Young Muslims are increasingly going online to find their soulmate. But can fetishised “Insta-couples” really be the answer to the “marriage crisis”?
Harun O found love in Poland. Well, he found love on Instagram, while he was living there in 2013. He was scrolling through pictures on his phone when he came across a woman living in the south of France who had taken a photo of herself in high heels, wearing a Wu-Tang Clan T-shirt and a turban wrapped around her hair. “I thought it was a really good combination, and I love Wu-Tang Clan, so I must’ve commented,” he says. “We started like that.”
Soon, Harun, who is of Bosnian heritage, was exchanging messages with Hamida Zaourgui, whose family is Algerian, every day.
Three and a half years on, Harun, 30, is now married to Hamida, 29, and both live in London. Hamida pushes the pram with their baby into a Balham coffee shop, out of the pouring rain. We meet over coffee and chocolate brownies to talk about finding love online while Muslim.
“I always thought meeting online was a last solution…but that’s just how it is now,” says Hamida. “I really liked his pictures. And he looked cute, so why not?” When they started talking, Harun had just bought a new phone so he could take better photos. It was the early days of the photo-sharing app and people still edited their shots heavily with the Clarendon filter, which emphasises colour and contrast.
After commenting on each other’s pictures, the pair started exchanging emails. The first was about the sci-fi film Interstellar. Soon they were watching films and TV shows, like the Nordic noir series The Bridge, together on Skype.
They both say they knew they before they physically met, seven months after they first started talking, that they would be getting married. They had the religious marriage ceremony in May the same year in the south of France, and the wedding party in the autumn, and then moved to London.
“What Instagram gave us is that it broadens your horizons,” says Harun. “Otherwise, if you want to meet someone you’re limited to the people around you.”
Hamida says that for a young Muslim it can be more comfortable meeting someone online “because there’s no family, there’s no restrictions. You can talk normally, you don’t have to meet in person. It’s made it easier; there’s less pressure.”
“Because there’s no family, there’s no restrictions” says Hamida Rebecca Hendin / Simon Jacobs / BuzzFeed
“Maybe you won’t believe me telling you that I actually met the love of my life on Instagram – funny but true,” says Sarah Jouini, 26, from Tunisia. Like Harun and Hamida, she’s one of many Muslims who have have married someone they met on Instagram. She uses the tag #MuslimCouples along with #TogetherForever, #hijabi, and #beardy beneath selfies with her husband and tells BuzzFeed News: “It all started with a simple follow, ending [with] sharing a life together.”
Umar Siddique, a 20-year-old basketball player from London, dreams of meeting someone the same way. He gets inundated with marriage proposals on Instagram, and says he has fallen in love with one woman – but she hasn’t replied to his messages. “She doesn’t follow me but if I keep working on myself, keep praying and asking, who knows what Allah has in store for me.”
He thinks his messages “probably got lost in all the other marriage requests she gets daily because she is breathtakingly beautiful”.
Online dating for Muslims is booming. Shahzad Younas, who founded UK-based Muzmatch, which has been described as “Muslim Tinder”, told BuzzFeed News membership more than doubled between December 2015 and December 2016. “We have had over 2,500 people tell us they left Muzmatch after finding someone on the app,” said Younas. “We have heard back specifically on around 300-plus actual weddings so far around the world.”
Yet romance on the internet is an issue with which my millennial Muslim friendship circle have a love-hate relationship. The problems are many and varied. The lack of decent guys. The issue of catfishing on dating apps. The #goals of interracial Muslim couples. The seemingly ubiquitous habit of random guys sliding into DMs. The jokes about becoming a Muslim “Insta-couple” for the retweets. The incessant “How We Met” YouTube videos. And the biggest question of them all: How does one go about finding love in a halal way online anyway?
There are more than 85,000 posts under the tag #MuslimCouple, more than 100,000 for #MuslimWedding, and nearly 20,000 under #HalalLove. This includes “follow me” photos of couples leading each other through exotic places, affectionate moments, pairs in matching sweaters, selfies of couples performing hajj together, and countless wedding photos. There are even accounts dedicated to curating photos of Muslim couples, such as “Hijab Muslim couples”, which has more than 107,000 followers.
