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A Response to the ‘Open Letter To A Single 25 Year Old Asian/Arab Girl’

by Ayisha Malik

@Ayisha_Malik

Unwed Bride, Samah Hamidi, roams Cairo in white dress to challenge social taboos .

I’m not sure whether I should respond to this as it’s a letter addressed to 25 yr old single girls, and so, being 33 I’ve missed the boat. Both on the letter and a man, apparently.

Except I was urged by fellow tweeters to express my feelings so I thought hey, why not! I’m a writer, it’s the least I can do. In fact, I’ve had to take time out of my evening from writing; a career I’ve been trying to forge since I was sixteen (probably younger). If only I hadn’t spent all this time honing my skills, getting a degree and masters and had instead focussed that energy on finding a husband, I’d be happily married with three (or more! Happy thought!) kids. I’d not have a two-book deal with a new and dynamic publisher, nor would it have been optioned for adaptation for TV (a story, by the way, about a London-based hijabi, who’s sick of the dating game). Damn I miss that marriage and three kids. No, but I do. In fact, I’ve been dating seriously for about seven years. My dad (may God rest his soul) wanted me to fulfil my dreams, my (thanks to God alive) mother wants me to get married. I’ve been trying to do both. Crazy thought, eh! Do both? So I’ve spent a good portion of my life trying to reconcile dreams with reality and along comes a lady who (with, I honestly believe, the best of intentions) has told me I’ve been doing it all wrong.

But, hang on, she does recognise the window is narrow and unfair. So, I want to know why the framework within which we live and find ourselves isn’t being challenged, rather than the women who are trying to push that framework, widen it for future generations of women who can (I pray to God) dare to have it all without worrying about dying alone.

No! Don’t be ridiculous. We don’t change the system (or mentality). We should be the good Muslim girls we were raised to be and instead push and squeeze ourselves (not just into our designer clothes) but into this unfair framework.

My dad didn’t raise me that way, though. He said chase that which your heart desires; be bold and daring. In fact; be fearless. And then there’s this letter, which exploits the very fear every woman (and man) has: that of being alone forever. Scary stuff, ain’t it? The thought of ending up All by Myself (sing it, Sista). Who wants that?

I believe the lady that wrote this letter had the very best of intentions. I believe she’s trying to help people find happiness in marriage and may Allah bless her for it.

But she has gone against the ethos that every woman of our generation should have: to not be afraid; to rage against that which society dictates to us; rage against the injustice and hypocrisy. Even if it means you make the sacrifice, and you end up alone. As a woman of faith that is when we say, Allah hu Alim. And He knows best. So, put your trust in Him. Be aware of your intentions, strive for what you want, but don’t believe that marriage and dynamism are mutually exclusive, though it might be rare. Don’t believe that we can’t change things through dialogue and literature. And I really do beg that the women who are single and doing extraordinary things: do not mould yourself to fit into an ideal – an ideal that is both wrong and unjust. What is that Ralph Waldo Emerson quote?

‘Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’

That’s what we should be encouraging women to be – trailblazers.

Ayisha Malik is a writer and managing editor for a leading literary consultancy. Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged is her debut novel about the life of a hijabi Londoner, published by Bonnier, Jan 2016. Follow her on Twitter @Ayisha_Malik

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image of Unwed Bride roaming Cairo courtesy of New Age Islam Blog

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3 Comments

An Open Letter To A Single 25 Year Old Asian/Arab Girl

Image courtesy of Shiraz Chanwala

Dear 25 year old single girl,

Congratulations! You’ve completed your degree, landed yourself a stellar job and are well on the way to carving out an exciting career.

So… shall we talk about the elephant in the room? Marriage!

When it comes to finding ‘The One’ some of you may feel that NOW is the time to begin your search but are unsure on what to do next. The rest of you may simply feel that you’re not ready; you still have your career to think about, you want to travel and you’ll worry about all that later.

As an educated, ambitious woman myself, with friends of similar ilk, I can see where you’re coming from. I totally get it.

But sadly, life isn’t necessarily going to fall into place as neatly as your #HudaBeautyLashes. The reality is that there is an (un)fairly narrow window of opportunity in which to secure your future husband and, from my experience, I’d say it hovers around the age of twenty-seven.

Image courtesy of Ed Garcia

There is no magic formula on how to go about finding ‘The One’ but having spoken to many 30-something year old single women, here are a few of their thoughts.

1. The Search MUST start today and not tomorrow

In my role as a voluntary matchmaker, I’ve come across hundreds of brilliant girls who were in your beautiful designer heels a decade ago. These girls are now in their 30s having grown into successful, strong, independent women who have realised every feminista’s noughties Western dream. They’ve seen the world and they’ve spoken to it. Yet they have fallen victim to the traditional Asian/Arab marriage system, which is inherently biased in favour of men and pressures women to be a certain way. Although, the rules are changing, progress in glacial. But that’s a whole other letter.

The biological imperative remains as unfair as ever. Mother Nature was not, is not and never will be a feminist. And to add salt to the wound, most South Asian/Arab men do not live in an era where they rank a woman’s intellect over her fertility and beauty.

