Muslim Dating: The Reality of our Ummah and Some Solutions – Part 2
ORGANICA is the personal blog of an Egyptian-American Muslim sister who calls herself, “A crazy Egyptian Muslim American girl with too many labels to count” The post below is one of her most popular and most commented-on.
Muslim Dating: The Reality of our Ummah and Some Solutions – Part 2
When parents eventually learn about their child’s alternate reality their reaction is of one of two: 1) Overreact the situation, curse and damn child to hell, take away worldly possessions such as a phone while spitting out every Quranic verse to guilt the child to stop; 2) Deny the situation entirely and never address it. Astonishingly, the latter occurs at a much higher frequency.
I’ve seen parents bow in prayer begging God to help and guide their child. Unfortunately, that is usually the extent of their effort. Waking up an hour early to pray in the wee hours of the morning isn’t the solution. God doesn’t help people who don’t help themselves first.
Acceptance of Gender Mixing:
Humans need to socialize and interact with one another. It’s part of life. Contrary to most Islamic Scholar’s interpretation of Islamic teachings, I believe that healthy interactions among the genders is needed to build self-esteem and healthy choices in life. I sometimes wonder why scholars emphasize the importance of community values among Muslims (Jummah, Eid, visiting the sick, keeping relations with kin), yet spend most of their time speaking of the evilness of mixing with the opposite gender and the horrors that come about.
I believe that God has commanded us to be social beings. There are no exclusions. The forms of these contacts are different in nature. Some are more intimate than others but with every relation one could discern the proper form of interaction.
Many Muslim children are raised on the notion that mixing with the opposite gender is haraam. Recently I visited friends during a dinner party. The children were separated by gender and were asked to not interact. I heard a mother tell her daughter “Good little girls don’t play with boys.” Of course, Muslim parents aren’t concerned about today’s innocent playdate but the future is what’s on their mind. They believe if they allow their six-year old daughter to play with a little boy now, ten years later she will still want to play, but maybe more of a mature type play?
The mistake occurs the first time parents restrict interaction. Boys and girls grow up curious about the opposite gender thanks to the limited interaction they were allowed as children. However, the same standards aren’t into play when it comes to school, especially when they are in a public school setting. The child learns to discriminate: when he/she is at school, they are free to interact as they please, but once in the presence of a parent or a Muslim member of their community, they learn to avoid contact with the opposite gender. From here the dual-lifestyle is commenced.
When the child approaches their parent to discuss their social life at school or ask to invite a male classmate to their birthday party, they are quickly reprimanded and reminded that ‘this is not our way’ (i.e. the Muslim/Arab/Asian, etc way). Soon after the child learns that certain topics aren’t safe to discuss with one’s parent, so they turn to friends to seek advice or confide their secrets. The friends cheer on the alternate life the child creates, and as a result the parent and other community members remain in the dark.
- Allow children to freely interact with the opposite gender in academic and social settings.
- Teach children of both genders to work together on community service projects (brainstorm, plan, lead, etc).
- Equip children with the interpersonal skills (how to socialize with one another, etc)
- Teach children proper etiquette across settings
- Encourage and reward honest and thoughtful dialogue
- Set fair rules, be consistent, open to criticism, and follow-through when rules are broken
- Model Godly behavior
- Provide a safe environment free of hostility and disrespect.
Preparing Children to be Responsible Adults with Mature Goals in Life:
When I asked a Muslim teenage friend of mine why she wanted a boyfriend, her response was honest, “I want a boyfriend to buy me expensive things and take me places.” Growing up as a teen in the Middle East, many of my friends sought boyfriends for the same reasons, although most wanted the relationship to end in marriage (and 99% of them never did). If I ever fancied to take on a boyfriend at the tender age of 15, my reasons would have probably been to fill the empty void in my life and the loneliness I felt.
When you ask Muslim teens today what their goals in life are, their thoughts of the world or what commitment means, they will be at loss for words. Of course this is not a Muslim phenomenon but a universal one. As Muslims though we believe that God has sent us guidance that would solve all our worldly problems and yet we aren’t even close to solving the Muslim youth crises. One must wonder why?
Our youth complain that religious folk don’t get them. They are there to throw rules and judge them at every given moment. The rules state clearly: gender mixing of any kind is haraam; liking, loving or dating someone is haraam; any emotions towards the opposite gender is haraam; being curious is haraam; speaking about your emotions and desires to your parents is haraam and disappointing to your parents; talking OPENLY about sex is haraam; talking about what happens at school is haraam; being honest about your needs is haraam and shameful; if you are alone with the opposite gender–even in pubic–thats haraam; if you want to have a friend of the opposite gender, it’s haraam.
The massive language and generational barrier has resulted in the mess we call today “dual-identity of the Muslim youth.”
Parents remind their children that all the above rules can be broken when married. So one must wait and be patient until then. Ironically, the parents do NOTHING to prepare these children for marriage, and at the same time when the child is ready to be married off they make it so difficult that marriage is almost a struggle (that’s for another topic). And the cycle continues…
- Parents must accept that their children at whatever age will naturally seek a partner. This is nature at play.
- Parents should be approachable so child can consult with them when needed (without fear).
- Parents must work hard to raise mature children. The dilemma in today’s ummah is that our children are babied forever. Let’s face it, in Western communities Muslims are among the wealthiest and most educated. They seek the same for their children so they baby them. The child learns no type of responsibility growing up. I’ve met countless young Muslims who’ve never held a real job. My question is why? Everyone has bills, even at 15!
- Involving the child in community service, work, house chores and in decision making will expose the child to more experience, thus maturity. This should be part of the family’s culture.
- Teaching children to relieve their natural feelings through acceptable means: marriage.
- Parents should teach their child that marriage is the only way to have a wholesome relationship with someone.
- Liking someone is acceptable; however, the ultimate form of the relationship should be marriage (or what leads to it), nothing else. Our problem today, children are scared of marriage. We should prepare our boys and girls to be the husbands and wives of the future. Marriage isn’t scary, it could be a beautiful thing when two healthy individuals are involved.
So Do Muslims Date?
My answer is yes and no.
When my non-Muslim friends ask me this question, I am often stumped. In mainstream American culture dating doesn’t always lead to marriage or start off with that intent. Of course, ultimately, any couple wishes their relationship evolves to that stage, but it’s not necessary for the relationship to continue.
In my opinion, the ‘getting to know someone’ part could be given the term dating or courtship. A person gets to know another person with the initial intent made clear: marriage.
I am often surprised at my Muslim friends who date with no intent of marriage. Why would they invest so much energy, time and emotion on someone they don’t have any intention to remain with?
When we equip our Muslim youth with balanced childhood where friends are of both genders, awkwardness is absent because gender relations can take many forms like friendship (not only sex as many Islamic scholars like to emphasize). Finally: honesty, respect and Godliness are integral parts of the value system of a healthy Muslim child. I believe with all in place our youth will see the beauty in Islamic values that past generations have unintentionally destroyed in the Name of God. Amen!