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On Singlehood

July 9, 2011

“Half our deen” is the chanted mantra when it comes to attitudes towards marriage. I like it, I respect it, and I have no doubt about the fact that the institution of marriage is intrinsically beautiful. It’s a form of companionship that is the foundation of a family and is, without question, one of Allah’s infinite mercies upon humanity.

But because I’m all about acknowledging realities, here’s another set of realities that  we need to work with. Divorce rates are climbing. People are waiting longer to settle down. Well-intentioned relationships are failing. So a great majority of Muslims are voluntary or involuntarily single. It might be simply because the right person hasn’t come along yet. Or it might be because they’ve been through failed relationships/marriages and don’t believe being that being in such a situation is for them.

The reasons don’t matter, as they for the most part can’t be helped. For now, we need to put aside the cause and look at the symptom, the state of the younger Muslim generations. We are single. And there’s too many of us who are miserable because we are single.

This makes me wonder whether in there’s a place for elongated singlehood in Islam. Singlehood that is not just as a transient state, but a valid life choice that one deeply, genuinely enjoys. If we can’t seem to settle down with someone, can we afford to keep being marriage-centric? I don’t think so.

I think singlehood shouldn’t just be a limbo one is passing through until they get married (a life that, by the way, has its own set of complications that for some reason are highly understated by parents and married friends). Singlehood has a tendency to be stigmatized across all kinds of cultures and communities, but I think it should be a way of being that needs to stop being looked down upon. And I think the process starts with accepting one’s singlehood and perhaps even rejoicing in it.

In my search for the “single yet happy” equation I ended up reading a book called Living Alone and Loving It by former television actress Barbara Feldon. The great thing about the book is that she doesn’t delve as much into the reasons for being single (or whether one chooses to be single or just happens to be one) but how to make the most of it and rejoice in it. Some of the lessons and wisdoms from the book that made a huge impact in my perception of my singlehood include

  • The realization that it’s better to be single and open and available than to be in an unhappy marriage. Not all marriages are unhappy, granted, but I trust that–for now– if the only alternative to being single is being married and unhappy, then I’m in the best of all possible worlds.
  • The ability to open myself and seek comfort from the world at large rather than one person in particular. This keeps me from putting all my eggs in one basket and makes me independent and self-secure.
  • The importance of forging bonds with friends–especially other friends who are single, and rejoicing in the ability to have the independence and freedom to be there for and have a good time with such friends.
  • The importance of having a life and passions that provide food for the soul. Things like reading, praying, being in activity groups, or even watching sports can provide nourishment that makes one feel less lonely and more connected with the world as a whole.
  • The most important realization of all: when the right person does come along: he or she should be a delightful addition to your life, not the focus of it. We all have friends who disappeared  after getting married and no longer kept in touch or made themselves available to meet up. While I understand that marriage comes with a new set of responsibilities, I don’t understand why people–especially women–are expected to leave their old lives and friends behind and orient their new existence around their spouses. Being married without having one’s own social resources and activities results in a very single-tracked existence that’s draining and even detrimental to a marriage.
The general idea posited in the book is that we can’t stop searching for that significant other, and that we as humans are made to want and need such a connection. But we also owe it to ourselves and our future partner to be independent and happy and with our own set of goals, dreams, hobbies, and social networks.

It doesn’t end there. Here’s something else that I think we as Muslims need to think about when it comes to being single. Being one.

God is One.

Some of us might be yearning to find that significant other and be done with it already, but shouldn’t we take a moment and ponder the fact that, for however a short period of time, He has given us independence, self-subsistence, and the possibility of being happy while being alone?

The spinster stigma’s gotta go. Being single doesn’t have to mean being miserable. For it also means having even more time for seeking knowledge, being an active member of the community, being a good role model as an older sibling or aunt or uncle, or being able to be there and spend quality time with one’s parents.

I won’t pretend that I’m joyfully single all the time. But I am grateful to have had eye-opening realizations thanks to having read and pondered about the virtues and vices of being alone. I’m also lucky to have strong, content, independent single female mentors who demonstrate to me that there is a life outside of being married. As a result, I’d like to think I am beginning to understand how I can make the most of the gift of singlehood. And it is my deepest hope and fervent prayer that other single Muslims make the most of this gift as well.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2011 1:46 am

    Great post Sr. Sarah!