In most of the photos it is clear the couple, often visibly Muslim with the wife in hijab and husband with a full beard, are married. There is a strong emphasis on marriage being portrayed as idyllic; there is a traditional Muslim saying that getting married “completes half of the religion”.
In fact, some of the Instagram users BuzzFeed News spoke to wanted to be associated only with sharing the lives of married couples, rather than with encouraging Muslims to date online. The owner of the account romantic_muslim_couple told BuzzFeed News in broken English: “Instagram isn’t a place to fall in love. The couples I post everyone is halal couple with legal marriage!!”
One account, muslim.couples, is based in Germany and has over 10,000 followers. The person behind it told BuzzFeed News the account was started because “I hope it shows how funny we are with our marriages and how beautiful Islam is.”
For some, there is more at stake. Nilly Dahlia, a UK-based vlogger, says: “I use the hashtag #MuslimCouple because I want to break the barriers on people’s perception about Muslim marriages. That we aren’t all faced with forced marriages. That we aren’t forced to wear the hijab. That we aren’t oppressed.”
She added: “It’s definitely a refreshing hashtag giving hope to the younger audience that they can have a normal marriage, like the ones they read about or even watch in movies. It’s also why I vlog my life and family. This way people can see how normal a British Muslim family is, which I feel is so important in this current climate.”
Dating online is seen by some as the solution to the much discussed “crisis of marriage”, which is also referred to in some British Muslim circles as “the Muslim spinster crisis”, explains Dr Fauzia Ahmad, a sociologist at Royal Holloway, University of London. Many more women – who are often well-educated, professional, and older – attend Muslim marriage events than men.
“Getting married and staying married is one of the biggest contemporary issues facing Muslim diasporas,” Ahmad writes in an article titled “British Muslims’ relationship crisis”. “Yet it is an issue that many mosques, Muslim organisations, secular legal and welfare services are failing to offer adequate support for.”
Ahead of Valentine’s Day, the City Circle, a network for professional Muslims in London, held a discussion in central London titled “Getting hitched: removing the barriers to Muslim marriages”. The event’s description cited the “huge challenge” of meeting a potential spouse. A comedy night in Stratford, east London, for Muslims to mingle and hear jokes on “singles in the city” next week has sold out. Rooful Ali, founder of Emerald Network, who organised the event, says two-thirds of the 50 people attending are women. “From my observation, guys in the main tend to be less proactive and [less likely to] get themselves to an event.”
From her interview-based research, Ahmad found that British Muslim marriage practices in recent years have witnessed what she calls a “process of rapid social change rendering existing notions of ‘arranged marriages’ as dated”. There’s been a move to “halal relationships” – getting to know each other for the purpose of marriage – she explains to BuzzFeed News over email.
According to Ahmad’s research, educated British Muslim women are finding it hard to attract suitable partners for a variety of reasons. One is the perceived lack of suitable men to match successful women, who may feel “overqualified” for a potential partner, or be older than they might traditionally have been when they want to settle down.
As Tahira, a thirtysomething IT professional with a master’s degree, said in the report: “I feel as though I’ve been to all four corners of the world just looking. Although I haven’t been to South America just yet, [nor] Russia!”
In January 2015, London-based journalist Omar Shahid wrote and published an essay on his blog called “I met a girl on Instagram…7 months later we got married.” In it he wrote about loneliness, and turning to God to ask for a companion. He signed off by writing: “I pray that this piece gives other young Muslims the courage to pursue what they believe to be the right thing to do and not be shackled by cultural norms.”
Omar’s words touched on another possible barrier to finding a partner: While there is an expectation from family and the wider community to get married, it is generally still taboo to talk about dating. One commenter on the piece said it had given them “hope I can find someone.”
When we meet, Omar, now 25, is sitting on a sofa in the lobby of the London flat he shares with the girl he met: Aaminah, 24. A Henri Cartier-Bresson photography book sits on the glass coffee table.
