Category Archives: Getting to know each other

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

How important are looks?

A dear friend of mine was recently at an event. Following the event, she was told that a guy had expressed interest in her and wanted to get to know her. Given the fact that she hadn’t exchanged a single word with the guy in question, the only thing his interest could possibly have been based on was her looks.

Anyone who is (un)fortunate enough to know me will know that the concept of beauty has always intrigued me. I’ve bored any number of friends to death with my forays into the issue of how looks influence perception. While I don’t claim to be some sort of professional commentator on all things aesthetics, I do find the issue fascinating. Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? Well, studies have shown that this adage is largely untrue and that particularly in this globalised age, representations of beauty are becoming more standardised. Do good looks get you places in life? Studies have shown that yes, good looks are an asset, even in the workplace.

I won’t bore you any further with the academic stuff, but instead I’ll turn my attention to the more interesting, anecdotal stuff. It’s obviously impossible to quantify the extent to which looks are valued in the world of relationships, but I’d hazard a guess that they’re fairly valuable. How often do we see some old billionaire with a series of young models on his arm? Without casting any aspersions on the character of billionaires (I’m sure they’re lovely people), it isn’t too difficult to conclude that looks are an asset in the game of love.

This issue is particularly interesting when examined in the context of the Muslim community. The little example I mentioned above is repeated again and again, with some girls getting asked about practically every time they attend something. This is a strange by-product of segregation. Because people often aren’t given the opportunity of speaking with members of the opposite sex at Muslim community events, they’re in effect almost forced to assess people based on their looks. I’m certainly not attacking segregation on this basis or suggesting it should be dismantled, but it’s an interesting thing to ponder: if there was more space for contact between the sexes, would personalities be given more of a centre stage role as opposed to looks?

Of course, the answer may simply be no. As a friend put it, if someone doesn’t meet your looks threshold, many people simply won’t consider them regardless of how amazing their personality is. People often won’t admit this to themselves, of course. They tell themselves that they just don’t see X in that way, or that Y is awesome but just ‘not for them’. The sad truth is that many of the people who get friendzoned immediately are those who aren’t conventionally good-looking. People may be happy to befriend them and may have a great deal of respect for them, but they just don’t consider them in romantic terms. (‘They’re nice, but’…)

I say that this is sad, but I understand that attraction is certainly important in any relationship. But here I’d like to make a quick little distinction: good looks and attractiveness are not necessarily the same thing. X could appreciate that Y is conventionally good-looking without feeling any attraction whatsoever, and A could find B attractive while rationally appreciating that B isn’t conventionally good-looking. But this is perhaps where the question is asked again: if you don’t have much contact with people of the opposite sex, how can you feel attracted to them on any basis other than looks?

The funny thing is that while looks are undeniably important to many people, anyone who’s too overt about this being a requirement of theirs gets blasted. A guy who specifies that he only wants a skinny girl (it happens) will get hated on, even though many  may secretly share this sentiment. A girl who says she only wants a tall guy will be branded as ‘superficial’, while many others may filter out guys on this basis without even admitting it to themselves. The guy who asks about a girl after seeing her at an event is often rejected by the girl in question because she feels objectified, but perhaps he’s simply more open about it than others.

A related issue is that of clothing and style, which again is particularly interesting in a Muslim context. People may sometimes have preferences as to the clothing of a potential partner and depending on their level of conservativeness, an outfit choice may attract or repel. Wearing skinny jeans may be a no-no for some, while others may find it funky and attractive. Others may simply not care at all, as long as it looks good. Some people consciously modify their choice of clothing depending on the scene they’re in, which suggests, rightly or wrongly, that people may make judgments based on whether they wear a skirt or a dress, or pants as opposed to shorts for men. I wrote a post about hijab being a must for some and a repellent for others, and this certainly factors into the debate on outward appearance.

At the end of the day, perhaps much of the assessments we make of the looks of others may be in fact linked to our assessment of our own looks. Someone who considers themselves to be good-looking may make a point of seeking someone who is also good-looking, just as a person who considers themselves to be intelligent may seek a person they consider to be of a similar level of intelligence. If looks trump all else, then that’s frankly a little depressing given the advice of the Prophet (saw), but it’s not something that can be easily altered without some open and honest conversations.

How important are looks to you? Have you felt that people place a disproportionate emphasis on looks when it comes to finding a partner?

The space in between

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game On

Darwin would’ve had a field day with the Muslim community. It’s all about survival of the fittest here, baby. Only the strong survive. Those who survive do so because they develop adaptations  suited to the specific environment they reside in. (Who knew, I was actually paying attention in Biology and not just sneaking potato chips under the table.)

