How Hard Can It Be? The Marriage Challenge for Single Muslim Career Women Over 25

The Marriage Challenge for Single Muslim Career Women Over 25

By Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine



My husband and I recently tried to match-make a couple of our friends. Omar began telling his friend about a really nice woman we knew at 33, successful, beautiful. His first response was, “So, what’s wrong with her? Why is she 33 and not married?” Looking at the 30-year-old man before me, my first thought was, “I could ask you the same thing.” However, the reality set in that there’s a double standard when it comes to the issue of age and marriage.

Many Muslim women are successful lawyers, doctors, professors and journalists. They are outspoken and active in their Muslim and non-Muslim communities. They are intelligent and beautiful, and they are unmarried. The same women who are ambitious and focused on their academic and professional success are finding it difficult to find a suitable spouse.

Twenty years ago, as young Muslim boys and girls were being raised in the U.S., they were encouraged to excel academically and professionally. Parents placed a huge emphasis on education and hard work for both boys and girls. And apparently, they were taken seriously. Girls excelled and never felt they could not attain an education or a profession. They worked hard and succeeded as their parents had encouraged all those years.  Now, these same women are in their twenties and thirties and the same parents are now pressuring them to get married.

Are women to blame for being ambitious and educated? Apparently so. Women seem to be penalized for their ambition. Once a young woman passes the age of 25 and remains single, she is considered “old” and often finds it difficult to find a suitable spouse.

Suddenly, others tell her that she has become too picky and her expectations of a husband are unrealistic and that she should hurry up and get married already.  “There are some of us who went to college and are successful in our careers and we are not on a search and destroy mission to get married,” says Suhad Obeidi, a 39-year-old former banking manager with an M.B.A. The reality is that Muslim women have worked hard for their education and careers and they will not give it all up in order to get married.

In recent decades, men have also become highly educated and progressive, and have even fought for women’s rights and the elevation of women in Islam. However, while these men are impressed with a successful and active woman, they do not consider her “marriage material.”  Despite the elevation of women, many men have maintained traditional ideas as to the type of wife they seek. After all, they do not see anything wrong with the way their mother was.

Consciously or subconsciously, many men seek a wife who will fulfill the traditional role of a wife and mother and one who will maintain a traditional home life. She should be educated, but she should also be willing to put her education and career on a shelf while raising a family. These women in their late twenties and early thirties appear too established in their career and lifestyle and therefore, more difficult to marry because they will not fall into this traditional role.

Many American Muslim women want to be wives and mothers while at the same time be respected for their profession.  “One big problem is that, rather than embrace her ambition and success, men simply tolerate it and expect something in return,” says Nagwa Ibrahim, a 25-year-old activist seeking a career as a human and civil rights lawyer.

Current expectations of marriage have changed for women and become more aligned with the examples of women during Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime.  The Prophet’s first wife, Khadija, was an established career woman who was 15 years older than her husband. Khadija was a very confident and successful woman who actually proposed to the 24-year-old Muhammad. Yet, the Prophet was not intimidated by her nor found her “unmarriageable.”

They maintained a strong marriage as she continued to be a businesswoman, as well as wife and mother. Prophet Muhammad and Khadija were married for 28 years, the longest of all his marriages. The year that Khadija died was also referred to as the Year of Mourning by Prophet Muhammad.

Many Muslim women seek not to compete with men, but rather to establish a partnership with their spouse. Ultimately, these women want to be cherished and loved in the same way that the Prophet loved Khadija. This type of partnership in marriage can only exist when both people are accepting and respectful of one another’s ambitions and priorities in life.

Nagwa Ibrahim feels that men have succumbed to negative cultural stereotypes that are contrary to Islam when selecting a spouse.  “We (Muslim women) are the way we are because we are trying to be good Muslims,” she says.

Thus, a partnership in marriage can only be developed when men and women really follow the principles of Islam and learn to communicate their expectations of marriage as well as be understanding of one another.

Communication is vital to any successful marriage, but now more than ever, women must feel comfortable in expressing their expectations of marriage to a potential spouse and in return feel that they are being understood, respected and encouraged.

This evolution will happen once we see more modern examples of successful Muslim men and women getting married and further benefiting society by their union. Educated Muslim men and woman will only improve our Muslim communities by expecting the best from everyone, be they men or woman.

Beginning in the homes, parents need to nurture their children by encouraging them that they can have both worlds and that they can be successful in their career and marriage. Muslim women can have a huge impact on the future by modeling the multi-faceted woman of Islam to their children.

Therefore, when their daughters grow up, they will aspire to be women of excellence and ambition.  Additionally, when their sons become men, their expectations and views of a suitable wife will include a partnership with an intelligent and successful Muslim woman. With further education and communication, men and women can understand and respect one another’s roles in society and in the home, which will ultimately benefit future generations of Muslims.


