A modern guide to being a single Muslim
For many Muslim singles dating can be a difficult balance between their own wants and those of their family or society. Muslim blogger The Imposter has first hand experience of these conflicts and in the first in a series of posts for eHarmony, she explores how dating doesn't have to mean compromising between Islam and your love live.
Hello All, and how are we today? For those of you that don’t know me, I am The Imposter. I am a small, loud, brown lady who writes a comedy blog about love, life, dating and relationships and how this entwines with my cultural and religious identity. I also write about interfaith marriage and my very lovely, often comedic, life with my husband “Bob”.
I am a British-born, Pakistani, Muslim woman and, if you are anything like me, you will know that these are three incredibly complex states of being to juggle and, short of one being a multi-limbed octopus lady, can rarely be satisfied fully at one time. I can identify with Pakistani culture as well as the traditions of the religion I was raised in but; I do enjoy a good whiskey and used to smoke like a chimney. I collect really rubbish songs on vinyl like Bruce Willis’ timeless classic “Respect Yourself”, I love to knit, I make a killer steak and kidney pie and, like many other women in the UK, karaoke bars are my secret shame. You may say I am as western as they come but I am still so proud of my heritage and the culture and tradition my parents brought me up in.
In terms of religion, you can probably guess by now that I am incredibly liberal. I have studied my religion and taken from it the salient points that I wish to live my life by and pass on to my children. I am not strict by any means but I’m pretty happy in my relationship with the big guy upstairs and that’s good enough for me.
I think a growing number of modern Muslims experience something synonymous in terms of their relationship with Islam. There is a clearly defined and unfaltering respect there, but quite a liberal approach in terms of everyday observance.
Which brings me to:
Conundrum the first: To date or not to date?
Often in my life, I have found difficulty in trying to satisfy all three strands of my religious and cultural identity, particularly when it came to the opposite sex.
As a British woman, it seemed perfectly natural to want to explore my curiosities and fascinations with the world of boys. As a Pakistani woman, things are a great deal more formal than that. One is not simply left to your own devices when it comes to love and marriage. I often liken the South Indian approach to dating to Georgian Britain. It’s all about reputation and one’s family and parental interference is a welcome and common occurrence. In short, Jane Austen would be proud… and not prejudice (sorry).
And then there’s the religious take on things… where basically, no one is allowed to touch you until you’re married. It is no wonder then that, when it comes to the world of dating, the Modern Muslim is left rather flummoxed.
As much as I do love the old country, demure wafty fan way of doing things, I was always a headstrong little girl. I grew up idolising women like Sarah Connor, Ripley from Aliens and, Goddamnit, even Mary Poppins. Exposure to such strong female role models and, more notably, my own fiercely intelligent and academically accomplished mother, charged me with the most profound yearning to have a more deliberate hand in my future.
So, the traditional Pakistani and Muslim approach to marriage was never going to work for me. I wanted the big, sweeping love story, star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet of it all (without the double suicide at the end, obviously).
The trouble is, I went to an all girls private school and wasn’t allowed to date when I was younger or even have male friends really. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I even socialised with boys, at which point, there was quite a lot of ‘stare ahead silently and wide-eyed panic face hoping no one would talk to me’ going on. As first generation children born in Britain, I don’t think my parents knew how to handle socialising us with the opposite sex and so the matter was often dealt with the way it typically was in Pakistan and Islam, through segregation of the sexes.
Dating taught me compassion
I think this is the wrong approach and, on reflection, so does my mum. There is so much value in having friends of the opposite sex and, in turn, dating before settling down, if not just as an exercise to learn more about yourself. So, once I overcame my diffident ways and grew more comfortable around boys my age, one of my absolute favourite things to do was go on dates. Dating before marrying my husband taught me compassion and respect for other people. It taught me how to be emotionally available and to respect my own values and principles as well as the values and principles of others. But, most importantly, it taught me how to share. Food, conversation, my possessions and, eventually, my heart.
Dating does not have to mean sleeping around, nor does it mean you are going to Hell for exploring your options. You are, and always will be, completely in control.
The day I came to realise that there is no precedent for this, I started to relax a lot more about it. Whether you are first- or second generation British or just have traditional parents, guess what? No one has a clue how to do this. As Muslims, we don’t tend to come from a dating culture so, if you are quite liberal and want to explore western conventions whilst still respecting your roots, there isn’t really a right and wrong here. The most important thing to hold on to is knowing who you are, what you believe in and what you want.
Well, you may now unbuckle your seatbelts and go about your day. Next time we shall be tackling Conundrum the Second: So, I’m Ok with dating, now what? a brief overview of my attempt to create an amalgam of your dating life and cultural / religious life and the things I found helpful along the way.