To translate this into Love Haqtually terms, what this means is that the Muslim marriage circuit is extremely competitive. This is particularly the case for females, for reasons I’ve mentioned in previous posts e.g. perceived early ‘expiry’ date, possible number imbalance between males and females. But males are not immune from the race to the (figurative) altar, and so entire subsections of the community are constantly plagued by uncomfortable romantic tensions and undercurrents.

The problem is that because people tend to stay within their own circle, there really is very little to go around. If you attend the same classes and events with the same people, the chance of meeting someone diminishes significantly. If you do meet someone, you most likely have to reconcile yourself to the reality that Prince Charming has probably gotten to know someone within your circle, or that Princess Charming has probably been romanced by several fellows before graciously settling on you.

When ‘fresh meat’ comes into the territory, the change in the air is palpable. Everyone wants to know who the new guy or girl is, and if they’re even half-decent everyone clambers over each other to get there first. This becomes extremely awkward for both participants in the scramble and bystanders. No one wants to be too obvious, except that everyone is. Whether the approach is coy or flirtatious, demure or bold, it’s meant as a silent marker of territorial rights.

This unspoken, ever-present competition manifests itself in many ways. It’s often played out on social media, where ‘likes’ and comments act as weapons to add to the arsenal. The other way the competition tends to play out is a game of interest-matching, where the competitors try to demonstrate that their interests align so closely with the prized object that they must emerge victorious. You like X scholar? He’s totes one of my heroes! Now marry me, stat!

All this scares the heck out of me. Frankly, I’ve never been good with competition because of my huge fear of confrontation. But that’s a silly attitude to have when the stakes are high. Finding a partner is like landing a job in some ways; you need to take risks, put yourself out there and be prepared to find out that one of the other candidates has nabbed the position and not you. It’s pointless to complain of not being able to find a partner if you’re not willing to get your hands at least a little bit dirty.

If you want to avoid competition, go the ‘traditional’ route and let your parents find someone for you. But even this isn’t fool-proof. Some suitors are known to be notoriously picky and do the rounds with any number of girls, leaving each new victim wondering who will be the one to finally capture his heart over lounge-room cups of tea.

I know this all seems dreadfully cynical. What about feelings, you ask? Don’t some people just click? Sure they do, and it’s beautiful when it just works out like that. But if you’re an environment with five other girls all thinking they  click with the same guy, things get just a little bit dicey. If two or three people are interested in the same person, they obviously all feel some kind of connection with that person. Determining whose feelings are the most ‘legitimate’ is impossible; it then simply comes down to who is chosen by that person based on their own selection criteria.

How do you increase your chances in this dog-eat-dog world?  Here are some tips:

1.) Attend different events. Go to a place you’ve never been before if you want the ‘new girl/guy’ factor.

2.) Don’t put all your eggs in the one basket. Connect with different people through different interest bases.

3.) If you’ve gotten to know someone from one circle and it doesn’t work out, cut your losses and move on. Try not to double-dip if possible.

4.) It’s a big, big world out there. Don’t confine yourself to just your city or even just your own country.

5.) Positive vibes and a sweet, friendly personality will do wonders. It’s hard when you’ve been through a few romantic setbacks, but if you’re bitter and resentful this will not only blacken your heart, but also decrease your chances of meeting someone.

Please forgive me for the following cliche, but it really does come down to naseeb. This doesn’t mean sitting back and waiting for someone to throw a pebble at your window. Be proactive and fight fairly and honestly for what you want. But in the game of love, you have to accept that things don’t always happen when and how you want them to. You can’t force someone to like you when they don’t, and if you have to make yourself into a show pony to get someone to notice you then you’re fighting a losing battle already.

Trust in Allah swt and make the most of whatever opportunities He sends your way. Don’t nitpick, but uphold your standards of what matters to you. If you like someone, don’t wait for them to make the first move, but don’t compromise your self-respect. If someone isn’t interested, realise that it’s not about you: they simply have a different idea of what they’re looking for. You’ve been given a whole life to live and you are wholly you, regardless of whether you have your ‘other half’ by your side or not.

Do you feel silent pressure to get in the ring? Have you ever liked someone who was being pursued by someone else?

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?

