’re looking to be in one. They could just enjoy being single for the time being. They could be recovering from a broken heart. They could be trying to make a bit of money first…or shunt it all to the Cayman Islands. Or like many people, they could just be waiting to ‘feel it’. Therefore, before you go launching heart-first into something, it’s worth asking either the person in question or the person who has suggested them: does X solemnly, sincerely and truly have the means and desire to get married? (Apologies for the legal-speak, but you get the drift.)

If the answer is yes, then this is where the character checks can come in. Of course, it’s hard to know: how much weight do you give to people’s testimonials? If you like the person, chances are you’re not going to heed a ‘bad’ character check anyway. Besides, just because someone has a ‘past’ doesn’t mean they’re going to make a poor spouse. This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, flaw in the character-checking process: having a few relationships can render you a ‘player’, a silly Facebook post becomes an indication of your intelligence or lack thereof. The court of public opinion is often unkind and unforgiving.

The other problem with asking around about someone is that it’s really hard to be discreet about it. If you’re getting to know someone or considering getting to know them, you probably don’t want people to know about it. But it may be that the information you want or need can only come from someone you don’t know very well, so you may then have to get your friend to ask their friend to ask their friend, and of course, the information will either not come back to you at all or come back to you in some garbled form. (Obviously this could all be avoided if people were more open and honest and if that openness wasn’t treated as ‘desperation’, but that’s a post for another day.)

Of course, many people will tell you to just ‘trust your gut’. But again, this comes with all sorts of complications. Feelings can blind you to the obvious. If you want to be with someone, you may ignore serious warning signs. Sometimes it just feels right, and it is right. But sometimes it feels right when it’s oh-so-wrong, and all the Istikhara in the world isn’t going to cut it if your mind is already so fixated on the one goal.

As always, there are no hard and fast rules with the process. Much of it is determined by context. If you have lots of mutual friends with the person, you probably don’t need to do any kind of background checks. If you meet them and get to know them in a non-romantic context first, you probably know enough about them to just go with your gut. If they’re some person you’ve never met who adds you on Facebook, you probably want to hire a private investigator before you go there.

Do you ask around about someone you’re interested in? Do you ‘trust your gut’ when it comes to a potential partner?

 

Guys, man up

*The identity of the author has been kept anonymous.

I am a young man and I have a bit of a problem with the males in our community. In fact, saying that it is a “bit” of a problem may potentially be an understatement – I have quite a problem with a certain issue that I see in the community and I think that we, the males of the community, are largely to blame. Before I get into what the actual issue is, I want to put out a disclaimer; I have nothing against the Muslim community and in fact I strongly believe that there is abundant goodness in us. I’m not one of those Muslims who likes to bash the community at every possible occasion and I get thoroughly fed up with such antics. However, in saying that, I do believe that there is a glaring problem before us that we need to face. My problem is the treatment of our sisters.

I’m not talking about individual cases, I’m talking about wholesale and general attitudes. The problem is that we push sisters into a dark little predetermined corner. We expect that they will only ever speak about or address “womens’ issues”, that they will only ever think about matters of hijab, marriage and raising children. We tend to, whether knowingly or not, relegate sisters to being secondary members of the community, not primary members. They are forced, through the pigeon-holing of males generally, to occupy a thoroughly limited standing in our community. I have a very big problem with this.

Our sisters are literally half of our community but we relegate them to being secondary, if even that? To be quite honest, that is simply ludicrous. Our sisters should be an active, vocal and central part of our community. By all means tackle women specific issues, but for goodness sake they should be addressing and thinking about far more than that! It is not as though our sisters exist in some kind of vacuum where they only ever have to deal with that very limited range of issues. They live in the same society that we males occupy and they will most likely face similar, or the same, issues. So yes our sisters should be politically aware and active, they should understand issues of ideology and society, they should have input in the direction of this community and have just as significant a say in our affairs as the males. They should be doctors, lawyers, teachers, academics and whatever else their potential may allow for them to be. To push our sisters into a metaphorical corner where they are to only ever cook, clean and have children is wholly unjustifiable and would only be to the detriment of our community.

I do admit here that I am speaking generally, so there will definitely be exceptions. I find few things more refreshing that seeing young, articulate, confident, outspoken, vocal, principled and intellectually charged Muslim sisters who defiantly push against pressures and expectations. They rock the boat and they rock the community as much as they’d be rocking a cradle. Such sisters are treasures of our community and their ambitions and aspirations should be facilitated, not nipped in the bud. In saying this, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that sisters should abandon their Islamically enshrined roles, responsibilities and duties that come with being a wife and a mother. There is no doubt that these are obligations and most all sisters are aware of that and don’t plan on neglecting them. However, just because they must adhere to these obligations does not at all mean that they should be limited to child rearing and household cleaning. Apparently women are brilliant at multitasking, so it shouldn’t be a problem for them to be engaged in community affairs whilst taking care of their personal responsibilities.