He first spoke to Aaminah when she posted some of her Arabic translation of Ibn al-Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination into English on Instagram. She saw Omar share some of the text, and the couple started messaging in conversational Arabic. “Either he followed me or I followed him. Three years later we still haven’t resolved that,” Aaminah jokes.
Omar says social media offers ways to get to know a potential partner that aren’t always available to Muslims offline. “An Instagram profile provides more information, and more reading information, about a person than a single rishta profile you see.” (A rishta is a common South Asian term for a marriage proposal, and can mean anything from visiting a potential partner’s family for tea to sharing a “marriage CV” containing a biography and other data about them.)
Together, the couple started their own matchmaking site, Alif and Ain – named after the initials of their first names in Arabic – in May last year, and say they have had hundreds of British Muslims sign up every week.
Aaminah says her friends saw the way she met Omar as “interesting and cool”. “No one our age is shocked by it. It’s still not the norm but it’s not surprising.”
She points to the way popular beauty YouTuber Chinutay, from Toronto, met her husband Amir, from London, on Twitter when they started talking about Game of Thrones. In her “How We Met” video she tells the story how her future husband decided to fly halfway around the world to surprise her, in their first real-life meeting.
On the other hand, Aaminah explains that there is a generational gap over whether it’s acceptable to meet your partner online with no introduction. “For the South Asian community the concept of having a middle person [such as an aunt to act as a go-between] is very important in getting married. It’s that way you can understand more about the other person’s family, and their status in the community.”
Since she met Omar, online relationships have become more contrived. “Back then in 2013 Instagram was not as curated like today. Now, there is this idea of a double personality. You could be putting up this image of who you are online and it’s not really who you are.”
She also fears that Instagram can encourage a “fixation” with Muslim marriages that look perfect and are curated for others to see. “Young girls and guys making it obvious [they want to get married] sometimes, it makes me cringe – such as putting up pictures of a Muslim couple like it’s ‘super goals’. Super Muslim goals.” Aaminah thinks there’s a place for celebrating relationships, but that at the same time a lot of young people are “fixated” on a picture-perfect idea of marriage that they believe is true to life.
“And it’s not. It’s a completely different ball game. It’s much more intense and requires a lot more work,” she says. “Young people fetishise marriage a lot.”
Back in the coffee shop in Balham, Hamida says she and Harun are nothing like the “Insta-couples” who share countless details of their lives with massive followings. (She has nearly 1,400 followers of the platform, and shares a few photos of family life.) In a meeting of the online and offline worlds, Harun has collated all of the conversations they shared during their internet courtship into a 350-page word document, which he’s hoping to turn into a book, complete with Instagram pictures.
Hamida is critical of the instant celebrity some couples get by publicising their relationships online, and particularly concerned with how many of the popular Muslim women Instagrammers are beauty bloggers “selling” unrealistic lifestyles to many young women. “These girls become role models. For other people, maybe it’s a good thing. But for me it’s not,” she says.
The huge pool of possible dates that online dating offers can bring drawbacks too. BuzzFeed News spoke to one woman in her early twenties who wishes to remain anonymous. Speaking over tea in Soho, central London, she says she frequently deactivates her social media accounts when she begins to find interactions intrusive and obsessive, but people have even sent her marriage proposals over LinkedIn.
Many of her friends who are practising Muslims have private social media accounts, won’t accept any follow requests from guys, and may even write “Only sisters” in their bylines to deter advances from men. “With Muslim dating there’s no indication with someone whether they are single and available or seeing someone,” she says. “So many people I know are in that transit [between courting and marriage] and no one would ever know they’re in a relationship.”
She acknowledges, however, that she wouldn’t post anything that would make it look like she wasn’t single. “I don’t ever post a picture of me and a guy. I would never post a picture with an Asian guy, otherwise they would think I’m not available.
“People make themselves look like wifey material. One girl I know is always indirectly talking about marriage. And of course guys are replying to her stories to get noticed.”
