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 married.
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 suitable spouse.
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 was.
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 traditional role.
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 Married.
I really liked reading your article. Iam 28 and face the same
situation..I hope the society changes. My parents are wonderful as they never let me feel that I am older.May Allah bless them with all good things in life.I was allowed to concentrate on my career. guided me throughout not to fall prey to any guy at work or go for any unislamic party. Alhamdullilah ! Allah was guarding me as I used to work in the night shift and I hear lot of talks about girls working in the night. I had a lovely atmosphere in my office , lot of security for girls as well.
the only point is that most guys feel I am over aged..Insha Allah as
they say Allah is great. He is the knower and planner of all things..
I really liked your article.. please dont publish my comments on the site . this is only for the writer...
I new that I am speaking to the general umah i.e muslim brothers and sisters, by reminding us the hadith of the prophet (S.A.W) that who so ever get the means should get married. On these there are many logicality and reasons to consider on the prophet s.a.w sayings as well as .....
All whats written in the article is true, being a Somali Muslim its hard to reach the age of over 25 yrs and not married but I believe everything happens when Allah SWT plans. I am a career Muslim woman who is very successful with the help of the loving husband who married me at the age of 31 years. I trust times are changing but one thing is for sure "marriage comes when Allah Subhana Watallah ordains it whether you plan to marry early or late. So dear sisters take heart, pray to Allah and respect yourself and inshallah biithmilaahu karrim your soul-mate will come.
I understand the sentiments of women in your article who want to be successful in career and family. However theres a saying that goes like "In order to gain something you will have to loose some thing". Here the question is what is more important to an individual. Obviously you can`t sit in two boats to reach shore. One need to set priorities,
1) If career is weighed high then the focus on family is low, that is a downfall for proper child upbringing.
2) Men often let their wife work depending on which sector she can be employed due to economic condition. If he is making good income what is a need for her to struggle in a place with non- mahrem.
3) Generally career women often tend to be more selective, assertive and demanding so her choices are limited.
Lastly "Men likes to marry young women" Either you like it or not. its truth, ask any men you get the same answer.
This article is good but it brings up a lot of issues. Quite frankly I'm tired of hearing fertility and pressure on women to have children. The bottom fact is let love came naturally. If two people love each other then let Allah handle the rest and let them live in harmony and work out differences. The husband should respect the woman if she wants to work or not. If she does and they have kids, they must work out a way to handle work or at least have her stay home for a while especially if she has a baby and time to relax a little bit! There will be some compromises made but communication is a must. While it is true it's easier to have kids at a younger age, people have kids at all different ages and every child is a gift from Allah. It's time for Muslims to respect each other for who they are and respect each other's intellect because it's all a gift from Allah. Marriage should be based on love and love for Islam. There has to be mutual respect for both to begin a marriage. Age is just a number because it's who you are in your heart that is most important in the end. Inshallah I wish the best for all sisters and brothers on the path for marriage!
I have six sisters whom are graduates. Only one of them have got a graduate husband. My father prefered religiousity over graduation. So all of my sisters got good husbands and are leading happy married life. Unlike many educated boys in India, who ask huge dowry for marriage, none of my brother-in-laws asked dowry.
I find my self more attracted to an equally ambitious or more
so successful woman as I am. We need to grow our intellect
as a community to give ourselves strength and identy. One of
the best ways to do that is by considering our ambitious
Muslim woman for marriage. They have worked hard to
create an identy for themselves we should respect it learn
from it and grow. We face so many challenges these days we
need to be strong to be able to get through them. The only
way we can do it is by being united and accepting others.
Don't forget yourself in the education because that will give you honor and money, but it will never give you happiness. You are telling people to be succesful in this life rather than telling them the sunnah of the prophet. Fitnah is in everywhere now these. Let me tell you that mens used to work for Kadija, please learn your religion first because you are being a fitnah for the young girls who wants to be married please my sister delete THIS ARTICLE I dont want my daugthers or their friends to read this.
For myself, I was very clear.... I wanted someone at least 5yrs younger than me. More would have been better. Plus I don't want a woman married to her job - shes got to be married to me. I see women who are at work and after a little time, you can see their mannerism (talk, behavior, walking style) mimics a man. I don't want to go home and snuggle to a man - give me a woman !!
There are tradeoffs when a woman choses a career.
