Settling for Less? Why should we have lower expectations?

Few months ago my friend started looking for marriage prospects. As a convert, doing it the“right” way was very important to her. She went to our mosque’s sheikh with the hope that he would take the time to look for a good match for her. Presumably, my friend, who is in her early 20s, was looking not only for a guy her age, but also for a professional practicing Muslim man who would love her and understand that, as a Muslim woman, she was much more than just a “plain wife.”

The sheikh in my mosque introduced her to a number of prospects that were all across the board in terms of ethnic background, education, profession, ages and family situations (i.e. polygamists). The sheikh got my friend and each one of the guys together for them to meet in a “halal” environment. He hoped to be able to find the “right person” for my friend. He had, to some degree, good intentions in helping out what he considered to be a lonely unprotected Muslim convert sister that needed a man to be complete.

My friend, a soon-to-be professional was not thrilled with the guys that the sheikh had picked up for her.  There were guys looking to marry her for the sake to get citizenship, men who were 20 or 30 years older than her, men who were unemployed and lacked any kind of education, guys who were divorced and needed a baby sitter, and those who were just there because their parents had decided that they needed to marry.

After few meetings, the sheikh asked my friend to lower her expectations if she wanted to get married. My friend bravely responded that, as a woman, getting married was an important decision and something that required more consideration than the sheikh’s preconceived notions of what a woman should want or deserve. After a while, the sheikh finally understood that my friend was in no rush to marry the first random Muslim guy that appeared. Yet, I wonder if his own idea of what a convert Muslim woman needs changed?

In communities where we are expected to do things “the right way” many Muslim converts have only the choice to go through a sheikh or to perspective mothers in law to find husbands (assuming that they want to get married). However, there is a common and very problematic perception that, as women, we should settle for less.

It is kind of being told that marriage is good and wonderful if a Muslim man “makes us the favor” to settle with us. While in some communities, this is a challenge also faced by Muslim men, it is usually the women, and often times the converts, who get stuck with those single Muslim men that have not being able to get married on their own. It is in that way that 20 year old converts are introduced to 50 year old me looking for third or fourth wives.

Although it is completely up to each Muslim woman whether or not they settle for the older guys or for polygamist families, we should acknowledge that women are often times called to settle for less than they are looking or hoping for.

When it comes to converts, the issue is somehow more complex because there are cultural tensions that arise, and expectations that some of us are compelled to accept but that cannot live with. Converts are often offered to be second, third or fourth wives; they are also, asked to marry divorced men that would not marry divorced women… completely the opposite! Somehow, some Muslim men think that they have the right to a “virgin” (whatever that means) for the rest of their lives every time they get married.

Why is it then that we are expected to settle for less? Why do some men and sheikhs think that without a man we would be lost?

Most of us converts, at least in my community, have perfectly functional and happy lives regardless of what our marital status is. If we are looking to get married is because we are looking for a person that will uphold our principles and beliefs; someone who will respect us and make us grow; someone who will acknowledge that we are full beings rather than “crocked” pieces of someone’s ribs.

Yet, somehow we continue to reproduce the idea that a woman should marry the man that knocks in her door. We continue to tell women, and converts, that once one becomes a Muslim, wifely responsibilities take over our whole lives. Since that point on we are expected to look for husbands (the halal way), get married and be wives and wives and wives…

Are we, then, settling for less than we deserve just by getting married?

3 thoughts on “Settling for Less? Why should we have lower expectations?

  1. Eiliyah says:

    I laugh most times when people say “marry for love”. That’s a wonderful idea, but not always practical. First, it’s hard to fall in love with someone your not suppose to be dating. Second, marriage is way more than just a feeling which can (and most certainly will) change with time. Having common interests is nice and all, but that doesn’t always mean you both will make a great couple when it comes to the things that really matter. For me, having a guy that wants the same things in life and has a similar perspective on how to do things is what is most important.

    I think there is this idea that reverts have to settle for whoever. I think this idea is even more true for those reverts that don’t blend in with the Muslim community that they reside in (i.e. white men or black women/men in a Desi or Arab community). I’m not saying that older men, already married men, and men of little education aren’t good mate material, but it really isn’t appropriate to pair a woman in her early 20s to a middle aged man with 2 wives, or a woman with a bachelor’s degree with a guy that has little education and therefore is unlikely to be able to relate to her.

  2. Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente says:

    As a muslim women, totally agree with you. We don’t need to come back to the age of stupidity to show piety. Before I convert I took my decisions and now I do too and go on…. why should I change the healthy use of my brain and put off my sefl confidence? Convert to islam is a free and courageous decision nowadays, why a woman must be so brave for some thing and so silly for others? I dont understand

  3. A says:

    I found this really interesting. As a convert who lives in Australia, I found the opposite to be true… marrying a convert is here seen among my generation (early-mid twenties) as desirable. (especially in the Arab community and ESPECIALLY for born-Muslim girls). I had a girl rush up to me in the mosque during Ramadan once, with barely an introduction she began inquiring whether I was married or not (presumably for her brother). I think a lot of it is that, especially as most of my friends are the children of migrants and are university students, they feel a bit of disconnect with their parent’s culture, and while maintaining religion, are keen to separate that from culture.
    Also I disagree that as a Muslim the only way to meet a prospective spouse is through the sheikh.. How about getting involved in faith-based community organisations that relate to things you are passionate about- such as a program for interfaith dialogue, or a soccer-mentoring program for youths or so on. Through that, you are likely to meet people in still a halal and public setting, but in a way that ensures you can get to know a little of your prospective spouse’s character… and you know that you at least have some passions in common.
    Incidentally, I met my (Palestinian) husband through volunteer work we did together. While never instigating romantic or flirtatious communication, we learned enough of each others character to know that we suited each other and when we decided to marry, we talked things through to ensure that when tough times in marriage come, we are willing to work with each other to make things work. We are very happily married alhamdulillah.

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