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The Marriage Project: A Project Nation

golden_hearts_3.jpgIn my career as an instructor of “Fiqh of Love” and “Love Notes” with AlMaghrib Institute, the activity and survey sessions conducted in the class environment included many personal questions submitted by students (both men and women), regarding marriage and marital life. Through this, and the overwhelming marriage counseling sessions and advices given in the course of the past four to five years, I was able to collect enough data and statistics to open a window on the status of social life in the Muslim community in America and provide an insight into the crisis of marriage we face here. The findings com from multiple locations all around the country including places such as Houston, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, The Bay Area and elsewhere – and the results were startling. The marriage crisis is a big crisis indeed, and while many of our respected older generation are unaware of it, or at least act like that, the youth were left helpless and sometimes hopeless.

In my lecture at Ilmfest in NY “The Crisis of Marriage” back in March 2008, I attempted to speak for the youth, voice their concern and highlight some of these findings, which I’m working on publishing as a separate research insha’Allah. Many of these problems fall into systematic categories that can be summarized into three:

1. Conventional -mixed- views of marriage.

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This includes, but not exclusively, issues such as ideals of love and marriage, the premarital life and experience and the determination of readiness in terms of education, career and finances.

2. Gender issues (and yes we do have a gender issue in the Muslim community).

This in this age is a natural contribution of the western culture to the American Muslim community. It includes issues of feminism, gender expectations, sexuality and marriage patterns especially egalitarian marriage and its challenge to the traditional Islamic version of patriarchy.

3. The cultural expectations.

We cannot deny the existence of at least two generations from two different cultures widely misconstrued as one culture, first generation of Muslim immigrants and the second generation of Muslims who were born or grew up in America.

The Muslim community in America is also one of the, if not the most, diverse community in America in terms of ethnicity, race, culture, education, economy, background and religious affiliation (on juristic, political and sometimes sectarian ground). With all this diversity and without getting into the details of this matter, different cultural expectations arise.

Parents (for too many different reasons) are unfortunately rated as the number one reason why too many men and women are delaying their marriages. Surveying the youth, they admit that once they hit the road of career -per their parent’s demands- and pass the emotional cycle of love and enamor, the desire for marriage becomes for no more than a social requirement that influences their choice. Hence the decision for marriage is usually pragmatic. These marriages are what I call ‘Technical Marriages’ and many people today are technically married but not wholeheartedly married. Some decide to delay their marriages further fearing they might fall into this abyss of technical marriage not realizing that by doing so are increasing their chances of falling into it.

One other crisis facing the Muslim community largely overlooked by many observers is the issue of sustaining the few marriages available among the youth in America and the West. There is an illusive feeling of satisfaction among the crowd that once the marriage is done, the job is also done. Well, not so fast.

One of the very famous statements repeated in my love and marriage lectures is when you decide to get married: “Never Make Failure an Option” i.e. do not just try it; commit to it and put all your heart and effort into make it successful. Your spouse does not come with a 30 day return policy or ‘satisfaction guaranteed’, so stop whining and do not waste your time looking for the 1-800 number on your marriage contract…you won’t find it.

The divorce rate among Muslim families is higher than it should be, and higher than it used to be. Muslims who once were proud of their marriage institution as one of the most successful in the world can no longer take pride in that. We are facing a serious problem here; “Divorce.” It seems that most of the solutions presented to the market are focusing on one single issue, initiating the marriage. Now that I’m married, as someone might say, what shall I do next? That’s a question that many matrimonial services do not answer and hence increase the chances of divorce.

Many young men and women are left to experience marital life on their own once they initiate the marriage, thinking that if my parents managed their life, I can do so as well. The complexity of our time and life does not permit this simplicity anymore. There has to be a premarital education plan for those who are seriously thinking about marriage, and truly it should also include those who are not serious at all as well. Let them learn to be serious for once. Special programs, and that is another challenge by itself, should also be designed to educated parents – the in-laws to be.

This educational program should include, besides the conventional lectures on marital relations, topics pertinent to spiritual life after marriage, parenting in the west, economics and finances of marriage, psychology of marriage, the sociality of marital life and any area that experts believe essential to build a healthy marital life. Remember that sooner or later you will at least have to deal with the delicate issue of the in-laws. In short even marriage requires ‘coaching’. Our youth need ‘Marriage Coach’ services for at least the first year of marriage.

Once the marriage is been established and life starts going smooth for the first year, change will begin. Some changes happen rapidly and faster than the couple can comprehend in a timely manner, for instance a newborn child. Once this rapid change settles down – the child starts going to PK school – it becomes a new norm and the change turns slow and creating a routine. This, as it sounds, brings boredom to the marital life. Both scenarios put too much pressure on the family and cause lots of problems. The solution?! Regular or conscious marriage counseling. Muslims inherited the cultural bias against marriage counseling as a mean of intrusion. For some, a marriage that requires counseling is not worth saving. This view has to change and a professional ‘Muslim Counseling’ needs to be developed on national level.
My proposal for a solution, therefore, lies in developing three services:

  1. Practical and realistic eHarmony Islamic style ‘Matrimonial Services’ with clear comprehensive criteria.
  2. ‘Marriage Coaching’ educational service that springs from Islamic teachings and Muslim culture.
  3. Long term ‘Marriage Counseling’ to handle sever scenarios of difficult marriages.

As ambitious and idealistic this project might appear, I do not see it impossible to achieve, but it requires the participation of diverse sectors of the Muslim community in America and the West. This is not a one local Imam job or a single Islamic center or organization work. It’s a polycentric Islamic social movement on a national level that should involve think tanks and experts of multi groups of Imams, psychologists, sociologists, economists, educators, community leaders, parents and many more, and most importantly ‘the youth’. It is ‘A Project Nation’ – a Marriage Project.

Discussing the details of this project is beyond the scope of this article, but I hope by bringing this issue up for discussion we can further contribute to the solution.

