Tag Archives: dating

The Muslim with a past

References to Person X having a past are frequently thrown around, a bogeyman no one is quite willing to define. The term itself means nothing; by definition, everyone has a past.  The real sting is contained in what it alludes to, in the whispers and the rumours and the idle speculation. This alleged past may consist of anything from drinking alcohol to clubbing to premarital sex, the common theme being a perceived inability to keep those urges in check.

There are many different facets of this discussion. A commonly used example is that of the partier turned mosque-goer who has seen the light and turned a new leaf and all those other feel-good euphemisms. This person, often a male but sometimes a female too, may try to erase the evidence of their previous lifestyle, but the social media traces are difficult to obliterate. Photos may linger of a uni costume party, a hug between a male and female who are obviously not brother and sister, and any half-decent Facebook stalker will be able to unearth it and share their findings with prospective partners, their families and friends.

How should a prospective partner view these activities? Are they to be dismissed as mere youthful explorations, or can they be held against the person as evidence of an unsavoury character? There are no clear-cut answers to these questions. Each person’s story is unique and should be viewed as such, but it does raise the question of where a prospective partner draws their line in the sand. For some, a deal-breaker may be premarital sex, but this assumes that it’s possible to know who has and who hasn’t done the deed. The expectation that a person volunteer this information is unrealistic; for many, it may be preferable to suspect but never pursue the matter further. This may be particularly applicable when both parties are well into their twenties and thirties, an age at which it may not be unreasonable to presume the person has had multiple relationships, some of which may or may not have involved a level of physical intimacy. If a person volunteers the information that they were not a practising Muslim for most of their life, the logical assumption is that they would have engaged in behaviours contrary to the accepted norm.

A more uncomfortable example is that of the person who identifies and is identified as a practising Muslim, but who may have done (or be doing) things they are not proud of. The notion that the person in the MSA prayer room could be the very same person at a club or a brothel is too strange and disgusting for most people to contemplate. It disgusts us because it speaks to the essence of who we are: both base and luminous, spiritually elevated and sordid, all of these forces dwelling coexisting within the one body. It disgusts us because we have all done or have wanted to do or will do things we would never admit to anyone, things lying dormant in the dark recesses of our mind until awakened. If our feet have not physically walked us to unsavoury places, there are many, many things we may have engaged in from the comfort of our bedrooms, like watching things we shouldn’t or saying things we would never say in person. Where do these online activities sit in conversations about a past? Are they of any relevance to a prospective partner, or are they considered to be less reprehensible simply because they were confined to a computer screen?

It is perfectly understandable that people would prefer to marry someone who has not engaged in certain behaviours, particularly if they have been successful in avoiding these behaviours to date. It is for each person to delineate the precise boundaries of what they will and won’t accept in another person, and how willing they are to forgive past transgressions if conceded. However, it is also equally true that women are often held to higher standards of moral conduct than men, her ‘virtue’ fragile and prized, her reputation far easier to sully. This is partly due to a skewed discourse where men’s ‘urges’ are viewed as so strong that any lapse in judgment on their part is entirely plausible, even excusable. These men may still be considered to be fine marriageable material, whereas a woman who engages in similar behaviours may be considered to be irretrievably marked. Ultimately, whether male or female, the simple truth is that we cannot know everything about the person we marry, nor should we aspire to. It is easy to condemn, but the complexities of human character do not lend themselves as easily to broad strokes of sinner and saint. We are all broken in ways we cannot comprehend, let alone explain to others; we can only strive to make beauty out of the broken.

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A Letter to my 19 year old self

I’m not exactly 100 years old, but when I look back on some of the decisions I made in my late teens and early 20s I can’t help but cringe. There are so many things I wish I’d known then, so many things I wish people would have told me and spoken about openly. But I wasn’t the first person to make a few silly decisions, nor will I be the last. In the interest of saving a few young MSA girls from treading the road best left not taken, here is a letter from me to my younger self/all the girls I see so much of myself in:

Dear 19 year old self,

I know you think you know what you’re doing. I know you have good intentions and it’s all for the sake of Allah and so on and so forth. But that’s how it always starts, isn’t it? Innocence is often corrupted not through evil, but through the misdirected desire to do the right thing.