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12 Responses

  1. Umer Suleman says:

    Agreed there is double standards, but seriously can sisters stop misusing the example of our mother Khadijah RA! Yes msA she was a business woman, but she didn’t do her trading herself. Men don’t have an issue (generally) with women being succesful, its working in a mixed environment that brings issues. I’m not blaming sisters and feel for them, but please don’t make out guys have an issue with with this, its missing the point and not appreciating the complementary (not competitive!) Nature of men and women

  2. Hudayfah says:

    I agree with Umer Suleman’s comment above and was thinking the same thing whilst reading this article. Khadijah (RA) most likely was not working 9-5 for some massive corporation (and who knows how much overtime to a demanding boss), but used to hire men to carry out the trading on her behalf, so in essence she was still able to take care of her family. Also many of these articles use the example of the Prophet’s (pbuh) marriage to a considerably older Khadijah (RA) almost as a bat to beat over the head of today’s men to say, “see the Prophet married an older woman” which somehow means that we should not find anything wrong with that. Well I am afraid it just doesn’t work like that and most (NOT ALL mind you) men are not going to want to marry an older woman. I am not against women studying and working but I think that in many cases their careers have become a priority at the expense of marrying and starting a family, and so leave marriage until they are much older, and in many ways force themselves out of the marriage market.

  3. iq says:

    I am a professional female in her late 20s who can harp on about not being married and the injustice of it, but the fact remains I have (like many other females I know) ‘forced myself out of the marriage market’.

    Feminism has its place in Islam, but we cannot afford to forget that Allah has created both men and women differently. We are not the same and by taking on the roles of the opposite sex, we are only hurting ourselves. We were created in perfect sync to ‘complement’ each other, fighting this does not help anybody in search of a partner.

  4. Russel Ahmed says:

    The thing we have to understand that in Islam people are asked to be married early because of reason. Prophet Muhammad ( pbuh ) married all sorts of women because he is the last prophet , and after him there would not be another. His actions are an example for us , it helps us know how we should interpret Quran in real life.

    Prophet Muhammad ( pbuh ) himself encouraged marrying young. marrying young does not mean that you cannot study. It protects young people from committing fornication. Also sexual potency in humans is for certain number of years and after that it gradually decreases. Why should a person not marry when he has the best chances of having children ?

  5. Ahmad says:

    I wish more people would read this article but also very importantly, read the comments that each one of the above people have said. The article while I agree with a lot of it, I have reservations about certain parts of what has been said which has been pointed out by the above comments. God made us with a certain ‘fitra’ (i.e. natural state) and both men and women have been programmed to fulfill those roles. For this reason the Prophet told the Sahabi not to try to change the ‘fitra’ of their kids (i.e. don’t force them to be or become something they are not or do not want to be). For the same reason we cannot force men (or women) to abandon their fitra either when they seek out qualities that are important to them when choosing a spouse and it is obvious what is important to both. When marrying, guys do not necessarily seek a career-oriented ‘partner’ that goes out works all day etc.. If they needed that, they don’t need to get married for that; besides they are themselves filling this role. What they seek is someone to Complement them as someone above commented; i.e. someone to fill in the roles that men are NOT good at. If men want to marry why would they choose to marry someone who is basically good at doing the same types of things as they are? And I know a lot of women out there that say that they can fulfill both roles of a career-oriented woman and a family-oriented wife but lets be honest with ourselves for a moment… there are only a certain limited amount of hours in the day that one can devote to a job, and family. If you are working on a 9-5 hour job, then your kids are being raised by someone else during those hours, hanging out with friends whom you do not know about… etc etc. These kids end up associating with the wrong types, do not respect their parents, nor the religion and only tolerate the “family” culture in their homes only to abandon it altogether when they go to college. They drink (drugs also often), commit zinna, party, and do not care about Islam at all. Why? I know this because I am a second generation american who has witnessed this time and again soooo many times in households where both parents work or one of the two are not fulfilling their traditional spouse roles. I talk to them and every time, it’s always the same story… These kids then grow up not getting to spend any decent time with their families and eventually find their sense of belonging with non-muslim friends etc. Why wouldn’t they? After-all their parents are too busy with jobs to know what is going on in the lives of their kids. And every time these working parents think, no that wont happen to my kid, no my kid is not my kid like that, we come from a good family, we are raised on education etc.. and guess what they end up being shocked when they learn how their kids end up doing in their college days and in many cases just wasting their parents money. And they always wonder what went wrong when its obvious what went wrong. It’s because of bad parenting (or lack of). My friends, husbands and wives need to start taking responsibilities for their kids. God will judge us on what we taught our kids about Islam, what kind of a role model we were for our kids, etc. Take this role seriously. And taking it seriously starts with being serious about marriage. I have much more to say but I don’t feel like typing much and I will guarantee you that despite all these comments, there are going to be many young adult Muslims out there who will not take what I have said seriously, thinking they are always the exception to the case.

