Since I was 10 years old my mom has been drilling this mantra into my head, "You are a Muslim and you will not date." My mother did and does want me to get married, but she (like many of my Muslim friends' parents) wanted me to follow a more conservative route to marriage, namely arranged marriage.
Arranged marriages are not new, nor are they exclusive to Muslims. Indians worldwide are familiar with arranged marriages and European royalty have arranged inter-nobility marriages even till the early part of the twentieth century. And of course, we've all seen Fiddler on the Roof and the Jewish matchmaker. But what does an arranged or semi-arranged marriage look like for a Muslim in the 21st Century in America? Arranged Marriage In America: Is It For You?
First off, the new term is 'assisted marriage.' For many Muslims the formal routes on this path for proposals are 'rishta' aunties (matchmakers), online matrimonial sites (for example, shaadi.com, naseeb.com and muslimatcher.com) and matrimonial events, like speed dating and networking events where the goal is a life mate not a date. If you think this sounds like dating, well, yes, it does. The big difference is that while most non-Muslims just want to meet a special someone and that meeting may or may not result in marriage, among conservative Muslims, arranged meetings have one goal: marriage.
My parents are progressive, though like many of my South Asian Muslim friends' parents they are very particular about the practice of their religion. Islam promotes a very open, respectful and deeply intimate relationship between man and woman, but only within the fold of marriage. Marriage is a virtuous relationship. Outside of marital relationships we are asked to be modest and protective of ourselves, physically and emotionally, and thus to limit interactions between men and women. Why? Because we believe that God gives us our bodies, our souls, our provision and our mental capacities as a trust (‘amana’). We are asked to develop, preserve and protect them over the course of our lives, and the way for a man and a woman to have free access to each other is through the commitment of marriage.
Despite my mother's edict to me when I was 10, I do date. My first date was after graduate school and most of my dates were through the formal means mentioned above. I have only ever gone on dates with Muslims because I am committed to marrying a Muslim. My parents have since changed their minds about dating and are supportive of me. They realize that it is possible to be a good Muslim and date, because they know that I date with the purpose of seeking a mate.
How does your religion affect your approach to dating?