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Sh. Yaser Birjas is originally from Palestine. He received his Bachelors degree from Islamic University of Madinah in 1996 in Fiqh & Usool, graduating as the class valedictorian. After graduating, he went on to work as a youth counselor and relief program aide in war-torn Bosnia. Thereafter, he immigrated to the U.S. and currently resides in Dallas, Texas. He is also an instructor at AlMaghrib Institute, where he teaches popular seminars such as Fiqh of Love, The Code Evolved, and Heavenly Hues.

44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Bineabble

    May 1, 2008 at 2:57 AM

    Why not use eHarmony itself? It’s something that’s out there and it’s working. Of course the religious component is missing, but, I am fond of the idea of seperating “personality” from “religious-identity”, people get caught up in the latter and end up being clouded on the former.

  2. Pingback: Islamify.com

  3. Avatar

    Ahmed

    May 1, 2008 at 10:05 AM

    salaam,

    Very, very insightful article. Love to see your more comprehensive work on this topic. Few comments and questions:

    It was stated:

    “Surveying the youth, they admit that once they hit the road of career -per their parent’s demands- and pass the emotional cycle of love and enamor, the desire for marriage becomes for no more than a social requirement that influences their choice. Hence the decision for marriage is usually pragmatic.”

    I was really surprised to hear this. I though the desire would still be there even in later age. Do you see this more for one gender then the other ?

    “Now that I’m married, as someone might say, what shall I do next? ”

    I’d like to mention TheMuslimHousewife.com as a good source of inspiration and information for young Muslim Women

    “The complexity of our time and life does not permit this simplicity anymore.”

    I’d also like to note, it is much easier to divorce. If a marriage is going sour, wife can easily leave because she has higher education in which she can start working on her own. In the previous generations, the women didn’t have such skill set to exercise this option. Also, in America, compared to ‘back home”, it is much more socially acceptable to get divorced.

    ” 1. Practical and realistic eHarmony Islamic style ‘Matrimonial Services’ with clear comprehensive criteria.”

    I am seeing so many people, especially sisters, struggling to find suitable mates. The halal avenue isn’t there.

    ” 2. ‘Marriage Coaching’ educational service that springs from Islamic teachings and Muslim culture.”

    As a life coach, my strong desire is to start a coaching service. AfterNikah is in the works.

    ” 3. Long term ‘Marriage Counseling’ to handle sever scenarios of difficult marriages.”

    Even if the marriage was done for the wrong reasons, human beings have the amazing ability to change their attitudes and paradigms. Inshallah, more Muslims would consider this before abruptly announcing their divorce.

    Sh. Yaser, few questions:

    – What is the top problems do you see in husbands ? in wives ? in America.
    – What non-Islamic resources do a good job tackling the issues Muslims are facing ?
    – Would it be fair to say that problem are beyond the ignorance of Islamic guidelines (Fiqh rulings) ? It is more attitude issues and/or lack of iman ?

    Barikhallah feek

  4. Yaser Birjas

    Yaser Birjas

    May 1, 2008 at 12:01 PM

    Bineabble,

    As we teach the young and adults about marriage today we try hard to get them out of the conventional view of looking for someone who is –just- religious. When Ibn Taymiyyah was asked regarding the selection of a Muslim leader, who should be selected, a righteous who is not skillful or a skillful leader who is less righteous? His answer was amazing: Select the skillful and surround him with righteous ones. This was taken from hadith Abu Dhar who asked the Prophet salla allahu alayhi wa sallam for an executive position. He was denied based on his weakness in this area, even though he was one of the early Muslims who accepted Islam.

    Not all religious or righteous people –men and women- are skillful in marital life. When seeking for a religious spouse you should be looking beyond the image of religious-identity; you should be looking for religious who is skillful. How do you determine that? That’s when the idea of personality comes in. Practicing the deen is an indication of good religion, and this quality should not be compromised per hadith of Rasulillah salla allahu alayhi wa sallam, then comes the issue of personality which should be shaped by religion and piety (mannerism) plus personal experience and attitude.

    I guess eHarmony cannot get deep enough in the mind of the practicing Muslims. Like many conventional banks do today, they hire a Muslim specialist to help manage an Islamic or semi-Islamic investment department. eHarmony can think of that as well. Remember, many practicing Muslims might have issues regarding posting their profile on a non-Muslim site. A Muslim supervised service might do the job.
    The question comes up, are Muslims well prepared enough to start a project of that magnitude?

  5. Yaser Birjas

    Yaser Birjas

    May 1, 2008 at 12:26 PM

    I was really surprised to hear this. I though the desire would still be there even in later age. Do you see this more for one gender then the other ?

    It depends on the circumstances, and I agree case discussed is more with women than men.

    I’d also like to note, it is much easier to divorce. If a marriage is going sour, wife can easily leave because she has higher education in which she can start working on her own. In the previous generations, the women didn’t have such skill set to exercise this option. Also, in America, compared to ‘back home”, it is much more socially acceptable to get divorced.

    That is one of the gender issues that cause lots of problems. Families insist their daughters should finish their education first before marriage, a way to ensure a backdoor exit from any sour marital relation i.e. they are making failure an option. Their concern is understood and legitimate but this whole issue creates lots of controversy when not discussed thoroughly or if not understood and dealt with objectively.
    My recommendation, between two extremes, for women -and I’m being transitional here- is to marry before they continue their education and for men to be more receptive to the idea of helping their wives find their selfworth beyond the conventional views of marriage if thats what they desire. Now the issue of career oriented spouse -husband or wife – at home thats another issue.

  6. Yaser Birjas

    Yaser Birjas

    May 1, 2008 at 12:49 PM

    Ahmad,

    – What is the top problems do you see in husbands ? in wives ? in America.
    – What non-Islamic resources do a good job tackling the issues Muslims are facing ?
    – Would it be fair to say that problem are beyond the ignorance of Islamic guidelines (Fiqh rulings) ? It is more attitude issues and/or lack of iman ?

