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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.

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?

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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