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We have a serious marriage crisis in the Muslim American community.

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?

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.

19 replies on “We have a serious marriage crisis in the Muslim American community.”

Thank you for sharing that experience! I’m from ishqr- and we’re trying to change the way relationships are perceived and creating conversation on dating/relationship and marriage in the Muslim space. I’d love to chat with you more about your experience and thoughts on the topics.

I can see where you are coming from, but I don’t think it is fair to say that Muslim men do not want educated, independent women, as compared to non-Muslim men. Both groups are not monolithic. However, I get it that this is from your experience. For example, I had a similar situation with two men (different times) that my parents set me up with, where they basically wanted an educated girl with the right school and degree, but told me explicitly that I would have to move to their city and give up my career plans for him, and eventually quit. Are you fuckin’ kidding me? One of the mothers also wanted to get me to sign that I would not pursue a PhD in the future.

Our culture, more specifically South Asian since this is what my experience is based off of, is obsessed with credentials and being able to say that their new girl in the family went to X Ivy League or liberal arts college, but this does not necessarily translate to being a good wife, so you, the woman, will have to give something up.

I just think that social changes have been taking place so quickly, especially for women, that we haven’t been able to keep up. You can’t blame mothers from previous generations to not get it, or even men to get it who are suddenly facing women of equal or better education, career, and voice. It’s sad, but it is up to both genders to fix this.

A strong, independent, and highly educated (PhD) female Muslim friend of mine shared this article on FB. Very good read. As a first-generation Muslim male from South Asia who grew up in the Midwest, I agree 100%. I cannot offer any solutions, but I can tell you what really changed me: When I was an undergrad, my father married a lady who had accepted Islam just a few years before. She was a full-blown American, with none of the attitudes that give rise to the sad reality you described so well. Having someone like that in the family slowly but surely changed me and my father in some of the biggest and best ways.

I wish that as a community we can overcome these challenges. The whole going “back home” and getting someone (male or female) will only perpetuate the problem, including the huge amount of fraud that is regularly attempted.

Very, very interesting read. Very complex problem. As a non muslim man, who deeply Loves a muslim woman, this issue has caused me much grief. I believe that I suit her so well. She believes that she should be with me. But the doctrine, and its interpretation seems to be pretty clear. It is standing right between us… And the doctrine cannot be innovated.. Great article!

Yasmine, it sounds like non-Muslim men meet your criteria fine and accept you for who you are. If that is what you value most, you should give them priority. And maybe there is one that values Islam as you do. Good luck with your search and don’t give up hope. By the way, I was never “taught” to value beauty. That’s in my nature.

I can definitely understand where you’re coming from but I feel that there is also an underlying issue that many muslims in Western countries don’t address. Which is the fact that if you have a background from another country (South Asian, Arab, African, etc.) many people feel that they are supposed to marry someone from the exact same background. If Islam is the real priority, race/ethnicity shouldn’t matter as much. I’m from the Washington DC area and the muslim community is very diverse here. Despite it all, many muslims still segregate themselves when it comes to marriage. I know of a girl from my college MSA who had an african-american boy from our MSA propose. But since her family is desi, they declined him waiting for a desi guy to come along. Can you believe it?! It was the first time I’ve ever heard of a desi parent turning down an engineer! I definitely agree with the problems listed in this article. I suggest to the writer that she may have to open up her options and try looking for muslim guys of different ethnicities. If you could relate to non-muslim men, why not muslim men from different races?

I love love love this!!! Thanks for your courage! You are good enough!!!! Hang in there, you will find a partner able to honor your fierceness!!!

This is extremely well written article. For some reason all the article that relates to marriage seems to have been written by women. Nearly all of them seem to deem man and their family are the problem. Most of the articles seems to blame guys and their family having too high of standard and they marry women from back home. However they never say anything about standard that is being set by women themselves. Women also have set standard when it comes to look, finance and family. Only difference is that guys admit it they want certain type. Before you ask us guys to fix our standard I think it’s best that you fix your own standard first.

There’s nothing wrong with having standards. The problem for us women is that we’re expected to “settle” and sacrifice the things we want and have a right to for the ability to marry. Why should we change before we ask men to? Shouldn’t we all be striving to change and grow together?

Men don’t write about actual marital issues (unless it’s the fiqh) because men don’t encounter the same barriers. They can easily fend off intrusive aunties and not have to think about “settling down” for as long as they want, as if women are the only ones with body-clocks. There is no shame in being a single man, but being a single woman comes with cat-lady and spinster jokes.

The reason marrying “back home” is so prevalent is precisely because there is an idea (often true, in my personal experience) that men and women back home have lower standards. The women just want to marry and procreate and the men just want citizenship or a trophy wife. They’ll overlook a woman’s “western ways”.

Basically, people need to stop whining about “western women” having too high standards or being “too picky”. They have a right to want what they want.

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