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Shadia: Dating while Muslim is complicated

Unveiled: A Muslim Girl in O.C.

February 01, 2012|By Mona Shadia

I was never the girl who fantasized about Prince Charming charging in on his camel and sweeping me off my feet.

When I was growing up in Egypt, education was emphasized above all else. My mom, Shadia, who never graduated from high school, always read the newspaper. She sent me and my sister, Marwa, to school the first chance she could and made sure I learned to read and spell at a young age.

But the idea of marriage was never absent.

Middle Easterners love weddings, which can last for days and involve entire neighborhoods.

There is an expectation to get married early. If you hit your mid- or late-20s and you're not married yet, something is wrong. And the more kids the merrier.

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When I was little, I thought I'd get married when I turned 20, the age I would have graduated from college had I stayed in their school system.

I'm 28 now, which makes me about 50 in Arab years.

That fantasy about Prince Charming did eventually take over in my early 20s, but it was refined to be more mature and realistic.

Not only do I know exactly what kind of a guy I want, I also know how my wedding dress, veil and engagement ring should look, and even who should officiate. I mean, who cares what the guy thinks, right?

Maybe, if he wanted a say, he would be here already.

"Dating," or the process in which you get to the point of marriage, is kind of taboo in my culture. The word boyfriend or girlfriend can cause a Middle Eastern parent to have a heart attack.

Western-style dating is frowned upon in Islam, and that's because men shouldn't be allowed to go from one girl to the next without making a commitment. They should "get to know the girl" only if they intend on marrying her, and that period of "getting to know each other" is usually monitored and limited in time, especially in conservative families.

On-and-off dating, especially when there's no commitment or good intentions, devalues women and the sanctity of marriage. This is a point on which I agree with the conventions of my culture and religion.

Though I consider myself pretty Americanized and must have gone on a gazillion dates in the last five years, if I don't see potential in the first few hours of knowing and meeting a guy, I end it. I don't have time to waste (not when you're 50 in Arab years).

Of course, like everyone who's trying to find their soul mate, I have encountered disappointments. The last time that happened, I began to wonder whether I'm meant to be with someone at all.

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