Skype-editing this article with him, because at the end of every sentence he would exclaim "Ooo; ooo kill 'em." He
studies international relations, with interests in social entrepreneurship and community building. Deciding that physical
living is “too mainstream”, he exists in suspended animation on Twitter, at @AdhamSahloul. He can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is an enormous, ISNA bazaar hall-sized gap between the demand for a loving marriage and the supply of practical answers, innovative solutions, and open-mindedness for the process and journey to an emotionally responsible relationship. From a very young age, our American culture promotes and contributes to the mixed messages we receive about love. From television and the internet to college campuses, the idea of a long-term, fulfilling partnership has become less and less prioritized for adolescents and young professionals. Campus hookup culture, twerking, pumpkin spice--these are the trends among all American millennials (I know what you’re thinking with me dropping the word ‘millennial’. This author is so pretentious. Oh yeah? Watch me cite a study in the next sentence, haters). According to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), which surveyed the North American Muslim community regarding marital issues and causes for divorce, our community's divorce-rate pattern is pretty much on par with the national trends. The American Muslim divorce rate is upwards of 35% (the national divorce rate is about 50%), a sharp spike over the past couple of decades, with one of the largest culprits being differing opinions on gender roles and the challenge of incorporating gender equality and work-life balance at home— a burden that has traditionally been slammed on the shoulders of women across the country, regardless of religious background. Our imams, however, are content with blaming most marital issues on porn and Lucifer. TheThirdWheelWhenYouAndLiterallyNotBaeJustACoworkerOrFriendAreAloneTogetherButLikeNotActuallyAlone
WeWereAtACrowdedStarbucks Satan. And LinkedIn.
And already we’re starting to see what that gap— our “deer-in-the-headlights” approach to marriage— is producing. There's that overused (but true) example of young professional Muslim women who "Leaned In" to their studies and careers, who kick ass in real life but struggle or choose not to fit into the community's mold for marriage and femininity. There are also the insecure manchildren that can't keep up with these women and won't even try due to the privilege of having many more options, with the ability to walk away from a relationship far more easily, and with pressures and the incentive to get married young (before even establishing oneself as an emotional mature/available adult) due to the cultural emphasis on having children and the religious ban on premarital sex. Given these incentives, why would Wallah Moe (not to be confused with Mo Breezy… best fades and haircuts for $15, I guarantee it) or Mashallah Subhanallah Zubair wait for you to finish grad school and get that job at the World Bank?
It takes a while to find the strength to be vulnerable and honest with someone you might spend the rest of your life with. That’s not an easy process. It takes real courage (just ask Mary from Downton Abbey), and that’s a real human process and moment(s) of growth that we aren’t given the chance to experience. Oftentimes we grow up in a community that doesn’t allow for such vulnerability, where we treat anything that makes us uncomfortable like “dirty laundry” and so on. How will we be prepared to be functional, emotionally-aware adults and true lovers, if the incentive is always to hide and lie? How will you know that you're actually compatible with someone? At what point can you decide to put it all on the table and share the stories that defined who you are today— even if those stories are uncomfortable ones that would jeopardize your communally defined marriage chances (i.e. past relationships, sexual history), or accept someone else's full story and fall in love with the version of that person you're getting to know today?
Progress does not mean we need to discredit more traditional cultural practices, the things that worked beautifully and fruitfully for people like my parents. Even though this is a very different time, it still works and is preferred to some, and I respect that. But for many, it's not enough to sit on a girl's couch with your moms in the other room and try to make small talk like "so, how about that local sports team, do you think Derrick Rose has got it in him this year" or "Okay. This will tell me a lot about you. Favorite food that you will cook for me. Actually no. Favorite FouseyTube video. Actually no. Jennifer Lawrence. Cop or drop? 1,2,3 go!" Furthermore, a lot of people don’t want to buy into problematic rituals such as treating our weddings, fundraising events, political rallies, and ‘activist’ conferences like the meat markets that they’ve become. Even the new ideas aren't cutting it for many— do you really want to stare at a dating profile and read stuff like "I'm an INFJ and a Gryffindor tee hee I'm basic"?
I think this problem above all else poses a challenge to the fundamental nature of our community. And a community problem requires a community answer. How we sacrifice and make decisions to establish a culture of inclusivity and promote the Prophetic tradition— which upheld equality between genders and emphasized accountability and responsibility of commitment— will define what our children will face (especially if this trend runs parallel to other factors that create an assimilated American community of "cultural Muslims"/Muslims-by-name-only). Right now, however, it starts with more people taking ownership of their happiness and being more mindful of what really matters— and by that I most definitely mean caring less about what everyone else thinks, falling in love with one's self and nurturing from within the type of person you would be bold enough to ask out for coffee (and not "coffee" à la George from Seinfeld).