Saturday, 7 April 2012
The Muslim Spinster Crisis
Marriage is a very important part of Muslim culture. In fact, as soon as most Muslims enter their late teens, parents start dropping hints about marriage. Often you are expected to get married, or at least engaged, in you early-20s and if you get to the ripe old age of 30 without being married, your community starts to pity you and question your normality.
It is not an easy or comfortable environment to be raised in, especially if you have strong views about the kind of person you want to spend the rest of your life with. However, it has been further complicated in recent years by the fact that many Muslim women, in particular, simply can’t find suitable Muslim men.
This is a trend that I had detected anecdotally many years ago but in recent months it has been reported in a number of media outlets too. This is a welcome development in my view because having the discussion in public allows us all to explore the dynamics that are contributing towards this imbalance.
Syma Mohammed is one such woman who wrote about her experiences for the Guardian a few months back. She attended a Muslim marriage event in Glasgow only to find that there were five women to every man. In her words “Well turned out women sat around dejected, twiddling their thumbs, waiting to speak to the select few”. She went on to say that nearly all Muslim singles events in this country are female dominated with the average age of women typically being higher than the men.
So what is going on?
Firstly, Western Muslim women are more likely to be better educated and more discerning about their future choice of marriage partner than their male counterparts. They are, therefore, less likely to want to go back to the ‘motherland’ to find a companion who will most likely be of a radically different mindset and will struggle to be the main breadwinner. Secondly, they are also forbidden from marrying non-Muslim men, both by orthodox religious authorities and their communities and families in general.
So whilst Muslim men are free to choose from half the population and the millions of women in places like Pakistan who dream of moving to the West for a better life, their female counter-parts, or at least those who want a say in their marriage, are stuck with the few men who didn’t get married for whatever reason.
In some cases, this can result in women reluctantly marrying men at 31 who they wouldn’t have given a second look at 21. In other cases, it can result in women remaining single for the rest of their lives since relationships outside of marriage are culturally taboo.
The situation for the women is made more difficult by the fact that men, consciously or subconsciously, use their mothers as their role models. In many Muslim families, especially first generation immigrants, women play a subservient role and, therefore, their sons are less inclined to go for a partner who is better educated, strong minded and outspoken. As such, an overtly obedient village girl from abroad who stays at home and looks after their mother becomes an attractive option.
This current situation is unsustainable to say the least and the changes required to alter it in the short to medium term are too radical for a community that rarely welcomes change. Furthermore, such problems are also, at least partially, symptomatic of the lack of personal freedom and individuality in Muslim communities. Group-think preserves cultural practises that are dysfunctional when maintained in a different time or context.
In the long term, I do believe that things will change for the better as third and fourth generation Muslim men are less likely to want to marry women from completely different cultures. Muslim women are also more likely to start partnering with non-Muslim men as the grip of the tribe gets weaker and people interact more. In fact, an increasing number of Muslim women are already marrying non-Muslim men and an Imam in Oxford called Taj Hargey is encouraging the practise and providing support for such couples.
However, in the short-term the males in Muslim communities face a stark choice. They either have to stop discouraging Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men or start discouraging Muslim men from marrying women from abroad. To do neither is to allow the Muslim spinster crisis to continue and even get worse.