Choosing a Spouse rss

L.A.’s Volunteer Muslim Matchmaker

Young Muslim matchmaker

Mohammad Mertaban, center, and father-in-law Kamal Serhal pray at Mertaban’s Fullerton home during Ramadan. At left is his daughter Layelle, 4. Mertaban, 30, has grown accustomed to urgent requests from friends and acquaintances since he began dabbling in matchmaking about eight years ago. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

His matches have sparks of tradition

Mohammad Mertaban is a volunteer matchmaker who helps observant young Muslims searching for a modern path to marriage that stays true to Islam.

By Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times
September 23, 2011

The one-line email that greeted Mohammad Mertaban came straight to the point.

“Mertaban, find me a husband, k? I await your list of potential suitors,” wrote a woman who lives on the East Coast.

Mertaban was not surprised, although he knew the woman only slightly. “If it comes from a brother or sister whom I don’t know very well, I know that she would do it out of frustration, desperation or a strong desire to get married,” he explained later.

An information technology project manager who lives in Fullerton, Mertaban, 30, has grown accustomed to urgent requests — by phone, email and in person — since he began dabbling in matchmaking for friends and acquaintances about eight years ago. Those he helps are observant young Muslims searching for a modern path to marriage that stays true to Islam.

American Muslims regularly speak of a “marriage crisis” in their communities, as growing numbers of Muslims reach their late 20s and early 30s still single. Young religious Muslims tend to avoid Western-style dating, but many also reject the ways of earlier generations, in which potential spouses were introduced to one another by family.

Traditionally, in South Asia and the Middle East, older women — often called the “aunties” — and parents recommended matches by drawing upon their extensive networks of family, friends and acquaintances. Marriage criteria were typically limited to religion, ethnicity, jobs and looks. But in the U.S., their little black books of contacts are significantly thinner and many second-generation American Muslims see such methods as decidedly old-world.

So, many turn to young volunteer matchmakers like Mertaban, who have connections in their hometowns, college circles and vast online networks.

Los Angeles Muslims

Muslims gather for the special Eid ul-Fitr morning prayer at the Los Angeles Convention Center on August 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

“The aunties don’t really know people very well and I think they’re just shooting in the dark,” said Mertaban, whose parents emigrated from Lebanon. “I think people have veered away from that.”

Amir Mertaban, Mohammad’s younger brother and a matchmaker as well, said the goal was “to keep this as close to Islam as possible. I’m trying to get people hooked up, but we’re trying to do this in a halal (permissible) manner.”

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What is and isn’t allowed is debated within the Muslim community. But those who seek a matchmaker’s help tend to steer clear of anything resembling dating and to avoid meeting one another without a chaperone. And even though they may see their parents’ methods as too traditional, they are still more comfortable seeking help from a go-between than online matrimonial sites or singles’ events held at mosques under the guise of “networking.”

Mertaban, who is lively with a quick laugh and a wide, almost Joker-like smile, says he didn’t choose to be a matchmaker but fell into the role after he helped a number of friends.

He grew up in Diamond Bar and has lived in Los Angeles, Irvine and Fullerton — where he is now a youth mentor at the area mosque — which helped him establish a wide Southern California Muslim network.

In his senior year at UCLA, Mertaban was president of the campus’ Muslim Student Assn. and the following year he was president of MSA-West, an umbrella group covering much of the West Coast. With chapters at universities nationwide, it has jokingly been called the Muslim Singles Assn.

He was well-liked and known for making other students, especially freshmen, feel welcome. Many turned to him for advice about their problems.

“He’s a leader… everybody trusts Mohammad,” said Lena Khan, 26, an independent filmmaker who attended UCLA with Mertaban. “If you need something at 2 a.m., you know Mohammad is happy to help you.”

In a community that observes a certain level of gender segregation, Mertaban, because of his leadership roles, interacted regularly with both men and women. Soon, students began asking him for help finding potential mates.

His first attempt involved one of his best friends, of Palestinian descent, and an Indian woman the man was interested in. It didn’t work, partly because of their different ethnicities — a cultural lesson Mertaban now keeps in mind when suggesting pairings. He organizes his lists of single men and women by nationality.

The “Single Sisters” directory on his laptop begins with a 28-year-old Afghan woman and ends with a 25-year-old Syrian. In between are almost three dozen women, ranging from their early 20s to early 30s with details such as “Algerian only” or “wants to marry an Egyptian dr, mba or engineer.” Other notations include “not hijabi,” referring to women who don’t wear a head scarf.

His “Single Brothers” list, which is kept separate, is longer.

Mertaban, who has been married since 2005 and has two young daughters, said he has become well known as a source of reliable information about single Muslims — perhaps too well known. “I’ll get random emails from people that I’ve met once,” he said. “And sometimes it’s just really overwhelming and I don’t want to take these cases on.”

At a recent Muslim conference, Mertaban volunteered at the information booth of a relief agency with projects in the Middle East and Africa. But some at the conference still wanted to talk matrimony.

A man from Northern California stood awkwardly beside Mertaban, saying, “Maybe you can mention potentials” as young women walked by. The man, whom Mertaban had previously tried to set up but without success, stayed at his elbow as conference-goers browsed through religious books and other materials. Too polite to mention his discomfort with the request, Mertaban escaped only when the call to prayer was made.

He had greater success with Khan, the filmmaker. On Valentine’s Day 2008, he called to say that a friend, Ahmad, was interested in her. For a few weeks, Khan peppered Mertaban with questions about her suitor.

Mertaban told her that Ahmad was devoted to his prayers and very involved in volunteer activities, both of which were important to her. He helped fill the gaps in a courtship that took place mostly over the phone, Khan said.

“Mohammad told me he was funny and it would have taken me forever … to find out because he’s not going to start busting out jokes on the phone with a girl he wants to marry,” she said. “If you want to know about a guy, you need someone like Mohammad.”

She and Ahmad were married 10 months later.

Twice previously, Khan’s parents had entertained suitors for her — young men and their parents — and both efforts ended the day they began. “It’s just not as fruitful,” she said.

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Even though Mertaban is a new-style matchmaker, his methods are relatively conservative. He is wary of suggesting matches for couples of different ethnicities and he declines to help any man who doesn’t plan to approach the woman’s father first for permission.

“I mean guys and girls shouldn’t be talking freely,” he said. “If you have the intention of getting married, the parents need to be involved.”

Sounding not unlike an “auntie” himself, he says those interested in marriage need to decide if they are compatible as a couple before emotions get in the way. He was introduced to his wife, Ferdaus Serhal, by his older sister who had worked with Serhal at a mosque. The couple emailed and spoke on the phone for two months before their families met.

Now he often consults with Serhal to get her opinion on a young woman or a possible pairing. He has matched eight couples who married and has about half a dozen more in progress. Still, he says he spends too much time counseling men with unrealistic expectations.

Two days after he ran into a college friend, Mertaban got a call from the man. They spent time catching up, and then the man volunteered that he was struggling to find a wife. Mertaban asked what he was looking for.

“He said he wants a girl with beautiful hair, tall, slender body and he wants her to have really pretty eyes and on top of that, get this, he wanted a girl who would not talk back to him,” the matchmaker recalled. “I thought this is not worth my time, this guy needs a lot more maturing.”

But he felt obliged to say something. He told the man, a doctor, that his criteria were unrealistic and noted that the prophet Muhammad encouraged men to marry women for their faith and character. He tried to be sensitive, knowing that asking for his help can be a humbling experience.

The man seemed to understand, but at the end of the conversation he just reiterated his requirements.

Mertaban hung up feeling frustrated.

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Look Beyond the Packaging: How to Choose a Husband, Wife or Friend

Majestic tree

The most beautiful things in the world don't come in packages

By Wael Abdelgawad | Zawaj.com

Is his hair nicely styled? Is he the perfect height?

Is her makeup just right? Does her body have the perfect curves?

This is packaging, it’s irrelevant.

American, Pakistani, Mexican, Egyptian, Bengali, Indonesian, black, white, brown, this is a veneer. It’s unimportant in the long run. When you’re sick and battling to recover, it’s not an American who holds you and tells you that it will be okay, who makes you chicken soup with lemon and ginger… It’s a human being, a husband or wife who loves you.

We must get beyond superficial and meaningless classifications like race and nationality.

Does he wear Armani suits cut just right? Are his shoes sleek and shiny? Does her clothing drape elegantly on her figure?

You know what? That Armani suit can’t stand on its own. It needs a hangar just to stay upright. That elegant clothing can’t raise your children right.

We must learn to look beyond appearances. I’m not saying that appearance is irrelevant, but how much of our attraction is based on true human beauty, and how much is based on distorted standards and poisonous imagery pumped into our brains by TV, movies, advertising, magazines and billboards? In other words, to what degree have we been brainwashed?

The world of advertising teaches us to focus on the wrong things. Consultants are paid millions of dollars to design the perfect package for a box of cereal or an energy drink, just the right shape and bright color to catch your eye and entice you to buy. Meanwhile, the product – as often as not – is actually bad for you, consisting of empty calories, sugar, chemicals and dyes. They are teaching us to make choices based on packaging and image, and what they are teaching us is entirely ruinous and wrong.

Human beings, however, are not consumer products. We’re not disposable. When you marry someone you’re in it for the long haul. You’re with them when they wake up in the morning with crust in their eyes and hair stuck to one side of the their head; when they get laid off from their job and you don’t know how the bills will get paid next month; when they’re depressed, tired, sick; when they make mistakes, when they say and do the wrong things, when they lose their temper, when they’re afraid or insecure…

This is as serious as it gets. This is life, and the right package won’t get you through it, won’t help on you the path, won’t hold you up when you’re weak, or put a smile in your heart when you’re down. The package can’t do that. Remember that when you buy something, the package ends up in the trash. If you choose someone for the package only, you may be bitterly disappointed when the storm comes and no one is there to keep you safe.

These are lessons learned through heartache and disappointment. These are lessons I have learned.

Look deeper. Find a gentle heart, a strong backbone, a striving spirit. Look to what the person does, how they live, how they treat people, how they relate to the Almighty. Look to that shimmering soul inside, and discern whether it’s a selfish and bitter soul, or loving and true. Look beyond the packaging to the person inside, and trust your fitrah-based instincts, and you’ll find yourself a rare happiness, and a precious partnership.

The most beautiful, powerful things in the world don’t come in packages. Mountains, trees, ocean, sky, stars… their true attributes are bared to the world. They don’t need packages because they are beautiful and profound in their essence.

By basing your life choices on matters of substance, you’ll avoid social and financial traps that ruin so many. You’ll build friendships as real and solid as mountains, with people you can trust with your honor, your heart and your life. You’ll do work that matters, and leave a legacy that improves people’s lives in unforgettable ways.

