I’ll make a Halal bet that when you read the title, you expected to hear about ideological, theological or some other -ogical split. Granted, there are plenty of those, but I’m referring here to another divide: the one between married people and non-married people. This divide manifests itself in all kinds of ways, both overt and subtle.
Because Muslims don’t live together before marriage, marriage is a much bigger step into the unknown than it is for most people today. Therefore, married people in the community tend to attract a certain mystique. Whether the married person is 18 or 28, their status in the community is instantly upgraded. This can be somewhat frustrating for single people, who complain that they’re treated as less mature and responsible than married people, even when those people are younger than them. They can sometimes feel discarded by married friends who were formerly their inseparable sidekicks, while married friends may feel their single friends are less than understanding when it comes to their lack of free time.
Marriage is an idealised state of existence. This is a universal phenomena, common to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. To be married is to be ‘complete’, to be single is to be lacking. While there has been a movement lately, a la Yasmin Mogahed and co, to redefine the love story of life being with Allah swt, this viewpoint hasn’t penetrated to all sectors of the community and most likely never will. There is still a great deal of emphasis on fulfilling half our deen and a great deal of suspicion towards those who seem less than eager to do so. People feel entitled to ask others about their relationship status and it’s not uncommon for girls (and probably guys too, though I’m obviously not in on those discussions) to sit around bemoaning their singledom.
A large part of this idealisation is attributable to an inherent human need for companionship. Marriage is the only way for a Muslim to achieve this intimacy and as such, will to some extent always be highly sought after as a state of being. The desire to get married isn’t solely to do with marriage itself either. For Muslims, marriage entails moving out of the family home for the first time, gaining autonomy over all aspects of life and making plans for the future independent of external constraints. It’s no wonder that single people living at home can feel as though their lives are in a permanent limbo, caught between being a child on the one side and being an adult on the other.
Once people get married, many of them disappear from the Muslim community. It’s as though single people are conscripted to do their time until such time as they meet a partner, at which point they are released from their duties. Participation in community activities almost seems like a rite of passage for many Muslims, something to fill up the time until they enter the real world of full-time work and matrimonial bliss. This disappearing act also allows the idealisation of marriage to continue unabated. (Single people tend to assume their former comrades are off having the time of their life, when in fact they’re probably just doing boring things like sorting out their sock drawers.)
Of course there are married people who remain active in the community, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Let’s face it: under-employed students are always going to be the lifeblood of many community events. They have the time and energy and haven’t yet been stripped of all their illusions about changing the world. Maybe young Muslims get so burned out by their constant whirl of lectures, dinners and training workshops that marriage is simply a convenient exit point. I know I feel like I need time out if I get too immersed in Muslim community activities. Maybe married people simply get so used to their time-out that they never return from it. Life marches on mercilessly, and it’s as easy to fall out of the swing of things as it is to fall in.
As an unmarried person, there’s only so much I can surmise about marriage. I can and do talk to my married friends about their experiences, but until I get married myself, there will always be some element of guesswork involved. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal of marriage; it’s like a club with exclusive membership and secret codes of honour. The absence of married people from the realm they once inhabited is felt by those closest to them, but there are always new foot soldiers to make up the numbers at the registration tables and the da’wah stalls. As Mufasa would say, perhaps it’s all just part of the circle of life.
Have you noticed the disappearing act in the Muslim community? Do you notice a divide between married friends and non-married friends?