How Muslims “Date”

I love speaking to people about relationships. Have I mentioned that already? (Answer: only about a trillion times.) Part of the reason I do is because people are so different in their perspectives on what they’re looking for, and furthermore, what to do when they meet a person who could possibly be what they’re looking for. A lot of people’s ideas on how best to get to know someone are informed by their religious leanings, but a lot of them are also derived from their social sphere and their culture. As such, trying to determine ‘the right way’ to get to know someone becomes a very complex exercise i.e. I’d rather not attempt it.

What I will try and do is list some of the common ways I’ve seen people go about things. People generally don’t stick to just one method; at different times and in different relationships different methods may be more appropriate. Anyway, enough of me jabbering on, let’s get into it:

1.) The Front Door Friendlies

Typically, people who only do the guy-comes-over-to-girl’s-house way don’t know each other from a bar of soap when this happens. They’ve been suggested to each other by a mutual family friend or relative, and as such everything has to go through the formal mechanism of the home visit.

This might seem like the most religiously appropriate way to “date”, but for some of these people religion barely enters the equation. It’s simply the done thing. This lack of religious considerations is illustrated upon the parties becoming socially engaged, upon which it suddenly becomes Halal to go out alone together, despite the lack of any official Islamic standing.

Pros: Aside from the ‘Halal’ factor, this method allows people to scope out each other’s families from the outset. It also minimises issues of commitment-phobia and immaturity-someone is simply unlikely to even go for a home visit if unready.

Cons: Some may feel this method isn’t conducive to getting to know someone well due to the formality of the proceedings.

2.) The Chaperoning Shorties

This method usually involves people who either don’t know each other very well or who are concerned about doing things the ‘Halal’ way. For people in the first category, the chaperoning can simply act as a way of facilitating communication.For people in the second category, the primary concern is avoiding any religious impropriety. Having a chaperone present, even though the chaperone may simply be a friend and not a mahram, also makes the meeting a lot less scandal-worthy in the eyes of the Muslim community.

Pros: It’s less formal than the above method, but still considered to be fairly ‘Halal’.

Cons: Chaperoning becomes difficult to sustain after the first few times. After all, who has an endless supply of friends or family who are obliging enough to continually play the third wheel? Not many. Either the parties will proceed to the home visit stage a la category 1, or they’ll slip into category 3, the Meet-up Mavericks.

3.) The Meet-up Mavericks

This method is for people who are used to more casual gender relations. They’ll often have friends of the opposite sex and as such will feel fairly comfortable getting to know someone by meeting up alone with them in a public space such as a café or shopping centre. These people are not irreligious; they simply feel that there a lot more grey areas in gender interactions than more conservative Muslims would like to admit. They examine their intentions, and upon finding them to be pure, will proceed without many qualms to get to know someone one-on-one.

Pros: It’s perceived to be an easier and more natural way of getting to know someone as it eliminates external distractions.

Cons: Apart from being slightly less socially acceptable in the eyes of the wider community, it’s also a lot more tricky as the parties involved have no external hand guiding the process. It can also be difficult for these people to know when to step things up to the more formal, meet-the-parents stage.

4.) The Computer Cuties

In today’s world, social media reigns supreme. For many Muslims, it becomes the primary hunting ground for both meeting and getting to know a partner. While eventually these people will have to proceed to any of the categories above, the online space will often remain their comfort zone until they get married. Often these people see each other in person at university or Islamic events, but their online interactions are far more in-depth and frequent.

Pros: It’s seen by many as a ‘Halal’ way to get to know someone without the formality of the home visit or the external distractions of being chaperoned.

Cons: A social media persona can be deceiving. It can be difficult to gauge compatibility over a computer screen.

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What do you think is the best way to get to know someone? Are you willing to try a number of methods or just one?

The Love Actually World…

*disclaimer: The identity of this poster has been kept anonymous.

I was having a chat to a non-Muslim friend of mine about the differences and similarities between the Muslim “courting” world  (I’m using this word here because it’s probably the most appropriate way to describe it) and the non-Muslim dating world. We made some interesting observations that I’d like to share. To start it off, there are generally three types of people in the non-Muslim dating world: the uncommitted dater, the monogamist and the “Muslim” non-Muslim.

The uncommitted dater

This group is actually becoming more common than the monogamists. These people casually date multiple people without committing themselves to an individual. They may be intimate with multiple people at a given point in and do not see marriage on the horizon. Marriage is probably a word that brings shudders to their spine. Most people in this group eventually move to the monogamy category when they are “old” and have “been there, done that.”

The monogamist

This group of people may not see marriage in the near future or at all, but they are in a committed relationship or looking for a committed relationship. They tend to be older (although this is not always the case), wanting the emotional connection that uncommitted dating doesn’t offer, and searching for an individual to share their future with.