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Can a Muslim Woman Initiate a Marriage Proposal?

There has been some discussion on our sister site IslamicAnswers.com about whether a Muslim woman is allowed to approach a man with a marriage proposal. One sister in particular has been pushing the idea that it is shameful or improper, so I want to correct this misconception.

African American Muslim woman

If a Muslim woman comes to know of a man who has good character and deen and would make a good husband, there is absolutely nothing wrong with approaching him in an honorable way with a marriage proposal.

Some ways that she could do this would be to ask her parents to approach his parents; or to send a message through someone who knows him (for example his sister, aunt, cousin, etc) that she is interested, in order to learn if he also might be interested. She can also approach him directly and raise the subject, as long as she follows Islamic rules of etiquette (meeting in public, having a chaperone, no flirtatious or sexual speech, lowering the gaze, etc).

This may be seen as improper or brazen in some cultures. But that is a cultural attitude, not an Islamic one.

Let us look to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as our example, since the Quran says, “There has certainly been for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Last Day and [who] remembers Allah often.” (33:21)

First of all, he accepted a proposal from a woman, Khadijah (RA), who became his wife. It’s true that he had not yet been appointed as a Prophet at that time nor was the Quran revealed; however, he was protected by Allah from sin from the time of his birth. Allah would never have permitted him to accept a proposal from a woman if doing so was in any way shameful or improper.

Consider this incident, narrated in Al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 54:

Narrated Sahl bin Sad:

A woman presented herself to the Prophet (for marriage). A man said to him, “O Allah’s Apostle! (If you are not in need of her) marry her to me.” The Prophet said, “What have you got?” The man said, “I have nothing.” The Prophet said (to him), “Go and search for something) even if it were an iron ring.” The man went and returned saying, “No, I have not found anything, not even an iron ring; but this is my (Izar) waist sheet, and half of it is for her.” He had no Rida’ (upper garment). The Prophet said, “What will she do with your waist sheet? If you wear it, she will have nothing over her; and if she wears it, you will have nothing over you.” So the man sat down and when he had sat a long time, he got up (to leave). When the Prophet saw him (leaving), he called him back, or the man was called (for him), and he said to the man, “How much of the Quran do you know (by heart)?” The man replied I know such Sura and such Sura (by heart),” naming the Suras The Prophet said, “I have married her to you for what you know of the Quran.”

Malaysian Muslim woman

A Muslim woman prays at the Baiturrahman grand mosque in Banda Aceh

As we can see, a woman approached the Prophet (pbuh) for marriage and he did not disapprove of that or criticize her. He personally did not wish to marry her, so he matched her with someone else and married them to each other.

Furthermore, a general rule in Islamic fiqh is that all things are halal unless they are specifically prohibited by Quran or Sunnah. And there is nothing in Quran or Sunnah that would suggest that it is prohibited for a woman to initiate a marriage proposal. And Allah knows best.

Ronnie Hassan of understanding-islam.com has answered this question as follows:

Complications may enter the picture due to the cultural foundations and not Islamic ones… (however), there is absolutely no prohibition in Islam for a woman to propose marriage to a man. There are no moral or ethical limitations from the Islamic perspective. You will find reassurance in the fact the Khadijah, the Prophet’s wife, is reported to have proposed marriage to him and he accepted. Obviously, our best role model is the Prophet and in this we can find a most beautiful example.

It is perfectly fine for you to approach the young man in a most honorable way and let him know your intentions by hinting or being flat out about it, depending upon the noble custom in your society. This is not prohibited by Islam.

Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari says about this issue:

Islamically, marriage negotiations can be initiated or marriage can be proposed by either of the two parties. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with a daughter (or son) suggesting a suitable and righteous person to the parents provided it is done with decorum and observance of Islamic guidelines.

Unfortunately, however, there remains a stigma within certain Muslim cultures against a woman’s family proposing or initiating marriage talks. It is likewise considered rude and offensive for the daughter to suggest a suitable man to her parents which, in some cases, is automatically deemed to mean that she is involved in an illicit relationship with him. If a girl respectfully offers herself to a suitable man for marriage, it is considered a crime! All these culturally-driven notions and customs are not endorsed by the teachings of Islam.

Imam al-Bukhari (Allah have mercy on him) has a chapter in his Sahih collection titled: “A man offering his daughter or sister to the people of good” in which he establishes that marriage can be proposed by the woman’s family, and that there is no shame or indecency in doing so. He records the following Hadith:

Abdullah ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) relates that Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him), when [his daughter] Hafsa bint Umar (Allah be pleased with her) became a widow upon the death of Khunays ibn Hudhafa al-Sahmi (Allah be pleased with him) – who was one of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and died in Madina – Umar ibn al-Khattab said, “I went to Uthman ibn Affan (Allah be pleased with him) and offered Hafsa to him [for marriage].” He said, “I will think about it.” He met me after a few days and said, “It seems to me that I should not marry at this time.” Umar said, “Then I met Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (Allah be pleased with him) and said, “If you wish, I can marry you to Hafsa bint Umar.” Abu Bakr remained silent and did not give me any reply at all. That was more painful for me than [what I felt with the reply of] Uthman. Some days later, the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) proposed for her and I married her off to him. Abu Bakr met me and said, “Perhaps you were upset with me when you offered Hafsa to me and I did not reply to you at all?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I was only prevented from replying to you [in the positive] in regards to what you offered me due to the fact that I knew the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) had considered her and I am not the one who would reveal the secret of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Had the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) left her, I would have accepted her.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 4830)

In the above narration, Sayyiduna Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) offered his daughter, Hafsa (Allah be pleased with her), not only to one but two individuals: Sayyiduna Uthman and Sayyiduna Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (Allah be pleased with them), with the latter already being married. As such, there is nothing wrong with a woman’s guardian (wali) proposing marriage on her behalf to a righteous and suitable man.

Muslim woman making bread

Muslim woman making bread

Similarly, when the Prophet of Allah, Sayyiduna Shu’ayb (peace be upon him) observed the beautiful character of Sayyiduna Musa (peace be upon him) and his praiseworthy attributes such as trustworthiness, he proposed marriage to him for one of his daughters. Allah Most High says:

“And when he [Musa, peace be upon him] arrived at the waters of Madyan, he found a large number of people watering [their animals] and found, aloof from them, two women withholding their animals. He said, “What is the matter with you?” They replied, “We cannot water [our animals] until these shepherds take [their animals] back after watering them, and our father is a very old man.” So he watered [their animals] for them, then turned to a shade and said, “My Lord, I am in need of whatever good you send down to me.” Then one of the two women came to him, walking bashfully. She said, “My father is calling you, so that he may give you a reward for watering our animals.” So when he [Musa, peace be upon him] came to him [the father of the women, i.e. Shu’ayb, peace be upon him] and narrated to him the whole story, the latter said, “Do not fear; you have escaped from the wrongdoing people.” One of the two women said, “Dear father, hire him; the best man you can hire is someone who is strong and trustworthy.” He [the father] said [to Musa], “I wish to marry one of these two daughters of mine to you on condition that you act as my employee for eight years. Then if you complete ten [years], it will be of your own accord. And I do not want to put you in any trouble; you will find me, God-willing, one of the righteous.” (Qur’an: 28:23-27)

Furthermore, Sahl ibn Sa’d (Allah be pleased with him) relates that a woman came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and offered herself to him [for marriage]. He said, “I do not have any need for women right now.” A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, marry her to me!” He asked, “Do you have anything [to give as dowry]?” He replied, “I do not have anything.” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “Give something to her, even if only an iron ring.” He said, “I do not have anything.” So the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) asked, “Do you know any portion of the Qur’an?” He said, “Such-and-such.” He said, “I have married her to you for what you know of the Qur’an.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 5141)

Sayyiduna Thabit al-Bunani (Allah be pleased with him) relates that I was in the company of Anas (Allah be pleased with him) while his daughter was with him. Anas said, “A woman came to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) offering herself to him [in marriage] and said, “O Messenger of Allah, do you have any need of me?” [Upon hearing this], the daughter of Anas said, “How immodest is she! Shame! Shame!” Anas said, “She is better than you! She desired the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and so offered herself to him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 4828)

These two Hadiths clearly establish the permissibility of a woman proposing marriage to a man. Indeed, the females offered themselves to the best of creation (Allah bless him & give him peace); however, it is not specific with him (Allah bless him & give him peace). It is for this reason that Imam al-Bukhari (Allah have mercy on him) chose to name the chapter in which he records these Hadiths: “A woman offering herself to a righteous man” signifying that a woman may propose marriage to any righteous and suitable man.

Imam al-Hafidh Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (Allah have mercy on him) states in his commentary, Fath al-Bari:

“These two Hadiths indicate the permissibility of a woman offering herself to a [righteous] man for marriage and informing him of her desire to marry him, and there is no disgrace in doing so.” (Fath al-Bari, 9/219)

As such, in conclusion, it is perfectly acceptable for a woman’s family to propose marriage. Likewise, it is not indecent or disgraceful for a woman to desire a man for his righteousness, piety and good character, and thus propose marriage to him as long as it is done through the proper channels and without violating any rules of Shari’ah.

And Allah knows best

Muhammad ibn Adam
Darul Iftaa
Leicester , UK

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Dating in Islam – Q&A

Young Muslim faces

Dating in Islam -
Q & A

by Yasmin Mogahed
Reprinted from SuhaibWebb.com

Question: Is dating allowed in Islam so that I can get to know someone for marriage? It’s hard to get married and dating is normal in our society. Arranged marriages aren’t realistic for us nowadays.

Answer:

As-salamu `alaykum brother,

Thank you for the honest question you asked regarding dating. There are a number of issues that you brought up. First, you have pointed out that you live in a society where dating is the norm. While I understand and sympathize with that struggle, it is important to make clear that just because something is the norm in one’s society, does not justify participating in it. In the society that the Prophet (sal-Allahu alayhi wa-sallam)  lived, burying little girls alive was the norm. Of course, the principles of Islam prohibited such barbarism – regardless of what was widespread at the time.

In fact, the Prophet (sws)  has told us that those who follow the right path will always be ‘different’ or ‘strange’ to the mainstream. In one beautiful hadith, the Prophet (sws) says: “Islam began as something strange, and will revert to being strange as it began. So give glad tidings to the strangers.” Then the people asked, “Who are they (the strangers), O Messenger of Allah?” He answered, “Those who are pious and righteous when the people have become evil.” (Ahmad)

Secondly, you state the concern of getting to know someone for marriage. You explain that dating is needed since arranged marriages are not feasible. However, by saying this you imply that these are the only two routes to getting married. What you are forgetting is that there is a third option: the option taught to us by our beloved Prophet (sws). Let us examine each of the three options for meeting a marriage partner:

1) Dating

One option is dating. This option is prohibited for a number of reasons. First, the Prophet (sws) has taught us that it is haram for a non-mahram (unrelated) man and a woman to be alone together. This is called khilwa. He warns that if this happens, Shaytan (satan) will be present with them. The Prophet (sws) said: “Whenever a man is alone with a woman the Devil makes a third.” (Sahih Bukhari) Now it is important to note that Allah never prohibits something unless it is harmful to us. Let us examine for a moment the harm in this.

