“O Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo?”
My first impromptu meeting with a brother is what piqued my interest in marriage. Prior to that meeting, I was perfectly content studying my religion and entertaining ideas of what to do with my life. I didn’t read much about marriage and when I did, it was the occasional paragragh devoted to marrying a ‘fair maiden with dark hair and wide, lovely-eyes’. It was a major turnoff to me that Islamic books encouraged men to marry one type of female. I found it strange for Allah to create women with a diversity of physical traits and then say that only one group of women were preferred. I found it even more striking that there were no descriptions of the best type of men to marry.
The seeds of marriage are always planted in the heart of the new Muslimah but back then it wasn’t as overbearing as it is now. The majority of the sisters I knew had been married for years, recently married, or were about to get married. Most of them married quite young, some as early as 14. The community I was in was mainly made up of immigrants with American wives. At the time, couples made up of two Americans or two immigrants were the minority. Many of those wives were just starting to adopt the religion of their husbands even though they had been married for years so it was like we were all new Muslims. I think those are the primary reasons marriage wasn’t broadcast back then the way it is today. There are many other factors that came into play but they didn’t have as much influence in propagation of marriage on a small, growing community in the south.
Because marriage wasn’t at the front of my mind when I met the brother in Detroit, I wasn’t anywhere near prepared for what was expected. Unlike my community, Detroit had a booming population of Muslim converts, so finding out the marital status of a Muslim was standard. It was expected to match up unmarried individuals with suitable mates as quickly as possible. This ideaology would later give way to what one blogger once coined as ‘stranger marriages’.
Looking back, the whole experience was…..bizarre. I wore a pretty red shalwar khamees that was adorned with elaborate gold embroidery and the shawl that accompanied it. I sat in the living room with the hosts’ wife. Her husband acted as a guardian and they sat in the dining area. We exchanged questions about the formalities of life: how many children we had, would I be willing to move, how many bills I had. I gave him an old picture of myself without the khimaar on so he could see what I looked like. It was like speed dating on steroids.
We spent the rest of the evening together. I followed the host and suitor in my car to various parts of Dearborn. We went to Muslim clothing stores, the masjid, a restaurant, and another family’s house. During this time the brother walked around with what I thought was a red-and-white checkered tablecloth on his head(ghutra), a white gown(thoub), and highwater pants. Not exactly GQ magazine material. He was very stand-offish, didn’t say much, and rarely smiled. I didn’t find him all that physically attractive but figured it was the Islam that mattered. By the time we got somewhere to eat, I was ready to head back home. After we ate we stopped by a Muslim’s home to pray. I was briefly introduced to the sister-of-the-house and arrangements were made for us to pray with her daughters while the brothers prayed elsewhere. She had at least 5 children running around and seemed disinterested in carrying on a conversation. I mentioned to her my meeting the brother for potential marriage but I don’t remember her giving me any words of advice. Probably because she didn’t have any, other than ‘RUN’.
After praying, the suitor and I exchanged superfluous agreements to remain in contact. I didn’t have any interest in him by that time. I was anxious to get on the road because I had 10+ hours of driving time ahead of me. One would think that whole ordeal would have left me feeling more disinterested in marriage than ever. I remember the host’s wife talking about how she didn’t know what she would do if her husband wanted to marry another wife. All my brain could register was ‘I didn’t know they were getting divorced, they seem so happy but why else would he get another wife’. The wife of the second family was aloof. She was young(we had to be roughly the same age) but she had 5 kids already. Even though there was space for women at the masjid, there weren’t any women there when we went pray. I imagine they were home tending to husbands and kids. Thus my first real experience with Islamic marriage yielded a gloomy picture. Fortunately I lived in a community where marriages seemed to thrive so I chalked it up as something that happens in the Midwest. And with that I was determined to learn more about marriage, go about it the right way next time, and find myself a man.