Muslims Balance Faith and Romance

Muslim couple at a coffee shop

By Brian Hughes
Reprinted from

Not Complaining

In a college town ripe with one-night stands and hazy hookups, a sophomore from Augusta is somewhat of an anomaly – at 19 years old, he’s never been on a date.

But he’s not complaining.

As a devout Muslim, Bilal Yousufzai can’t engage in physical intimacy with a woman until marriage. That includes dating.

Even in the carefree days around the playground, he was asked about marriage.

Kids wondered if he was going to marry a stranger and needled him with comments about not being able to kiss a girl.

Now, while many students flock to downtown Athens (Georgia, USA) with their better halves, Yousufzai is more relieved than envious.

“After seeing all the crappy relationships my friends went through, I realized I wasn’t missing out on much,” he said.

But the celibacy wasn’t always easy, he said, especially on his teenage hormones.

Hammad Aslam, a sophomore from Snellville, Georgia, said the importance of dating in American youth culture makes some Muslims more susceptible to “give into temptation.” However, he said he was able to resist by turning his thoughts to matrimony.

“Marriage will make it worth the wait,” he said.

Road to marriage

Young Muslim coupleAfter studying the teachings of Islam in high school, Yousufzai came to a better understanding of what marriage meant to Muslims.

He equated marriage to half of one’s religious faith and said intimacy with the opposite sex must be reserved for marriage, as demanded by Allah.

Unlike most Western societies, where people rely on an experimental method to finding a partner, searching for a spouse is more of a courtship process in Islamic cultures.

Finding a life partner is a family decision, not personal, according to Islamic tradition.

The practice differs from country to country, but generally families will meet and question the potential spouse for their kin. If both families approve, the couple can proceed with marriage. If not, they go their separate ways.

As president of the university’s Muslim Student Association, Yousufzai said he wanted the group to be the face of Islam on campus and help non-Muslims better understand the religion.

Aslam, the group’s vice-president, said misunderstandings of Islamic culture have intensified since Sept. 11.

“There’s a tendency to group all Muslims with Islamic radicals,” he said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

He characterized the religion as peaceful and labeled true believers as steadfast in their desire to submit to God.

‘Not easy to be a Muslim’

Muslims in Surabaya, Indonesia pray during Ramadan.

Muslims in Surabaya, Indonesia pray during Ramadan.

In addition to restrictions on dating, Yousufzai makes numerous sacrifices daily.

He recites Salat, the five intermittent prayers from dusk to dawn which together are one of the pillars of Islam.

Muslims throughout the world are wrapping up the Feast of Ramadan, a month-long holiday in which practitioners don’t eat or drink during daylight hours.

Muslims believe the Quran was handed down from heaven during this period.

Yousufzai admitted he didn’t look forward to fasting, but said it gave him a newfound appreciation for daily gifts.

“It’s not easy to be a Muslim,” he said.

For one day, freshman Stephanie Jackson, from Warrior, Ala., got a taste of what it’s like to be a Muslim.

She participated in the Muslim Student Association’s 2006 Fast-A-Thon on Tuesday, where students were invited to participate in Ramadan.

After ignoring food cravings, Jackson alleviated her hunger once the sun set. First, she bit into a date, a symbolic representation of breaking a fast.

Nearly 100 people joined her in Myers Hall Tuesday night, gorging on pasta, bagels and cookies.

“The eating part wasn’t the problem,” Jackson said of the experience. “Refraining from negative thoughts, that was the issue.”

Muslims are taught to avoid both positive and negative thoughts during the fast. Jackson knew it would be a problem when she received a parking ticket the night before.

“When I went to pay my ticket, I kept telling myself ‘they’re just doing their job,'” she said. “I tried my best to stay composed.”

As a resident assistant in Rutherford Hall, junior Katie Ames was required to participate in an event that exposed her to a culture she was unfamiliar with. She chose to participate in Ramadan for five straight days.

Her main pitfall was a juicy habit.

“On the last night, I felt bad because I remembered I ate bacon,” she said.

According to Islam, Muslims aren’t allowed to consume pork.

Ames said she came away from the event with a new admiration for Muslims’ dedication.

Dating: Not against Quran

Enjoying the temporary break Tuesday night from fasting, University graduate Amber Paul reminisced about her days at the University. She mentioned having a number of fellow Muslims who dated regularly.

Although the Winder native said most Muslims don’t associate dating with damnation, she pointed to refraining from the practice as a safeguard against a major sin – premarital sex.

Major sins are acts specifically prohibited in the Quran.

“It’s not like you will burn in hell just for dating,” she said.

Freshman and fellow Muslim Sahir Ahsan offered a different perspective.

“I don’t have a problem with dating,” he said. “Islam has found a way to assimilate with Western culture.”

Ahsan said his beliefs were in no way contradictory to Islam.

Thousands of Muslims have turned to the Internet to meet their needs for companionship, while avoiding the dreaded label of dating., a company based in Fresno, Calif., is an online outlet for Muslims to place matrimonial advertisements.

According to the site’s administrator, Wael Hesham Abdelgawad, the Web site has more than 50,000 registered members.

There are now more than 10,000 marriage ads for members to browse.

Yousufzai said he wasn’t vehemently opposed to such programs but added he would never use one himself.

“They make me laugh,” he said of the online relationships.

“I would like to meet my partner in person, but that’s just me.”

Regardless of their theological differences, many Muslims at the Fast-A-Thon were looking forward to Monday, or Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.

“Monday, we’re going to party like crazy,” Yousufzai said. “And by party, I mean eat everything in sight.”

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