|How Hard Can It Be?
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
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
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
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
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.
Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine is the author of
Before the Wedding: 150 Questions for Muslims to Ask Before Getting