    Indeed, the reality in our communities today, that the divorce rates are climbing or that some are in unhappy marriages, is a scary fact.Sadly, I’ve had to witness this in my own family with two female family members and as someone who very much cherishes his cousin-sisters (as I’m an only child), it really hurts. In retrospect, I think back, as do other family members, that it wouldn’t have been so bad if our loved one had never married in the first place and maybe waited, regardless of age or other issues. Of course, we want to see that loved one add that component to their lives, after being successful on the professional front, but it seems even worse when you have to see them in such a sad state (internally at least) after having invested so much emotion and effort, as they thought this was going to be for the rest of their lives.

    As for those who are single for whatever reason (such as those you mentioned), yes there are plenty of other things to occupy one’s time. For me, the one thing I know I need work on being closer to Allah (swt) and just improving myself in general. While it’s fine to look forward to finding that someone, continuing that inner struggle or jihad within oneself as we move through life is something that should be a daily / constant battle. Then as you say, when/if that person does come along, we will hopefully, insha’allah, be a good place spiritually, mentally, physically, as we take on that next step in life. I don’t think I need to even say that whatever is written for us, will happen, so while we may be saying countless du’a for something to occur regarding our personal lives, patience is a big part of it. In the meantime, we should just continue on the Path, as best as we can.

    Part of that path is what you mention, living life, fulfilling your duties or contributing to the community using your talents or skills – these are enriching and will only make you a stronger person who has gotten more out of life. I would like to think that this builds character and personality and will only make you that much of a better spouse when the time comes.

    Lastly, on the point you make about changes post-marriage – I totally agree! Neither partner should have to leave behind old friends or other activities they had during their single life. I don’t think it would be healthy if couples just shut themselves off from their former lives. Yes, as you say, there will be more responsibilities and the like, but to help prevent things from turning sour, there should be space for each person, while supporting each other along the way, growing together as you experience life together.

    In closing, I think you’ve made a great point – us singles need to make the best of this gift – there is so much we can contribute when we don’t have the responsibilities of being in a committed relationship that marriage entails – if more of the younger kids realized this, I think we as an Ummah would have much less of an issue with illicit relationships, damaged hearts, minds and souls; thus, we would have a healthier, wiser population in our community that are going to be our future leaders and parents – individuals that are going to play a key role in how we stand as a community for decades to come.

    Jazak’Allahu Khairan for touching on this important topic!
    Br. Anees

  2. July 10, 2011 9:48 am

    Salam, a most thought provoking post. I am inclined to agree with much of what you have said, sister, although with two qualifications.

    The first is the intention behind ‘singlehood’. This is too complicated for me to do justice to, but it must comprise issues such as ones true attempt to follow their deen (of which, you note very early on, marriage is deemed to be half) versus ones own preferences and characteristics that may incline them away from marriage.

    I do not mean to insinuate that these inclinations are born of sinister intentions; they may range from the genuine conviction that one may not be capable of fulfilling ones duties to a potential spouse, to the feeling that – in the present moment – one has more to benefit their deen, ummah etc. by remaining single, for whatever reason and for whatever length of time.

    However, there are certainly other issues which should compel the individual to examine their intentions very closely indeed. One is the habitual fault-finding with potential marriage partners (please do not misread this as a crude suggestion that “beggars can’t be choosers” and everyone should jump into the first (or even fifth) potential match-up with which they are presented. One should certainly be discerning, but one should also have the correct intention before considering a spouse. And Allah swt knows better than us what is best for us).

    Generally, I agree with your outlook that, within ‘singlehood’, one should be positive about what they have been given and what is at their disposal. It befits the Muslim to extract the best from any situation, so being single is no different. I also agree that being single should not be stigmatised. Masha Allah, I know two brothers who both resisted everyone’s “helpful” advice for years – for the advisers, it was “marry first, ask questions later”! For the brothers, they were waiting for the time they felt it was right for them, and for the “right” marriage partner. The first is now married, the second is actively looking and optimistic about his prospects, Insha Allah.

