Such was the opening question of the wildly popular HBO series Sex and the City whose protagonist Carrie Bradshaw navigated the world of dating in New York in the 90s. Carrie’s life of men and Manolo Blanhiks seems a far cry from most of us, but her question remains pertinent to our community in 2019.
I am talking about tariqahs. I am talking about charities. I am talking about study circles. I am talking about outdoor activity groups and MSAs. I am talking about all of these circles, institutions wherein the members are conscious Muslims. They are usually young professionals, intent on bettering the world and gaining knowledge to live a life in accordance with the Book and Sunnah.
Now I know that cynics insist that young people sign up to rihlas/dawrahs/study groups because they are “husband/wife shopping”. This simply isn’t true. While there may be a percentage of participants who see this as a useful opportunity to find a spouse – the same cannot be said for most of us.
If we join the “Green Deen” group, we are very concerned about the environmental carnage humanity has wreaked on the earth. If we take bay’at with a particular shaykh, it is because there was a seismic shift in our hearts and we look to this teacher to push us further to our Lord. If we are volunteers, we genuinely care about the less-fortunate, are fearful that we will be asked about how we spent our wealth, and are trying to live closely to the Prophetic model.
But, then, surely – it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to marry someone from one of these arenas? In fact, it probably is a good idea – there may be an inherent compatibility and an increased chance of shared values. (important things in a potential spouse – right?)
Yet, in most of these realms I have had experience in (USA, UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia) – there is a common thread throughout.
The women involved in these activities are overwhelmingly single. Further, it seems that the majority of their male counterparts are simply not interested in them.
I have witnessed similar patterns for a number of years and have made some observations. I have had countless conversations with many women in a similar situation and the sentiment is shared. I remember hosting a wonderful young woman from Canada, herself recently married and very involved with Islamic programs in Toronto. After site-seeing around my hometown, attending a retreat together and having a great time, she asked me the question of all questions:
So why aren’t you married?
I mean, of course there is the easy answer and truthful answer that “Allah has not willed it.” But then the human side kicks in and I inevitably tell her “There just is no one”. My friend was shocked, she had seen so many young men who were single at this retreat and whom her husband spoke highly of. But as we continued speaking she nodded, “Yeah, so it’s the same over here too. These men aren’t really interested in marrying the women who are right in front of them.”
The trend is for the men to marry “out”. Sometimes this is under the pretext of the need to marry someone of their ethnicity or culture or even that their marriages have been arranged. But come on – this isn’t the whole truth.
I have come to realize that much of what has been influencing men and their decisions are the ideas deeply embedded within modern Western society. We often say that Muslim women have their head in the clouds, but the reality is that Muslim men do too. This means that while men may not necessarily be looking for the big romance when it comes to marriage, many of them are still looking for the “Muslim princess”. You know, the dainty, pretty, quiet girl who is fresh out of university and who hangs onto his every word. In other words, not the women he is surrounded by and with whom he shares some common ground.
The diagnostics of the above situation is a story that has been re-hashed time and time again, but I’ll write it here for ease of reference. Below is what I consider to be at the heart of my earlier question.
- Overfamiliarity They say it breeds contempt – in this case, it breeds disinterest without a doubt. We’re often told that men desire what is novel, exciting and mysterious. But by attending the same events every week/month/year, there is no mystery – just an eager looking woman who is the equivalent of the kid who used to sit in the front row at high school. Nothing exciting there, I’m afraid.
- Will this be awkward if we tried?
So perhaps the guy is interested – but what would happen if he gave it a shot? This might mean approaching you for a meeting, speaking to your father or speaking to another person you both know. Let’s say he makes his intentions known but they aren’t reciprocated? Does this mean that every encounter will be super awkward and weird? Does it mean he has to find another teacher? Should he just move to another country?
Somehow a rejection in this kind of context seems overly complicated, so maybe it’s better to make no attempts.
- Superiority complex of womenThis is a bitter pill to swallow, but ladies, it’s true, Many of us have this complex – it is especially common when you take the path of suluk as it is the ultimate test of our nafs. It happens when we begin thinking we are better than other women – and then it may as well be game over.
Not only is this kind of arrogance unattractive to a man seeking a woman of character (assuming that he is), no one wants to be with the goody-two-shoes.
- Being too availableThis is linked to the first point but has some difference in that no man wants a woman who is desperate. Now, it may be that you are desperate to get married because you want to complete your deen or take the next step in life or you want to start a family. This is good and well, but it doesn’t change the fact that you are desperate. Men can smell this from a mile away.
- “I don’t think I can commit to this lifestyle 24/7” (i.e. “I’m intimidated”)
This is perhaps the most problematic. So a man is part of a particular group and is down with most of the activities and practices but doesn’t want to be held accountable when he isn’t feeling the vibe. The idea here is that a wife who is also participating may push him to go further and he will have to answer as to why he isn’t volunteering his services at the next charity event or why he isn’t following an instruction of a shaykh.
The whole idea overwhelms these men and this is why marrying a woman “inside” is a no-go.
As you can see, there is nothing original nor particularly “Muslim” about this kind of reasoning.
Where to go to from here?
I wish I had a neat and easy answer, but I don’t. At the end of the day, marriage is a choice and people have autonomy in choosing their spouses. However, it is worth noting that this strange phenomenon is part of the reality of many Muslim women. Further still, it is ironic that many of these men later lament the fact that the women they do end up marrying are not supportive of what they do, or are not “spiritual” enough, or not the kind of woman they need. This is frustrating; it makes you want to scream. In the meantime, my hope is that we get a discussion going and at least try and get to the bottom of all this – I don’t think Carrie ever did.