Why Isn't HIjabMan Married Yet? Part Two Of The Muslim Marriage Monster. Rawr!

“Why is it that we always speak in terms of rules instead of what would be beautiful? Do we worship a God of rules or a God of beauty? I understand the beauty of marriage or the truth of marriage, but the rules of marriage I cannot absorb. And, is a husband who is a Pakistani and a doctor part of the rules or part of the beauty or part of the truth?” – Khaled Abou El Fadl***

This is another part of an ongoing discussion on marriage within the American Muslim community.

“you’re great with kids, you live an amazing life (with traveling and all), you’re always happy, you’re kind and sweet.. but one question. how are you not married yet?” -blog comment


Hahaha.  Yasminay suggested that I answer that way. She made me do it. Swear.

My goal with this post is to show the other side of the Muslim marriage crisis. I should say, before I begin, that I still believe that the majority of the blame lies with men. Okay, fine. Their socialization and their privilege, too. Says Shabana Mir:

Muslim men alone aren’t at fault, but their socialization and their privilege (and the consequences) are.

In this society, gender dynamics and roles have changed over time. That we all know to be true. Many men no longer need a wife who cooks, cleans, and so on. Many women no longer need a man to support them. I, for instance, can cook and clean myself. As we speak, a robot is vacuuming my whole apartment. No joke.

What I am looking for is a partner. What follows is a description of three hurdles I’ve faced when looking for a partner.

But HijabMan, doesn’t Islam say that men have to be the breadwinners and stuff?

First, “Islam” doesn’t say anything. People say and interpret things. Islamic law is dynamic, fluid. And it contains a whole spectrum of opinions.

In my own reading of the Qur’an, the principles that rise off the page when it comes to marriage seem to say this: each partner should use all the resources they have been blessed with to contribute to marriage emotionally, financially, physically and otherwise. How those duties are split up depends on that particular couple.

In my case, I’m not a big fan of traditional gender roles. I’d actually like a career-minded wife. And she should expect that in addition to my own career, I’d do my fair share of cooking, taking care of the house, and rearing the kids. I want a partner in an egalitarian marriage, where everything is ours— none of this yours and mine business. I am not interested in being a father-figure husband.

I’m quite liberal when it comes to my approach to religion. I also consider myself practicing. Unfortunately, the tongue-in-cheek name ‘hijabman’ which I chose at the age of 14, attracts some pretty conservative women— women who are of the “Islam says this…” variety. I just couldn’t deal with a black-and-white/haraam-halaal/punishment-reward approach to religion. I need someone who sees that most of life is one big gray area— an unknown. Someone who takes the steeper path and struggles with being at peace with the unknown. That is hurdle number one. Where do you find Muslims who haven’t bought into the mainstream?

Money is another complicating factor. (NYTimes) I had a conversation the other day with a woman who has a very prestigious degree from an even more prestigious school. I described to her a saintly man, pious, respectful, funny, and even handsome. (I have high standards)

Her first question? “But can he support a family?”

This woman could make 100-300K a year. Easy. And yet she still, as many do, reinforce the idea (with her first and only question) that all that men are good for is money.

This is just one reason why many Muslim men are dating non-Muslim women. Sure, they don’t have to jump through all of the cultural hoops of marrying a South-Asian or Arab woman. But more relevant to this point: non-Muslim women seem to be interested in being our partners.

To further this point, allow me to quote a good friend of mine who is a lawyer. After hearing me vent about this, she readily admits to being wooed by the standard of living that our parents generation has now, after a lifetime’s worth of work,

“....we are used to a ridiculous McMansion/Lexus standard. It’s REALLY hard. I worry about myself – and how easily I am drawn to that. Even though I know it’s irrational.”

A young male blogger responds with an anecdote of his own, regarding the above quote:

Man, I really identify with this comment. I was hanging out with so much family last week that I came back hating middle class ideology.

I kept thinking that some traditional families can afford to stay immersed in traditional roles only because of certain privileges.
For instance, my aunts, both smart young women no more than 5 to 10 years older than me are stay at home moms living in McMansions and whatnot because their husbands can maintain that status and I kept thinking, ‘of course y’all believe in traditional gender roles!’

The way I think about it is this: Beliefs are not so much coded by religion alone as by certain class and culture positions.

My undergraduate degree is in the areas of Psychology, Middle Eastern Studies, and Women’s Studies. I currently make a modest income doing technical support for a small office in Pennsylvania. I also run a business. I make more than enough to save, travel, and enjoy my life while living below my means. I am not a doctor, I am not an engineer, and I am most definitely not interested in prestige. What I am interested in is making a positive mark on the world while doing what I love. Some people just don’t get that. Therein lies hurdle number two.

To provide a specific example, I was briefly engaged to a woman at one point in my life. $50,000 was suggested by her family during discussions surrounding the mahr. The mahr is something (tangible or intangible) that the groom promises the bride in the Islamic marriage contract. Needless to say, that number was quite a shock to me. In mine, as in many families, we exchange rings for the mahr. It is seen as a token of love. Speaking of family, I think we’ve stumbled upon hurdle number three!

Another good female friend of mine is just getting introduced to the South Asian Muslim meat-market. Her parents have hired an “Auntie” to filter all of the men she meets. The only acceptable ones seem to be ‘established professionals.’ That is usually code for old, balding doctors and engineers with personalities like brick walls.

In this case, it may be that it isn’t my friend who cares about the guy’s paycheck— just her parents. But a woman (or man) who isn’t willing to stand up to their parents is doomed. I just want so much to say to her and all young Muslim men and women, “Cut the umbilical cord!” From obsessions over skin color to profession and nationality, parents and their ridiculous need to direct the marriages of their kids have made finding a spouse go from challenging to near impossible for some. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with parents who are supportive of the decisions that I make. I’d like to find a woman who is independent and can stand up for herself.

So now you all know the three major hurdles that I need to clear while looking for a spouse. I’d like an independent thinker with a principled approach to the Qur’an who shudders when she hears the word ‘suburbs.’ Hahaha. And just as I would appreciate the whole of what she has to offer, if she understood and genuinely liked what I have to offer, well, that would be pretty badass. Oh, and it helps if she is cute, too.

P.s. This post is dedicated to Sumaira, a South-Asian woman married to an African-American man. When an auntie of hers praised God that her child was ‘light skinned,’ Sumaira promptly put the woman in her place, and threatened a beating if that woman ever mentioned her son’s skin tone again.

***Mandatory Reading For This Post:

A chapter titled, “A State Between Two States” in Khaled Abou El Fadl’s “Conference Of The Books.”  You can read the chapter here. Tell me what you think.

The Key To Wedded Bliss? Money Matters (NYTIMES)