Ultimately there is a pressure to have a glamorous married life. “Lots of people get married because of the idea of a marriage, and consider who they should be with for their image.”
She says she has been let down by people she has got to know over Instagram. She reconnected with a college crush after he added her and they began talking over direct messages.
“I thought I’d play hard to get and make him chase me,” she says. “But then he found another girl on Instagram and told me he got married. I thought, For fuck’s sake.” She ended up unfollowing him and blocking him.
One guy she had met at a charity fundraiser requested to follow her on Instagram. When she accepted, he liked 20 of her photos in one go. That should have been “a signal” to doubt him, she tells BuzzFeed News. They were together for a year, until she noticed he was liking selfies of many other hijabi girls. “There’s a code of conduct. When you’re with someone, you don’t like other girls’ photos. That’s shameful.”
The ability to send direct messages, introduced in 2013, is the tool “thirsty guys” were waiting for, she says. “I didn’t notice before but then I began to check, and thought, Why is he liking other hot hijabis’ photos?” She broke up with him soon after.
Her experience has led to a radical decision: She wants to be with someone who doesn’t use social media at all, even if it may take longer to find them. “I want someone who is low-key,” she says. “Is it much to ask someone not to be constantly on the phone?”
Get married, free, on muzmatch.
Maybe you’ve been talking to them for months or years. Maybe they’ve met your family. Maybe you’ve spent hours daydreaming about your future together and you’re afraid you may never feel like this about anyone else again. Maybe you think it’s too late...
Think. Give yourself room to breathe. Clear your diary for the day and find a quiet place because it’s time you to have a frank and honest chat with yourself about the fact that you keep trying to get away from: it’s not working. Your relationship with the person you thought you were going to marry and be with forever is simply not what you’d hoped it would be and you’re afraid you’re settling.
'Allah does not charge a self (anything) except its capacity; it has whatever it has earned, and against it is whatever it has acquired. Our Lord, do not take us to task in case we forget or we make mistakes. Our Lord, and do not burden us with an obligation as You burdened (the ones) who were before us. Our Lord, and do not over-burden us with whatever is beyond our capability.'
These days being single and finding the right one to marry can be a form of hardship, but as Allah mentioned in the above excerpt from the Quran, Allah does not test us beyond our capability. The road to a successful and happy marriage is paved with heartbreak, temptation, and the abundance of empty, convenient relationships that don’t fulfil us.
So what do we do when we realised we’re neck-deep in a relationship with someone who we thought could be the one but turned out to be the very opposite? How can we take off the rose-tinted glasses be honest with ourselves?
Here are three steps to take that could make the whole process a lot easier.
Allah created us, so he created our hearts. He’s the one who has given us the ability to feel; to fall in love, to hurt, and to be healed again. When we decide to prepare ourselves for marriage and open our hearts to someone, we should talk to God before we talk to anyone else. We should ask Him to give us the best from the situation and guide us through the journey. And when we think things are no longer working, we should still talk to God. Let’s not be of those who stand in prayer and ask Allah for righteous spouses but abandon our instincts to seek Him when things get tough.
If you’ve made the decision to leave a stagnant relationship that is not working for whatever reason, it’s worth praying istikhara. Put your faith in Allah and call it quits, then ask Allah to guide you along the way.
An ideal marriage is one that provides a safe space for you to communicate your feelings. If you’ve felt like you’re walking on eggshells about where things are going with your partner before marriage, this may be a sign that it probably isn’t meant to be. Nevertheless, take the leap and start a discussion about the things that have been bothering you.
The talk doesn't have to be the dramatic glass-smashing argument that you fear it’ll be; maybe you’ll realise that the feeling is mutual and you can have an amicable break-up. You may both reveal hidden anxieties and concerns that help clear the air and allow you both to get closure on a union that isn’t working. If approached gently, this conversation could prove to be healing and transformative and it may help you learn a lot about yourself and what you want from the future.