And before someone reminds about bibi Khadija, let me also say that she didn't go do her work - she hired men (among them the prophet) to do her work.
and if your like just say 35 and your not married it would be hard to settle in and may allah only know how long your going to live any longer , get up and get married!!!!
The age factor for a woman is a true reality. As
a woman ages, her fertility reduces gradually.
The number of eggs she has left in her ovaries
decreases and they become of "lesser quality". A
woman who gets pregnant after the age of 35 is
medically labeled as being of "advanced maternal
age" due to the relative high risk of pregnancy
at this age and higher.
It is natural for a man to have many children and
he will consequently want to marry a younger
woman due to the longer fertile window period
that is available.
Why is it natural for a man to desire many
children? The Qur'an provides an answer to this
question in Surah Al-Kahf (18:46) saying, "Wealth
and children are an ornament of the life of the
world." However, Allah swt also reminds us in the
same ayah, "but the good deeds which endure are
better in thy Lord's sight for reward, and better
in respect of hope."
The parents of a young woman should help her by
finding a suitable husband who would be willing
to support her education/career if she desires to
pursue those goals after marriage. Similarly, an
educated and professional young man should be
more open minded about finding a wife who matches
him in education and profession. Having common
educational/professional backgrounds certainly
aids in greater compatibility between the
One should also keep in the mind that the main
criteria in finding a spouse should be
obeying ALLAH is our first and most important
A husband must live his life as per the
priorities set by ALLAH and so must a wife. In
Islam motherhood and being a spouse have their
places in the list of priorities.
Education is important and so are careers, but
the question is if we have to juggle these at
once where does Islam place the priority? The
answers are there and provided by Islam and we
must follow them.
Much as I love my wife to pursue her medical
career, I do not want to suffer emotionally
because of her career. Also, I do not support the
idea of her giving birth and handing the child
over to someone else to take care off.
Alhamdulil-lah there are ways around these
situations and sometimes it has to do with
foregoing the a preferred option to a lesser
one (in the judgment of career experts, but not
necessarily in the judgment of Islam).
Rasulul-lah has taught us that when ALLAH closes
one gate he opens others. And we us Muslims must
look for those others rather than want to fit our
lives within the status quo.
May ALLAH guide us.
Munira, your article surely addresses issues that most moslem women face today. I agree that women should have an education and also be able to benefit moslems and other people with the knowledge they have acquired. I also beleive that we marry for love and companionship and must therefore respect and value each other in our homes and in public. I also believe that we as good wives must respect our husbands and at a certain degree must submit to our husbands given that men are more egotistic that women and that is why Allah gave them a degree of superiority over women especially concerning marital affairs. Women are strong in some ways whereas men are strong in others. Marry someone you believe with all your heart will make you happy and fulfill all your desire more especially the emotional and physical desires as material desires to me are not as important. There is nothing as feeling lonely yet you are married. And like Munira said you must be able to communicate with your husband your most intimate thoughts about anything without any fear for marriage to be enjoyable and longlasting.
I can go on and on about work, marriage and Islam. The point is Love, respect and be a companion for your partner, then you will not be threatened by your wife's success and you will not think that preparing a home cooked meal for your husband every now and then is too much for your educated mind.
I am a physician practising muslima. My husband is a physican practising muslim. Alhamdulillah.
The time of Khadija (RA) was a time when there was no 'Womens' libration movements' No struggle by the women to be 'equal' to men. They (the sahabas) knew that men and women are equal but different. So a man can be 18 and married to a 50 yr old, she will still be a wife to him, taking care of his household and obeying his instructions... But what do we have today? the 21st century AD all are turning away from the basic principles set out by Allah for marriage relatioinship and the dos and donts set out both for men and women in such relationship. So a thirty yr old boy is afraid of getting involve with a 33 yr old woman who had to have Bsc MSc and PHD before she thinks of marriage!
What's wrong with the girl finishing all her degrees in the husband's house under the watcful eyes of both parents and the man's supervision? Nay. 'what a man can o a woman can do better' is the adage now , so the woman must go tthroug her education like any other man, do whatever men do outside the home (in the universities/societies)and stil hope to meet Mr. right for marriage after.
My advise to my brothers is please marry your children to faithful partners immediately you reach the age of puberty. Let them finish their education in their husband's homes. Afterall many men are out there looking for such arrangements which is one the solutins to the moral decadence we are going through in this era.