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Sunday, December 26, 2010

American Muslims Mix Modern, Traditional Routes to Marriage

From the Sacramento Bee - October 31, 2010

Sarah Moussa, 23, and Mahmoud Abdelmaged, 25, are soon to be married in a traditional Muslim ceremony.
By Stephen Magagnini

A mosque in northeast Sacramento recently hosted a speed-dating event for 48 singles looking for love American Muslim style.

Every four minutes, the men played musical chairs, moving one seat to their left to chat up the next woman across the table. Each took notes on whether they'd like to continue the conversation.

Call it "speed mating" – Muslims don't date without chaperones and aren't allowed to have premarital sex. Dancing, kissing and drinking also are off limits.

Similar "matrimony events" are unfolding at Islamic centers across the country to help Muslims – many of them career-driven professionals – find spouses before the pool of good catches dries up.

A growing number of Muslim religious leaders and parents believe young Muslims should marry as soon as they are adult – and before they give in to sexual temptation.

Some young adults and their parents want to wait until they've earned their professional degrees and launched their careers.

Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez of Sacramento suggests that young Muslims start trying to meet potential spouses in college through Muslim student associations that do charity work.
"Once you put the idea in your mind, it will take a couple of years to find the right person," said Azeez of the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims, which hosted the SALAM Muslim Singles Matrimony Event earlier this month.

Couples who marry early form a tighter bond by sharing hardships and challenges as they build a life together, said Azeez, who married at 24. "Every single bit of bitterness we went through solidified our relationship."

But more and more Muslim kids "are rebelling against conventional ways and all of a sudden, I'm 50 and forgot to get married," Azeez said. "It's a bigger problem with girls than it is with guys."

Hard to meet men

Women, many of of them professionals, outnumbered men 25 to 23 at the SALAM speed-dating event. They ranged in age from 18 to 50. Some wore hijabs to cover their heads, others came casually dressed in slacks and without head coverings. The men tended to be older – and divorced.

Muslim men are allowed to marry non-Muslims; women can't marry outside the faith. Non-Muslim men who want to marry a Muslim woman can convert – a process that takes months.

Women have few chances outside of college to meet men on their own and often depend on friends and relatives to introduce them to potential suitors.

"A lot of Muslim women are living on our own, extremely competent professionals with limited opportunities," said Tanya Ali, a 34-year-old management consultant who drove to the SALAM event from the Bay Area.
Matrimony events are much better than online dating, she said. "At least here you get to say hello to somebody and you know exactly how they look, so you can get that factor out of the way."

She met a couple of men who showed interest, both engineers. "Let's see what happens," she said. "The next step is to meet for coffee."

Sacramento civil engineer Younes Idrissi, 37, called the professional women he met "refreshing" because they too are "hybrid Muslims" who have embraced American culture.

"I was married at 34 for two years to a woman I met in Morocco arranged by my sister," he said. They divorced because "it was too hard for her to blend in here and accept my American friends who drink," he said. "I don't drink, but I don't have an issue with that. She just wanted to stay home and wasn't engaged in my lifestyle."

Most American Muslims enter arranged marriages initiated by relatives or friends and agreed upon by their parents, Azeez said. Few arranged marriages end in divorce.

Children have veto power if the match doesn't feel right.

Ali said her "aunties" and friends have tried to set her up with a dozen potential suitors over the years, but there was no chemistry.

Medical consultant Ahmed Abedin, 39, knows the feeling.

Like other Muslim professionals in their 30s, he's feeling the pressure from his parents – "every single day they say, 'Give us grandkids before it's too late.' "

He's gone to matrimony events in Irvine and Chicago and has dated non-Muslims, "but ultimately, what I'm looking for is a Muslim age 25 and up," preferably a Palestinian American who shares his culture and tastes in food.

Supporting traditional marriage

Azeez welcomed the singles to the event, calling traditional marriage one of the wonders of the world and the bedrock of Muslim culture.

"You might not find your mate today, but showing Allah you are willing to embark on this path, he will reward you," Azeez said.

Allah "reminds you your happiness might not necessarily be with a person who fulfills your preconceived ideas of the perfect mate," Azeez said, encouraging them to consider mates of different ethnic backgrounds.

The couples shared stories about their hobbies, careers and tastes - one Bosnian from San Francisco recommended her favorite, potato pizza.

Loqman Khemici, one of the organizers, said his oldest daughter married her karate instructor at 24. "He was a Brazilian American who became a Muslim three years ago."

If his 19-year-old daughter wants to marry early, "I'll even support them financially," Khemici said. "When you reach puberty, you start having those sexual feelings, and if you don't want your kids to break, we make it easy for them to marry."

Sarah Moussa, a 23-year-old UC Davis grad who works as a field representative for Sacramento Assemblyman Dave Jones, plans to marry Mahmoud Abdelmaged, a 25-year-old network engineer.

The couple met six years ago in Egypt. When she visited her ancestral home, he'd look out for her and tell her if she was staying out too late.

"Last year, we had a falling out over a relationship he'd had, and then he told me, 'I don't want to lose you – if it means flying across the globe to make you mine I'm going to do that,' " Moussa said.

Before families sign off on a match, "there's a background check like you're going through the FBI," Moussa said. "We value not just what the person can bring but what the family contributes – it's like two families marrying each other."

Many of the Sacramento region's 70,000 Muslims still hold to the belief that a man should marry only when he can support a family.

"If my daughter comes to me and says, 'I want to marry this person,' I will ask, 'Who is this person – is he of good character and what does he do for a living?'" said Rashid Ahmad, co-founder of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. "Many families would not consider marrying their daughter to someone who has not finished their degree or who is unemployed."

His daughters married at 25 and 28 after they had finished medical school and law school, and their spouses were professionals.

If you wait to get married, you're not as likely to fall for a crush and can make a more mature, responsible choice, Ahmad said. "If a daughter gets married too soon, they have children, don't finish their education and their whole life changes."

Finding a Religious Common Ground

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)