You may think the right thing is to keep your voice down and your eyes to the ground in person, but the real danger is behind the screens. You may think the right thing is to have a chat about this event or organising that stall, but it so easily comes undone. It’s so easy to be swept away, to give your heart to some nice boy with a beard and pretty words about the ummah and what the future will hold for the two of you.

Pretty words aren’t necessarily empty ones. They are promises and well-meaning ones at that, but they are promises which may or may not come to pass. He will tell you to wait, and your heart will jump to give him a chance, but your head should form the reply ‘I wait for no one’. When he tells you he’s not ready, tell him to come back when he is. If he tells you he is ready, don’t believe him until he shows you he is. Take notes at events instead of sneaking glances across the room. Pay attention to your friends and your studies, because they are the only things you are guaranteed to leave here with.

Does all of this mean you can’t have any fun? Of course not. Have a giggle about the crushes, the awkward and cutesy encounters over the bake stalls and BBQs.  Many of them have borne fruit and blossomed into permanent and lifelong commitments. But so many haven’t.

This is why I am telling you something you probably don’t want to hear: don’t waste your best and brightest years on uncertain love. Protect your heart before you get attached. Protect your heart from those who would do harm to you without meaning to. Protect your heart from the love which just isn’t ready to blossom yet. Let the premature, uncertain love go, and trust that the certain love will come when it is ready.

PS-Just because you call him ‘brother’ doesn’t mean you aren’t flirting.

How not to be a Muslim male jerk

In a previous post here, I wrote all about the struggles faced by Muslim women in their search for a partner. I know that many men may have read it and thought, ‘well geez, sucks to be them’. But sympathy isn’t going to get us anywhere. When the system we operate in is so skewed and unequal (yes patriarchy, I mean you), real action needs to be taken and men need to play their part. I’m going to give men the benefit of the doubt and assume that you guys don’t know what you can do to help when it comes to the area of romance, so let me make it easy for you with a few suggestions:

1.) Don’t stuff women around

Are there women who are happy to engage with men without wanting it to go anywhere? Undoubtedly, yes. However, society dictates that a woman’s window to get married is much narrower than a man’s is. When she likes you, she’s not operating on your time; she can’t simply wait around indefinitely for you to get it together. If it doesn’t work out, the stigma attaching to her as a woman with a failed relationship or two is so much worse than yours as a man, so if you know you have no intent of getting married to her, leave her be. (None of this ‘I-thought-we-were-just-friends’ business when confronted with your actions.)

2.) Approach her! Tell her you like her!

She may just like you too, but she most likely can’t do anything about it. If and when women do initiate, they run the risk of being seen as overly forward or ‘desperate’, so please help her out and kick things off.

But if she doesn’t return your interest, don’t get angry. Some men seem to think they are entitled to being considered by any woman they ‘choose’, that the attention they pay to a woman is a coveted privilege they are bestowing upon her. It’s not. She has as much of a right to say no as you do.

3.) Don’t assume she’s going to say no because of your wallet size…

Please, please don’t pre-emptively pull the plug because you think you don’t have enough to offer. Let her be the judge of that.

4.) But at the same time, at least try to sort yourself out

Work at a supermarket. Do security work. Get a lemon of a car. Meet her parents. Do what you need to do to get things across the line. Show her that you’re serious about her by taking your life seriously. Stop taking six years to finish a three year degree. You can do it.

5.) Don’t be a jerk

Just don’t be a jerk, ok? Please? (And yes, if you’re generally a ‘nice guy’ who just happens to be a jerk to women when it comes to your love life, you’re still a jerk.)