    I believe lack of patience and forbearance is one big problem between a husband and wife. Conflicting views on the value of sacrifice and the self-worth within the family from both partners bring up lots of challenging less family oriented decisions but more personal ones. It seems that the culture of individualism still works even after someone gets married. After marriage the couple should think more as a family, not withholding back any personal ambitions though but in a moderate and realistic manner. They have to adapt to the change. Rights and obligation and authority are other common areas for marital discord.

    These are universal issues and human based cases and many books tackle them from this perspective. Any Muslim with decent knowledge of Islam and marital rights can figure out what is right and what is wrong. For example, in a recent article on the subject of the rights of wives, the author –who was a female- said: “We the wives have the right to flirt!!” with other men of course and then justified that with some repugnant reasoning that does not fit the Muslim code of modesty at all. I guess its obvious why this is wrong.

  7. Yaser Birjas

    Yaser Birjas

    May 1, 2008 at 12:54 PM

    Rami,

    Do you think we should try to go through eHarmony itself or start our own thing. I wrote up a letter to eHarmony. If you think we should try going through them, let me know insha Allah and I will send it out.

    I guess my earlier comment answers your question.

    I guess eHarmony cannot get deep enough in the mind of the practicing Muslims. Like many conventional banks do today, they hire a Muslim specialist to help manage an Islamic or semi-Islamic investment department. eHarmony can think of that as well. Remember, many practicing Muslims might have issues regarding posting their profile on a non-Muslim site. A Muslim supervised service might do the job.
    The question comes up, are Muslims well prepared enough to start a project of that magnitude?

  8. Avatar

    AbdelRahman Murphy

    May 1, 2008 at 1:51 PM

    marry before they continue their education and for men to be more receptive to the idea of helping their wives find their selfworth beyond the conventional views of marriage if thats what they desire.

    On point, Shaykh Yaser. With the way that the higher education process is set up today, the prime age for people to get married is right amidst their undergraduate education. Getting a nikkah and delaying the walimah is an (even if not the ideal) option. It trains the couple in patience, discipline, and how to make it through difficult and busy times without serious financial consequence or burden hanging over their heads. This is an option that is ignored, albeit forgotten even, in our communities. It’s coming back slowly, insha Allah it’ll be restored to it’s potential. An article about the intricacies of nikkah/katb al-kitaab can be found here. Included in the article is a post on AlMaghrib’s forums by Shaykh Yaser about the proofs and reasons for nikkah.

    I’d also like to note, it is much easier to divorce.

    Another issue that I have seen all too many times is when two people who are interested in marriage rush into a marriage. While engagement is not a formal institution necessarily, it still provides options for the couple to test each other’s compatibility with their own. Typically, practicing Muslims will rush into a marriage thinking that if they both practice Islam, everything else will work out. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. While both the brother and the sister may love Allah and His Messenger (saw), they may in fact have different personalities, hobbies, likes, dislikes, etc. Things like this need to be researched, and the waters need to be tested via the correct halal avenues.

  9. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    May 1, 2008 at 1:52 PM

    Brilliant article, jazakAllahu khair!
    Having passed the first step (getting married), it’s step 2 that’s important to me now… alHamdulillaah I’ve been observing my parents and their friends discuss marriage issues and help w/ marriage counselling for a long time, so I figure I’ve picked up some important things and will insha’Allah be able to implement that in my own marriage…
    Anyway, again thanks to watching my parents at work, I definitely agree about the importance of points 2 and 3… also, the idea of getting “specialists” together to deal with these issues rather than leaving individual Imams or Islamic centres to do their best in their own communities is certainly intriguing, needed, and insha’Allah will be feasible!

  10. Avatar

    Siraaj Muhammad

    May 1, 2008 at 3:09 PM

    A Muslim supervised service might do the job. The question comes up, are Muslims well-prepared enough to start a project of that magnitude?

    It’s being worked on as we speak (or write) ;)

    Siraaj

  11. Avatar

    Atiq

    May 1, 2008 at 4:14 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Jazakullahu Khair for the article Sh. Yasir,

    With this wonderful introduction, I would like to announce the upcoming launch of a Muslim Marriage Mentoring Service under the supervision of our beloved Sh. Yasir Birjas himself. We will focusing on issues that cause major strains on Muslim marriages of today. We also have with us counselors that specialize in money matters, intimacy, conflict resolutions, parenting, goal setting, and much more. This will be a 12 month program that will take a couple through the thick and thin of marriage, and leave them with the tools necessary to continue a strong foundation towards marital bliss inshallah.

    More details to follow soon inshallah.

    Atiq

  12. Avatar

    Bineabble

    May 1, 2008 at 5:00 PM

    Siraaj, can you fill us in please?

    “Al-Yasirain” – Love it!

  13. Avatar

    AbuAbdAllah, the Houstonian

    May 1, 2008 at 8:10 PM

    This will be a 12 month program that will take a couple through the thick and thin of marriage, and leave them with the tools necessary to continue a strong foundation towards marital bliss inshallah.

    Just to clarify — this would be counseling for people in their first year of marriage?

    You’re not suggesting year-long pre-marriage counseling, are you? Because if you were, I have an idea, start a counseling program in which single people can join. By the end of the counseling, two results could happen (1) the Muslims running the program suggest to you a match from someone else in the program, or (2) if at that time there is not a match in the program, the Muslims running the program would match you up with someone when they come along.

    There are lots of benefits possible — though I am brainstorming here, so comments would be welcome:
    1) in the course of counseling, the counselors will get a really good idea of what kind of person the applicant is. A lot better idea than any eHarmony survey ever could.
    2) eHarmony might ask a ton of questions, but that survey is static, a snapshot of a person. not as useful as an evolving picture of a person developed by a counselor over the course of time. counseling would show a person’s potential to growth and willingness to change.
    3) it is not even necessary that your “ideal” match be in the program with you, not even that they be in the program in the same city (if it is offered in multiple cities), and who knows — your match may have entered the program with someone else! a couple enters the counseling program and alhamdolillah alaa kulli haal finds out that they are not compatible at all. not just good for them, good for each of them, because continuing with the counseling now as individuals means they can still be matched to someone else.
    4) single people could probably attend any session that would be beneficial to a “couple” in pre-marriage counseling. why? any component of counseling that is so sensitive/intimate that it must be done in-couple, is one for which the participants do not yet qualify.

