Tag Archives: Muslim

Between Skinny Jeans and Abaya

I made a bit of a faux pas the other day. I’d come straight from work and went to pray taraweeh in an unfamiliar place, still dressed in my winter work staples: a knee-length coat with fitted pants to be easily tucked into boots. I realised on my way that I’d probably be the only woman there in pants, let alone fitted ones, and I wasn’t wrong. I cursed my own stupidity and vowed to carry an emergency abaya in my bag for next time.

This dance between skinny jeans and abaya isn’t a new one. When I first started wearing the hijab in my late teens, I was fascinated by maxi skirts and maxi dresses, the uniform of the MSA faithful. Later, I gave myself a little bit more leeway, adopting a uniform of dresses over jeans. Given my propensity to trip over my own feet, it felt safer and more practical to be wearing pants. I’d already had a long skirt caught in an escalator twice and I had no intention of repeating the experience.

But I never felt quite right in skinny jeans. I didn’t feel like it reflected where I was at, nor where I aspired to be. My mum and closest friends would half-jokingly tease that my pants were too tight, and I’d half-jokingly agree, but then just keep on wearing them. I felt self-conscious if I had to unexpectedly go somewhere ‘Islamic’, tugging at my shirt-dress as if to magically lengthen it. I decided to charity-bin the skinny jeans once and for all. I threw them out and resolved to only wear dresses, skirts and the occasional pair of baggy pants henceforth.

For a long time, I stuck to my resolution, even with my daily trips up and down the giant escalators at the train station. I wore business jackets with maxi dresses and maxi hijabs and maxi everything. I felt slightly uncool, but in the coolest way possible. But it wasn’t to last. Somehow, the lure of skinny jeans drew me back in to its orbit, and this is where I’m hovering at now, between skirts and skinny jeans, depending on the occasion, context and precisely how lazy I’m feeling. I’ve developed my own internal modesty-meter, and although it may swing and tip over from time to time, it’s important to me to at least think critically about what I wear and why I’m wearing it.

This process of self-reflection and self-auditing is hardly unique. Some women wear turbans in some contexts but not others. Many consciously change and adapt their clothing to suit their environment, whether out of fear of censure or simply out of respect for the culture of the organisation. The complexity of why we dress the way we do is difficult to capture. Does a person wear abaya because they think it looks cute, because they feel it’s the most modest option or because it’s the most commonly worn item in their social circle? Does a person wear skinny jeans because of ease or because they think it’s trendy? Any act which involves an element of public consumption is going to also involve an element of performance, of trying to project a certain image, and those who wear hijab are no more immune to this than those who don’t.

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I find that discussions on modesty tend to be dominated by two discourses, both of which I find at least somewhat problematic. The one discourse places inordinate and often grossly inappropriate emphasis on women’s bodies and dress. In its crudest form, we see women’s clothing being explained through references to lollipops, burritos and any number of rude ‘this is not hijab’ comments on Instagram. This kind of policing is often grounded in deeply misogynistic ideas on the role of women in helping to ‘control’ men’s lustful gazes and that a woman’s outward appearance is inherently linked to her virtue, chastity and sexual availability.  It also places undue emphasis on substance over form, ignoring the fact that a skirt or a dress can be just as tight and form-fitting as a pair of pants.

As awful, cringe-worthy and offensive as these ideas are, the push-back has often been expressed in counterproductive ways. Just as outward appearance is given disproportionate weight by the lollipop brigade, those who oppose them are frequently guilty of stomping all over the importance of modest dress for both men and women. We are told that what you wear means nothing, that it’s all about what’s on the inside. We aren’t allowed to make any references to people’s clothing out of fear to be seen to be ‘judging’ them, even if they are people we know well. In some circles, reverse snipes about the supposed bad behaviour of women in hijab are common. Even those who defend hijab often do so based purely on super-fun-happy liberal notions of freedom of choice and the supposed empowerment it affords its wearer. The increasing commodification of hijab into a cool and hip fashion accessory serves as yet another means of desacralising and sanitising the conversation for a modern audience.

I don’t think I’ll ever quit wearing pants entirely, but who knows, I may just convert my skinny jeans into a dusting cloth sometime in the not-too-distant-future. (If my mum had her way, she’d be polishing our coffee table with them right now.) Inner and outer modesty is a journey, and like all journeys, it’s easiest when undertaken both self-reflexively and as a collective effort. This means thinking about what we wear and how we can strive for both better inner and outer standards of modesty, and it means picking each other up when we fall with kindness, diplomacy and with no references to edible foodstuffs whatsoever.

