Muslim dating has come of age with its own Carrie Bradshaw-style chick lit. No Sex In the City by Australian author Randa Abdel-Fattha features Esma, “a modern Muslim woman with an age-old dilemma.” She is one of four big-city friends seeking Mr Right but with no sex before marriage and no alcohol. As in Britain, Esma finds herself part of a growing demographic: educated, independent career women, who struggle to find a partner, especially over 30.
British Asians have long been early adopters of the technology to find marriage partners. Though originally Hindu-focused, the biggest marriage Web sites, such Shaadi.com, have separate Muslim sections. MuslimandSingle.com has a quick checklist on religiosity: Do you conduct salah (the five-times-a-day prayer ritual)? How often? Eat halal?
One thirty-something City professional, Asma, has spent a decade looking, with mixed results. “If you’re devout and fatalistic, it must be easier in some ways. Because there’s this weird scale of ‘how religious are you?’ How do you define that?” As with Bradshaw, Asma has exchanged plenty of dating horror stories with her friends: “There was the man we called ‘genetic diseases’ because he asked me if I had any on our very first phone conversation.”
There was the Muslim dating event at Excel where, seated in a circle, they went round introducing themselves: “We get to one guy who’s bearded and mid-30s. He says: ‘Hi, My name’s Hassan and I’m here because I’d like to find a second wife.’” No, he wasn’t divorced or widowed. “It got to my friend who said: ‘I’m a civil servant and I’m certainly not here to be anyone’s second wife.’”
It seems there are reformations and counter-reformations under way in modern Muslim dating: some Web sites encourage modern women to embrace the concept of the “submissive” first (or second) wife. Other couples though are quietly using the nikah (Islamic wedding contract) to try out cohabitation before the finality of a civil marriage. Some forward-looking imams want doctrine updated to allow Muslim women to marry non-Muslims, just as Muslim men can.
Asma is struck by “the huge numbers of confident college girls wearing wild and elaborate hijabs, loads of makeup and kissing their boyfriends in public.” Many women develop an assertive Muslim identity at university. Some may seem conservative, from their dress and religious practice, but met and chose their own husbands on demonstrations or political events.
Ana is 33. She did at first date non-Muslims, but “it felt too alien being with someone for whom drinking is an integral part of their culture or who didn’t understand family ties ... I’m not massively practicing as a Muslim but it helped me to see that there are some things that I don’t want to compromise on.”
All three women I spoke to say the biggest challenge has been to find a man on the same Islamic wavelength; not looking for a “submissive” wife nor so “liberal” that they’re drinking and sleeping around. It’s a bigger problem with men, believes Asma: “They tend to go more nuts at uni ... and then come out and become pious and want a good wife to pray five times a day with. Girls tend to find a middle path about their identity.”
Names have been changed to protect the identity of the women.