  14. Avatar

    Farhat

    May 1, 2008 at 9:01 PM

    I am so glad I am getting my masters in psychology then I can help the Muslims in Marriage crises and actually contribute to these kind of programs.

  15. Avatar

    NK

    May 1, 2008 at 9:13 PM

    Salamalikum Sheikh!

    How much communication and in by what means (email/chat/phone/direct meetings) is appropriate between two interested individuals before nikah/wedding? I always see two extremes when looking at potentials either they want to get to you know too well thru lengthy phone calls/emails/chats or they they think meeting once or twice is good enough and the rest can be found out after getting married. How much should I “get to know” my potential mate and by what means without delving into the haram zone?

    Jazakallah khair

  16. Avatar

    Asif

    May 1, 2008 at 9:18 PM

    Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem:

    Hey folks, I and my wife used E-harmony, and we got married back in 2006.
    I think from the time we met on E-harmony to our marriage was within a month.

    It was our experience that E-harmony system for narrowing down your potential spouse (based on your sincere entry/questionnaire) is pretty good.

    Anyways, if some muslims can duplicate this service and enhance it for muslims then that would be great, but till then, dont rule out E-Harmony as a viable alternative.

    Also, Rami, its nice to hear that you are doing good and contributing to your community, its been long since the Hidayaonline days.

    Shk. Yaser, I will probably see you soon again in Irvine for your class. Insha’Allah.

    Assalaamu Alaikum

  17. Avatar

    MR

    May 1, 2008 at 11:40 PM

    I’m down to join the web development team for this site.

    Catch: Plug halaltube.com :-D

  18. Avatar

    Tasneem

    May 2, 2008 at 3:37 AM

    I am also one that is getting a masters in counseling and more than happy to provide premarital and/or counseling, it is totaly necessary in this time for the success of Muslim families and the children that will come out of the marriages and form the growing Ummah.

  19. Avatar

    ~Oum Abdurrahman~

    May 2, 2008 at 5:33 AM

    I would like to say that I believe this is an amazing idea, and I’m so glad that finally the issue has come out of the closet. I am willing to help this project in any way I can insha’allah.

    I believe there is two major things that seriously need to be exaggerated and implemented n order for this huge project to go into full throttle.

    1. The du’ah, we need to absolutely make du’ah for help and success.

    2. As mentioned in Sheikh Muhammad AlShareef’s Fiqh of Da’wah class:::

    Marketing, marketing, MARKETING!

    And I plan to be working soon insha’Allah with a major Islamic Magazine, *Ya Rabb insha’Allah*. So I am willing to go ahead with the proactive approach in writing about this project if it’s okayed with the PM insha’allah.

  20. Avatar

    Navaid Aziz

    May 2, 2008 at 8:58 AM

    As salaam ‘alaikum Sh. Yaser,

    Jazaaka Allahu khairan for taking the time to write this. I’m most definitely looking forward to reading your combined research. Likewise, in the future if you can touch on how one goes about acquiring the necessary skills in being a Muslim Marital Counselor I would be greatly obliged.

    Waffaqakum Allah.
    Was salaam ‘alaikum

  21. Avatar

    Tasneem

    May 2, 2008 at 11:46 AM

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Navaid, in response to your question “if you can touch on how one goes about acquiring the necessary skills in being a Muslim Marital Counselor I would be greatly obliged

    In the USA there are only 2 persons that can provide any level of counseling or therapy 1. a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Clinical Social Worker, Psychologist or Professional Counselor; requiring at least a masters degree in those fields, 2. a person that is considered a religious leader aka Imam, Sheikh etc, and then that is legally considered pastoral counseling ; but on this level you cannot handle clinical issues and still are held to the standards of the law on certain issues of lethality etc.

    If a person desires to put together a program that assists people without providing “counseling” that is another issue… which is how a program like AA can exist without having licensed professionals working in it because they have the 12-steps without providing “counseling or therapy”; although they have a system, format and group meetings. It gets sticky because you can get in hot water if you use the wrong wording, but also the level of training for working with couples that you get in a masters program better prepares for general couples work. The Islamic aspect of it is one that I intend to shape for myself by attending the Hartford Seminary program and get a MA in Islamic Chaplaincy, thus adding to my ability to work in depth with Muslim couples and incorporate Islamic approaches to healing, healthy relationships and practice into the sessions.

    I would indeed like to talk further with anyone who is interested in this kind of work, my mother and I acttually conducted a marriage study a few years back at a large Masjid in the SF Bay Area and were left astonished by what we found.

  22. Avatar

    ASIF

    May 2, 2008 at 1:59 PM

    Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem:

    You guys have probably seen/read this:
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0428/p20s01-woam.html

    Part of the article says,
    “Hanaa Soltan, a newlywed in her late 20s, is grateful for the new dating flexibility. Her family allowed her to take advantage of nikah, an old tradition that allows something close to American dating. Under Islamic law, nikah is a legal marriage that entitles couples to all the privileges of marriage. In practice, most using a nikah remain chaste until their wedding night. If the couple decides to break up during the nikah, there’s far less stigma than getting divorced after the marriage ceremony.”

    I am quiet amazed that Nikah can now be used as a potential “Islamic dating service” or get to know step for young muslims, before the actual consummation of marriage….I am pretty sure I have not heard any other muslim community living in the West (like UK, Australia and other countries, have tried this before)…

    Not sure what are the social impacts of this to our muslim families and its long term effects on future muslim generations in US….Allahu Aalim

    Assalaamu Alaikum

  23. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    May 2, 2008 at 2:05 PM

    Brother Asif, the concept of doing the nikaah and having a period of “get-to-know-each-other” time before the waleemah is actually pretty common, I think… in fact, that’s what I did/ am doing – my husband and I have had our nikaah, but the waleemah will still be in quite a few months’ time.