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.

Is desegregation the answer to Muslim marriage woes?

Segregation is one of those topics people tend to get up in arms about, whether for or against. Some people prefer partitions. Some people won’t attend events with partitions. Those who oppose segregation tend to be either married couples who want to go to events together, or singles who lament their missed opportunity to mingle with the opposite sex. (Of course, there are conscientious objectors too, but let’s just leave them out of the discussion for now.) This begs the question: is segregation killing your chances of getting married?

At first glance, the answer could be yes. If there are no opportunities for people to see each other, let alone talk, it’s virtually impossible to meet anyone at Muslim events. Even when there’s no partition, social conventions often dictate minimal contact between the sexes. No one is going to escort you out of the building if you do talk to someone of the opposite sex, but it’s not easy. If you don’t know the person, it’s not the done thing to approach them and just say ‘so, isn’t this panel discussion on gender rights in Islam fascinating?’ Even if you have a slight acquaintance with the person, you usually need some pretext to strike up a conversation. This is particularly the case for females, who are often discouraged from initiating any form of expressing interest out of fear of appearing ‘desperate’.

Consequently, many people get into what I like to call a ‘locked eye romance’: exchanging glances and smiles over the refreshments table (everyone suddenly becomes a tea drinker at these things), maybe even a friend request, but not having the space or confidence to do anything further. This is typically the case in MSAs, where people may see each other every other week at BBQs or lectures but have little opportunity to engage in conversation. But this scenario plays out even after people have left university, leaving 20somethings to play the let’s-look-at-each-other-across-the-room game long after it was a fun teenage distraction. This can leave people dispirited and frustrated, and unless there’s a mutual friend who can help out, it frequently fizzles out and goes nowhere.

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The lack of opportunity to talk to people of the opposite sex has one rather hilarious side effect: incentivising volunteering. Muslims love a good volunteer session, because not only do they get to feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but they also get an added bonus: a legitimate excuse to mix with people of the opposite sex. Whether it’s helping out on a uni Shura, feeding the homeless or planting some cute little seedlings, activities will necessitate some level of interaction, and from there, it’s much easier to strike up a conversation organically. Volunteering is seen as a less confronting way of meeting people than an explicitly matrimonial event, since everything happens ‘incidentally’. Of course, it could be seen as slightly problematic that people are volunteering partly to meet a cutie with a social conscience, but others see it as the only real ‘in’ when everything else is segregated.

But is desegregation the saviour of the shoddy Muslim matrimonial scene? Well, not really. It may eliminate some problems, such as a lack of opportunity, but it can introduce all kinds of other pesky dilemmas. If people are very casual about gender interaction, it could very likely result in a very relaxed, let’s-talk-for-years-before-we-decide attitude to marriage. This could work for some people, but for others, it’s just plain annoying and not at all conducive to finding a spouse. It’s all too common for people to get stuck in the Muslim friendzone, a place where hangouts and flirtations abound but from which marriages very rarely eventuate.

The Muslim friendzone is not an entirely comfortable place to be, even for people who aren’t particular fussed about gender mixing. It’s difficult for Muslim men and women to become BFFs in the first place because so many topics are just entirely off-limits. If they do become close, one person will often decide that they want more and end up either getting rejected in spectacular fashion or pining away in secret, reading text messages dozens of times to extract hidden meanings.  Inevitably, people tend to distance themselves from their friends of the opposite sex once they get married, so some might argue that there’s not much point in investing in a relationship which is bound to die off.

I don’t have any solutions as to how to crack the code of meeting someone. Clearly, it’s not as simple as having a big fat freemixing fest. Some people may argue that it’s not the Muslim community’s responsibility to find you a husband/wife, that if you come to Islamic classes or events your intention shouldn’t be to meet people. However, some may argue that marriage is a communal responsibility and that if we as a community don’t do more to facilitate marriages, people will resort to less reputable, riskier methods. I definitely see the issue of marriage as something we all should invest in and share as a communal responsibility, but I’m just not sure how this should be addressed. The more I see, the more I think it’s simply a matter of luck/naseeb/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, of being in the right place and the right mentality at the right time. Whether you want to wait for that to happen or try to cook up a bit of your own naseeb over a bake sale is entirely your call.

How do you think Muslims could more easily meet and form connections? Does there need to be a more concerted event as a community to facilitate marriages?

When Muslim meets Tinder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What type of Muslim single are you?

