As you now know, I got married! Married life has been amazing and although I know y’all are going to tell me that I’m just in the honeymoon period – that’s fine! I’m basking in the glory of it all.
Getting married also means that I can tell you all about the nuances of Muslim ‘dating’ and marriage and relationships in general. Keep in mind that I’m just telling you about the more cultural Muslims – but many will have conventional relationships as well.
Many people assume that all Muslims are ‘arranged.’ Sure, some people are arranged – but this can mean different things. In some instances, it involves your parents introducing you to someone – kinda like old school online dating where you’re matched for compatibility and then decide whether there’s something there after you actually talk and spend time together. Basically, it’s just your parents introducing you to someone. In other instances, arranged marriage refers to a situation where parents arrange the marriage of their (adult) children without their involvement. The couple meets at or just before the wedding and then they ride off into the night as a couple.
Neither of these scenarios represent the norm for the typical Western Muslim. For the most part, we ‘arrange’ ourselves with people that we meet at university, work, social events, online or through our own married friends.
We don’t really… date. Not in the conventional sense at least. That’s mostly because in our universe if you’re getting to know someone from the opposite sex, you’re doing it to determine whether you’re compatible enough to marry them.
That sounds a little bit intense – and it is. It means that the rules that Western culture imposes on a ‘first date’ are flipped on their heads. We ask super serious questions that prod into the history of the person, their financial status, whether they want to have kids or not and anything else that our parents will interrogate us about when we tell them we’ve found someone. I didn’t accidentally use the word ‘interrogate’ there. We… interrogate. And this interrogation continues for as long as necessary until we’ve asked all the important questions.
My friends were amazed at what I knew within two weeks of meeting my husband. We get straight to the point.
While we’re hanging out and getting to know each other, there are really strict rules. We tend to meet in public only – somewhere public enough that we’re not alone, but not public enough that a random nosy aunt can spot you and call your parents to tell them of your horrible indiscretions.
There is also zero physical contact. None. No hugs, no kisses, no handshakes, no nothin’. This person is totally haram.
Meeting the parents
It’s very important for Muslims to have their parents involved really early in this process. This is because our parents have conditioned us to feel guilty about not telling them things. It’s to ensure that we’ve got our parents onside so that when things get serious (lol… more serious…) you have their almost implicit approval. The idea is to use strong negotiation skills to get our parents to agree before they meet the potential spouse. Agree to what, you ask? Well. To us being together.
Once the couple thinks they’re ready to take things further, the family of the groom will visit the family of the bride to ask for her hand in marriage. It’s so awkward and weird! I don’t even care what anyone says.
On the day that the groom and his entourage are coming, the bride’s house is filled with people frantically making the house spotless. Tea and coffee and snacks are prepared and all the fine china is brought out. The bride freaks out and wonders whether she has warned the groom about all the oddities of her family and whether she has coached him enough about what he should and shouldn’t say.
The groom and his family are anxious too. They prepare the gift(s) they have bought for the bride – y’know, flowers, sweets, chocolates, whatever. The groom tells his parents not to be freaks and they head over.
When the families meet, there is the inevitable small talk. Eventually, the father of the groom asks the father of the bride if the two kids can marry in a usually eloquent ‘your family is so honourable, our family is so honourable, let’s be honourable together’ kinda way. The girl is asked about how she feels about the proposal and she gives a shy mumble of approval (or a big HELLYES!). The families will then read a small prayer together while the couple takes two deep breaths.
One in relief because they’ve crossed the first hurdle; the second as they gear up for the next challenge – getting the parents to agree to the fine print.
Agreement of parents
This last phase of the process can be the most stressful. Although parents may agree to the idea of the kids getting married during the first meeting, it’s actually just agreement to the idea. What comes next is a series of negotiations about wedding plans, the dowry that will be paid, where the young couple will live, and other things that you wouldn’t actually consider. The luxury of Muslims being more independent in the Western world only goes so far because our parents still think that they have the right to decide what’s ‘best for us’ even when we’re in our 20s and 30s.
It can feel like you’re walking on eggshells. For example a dowry is paid to the woman by the groom. The payment – whether gold, cash, or some other gift – is usually determined by the bride and her family. If the groom tries to negotiate the price ‘down’ it can be seen as a huge insult to the bride and could be enough to end the whole thing.
When things go wrong they can go really wrong.
This is where my friends ask ‘so who cares what your families think?! It’s YOUR life’. Well… it is. But it also isn’t. For a lot of us, we feel – rightly or wrongly – that we owe our families a lot. We contemplate a future without them in it and it all gets too overwhelming. Sadly, there are a lot of situations where people are forced to choose between their partners and their families and end up losing one or the other.
So… yeah. It’s amazing that any Muslims actually get married… EVER. I’ve been told over and over that all of this is normal and our families just don’t know how to deal with pressure – so maybe Muslims are genetically preconditioned to just be able to deal with this.
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As a fairly recent convert, this still seems like a whole other world to me… and since my family isn’t Muslim, that makes prospective marriage seem almost impossible. How am I meant to negotiate all of this with a prospective partner who was raised Muslim when his family expects my family to be involved and they can’t be?
Your situation arises fairly often. It is generally expected that a Muslim community leader/elder will step in to support you during these negotiations. A friendly face in the mosque should be able to help.
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