  24. Avatar

    ASIF

    May 2, 2008 at 2:44 PM

    Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem:

    Yes sister AnonyMouse, you are correct…and may Allah bless you and your husband, and your families through this marriage, and may you all be dwellers of Jannatul Firdaus…Ameen

    I am aware of getting Nikah done earlier and then doing walimah later…this is actually nothing new, this was even done at the time of the Prophet (sallallahualehewasallam) in his marriage to our Mother Aiesha (radi-Allahu-anha).

    This, however, is not what I am reading in this article…it somehow connotates that Nikah is used as a dating (to get to know in the American terminology)… Assuming if I am reading this correctly, then that would be different from the norm.

    However, if I am reading this wrong, then pardon my interruption.

    Allahu Aaalim

    Assalaamu Alaikum

  25. Avatar

    Osman

    May 3, 2008 at 3:21 PM

    Using Nikah as a “Islamic dating” concept is just asking for the marriage to fail. Usually people delay the rukhsati and walimah for various reasons either financially, due to immigration, etc. however I think Nikah should be taken seriously and not just some “date”.

  26. Avatar

    Farhat

    May 5, 2008 at 5:07 PM

    Yes, to be counseling as a profession you need to go to grad school (masters). To be considered a “psychologist” you need your PH.D.

    Tasneem I am interested in what your findings for your study were!! Did you get it published yet? I am in beginning stages of masters program and focusing more on research methods and statistics. I eventually want to get ph.d in clinical psychology and maybe specialize in marriage counseling and/or PTSD. Have you seen studies done on positive psychology? That is very interesting to me!!

  27. Avatar

    Shakir

    May 6, 2008 at 4:27 PM

    Could someone please tell me where we went wrong here. The idea of anything like dating is unlawful in islam period according to my limitted understanding. lets look at the word Nikah itself. ask your self some questions regarding the meaning of the word. do research and if anyone can come up with concrete evidance stating that anything such as dateing or anything like dating in islam is halal please look again. because we all know that what is halal is clear what is haram is clear than there are doubtful things if we stay away from those things we are more likely to not get into what is Haram IMashallah so let us help each other. A misunderstanding such as this 1 may be, just what someone who may be new to islam or less knowledgable needs, to be directed on the wrong path. May ALLAH Subhanahu watallah guide and protect us all and keep us on sirat.

  28. Avatar

    ~Oum Abdurrahman~

    May 7, 2008 at 3:04 PM

    As-salaamoulaikoum wa rahmtAllah,

    Dear Sheikh Yaser, is it possible that you may authorize me to use excerpts of this article in Al Jumuah magazine for the sake of da’wah?

    JezakAllah khair, please do let me know as soon as possible.

  29. Amad

    Amad

    May 7, 2008 at 3:28 PM

    salam.
    Sister Oum… as with all our articles, you are free to include all/excerpts in any dawah, non-profit publication or distribution as long as you clearly reference muslimmatters.org as the source. If it is the whole article or a significant portion of it, then that reference should be highlighted, not hidden in foot-notes :) This would allow readers to visit this article online to review comments as well as to notice any corrections that the author might make later. Also, it publicizes the site, which is good for everyone… “Help you one another in Al-Birr and At-Taqwa” (5.2)

  30. Avatar

    Siraaj Muhammad

    May 7, 2008 at 3:50 PM

    I believe the original intent behind suggesting celibate marriages was not that Muslims spend time getting to know one another, and dating, so to speak.

    It’s purpose was to combat the problem of parents on the one hand, allowing the couple to commit to marriage in an “engagement”, while not marrying. As a result, fitnah ensued as the couples would spend hours on end talking with one another, meeting at family gatherings, and so forth.

    So instead of this being questionable and / or haraam, the solution was celibate marriage. The whole “get-to-know-you” aspect of it is not meant for a couple to get to know one another in terms of testing out the waters to see if they’re compatible – that part should have been completed BEFORE the nikaah.

    This “get-to-know-you” phase is more like how married couples get to learn more about one another through being together post-marriage, but without physical intimacy.

    Siraaj

  31. Yaser Birjas

    Yaser Birjas

    May 8, 2008 at 1:15 AM

    I agree with brother Siraaj, celibate marriage is not for testing the water, it is to ‘reserve’ one another as some might call it, until they both are able to live together. Meaning, they have already made up their minds.

    Using Nikah as a dating technique is wrong. If both parties had the Nikah done with the intention of checking one another it would violate one of the main intents of the marriage contract, ‘Continuity’. Temporarily contracts are not legal in the Islamic rule on marriage as they violate the principle of continuity and this one to me looks similar to the temporary marriage in this respect. In case the relationship does not work out, divorce is the legal exit out of it; and divorce is not the thing we would like to introduce to the youth and rush them to it.

    And yes, Oum Abdurrahman, just follow what brother Amad said, and jazakillahu khayran.

  32. Avatar

    ~Oum Abdurrahman~

    May 10, 2008 at 2:18 PM

    Dear Sheikh Yaser and Brother Amad,

    I’m sorry to announce that the word from my supervisor at Al Jumuah will not allow me to use this article as a reference because Al Jumuah is not a non-profit distribution, and for other reasons that I cannot completely mention here . IF you are willing to negotiate your stipulations do let me know by email. My supervisor said that perhaps we may be of some help for this website in the future insha’Allah.

  33. Avatar

    newlymarried sister

    May 12, 2008 at 2:14 PM

    Asalamu alaikum, I am looking for a muslim marriage counselor or a program like the one stated above (12 month program). How do I go about finding such information? jazakumullahu khair.