Brothers, I’d say the problem in this equation is us. We are unfortunately the ones who tend to impose these expectations upon our sisters. This may not be active, but we all know that we make kitchen jokes. We all know we make cleaning jokes and four wives jokes. We’ve almost got an ingrained perception that we socially strangle our sisters with. It is stifling to them and really not conducive to having our sisters be pillars of our community. I’m going to tread delicately here because I don’t want to step on the (pedicured) toes of our sisters but sometimes I feel that our sisters have come to accept and internalise this relegation. Not only accept it, but even sometimes give it justification. For example, at some community events sisters will not want to be vocal or visible because that is not seen to be Islamically appropriate. Allah swt reward our sisters as they are incredibly active behind the scenes in our community and they are the hands that get things done, but they aren’t in front of the scenes enough! I know personally that it is quite difficult to get sisters to be focal points in certain events and initiatives and often that is because the sisters themselves feel somewhat uncomfortable with the proposition.

It is unfortunate, but I feel as though the brothers have pushed our sisters into that little corner so consistently that some sisters now think that’s where they belong. A very real problem that arises from all of this is the ramifications that it has on our community from a marriage point of view. Brothers want a sister who will occupy that little cooking and cleaning corner and don’t really want a sister who is going to challenge him or push him. They generally don’t seem to want to marry a sister who is opinionated or assertive. I personally find that very odd – there is almost an assumption that being opinionated equates to insolence. I know that some brothers think that a wife who has a backbone might be a bit tough to “manage” and they’d prefer a sister who is easily compliant and effectively mothers him. Again, there are always exceptions but it appears to me as though brothers are intimidated by sisters with brains. To that I say that with marriage comes a partner, a personality, another human being, not a robot that might have an opinion every now and then but not enough to really bother you.

Brothers, honestly, in this regard I think we really need to man up. A sister with a brain is not a threat, she is a gift, if only we knew. Those exceptional sisters who aren’t satisfied being thrust into a pram and apron stereotype are the ones that we should ideally be pursuing, because they are the ones who will challenge us as individuals and as a community and thus force us to grow. Unfortunately, because of that intimidation factor brothers tend to go for the sisters who aren’t seen to be too confronting and when this occurs the whole cycle is perpetuated. The brother has a certain mindset and the sister falls into that and that is precisely what is going to be passed onto the future sons and daughters of that household. It has reached such a ridiculous juncture now that some sisters who are generally seen to be outspoken have to moderate or “dumb down” themselves so that brothers are not threatened and they become more viable “options” for marriage. Honestly, that is so tragically saddening.

The brothers in this community seem to have become anchors that pull down our sisters and when you pull them down, you bring the community down with them. I’m not going to claim to have answers, but what I can offer is a word of advice – to my dear respected brothers, for the sake of yourselves and the community, don’t have your standards set such that you want a sister who is effectively a glorified carer. To my dear respected sisters, don’t accept to be relegated and forced into positions that are simply not appropriate for you. Push yourself and the community and if you do so, hopefully we will take notice and realise your worth.

 

Money Money Money

An article by Rabia Chaudhry titled ‘Give Muhammad a Chance’ has been doing the social media rounds lately (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/splitthemoon/2014/04/give-muhammad-a-chance/). The 100+ comments on it ranged from giving the author a huge pat on the back to accusing her of being heartless and having a ‘superiority complex’. If you haven’t read the article and can’t be bothered clicking on the link above, the key argument the author makes is this:

And ladies, I ask you to please, don’t overlook the young men who may be struggling with studies, with finances, who may not have a house or even a car, who don’t necessarily have all the material trappings or the pedigree of a dream husband. 

We all know that Islam imposes certain obligations on a male when it comes to marriage. By default, he’s entrusted with the responsibility of supporting his wife; his wife has no obligation as such to contribute to the household finances. But in today’s rather awful real estate market, in practical terms what usually happens is this:

1.) If both hubby and wife are working, both contribute somewhat equally

2.) Hubby is much more well-established than wife due to the norm of men marrying younger women, and so does the lion’s share of the contributing

3.) Hubby and wife are both working, but hubby insists wife doesn’t pay anything towards the household expenses

But let’s take a step back for a moment. Before you even get to thinking about who’ll pay the electricity bill, the real question for the ladies is this: would you even consider marrying a guy who, as of right this second, can’t pay the electricity bill? (Or the internet bill for that matter, because let’s face it-who wants to be without WiFi?) The question for the guys is this: would you even consider someone for marriage when you know you can’t pay the electricity bill?