So IF you do want to marry AND have children before the age of 35 (when you begin to enter the realm of ‘higher risk pregnancy’) then I would suggest starting your search much sooner rather than later.

2. Deal breakers and barriers

I have received countless matchmaking enquiries from young women (AND men) that are mind bogglingly specific. For example, one particular 25 year old female teacher was looking for a Gujarati doctor. Or dentist. Or accountant. But strictly NO lawyers. They’re just ‘too argumentative’. Ideally of East African descent although this wasn’t essential. No younger than 27, and certainly not a day over 30. A practicing Muslim; whatever that means these days (she didn’t know either). Facial hair would be ‘acceptable’ but she was averse to ‘full-on’ beards and volunteered her irrational phobia of hairy backs. Speaking a European language was also a plus point, but not a deal breaker.

I kindly advised the young lady that although I know many lovely Muslim doctors who sit comfortably within her specified age bracket, I am completely oblivious on the state of their body hair and general grooming habits, and to be very honest, I prefer to maintain my ignorance. That’s not to say that I’m dismissive of personal preferences relating to things like hair, hygiene and horrible habits, or the ‘3 H’s’ as I like to call them. But regardless of how highly they may sit on your tree of disgust, it’s certainly not a great way to start (or even end) marriage talks.

You need to accept that Mr Perfect doesn’t exist. He is simply a romantic Holly/Bolly/Lollywood myth. Focus instead on finding ‘Mr Suitable’. You find him by making a rational list of the characteristics you’re definitely NOT willing to compromise on. For example: Someone whose strength of faith is not aligned with yours. Someone who lacks humour. Someone who is too intro/extroverted. Someone with a criminal record. Someone with a history of cheating/lying. Outside of your main ‘deal breakers’ the rest is negotiable and I promise you that there are PLENTY of Mr Suitables around. I often hear from them. They are surprisingly lovely, so give them a chance.

3. Don’t rely on your parents

Before I have every auntie in the country wanting to beat me with her stick then please read on.

Far too often I’ve heard of successful mid-30 year old women who had exclusively depended on their parents in the spouse hunt, only to be disappointed later on. Unfortunately, whilst every parent does of course have their child’s best interest at heart, it is important to recognise that their social networks are limited to a smallish pool of friends and therefore a finite pool of eligible bachelors.

As an aside, I have also witnessed A LOT of parental “not-good-enoughery”. This is truly disappointing as many great suitors are being sidelined in the vain hope that the perfect son/daughter-in-law is hiding just around the corner. The reality is that the corner can sometimes be a very long and tortuous road and takes several years to turn, if ever.

4. Always try and look your best.

In an ideal world, a guy would immediately fall in love with your ‘inner beauty’ whilst Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” would be playing proudly in the background. In an ideal world. After all, it IS your character that truly matters in promoting the longevity of a happy and healthy marriage. And so, how I would love to say that ‘looks don’t matter’ but for all the rights and wrongs of it, it’s simply not true. It’s a biological fact rather than rocket science: men and women are attracted to physical beauty. Therefore, first impressions can be last impressions and so I would suggest that you make every effort to look presentable in the same way that you would for your dream job interview.

And for the love of God please STOP pouting in your ‘Rishta photos’!

5. Don’t prioritise career over marriage

It’s difficult growing up in a world where the cultural mantra of marrying young has finally, and refreshingly, been replaced by encouragement to postpone marriage (ever so slightly) in pursuit of high ideals – education, career and true love. However the two can run in parallel as opposed to sequentially.

Life doesn’t stop once you have a ring on your finger. You can pursue your goals AND be in a fulfilling marriage. It’s simply great to have someone with whom to celebrate your successes and it’s even better to have him holding your hand through the difficult and daunting times.

Be open to attending social networking functions, marriage events and accept invitations to private parties. The thought of attending on your own can be a bit daunting. What if you wear the wrong thing? What if you get stuck in the corner sandwiched between Vain Zayn and Awkward Abdul? BUT, what if you end up having a thoroughly enjoyable time and meeting someone great? You may not know anyone else in the room but I’d say that’s all the more reason to go.

Sign up to matrimonial sites and download the various marriage apps. I know they’re a bit hit and miss but what do you have to lose? Tell your friends and relatives that you’re actively looking so that they may suggest suitors within their networks. Of course, none of these measures can guarantee Mr Suitable knocking on your door at a time of your convenience, after all these things are pre-destined, but following this simple advice may be a good starting point.

Finally, remember there is absolutely no shame in putting yourself out there and actively searching for ‘The One’, in fact I’d say it suggests a degree of maturity. Stop worrying about what so-and-so might think. This is about YOU and NOT them. It’s time to woman up and take some control.

Yours sincerely,

Farah Kausar
Voluntary Matchmaker

Dr Farah Ahmed is a London based GP and mum of two boys. She  is a Global Ambassador for ‘Mothers 2 Mothers’, a charity that trains and employs Mentor Mothersto provide essential health education and psychosocial support to other HIV-positive mothers, on how they can protect their babies from HIV infection. Farah enjoys running, writing health articles and matchmaking in her spare time. 

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Images courtesy of Shiraz Chanwala and Ed Garcia