Once you’ve had time to reflect and have a practical conversation with your partner about ending things, you need to be prepared to take a step that most people skip in the process: revisit your expectations. Re-examine the things you want out of an ideal husband/wife and ask yourself if anything has changed. Sometimes in the height of emotion, we forget to think about whether the person we like and see a future with is able to fulfil our rights in marriage and sometimes we forget to enquire if we are even in a position to fulfil their rights over us. The things we swore we would never compromise are simply forgotten when a relationship seems smooth-sailing...and then it ends.
The end of a relationship or marriage can be a pivotal time to ponder on those qualities we treasure in a spouse. Think about what matters now; things may have changed. Write them down. Promise to check in with these notes at several points in your new relationship.
Sometimes the silver lining at the end of heartbreak is simply having the perspective and clarity we need to understand ourselves, let go of what could have been, and reach towards the things we truly deserve.
An frank open letter about intercultural marriage
Salamu’alaykum muzmatch Kings and Queens,
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Zubair, aka Zu, aka @ghetto004 on twitter. “Eww why is that your @?” because I’m your local ghetto spy, that’s why. Insult me again and I’m calling the police. I’m a Graphic Designer and the creator of the “Book of Zu” podcast. It’s a societal/ cultural podcast where I speak about things from a minority, Muslim perspective. I’ve covered topics like “the lack of sex education in the Muslim community”, “the communication gap between first-generation immigrant parents and their second-generation immigrant children” and another episode to mention is “the lack of emotional intelligence and communication amongst male friendships”. You can find it on Soundcloud, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
So, let’s get into it. Why is marrying outside of your ethnicity still an issue in the Muslim community? You might think “racism and xenophobia in the Muslim community? Since when has that been a problem?” Since the day you’ve been selectively choosing people from specific backgrounds to get to know for marriage because you can’t bring those from countries that aren’t on that list home. If we’re going to have this conversation, let’s be transparent, open, and honest. Let’s keep it all the way one hundred because some of you have been keeping it 10, give me 90 more.
We cannot continue to condone these behaviours; it’s inhumane and degrading. The only things that should matter when considering someone for marriage is their character and deen. That’s it. No ifs, no buts. Rejecting people on the basis of their ethnic/racial background is haram. Point, blank; period. When we return to Allah SWT, are we going to be judged according to our skin colour and ethnic background? We’re not. The only things we are taking to our grave is our deeds. That’s it. Imagine, the one who created us is not judging us based on our heritage and physical appearance but (we) the creation are? Do we know better than Allah SWT? We don’t! This is what happens when people mix their religion with their culture. All parts of your culture are not compatible with Islam. Sometimes, culture and Islam is like water and oil, they do not mix.
Allah SWT tell us in Surat Al-Hujarat, 49:13 “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
It’s so sad that we are battling these issues in our community. We should know better, do better, and be better. But some of you don’t want to. “I have to obey my parents, I don’t want to go against them.” You should absolutely obey and honour your parents where it is halal, emphasis on the halal part. Your parents refusing someone on the basis of skin colour, ethnicity and race is haram. If you loved your parents like you say you do, you would want them to do and be better and if your parents are discriminative, you should respectfully correct them. They may not change that day, but learned behaviours can be unlearned. Mentalities can be changed. The saying “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” is a crutch to allow negative, toxic and backward behaviours to continue.
It’s also a cop-out; if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. So, ask yourself “is this who I want to be?” Someone that is intolerant and hateful?” because that’s what it is. We’re already ostracised for being Muslim in the West, we don’t need more hate and intolerance in our community. Fight for what is good and right, even if that fight involves your immediate family, friends and whomever else.
