Category Archives: Obstacles

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?

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.

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?

Girls pursuing guys

Anonymous question I received: Is it ok for the female to be the one to initiate the getting-to-know-each-other-for-marital-purposes ok? E.g A (male) and Z (female) have known each other for X amount of years as acquaintances, they get along really well when they see each other occasionally. They are both now grown up and Z feels that A might possibly be the one. But she never knows how A might react to the idea. Z keeps rejecting other males as she feels they don’t live up to A’s standards. Should Z just do what Khadijah (RA) had the courage to do and see if A would be willing to go down that path?

Recently I heard a story I found rather sad. A friend of a friend (you know how it is in the Muslim community) had been pursuing a guy by sending him messages across various mediums. At no point did she express outright interest, but her intentions were clear: ‘I like you, let’s make this happen.’ But the guy in question was instantly turned off by her behaviour. Even though he admitted to friends that under ordinary circumstances he would’ve been interested in her, he found her obvious interest in him unattractive.  He quickly slotted her into the ‘desperate’ category, following which he made an equally quick run for the door.

When I heard this story, I immediately wondered how much of his distaste was due to the simple fact that he wasn’t used to the idea of a girl taking the initiative. We all know the story about Khadija (ra), so it’s not like the idea is alien to Islamic practice. But while many Muslim guys will say that in theory they’re fine with the girl expressing interest, this isn’t always the case in practice. If a girl does like a guy, she’s often expected to wait for him to make the first move. If she even implicitly expresses interest, she runs the risk of scaring him off as well as attracting a reputation amongst both guys and girls for being desperate.

I find this state of affairs sad and rather silly.  Are girls supposed to sit at home, waiting for Prince Charming to throw a pebble against their window? (‘Rapunzel, let down your hijab!’) Surely we’ve moved beyond that. Or maybe we’ve regressed, if the example of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is anything to go by. If he, the best of creation, could marry a wealthy older woman who happened to be his employer and who also happened to initiate things between them, who are we to object? Strong, empowered, gutsy women are the opposite of desperate, but not in the eyes of the community it seems.

I certainly don’t mean to bag out Muslim guys here, because the problem isn’t one-sided. Many girls expect guys to do all the leg-work, but reject those who fall short of their criteria in one fell swoop. It can be a very cruel business. I can understand why some guys give up all hope of ever finding a girl who’ll simply accept him and not make him jump through a thousand hoops just to have a shot with her. Guys are also not immune to being slapped with the desperate label; they usually get  it if they make the ‘mistake’ of looking to get married before society thinks they’re up to the job. It also appears that if you’re good-looking, you’re allowed to express interest without reservation. The implication is that a good-looking person can never be desperate because they can get someone at the click of a finger.

I think that the idea of someone being desperate, whether male or female, is one that needs to go. So what if someone makes it known that they want to get married? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Of course I’m not suggesting indulging in stalkerish behaviour, (like the one guy I heard of who sent the same message to three different girls after meeting them at an Islamic event) but I don’t think that anybody should be called out on making it known that they’re wanting to get married. If they meet someone they like, why not take that extra step and see if anything could eventuate? Even if the person doesn’t  reciprocate, they should at least respect the initiator for putting their heart on the line.

The issue of girls being expected to sit back and wait for Prince Charming isn’t even Muslim-specific. I’ve read so many relationships columns based on exactly these sorts of notions. ‘Play hard to get’, they say. ‘Let him make the first move’. It’s all a bit depressing. But for Muslim girls, the concerns of modesty and propriety are always paramount, which adds another dimension to this issue. But pursuing a guy needn’t be immodest. Let’s take a look at 3 common approaches:

1.) The Upfront Approach

This one goes straight for the kill, no messing around. Marriage is a serious business after all, so why not get right in there and cut to the chase? But beware: I’ve heard of this horribly backfiring, so only the very thick-skinned should opt for this one.

2.) The Slow and Subtle Approach

This one requires a bit of creativity and a deft touch. Too little, and the interest will be imperceptible, too much and the desperate stamp will come banging down. Basically, it requires the girl to demonstrate that she is that tiny bit more inclined towards the guy in question than she is towards others. It’s in the salaams, the slight smiles offered and the gentle humour. In this way, she in fact induces him to make the first move without him being fully aware of it. Check this nasheed out for some hilariously corny inspiration:

3.) The Third Party Approach

This is probably the easiest and least confronting. Get a mutual friend to do the sussing out-you can even do it without revealing that you’re interested by making it seem like it’s the friend’s idea. That way, if the guy isn’t interested, it’s less awkward for all parties involved.