  34. Avatar

    wakeup

    May 18, 2008 at 4:59 AM

    To take this project from the conceptual stages, it really needs to include local masjids and have sign ups with the local community so that the so called “cream of the crop” or “gene pool” is abundant. Without the help of local masjids, this will not differentiate this service from ubiquitous systems in place.

    Once a person signs up, have them identify their local community in which a match is done locally first then expand to regional areas, then nation wide. Obviouslly other variables are taken to account such as culture, education, age, etc…. Basically if you want this to be a successful, the local masjids in their respective communities should be involved.

    Its just as simple as announcing the existences of such a service .

    m4l

  35. Avatar

    Melissa

    May 19, 2008 at 12:40 AM

    Tasneem–

    I too am interested in what your findings for your study were!! I’m finishing off my MA in experiemental psychology and would be interested in hearing more about your results, as it is a truly facinating topic. I’m also interested in the work on couples, marriage and family and am curious if anyone is doing any research studies on this topic. I believe that well designed surveys and statistical analyses can help to get a good picture of the social concerns of our community. Also, the data gleaned from these studies can help experts to design appropriate interventions that can be taylored to the needs of our community.

    Salaams,
    MD

  36. Pingback: The Marriage Revolution: Tonight | MuslimMatters.org

  37. Avatar

    imaan

    October 22, 2008 at 9:29 PM

    I would love to see how this project turns out. I am very willing to hop on board and help in anyway necessary. I do think it is hard to find great Muslim husband in today’s society. Thanks Shaykh Yaser Birjas for all of your hard work may Allah bless you in this life and the next inshallah oh by the way I am taking your class in Santa Clara Nov 7 (2008) and I am excited to hear you speak I have heard excellent things about you.

  38. Avatar

    AbuAbdAllah, the Houstonian

    October 22, 2008 at 11:40 PM

    bismillah. i, too, want to see progress on this project, inshaAllah.

    after rereading the thread and comments, i went to eHarmony and answered their questions. the questionnaire/report was pretty good — more like those career-matching profiles so many people complete while they are in college. less like a chinese-restaurant shirk-cookie. anyway, there was one match. one. which could have been a really good number — i had made istikhara after all :) — if she were not apparently so committed to enjoying music in every aspect of her daily life…

  39. Avatar

    Umm Ibrahim

    November 26, 2008 at 12:27 PM

    Asalaamu alaikum warahmatullah

    I have enjoyed the reflections on and analysis of marriage in the West on this thread and other websites. I was fortunate to participate in one of the marriage telecasts with Sh. Yasir and the questions were illuminating, to say the least!

    I would like to ask Sh. Yasir what his thoughts are on young people getting married and using birth control while they finish their education. I know this is a touchy subject but it is something that concerns young Muslimahs – it’s all very well saying that you should stipulate that you finish your education after you marry but it is all a much of a muchness if you fall pregnant a few days after getting married (!)

    Just thought I would introduce that one! Oh, and another thing, what are the Shari’ implications if the couple who have had nikah but end up consumating due to desires etc. Do they have to then have a waleemah? How does it change their status?

    Just curious…

    Wasalaam
    Umm Ibrahim

  40. Avatar

    anony

    January 7, 2009 at 1:35 PM

    As-salaamu alaykum all,
    Did the muslim matching service come to fruition?

    JazakumAllah Khayrun
    As-salaamu alaykum

  41. Avatar

    Dunia's Stranger

    March 2, 2010 at 12:22 PM

    So has there been any headway on No. 1 “Practical and realistic eHarmony Islamic style ‘Matrimonial Services’ with clear comprehensive criteria.”

  42. Avatar

    KARIM CHAIRI

    July 2, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    Dear ;

    Love one another and you will be happy. It is simple as that.
    When the sun sinks behind the distant clouds and the world is hanging
    by the threads of twilight ; I can look beyond everything else and see
    your beautiful eyes clearly , and no matters that i have
    never seen you before, i can recognize your kind heart and unique soul
    from any human being , i will find your face in a crowded street
    and from the first sight i will understand that it is you my love , the
    one i was waiting for all my life, and in the same way i will recognize
    your letter from thousands of others because when people meant to be
    together the destiny help them to find each other .

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Manners

Podcast: How Intimate Can a Couple be Post-Nikkah, but Pre-Marriage? | Yaser Birjas

Question:

I just had my nikkah done with my husband and we are having our rukhsati done soon (in the next few months). The reason for [the] delay is just mainly to prepare for the wedding and  [to] accommodate family members’ schedule [for] the wedding. After the nikkah is it permissible to do all the acts that are permissible between a husband and wife even if the rukhsati hasn’t been done?

Sincerely,
Getting married in my 20s

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Marriage

Podcast: Like Tinder, But Safer: Troubleshooting Arranged Muslim Marriages | Newaz Ahmed

The biodatas that we send and receive are inherently superficial. We’re not given much time to make a decision on that limited information, and so the result is the same sort of superficiality, an un-Islamic swipe based on attractiveness alone.

When I tell people I want a religious wife, they seem to translate that as subservient to me, not Allah. And that scares me.Click To Tweet

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#Life

Like Tinder, But Safer: Troubleshooting Arranged Muslim Marriage

Like many people in my mid-20s, I approached my parents about getting married and initially chose to use a more traditional route. That is to say, creating a resume – or biodata – and sending it to matchmaker aunties. I wanted this approach because I wanted to be able to balance my American, Desi, and Muslim identities. I wanted things to be done in a halal way with my parent’s knowledge. However, over the past 2 years, my experience with the process has left me jaded.

Before I continue, I want to preface with two things. The first is that my parents are wonderful. We’ve butted heads, but I recognize that they are doing what they think is best, via a method that they’re used to. Providing critical feedback of the method should not be taken as critical to my parents.

The second is that while I have critical feedback, I am not intending to discredit the entire process. Meeting people through family is hardly a bad thing, and maybe what some people need. It is very possible that I will still end up using this process. That said, there are changes that need to be made, especially in the modern world. I want to make sure that my younger brothers and sisters can get an idea of what the process is, and what they’re in store for.