*If you need some hints on how not to be a jerk and the above hasn’t enlightened you, please note the following:

1.) Sneering at women’s less-than-perfect hijab is not on.

2.) Repeated flirting when you have no intention of following through is not on.

3.) Sharing sexist jokes/memes/anything at all is also really, really not on.

4.) Repeated flirting when you have a partner already is really, really, really not on. Really.

 

 

 

 

 

2015

‘Only bad things happen quickly.’

I read this in a book (‘Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart’, if you’re interested) and agreed wholeheartedly. Anything good seems to take time and effort to build up, but things can change in an instant for the worse. A car crash. A job termination. A careless word spoken in anger.

But this year, something wonderful happened quickly. I met someone wonderful. Within a fortnight, we spoke about getting married. And just a couple of months later, we were.

We sometimes joke that we need to invent a more exciting story about how we met. Truthfully, there was nothing dramatic about how we came to be.  We’d seen each other around. We’d spoken a few times in the tentative manner of Muslim-not-yet-couples. I’d formed an impression of him as being serious, but sweet, and when the idea of us was suggested, we both ran with it.

I always wondered what it meant when people said ‘you just know’. I still do, actually. For me, it was less about ‘knowing’ and more about doing. Plenty of people can feel things for each other –amazing, powerful, fuzzy feelings. But things come horribly undone when it comes to doing. They’re vague about your plans together. They’ll say ‘it’ll happen soon’, but it doesn’t. They disappear, then reappear. They’ll say now isn’t the right time for that conversation and that confrontation, all of it masking the fact that you aren’t the right people for each other.

So if you want to know how I knew with him, here’s what it was.

Everything he said he’d do, he did.

He was always kind, and he always listened.

He had unshakeable faith in Allah.

He made plans for our future, not just the lofty fantasies, but the nitty-gritty logistical details too.

He trusted me, and I trusted him in return.

Such simple things. Such rare things.

It wasn’t a ‘fairy tale romance’. He didn’t ‘complete’ me. We were two complex humans with complex backstories when we met, which inevitably meant there would be bumps along the way. We’d been disappointed before, but this only made us more careful not to disappoint each other. The stories we’d lived through individually became shared ones, moments to relive and dissect and analyse together.

I’m married now. But I won’t presume to offer condescending pieces of advice like ‘it’ll happen when you’re least expecting it’, because some people can spend their whole life not expecting and then not receiving.

I won’t say ‘work on yourself first and it’ll happen’, because that implies that married people are somehow superior to singles. (They’re not, and I’m not.)

I won’t even say ‘it’s all naseeb’, because my naseeb could just have easily been to remain alone.

I will say this: this year has been a dark one in so many ways. Desperation in the sea. Indifference, cruelty and blind privilege on the land. The widening gap between rich and poor and the continual denial of #blacklivesmatter. I don’t fool myself into thinking that this will change any time soon. But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate our personal triumphs, our little everyday joys, even as we raise our voice against injustice.

I pray that as this year ends, you find a companion, if this is what your heart longs for. I pray that you find peace and tranquility in company or in solitude. I pray that you keep fighting and keep holding onto your faith. I pray that you eat delicious things and see wonderful places while remembering those who can do neither. Most of all, I pray that you find the strength to keep giving and receiving love in all its wondrous, unexpected and beautiful forms.

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The 10 Rules of Muslim Love: Part 1

I’ve been writing about Muslim relationships for sometime now. In doing so, I’ve never claimed any kind of special expertise. I’m not a ‘relationships guru’, nor am I at all detached from any of the issues I write about. I talk to a lot of people, and I listen to a lot of people. I’m constantly re-evaluating what I hold to be established truths and am constantly surprised by the outliers of the general human experience. But undoubtedly, over the course of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of conversations I’ve had with people about these issues, several themes do emerge and I don’t feel that I’m being all that presumptuous in sharing them. As always, I stress the diversity and complexity of individual experience, but now that I’ve added that disclaimer, here goes my first five rules for securing love in this lonely, hash-tagging, notification-buzzing world of ours:

1.) Strike early

This is something I’ve observed again and again: people getting trapped in endless rounds of flirtatious banter and sharing of YouTube clips, without ever defining what the deal is. These very frequently fizzle out and go nowhere. Therefore, your best chance for something to actually happen is early on, before anyone gets too comfortable/bored/sick of trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

2.) Keep your distance

This sounds somewhat counter-intuitive, but here’s another observation I’ve made time and time again: friends of the opposite sex very rarely get together. This is why you see circles of guys and girls, all eligible and of a similar mindset, but all scratching their heads as to where they are going to meet someone. Again, if it happens it’ll usually happen early on, but if you stay slightly outside of the circle you won’t run the risk of people you may be interested in getting just a bit too comfortable and overlooking you in the marriage stakes.

3.) Don’t push your luck (but do try to encourage!)

Most of us have been guilty of this at some point or other: trying to ‘convince’ someone to be interested in us by pushing, whether by continually trying to get their attention or extending conversations way past their expiry dates. Don’t do it. The best thing to do is to respond in a reciprocal and receptive manner. If they ask questions, ask one too. If they write a three word response, resist the urge to respond with an essay, but don’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that they hate you and never want to talk to you again.

4.) Don’t project!

Another thing many of us are guilty of is projecting our perception of events onto the other person. Consequently, if we like someone, a polite greeting from them becomes laden with hidden meaning. If they don’t reply right away, they’ve ‘lost interest’. An offhand comment will be dissected within an inch of its life, a stray glance given far more significance than it warrants. It’s so easy to fall into this, but at least attempt to stop reading your own script constantly and give theirs a go.

5.) Get used to a little romantic overlap

Let’s face it: we, the Western Muslim diaspora, form a great big spider web. There are all kinds of connections between people who’ve never met and a lot of the same names get bandied about in particular circles. If you want to meet someone, you have to be prepared to get your hands slightly dirty. The person you like may have been seeing someone you know. You may have been seeing someone they know. It’s just one of those icky things you have to get used to.

Do you have any rules you devise for yourself in the pursuit of love?

 

Social Media PDAs

‘Hubby made me breakfast in bed!’ (Accompanied by #marriedlife and a photo of said breakfast.)

We’ve all seen posts like this. Many of us have done the social media PDA thing and thought little of it. But what are we really trying to convey when we do and what effects does it have on those in our online vicinity?

Arguably, people who post things about their partners aren’t trying to convey a particular message at all.  Many of us are so accustomed to sharing bits and pieces of our lives online that it becomes an entrenched, unthinking habit. Graduate? Post a graduation shot and watch the likes roll in. Wearing a cute new outfit? Post a selfie. Sitting at home on the couch? Snapchat a story about it. Sharing things about our partner simply becomes part and parcel of this unselfconscious sharing process.

The phenomena of making ‘announcements’ about our personal lives covers anything from a new job to a new car to a new handbag, but it’s particularly interesting to see how Muslims announce their relationships online. Because so many relationships remain undercover until the engagement, it can come as a complete surprise to many when a friend (i.e. some person we met once at a party) updates their relationship status to ‘Engaged’. (It’s rare that Muslims will update their status to ‘In a relationship’, given the ambiguity this seems to carry, but I’ve often thought that if Facebook had a ‘in-a-secret-getting-to-know-thing’ option, we’d be all over it.) Many people post little hints before the actual exchange of rings, but we seem to be used to people announcing their engagements or even marriages with little to no preamble.

A person’s posts about their partner often reflect the stages of the relationship as it progresses. Initially, there’s a lot of wonder, gratitude and general all-around mushiness. Love hearts and emojis will be thrown around willy-nilly. ‘Alhamdulillahs’ and ‘MashaAllahs’ will abound. Photos will often be high in volume and may be sweet and cutesy to the point of tooth decay. Once the wedding is over, wedding shots will be circulated for months to come, often with neat little hashtags to remind everyone that it’s been #threemonths. But soon enough, these posts will decrease in their frequency and ones which are shared will begin to exhibit a quirkier, slightly irritating side to their partner, like them leaving their socks on the dining table or making a witty wisecrack at their other half’s expense.