    The other point I wanted to make is the thorny topic of multiple wives, but I’d feel safer raising it as a question (or a series of questions!):
    What is the perception of the modern muslimah with regards taking a husband who is already married? And the muslimah who is married and asked to consider “sharing” her husband? What are the reasons why this practice is very limited in the West? Can a man do justice to more than one wife? I don’t have the answers to any of these questions but I wonder how much the suppression of this sunnah may affect any individual outlook on marriage and ‘singlehood’.
    And Allah knows best.

  3. July 10, 2011 10:25 am

    I’m very glad you communicated your thoughts, Br. Jamal and am very grateful for the spirit critical inquiry.

    I might as well admit it: we are very alike in terms of favouring marriage as the default option and an option that according to our tradition one should always be open to if they are single. However, I wanted this post to include people who do not see it as a default option and are averse to marriage for whatever reason. Allah indeed knows best what is in the hearts of people. I might not agree with their perspective, but who am I to try and change them? There’s already imams and scholars and parents stressing to them that marriage is the ultimate goal. It’s not my place to reiterate that message. I might as well work with what’s already there.

    I am not sure where polygamy fits into the subject of being single, but I sense that you are suggesting that the taboo against this practice could be the cause of prevailing singlehood. It’s beyond the scope of the post and an issue I don’t want to politicize, but since you are interested in hearing Muslimahs’ thoughts on it I must be honest: I simply don’t think it’s an option that’s relevant that to a lot of younger Muslims today. (It’s not even women who are suppressing the practice; I’ve met too many Muslim men who are staunchly anti-polygamy to know that there is opposition on both sides.) Plus, even monogamous marriages require so much hard work. In today’s day and age, what is the likelihood that throwing polygamy into the equation would help ensure long-term stability and happiness in a marriage?

    I am very open to the idea that there are alternate models out there that may work perfectly well for consenting and willing adults who are happier with such a setup. But that possibility still rests largely on theoretical grounds. In practice, those situations simply cannot be seen amongst newer generations of Muslims.

    I’m very happy that you brought in the very fitting points that there is an increased tendency to get hung up on another person’s faults. And I’m glad you understood my emphasis on the fact that we should make the most of what we have. But it’s important to understand that I was sidestepping the issue of causes and just looking at the symptom. Yes, the causes need to be worked on, but sometimes the symptoms branch into a whole new set of issues as well.

    JazakAllah khayr for your time and your thoughts, Brother. It’s always a pleasure to have you comment on my posts.

  4. July 10, 2011 12:38 pm

    Salam, wa iyyaki, and thank you for your typically reflective comments on my post. I appreciate what you set out to achieve and I enjoyed your article.

    Just for the record, in case I gave an alternative impression, I’m also not indiscriminately advocating polygamy in the modern Western society; only where conditions are overwhelmingly conducive to it and all parties wish for it. Economic conditions and our adoption of the predominant modern ways of viewing unions between two spouses are key factors that make it very difficult, not to mention the problem for the husband of ensuring genuine equality between spouses.

    Instead, I am seeking (somewhat halfheartedly really) to examine whether or not the demise of polygamy is a key element in the rise of singlehood and even in aspiring towards singlehood (although I’m not claiming as much), as well as reserving my right to bemoan that state of affairs if it were to turn out to be the case.

    • July 10, 2011 3:03 pm

      It would be very interesting to see whether a decline in polygny is directly correlated with an increase in singlehood. It’s certainly conceivable. When I think back to my grandparents’ and their parents’ times, I realize that back then people got married younger, stayed married in (relatively) stable marriages, but also that they were also more receptive to polygamy. But does correlation imply causation? Only a sociologist who studies this can say for sure.

      And even if it there is causation involved, what does that mean for us? I’m not sure we can backtrack and be the way such people used to be for the same reasons you listed above.

      A very interesting point nonetheless.

  5. Sara permalink
    July 10, 2011 6:22 pm

    Another amazing post! So proud of you! 🙂

Trackbacks

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