A Modern Muslim Guide to Dating – Part 2
Well hello again. Last time we spoke about the idea of dating and how this aligns with the modern Muslim. I think dating before marriage is such a vital part of getting to know yourself. Not only does it teach you how to treat other people but it hones and refines your emotional intelligence; something all of us need in order to successfully navigate through adult life. It is also something that, I believe, can exist in harmony with your cultural and religious life.
Which brings us to:
Conundrum the Second- So, I’m Ok with dating, now what?
Well, I know the first thing I needed to do was have a good, long think and ask myself what exactly I was comfortable with. In short, “What are my deal breakers?”
- Am I looking for a long term relationship?
- Do I believe in sex before marriage?
- What kind of physical contact am I comfortable with before marriage?
- Would I cohabit with a partner?
- At what point in a relationship would I introduce a partner to my family?
- Would I marry out of my race?
- Would I marry out of my religion?
These are some very difficult and real questions but, once you are clear on what you want from a relationship, the easier it all becomes from here (I promise).
Also, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions, the answers are wholly personal to you. You don’t have to justify these beliefs, the only thing you have to do is be honest and unabashed about them. Be proud of what you believe in, proud without being forceful or judgemental of others and the people you date will be respectful of them in return.
One thing I have come across a great deal with first generation British Muslims my age is a distinct disconnect between their traditional family life and, conversely, their modern, westernised personal life. In my experience, the two are often precariously held together with a tangle of white lies and often result in situations like a work colleague of mine: A 31 year old Muslim boy who has now bought a home with his long term English girlfriend and still hasn’t told his parents they are even dating.
Situations like this, when the separation of both cultures and, arguably, lives becomes so absolute that one never entwines with the other are so dangerous and, in my opinion, absolutely unnecessary. There’s no shame in coming from a traditional or religious family, or even in wanting more traditional relationships with the opposite sex. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with wanting to adopt a more liberal approach to your love life either. One, or the other, doesn’t make you any more or less Muslim.
With this in mind I propose that, rather than separating all the different cultural and religious parts of ourselves, we nudge them together a little.
Take my brother for example, he and I were raised in the same family with the same values both religiously and culturally. My faith is more abstract whereas my brother’s is more literal; he takes Ramadan very seriously, goes to Mosque on Eid and attends Friday prayers whenever he can. I am not sure he would be comfortable marrying out of his religion, whereas I did. Our approaches and attitudes to dating, therefore, could not be more contrary but he was the first person I asked to read a few passages from the Quran during the religious blessing at my wedding. I expect my brother may well find a wife through family contacts or in a more culturally or religiously focused way but his partner will be welcomed into the family with the same warmth and vigour that my husband was.
In my experience, as a Muslim woman who brought home a white, Jewish man, I know a little something about presenting one’s family with an alternate view of how they thought your life would go. And the one thing I have learned is that, as long as you know what you love and respect about your upbringing and are proud of it, you will attract people who want to share your pride and make allowances and exceptions for the things you hold dear, just as you would all of theirs. Regardless of whether you are dating within your race / religion or outside of it, being honest about what you want is an incredibly powerful tool at your disposal.
If someone has a problem with your personal beliefs or doesn’t agree with the particular pace you feel comfortable with, then they are clearly not for you. But never fear, there are some incredibly lovely, patient and tolerant people out there. Some that will be in relationships where you don’t have sex before marriage. Or will even meet your parents on the second date. I remember I once sat down and began a date in my early twenties with the immortal declamatory line, “Hello. I’m not sleeping with you, you know” and he found it so funny we ended up relaxing immediately and actually dated for a very long time. But, then again, I have always been somewhat precocious and obnoxious so I wouldn’t advise this exact approach as a rule of thumb. But it does go to show, you may be surprised by the challenges people rise to when given the opportunity to adjust their expectations.
To me, the world of dating has always been an exercise in making a new best friend. I found it rather liberating to sit down with someone I had never met before and learn all about them. It’s something I wish Muslim families encouraged more in their children. When we have to date covertly it becomes shrouded in secrecy and, by extension, guilt. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Dating can, by all means, be respectful of and celebrate your religion and cultural values. It prepares you for married life in so many ways and, after all, it’s just gosh darned fun.
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