Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Unreal Concept of Dating in the Muslim World

Oh, boy. Dating. In any culture, it's really, really hard.

It's a great way to meet new people, even if you are not looking for strictly romance and a whole lot of commitment. It's a way to find out about a new area, to make new friends, and have fun experiences. I've been to a lot of fun places because of dating. It's a way to lighten your wallet, taste new foods, and have eye-opening (or dreadful) conversations with people who want the same things you do (I hope). All emotional attachment aside, dating is (or should be) fun, lighthearted, and a way to make a potential connection of some kind with another human being. It's nice.

Never in my life have I ever dated a Muslim. I cannot tolerate Muslim dating in the least, and the Muslim men I have met who I might want to date either a) end up scaring the heck out of me (I will show you later) or b) are married/engaged with twenty kids. The better Muslim men who I have had connections with are either not progressive enough, or taken. Apparently, the Muslim world is out to prove to me that happiness with a Muslim man is not possible for me at this point in my life.

Now, I am not going to talk about arranged marriages, being set up, etc. etc. That is a different way of looking at life; one that is not mine but one that I respect. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with meeting a nice guy/girl through the family in this "traditional" way. I think in certain aspects that it makes more sense! In a close knit family, having input from the people who love you might be the best way to find a partner. They know you best. I do not want it for myself, but I think it is reasonable as long as the person is not pressured or forced into marriage.

I am instead going to talk about Muslim dating. I am also talking about Muslim dating from the point of view of myself, and probably many female Muslims out there. Indeed, stereotypes will be engaged in, generalisations will be apparent, and one or two people may raise their arms in anguish and shout, "BUT, Ms. Burdened Mary, not ALL Muslim men are like this! Some of them are awesome! Look! I'm married/engaged/dating/the mother of a GREAT Muslim man!" Well, good for you. I'm talking from my miserable experiences; the bad side of things. I am aware of individual differences.

Some of us Muslimahs want to casually hang out with an attractive male. That is, apparently, the most wrong, immoral, indiscreet, SLUTTY thing you can ever do. Yes, we are all skanks for wanting to find a soulmate in a casual atmosphere, with conversation, food, and maybe a movie or something. Obviously we just wish to use our wiles to seduce poor, poor Muslim men who are naive and defenceless against our wicked charms!

Oh, come on.

This is the first issue with wanting to date in the Muslim world: the huge discrepancy between the role of men and women. Men are expected to take charge, and women are not supposed to want the attention. We are to be demure, shy, reserved and sweet. We should accept the advances we get but are damned if we show our own feelings of attraction too much ourselves. We are pressured every time we meet a man into showing affection, but once we do it...that's it. We are impure and not innocent anymore, so the man moves on!

Let me give you an example that is way too familiar to you if you have dated or have read/heard about someone dating a Muslim man. A young girl, age 18, meets a guy at a falafel restaurant in New York City. He is handsome, and older at about 26 years old. He is Arab, and a Muslim. The girl is Muslim too, and is flattered by his friendly, seemingly open manner towards her in the store. She is Arab, and has moved to the city for studies - it was nice to find a face familiar to those at home. They exchange phone numbers and the girl floats on could nine out of the store with a delicious falafel- and tahini-filled sandwich.

The next day, she calls him. He jokingly says, "Wow, you seem eager to meet me." She says, "Well, yes. Do you not want to meet me?" He goes silent. He says, "Okay. I'll meet you. See you in x place at x o'clock."

They meet at this place, which is a dark restaurant in a seedier neighbourhood. She is dressed nicely, and he is in a t-shirt and an old pair of jeans. They sit down, he looks at her, and throughout the meal he smiles with a glitter in his eye. She smiles back, and they flirt, albeit shyly from her end. She's not too used to flirting and is really just acting on impulse rather than on calculated thought, at least most of the time. By the end of the meal, he has his foot next to hers under the table, and they indulge in a small, yet meaningful, game of footsie. It's like they've been dating for a long time...

He offers to walk her to her bus stop, being a gentleman in her eyes. She is glowing with happiness. That is, until they start walking. He runs his hand down her back as they walk, his hand getting lower and lower. She is uncomfortable, and flinches away oviously. Suddenly, his tone of voice changes to a low growl as he stops.

"Why are you running away from me now," he asks, "why are you suddenly shrinking?" She says, "I like you, but you are making me feel weird." She couldn't think of a better thing to say than weird. Uncomfortable would be too accusatory, in case he didn't realise he somewhat crossed a line, and if she said I don't like what you are doing, it would be way too awkward.

"Oh, I see." He faces her and looks her right in the eye. His stance widens, and his shoulders look suddenly twice as broad, just for a second. "Now all of a sudden you are a pure and innocent Arab! The way you were before, you were like a looser girl, like an American. What did I do wrong?"

Offended by his words, the girl feels heat in her face. Pure and innocent? Loose? Those are not words that went into her mind throughout the whole date. Now she just wanted him to leave, but they were near the bus stop. She realises that she is all alone, with this man she did not know.

She is lucky. He says, "I don't know you or what you want. Good night." He walks away from her, leaving her in the dark. It's better this way, she thinks. I am glad he is gone. She takes the bus home and she feels safe, and the questions in her head are too much for her. What did he mean? What did he think I wanted? Did I act like a whore? I don't remember!

I want to tell her, and every other woman with those questions every day, that she did not act like a whore, nor did she do anything wrong. Whether he was Arab, Indian, Mauritian, whatever, it doesn't matter - he was a Muslim man from a Muslim culture that did not expect a woman to be forward in the least. If she were quiet, unresponsive, and never looked at him in the eye whatsoever, she would have been doing what was right in Muslim society's mind, but she would have been boring, wouldn't she? She wouldn't have been acting as herself. She would have been a great wife, but not a partner or a friend.

But guess what? Us ladies, whether we are Muslim or not, we don't just want to date to become wives. Some of us would like to to end that way, but dating is about having fun and, as I have said, making real connections. We cannot shield ourselves completely, lie or conceal for the sake of reputation, and then expect to be able to have a genuine relationship based on trust and love. It doesn't make sense!

The Muslim dating world, if that even really exists, puts too much emphasis on face, the idea that we need to protect our reputations. It's all about what we should do, and not at all about who we are, or emotion. It has gotten to the point where everything is ridiculous. If you dare make up your own moves, forget it. You'll be forced out, and alienated. I'm sick of it; that's it.


  1. I assume you've read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, but she covers this same topic very well. I understand that Persian/Iranian is not Arab, but the cultural experience in this case seemed very similar.

  2. I have indeed read Persepolis and all of Satrapi's other works. I love her! I wrote my undergraduate thesis about her work.

    The cultural experience is very similar because of the views of strange, STRANGE Muslims. I used an Arab in my example because my example was based on a true story. Not all Muslims are Arabs, but most Muslims are weirdos when ti comes to dating.