Oct 25, 2011 - islam op-eds    8 Comments

All the Single (Muslim) Ladies

Two new articles have been making major waves through the non-Muslim and Muslim blogosphere worlds recently. Interestingly enough the subject is the same, even though one is from a non-Muslim perspective and one is from a Muslim perspective. The topic:  Single Ladies.

The first article titled ‘All the Single Ladies’ published in The Atlantic is a very long narrative written by Kate Bolick detailing her life, her choices and how she came to be single.  Some parts regret, some parts self-blame, some parts accusation, some parts defiance, some parts drunken confession; the response to the article has been huge. And divisive. It’s safe to say the article has touched a major chord in people. Some bloggers are upset that she divides guys into two groups: deadbeats and ballers and she talks about how some ballers get taken and the rest become ‘playas’ spoiled for choice by desperate women and the single ladies are only left with deadbeats. Others are upset that she made a choice to turn down someone decent for marriage for no known reason and in so many words regrets it, but then goes on to defend her decisions. Others just call the piece anti-feminist, and others call it femi-nazi. (You know how that goes!) She also believes this wave of single women can be attributed to our current economy and lack of “male ambitiousness” which I’m sure pissed off a lot of guys. She’s also upset that her parents generation “the divorced generation” somehow instilled a fear of getting married and  ‘not settling” in their children and told them marriage was not the ‘be all and end all’ and that there’d always be someone out there for them. (But yet there isn’t; over time, like women the world over, she comes to believe there’s no one decent left.) Somehow in the end she tries to find meaning in singleness while coming to the final epiphany that marriage should always be “society’s highest ideal” and that perhaps the next generation of women will realize this.

The second article first appeared on Sh. Suhaib Webb’s website entitled ‘Wifehood and Motherhood are Not the Only Ways to Paradise’ written by Maryam Amir-Ebrahimi. According to the website’s Facebook spokersperson the article has broken all records of viewership and the response has been “off the charts”.  In the article, the author touches very briefly on how some girls only care about marriage to the exclusion of all else, while they could be educating themselves. She talks about the extreme pressure on Muslim girls to marry and how many believe that Allah created women only for wifehood and motherhood. Yet, she goes on, our history and tradition shows many examples of women who were more than “wives and mothers” and led in fields such as scholarship.

I’d like to point out that these two articles reinforce some other articles I wrote; namely that problems in larger non-Muslim society (the trend of single women) will affect or at least reflect and mirror the same problems among Muslim society, and secondly that this problem (the trend of single women) unchecked will come back to bite us, the entire Ummah with a whole host of other problems and repercussions.

Reading the first article made me feel sick, not because it was wrong or confused (which it was) but it echoes so much of what single Muslim women are going through now and will be going through in the next few decades. It’s almost like holding up a mirror and seeing the future of us. Confused, angry, blaming, not able to uphold this ‘Islamic ideal’ and still be us; I don’t think we’ll even have to wait a decade.

The second article I’ll say has been a long time in coming. I think ironically because of the amount of divorced and unmarried women, and older aunties with empty-nests, we’re finally coming to the realization that there is more to a woman’s life than marriage and kids.

For the first time ever, I heard a Shaykh answer a question about marriage by saying it was “Mubah” – permissible only, and if a person didn’t feel the urge or need to be married, they did not have the obligation to marry. That there were many examples in Muslim history of great women such as Maryam (ra) even who never married and dedicated themselves to a higher spiritual plane. And there were also men who did the same. This would have been unheard of even 5 years ago.

Muslim or non-Muslim we have to acknowledge that there’s something going on here:  Societal/generational change. There are so many complexities involved here about the trend of more Muslim singles, especially women. I’d like to blame it all on superficial guys, but going even beyond that, it involves being an immigrant generation trying to find partners in a non-Muslim society, the growing disparity between what sisters and brothers want and are looking for, the search for ‘perfection’, delaying marriage until men and women are completely ‘settled’, ‘expectations’, ‘superficiality’, ‘idealism’ and ‘lack of realism and experience’ involved on both sides, the ability of guys to marry decades younger, non-Muslims, converts and overseas. Not to mention religious, cultural and major, major parental limitations! Most of which have nothing to do with Islam.