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Superficiality

The biodatas that we send and receive are inherently superficial. They are, in total, the person’s education/career, info on their parents and extended family, and pictures. There’s nothing written about the person’s personality barring, perhaps, a few sentences about their interests. This doesn’t provide any real depth of information about the other person at all.

Then there is the emphasis that is placed on the pictures. It is important to acknowledge that physical attraction plays a role in all of this. I think one of my early mistakes was that I was trying to pretend it didn’t matter at all, and that’s not reasonable for a marriage. The problem, however, is that given the lack of personal detail in the written part of the bio-data, we are left with the photo being the most personal piece of information presented. Unless you really care about where a person’s grandfather went to University in the 1940’s, that photo ends up being the most important thing you’re making your choice on.

Like “Tinder, but safer,” a friend said to me, as I explained how these situations played out. That’s not far off from how the experience played out for me. We’re not given much time to make a decision on the bio-data, so the result is the superficial, un-Islamic swipe based on attractiveness alone.

How many times have I heard, “Oh, she’s too fat,” or “Oh, she’s too short,” or “Too tall,” or “She’s pretty dark isn’t she?” Bengali speakers will recognize the word “moyla,” [dirty] used to describe women who are slightly darker, which is terribly problematic.

It’s not just that women are being chosen based on their looks alone, but on top of that, they’re being held to Eurocentric notions of what is deemed attractive. We’re all being held hostage to a standard designed by and for an entirely different race of people, and I have been told that it would be weird for me to be attracted to a darker-skinned woman because in the minds of many, dark skin is undesirable.

The superficiality is worse for women, but even as a guy I felt it. I’m fine with how I look, but you can only hear, “Oh, your face looks weird in that picture,” or, “He’s not tall enough,” so many times before it starts to mess with you. Men face another superficial judgment as well: the problem with men being reduced to their ability as moneymakers. I’m a graduate student and there are people in my class who have a spouse and children and are making it by just fine on the stipend we receive. But, inevitably, it will come up that I’m not making tons of money, so how can I support a family? While recognizing that men do have an Islamic responsibility to financially support their families, it troubles me that the process boils men down to one thing and one thing only – money, and not just having enough of it, but lots of it.

Age

I’m relatively young, 27 in May, and so when I started this process two years ago, I told my parents that I was willing to go +/- 3 years, just because I thought that would be a good range to encompass people I’d have some similarities with. However my prospect of an older wife – even a day older – was rejected with quite some vigor. I’ve been disqualified from matching with some women because they were born just a couple of months before I was.

The majority of the biodatas sent to me are of women still in college, between the ages of 19 and 22. It doesn’t matter when I say that’s too young, or how that I feel like I’d be taking advantage of someone who hasn’t fully grown up yet. I get told that I’m wrong.

Do you know how many random aunties and uncles have told me that a 7-8 year age gap is necessary to make a marriage work because otherwise, the women “will demand too much?” It’s shocking that I’m being told specifically that I need a wife young enough to be manipulated and shaped to my desires. When I push back on this, I’m, again, told that I’m weird.

I’m being constantly told to reconsider my age preferences as if wanting to marry a woman in her mid-20’s is a weird thing to do when I myself am in my mid-20’s. The sheer number of times I face this makes me think it’s an inherent flaw in how our cultures think, and not something unique to my situation. This is to say nothing of the fact that people will, to our face, tell me (26) that I’m too young for marriage, but my sister (25) is rapidly passing her expiration date.

Race

As a Bengali man, I have no problem marrying a woman of Bengali descent, but it’s annoying that even in 2020, it’s seen as a taboo to marry outside of your race in Desi culture. I personally have had it conceded to me, that if I choose an Indian or Pakistani woman on my own, that might be ok, but nothing else. Not an Arab. Certainly not someone with (black) African descent. And a white/Hispanic/black convert would cause a genuine scandal.

And even this concession is not universal, as there are many Bengali parents I know who will not let their child marry anyone outside of their own culture. Even when people have pushed through it and married outside of their ethnic backgrounds, there is still gossip and concern as to how the parents could “let this happen.”

Going into this I thought, “Well, all I have to do is show a few videos from Imams talking about how inter-racial marriages shouldn’t be taboo for Muslims,” but it doesn’t matter how many of these clips I show, it falls on deaf ears.

I understand the concern of losing culture and heritage to life in the West, I get it. But if I want to teach my kids about their Bengali roots I can do that with a wife of any background, and if I don’t want to teach them, having a Bengali wife isn’t going to make me any more likely to do so.

Ultimately, the feeling I get is that the older generation wants in-laws who they can go and have chai and gossip with, to do traditional things they saw their parents do with their in-laws. And again, while I empathize with the desire to do something familiar, this seems like an unhealthy reason to dictate why your children can’t marry someone from another race or culture.

Classism

I understand that families need to mesh and that it makes things easier if there are similarities that exist. However, in what world am I reading a biodata and seeing what a woman’s uncle does for a living, and then deciding that she’s marriage material?

It doesn’t work for me that way, but it works on the minds of the older generation, and there are even ways of working the class distinction to your advantage. Uncles in the community have actually told me that marrying into a “lower class” may be good if you want someone to be subservient to you because they’re thankful you brought them to your status. But they’ve also told me that marrying a “higher-class” woman isn’t bad either, because a rich father-in-law could have its perks. Caveat- beware of them being snobby with you, since you may be expected to be thankful, subservient one instead.

I can’t even wrap my head around what people are talking about here, but it’s yet another factor that I end up having to deal with during this process.

Religion

I want a wife who cares about the deen and prays 5 times a day, and I want this not to be a controversial take.

I have been told that’s unrealistic. Literally a couple of weeks ago, an auntie told my sister that ‘modern women’ do not pray regularly and so I should not expect that in a future wife. She said this, of course, to my sister who is both a modern woman and someone who prays five times a day without fail.