First, most reports of sexual abuse are not committed by strangers. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, 68% of young girls raped knew their rapist either as a boyfriend, friend or casual acquaintance, and 60% of rapes of young women occur in their own home or a friend or relative’s home – not in a dark alley. So, overwhelmingly, it is those people who you are out on a ‘date’ with that commit these crimes. Also, as dating has become more widespread in a society, so has unwanted pregnancy, as well as sexually transmitted diseases. By prohibiting khilwa, Allah, in His infinite wisdom, is protecting us.

Also, as you know even consensual extra-marital intercourse (zina) is a grave sin in Islam. But Allah did not just tell us not to commit zina. He says in the Qur’an: “Do not come close to zina for it is a shameful (deed) and an evil, opening the road (to other evils).” (Qur’an, 17:32). One does not leave their infant to play on a highway, but hope they will not get hit by a car. One important Islamic principle is: prevention before cure. You do not come close to fire, and then wonder why you got burned. Therefore, Allah has prohibited anything that may lead to zina, namely khilwa (being in seclusion). Now if just being in seclusion is prohibited, what can be said about physical contact and the whole institution of dating?

In support of dating, some argue that it is needed in order to find a spouse. The irony in this is that dating does not increase marital success. In fact, the United States is a culture where dating is the norm. However, 50% of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce, according to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology. And according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, couples who lived together before marrying have nearly an 80 percent higher divorce rate than those who did not. So if dating is putting you at a higher risk of sexual abuse, sexually transmitted disease, and unwanted pregnancy, and it makes you no more likely to find a successful marriage partner – but in fact less likely – what logical person would chose this option, even if it were not prohibited by Islam?

2) Arranged Marriage

There is also the option of completely arranged marriages. While it is fine for parents or mutual friends to introduce two prospective partners, the Prophet (sws) has told us not to go into a marriage blindly. Once a man came to the Prophet (sws) and told him that he was going to get married. The Prophet (sws) asked if he had seen the woman. When the man said no, he said: “Go and look at her for it is more likely to engender love between the two of you.” (Ahmad)

3) Islamic Courting

Islam provides the balanced solution to courting, which protects the individual and the society, but does not have people enter marriage blindly. If there is a woman you are considering for marriage, you should approach her mahram (male relative). From there, many avenues exist to get to know her better, without having to be in seclusion or engaging in physical contact. Talking to someone over the phone, through email or the internet, or in the company of a mahram, gives you a chance to find out more about them, without crossing the boundaries set by Allah in His infinite wisdom. The Prophet Muhammad (sws) said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him not have a private audience with a woman without her mahram.” (Ahmad)

This is the way designed by our Creator, who made everything in the universe, who knows what is hidden and what is open, who knows the future and the past, who knows us, better than we could ever know about ourselves. How could we ever think that a better system could exist than the one prescribed by our Maker and the master of the universe?

Wallahu `alam.

I pray that what I’ve said has been beneficial to you. Anything I said that was right, it is from Allah. Anything wrong, is from myself.

The End

That’s the end of Yasmin’s piece. I’d like to add a few comments of my own. Sister Yasmin’s article is informative and of course correct in all it’s statements of fact, but doesn’t really offer practical alternatives for men and women getting to know each other. Yasmin says, “If there is a woman you are considering for marriage, you should approach her mahram. From there, many avenues exist to get to know her better, without having to be in seclusion or engaging in physical contact.” Of course this is true, but how do you get to that point of choosing someone that you might be interested in for marriage? Just by seeing someone at work, school or a conference? That feels like taking an important step based on insufficient information.

I have three suggestions that would allow singles to meet in an Islamic manner, to get to know each other for marriage:

1. Internet matrimonial services. Of course we have online matrimonial services now – like Zawaj.com! That’s a good place to start, and does not require breaking any Islamic rules. Young people can read one another’s profiles, exchange a few anonymous messages through the matrimonial service’s messaging system, then if they find each other interesting they can take it offline and contact each other’s families.

2. Marriage events. I’m talking about organized marriage events where men and women can meet in a structured and supervised environment. This should be a more widely considered option. There are some organizations doing this already, but they tend to be held only occasionally in larger cities. Smaller cities rarely see such marriage events. I think local mosques should take the lead in organizing marriage events for the singles in their communities.

And every major Islamic conference should include such an event.

3. Imams as matchmakers. Maybe the Imam of each community (and his wife) should take it as one of the office’s functions to maintain a database of single brothers and sisters, and make suggestions and introductions. I’ve read about an Imam in New York who does that quite successfully.

We seem to have these two extremes – either an arranged marriage between cousins, which is generally unhealthy and seems to end in misery more often than not, or a free-for-all where young people must fend and seek for themselves, and often fall into sin.

As a community we must develop modern alternatives that satisfy Islamic requirements and allow single Muslim men and women to meet.

Wael Abdelgawad
Zawaj.com Editor

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Marrying a girl against my parents’ will

red heart locked with chainIn addition to Zawaj.com, I am also the founder and manager of several other Islamic websites, including IslamicAnswers.com, which is a website dedicated to providing common-sense advice on marriage and family issues in Islam.

I’ve been answering questions about Islamic marriage issues for eleven years. In that time, I have seen certain types of questions come up over and over again. In fact, I would say there are about twenty basic questions that come up repeatedly in various forms.

One of the most common questions is from young people who want to get married but cannot because their parents will not allow it. Often the reasons for their parents refusal are un-Islamic or trivial:

  • The boy is the wrong nationality
  • The girl is from the wrong social class
  • The parents of the groom said some words that the bride’s parents did not like
  • The groom’s family is not paying enough of a dowry
  • The bride is a convert
  • The groom is divorced
  • etetera, etcetera.

These are all petty reasons that have nothing to do with Islam.

In fact the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) instructed us that if a person of good character comes seeking our daughter’s hand, we should accept him, otherwise the earth will be filled with corruption. He did not mention nationality, tribe, social status, wealth, or other superficial criteria.

So what does a young man do in this situation, when he has found a girl with good character for marriage, but his parents refuse for bad reasons? Can he marry her anyway? Or shall his life and happiness be held hostage to the petty whims of his parents?

Below is an answer to this question from the scholars of IslamOnline.net:

- Wael Abdelgawad, Zawaj.com Editor

Date: 17/February/2009

Name of Mufti: Ahmad Kutty

Topic: Marrying a girl against my parents’ will

Name of Questioner: Ahmad

Question: Respected scholars, as-salamu `alaykum. I have a problem; I need your guidance in light of Islamic teachings. My parents did an engagement for me to their best friend’s daughter. After the engagement, I started talking with her on the Internet and on the phone. But now, after two years, my parents broke the engagement because of minor things, like “girl’s family didn’t give respect to us as expected in our culture” and “they are not willing to give more things injahaz (gifts for the bride while sending her away).”

They are now telling me not to marry the girl. The girl’s parents asked forgiveness for whatever mistakes they may have made, but my parents are not willing to accept their apology. As I liked this girl and we have agreed to marry, am I doing anything wrong if I am still to go ahead with the marriage, even though my parents do not approve of it? Isn’t it wrong for me to break my engagement? Please guide me.Jazakum Allahu khayran.

Answer:

Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear brother, we would like to thank you for the confidence you placed in us, and we implore Almighty Allah so that He may help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

First of all, if you truly believe that this girl can be a good Muslim wife, then you have to do your best in convincing your parents that you have a genuine desire to marry her. However, if your parents insist on their refusal without valid reasons, then you have the right to go on and marry this girl.

In his response to your question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Canada, stated,

If the girl you have been engaged to did not violate any of the Islamic rules or principles, then you are allowed to go ahead with the proposed marriage, even if your parents wish to break it, especially if their reasons for doing so are not based on grounds that are reasonable and valid according to the rules of Shari`ah.

Material considerations cannot be used as an excuse for breaking an engagement. As Muslims, we are bound by our words and promises. Almighty Allah describes true believers as those [Who are keepers of their trusts and their covenant.] (Al-Mu’minun 23:8); and therefore, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) considered breaking one’s promise as one of the signs of a hypocrite, which every Muslim must avoid. So, you need not break the engagement; rather, you can go ahead with it.

But, having said this, however, I must rush to add that you have no right to cut off your relations with your parents on account of this action. You should rather try to exhaust all means at your disposal to make your parents understand your viewpoint and to persuade them to change their mind. You may also try to use the influence of elders or knowledgeable people that your parents respect to convince them of their mistake.

If they still persist in their attitude, then you have the right to go ahead and marry the girl. But I must still point out that you should never spare any effort in pleasing your parents in every possible way. You should also keep on praying to Allah for mercy and guidance for them.

- IslamOnline.net

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Marriage in Islam – Questions and Answers

Chinese Muslim wedding

A Chinese Muslim bride at her wedding. Red is a traditional wedding color in many Asian countries.

Sheikh Syed Darsh, graduate of Al-Azhar, Cairo, Chairman of UK Shari’ah Council and expert on family matters, answers some frequently asked questions about marriage.
Question: Is it a sunnah/recommendation to marry one’s cousin or is the reverse true – marry from afar to produce strong progeny?

Answer:

It is not a sunnah or a recommendation to marry one’s cousin nor is the reverse true; to marry from afar to produce strong progeny. This whole question is left to the social customs or norms.

I am told by a Muslim scholar from a traditional-tribal society that in his culture, the cousin has the social right upon his female cousin and that she is not to be offered to him first. No one may propose to her until he has expressed his wish not to marry her. In a way, within the Arab, particularly tribal societies, they consider marrying within the family, more honourable, more protective; keeping lineage pure and well established.

However, there is a statement which is attributed mistakenly to the Messenger of Allah, “Marry from outside the family, otherwise your offspring will be weak.” In fact this, or something similar, is correctly attributed to Umar ibn Al-Khattab saying to the family of As-Saib, “Your offspring are becoming so thin and weak. Marry outside your close of kin.” In discouraging this marriage, Al-Ghazali in his Ihya Ulum ad-Deen says, “Familiarity and close family tie weaken the sexual desire in both of them. As a result, children become weak.” This is not a good reason. For surely, when partners marry, after a few months they become familiar, there may be nothing new to attract as they know each other inside out, but the natural desire is there.

