While clearing my Yahoo inbox this morning, I came across an invite to a seminar that a local Muslim organization was hosting regarding marriage and love. I opened the email and reading it brought certain memories flooding back. I can remember hanging out at a sister’s home late one night. Earlier in the day we’d attended a workshop together-on marriage-and were enjoying our time so much that one invited us over for chai. We laughed as we sat on the floor-khimars off, laughing as we sipped on chai and discussed marriage and traded proposal stories. Under the form of Islam I practiced, casual dating wasn’t an option and interaction between the genders was strictly regulated. Marriage was pushed as ideal, the completion of half of one’s deen and a protection against haram behavior. As a muslimah “are you married” was generally the second question that I was asked upon introduction. So it’s safe to say that it was a major issue.
At the time of my conversion many around me assumed that my choice was primarily driven by a desire to have a man and a family again. Though this was not the case-my conversion to Islam came about because I could no longer reconcile myself to Christianity intellectually and emotionally-I did view the more conservative Islamic view on romance as a perk. At the time I was divorced, and when people asked me how I felt about the subject I’d generally say that while I didn’t miss my ex-husband in particular, I missed being married. I missed having someone to share my life with. I missed being able to watch the Daily Show with someone at the end of every day and being part of a union bigger than myself. I missed the feeling of knowing there was someone who had my back, who would reinforce me when I needed it. With that said, I was nervous about dating(prior to taking shahadah that is). I feared being hurt and exploited by a man. Most of all, I worried over how I could balance motherhood with my love life. When my ex-husband turned his back on his role as a father, it crushed our daughter emotionally. I didn’t want to let another man into her life, have her develop a bond with him and risk her being hurt if the relationship didn’t last. As a solution I simply kept those two worlds completely separated, but I knew that long term that would not be a solution.
But when I entered Islam, my fears began to ease. It was different in the Ummah. We didn’t follow the same rules as everyone else. We valued marriage and family more. We treated women with so much respect that men couldn’t even see our beauty and our bodies. I fell for the hype hook, line and sinker, and I truly believed it. Just as following the Islamic dress code would protect me from the unwanted sexual advances of men, strictly adhering to the rules regarding gender interaction and marriage would protect me from the pitfalls and emotional pain of dating. I was still carrying the emotional trauma of previous relationships, so the idea that I’d be spared from enduring that again appealed to me.
Of course, that’s now what happened. As the saying goes: all that glitters ain’t gold. I strove to be a good muslimah, I prayed, I knew my place, I obeyed my man, I submitted as I was instructed to…and I still ended up with egg on my face. I was still humiliated, used and cast aside. And I still witnessed women being mistreated and exploited within Islam as I had outside of it. Now do I say this to put the blame on Islam itself? Absolutely not. No belief system can protect your heart from being broken, for I face the same concerns and pain as a nonbeliever that I did as a woman of faith. The road to finding love and happiness continues to be a cold and lonely one filled with rocks…but for some reason I can’t seem to abandon it altogether.