I’ve heard of so many stories where people have been made to believe that they are going to marry someone, all for it to come crashing down on them. The ending seems to be so similar “I spoke to my parents about you and they won’t let me marry you because you’re ______”. That is the sign of a weak person and someone who is not worthy of your love and energy. Those that won’t defend you and honour you are not worthy of being allowed into your space. It should be a privilege to be able to marry you and those that don’t have the strength to fight against what is wrong are not people you should want to build a life with. You should always make sure that you are a priority and if your love and efforts are not being appreciated, it’s time to find the receipts, refund your time, energy and love, and invest it into yourself. Marriage is something sacred and should be treated with the utmost care and respect, you’re going to complete half of your deen, complete it with someone who supports, motivates, encourages and allows you to grow as a person. Not with someone who won’t bring you home because of the colour of your skin or background. We’re loving ourselves even more in 2020 than we did in 2019 and that means removing ourselves from situations that are hurting us. We’re going to do better. We’re going to grow. We’re going to elevate. Whatever your marriage journey is, whether you’re single at the moment, divorced, newly-wed, may Allah SWT bless you with happiness and shower you in his mercy. Ameen.
Take care, Kings and Queens.
My name is Zubair aka Zu, known on twitter as @ghetto004. I’m the creator of the “Book of Zu” podcast. I cover topics from the minority, Muslim perspective. You can find it on: Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts & Spotify. You can also find me on Instagram: @bookofzu. Reach out and let’s chat!
I was fourth time lucky with my husband on muzmatch. First there was overly excited Guy No. 1 who wanted to get the ball rolling and have our nikah asap, but then he freaked himself out by moving too fast. He then suggested we “slow things down” before disappearing. Guy No. 2 and I seemed to have a spark but then he ruined it all by sending inappropriate pictures on WhatsApp to which I replied, “I’m not that kind of girl” and “I’m sorry, but you can’t achieve something halal through haram methods” before ending it. I was so close with Guy No. 3. But then he had a nervous breakdown a few days before I was meant to meet his family and subsequently called it off. I deactivated the muzmatch app after Guy No.3, telling myself that matrimonial apps clearly weren’t meant for me and that I should resign myself to the single life until Allah throws someone my way. Four months later, I re-downloaded muzmatch, and the first guy I matched with is now my husband of two years. Alhamdulillah.
I could do a whole other post on how to navigate muzmatch and how to get the best out of your muzmatch experience – but maybe that’s a conversation for another time. For now I would like to share some of the things no one told me before I got married which I really wish they would have done.
Just like many young Muslims wanting to find their life partner, I sought advice and knowledge about finding a husband and ideas about what married life is like from my parents, YouTube videos with titles like “10 Tips for Finding a Spouse,” and books with titles like The Ideal Muslim Wife. I even listened to lectures given by Sheikhs, but guess what? No one told me or prepared me for what married life is actually like.
1. It was going to be just me and my husband in our own little world, no one else was going to be involved and I would only have to visit my in-laws twice a year.
2. As each day dawned, my husband and I would fall deeper and deeper in love and it would be all butterflies, smooches and cuddles on the sofa, and each night I would fall asleep in his arms and every morning I would wake up to him spooning me.
3. I would be the perfect Muslim wife who would surprise my husband on weekends with breakfast in bed, spend evenings with him lying with his head on my lap, with me stroking his soft black hair as I read the Qur’an over him.
4. There would be lots of spontaneous sex and even though the sex would always be impromptu, I would already be wearing pretty Ann Summers lingerie under my clothes.
It turned out I wasn’t just marrying him, I was marrying his entire family; I even ended up living with my in-laws for several months. There were no make-out sessions on the sofa (of course not with his parents and siblings always around), I have never made him breakfast in bed, and I thought we were having lots of sex if we managed to have it once a week. The Ann Summers lingerie was purchased but a lot of it is still in its packaging and I prefer to seduce my husband wearing my Snoopy pyjamas. But Alhamdulillah, we have made it; the love did grow and my friends weren’t lying when they said the first year of marriage is tough.
If you are currently navigating muzmatch and speaking to someone who you potentially think could be “The One” Inshallah, these are some honest, realistic bits of advice about getting married that your mum, dad, aunt and Sheikh on YouTube may not tell you.
Try to spend some time with your potential in-laws before you tie the knot. While it is not a rule of thumb that your potential spouse will have turned out exactly like their mother or father, they will have inherited or (through their upbringing) picked up some similar characteristics. My mother is an English revert and I have inherited many of her personality traits. Get to know your potential in-laws and any power dynamics between your spouse and their parents because it is most likely that if they live in the same country, after marriage, you will be spending more time with them than you may have previously envisioned. You also want to figure out the dynamics of the relationship between your spouse and their parents as this will affect your own marital relationship. It is true that in most cases when you get married, you do marry each other’s family.
