by Khadijah Ali (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 5, Shawwal, 1438)
And among His power manifestations is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you might find tranquility in them, and He engenders love and mercy between you. Lo, herein indeed are portents for those who reflect (30:21).
The Muslims’ experience living as minorities in predominantly non-Muslim Western societies is a relatively new phenomenon in history. In the past, when Muslims lived as minorities, they did so as rulers. This was true in Egypt in early Islamic history as well as in al-Andalus (present-day Spain) and India. Muslims arrived as rulers in Egypt even though the majority population did not become Muslim until much later (300 years later). In the case of al-Andalus and India, Muslims ruled for centuries but remained a minority.
In two other locales — Malaysia and Indonesia — not a single Muslim soldier set foot. It was Muslim traders whose upright conduct so impressed the local inhabitants that the majority population accepted Islam. Indonesia today is the most populous Muslim country in the world. Those accusing Islam of being spread by the sword should take note!
The Muslims’ ruling phase in Spain and India ended centuries ago. While dislocation has a strong impact on Muslim thinking — the first dislocation of Muslims was to Abyssinia in the fifth year of the Prophet’s (pbuh) mission in Makkah — latter dislocations were for different reasons. The dislocation to Abyssinia was followed eight years later by the major dislocation to Madinah — called the Hijrah — where the Prophet (pbuh) established the first Islamic State in history. Muslims nostalgically hark back to that dislocation but they have long lost touch with the spirit and purpose of hijrah.
The Muslim diaspora to the West is not only a recent phenomenon but it has also caused major disruption in their social and cultural behaviour. Targeted for abuse, they are branded as terrorists. Both in Europe and North America, their masjids and Islamic centres are attacked and vandalized. Muslims have been shot and killed by a combination of white extremists working in tandem with Zionist and Hindu fascists. Today, their very survival is at stake. Numerous Western politicians have declared war on Islam and Muslims. This is as true in North America as it is in Europe.
Long before the start of this disastrous phase of their existence, Muslims in Europe and North America were already facing a major social challenge. Being forced to relocate 50 or 60 years ago primarily for economic reasons, their first priority was to secure a suitable job and look after their young families. The first generation of Muslims contributed greatly to establishing masjids — big and small — and Islamic centres, and acquired huge homes (most Muslims that came to North America are highly educated and motivated). Their children went to some of the best universities and colleges and became highly qualified professionals in their own right. While in most cases, they achieved material success — the American dream — they have lost on another front: the social front.
The American lifestyle — living in a neighbourhood where people do not know, and perhaps do not want to know each other — is one part of the problem. We can choose our home but we do not choose our neighbours. The choice and size of a house is based on one’s income level. Even this would be tolerable but for the fact that Muslims have become isolated from each other. The sense of community belonging only manifests itself temporarily in the masjid during prayers, especially at Jumu‘ah, but the pressure of life for most people — rushing back to work — quickly takes over.
In this materialistic mad rush, most families have lost badly on the social front since there is no social networking that is still prevalent in Muslim majority societies, although there too it is fading fast. Why is social networking important? It is such networking that facilitates interaction between families, leading to marriages between boys and girls of suitable age.
The absence of Muslim social networking among communities in the West means that Muslim parents are left isolated and cannot find suitable spouses for their marriageable age children. Not all children and parents have made the transition to children finding their own spouses. Dating is taboo and most committed Muslims do not consider it appropriate from the Islamic point of view. This does not mean that boys and girls cannot choose their own life partners; what this means is that Western-style dating, which often leads to pre-marital sex and out-of-wedlock pregnancies, is shunned.
Most Muslims have not lost their Islamic values; on the contrary, these have become stronger among Muslims living in the West because of the constant pressure and threat to their way of life. In the West, Muslims have a much stronger affinity to Islamic identity than their contemporaries in Muslim majority countries.
Muslim parents with children, especially daughters, face a daunting task. They live in constant fear of their daughters marrying non-Muslims, which is expressly forbidden in Islam. Regrettably, there have been instances of Muslim girls marrying Hindu or Sikh boys, and perhaps Christian boys. In some instances, these non-Muslim boys go through a ritualistic conversion to Islam in order to marry a Muslim girl but in most cases, such conversion has little impact on their lifestyle or future outlook.
Muslims can marry Christian or Jewish women but the Qur’an stipulates that they must be pure and chaste (5:05) not those who indulge in multiple affairs, a condition some (most?) Muslims seem to overlook. The consequences, however, are faced by parents who have to deal with the stigma and pregnant stares of friends and acquaintances.
So what is the solution to this very serious social problem that seems to be growing rather than diminishing with time? A number of marriage websites have emerged that have produced mixed results. It has been observed that often such websites are more interested in making money than assisting families in a genuine way.
In North America, some masjids and Islamic centres also arrange periodic get-togethers to facilitate interaction between boys and girls. These are definitely steps in the right direction and have yielded some positive results.
Another platform that is now becoming increasingly popular is Islamic conferences held at various venues in North America. While the organizers may think the large attendance is due to the speakers they invite, the reality is that the vast majority of people who attend such conferences are parents with children (especially daughters) in toe seeking suitable partners for them. There is nothing wrong with this; in fact, it is a positive step for a growing problem.
Based on the experience of attending some of these events, this writer would like to offer some suggestions. First, everyone concerned — boys, girls, and parents — must come with realistic expectations. If every boy wants a girl who is highly qualified, rich, attractive, and only 16, then these are impossible conditions. On the other hand, if a girl only wants a rich, well-established boy as husband, then this too may be a difficult goal to reach. Girls are in a more difficult situation since their age works against them. In waiting for prince charming to come into their life, some girls miss the chance altogether since their shelf-life is short.
One other point is worth mentioning. There is a common tendency that the girl must be younger than the boy. While most Muslims talk about the prophetic Sunnah and how the noble Messenger (pbuh) married Khadijah (ra) who was twice widowed and 15 years his senior, they refuse to practice this in their own lives. Divorced or widowed girls are often condemned to a life of isolation. This is not only wrong but also cruel.
Muslims must revive the prophetic Sunnah in practical ways and go beyond the aspect of eating halwa or splashing perfume on their bodies. The first step would be to adopt realistic and more humane behaviour toward each other when it comes to choosing a spouse.