The last post got me thinking a whole lot about the life of a single Muslim. I’ve been to four weddings already this year. Last year, I went to about six. Nevertheless, I can’t seem to shake off the feeling that we’re entering some kind of weird post-marriage era, a kind of dystopian otherworld where people are staying single for yonks longer than their parents and grandparents did. This may be as often due to choice as it is due to circumstance.

As always, I insert my tedious disclaimer about generalisations being generalisations and not granite fatwas. But enough with the disclaimers, let’s categorise people now:

1.) The cynical/bitter single

This person feels that they’ve been burned too many times to even think about putting their heart on the line. If anyone brings up the topic of marriage, they’ll often make sarcastic comments or simply try to change the subject. They pretend not to care at all about getting married, and may have trained themselves enough to believe that this is the case.

How to nab them: Underneath their somewhat uninviting exterior, they’re often deeply caring and emotional. If you’re patient enough, you can draw them out, but do it slowly or you’ll scare them off.

 2.) The meh single

This person is either indifferent to the idea of getting married or just doesn’t care quite enough to do anything about it. As a result, they’re most likely going to get married through ‘traditional’ means, and they’re indifferent to that prospect too. They’re sure it’ll happen at some point, and they’re willing to sit back and wait until it does.

How to nab them: They can be quite difficult to spot because of their low-key modus operandi, but if you do, you can probably coax them into something fairly easily. (As long as they like you, that is.) They’re pretty meh, remember?

3.)  The holding-out-for-Mr/Ms-right-single

This person has most likely been in a relationship/had strong feelings for someone and as a result, is waiting to ‘feel it’ again. They feel that they’ve experienced an intense connection and as such, anything less will just be not good enough.

How to nab them: Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to engage this type of person. They have to really, really like you for them to actually pursue anything serious, and there’s very little you can do to try to ‘induce’ those feelings.

 4.) The preoccupied single

This person isn’t averse to marriage; rather, it’s just not high on their long list of priorities. Whether it’s career or study hurdles they’re trying to get over, they have their eye fixed firmly on the prize and very little will divert them at this point in their life.

How to nab them: Once they feel that they’re ready, they will commit fairly quickly, so you just need to wait for the right opportunity. Alternately, you may be in the same field or sphere as them and catch their eye as the perfect potential partner in crime.

 5.) The I’m-not-ready single

This person just doesn’t feel ready. This is either because they’re not quite sure where they’re studies/career/existence is going, or because they know enough of where they’re going to know they aren’t there yet. As such, they feel hesitant about expressing interest in someone, worrying that they just won’t be up to the job.

How to nab them: In order for them to consider you, they’ll need to know that you value them for their innate personal qualities rather than their job title or salary package. For some, these reassurances may be enough. For others, they won’t be able to commit, regardless of how much they like you or how much you like them.

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 6.) The cute youngling single

This person may be open to the idea of getting married, but knows that it may only happen in the distant future because they’re fresh out of high school. They often have an upbeat, rosy attitude towards marriage because no one has trampled all over their heart (yet).

How to nab them: Just ask! An expression of interest is sure to get their heart aflutter.

 7.) The oft-thwarted single

This person isn’t single out of choice. They’ve been trying to meet people and may have had a few close tries, but somehow they just never make it over the line. They’ll keep trying until they get there, and are open to considering just about anybody with a full set of teeth and a heart of bronze.

How to nab them: You just need to cross paths and their interest may be sparked. From here, you really don’t have to do all that much-they’ve got it all covered.

 8.) The clueless single

This person does in fact want to get hitched, but doesn’t really know how to go about it. They may not have the connections to meet people or the social savvy to be able to know how to express interest, and they’re left scratching their head as to how it’s all supposed to work.

How to nab them: Just extend them a helping hand. If you like them and they like you, there’s no reason they won’t extend theirs.

 9.) The playing-the-field single

This person’s detractors may label them a ‘player’, but they don’t see it that way. They just want to keep their options open. They want to see what’s ‘out there’, whether because they feel they’re too young/too inexperienced/too cool to commit to one person just yet.

How to nab them: Unless they feel you’re something out-of-this world, they won’t commit. But they will get bored of keeping their options open at some point, so if you’re there at that precise moment, you may find yourself the lucky final recipient of their attentions.

10.) The precise-fit single

This person has very specific requirements for a partner, and as such has narrowed their field considerably. Sometimes, these requirements are all of their own making, but they may be related to parental expectations too e.g. marrying a person of the same culture.

How to nab them: Their openness to someone who doesn’t fit their requirements will depend on their level of discipline. Some people stick to their guns no matter what, while others will let their feelings be their guide. Or alternately, you could be the lucky person who just happens to tick all of their boxes.