You really need to acknowledge that the first year of married life is tough. Even if you are lucky to marry someone you are head over heels in love with, it is different when you start living together. They will have habits at home you wouldn’t have picked up on while “courting” prior to marriage and these habits may be annoying, and sometimes even difficult to put up with. You will have arguments and fights – I remember the first time I had an argument with my husband I freaked out because I thought each argument spelt the end of our marriage but actually it is very normal to argue. You need to go into marriage with the patience of a saint if you want it to be successful. Kindness, patience, good communication and compassion are the keys to a successful marriage. Maybe have a premarital discussion on bad/annoying habits and see which ones you can agree to work on and whether any of them are deal breakers.
You need to accept the fact that your spouse will not tell you everything before marriage and be ready for it. So, don’t be surprised if a few weeks after your honeymoon they spring something on you. Don’t forget that when you are getting to know someone before marriage and you are in your engagement period, you will most likely both be presenting the best versions of yourselves. And your friends and family aren’t going to tell your spouse-to-be about your bad breath, bowel issues and about that ex-boyfriend/girlfriend because they want to see you succeed and get married. If your spouse does reveal something after you have already gotten married, unless it is an absolute deal breaker (e.g. they had committed a heinous crime like murder) instead of getting angry and shouting “you lied to me! Why didn’t you tell me this before we got married?” you are going to have to have a grown-up discussion about it and decide to move on.
You will not be the “ideal” Muslim spouse that those Sheikhs write about in their books who cooks their spouse their favourite meal for dinner every day, wakes their spouse up at fajr and prays with them in jamaa’ah, and who never EVER rejects their sexual advances. And hey, it’s okay. It’s time we stopped pressurising ourselves to be the “perfect” Muslim husband/wife. We need to be striving to be better people, not perfect people, for the sake of Allah, which in turn will naturally lead to you being a better spouse. It’s totally fine if you have had a tough day and can only manage to pop a frozen pizza into the microwave for dinner, and it is okay to be tired and not in the mood for sex. If you are having a tough day every day, and if you are never in the mood for sex, then maybe there’s something going on that needs discussing and addressing with your spouse or your GP.
I never knew how stroppy I could be until I got married. I had forgotten what it was like to be moody or spiteful because it had been about fifteen years since I had been a teenager and had gone through that phase of fighting and arguing with my parents and siblings every day. Just before I got married, I had reached a point in my life where I was good friends with my siblings and I was the closest I had ever been to my parents. I was a picture of calmness and serenity and I honestly believed I was going to continue being this peaceful person when I got married. I even remember telling my husband on the phone one day before we got married, “I just want to settle down and live a peaceful, quiet and drama-free life.” And then I got married, the honeymoon period was over and I felt like I had regressed back into my teenage self, saying spiteful things when he was rude to me, giving him the silent treatment after an argument and losing my temper when he would wind me up and do annoying things (like criticising my cooking methods as I tried to cook dinner after a long day at work). So please don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally lose your temper at your spouse, you are not a crazy or horrible wife/husband.
What the Muslim community in each country needs are more realistic talks about marriage, both from our Sheikhs and from our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, and we need safe spaces in our localities where we can meet up and have open discussions about what it is actually like to look for a spouse and get married, instead of the far-fetched idealistic advice given in lectures and books that doesn’t translate into real-life marriage at all. In that way, the number of Muslim couples who rush into a divorce before the first year is out just might decrease.
Yousra is an English-Egyptian hybrid who hails from London but lives in Yorkshire and has been writing since the moment she learned to hold a pen. She works full time in marketing and events, and has been writing professionally since 2008. Her first novel, “Hijab and Red Lipstick” will be published by Hashtag Press in October 2020 (inshallah). You can pre-order it now from www.hashtagpress.co.uk/shop