However, research nowadays is showing that the marriage of close relatives leads to the accumulation of negative inherited qualities. For scientific reasons therefore it may be advisable to marry from afar.

Can a girl/boy choose her/his own partner?

Traditionally girls were the passive partners in such matches. The possibility of meeting, becoming acquainted with or familiarising oneself with the male partner-to-be was not widely available. It was left to families, who know one another in static immovable communities, to arrange such a proposal. Al-Islam has given each party the right to see the family setting. If they like one another, the match may go further and marriage preparation proceed.

One of the companions of the Prophet (SAW) told him one day that he proposed to a girl. The Prophet (SAW) said, “Have you seen her?” He said, “No”. He said to him, “See her. For this would bless your marriage with success”. The same is true as far as the girl is concerned. The messenger of Allah has given the girl the right to express her views on the proposed person. He said, “The permission of the virgin is to be sought. And if she does not object, her silence is her permission.” As for the divorced or one who is widowed, no one has a say with her.

That is, she has to express very clearly her desire in accepting or rejecting. This is the traditional old fashioned way. Nowadays girls go to school and proceed to universities. They meet with boys in classrooms, Islamic societies and at universities up and down the country. They get to know one another in a decent moral environment. They are mature, well educated, cultured and outspoken. These factors have to be taken into consideration.

Gaza university graduates

GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP - JULY 31: Palestinian engineering students attend their graduation ceremony at The Islamic University on July 31, 2005 in Gaza City, Gaza Strip. 2095 students were graduated from The Islamic University for the 2005 studying season. Photo: Abid Katib/Getty Images Jul 31, 2005

Once a decent, good mannered Islamically committed young Muslim attracts the attention of a like minded Muslimah, their parents have to be reasonable. Of course, they are interested in the happiness and success of the marriage of their son or daughter, but they have to realise that they are not buying or selling commodities. Their care, compassion and love for their children should not make them extra protective or act as a barrier between their children and their children’s future. In the words of the hadith “If a person with satisfying religious attitude comes to seek your daughter in marriage, accept that. If you do not, there will be great mischief on earth and a great trouble.” At the same time young people who are blessed with education have to show patience, understanding and should argue their case in a rational and respectable manner.

What should we look for in a partner?

It is very difficult to give general guidelines, as people are individuals and as such have different priorities when selecting a life long partner. However, the hadith of the Prophet (SAW) has given us some clues as to what is to be desired most in both men and women. Because it is usually the male who proposes, the address in the hadith is directed to the male would-be-suitor. He said, “A woman maybe be sought in marriage either for her beauty, nobility, wealth or religious inclination. Seek the last and you will be the more successful.” The same holds for the female in the choice of a partner.

However, the hadith does not exclude beauty. It is one of the qualities satisfying and protecting the hungry gaze. If that is required in the young woman, it is required in the man too. Al-Qurtubi reported the Prophet (SAW) as saying, “Do not give your daughters to the ugly or nasty looking. For they desire of men what men desire of women.”

The wife of Thabit ibn Qays said to the messenger of Allah, “My face and his face will never look at one another” He asked her, “Why?” She said, “I looked at him coming in the company of other of his friends and he was the shortest and the ugliest.” The messenger asked her, “Will you return to him the dower he has given you?” She replied, “Even if he asks more, I shall give it to him.” The Prophet (SAW) told the husband, “Take what you have given her and release her.” He did.

The age difference between potential partners should not be too great. It is not fair to give a young girl to a man who is twenty or thirty years her senior. If she, for one reason or another, accepts, or he accepts, then it is their choice. But they should be aware of the future of their relationship and the implications of such a marriage.

A grey haired man passed by a young black haired girl and he proposed to her. She looked at him and said, “I accept, but there is a snag”. He enquired to which she answered, “I have some grey hair.” The man passed on without a word. She called out, “My uncle, look at my hair!” She had hair as black as coal. He said to her, “Why did you say what you did?” She answered, “To let you know that we do not like of men what they do not like of women.”

Marriage is not for fun or experience. It is a life long relationship. For that reason, any factor detrimental to the relationship should be avoided as much as possible. Highly educated males and females should seek partners of similar educational background. Cultural and family background is very important. Common language is an essential way of communicating. Such things help the two partners to understand, communicate and relate to one another and are factors of stability and success.

Financial independence and the ability to provide a decent acceptable level of maintenance. Again, this is a way of insuring that outside influences do not spoil an otherwise happy life.

All ways and means should be considered giving a solid bases for new human experience which is expected to provide a framework for a happy, successful and amicable life. All this is to be considered within the context of Muslims living in Britain today.

A Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim man. A Muslim man has to think very seriously indeed before marrying a woman from the people of the book and conversion just for the sake of marriage may not be a genuine reason. In a non-Muslim country a Muslim man has no right to bring up his children as Muslims, and this obligation particularly if love gradually dries up and the relationship begins to show signs of strain.

The question of common language, background, education and age etc. are meant, in an ordinary stable context, to maximise the chances of success and stability in a very important Islamic institution – that of marriage. However, considering the particular position of Muslim communities living in minority situations, young Muslims, male and female, are exposed to all sorts of challenges be they cultural, linguistic, racial or social. The most fundamental question when choosing a partner is a religious one.

British Muslim woman with the flag

Issues of language and racial background have less significance for British-born Muslims. Photo: Woman at “Muslims Against Terrorism” rally in London, 11 Sept 2007/Toby Melville)

As far as language, background, or social position are concerned, these are not significant factors that absolutely must be fulfilled before a marriage can take place, indeed such considerations may not be relevant to young Muslims living in Britain as they have common language – English, and the social positions of their families in their countries of origins may well be equalised living in Britain. If the prospective partner is of a good character, strong religious inclination and the two young people are happy and feel compatible with one another other considerations are not of such importance.

Can a parent refuse a proposal from a good Muslim for his daughter on the basis that the suitor is not of the same race/caste?

There is no concept of caste in Islam. Racial background is a fact of life. The Qur’an considers the difference of race, colour or language as signs of the creative ability of Allah: “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth and the difference of your language and colours. Lo! Here indeed are signs for men of knowledge.”(Ar-Rum:22).

In chapter 49, verse 13 is the most universal doctrine of human equality and brotherhood: “Oh humankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and then rendered you into nations and tribes so that you might know one another. Indeed the most honourable among you in the sight of Allah is he who is most pious.”

There is a wealth of ahadith quoted by Al-Qurtubi in his commentary on this Qur’anic verse where the messenger of Allah condemned outright any racial impact on the Islamic society. For the very reason we come across many examples of people who, from a racial view, were not considered equal to Arab women marrying among the high tribal class. Bilal married the sister of AbdurRahman ibn Awf. Zayd was married to one of the noble ladies of the tribe of Quraysh and so on.

But customs die hard and no sooner are they abolished, they start to reappear again. Salman al-Farsi proposed to the daughter of Umar, the khalifa. He accepted. His knowledgeable, pious son and great companion of the Prophet(SAW) was upset. He complained to Amr ibn Al-Aas. Amr said, “Leave it to me and I will get him to retract from that.” When Amr met Salman he said to him, “Congratulations. It came to my knowledge that the Commander of the Faithful humbled himself and accepted to give you his daughter in marriage.” Salman felt slighted by this and thought and retorted, “By Allah, I will never accept to marry his daughter!”

Al-Hajjaj, the brute of the Ummayyad era married the daughter of Muhammad ibn Ja’far, Abdul Malik, the Ummayyad king was furious. He said to Muhammad, “You gave one of the noble of Qurayshite women to a slave from Thaqif!” and he ordered Al-Hajjaj to divorce her.

So this social attitude is very difficult to abolish outright. It does not make a difference whether the parents are well educated or unlettered. In the new environment of living in Britain the situation may ease gradually. However, young educated people who find themselves locked in such situations have to be patient to advance their case. Failing that, I would advise them to read my article, “Guardianship in Marriage’.

Should children deliberately go about altering the views of their parents/relatives by marrying in a manner they know is allowed but frowned upon by the others?

This should be the last resort if they really are very emotionally attached to one another. Marriage is a solemn, important bond. It cannot be played about with as a means of changing die-hard customs. The marrying couple will be the first victims of such a deficient gesture. I am saying, if they really love one another, so that this love may sustain them until they are able to change the attitude of their parents, then well and good. Though, it will not change the attitude of the whole community.

However, it would be suicidal to jump into this type of relationship just to change people. It may prove that the couple do not have the common cause to sustain this gesture of rejection. They themselves may reject the attempt. The consequences of such actions can be far reaching.

What are the rituals of marriage of that are the sacred/important ones?

There are no such rituals in an Islamic marriage. It is a simple form of expressing the commitment to live as husband and wife. The procedure is as follows: There is a young man wishing to get married and a young woman who is ready for marriage. Their families know one another and so the man’s family approaches the woman’s family – (The opposite is also appropriate). If there is acceptance, the two persons have the chance of seeing, talking, exploring – in a chaperoned, not in a private manner – with one another. If they choose to settle down, some gifts may be exchanged and a date set for the announcement of the match and working out of the marriage preparations. The families may arrange the civil ceremony first, then go to the mosque or house where the formal Islamic agreement may take place.

The woman’s guardian, usually the father, will say to the would-be-husband, “I give you my daughter, (the girl in my guardianship), in marriage in accordance to the Islamic Shari’ah, in the presence of the witnesses here with the dowry agreed upon. And Allah is our best witness.”

A wooden duff

A wooden duff or drum of the type commonly used at traditional Muslim weddings

The young man, or his father, will reply by saying, “I accept marrying your daughter, guard, giving her name, to myself” – repeating the other words. Thus, the marriage is concluded.

It is good Islamic practice to announce the ceremony, to hold it in a mosque and to have some form of entertainment. In the words of the Prophet(SAW), “Declare this marriage, have it in the mosque and beat the drums.” This is used to be the best the way of establishing that great, sacred relationship.

What is dowry and who gives it to whom?

The question of dowry is one of the rights of the Muslim woman as part of the correct contract of marriage. The Qur’an states in chapter 4, verse 4: “And give the women their dowries as a free gift, but if they are pleased to offer you any of it accept it with happiness and with wholesome pleasure.”

The dowry is defined in the legal text books as: “the wealth the wife deserves upon her husband as a result of the contract of marriage on the consummation.”

So the dower is to be given by the husband to his correctly wedded wife. It is enjoined by the Qur’an, the practical examples of the Messenger of Allah and the consensus of the companions of the Prophet(SAW).

There is no specific minimum or maximum. The customs of the community play a great part in deciding the agreed amount to be given as dower. In the past, families would ask of a dower which reflects the social status of them. After the spread of education and the maturity of age of both husband and wife, families began to relax this custom, taking into consideration that young people who start work after graduation do not have much money to offer for the girls they have going to marry. Families have come to the realisation that dower is a symbolic gesture. It is good to start building their family life without incurring a debt which may ruin their happiness and future prospects. If both husband and wife are working, the families may prefer that the young couple build their life from scratch together, rather than burdening them with hefty dower which they cannot afford.