11.) (you thought I’d stop at 10, didn’t you?)

The single-who-isn’t-really-single single

This person’s relationship status is a mystery. They’re certainly not married, but that’s as much as anybody knows. Whether they’re pining over an unrequited love, secretly seeing a requited love, struggling with their sexuality or preoccupied with the whereabouts of the Loch Ness Monster, nobody is quite sure .

How to nab them: You can’t pursue them until you find out exactly what their deal is, but be warned: this sleuthing may take a while. Or maybe it won’t. After all, Muslims are pros at knowing things about people we’ve never even spoken to in person.

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Life after 30 as a single Muslim woman

by Anonymous

If you’ve hit 30 and are still single, you’re probably not going to find your habibti/beta/canim.

Well then, now that’s I’ve gotten you all angry at the defeatist introduction, why not stay a while and read on yaar?

I remember reading an article once about women in their 30s missing from the marketing world, like they aren’t a desirable market to sell goods to – lingerie is for toned women in their 20s, domestic stuff is for mothers in their 40s and anything ‘cool’ is for the teen market. The writer lamented about being a demographic no one wanted to appeal to, like she had no market share valuable enough to target. It got me to thinking about how in Islamic cultures women in their 30’s are seen in the same light- you’re just not a marketable product to sell for marriage. Sorry hun, you’re like an iPhone 4…Apple don’t even want to sell you anymore.

I’ve had two friends in their early 20s actually say to my face they wanted to get married soon, as they were scared if they approach my age their prospects were next to none. As bi*chy as it sounds they honestly didn’t mean any malice by it; it was a sincere fear of theirs. This is what it’s like to be a single Muslim woman in your 30s-you’re not fabulous, you’re a warning sign that girls in their 20s will hear by their aunties not to end up like.

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Single, practicing Muslim women entering their 30s are a rising demographic. I feel like my generation of friends are the first to go through this new phenomenon, the battle between feeling like a suitable and eligible candidate for prospective men vs the shelf space put aside for you by everyone else.  I never realised moving to the next age box in a survey would dictate my self-worth so much.  I wasn’t taught this in school or at Islamic classes…

I’ve lost track of how many people have asked around about me casually and stopped as soon as they found out I was in my 30s. This means people had a good impression of my character from hearsay or having met me, or in the males’ case they clearly were attracted to me physically to want to pursue some more background information – the only thing that deterred them was my age. You can also forget the scenario where a brother is interested in meeting a sister for marriage and asks around – his requests always come with an age group – and you guessed it – 30 is the limit.

Our respective Muslim communities have failed us. Muslims living in the West are surrounded by other nationalities and religions in successful relationships with older / divorced women so it’s not a foreign concept to them. Our biggest male role model the Rasul (s.a.w) married older, divorced and single mothers – in fact the only younger wife was Aisha (ra). Men rush to lead by his example and grow a beard, use a miswak and give to charity… but when it comes to his example of marriage they simply have too much pride to consider a woman in her 30s, even then they are in the same age bracket too!

The shelf life of a woman is dictated by the elders in the community who reinforce the desirable ‘young beautiful virgin’ ideal to their sons, who are actually ‘old ugly and oversexed’ losers that frankly no self-respecting woman deserves to end up with. I’ve learnt long ago that just because community elders have lived longer doesn’t mean they know what’s best for your dunya and akhira, rather they were married off in a village at 16 and don’t really know any different to the lives they’ve led decades ago.  Can you count on your fingers how many Muslim women in their 30s have gotten married in the past year or so? Probably not even a handful, and most are to reverts who they met at work/social scenes who refreshingly don’t come with the cultural stigma attached.

Then you get told to have tawakkul and faith in God’s decree. It’s all ‘naseeb’, they tell you (after making you feel like and undesirable loser). Yes, definitely have tawakkul ladies, we do not know what it written for us, but I also believe in the ‘tie your camel’ story as a metaphor for how to then go about your life. I decided a few years ago to stop waiting for my knight in shining jilbab. I had too many dreams, and this life isn’t a fairy-tale. Start a relationship with your mind. Go back to studies if there are any topics of interest you’ve put off. Start dating your passport-instead of dinners, collect stamps and see the world! A honeymoon in Fiji shouldn’t be the only travel goal left for you. The world is too awesome to wait for someone to hold your hand and explore it with you. As lovely as it may sound, the longer you wait you’ll just end up renewing that passport with no stamps after its 10 year validity.