So in answer to the question, in my very humble opinion there’s certainly nothing wrong with a girl expressing interest in someone for marriage purposes. Weigh up the risks involved and if you feel he’s worth it, then go for it. But be careful about how you go about it so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot.

Do you think ‘let him make the first move’ is outdated? Guys, do you think a girl should leave it to you to do the initiating?

When You’re Muslim and He’s Not (Yet)

*Note: I’m writing about this solely from a female perspective because the rules for Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women are different, but that’s a post for another day.

I was out the other night in the city and saw a curious sight. It was a young hijabi walking along with a guy, and the two of them were very, errrr, friendly. While this was unusual enough, it gets curiouser. I didn’t know the girl personally, but the Muslim grapevine extended far enough for me to know one thing: the guy with her wasn’t Muslim.

I don’t know why I was surprised. It’s not like I haven’t heard of this type of thing before or even seen it firsthand. In fact, when discussing this issue with a friend we came to the conclusion that it’s probably only going to become more common. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the perception exists amongst Muslim girls that there aren’t enough Muslim guys to go around. For some girls, this means the prospect of ‘converting’ a non-Muslim guy becomes a sort of last resort. For others, it goes a lot deeper.

I’ve discussed this issue with several girls, some of whom have actually been in relationships with non-Muslim guys, and some of whom who think it’s not a bad idea. They say similar things. Muslim guys were too uptight, they said. Muslim guys tended to judge them based on external factors such as their looks and career choice while non-Muslim guys were more open-minded. Non-Muslim guys were more approachable and friendly. Muslim guys had too many issues.

I can understand where these girls were coming from. Many of them had had bad experiences with Muslim guys and so wrote them off as a whole. Some of them just weren’t getting any interest from within the Muslim community. They were considered to be too loud, too opinionated, too out there-the very things that the non-Muslim guys found attractive about them. For many, frustrations spilled over, so much so that they felt compelled towards looking outside of the community.

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For others, it was simply a matter of falling in love. Many of these girls were deeply observant Muslims and had never imagined building a life with anyone other than a fellow Muslim, but it just happened. They became friends with a guy at uni and bam, sparks flew. They met a guy at work and over time, they developed feelings for each other. For these girls, the fact that these guys weren’t Muslim meant they let their guard down a lot more easily; they never envisioned it would go any further than friendship.

As interesting as it is to hear the perspectives from the girls’ side, it’s even more interesting to consider what it’s like for a non-Muslim guy to fall in love with a Muslim woman. This is especially especially intriguing when the woman wears hijab. I always wonder how they’re able to look beyond the all-too-visible reminder of their love’s faith and how they grow to find her attractive. Obviously an attractive woman is an attractive woman, regardless of whether she wears hijab or not, but I’ve actually heard that some non-Muslim guys find hijabis particularly attractive, not in spite of their hijab, but because of it. (As a Social Inquiry student that sends off weird Orientalism radars in my head, but whatever tickles their fancy I guess.)

I’ve observed mixed outcomes for these relationships.  Many have gone sour due to the reluctance of the guy to convert. Converting to a religion isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, so it’s understandable that love doesn’t always conquer all in these cases. Other relationships have flourished and eventuated in marriage, but it’s not always happily ever after. It can be hard to have a partner who doesn’t necessarily share your enthusiasm for your faith; it becomes particularly difficult when you, the born Muslim, experience periods of low iman. At times like this, you’ll often need support to keep going, and you may find your partner unable or perhaps even unwilling to give it to you.

Personally, I’ve never been able to see a non-Muslim guy in that way. I’ve never been able to get past the fact that we don’t share the most important thing in my life, that our values are built on completely different foundations. They may be great people who I respect and get along well with on a day-to-day level, but I just couldn’t see myself building a life  with them. Besides, Muslimness is just attractive. It’s attractive when a guy is an observant Muslim. It’s attractive when he possesses a lot of Islamic knowledge and wants to keep learning more and more. (It’s very attractive when he’s not a complete freak either as he goes about these things.)

What do you think? Could you ever see yourself considering a non-Muslim guy?