Question number 1 can only be answered with reference to a number of variables. The first is the stage of life the lady in question occupies. If she’s a uni student, it’s unlikely she’ll be turning down a guy simply because he goes to uni too. This makes little logical sense-after all, where will they get money from if neither of them have a steady source of income? But if they’re both facing the same challenges at the same time, she’ll know that to expect him to have it all ‘together’ when she doesn’t would simply be unrealistic.

If, however, our lovely lady is enslaved in some form of stable employment, things will either go one of two ways. In Scenario 1, she’ll refuse to consider anyone who isn’t employed. This will again have less to do with logic (she’s working-she is in no real need of his income) and more to do with a perception that a guy who isn’t employed just isn’t in the same stage of life as her. She may even deem an unemployed guy of her own age bracket to be distasteful, a ‘loser’. A 19 year old guy being unemployed may be somewhat acceptable in the eyes of the society, but it’s doubtful that society would be as forgiving of that same guy being 29 and not having a job.

Scenario 2 is where things get a little more interesting, and is the kind described in Rabia Chaudhry’s article. In this scenario, we have a gainfully employed lady who decides she really doesn’t care that much if her Prince-Charming-to-be has a job or not. She has one, and this is enough for her. She’s willing to make an investment based on the potential she sees in him, but is well-aware that at this stage potential is all that he has to offer in material terms.

This scenario naturally assumes that the lady in question is completely autonomous in her decision-making. Often, this is not the case. Now, let’s not get carried away and assume that a lack of complete autonomy equates to being under the thumb of some scary male authoritarian figure; the simple fact is that marriage is not a decision many people, male or female, make independently. Nor should it be, necessarily. The input of family and friends certainly has its place, and often that place is embedded with certain values, such as a woman not marrying a man who isn’t at least her ‘equal’ in education level and/or income at the time they get married.

Understandably, the fear of not being able to support a wife scares many men off from even thinking about getting married. They feel they don’t have it ‘together’ enough to seriously approach a girl, knowing that in many cases either her or her family will have serious misgivings if he doesn’t have at least some kind of job. Many parents will also forbid their sons, whether expressly or implicitly, from thinking about marriage before at least graduating from uni. But should this be the case? Well, not entirely. Obviously, some thought should be given to the practicalities of marriage, the logistics of how-much-will-that-cost and where-on-earth-will-we-live-if-this-works-out. But the answers to those questions can really only be determined by asking: how much are we both willing to forego?

If you’re the kind of guy who thinks you need to do everything and pay for everything and sort out everything before you can even think about getting married, you’re going to be waiting a while, especially in this current climate of economic uncertainty. If you’re the kind of girl who wants all the trimmings and wants them paid for, you may also be waiting a while. This is fine, as long as you’re fine with it. I pass no judgment whatsoever against people who want the house and the car and the big function centre wedding with 500 guests. These are deeply embedded values for many people. They simply cannot comprehend doing things another way.

But there is another way. You can opt to have a small wedding, or even no ‘wedding’ at all besides the obligatory nikah. You can choose to honeymoon locally, or even not honeymoon at all. (Gasp!) You can live with his parents, or yours, at least temporarily. You can live in a tiny studio or a granny flat. You can both study part-time and work full-time. You can both work part-time jobs and make enough to survive. Neither of you may have a job, and you can still find a way to make it. There is always a way, as long as you’re both practical and very, very determined.

So ladies, should you consider a guy who doesn’t have his finances sorted? You don’t have to. You have every  right to say no on this basis and no one should label you as being a gold-digger. (Stupid Kanye.) But if you want to, know that you can make it work together if you’re both committed. As for the men, should you stay away from all things marriage-related if you’re not financially stable? Not necessarily, as long as you have a plan. Don’t pre-empt the ladies and assume that you shouldn’t even try simply because of your lack of financial stability. Have faith that if you sincerely want to get married, there will be someone who can look past your tiny bank balance and see the many other things you have to offer. (But don’t label a girl who rejects you based on your finances a gold-digger, because that’ll just make you a jerk, and no one wants to marry a jerk.)

Guys, where do you stand on this? Ladies, would you consider a guy who doesn’t have his finances sorted?

