Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
One of the most interesting phone calls I ever received came from a young man in Pennsylvania. Aside from wondering how he got my cell phone number, I wondered if he had really put any thought into what he had called me to discuss. Like many Muslims, he was looking to get married.
"So I hear you know a lot of women," says the young man. What a great reputation to have and a great way to start a phone call. This will definitely not be fun.
"I am looking to get married and was hoping you can help recommend someone to me." I've actually never spoken to this young man before and don't even know his last name. But he has called so the conversation continues.
"I am not really a matchmaker. Can you tell me what you're looking for?"
"I want to marry a nice, Muslim girl." Of course.
"Could you elaborate a little more?"
"Someone who will be nice to my parents."
"That's helpful. Because I was going to introduce you to someone who would be a jerk to your parents."
It's really tough for a lot of Muslims to get married these days. It's that much tougher though when we don't really have a clue of what we're looking for in a marriage or what marriage means to us. A variety of factors lends towards this confusion but we find ourselves where we are nonetheless.
This Ramadan, I've met and heard from numerous individuals who are looking for a spouse. I wish I had a more practical solution for them but unfortunately I don't of any services or agencies that I feel comfortable recommending. What usually ensues is a conversation that I hope would help unpack for the person what marriage means to them as opposed to them simply regurgitating someone else's definition.
Most of us don't know where to begin. A good starting point in that process of definition is figuring out for yourself what you wouldn't be able to deal with in a relationship. This should be done through a frame of reality, not through a romanticized framework, and should not worry about being judgmental. You want to be honest with yourself in terms of your strengths and your weaknesses and what you don't think you can compromise on. The worst thing to do is get upset when the person ends up being who they actually are, especially when you already knew them to be that way.
A young man once came to see me who was engaged to a girl that he seemed to be compatible with. They got along and cared about each other and he wanted to move forward in their relationship. He was frustrated though at the fact that she wasn't comfortable socializing with his friends as she hadn't grown up socializing in the ways that they usually do. She expressed this to him, and he was bothered by it. He didn't want to give up his friends. I asked him what he saw himself doing down the line after he married this girl. If they were out with his friends and she said she wasn't comfortable, would he make her stay there? Would he tell her to go home by herself? If he was leaving the house to go out and she said she didn't want to go, would he leave her at home? She was doing, in my opinion, the sensible thing in being straightforward with who she was. Knowing that, he had to now be honest with himself and decide if this made sense for him. What wouldn't make sense is him getting upset five years down the line if she ended up being who she said she was.
More broadly, that definition should also to the best of our abilities extend towards factors not reflective of our preferences, but the preferences of those that we might have to deal with in the long-term. If you get into a relationship with a young woman or man knowing she or he is a certain way and your family structure is such that you need to have them on board, then figure out what you are going to actually stand up and fight for so you don't end up causing more heartache to someone than need be. Reality is tough to deal with but it's still there. Regardless of whether you will attribute their unwillingness to culture, religion, or anything else, if you know you're not going to be willing to fight for it, why put yourself and the other person through that experience? Think more long-term rather than one day at a time as one day at a time can end up being many years and you're left at a dead-end that could have been reached a long time before. That's not fair to either of you. As a disclaimer, I don't think parents and family always know what's best for their children and there are times when it is completely justifiable and makes sense to challenge their opinions and even go against them.
Instead of waiting until you get married to figure out what marriage means to you, start the conversation now. From other relationships in your life, understand yourself and what makes sense for you. These don't have to be romantic relationships, but can really be relationships of many kinds. But be sure to root the conversation in reality. The longing for companionship shouldn't distract us from a sensible pursuit of it. God-willing, the hearts of all those seeking a spouse will be arranged with hearts that are best for them.