A few years had passed since my spiritual transformation from Born to practicing Muslim, and I was finally ready to get married. As a popular topic in the practicing Muslim community, I had resisted the pressure to rush into marriage. Despite being Born Muslim, my perspectives on many Islamic matters were flawed due to my limited knowledge. I perceived religious men as harsh, controlling dictators who oppressed their timid wives. I was a ‘free’ and ‘modern’ woman who would not be bullied by such a man.
Growing up, I had a fairy tale image of marriage. I dreamt of meeting a handsome man I was destined to spend the rest of my life with and we would fall in love at first sight. I imagined my soul mate proposing to me in a romantic way, which would be followed by a lavish wedding day. Married life would be perfect, based on passionate love, endless romantic moments and we would live happily ever after! The novels I read and the movies I watched formed my magical views of love and marriage.
I knew very little about the dynamics of marriage from authentic Islamic sources. Learning about marriage without cultural and societal influences was strange for me initially. Unlike my desired magical fairytale, there were no romantic moments before marriage but rather a lot of emphasis on spouses providing spiritual, physical, and emotional companionship to each other. Love- the Islamic way had a greater meaning than I had ever known and challenged my narrow perception. I was amazed to read about the marriage of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) to Aisha. Their relationship was a partnership based on love, understanding and many romantic moments too! Religious marriages were not so boring after all! My anxiety eased, the negative views I had faded and I felt excited. I began to understand the essence of marriage at a deeper level and found myself thinking about what I wanted in a future husband and father of my children. My views had changed dramatically and I realised that my previous understanding was very superficial.
The wisdom in avoiding intimate and physical pre-marital relations provided protection from being used as a sexual object from predators with bad intentions. Not being attached emotionally enabled suitors to be considered critically and carefully. There were concerns about me marrying a ‘stranger’ among some family members and friends. No matter how much I explained, they couldn’t understand my new views.
Despite my desire to follow to the Islamic way of seeking a life partner, I couldn’t hide my fears. Where do I begin my search for a spouse? I was looking for a righteous companion that shared similar interests, values and vision as me. Whenever suitors were recommended by well meaning people, the information provided was very vague; “He’s a good Muslim, has a big beard and speaks Arabic”. These were impressive but not enough to base a life changing decision on. I was discouraged at times for “asking too many questions” and silenced with; “Religion is the only thing that matters”. I began to feel guilty for considering other qualities aside from religion. Was I really prioritising worldly matters over religion? The more suitors I met I noticed two extremes; religious men who did not share any values, interests and vision as me or the highly intellectual type who had a similar mindset as me but lacked religious commitment. I knew nobody would be perfect but I didn’t want to overlook things that would be detrimental at a later stage. Perhaps my expectations of finding someone I was compatible with on all levels were unrealistic and I was being too ‘fussy’
Coming from an African cultural background, my family also had certain expectations of a suitable spouse- ideally someone from a similar cultural background, well mannered, educated, with strong family values.
The pressure to conform to the expectations of my family and the advice of the many voices around me was overwhelming. My voice was being drowned out and I was loosing focus of my own standards. I was fed up with living according to other people’s standards; this was my future and ultimately my choice to make. I knew only Allah could guide me to the decision that was right for me and sincerely prayed for clarity. Armed with prayer and firm faith, I committed to opening the next chapter of my life.