The Muslim Relationship Status Dilemma

I remember seeing an advertisement for a party in first year uni and being slightly scandalised at the time. The rules of the party were that single people were to come in green, maybes in orange and ‘taken’ people in, you guessed it, red. As crass an idea as this is, Muslims could really do with some kind of system for knowing when people are actually single  and looking to get married, and when they’re just not. Instead, people are often forced to ask around, looking for mutual connections to tell them whether the person they’re interested in is already otherwise engaged. (Lame, but I couldn’t resist.)

The problem is that people generally don’t make it known that they’re getting to know someone, at least not initially. This is understandable and perfectly reasonable, because it often goes no further than the getting-to-know-you phase. You don’t want to be telling every Hassan and Hussain when you meet someone for the first time. It’s just not feasible, nor does it serve any real purpose for any of the parties involved.

Let’s say person X is getting to know Y. They could seal the deal within a couple of months, seal the deal in this case meaning progress to an official, publicised engagement. If this happens, X and Y are reasonably safe. It’s unlikely that people will ‘catch’ them in the act of getting to know each other, and even if they do, it doesn’t really matter. Things will progress quickly enough for tongues not to wag or for X and Y to have define their relationship in social terms.

But if there are complications and things don’t progress as quickly, X and Y are in a bit of a bind. Technically, they’re ‘in a relationship’, as the Facebook status goes. But Muslims just don’t utilise the relationship status option on Facebook. In fact, unmarried couples tend to try to keep their relationship secret, or at the very least, an open secret. Their friends and acquaintances might know, but the information doesn’t always trickle out evenly.

This is where things can get really sticky. Some people might know about X and Y’s relationship, some people might not. Z doesn’t happen to know, and develops feelings for one half of the couple in question. Is it Z’s fault? Or the person’s for even talking to Z in the first place? Or can the blame be attributed to this weird state of affairs amongst Muslims, where hearsay has to be used as evidence (a big no-no, as my fellow lawyers can appreciate) and no one wants to actually have the hard conversations because deep down, they’re just a big ball of confusion?

This cuts to the very heart of the problem: people may be keeping their options open. They may be talking to one person without having defined the relationship, and as such they feel like they have license to be talking to other people simultaneously. Even if they’re actually in a relationship with one person, they may be feeling uncertain. This uncertainty combined with the fact that very few people know about the relationship may lead to icky situations, like two people thinking they’re getting to know the same person. (An extreme example, but certainly not unheard of.)

The line between friendships and romantic relationships isn’t always easy to ascertain either. This is a universal issue, but is compounded by the fact that different Muslims have different boundaries when it comes to the opposite sex. This leads to all kinds of weird pseudo-relationships popping up, like guys and girls who are constantly talking but haven’t defined their relationship. Often both people like each other but are afraid to admit it, but sometimes only one person has any kind of romantic interest and the other person is simply enjoying having someone to talk to without the hassle of actually being in a relationship. (Or maybe they just genuinely like talking about photography/philosophy/video games.)

And then there are those who are secretly pining over someone who they know will probably never reciprocate their feelings. They get stuck in a waiting game, hoping the tide will turn but acknowledging that it most likely will not. These people are technically ‘single’, but are about as available as a change room at the Boxing Day Sales. The sad thing is that the object of their affection could actually be in one of those secret relationships mentioned above, which means that their efforts are doomed from the outset and may in fact bring them great embarrassment should word get out. The other common scenario is that the person they like just isn’t looking to get married, and so liking them at the present moment is just a waste of energy.

All of the above scenarios are a result of the lack of transparency around the whole issue of marriage. No one wants to admit that they want to get married for fear of looking ‘desperate’, but nearly everyone does. No one wants to admit that they’ve been in a relationship, but nearly everyone has been. No one wants to be the one to put their heart on the line and have the are-we-just-friends conversation, because they know it’ll be just awful if the answer is yes. (And if you’re afraid to ask, it’s often because you know the answer is ‘yes, we are just friends’ and you don’t want to face up to it.)

I don’t claim to have solutions to any of these issues except to very humbly suggest that personal responsibility is key. Sensitivity to the feelings of others is key. Talking to someone may mean nothing to you, but it could mean the world to them. (On the other hand, assuming every conversation with someone of the opposite sex is romantic in nature is just a recipe for disaster.) A little tact and discretion never goes astray, but excessive secrecy and vagueness can lead to unnecessary complications for all parties concerned. Human dignity should be preserved in all cases, even when you don’t care an iota for the person in question. If you know categorically that you’re not looking to get married, don’t let your guard down with the opposite sex, and if you are looking to get married, make your intentions clear at the earliest opportunity.