It’s crazy to be told that I’m being too picky because I want a wife who already has her religious-ness established. I have been told, by both aunties and uncles, that it’s better for me to marry a wife who isn’t too religious yet so that I can shape her deen. This isn’t about mutual growth in faith as you may hope for in a marriage. This is about controlling women with religion by only teaching her what I want to teach her. When older women tell you this, it raises so many concerns about what they’ve been through and what they want future generations of women to go through.

When I tell people I want a religious wife, they seem to translate that as subservient to me, not Allah. And that scares me. I don’t mean to fetishize anybody, but I want a wife whose religion drives to be bold, to stand up for what’s right, to be outspoken. I want to partner with someone whose religiosity pushes me to be a better version of myself, not to do what she’s told.

Marry Back Home

I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me, as someone who has lived their entire life in the US, to think that I’ll mesh much better with someone with a similar background. This isn’t universal, some people will genuinely get along better with people from “back home,” and that’s fine, but this needs to be a personal choice.

Yet, I keep getting told that it would be better for me to marry from “back home.” I have been told, straight up, if you bring a wife over here, she’ll be more “indebted,” to me because I brought her to America. Setting aside that I don’t want to marry someone who just wants to marry me for a Green Card, why would I want to marry someone who feels like they owe me?

I fail to see how marrying from “back home” is an issue of compatibility in this case, it feels way more like an issue of subservience.

You can see here that the concern isn’t about finding a spouse who matches with my personality, it’s about finding someone who’ll come and cook and clean and bear children for me without speaking up about it because they feel like they owe me. Which segues to…

Gender Roles

I want to preface this section by saying that this is one topic where my parents haven’t, at all, been the source of my concerns, but rather, this something that comes up when talking to certain members of the community.

For men, there is an emphasis on making money to provide for a family, and for women, raising children and taking care of the home. There’s no problem with this model, but it is not the only model. It’s a valid option, but I am being told it’s my only choice.

In the eyes of many, the preference is to pick a homemaker. This seems at odds with the desire to select a woman with a good education, making it seem that I’m then not expected to let her utilize that education professionally. After all, it could be embarrassing for me if my wife makes more than me, and I have been told to be careful, because a wife who makes too much money could be “too independent.”

I must also be careful to stay in my exclusive role as a moneymaker too, and not try to go beyond that. I had pictures with my nephews in biodata because they mean the world to me. I was told to take them out because somehow a man taking care of children is deemed…bad?. I also like cooking. I once said this to an auntie and I remember her saying, “Why do you like doing girl’s stuff?”

Quite bluntly, I don’t want a wife who will only cook and clean and raise children for me. I want someone I can share those duties with because they’re my equal partner, an idea that, to me, keeps getting glossed over in this process. Every couple deserves the opportunity to figure their marriage out for themselves.

Quick Marriages

There are limits to what we can(‘t) do as Muslims. I understand that we shouldn’t have 3 year-long courtships or live together before getting married, and I am not advocating that. But we should be allowed some time to make such an important decision. I’ve been shown bio-datas and have been expected to come back with an answer in two days – just two days – about whether the information on this piece of paper is the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.

Please, can we have a few months? Can we talk, and try to make sure that this is the decision we want to make (chaperoned)? When reviewing potential spouses, try to make sure everyone is one the same page about how much time you give to each other in order to avoid heartbreak and confusion.

Nature Of Relationship With Parents

My parents and I have a pretty good relationship. It’s relatively open and comfortable, but it’s still a Desi parent-child dynamic. Expressing a dissenting opinion is disrespectful, which means it can be harder to speak up without fear of disappointing them.

Plus, my parents and I never openly spoke about sex or physical attraction, at least not in-depth. To go from that to suddenly having to talk to your parents about the physical aspects that you’re looking for in a wife is awkward, and it can lead to miscommunication.

It’s a culture clash on top of a generational one. I have a hard time articulating what I want to my parents, and it’s not easy to figure out. If you know this before starting the process, you can make an effort to speak as openly about things as you can. You can even recruit an older cousin or friend, or an Imam you trust to help you. Don’t do what I did and go by yourself, have people to support you to make sure you and your parents are communicating well.

In Conclusion

It’s not reasonable to expect that you’ll get everything you want in a spouse. There will be compromises that are made, whether they be with yourself or with what your parents want. But don’t sacrifice on the points most important to you. Determine those, know what your must-haves are, and negotiate on other things. Make sure your potential spouse is on board. It can be awkward, especially with how many of us were raised, but talk to your potential spouse about these important things.

While this was a reflection of my own experience, I place emphasis on the aspects I feel are more universal. Speaking to other Desi Muslims in my age bracket, it certainly does seem that my concerns are relatively common. Obviously, there are individual factors that are at play, but these were things that came up regularly when speaking to elders in the community.

I also, again, want to stress that this isn’t an attack on my parents. While I have a level of frustration with how this situation has played out, I recognize that this is what they’re used to. And to their credit, they have made some concessions. Furthermore, it’s not just parents who are playing a role in this. The (often unwarranted) voices of certain elders are given undue emphasis, and that, I think has complicated the situation even further.

Ultimately, I’m not telling people that they shouldn’t consider arrangements or biodata, but if you do, then you must openly discuss this with your parents. Make sure they know what you want, and stand firm if it’s something important, even if it complicates things. It may put a strain on your relationship with your parents, but it’s better to open about things now than to have anger and resentment towards them for years later.

I’ll end with a specific piece of advice to the brothers: You have a duty to learn about why these issues are red flags and to push back on them yourselves. Women can be labelled as too rebellious if they push back themselves, and we need to be aware of this. Speak up for your (biological) sisters, family members, and friends when you notice their discomfort. Make sure you establish with your potential spouse that she is actually on board with the process, not just going along with it because she feels that she needs to. It might be awkward, but it’s important to establish a clear line of communication with someone even before you get married.

May Allah bless us all with happy, healthy, and fruitful marriages. Ameen

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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