While reading through Rawiya’s last post, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my own mother about when I was 16. I was sitting at a computer in my parents’ family room. She was in her usual spot, ironing, and watching television.
“Mom, what do you think about Muslim dating?”
“Beta, you mean having female friends? That’s fine”
My mom is precious ain’t she? That was obviously not the answer I was looking for, so I pried further.
“Yeah, that’s fine and everything mom, but what about, you know, physical affection and stuff?”
“Beta, you mean kissing and petting ?”
“HAHAHAHHAHA!” I couldn’t believe my ears. “Maybe not the umm, petting. But some smooches here and there, mom”
“I don’t know beta, I guess that would be your choice.”
Wow. Just. Wow. Did she just say “petting?” I had lived my life for 16 years thinking they were the most crazy, most conservative parents on earth. Just as it dawned upon Rawiya, it dawned on me:
… through the years, and after speaking with countless other Muslim children who have grown up in the United States, I understand the extent to which my parents are exceptional South-Asian Muslim parents.
Okay now that we’ve lightened things up a bit with my mother’s use of the word ‘petting,” we’ve gotten to the juicy bits!
Single practicing Muslims are completely and utterly sex-deprived. All. Over. The World. We don’t even have to talk about sex. They are normal-human-interaction-with-the-opposite-gender-deprived.
While living in Syria and in Egypt, I’d regularly see large groups of young men huddled around computers in internet cafes looking at porn.
If you look at Google Trends, and search for “sex,” guess which countries make the top of the list? Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, Morocco, and sometimes Pakistan.
So what happens when those single and practicing Muslims come to religious leaders for answers? They get the “dating is forbidden” line. Here is an excerpt from a recent post from SuhaibWebb.com, where the author compares (rather simply) dating, arranged marriages, and what she refers to as ‘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…
Muslims also often quote a tradition attributed to the Prophet Muhammad that goes something like this: “When an unmarried man and woman are alone, the devil is the third one present!”
I think the person who wrote it realized that the devil is everywhere anyway, but it doesn’t just sound as good to say…“Whenever one man buys lentils from another man at a shop, the devil is their third partner.” Or my favorite? “Whenever a woman is in a crowd with 40 other women, learning to knit, satan is their 41st partner.” – KufiGirl
The fact is that temptation is a part of life. God, in the Qur’an, doesn’t forbid hanging out with other people. God does not forbid attraction. God does, however, tell us not to approach illicit intercourse. And more importantly, God reminds us to stay conscious.
The problem I have with these more traditional approaches is that they do not necessarily reflect our reality. In other words, they are rigid and do not accommodate all circumstances.
For instance, a friend of mine just recently got divorced from a man who was super sweet to her family but when they were alone, he acted like an animal. Talking about finances and seeing each other’s living space wouldn’t hurt either. I know my other recently-divorced friend would’ve liked to know about the declaration of bankruptcy before hand.
Or how about my own story? She was a single mom living across the world from me. Her parents lived in another country, and I lived in the United States.
What about converts?!
So, many Muslims date all over the world, even in Malaysia where I currently live. They don’t believe it to be forbidden, either. Some of us American Muslims are just in serious denial and call it something else. At one point, even I used to call it the “SMB,” or “Steady Muslim Buddy.” Back then, I had an acronym for everything.
But as our current president stated once, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig!”
We just “do” dating in really weird ways. I believe that if we normalized it, it would probably lead to less dysfunctional relations between the sexes.
For instance, many Muslims like to jump the gun and talk about marriage and ‘interest’ too soon. Instead of taking the time to get to know themselves and the other person, they do all sorts of insane things. To illustrate, here is a woman on Craigslist looking for someone who won’t jump her bones on a first date, or call her fifty times in the span of a day:
“If you are Muslim and a kind person who won’t jump on me and try to kiss me the first time we meet, then maybe you’re the one. Or if you don’t smoke or drink (even though you say you are Muslim) and respect a woman’s desire to get to know you slowly, you could be the one. If I say you aren’t the one after the first meeting, you won’t call my house 50 times the following day demanding to talk to me. I am not trying to sound rude but I am getting so discouraged!!”
So, what is dating? A “date” is an engagement to go out socially with another person, often out of romantic interest. In the Muslim context, this is done for the purposes of finding a marriage partner.
What guidelines would you give to help two people decide whether they know each other well enough to get married?
Hanging out with someone regularly allows you to get to know them in different contexts over an extended period of time. It is a great way to observe any red flags that may come up. You’ll slowly find yourself rubbing off on that person, and they will begin to rub off on you. Just don’t have sex. How’s that for the ultimate guideline? The only thing God says about this pre-marital dating business is ‘don’t approach sex.’ Everything else is open to your own gut feeling. And yes, everyone’s boundaries are different. That is why communication is so vital, because different people have different boundaries, preferences, and approaches. Equally important is self-awareness so you can communicate your ideas to your partner.
The skills of self-awareness and good communication don’t just get picked up overnight though. To supplement conversations, I believe it is important to see your partner in a variety of contexts and social situations. How does your partner treat wait-staff at restaurants? How does she behave with her family? Her friends? Your friends?
Look for consistency and flexibility. For instance, if your partner suddenly becomes a radically different person when surrounded by a particular group of people, that may be cause for concern. I see an opportunity to test out your communication skills! It is also an opportunity to discuss your approaches to islam, and your consistency within that realm as well.
This is one reason why Muslim Marriage Guides all fail miserably. They assume that you practice their particular strain of islam; rigid gender roles included.
1. The Hard Questions by Susan Piver
2. “A State Between Two States,” in Khaled Abou El Fadl’s, The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books
Don’t have the economic means to get those books? Contact us, we may have some extra copies laying around. Let us know in the comments.