And then there are those who remain completely undercover. No photos will be posted and no relationship statuses will be updated, leaving the general online populace slightly confused as to whether a wedding has actually taken place. For those who use their social media presence as a political/intellectual/da’wah tool, this lack of personal updates seems fairly standard. But their online silence regarding their partner arguably leaves room for potential misunderstandings and mishaps. Some would argue that we have a responsibility to ensure that people know we are well and truly ‘off the market’, and that if our social media presence is silent on this issue, people may get the wrong idea. Is this person engaged, married, divorced or a unicorn? No one really knows.

Another issue to consider is the effect posting lovey dovey things about a partner may have on those who are struggling to find one. Frequently, we think about this from the perspective of attracting envy and the evil eye, but it’s also important to consider that the negative aspects of relationships are very rarely displayed. It’s easy to forget this when our newsfeeds are groaning under the weight of cutesy couple photos, but all relationships have their hidden struggles and disappointments, ones which aren’t easily packaged for social consumption. The stories of sorrow behind the anniversary posts and the perfectly captured holiday shots are all too easy to miss, to the point where people even begin to compare their very real, flawed relationships to people’s heavily edited Facebook relationships.

How, when and why we share things about our relationships still seems to be somewhat unclear. As with any of the things we share, there’s no real ‘need’ to do so, but there’s also nothing inherently wrong with expressing joy and gratitude for our blessings. In fact, if we weren’t able to do so on social media, it’d be a pretty bleak, boring and meme-ridden space. Family and friends all over the world can be connected to celebrations and even people they’ve never physically met, and this can only be a beautiful thing.  But it’s also important to think carefully about the way in which we depict our relationships and how this may feed into a general culture of gratuitous, narcissistic oversharing. We don’t need to tell all 500 of our followers every time our partner buys us a chocolate muffin; we can just thank them personally and tuck right in.

The marriage struggles of Muslim women

The process of trying to find a partner can be horribly, utterly brutal. Fumble, stumble, trip, run into a dead end-this is the thorny path of so many singles. But are all marriage struggles created equal? Broken hearts are certainly not the sole domain of women, but there are any number of reasons why the marriage process can be particularly difficult for women. This is a condition not at at all specific to Muslims, but as always, the intersection of faith and universality makes for some sad, weird and lol-worthy results. Let’s take a closer look at why it is that women are so often at the losing end of the marriage process:

1.) Time pressures

Tick tock, tick tock. Or so women are constantly being reminded. There is such a small window of time during which women are actually viewed as eligible marriage material, spanning in some circles from the late teens until somewhere around the mid-twenties. Women are forced to think about marriage at a far younger age than men are, and if they run carefree and amok (lol) through their 20s, they may pay the consequences later and remain single long after they choose to. For example, as depressing as it is, it’s not uncommon for women 25 and up to assume that their chances of getting married are slim to nil, while a man of a similar age bracket may only just be starting to think about marriage.

These skewed conditions can create a power imbalance in which women may feel compelled to ‘settle’, while men are given license to pick and choose at their liberty. Women are often told that their chances are running out, and even if they aren’t explicitly told, they can see for themselves that their opportunities may be few and far between. If we have a system in which a woman’s eligibility goes down as she gets older and better-educated and a man’s eligibility only goes up with these factors, there will undoubtedly be some nasty consequences. (Of course, men face the difficulty of the perceived need to be financially stable before getting married, which is a bit of a downer.)

Part of the reason women are forced to think about marriage fairly early on is couched in biological terms. Women are constantly being warned about how their fertility is a precious commodity by everyone from gynaecologists on TV to their mothers and aunties. Women who want the opportunity to have children know that it takes time to meet someone and get married to them, and some may even feel pressured into marrying someone at least partly to have that opportunity.

