by Noor Zanial
“But what about marriage? What about your future husband and kids?”
I’m someone who likes to share their passions and dreams with people. It’s wonderful to spread the fervor you feel about your future career and ambitions with those around you. At times, I feel incredibly inspired amidst the mountains of difficulties I face everyday as a young, hijabi, Muslim woman. For that reason, I want others to experience that inspiration so that they may feel strength in their own capabilities.
I start talking about all the things I’d like to accomplish as a future global health activist and doctor, but the first thing I receive from most of my Muslim peers is “What about marriage? How’s that going to work with your husband and kids?” And then I freeze. In an instant, my fervor is extinguished and the bridge of support that I had seemingly felt with my fellow Muslim is eradicated.
Let’s talk about why this is problematic:
1. I am not a baby-making machine.
2. No, I do not believe that my life will begin when I’m married, when I’ll miraculously become whole with a man’s existence.
3. In one moment, you’ve completely disregarded everything that makes me who I am and reduced me to the cultural notion of who I am supposed to be.
From the moment a Muslim woman is born, she is trained for the goal of marriage. Every goal, aspiration, and accomplishment is centered around this one magnificent turn of events in our lives. As we grow older, our lives are tailored to marriage and how our career plans will work out with a husband and children. Do we even consider for a moment to put this concept aside and just plan our lives without it? God forbid we do, because we’d be upsetting the ancestors of our ancestors.
The problem is that this expectation never ends. Even though an ever increasing number of Muslim women are achieving great feats by entering higher institutions of education and paving the way in diverse career paths, we are still haunted by this concept. We still have conversations where these dreaded questions come up, almost rendering us incapable of any real accomplishments of school or work because we haven’t snagged a nice Muslim brother yet. It doesn’t matter that you are making strides in medicine, recently published a major research paper, or became president of your student council. You’re still single and you’ll only be recognized once you’re engaged to that nice Muslim brother.
The most saddening part remains that, as Muslim women, we impede our own mindsets. We do it to ourselves and to our fellow sisters. Countless women often find themselves questioning if they should pursue opportunities that can expand their careers because they don’t know if they’ll be able to find a partner that is supportive of that journey.
Aisha Sleiman, a 2nd year law student at the UCLA School of Law, recalled a recent instance when she was asked to be the editor in chief of the Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law. While she acknowledged that this was an incredible achievement, there was a thought of hesitance. She couldn’t ignore the gnawing question: “What if I take this opportunity and people think I’m too ambitious to start a family even from now?”
Reading this, we might say “What is Aisha thinking?! Of course she should take it! Why would she even hesitate?”
But put yourself in that situation. Imagine telling a bunch of aunties at your masjid of all the great things you’re involved in and the first words out of their mouths are “Are you going to be able to handle that with marriage? Why don’t you tone it down a little or choose something easier for the husband and kids?” Or worse yet, imagine when it’s your fellow MSA-er in college who asks you these questions. Here you thought that the millennials of the Muslim community would understand each other, but alas, this misogynistic concept penetrates generational boundaries.
Don’t get me wrong. There is definitely nothing shameful in looking forward to marriage and children. It is half of our deen and Allah (SWT) has created for each one of us a partner to complement us in this life. When the time comes for those life decisions, it will work out in the way Allah (SWT) has ordained it to.
However, we were not created to have our entire existence be centered on this concept. Allah (SWT) has blessed each and everyone of us with unique capabilities so that we may utilize them to build and sustain our communities. When will these capabilities be recognized and honored by our Muslim communities? When will we be given the same dignity that Muhammad (PBUH) gave to his wife, Khadijah (RA), a businesswoman who maintained a trading company, a household, and was one of the first and biggest supporters of our beloved Prophet?
A Muslim brother in our community is given that dignity. He is revered for his intelligence and accomplishments. He does not shape his life and entire being around one concept. He has not been branded with the “marriage” tag from the moment he was born. He does not fear striving for greatness and achieving it.
A Muslim sister does. And does so everyday.
The next time your Muslim sister comes up to you with that gleam of hope in her eyes as she discusses how passionate she is about a project or career, don’t just picture her in a white gown and veil, but with a stethoscope and scrubs, or suit and a briefcase. Accept and encourage who they are and what they want to become.
If you’re not sure of how to interact with an ambitious Muslim sister, ask yourself if you’d ask the same questions to an accomplished Muslim brother.
If you find it difficult to comprehend how a Muslim woman can’t possibly think of marriage and children first, then sit down, open the Qur'an, and read up on women’s rights in Islam.