And some people’s solution of “just getting married” is not the solution because these are only symptoms of a greater problem. The greater problem here is the very defining of women. The struggle here is that we’re trying to figure out the answer to these questions:  What are Muslim women supposed to be in society? What is our role? Is marriage truly our ideal? What is an ideal Muslim woman? Is the pinnacle of being a woman giving birth to a son? Being a mother? Is it being a ‘helpmate’ to a husband? Is the family unit (mother father + children), the only unit allowed in a Muslim society? What exactly is the purpose of our lives as Muslim women and what should we be doing at each stage?

To many single Muslim ladies growing up in the US and elsewhere, being an ideal Muslim woman meant being highly educated, opinionated, independent and active in society. Yet there is such a disconnect that on the marriage market this is the exact opposite of what’s desirable. Hence, the plethora of “baller” Muslim women, that every Imam in the US acknowledges; a surplus of ‘good’ older single Muslim girls.

Again as a single Muslim woman myself, I’m not going to stress ‘marrying down’ or ‘settling’ as the solution because that isn’t the solution. The problem isn’t even these girls! It’s us as an Ummah. We need to figure out what we believe the role of Muslim women is. If it’s to be a certain type/kind of girl doing certain things with certain established goals then maybe like Kate Bolick I can only hope the next generation of single Muslm ladies can find it.

In the meantime I hope we can begin to establish some kind of acceptance for us, all the single (Muslim) ladies, to become part of the Ummah.



  • Asalaam o alaikum!
    I quote my mother “It is a fruit (marriage) that if you don’t eat it you wish you did, and if you do, sometimes you wish you didn’t (if it was bitter).
    There have always been spinsters in the eastern and western history that played an important role as “aunties” or “educators” of their extended families and were the support system of all the struggling young mothers and thus came to be important for these families with children………. I think that is missing today, from both sides.

    My duas that if you marry may he deserve you in every way! Ameen!

    • Walaikum salaam sister Asma,

      I don’t mean to “justify” singlehood, it’s just the way it is sometimes, esp now as a growing trend. I doubt if anyone intended it, somehow it’s just happening…
      But yes there are definite important roles for all women to play in the Ummah, whether married or not!
      And Ameen on your dua :)

  • Good blog post, Jannah. It’s true. I recently had a talk with a man who was seeking a college educated wife who would stay home and raise ‘his’ children. Why? Because a college degree certified that she was smart and, therefore, that intelligence would be passed along to ‘his’ offspring.

    Nothing about her in that picture.

    • Thanks for dropping by Shaari. That is certainly one thing I have to question. If we want Muslim women to be educated and have all these high degrees, be engineers, doctors and lawyers, etc, and yet don’t want them to actually practice their skills and knowledge, it just seems a big waste? It could truly benefit the Ummah if we could figure out a balance.

      BTW what happened to ur blog? :( Haven’t seen any new posts in a long time.

  • well i hope i didn’t sound ‘anti-guy’ with this blog. half my friends are still single and just wanted to bring attention to the issue and the buzz going around about it all!

    • Imam Zaid Shakir’s current Facebook status: Many Muslim men will pass over talented, educated women who are willing to put their careers and education on hold, if need be, to commit to a family. As a result a significant number of our sisters, despite their beauty, talent, maturity, and dynamism are passed over for marriage in favor of an idealized, demure “real” Muslim woman. The social consequences of this practice are extremely grave for our community. We must ask ourselves, “To what extent does this practice conform to the prophetic model?” Our Prophet was surrounded by strong, assertive and independent women.

  • Why don’t you remarry? When Prophet Mohammad said Marriage is my way…? How can you teach Sunday school and be a good example if you rebuke the command to marry?

  • What the heck?? I think you have to MARRY first before you RE Marry. How about that??! Maybe you’re talking to yourself since your username is “Single Mom”??? Since you’re a stranger and obviously don’t know anything about me I suggest you keep your ridiculous comments to yourself.