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You are not ‘half a Muslim’ because you’re not married. The ‘half your deen’ statement pertains to the fact that half the problems you will face with your iman will be marriage-related, and that is the specific test for married people.  Allah created you as complete in every way, and if men can’t see that, it is a product of their stupidity. So just politely ignore the gossipy aunties at the next social gathering where you are quite frankly the most fabulous woman in the room regardless of how you are made to feel.

What it’s like to get married at 18

by Aisyah Shah Idil

It was my first year of university, and I was missing my friends desperately. None of them attended the university I did, so I made regular trips on the 891 bus to see them. It was the midday bus stop crowd – full of bored, listless students. I sympathized – UNSW’s stairs were nothing to scoff at.

I milled about, checked my watch, looked to my right – and stopped, dumbstruck.

Him! I knew him! I’d met him years ago, at an Islamic class. We knew each other, but lost contact soon after. That I had a huge crush on him was of little consequence.

I crept up behind him and said hi. He tore his earphones out of his ears and grinned widely at me – the both of us erupting into excited catch-ups. I noticed his hands were shaking.

Half a year later, we were married.

My husband was seventeen, and I was eighteen. By most people’s standards, that’s a fairly young age to get married. It’s been two years since I saw him at the bus stop, and in that time, I have learnt so much more than I ever imagined. About myself and my husband, our flaws and our strengths – how difficult it is to assert your standing in family gatherings where you are both the youngest and just how fun it is to be in the same uni tutorial as your husband.

But being married young does have its challenges. Neither of us had jobs when we got married – or all the trappings of wealth that it came with. My wedding dress was a present from my mother, and he wore his beat-up Vans. We had no lavish buffet, no honeymoon abroad. We didn’t have the immediate aura of Adulthood ™ – but we were honest in our love for each other, and we were willing to learn.

Sneakers on a Pier3

(Also, we’ve been accused of adultery far more than is reasonable. Hanging out at a bus-stop with my husband wasn’t exactly asking for a car full of men to stop outside and shout ‘haram!’ at us, but hey, what do I know. It seemed pretty clear to them, considering they came back three times.

Pro-tip: don’t accuse people of adultery. It will never end well.)

I always feel a little bemused when people ask me what it’s like to be married young. Young marriage is my only experience of marriage, and it’s about as strangely wonderful as it gets. When I procrastinate for my university assignments, I have my husband to hug me and tell me everything will be okay. When I realise I’ve been on my laptop too long and miss my friends, it’s my husband that makes sure I text them. When my husband got his P’s, I was the first person he told.

This is my normality. It is nothing like I thought it would be, and yet so, so much more beautiful.

When you have people mocking the idea that you, you with all your wide-eyed inexperience, your freshly framed school graduation paper, your lack of whatever adulthood is marked by, could ever love deeply enough to want marriage – could ever love deeply enough to make it last – it can hurt.

And when enough people do it, it can sound true.

But this is the thing – I believe that every single one of us is capable of immense, wondrous love. Love that is a tiny reflection of the sheer mercy and rahma of Allah, Most High. However it manifests is up to you – be it to your spouse, your friends, your parents, your teachers, your pets – or all of them! Because at the root of it, I believe love is the same throughout. It is the sincere concern for one another, the want to have the other be well, and whole, and happy and healthy. It is that longing to truly know one another, and to be truly known by one another.

And that is never bound by age.

Marrying my husband was a wonderful decision: A+ would do again. But it was still only a single decision. Far more important were the little ones – the decision to let my husband sleep in while I sort the groceries, the decision he makes to comfort me when I am scared of losing him. Loving is in action, and if you are worried that youth cannot love, then perhaps we haven’t taught them well enough.

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I’m not here to convince you that young marriages are worthy of respect. Opinions have no influence on worth, and every single person is worthy of love, respect and kindness. Whether they marry young, old, or never at all does nothing to change this. If I had married when I was thirty (as my younger self aspired to) with a career and car and savings all in hand, that would have been just as valid as my marriage today – no more and no less. No more deserving of people’s understanding, kindness and compassion; and no less of people’s condescension, judgment and assumption.

When I told the people around me that I was getting married, I took their ‘congratulations’ and ‘alf mabrooks’ with a healthy dose of surprise. Where was the ‘what are you doing with your life?’ or ‘you are far too young to make this decision’. The people I loved trusted my judgement more than I did, and that was humbling. They gave me loving advice, a soundboard for my fears and an assurance that no matter what: Allah SWT has me safely in His plan.

I got married with the quiet confidence that no matter what age I was, I would love and endeavor to love the man that Allah SWT opened my heart to. And at the age of eighteen, I promised Him to do just that.