You also have the serial monogamists in this category. The individuals who, although they do not date multiple people at once, are constantly in committed relationships one after the other, without much uncommitted dating in between. They usually have many partners, but these partners are not concurrent. These guys are probably searching for “the one” but haven’t found them yet and are tired of disappointing relationships.

The “Muslim” non-Muslim

This is the non-Muslim who could almost be mistaken for Muslim because of their approach to the dating world. They are probably from a traditional culture or are religious. Examples that come to mind are Indians with traditional parents or practising Christians.

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In my opinion, the practising Christians have it tougher than us Muslims. They usually restrict themselves to getting to know someone who is also a practising Christian of their particular religious group, so a practising Anglican for example. Unfortunately for these guys, they are of a culture that no longer follows the “courting” tradition that was once common, so these practising Christians are left trying to find their a practising Christian in the huge non-Muslim dating world where no rules apply; the “Love Actually” world where the practising Christian may become attached to non-Christians and throw their requirements out the window in the name of love and in the hope that faith will come to their chosen partner. Or, remain single for a very long time until a religiously appropriate partner is found (I’m sure a lot of Muslims can relate to this latter point too). Luckily for us though, we don’t have to venture into the non Muslim dating world,  Alhamdulillah. So it’s easier for us. We have our own Muslim courting world that is still very much so embedded in our culture and widely accepted, unlike the Christians whose religion encourages courting but Western culture does not.

I think it’s safe to say that non-Muslims from traditional cultures have somewhat similar experiences to Muslims when it comes to all things love-related. It’s usually a box ticking exercise, it’s probably not ‘romantic’ and involves parental approval. Muslims tend to relate well to this group because besides the religion factor, these friends understand the logic to our supposed “restrictive madness.”

Actually, to digress for a moment (okay, more than a moment), this takes me to something that is forever brought up with non-Muslim friends. The idea that as Muslims, we restrict ourselves too much and care too much about the “Muslim” box being ticked, rather than looking at the content of the person’s character. I call bulls$$t on that, but let’s indulge in a discussion of it regardless. This is something that is endlessly on the debating table with non-Muslim friends. Putting the “haram” factor aside, since this is never an argument that non-Muslims take well to, this is how the conversation usually plays out:

Non-Muslim friend (John): “But why are you being so restrictive, shouldn’t the most important thing be that they’re a good person?”

Muslim (Fatima): “Of course that’s important, but why can’t they be Muslim AND a good person?”

John: “It’s hard enough these days to find someone decent, you’re being too picky. ”

Fatima: “Being Muslim isn’t just a label, it is my purpose and is a part of my everyday life. There is no point marrying someone who can’t share my lifestyle.”

John: “But a non-Muslim could still take part in your Muslim stuff and support you.”

Fatima: “Would you wake up at 5am every single day of your life to support your Muslim wife? Would you fast for 30 days every year?”

John: *dumbfounded*

Fatima: “Yeah. There you go.”

Okay, so the conversation is usually a lot more detailed than that but putting the sarcasm aside, this takes me to the #dontevengothere mentality that non-Muslims generally do not understand. I’m talking about the “uncommitted dater” and “monogamist” types mentioned above, not the “Muslim” non-Muslims. Generally speaking, dating and relationship stuff in the non-Muslim world is a free-for-all. No one is off limits. It doesn’t matter which religion, culture, situation, or even gender that the person is, pretty much every person that you find attractive is date-able. This is definitely not the case with us Muslims. We have what I like to refer to as the “don’t even go there” mentality. We are excellent (for the most part) at restricting ourselves to what is (usually, Allahu Alam) good for us.

Non-Muslims are always in the #dontevengothere group for us, as well as sometimes particular cultures. We may #dontevengothere seemingly suitable Muslims who might not be at the level of spirituality that we feel that we need. Or we may #dontevengothere girls who don’t wear hijabs or men without beards. Some of these  restrictions may not be Islamic, but I’m simply trying to illustrate a point. We are (usually) really good at limiting ourselves to choices that we believe are good for our worldly life and the hereafter. We are disciplined. Non-Muslims aren’t because they don’t have to be. There is no other-world punishment for their romantic choices. Their objectives are different. And so our restrictive approach is always something that rarely translates and seems to lack substance in the non-Muslim’s mind since, when it really comes down to it, our objectives in this life are vastly different.

And that’s what it comes down to boys and girls. No matter how much we analyse this, no matter how much non-Muslims are perplexed by this, it always comes down to one thing: why are we here?