Do you consider yourself to be ‘single’? What’s the best way to avoid dilemmas about a relationship status?

 

Sometimes, people are just jerks

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

The above is a line from The Great Gatsby, one of my favourite novels. (Don’t knock it til you read it, the Baz Luhrmann version will probably have F. Scott Fitzgerald, that tortured, amazing genius, squirming in his grave til the Day of Judgment.) Even at the age of twelve, when I first read the book, the above line struck me as particularly insightful, because it cuts to the very heart of what often inhibits human relations: complete, utter carelessness.

In my limited, twenty three year long exposure to the human race, as well as my equally limited knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re really not that bad a bunch. In each of us is the potential for great good, as well as the potential for great evil, but in reality many of us are trapped somewhere in between. We can be very kind when we care to be, but when we don’t care, we can wreak devastation upon those around us. This is compounded by the existence of what philosopher Claudia Card terms ‘the gray zone’: the uncertain place in which the tortured becomes the torturer, the victim the oppressor.

Many of us live in a type of permanent gray zone, though not of the precise nature that Card theorised. We get hurt, we hurt someone else. We get rejected, we reject someone. Someone friendzones us, we friendzone someone else, and so we all snowball into a big pile of hurt feelings and broken (emotional) bones from which none of us escape unscathed. To appropriate some of my legal reasoning, many of us are continually committing manslaughter. There’s not enough evidence to prove murder beyond reasonable doubt; the wilful intent to destroy just isn’t there in most cases. But there is a great deal of recklessness in the way we operate, a lack of consideration of the reasonably foreseeable consequences of our actions.

This isn’t to excuse any of it, of course, and this is where I will drop the academic lingo: being careless makes us jerks. Saying things we don’t mean makes us jerks. It doesn’t matter if we meant them ‘in the moment’ (what a silly turn of phrase), because if we didn’t mean them in the next they aren’t worth the spit we used to produce them. Giving someone false hope makes us a jerk, and giving someone mixed signals makes us even bigger jerks. Not recognising that an offer of affection from another human being is a great honour makes us jerks, and backing out at the very first sign of trouble makes us jerks.

Many of us have been jerks for a day, maybe even for a week or a month. We’ve been careless because of an existential crisis we’ve been going through, we get reckless and drive too fast to escape the metaphorical car we feel is tailgating us. These are not excuses.Thankfully, many of us wake up to our senses and remember to default to our more natural state of empathy and kindness. We feel guilty, we apologise and we swear never to do it again. We may slip up and do it once or twice, but by and large we learn our lesson: that other people have an inner world as acute and deep as our own, an inner world which deserves our respect and compassion regardless of the absence or presence of romantic feelings towards them.

But then there are those who are serial offenders. These people appear to be perennially, insistently careless. Some of them may just be hardwired with a low sense of empathy and sensitivity; theorists have posited that evil can be described as much as an ’empty centre’ as a positive force. Others may actually relish the power they derive from gaining the trust of others, symptomatic of far deeper issues. Others may be just so self-absorbed that the feelings of others barely register on their radar. Or maybe, in a quote from my dad’s favourite Simpsons episode, this can be said: “Animals are a lot like people, Mrs. Simpson: some of them act badly because they’ve had a hard life or have been mistreated. But, like people, some of them are just jerks.”

When we encounter pathological jerks, there is very little to do except to run for cover when they reveal themselves, which they inevitably will. It’s not easy. These people are often charming, sociable and entirely free of body odour. They may even be well-versed in Ghazzali’s works! But peel back the surface slightly, and what lies beneath? A core lack of reactivity. This isn’t the sign of a well-trained nafs or a heart fortified by love of Allah swt; it’s simply that they don’t care. Run hard, run fast, and don’t look back except to warn others of when they’re coming. (There’s a reason why backbiting is permissible under some circumstances-for the protection of those who may be harmed.)

Unless we’re some kind of pathological jerk of the above varieties, there’s always hope. It comes in the little things, in how we watch our words and clarify, then clarify again, if something comes out wrong. It’s in our liberal use of smiley faces in online communication and equally liberal use of real ones in face-to-face communication. It’s in how we withdraw from a conversation with someone we have no feelings for, despite the fact that we’re bored and would really like to just talk to someone, anyone. It’s in how we soften a careless word with ten gentle, careful ones. It’s in how we say, you’re really lovely and I’m really flattered but I’m just looking for something different, which is entirely to do with me at this point in my life and nothing to do with you, and it’s in how we forgive people for being jerks for a second or a week because we’ve been there too.

Have you encountered a jerk? Have you been a jerk to someone?