It is not Islamic to ask the woman to give dower to the husband. This is not a noble thing to ask a woman. The Islamic requirement is not because the man is going to buy the woman, it is to express his love, care and the dignity of the woman. Whatever expresses these sentiments, great or small, is considered to be an acceptable dowry, simply because it expresses these feelings.

Is it necessary to have a civil marriage?

It is important to have a marriage registered with the civil authority so that it may be recognised. There are many legal implications as a result of such a registration. Firstly, it is the recognised marriage in this country. The civil marriage if it is attended by at least two male Muslim witnesses amounts to a correct Islamic marriage. It is only the social aspect which leads to another ceremony in a mosque with an imam officiating, although these things are not required Islamicly.

Secondly, without the civil marriage, the entitlement to inheritance, pension and legal documentation are not accepted by the authority. For the sake of legality it must be registered.

In Muslim countries nowadays they have made it an administrative obligation to register the marriage. This is to officiate and recognise all aspects that come from the marital relationship. So, if for nothing else, it is a must for the sake of the children.

Weddings these days seem such costly ventures. Is one required to spend huge sums on a wedding?

Weddings are a social expression of the occasion of marriages. Moderation is the Islamic concept in all aspects of a Muslim’s life. Weddings should not be ostentatious nor are they supposed to be expressions of pride and competition. It is not fair for the parents or the young couple to start their life debt ridden as a result of an occasion which lasted a couple of hours or a little longer. Expenses in all steps leading to marriage should not be a burden. Big cars, fancy wedding costumes, big parties, expensive hotels or halls, all such expenses should be avoided. But at the same time, it should not be a dull and gloomy occasion. It is an occasion of great joy and happiness and should be celebrated as such.

The most important is the walima – the dinner party. It is the sunnah so that relatives, friends and acquaintances may come to share the joy of the occasion, to give thanks to Allah and to entertain needy people within the community.

This was a pre-Islamic custom which Islam accepted. It was the responsibility of the husband or his family. The Prophet(SAW) saw some coloured perfume on AbdurRahman. He asked him about it and AbdurRahman replied, “I got married”. The Prophet(SAW) told him, “Make a walima with at least one lamb.” The Prophet(SAW) himself made a number of walimas each time he got married. The walimas differed according to the financial position of the time. The best walima recorded was that of Zaynab. Nearly three hundred people were entertained and fed meat and bread. On other occasions the Prophet(SAW) asked his companions to bring whatever food was available.

The important part is the coming together, sharing the happiness and advertising the new relationship in a moderate and inexpensive manner.

Are secret marriages allowed? Like at universities where girls or boys marry without parental consent, knowledge or approval?

The word used in the question, `secret’, is anathema to the concept of marriage which is a relationship built to secure peace, happiness and tranquillity. There are many rights and obligations resulting from agreement of marriage. These include the honour and integrity of the woman concerned, her family and relations and most importantly, offspring. In so many instances, even with use of precautions, women get pregnant. How can they face this situation? Where lies the blame? And what if the young couple tire of one another after taking what they want from one another? Who loses in such situations? That is why Muslim scholars frown upon secretive arrangements even though other basic formalities were satisfied. They argue that the Shari’ah has made it mandatory to publicise marriage in every available way. They quote a number of statements of the Prophet(SAW) to that effect. For example the statement, “There is no valid marriage without a guardian and two witnesses. Any arrangement short of that is invalid, invalid, invalid.” Another statement quoted by the Hanafi texts, “Any marriage not attended by four people is not a marriage, it is a fornication. They are: the suitors, the guardian and two witnesses.”

Scholars differentiate between two types of what is known as common marriage. Common, here, stands in contrast to well documented marriage. The first is when marriage takes place without being officially recorded. But it takes place within the family, is known among the friends and neighbours but for other reasons it is not registered. Maybe the couple are drawing unmarried benefits or whatever. This is an acceptable religious marriage even though there are unethical motives behind it.

The other type is exactly the one referred to in the question. When the two parties agree to keep it secret. They ask two friends to witness the marriage with the understanding that they do not talk about it. And they did not, I repeat, they did not register it. This does not amount to a secure, tranquil marriage. It is simply satisfying their physical need. The comment of a scholar, who was a judge before taking the chair of the Islamic Shari’ah in the Faculty of Law, Cairo University, is that “We do not condone, nor accept such an arrangement. It is far from the real concept of marriage. Families and girls’ honour should not be treated so flippantly. In my life as a judge I came across so many miserable, depressing cases resulting in acrimonious disputes. Allah’s Shari’ah has to be respectfully followed. Any so called legal fictions in this particular matter must be shunned.”

And Allah says the Truth and guides to the right way.

***

“Guardianship in Marriage” by Sheikh Darsh Available from Amanah Publications FAO Ashfaq Ali, 841 Barkerend Road, Bradford, BD3 8QJ

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Making Muslim Matches in New York

Sheikh Reda Shata, New York's Matchmaking Imam

Sheikh Reda Shata, New York's Matchmaking Imam

This story of Sheikh Reda Shata, New York’s matchmaking Imam, was published in the New York Times in 2006. This amazing piece of reporting actually won a 2007 Pulitzer prize for best feature writing:

Tending to Muslim Hearts and Islam’s Future

By: Andrea Elliott
March 7, 2006

An Imam in America

The young Egyptian professional could pass for any New York bachelor.

Dressed in a crisp polo shirt and swathed in cologne, he races his Nissan Maxima through the rain-slicked streets of Manhattan, late for a date with a tall brunette. At red lights, he fusses with his hair.

What sets the bachelor apart from other young men on the make is the chaperon sitting next to him — a tall, bearded man in a white robe and stiff embroidered hat.

“I pray that Allah will bring this couple together,” the man, Sheik Reda Shata, says, clutching his seat belt and urging the bachelor to slow down.

Christian singles have coffee hour. Young Jews have JDate. But many Muslims believe that it is forbidden for an unmarried man and woman to meet in private. In predominantly Muslim countries, the job of making introductions and even arranging marriages typically falls to a vast network of family and friends.

In Brooklyn, there is Mr. Shata.

Week after week, Muslims embark on dates with him in tow. Mr. Shata, the imam of a Bay Ridge mosque, juggles some 550 “marriage candidates,” from a gold-toothed electrician to a professor at Columbia University. The meetings often unfold on the green velour couch of his office, or over a meal at his favorite Yemeni restaurant on Atlantic Avenue.

The bookish Egyptian came to America in 2002 to lead prayers, not to dabble in matchmaking. He was far more conversant in Islamic jurisprudence than in matters of the heart. But American imams must wear many hats, none of which come tailor-made.

Whether issuing American-inspired fatwas or counseling the homesick, fielding questions from the F.B.I. or mediating neighborhood spats, Mr. Shata walks an endless labyrinth of problems.

If anything seems conquerable, it is the solitude of Muslim singles. Nothing brings the imam more joy than guiding them to marriage. It is his way of fashioning a future for his faith. It is his most heartfelt effort — by turns graceful and comedic, vexing and hopeful — to make Islam work in America.

Word of the imam’s talents has traveled far, eliciting lonely calls from Muslims in Chicago and Los Angeles, or from meddlesome parents in Cairo and Damascus.

From an estimated 250 chaperoned dates, Mr. Shata has produced 10 marriages.

“The prophet said whoever brings a man and woman together, it is as if he has worshiped for an entire year,” said Mr. Shata, 37, speaking through an Arabic translator.

The task is not easy. In a country of plentiful options, Muslim immigrants can become picky, even rude, the imam complains.

During one date, a woman studied the red-circled eyes of a prospective husband and asked, “Have you brought me an alcoholic?”

On another occasion, an Egyptian man stared at the flat chest of a pleasant young Moroccan woman and announced, “She looks like a log!” the imam recalled.

“This would never happen in Egypt,” said Mr. Shata, turning red at the memory. “Never, never. If I knew this boy had no manners I never would have let him into my office.”

The Imam’s Little Black Book

The concept of proper courtship in Islam, like much about the faith, is open to interpretation.

Blessing an Islamic wedding

For Mr. Shata, blessing an Islamic wedding like this one is a joyful occasion. But when it is a less traditional celebration, with women wearing revealing outfits and mingling with men, it can be challenging, too. (Photo credit: James Estrin/The New York Times)

Islamic law specifies that a man and woman who are unmarried may not be alone in closed quarters. Some Muslims reject any mingling before marriage. Others freely date. Many fall somewhere in between, meeting in groups, getting engaged and spending time alone before the wedding, while their parents look the other way.

For one Syrian in New York, a date at Starbucks is acceptable if it begins and ends on the premises: The public is his chaperon.

Mr. Shata is a traditionalist. There were few strangers in his rural town of birth, Kafr al Battikh, in northeastern Egypt. Men and women often agreed to marry the day they met, and a few made the deal sight unseen. It was rare to meet anyone from a distant province, let alone another country.

New York is not only the capital of the world, imams often joke, but also the crossroads of Islam, a human sampling more diverse than anywhere save Mecca during the annual pilgrimage known as the Hajj. Beyond the city’s five boroughs, Muslim immigrants have formed Islamic hubs in California, Illinois, Michigan and Texas.

At the center of these hubs stands a familiar sight in a foreign land, the mosque. What was a place of worship in Pakistan or Algeria becomes, in Houston or Detroit, a social haven. But inside, the sexes remain largely apart.

A growing number of Muslim Web sites advertise marriage candidates, and housewives often double as matchmakers. One mosque in Princeton, N.J., plays host to a closely supervised version of speed dating. And so many singles worship at the Islamic Society of Boston that a committee was formed to match them up.

Fearing a potential surplus of single Muslim women, one Brooklyn imam reportedly urged his wealthier male congregants during a Ramadan sermon last year to take two wives. When a woman complained about the sermon to Mr. Shata, he laughed.

“You know that preacher who said Hugo Chávez should be shot?” he asked. “We have our idiots, too.”

More than a matchmaker, Mr. Shata sees himself as a surrogate elder to young Muslims, many of whom live far from their parents. In America, only an imam is thought to have the connections, wisdom and respect to step into the role.

Mr. Shata began the service three months after arriving in Brooklyn in 2002, recruited to lead the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, a mosque on Fifth Avenue.

Dates chaperoned by Mr. Shata — or “meetings between candidates,” as the imam prefers to call them — often take place in his distinctly unromantic office, amid rows of Islamic texts. As a couple get acquainted, the imam sits quietly at his desk, writing a sermon or surfing the Arabic Web sites of CNN and the BBC.

