There is a marriage crisis amongst Muslims and I think that is putting it lightly. I am even having trouble trying to put my feelings on this matter into words because I am at a loss of where to start. I am not really sure how this happened, nor do I know how to fix things, but I do know that change has to occur.
Once we hit puberty, we are instructed by the community to not interact with the other gender. The boys you once raced around the masjid with are now covered in cooties, and “Circle, circle, dot, dot” is not a good enough vaccine in Islam. However, it seems to work outside of the mosque, because the Muslim boys you go to school with have no trouble talking to non-Muslim girls. What’s up with that?
In high school, which is already a precarious time, this pattern continued and I found that I was much more comfortable with non-Muslim boys than with the group of boys I once used to play with. Once upon a time, we could spend hours playing board games together at family parties, but now we can’t even manage to get two sentences out to each other without feeling all sorts of awkward.
Enter college, where MSA’s can provide an excellent space to forge friendships, make connections, and build a community in your new home. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the greatest experience with my MSA. I was judged for not being a hijabi by one group of people, but also judged for not drinking by another group of people. This was my first introduction to the idea of being “good enough,” and because I couldn’t find comfort with the majority of Muslims on campus, I found my niche amongst my non-Muslim friends who respected and valued all of my characteristics and idiosyncrasies.
After graduation, I moved back home and rejoined the community at my local mosque. At this point, aunties began to ask intrusively when I was getting married. They would make comments to my mother: “Shame, she has such nice features, but her color…she is too dark. Have you looked into bleaching creams?” and, “I don’t think she would be able to find someone from America, you’re better of finding someone from back home. You know if you find a doctor, there is still a chance she can have a good life.”
To me, they would say: “Oh, you’re going to graduate school? Why? What are you going to do with that degree? Don’t you want to get married? You don’t want to be smarter than your husband.” “You can’t be too independent, no man will want to marry you if he feels that he can’t take care of you.” “You shouldn’t be too strong. Lower your voice and walk softly. Be a lady.” “Have you learned to cook? What do you make?”
With every comment and remark, I stifled my desire to rudely retort with a sassy answer. “Of course I can cook, do you think I starved all those years I lived by myself in college?” “When am I getting married? Good question, why don’t you ask Allah. Let me know what He says.”
It was as though my life was now dependent on my ability to get married. But once again, the community I should have found comfort in was diminishing my worth; they were finding ways to tell me I was not good enough.
I did want to get married though, so I tried to go about finding a partner the “halal” way. I went to matrimonial/speed-dating events. Once, when I stated that I did not like a particular Indian dish, this one guy did not know what to say to me for the next two minutes. Another guy barely listened to a thing I said, and after a minute and half, asked to just sit in silence because he was exhausted from talking. Not everyone was like that though. I did meet some nice guys, but there was just was no chemistry. I couldn’t figure out was missing, but I just was not clicking with anyone. It was as if we were all back in high school again, overcome with bouts of awkwardness. In general, although there were a variety of guys at these events, it became clear that most were looking for a specific type of look…a tall, fair-skinned, non-hijabi who was well educated but wanted to stay at home with the kids. I’m short, dark-skinned and I am determined to use my education to help save lives, while also making time for my children. I don’t care if I marry someone who makes enough money to support the family: I am passionate about what I do, and I am not ready to give that up just yet.
I’ve tried Muslim matrimonial websites, and although I have heard of a few success stories, I just met guys from abroad who barely spoke English and wanted to know if I was an American citizen. When I called one guy out on all of his lies, he told me that I was an ungrateful woman who will never get married. Wait, what?! Just because I asked why he switched careers from medicine to owning a clothing store in Pakistan?
I wish I could tell you that I just have the worst luck possible, but I know of women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s with similar stories and experiences. What is going on? We teach children to not interact with the other gender and yet, when they become of marriageable age, we automatically expect them to woo one another and marry quickly. But how can that be possible when men are taught to value superficial things, such as beauty? Even a degree is just for the name of it. This is not acceptable.
I just want a decent guy, with whom I have chemistry and an undeniable connection. I want someone who will be my partner; I want someone who respects me, all of me. And it’s a shame that I find that respect amongst non-Muslim men, while I struggle to find it with Muslim men. Why is it that I am bombarded with messages about not being good enough for Muslim men, yet non-Muslim men value my education, strength, voice, independence, and just about every characteristic that makes me who I am. I want someone who will be my spiritual partner, someone who values Islam the same way I do. But I am not sure where I am supposed to find him and I’m not the only one looking.
We have to change our standards, system, and community. We have to find a way to cut through all of these cultural traditions and values so that we can begin putting an emphasis on the right things that make a marriage strong. Something has to give, because I am tired of hearing that I am not good enough when I know that I am more than good enough. I am worthy of love, of a partner, of a good person, and that’s more than what is on a biodata.