  6. Ahmad says:

    Another thing I would like to point out about Khadeja’s (RA) marriage to the Prophet (pbuh) is that while she was older than the Prophet, she was a widower (i.e. she was married before and became widowed before she married the Prophet (PBUH)). That is to say, her marriage to the Prophet wasn’t the first; she didn’t necessarily delay getting married when she became of age to do so like many career-oriented women do here in the West. Many of the career-oriented women these days wait till their late 20s or 30s to get married for the first time. That is not what Khadeja (RA) did. The comparison is not the same. Khadeja got married when the time was right for her but her previous husbands passed away earlier than normal. She was a good wife and being older did not count against her because of the deaths of her previous husbands because she had already been in previous marriages before. This is analgous to how some women pursue married men or men who have been married previously because it shows that such a person has shown that he is capable of being in a committed relationship and being able to handle all the responsibilities as a spouse that come with it. Muslim women need to understand this and stop abusing the example of Khadeja(RA).

    Also if so many Muslim women see no problem with having both a career at the same time as raising a family then why did the Prophet (PBUH) mention that one of the signs of the Day of Judgement would be that women would one day join in trade (business) with their husbands? If such circumstances were ok and common during the Prophet’s (PBUH) time then it wouldn’t be a sign for the Last Day now would it as they would have been true at the time already? This means these circumstances are out of the norm etc.. Just think about it.. and use your common sense here… This isn’t too hard to figure out… After all is it not in the Quran that there is inherently great benefit of having a wife who tends to the home of her husband? Why would a prospective husband want to give something like that up when he can just find another woman to marry who will provide him with that?

  7. khan says:

    In the light of teachings of Islam, women complement men not equal them. When a woman assumes the role of a man, marriage suffers. For the author quoting example of Hazrat Khadijah RA, let me ask you that how many career oriented women will be willing to marry a decent guy, with a very low income, solely based on his good reputation. That is what Hazrat Khadijah RA did when she sent marriage proposal to our beloved Prophet(PBUH) after only hearing about his ideal character. Have you ever pondered over the fact that relatively less educated women are happily married to highly educated guys in eastern countries. All my female cousins and sisters who live in India with just high school and simple college education are happily married to decent guys, but vast number of my highly educated female cousins and aunts living in America are either divorced, unmarried, or some have settled with non-Muslims after having to endure couple of divorces. It all reveals a simple fact that when you place too much emphasis upon your career and downplay woman’s role in her house, then you are likely to remain single in your 30s. It is ironic that Muslim women are more westernized and goal oriented than western women themselves; follow footsteps of those with dysfunctional family system and expect opposite results. As long as you won’t admit that you are created differently and have a role different from men and would try to mold Islam to square with westernized secular beliefs, you would continue to find it hard to get married in your late 20s.

  8. Aksam Zarook says:

    Interesting article and comments. Wish there were more comments. Need more opinions from young working women and men.

  9. Hassanain says:


    I believe that a man and a woman both compliment each other. Why would a man marry a working or career oriented women. What is the point of the marriage in the first place? When I look for a wife to marry, I look at characteristics in a woman who can give me children, raise them up to the upmost bringing and to be a wonderful and obedient wife for me. This is the ideal wife for most men to be honest. How do we find these traits? Before marriage, A man would look at a women’s age (i.e young age suggests that the woman still has the capacity and patience to raise children and that the offsprings would be well and healthy), we would look at the virtue of the women and her family (i.e whether her family has a good name and her too, does she flirt around and mingle with the opposite sex etc.). In fact many eastern cultures and here in the west, the man would follow his bride to be wherever she goes in the first few week to see if she is the right one for him and also on the first night of the wedding to see if she is still faithful(virgin or not).

  10. sana says:

    I think that the comments above are missing an important point-Khadijah (RA) was not a true housewife. Yes, she may not have traveled as much, but she was also a businesswoman. Furthermore, the Prophet (pbuh) did a lot of housechores. Yes Allah created men and women differently but it was never said that women can’t work or that men can’t help take care of the house. Furthermore, there are hundreds cases of women having limited education and not being happy in their marriage. But they are stuck and sacrifice their own happiness for the sake of their family. Muslim men also need to become more open-minded about educated women. It is very possible to have a career wife and a stable family-it’s all about balance. And the more educated your wife, the more knowledge and experience that can be passed on to children.

  11. sana says:

    There are numerous cases of children, with mothers who are housewives, who commit many unIslamic acts. Thus, the issue is not housewife vs careerwife, but rather the closeness/stability of family unit. Family members should be involved in constant dialog with children, especially as they go off to college and spend more time with non-muslim friends.

  12. Mindful Berry says:

    I think the reason why men don’t want a working wife is because they think working will prevent them from raising good children, good cooked food, a clean house to come home to at the end of the day, maybe even working tires out women and men have less chance of sleeping with their wives. But I do believe the above things can be achieved even with a women working. You can make it work however you want, either the way wife can take it upon herself to work and do all the above and balance it, or the man can do it all and let the wife work, or both can contribute together to raising good children, meal prepping for the week and raising good children as a team. It isn’t impossible.
    I also know situations where the woman is not working AND YET the house still isn’t clean and she still doesn’t cook or raise good kids. It depends on the individual and the couple at the end of the day.
    Also, an idle mind is a devil’s workshop! I’m a woman and I personally found that staying at home (not working) made me depressed and I had crazy mood swings that my poor amazing husband had to deal with. Also its really hard work for a husband to provide 100% for someone and to give them everything they want while at the same time being their only person to talk to and having to deal with their emotional state.

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