If there is an awkward silence, the imam perks up and asks a question (“So tell me, Ilham, how many siblings do you have?”) and the conversation is moving again.

Candidates are vetted carefully, and those without personal references need not apply. But instinct is Mr. Shata’s best guide. He refused to help a Saudi from California because the man would consider only a teenage wife. Others have shown an all-too-keen interest in a green card.

Those who pass initial inspection are listed in the imam’s version of a little black book — their names, phone numbers, specifications and desires. Some prefer “silky hair,” others “a virgin.” Nearly all candidates, men and women alike, want a mate with devotion to Islam, decent looks and legal immigration status.

Scanning the book, the imam makes his pitch with the precision of a car salesman.

“There is a girl, an American convert, Dominican, looks a little Egyptian. Skin-wise, not white, not dark. Wheat-colored. She’s 19, studies accounting,” Mr. Shata told a 24-year-old Palestinian man one afternoon.

“This is my only choice?” replied the man, Yamal Othman, who lives in Queens.

Such questions annoy Mr. Shata. An imam, he says, should be trusted to select the best candidate. Often, though, his recommendations are met with skepticism.

“It’s harder than choosing a diamond,” said Mr. Shata.

Sometimes, on the imam’s three-legged dates, no one seems more excited than Mr. Shata himself. He makes hurried, hearty introductions and then steps back to watch, as if mixing chemicals in a lab experiment. Love is rarely ignited, but the imam remains awed by its promise.

Mr. Shata discovered love 15 years ago, when he walked into the living room of the most stately house in Kafr al Battikh.

The imam was tall, 22, a rising star at the local mosque. For months, Omyma Elshabrawy knew only his voice. She would listen to his thunderous sermons from the women’s section, out of view. Then, one evening, he appeared at her home, presented as a prospective groom to her father, a distinguished reciter of the Koran.

The young woman, then 20, walked toward Mr. Shata carrying a tray of lemonade.

“She entered my heart,” said the imam.

After serving the drinks, she disappeared. Right then, Mr. Shata asked her father for her hand in marriage. The older man paused. His daughter was the town beauty, an English student with marriage offers from doctors. The imam was penniless.

But before Mr. Elshabrawy could respond, a sugary voice interrupted. “I accept,” his daughter said from behind a door.

“I loved him from the moment I saw him,” Ms. Elshabrawy said.

They now have four children.

The family posed last year for a Sears-style portrait, taken by a woman in Bay Ridge who photographs Muslim families in her basement. A blue sky and white picket fence adorn the background. The imam sits at center, with the baby, Mohammed, in his lap, his three daughters smiling, his wife wrapped in a lime-green hijab.

Mr. Shata carries the picture in the breast pocket of his robe. It is as close as most people get to his family. At the mosque, they are a mystery. His wife has been there twice.

Their years in America have come with great hardship, a subject the imam rarely discusses. The trouble is the illness of his 7-year-old daughter, Rawda, who is severely epileptic. She has dozens of seizures every day and rarely leaves home. No combination of medicine seems to help.

“Rawda is the wound in my heart,” the imam said.

Mr. Shata offers long, stubborn theories about the value of marriage, but to observe him at home is to understand the commitment he seeks to foster in other Muslims.

The family lives in a spare, dimly lighted apartment two blocks from the mosque. Headscarves are piled over Pokémon cards. The gold-painted words “Allah is Great” are framed over a threadbare couch. In the next room, an “I {sheart} New York” bumper sticker is slapped on the wall.

Mr. Shata spends long hours away from his family, lecturing at mosques, settling disputes, whispering the call to prayer in the ears of newborn babies. On his walk home at night, he shops for groceries, never forgetting the Honey Nut Cheerios, a favorite American discovery of his children.

When he walks in the door, his face softens. Loud kisses are planted on tender cheeks. Mohammed squeals, the girls smile, sweet laughter echoes.

But then there is Rawda.

“My beautiful girl,” the imam says softly one evening, holding his limp daughter in his lap after a seizure has passed. He places one pill in Rawda’s mouth, then another. She looks at him weakly.

“There we go,” he whispers. “Inshallah.”

Her lids close with sleep. He lays her in bed and shuts off the light.

Hardship, the imam believes — like marriage, like life — is a test from God.

Foreign and Familiar

Drafting an Islamic wedding contract

While drafting a marriage contract, Sheik Reda Shata consults the pocket-size Koran he carries with him at all times. (Photo credit: James Estrin/The New York Times)

It is proof of the imam’s uncommon popularity among women that he is trusted with roughly 300 female marriage candidates.

The mosque on Fifth Avenue is a decidedly male place. Men occupy every position on the board of directors. They crowd the sidewalk after prayer. Only they may enter the mosque’s central room of worship. Only men, they often point out, are required to attend the Friday prayer.

One floor below is the cramped room where the women worship. On Fridays, they sit pressed together, their headscarves itching with heat. They must watch their imam on a closed-circuit television that no one seems to have adjusted in years.

But they listen devotedly. Teenage girls often roll their eyes at foreign imams, who seem to them like extraterrestrials. Their immigrant mothers often find these clerics too strict, an uncomfortable reminder of their conservative homelands.

Mr. Shata is both foreign and familiar. He presides over a patriarchal world, sometimes upholding it, and other times challenging it. In one sermon, he said that a man was in charge of his home and had the right to “choose his wife’s friends.”

Another day, to the consternation of his male congregants, he invited a female Arab social worker to lecture on domestic violence. The women were allowed to sit next to the men in the main section of the mosque.

The imam frowns at career women who remain single in their 30′s, but boasts of their accomplishments to interest marriage candidates. He employs his own brand of feminism, vetting marriage contracts closely to ensure brides receive a fair dowry and fighting for them when they don’t.

Far more than is customary, he spends hours listening to women: to their worries and confessions, their intimate secrets and frank questions about everything from menstruation to infidelity. They line up outside his office and call his home at all hours, often referring to him as “my brother” or “father.” He can summon the details of their lives with the same encyclopedic discipline he once used to memorize the Koran.

“Are you separated yet?” Mr. Shata asked a woman he encountered at Lutheran Medical Center one day last July. She nodded. “May God make it easier for you,” he said.

A Chaperoned Date

Sheikh Shata hugs his daughter at home

Mr. Shata hugs his daughter Rahma, 6, while his wife, Omyma, carries their baby, Mohammed. Behind him, his daughter Rawda, 7, rests after one of the many epileptic seizures she has each day. She is homebound, and her illness has brought hardship to the family. (Photo credit: James Estrin/The New York Times)

By most standards, the Egyptian bachelor was a catch. He had broad shoulders and a playful smile. He was witty. He earned a comfortable salary as an engineer, and came from what he called “a good family.”

But the imam saw him differently, as a young man in danger of losing his faith. The right match might save him.

The bachelor, who is 33, came to Brooklyn from Alexandria, Egypt, six years earlier. He craved a better salary, and freedom from controlling parents. He asked that his name not be printed for fear of causing embarrassment to his family.

America was not like Egypt, where his family’s connections could secure a good job. In Brooklyn, he found work as a busboy. He traded the plush comfort of his parents’ home for an apartment crowded with other Egyptian immigrants. His nights were lonely. Temptation was abundant.

Women covered far less of their bodies. Bare limbs, it seemed, were everywhere. In Islam, men are instructed to lower their gaze to avoid falling into sin.

“In the summertime, it’s a disaster for us,” said the bachelor. “Especially a guy like me, who’s looking all the time.”

Curiosity lured him into bars, clubs and the occasional one-night stand.

But with freedom came guilt, he said. After drifting from his faith, he visited Mr. Shata’s mosque during Ramadan in 2004.

The imam struck him as oddly disarming. He made jokes, and explained Islam in simple, passionate paragraphs. The bachelor soon began praying daily, attending weekly lectures and reading the Koran. By then, he had his own apartment and a consulting job.

Now he wanted a Muslim wife.

If the bachelor had been in Egypt, his parents would offer a stream of marriage candidates. The distance had not stopped them entirely. His mother sent him a video of his brother’s wedding, directing him to footage of a female guest. He was unimpressed.

“I’m a handsome guy,” he explained one evening as he sped toward Manhattan. It was his second date with Mr. Shata in attendance. “I have a standard in beauty.”

From the passenger seat, the imam flipped open the glove compartment to find an assortment of pricey colognes. He inspected a bottle of Gio and, with a nod from the bachelor, spritzed it over his robe.

The imam and the bachelor were at odds over the material world, but on one thing they agreed: it is a Muslim duty to smell good. The religion’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad, was said to wear musk.

The car slowed before a brick high-rise on Second Avenue. Soon the pair rode up in the elevator. The bachelor took a breath and rang the doorbell. An older woman answered. Behind her stood a slender, fetching woman with a shy smile.

The young woman, Engy Abdelkader, had been presented to the imam by another matchmaker. A woman of striking beauty and poise, Ms. Abdelkader is less timid than she first seems. She works as an immigration and human rights lawyer, and speaks in forceful, eloquent bursts. She is proud of her faith, and lectures publicly on Islam and civil liberties.

She was not always so outspoken. The daughter of Egyptian immigrants, Ms. Abdelkader, 30, was raised in suburban Howell, N.J., where she longed to fit in. Though she grew up praying, in high school she chose not to wear a hijab, the head scarf donned by Muslim girls when they reach puberty.

But Sept. 11 awakened her, Ms. Abdelkader said. For her and other Muslims, the terrorist attacks prompted a return to the faith, driven by what she said was a need to reclaim Islam from terrorists and a vilifying media. Headscarves became a statement, equal parts political and religious.

Women at the mosque

Women gather for a Friday sermon at the mosque. They will watch the imam on a closed-circuit television, one floor below the men. Despite the separation, Mr. Shata has developed a strong bond with women and often counsels them. (Photo credit: James Estrin/The New York Times)

“There’s nothing oppressive about it,” said Ms. Abdelkader. “As a Muslim woman I am asking people to pay attention to the content of my character rather than my physical appearance.”

The pair sat on a couch, awkwardly sipping tea. They began by talking, in English, about their professions. The bachelor was put off by the fact that Ms. Abdelkader had a law degree, yet earned a modest salary.

“Why go to law school and not make money?” he asked later.

Ms. Abdelkader’s mother and a female friend who lived in the apartment sat listening nearby until the imam mercifully distracted them. The first hint of trouble came soon after.

It was his dream, the engineer told Ms. Abdelkader, to buy a half-million-dollar house. But he was uncertain that the mortgage he would need is lawful in Islam.

Ms. Abdelkader straightened her back and replied, “I would rather have eternal bliss in the hereafter than live in a house or apartment with a mortgage.”