2.) Lack of suitable candidates

Let’s compare the pool of potential partners of a 30 year old man vs a 30 year old woman. It’s not socially acceptable for a woman to marry a younger man, and so she will generally limit herself or be limited to men her own age and above. If she has a good job and is well-educated, she may expect, not unreasonably so, that her husband be of a similar level. This narrows the pool even further. In contrast, a 30 year old man has a far wider pool of acceptable candidates to choose from, as he can marry a woman any number of years younger than him and not attract any censure. He can also freely marry someone of a lower level of education and earning capacity, and can explicitly filter women on these bases.

There are any number of reasons why men would choose to marry a younger and less established woman as opposed to a woman his own age, and I’m not interested in going into all of them right now. Suffice to say, we all know it happens, and it obviously creates an imbalance between the amount of men available to a particular pool of women. Frequently, there seems to be more women visible in Muslim community circles, which further adds to a perceived number imbalance. (Statistics show that women outnumber men in many parts of the world, which can’t help either, and makes for weird encounters at matrimonial events and on websites where women outnumber men.)

3.) Lack of agency

For women who do want to get married, there are few direct avenues available. Pursuing someone and expressing interest in them is seen as an exclusively male domain, and women who do try to initiate something may run the risk of being labelled as ‘desperate’ or ‘coming on too strong’. This is particularly the case where the man and woman are the same age. For the reasons mentioned above, the man in the equation will often feel less compulsion to get married, which means that the woman may invest far more emotion and energy into trying to make it work than he does. Even if he likes her, he may not feel compelled to do anything about it, simply because he isn’t under the same time pressures she is and knows he can meet someone down the track with relative ease.

Women who are interested in someone are forced to pull a Khadija and involve a third party. This can rob them of autonomy over the process and can be embarrassing and awkward, particularly when the third party isn’t someone they know all that well. But what are the other options, besides sitting back and waiting for the guy to notice them? (Admittedly, I know it’s not very fun for men to feel they have to put their dignity and heart on the line when pursuing someone, but more women would do it if it wasn’t so frowned upon.)

4.) Parental restrictions

While men are certainly not immune from parental pressures and restrictions, these often fall more heavily on the daughters of the family than the sons. Part of this is due to the perception of men as head of the household, which means that if a man marries a woman or a different culture or even a different religion, he is still seen to rule the roost. But if a woman wants to marry a man of a different culture or sect, her parents will often block her pathway entirely, leaving her with the choice of either giving up on the person or breaking her parents’ hearts.

5.) Greater impetus, more to lose

If and when women feel restricted in the home, they may seek out marriage as a means of achieving greater autonomy. But in order for her to get married, she must observe the rules of propriety and never, ever, ever (did I say ever?) sin or make a slip-up. If she does, the court of public opinion can be utterly unforgiving. Whether it’s choice in clothing or physical intimacy before marriage, things just seem to stick to women more so than men and be policed with more intensity. Many women have spoken of their frustration about men who indulge in all sorts of fun activities (cough) and then waltz back in and marry a sweet little cutie pie without too much difficulty. Women who have been in previous relationships or who have been divorced find that their options may find they are limited to marrying someone from overseas, which may or may not be an option they’re comfortable with. Some end up being forced to look outside the community and try to ‘convert’ a non-Muslim man, seeing their chance of meeting a Muslim who accepts them as almost non-existent.

None of what I’ve written is particularly controversial or new, but it’s important to recognise the very real and harsh impact these issues have on people, the hidden stories of frustration and despair, the resignation to a life without a partner or a life with a partner they ‘settled’ for. Those who end up getting married attribute it to naseeb, as do those who stay single, but no one should have to accept injustice and a life of enforced solitude as their naseeb. To love and be loved is the greatest mercy we have in this life, and it is our responsibility to ensure that each and every person has the opportunity to share in this love.