An argument ensued. Voices rose. Ms. Abdelkader’s mother took her daughter’s side. The friend wavered. The bachelor held his ground. The imam tried to mediate.

Indeed, he was puzzled. Here was a woman who had grown up amid tended lawns and new cars, yet she rejected materialism. And here was a man raised by Muslim hands, yet he was rebelliously moderate.

After the date, the bachelor told the imam, “I want a woman, not a sheik.”

Months later, he married another immigrant; she was not especially devoted to Islam but she made him laugh, he said. They met through friends in New York.

Ms. Abdelkader remains single. The imam still believes she was the perfect match.

That evening, the imam stood on the sidewalk outside. Rain fell in stinging drops.

“I never wanted to be a sheik,” he said. “I used to think that a religious person is very extreme and never smiles. And I love to smile. I love to laugh. I used to think that religious people were isolated and I love to be among people.”

The rain soaked the imam’s robe and began to pool in his sandals. A moment later, he ducked inside the building.

“The surprise for me was that the qualities I thought would not make a good sheik — simplicity and humor and being close to people — those are the most important qualities. People love those who smile and laugh. They need someone who lives among them and knows their pain.”

“I know them,” said Mr. Shata. “Like a brother.”

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Our Daughter Insists on Marrying a New Convert!

Imam Suhaib Webb, Imam Siraj Wahhaj ("America's Imam), and Cha Cha Jaan Shamin.

Imam Suhaib Webb, Imam Siraj Wahhaj ("America's Imam), and Cha Cha Jaan Shamin. Just because someone committed sins in the Jahiliyyah before he converted, is not a reason to doubt his sincerity or question his character. The shahadah purifies the soul and wipes away everything that came before.

Reprinted from IslamOnline.net, Ask the Scholar

Date: 17/August/2005

Name of Mufti: Ahmad Kutty

Topic: Our Daughter Insists on Marrying a New Convert!

Name of Questioner: Hamad from Canada

Question: Dear scholars, As-Salamu `alaykum. What should parents do when their daughter wishes to contract marriage with a man recently converted to Islam whom the parents suspect, because of his previous behavior, may be simply trying to exploit their immature and impressionable daughter?

Should they give their blessings to her or make her choose between them or this man?

They also fear that by acceding to their daughter’s wishes this may give a signal to the siblings and other relatives that they condone dating and choosing one’s own spouse. Jazakum Allah khayran.

Answer:

Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

Dear brother in Islam, we would like to thank you for the great confidence you place in us, and we implore Allah Almighty to help us serve His cause and render our work for His Sake.

Young women have always been subject to the desires of the ill-hearted and evil opportunists. Islam recognizes the independence of the woman but also decrees measures to maintain her rights and deter those who have ill aims and desires.

Therefore, Islam gives great importance to the approval of the woman’s guardian in a manner that reflects the significance of the marriage contract. Islam’s insistence on the guardian’s involvement in the selection process is to ensure that the woman exercises her choice correctly.

The responsibility of the guardian in marriage is to help the woman in selecting her husband. Usually, a woman can hardly dig into essential information about a man, so the guardian does his best for the interest and welfare of that woman. Thus, it is the job of the wali (guardian) to act in the best interest of the woman according to the standards established by Islam.

In his response to your question, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:

The parents’ right to exercise guardianship over their children is conditional on their exercising it in order to safeguard and protect the interests of children themselves. In other words, parents are not allowed to exercise their right to guardianship to the detriment of the interests of the children or for the purpose of taking away their legitimate Islamic right and freedom to choose their own marriage partners or run their own lives as long as they do not harm the interests of the parents.

Parents in Islam, therefore, have no right to interfere in children’s choice of marriage partners unless they are certain that the children are exercising their choice to harm themselves. That would be the case if someone were to choose for marriage a person who is utterly incompatible and therefore unsuitable for marriage: for instance, if the man is a non-Muslim or a Muslim who is lacking in religious and moral integrity, or someone who, in spite of meeting the requisite religious requirements, is unable to provide financial support. In such cases, parents definitely have the right to refuse to consent to such marriages, and if the children still went ahead without their parent’s consent such marriages will be invalid.

If, however, the above is not the case, and the parents are simply refusing to give consent for material considerations, other than compatibility of religion or ability to support, then they are certainly unjustified in such behavior, for by doing so they are clearly overstepping their authority as guardians.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “If a person of religious and moral integrity comes forward proposing for your daughter, offer her in marriage (if she chooses him); otherwise, you are paving the way for rampant corruption!”

Based on this, you should consider carefully: If this person is trustworthy and sincere in his Islamic commitment and he has the ability to support your daughter in marriage, then you should not stop them from marrying, if they have chosen each other freely. If on the other hand, you have reasonable grounds for suspecting that this person is not trustworthy or that he cannot support her, then you are justified in withholding your consent.

In the last mentioned scenario, if, in spite of your refusal to give consent, they were to go ahead and get married, such a marriage is considered invalid in Islam. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “If a woman were to get married without the consent of her guardian, such a marriage shall be deemed as invalid.”

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One Critical Mistake A Single Muslimah Makes
 When Finding Her Mr. Right For Marriage

Blank personals ad

Many Muslim sisters have no idea how to present themselves

By Sheikh Yasir Birjas and Sister Megan Wyatt, reprinted from MuslimMatters.org

A while ago, a father came to me for help with finding a potential husband for his daughter. So, I asked him to share her marriage resume with me.

A couple of days later, her father brought me a marriage resume.  After looking through her marriage resume, which was quite long, I told the father:

“I thought you wanted me to look for a potential husband for your daughter, not a job!”

What she described in all those pages could be summarized in two letters: MD.

So, how did she really need to describe herself?

That’s the focus of this article, and that’s just one of the three critical mistakes Sister Megan Wyatt and I shared with everyone very recently in this webinar.

From my years of teaching on the topic of love and marriage, and counseling singles, married couples, and their parents, I can tell you this:

By knowing about this one critical mistake, you will, in sha Allah, learn how to speak about yourself in a way that attracts the kind of brother you are searching for, allows you to keep at bay the brothers you do not want knocking on your father’s door, and prevents you from turning off the very kind of person you are seeking.

Now, let’s get into the details of that one mistake. When Sister Megan Wyatt was conducting interviews with single Muslim sisters ages 25-30, she asked them to do the following:

“Describe yourself in a few sentences so I could in turn describe you to a brother who I think may be a potential suitor.”

Almost every sister told her what she does not want in a marriage; the kind of brother she does not want to meet. Hardly anyone actually answered the question. The few sisters who did answer gave short, one-liner responses.

The realization was this: many sisters have no idea how to present themselves.

You may be trying to get married in a way that worked in the past, while you are not like the women of the past.

Sixty to seventy years ago, even in this country, a woman’s role in marriage was clear.

Today, at the age of 19 or 20, most Muslim women expect to complete at a minimum a college degree before getting married.

Along with that degree, there is the question of whether or not you want a career, or perhaps just to dabble in the workforce for some time. Do you want to pursue grad school, and if so, who will take care of the kids, if you have any?

We are looking at this without judgment — however, there is something essential to be understood:

The majority of practicing Muslim men in the West, based on our interviews, blogs, and personal conversations with them across the country, despite growing up here are looking for a wife who will fill a more traditional role, that of a stay at home wife; and at the least to be home with future children, in sha Allah.

And we have also learned that many of you want to do just that: get married, and eventually, be there for your family and children in a more “traditional” role.

Now, many brothers are willing to be flexible to a point, but if you ask most of them their preference, this is what they want…

…leading us to that critical mistake:

Not knowing how to describe yourself for marriage.

What happens when the first thing you say about yourself, or your friend says about you is:

“She is 26 years old, and has a degree in chemistry, and she is currently in grad school.” Or, “…is working in a lab called xyz.”

From the brother’s perspective, he hears a description that says little (or nothing) about what he is looking for in a wife, aside from “educated.”

Let’s take another example:

“She is strong and active in Da’wah, is working on memorizing the Qur’an, has a degree in journalism, and teaches in her local Sunday school.”

Again, excellent qualities. It says a bit more about you, but still, for a brother: what is it that he is seeking?

The difficult reality is that brothers are looking for specific qualities, and when they hear them, it alerts them that this is the kind of sister worth considering.

But what happens if no one is describing you in a way, on your behalf, that speaks his language — that highlights the qualities he desires?

The idea of sitting around and waiting for others to find you someone is an option, but it is not necessarily the most proven option, especially these days.

Many brothers are asking other sisters to help them find a wife, because their families may be abroad, or their parents don’t share the same kind of values as them in terms of the deen.

The fact is that today both men and women are taking more of an active role in searching for a spouse on their own, which means that you may need to learn how to represent yourself to some degree — to explain who you are, and what you want in a husband.

So you need to think: How can I describe myself in a way that is truthful, while also telling him about me in a way that interests him?

So many sisters write about themselves as if they are looking for a pen pal! Seriously.

We sifted through the marriage resumes and bio-data of many sisters that we found online. (That’s another point altogether — having full access to a sister’s photo and her details available to complete strangers, without even having to log in!)

Let’s share two examples:

Words that women use to describe what they are looking for

Many personals ads sound the same

“I currently work as a Respiratory Practitioner and I intend on pursuing my Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. My hobbies include spending time with family and friends, taking road trips, and traveling the world. I love music and cooking ethnic cuisine! I come from a very loving, understanding, and supportive family.”

“My sister is 26 years old. She is a graduate of ABC University. Currently she is working as a chemist in a big name company. She is a great person with an open mind and a great heart. I am so glad that Allah (swt) blessed me with such a great sibiling. I love her and inshallah if you choose her you will know why she is so great. My sister, XYZ, enjoys reading and going out. She is slim and tall with a great smile. She is not a TV person. She is independent. We are 2 brothers and 2 sisters. XYZ is no. 3 in our little family. I am the older, married sister and I want to help my sister also get married so she can enjoy life like I am doing.”

We got bored reading through these. If we were searching for our own brother, we would think: “Forget this! Everyone sounds the same. Everyone likes to travel, shop, go to the cinema, eat, and everyone says they are a nice and caring person.”

So, what makes those two examples bad?

Reading through thousands of ads like that, here are just a few qualities that we found common in all of them:

  • Vague
  • Too long (too many details)
  • Not to the point
  • Confused or overconfident
  • Too personal
  • Too professional
  • Too flirtatious
  • Too good to be true
  • Too girlish
  • Too picky (race, culture, qualities etc.)
  • Confrontational (expecting a war for rights and obligations)
  • Suspicious

On the other hand, what are the qualities that are common in good descriptions or marriage resumes?

  • Very realistic in self description and in spousal demands (sounds real)
  • Balanced in personality and professionalism
  • Family first
  • To the point
  • Very clear language (Accurate spelling and good choice of words)
  • Natural flow of thoughts

If you’re serious about really getting this concept, we’d like you do a quick exercise (without anyone’s help, just by yourself).

First part of the exercise (three questions):

1) Write down 3-5 sentences describing yourself.

2) Write down 3-5 sentences about what kind of man you are looking for.

3) Write in only one sentence what you will not consider in a man.

It is important that you know how to speak about yourself confidently.  It is not humility to be unable to describe yourself, and just smile and fumble over words.

Oftentimes, when we think we are acting humbly we are actually attempting to hide our lack of self-esteem and lack of recognition of the qualities that Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) has given us to share with others.

Remember: you are not going around praising yourself; you are describing yourself for marriage. Think about it.

Now, for the second part of the exercise:

Go back and re-read your answers and ask yourself the following:

1) How true are the things I just wrote down? Is this really me? Is this how my friends and family would describe me?

2) What have I said that would be interesting to the kind of brother I am looking to meet?

As you think about the words, phrases, feelings, and qualities that you would choose, you will find that you may have some of the qualities your ‘Mr. Right’ will like and you may have some qualities your ‘Mr. Right’ will not like.

Being too personal is not a good idea.  Same is true for being too professional.

Whatever the case is, the keyword you need to remember is: “balance.”

Here is the key concept, the bottom line: Learn how to speak about yourself, learn how to describe yourself in a way that allows you to be confident, and beautiful in your modesty, that will connect with the words and thoughts in the mind of your Mr. Right.

Flirtatious woman (cartoon)

Some Muslim sisters add inappropriate, flirty photos to their profiles, which sends the wrong message and attracts the wrong kind of man

Think about how you want to present yourself — the qualities you want to highlight which matter a lot to him, not what makes you fall in love with your own self!

After all, you are looking for a husband, someone from the opposite gender (not a female friend or a buddy).

Just a side note: if you do use a picture in a marriage resume (with permission from your wali!), please do not try to look like America’s next top hijabi model like the ones you see online, and particularly on the infamous Facebook.  Too many sisters try puckering their lips, looking over their shoulders with some sultry pout, etc. which turns off the kind of practicing man you are really seeking.

So, stick to a photo that has hayaa in the image; something normal and natural.

While you are searching for your Mr. Right, remember that in these moments there must be hidden gifts. As Muslims, we are to believe that there is an advantage to every situation in which we find ourselves.

Look at the time that has elapsed, and ask yourself:

“I’m not married, although I’ve been trying for a long time. What is it that Allah wants me to learn? What message, what lesson is waiting for my heart?”

We ask Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) to bless you with sabr, first and foremost, because Allah loves those who have patience, and He is close to those who have sabr.

We ask Allah to bring into your life the kind of husband you are searching for, and to allow your journey from start to finish to be a means of growing closer to Allah, finding His rahmah, and leading you to ever-increasing levels ofeman.

*******

Yasir Birjas is originally from Palestine. He received his Bachelors degree from Islamic University of Madinah in 1996 in Fiqh & Usool, graduating as the class valedictorian. After graduating, he went on to work as a youth counselor and relief program aide in war-torn Bosnia. Thereafter, he immigrated to the U.S. and currently resides in El Paso, Texas. He is also an instructor at AlMaghrib Institute, where he teaches popular seminars such as Fiqh of Love, The Code Evolved, and Heavenly Hues.

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Marriage: Quest for Perfection or Search for Happiness?

A happy Muslim couple at Muslim Day in Atlanta

A happy Muslim couple at Muslim Day in Atlanta

Marriage is ultimately a quest for peace and tranquility

By Imam Hamid Slimi

Finding someone for marriage is one of the most discussed topics among single people and specifically among our Muslim youth today since relationships between males and females in Islam are not considered right except through the ties of Nikah.

For those who have chosen to abide with the laws and principles of Islam and hold on to chastity and patience, marriage discussions are so fascinating, promising and one of the best outlets of relief. Young people who are struggling, dreaming or even fantasizing about a potential spouse (one they have in mind or hope to find) often do so because the romantic possibilities seem endless; they hope with abandon and trust in God to help them find that person.

“Falling in love”

Our eyes and minds are constantly bombarded with images and thoughts which bring new considerations and efface old ones. Today’s culture and environment have opened so many ways of communication between people that they have taken away the simplicity of life and the contentment which used to help us focus, set life priorities and most importantly understand that no one is perfect and therefore reasonable adjustments always need to be made. The more sophisticated we become the more we demand and expect from the others.

The universal expression of art, literature, movies and music has been very successful in convincing us that “happiness in marriage must start with a love story.” Thus, falling in love has become the “standard” for starting a married life. Consequently, the focus of many becomes the search for love, or the cliche – coup de foudre – when people, who by nature never like to fall, make the sole exception to willingly fall in the ocean of love.

Many want to experience what poets have been ruminating about, what stories and novels have been relating to us, what artists have been illustrating and playing to the world. “Falling in love” in the romantic language means experiencing perfection by tasting the ultimate sweetness that this earthly world can offer and achieving a sort of transcendence towards the ultimate uplifting physical and spiritual experience.

A quest for a perfect partner?

The question which comes to mind is: are those looking to get married on a quest for the perfect partner or on a search for a compatible partnership leading to happiness? We certainly cannot expect what we cannot give and since no one is perfect then why would someone expect perfection to be realized through a partnership made of imperfect beings?

Thinking that the other will be perfect and hence will make me happy and content is an illusion. In reality no one can make you happy and content except yourself and when you accept the fact that you cannot expect others to be perfect because you are not perfect either. In fact this quest for romantic perfection is entirely self-defeating. God Almighty says, “Lo! Allah does not change the condition of a folk until they (first) change by themselves that which is in their hearts;” (Chap. 13 V.11). Only once we let go of this romantic notion which is really a figment of our collective imaginations can we begin our quest towards happiness.

What is happiness?

The million dollar question: what is happiness? Happiness means amongst other things contentment, satisfaction, fulfilment, accomplishment and achievement which are almost linear in fashion. Therefore, if I achieve my goals then I should be happy. The Holy Qur’an states the goals of marriage in the following verse, “And among His signs is this: He created for you mates from yourselves that you might find rest and peace in them, and He ordained between you love and mercy. Lo! Herein indeed are portents for folk who reflect.” (Chap. 30 V. 31)

The goals here are rest, tranquility, peace of the mind and peace of the soul. This is why the sense of peace and harmony is a signal that creates that first acceptance of the other; the exchange of inexpressible signals that follow then grown from acceptance to become Mawaddah or spiritual love. Mawaddah has to be cultivated over time like a fruit-bearing tree; spiritual attachment is cemented by the spiritual enrichment and appreciation, which is unlike the physical desire driven by one’s biology that eventually decreases over time.

Components of a compatible personality

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught a message of equality, uniformity and human brotherhood & sisterhood.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught a message of equality, uniformity and human brotherhood & sisterhood.

Having said all of this, Islam does recognize the fact that there should be a reasonable level of compatibility between a man and a woman over different aspects of life, mainly personality and faith. The components of a compatible personality used to be and to some degree still are one’s education, manners, perceptions, social upbringing and physical appearance to a certain extent.

As for ethnicity, race, culture, and lineage – these have nothing to do with compatibility since they tend to counter the message of equality, uniformity and human brotherhood stressed by the Qur’an and the Prophet (PBUH) – in fact these elements have always been the causes of division, conflict and even war.

High expectations and low preparation – a formula for divorce

However, even this notion of marriage compatibility has evolved in our days beyond character, reasonable education, etiquette, abilities and reasonable material establishment. Due to today’s economic pressures, compatibility for a large number of those on marriage quest means the full package that is a ‘romantic experience with a wealthy partner’ -or at least a person with ‘stable’ income – and all the better if he or she looks like a prince or princess.

This has led to the unfortunate raising of standards to the degree which is far beyond acceptance and reasonable chemistry, hard work, a sense of responsibility and physical compatibility. The search for mutual compatibility – something that was relatively easy to find – has been replaced by high expectations and low preparation for marriage which according to recent statistics is one of the main causes of divorce today. The high divorce rate in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities have surpassed any historical records.

According to the Prophet (PBUH) marriage is something simple: “If someone with good character comes to you to propose for marriage and you feel pleased and satisfied with his religious beliefs and practices as well as his character (manners and personality), then you should marry him, otherwise there will be fitnah (tribulation and great evil) and big corruption on earth.” (Reported by Imam Tirmidhi and others) He also said, “Women are asked for marriage for four things: wealth, family status, beauty and the practice of faith. So you should marry the one with faith, otherwise you will lose more than you gain.” (Reported by Imam Bukhari and others).

Are we really following his advice or have we gone off the wrong track?

There are several considerations one must make when looking for a future spouse.

  • Look for a person from whom you get a feeling of peace, tranquility and a sense of security. This is what matters the most and the rest is icing on the cake.
  • For every man there is a right woman and for every woman there is a right man. You only need to look in the right place, the right way at the right time.
  • Seek the help of God by praying for your marriage. Even Prophet Musa (Moses) prayed for personal peace and security and God immediately answered him when he said, “My Lord! I am needy of whatever good You send down for me.” (Chap 28 V.24)
  • Seek help from those with experience and exposure. People will help you! Put your trust in Allah and in a few trusted people who care about you and would love to see you happy.
  • Attend various Islamic gatherings at Islamic centers or in mosques and engage in appropriate (professional) conversation with the members of the opposite sex without being isolated with them.
  • You can also correspond with potential mates through third-party Muslim marriage websites or advertising. Our methods of communication have changed and there is nothing wrong with that as long as the principle of professional conduct is maintained.
  • In the time of the Prophet (PBUH) the Sahabah (his companions) used to meet people sometimes in his presence and sometimes in other circumstances. For instance, on a number of occasions women used to come presenting themselves as candidates for marriage and accordingly, some men would accept their proposal of marriage. The Sahabah were very simple and undemanding about choosing their partners so long as they fulfilled basic religious and character requirements.

Too many conditions

Is your marriage checklist too long?

Is your marriage checklist too long?

In our society, generally speaking, we tend to put far too many conditions and requirements that are not essentials from an Islamic perspective in a marriage.

Islamically, the basic things we should consider are religion and character. All other requirements can be compromised on.

Young people have to stop chasing the notion of the perfect one and start looking for the peaceful one. Islam is based on peace and Allah Almighty constantly calls us to the house of peace. Marriage is about finding peace within oneself and with one’s spouse.

Ultimately, there is no one to blame for not finding a partner but oneself because as the Prophet (PBUH) said “Allah has taken it as a duty upon Himself to help the one who seeks Nikah.”

Originally published Tuesday, 06 May 2008

(FLN Magazine – Vol. 1 / Issue 1)

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