Why am I not married?

Kulsoom Abdullah

Last year, I was invited to an interfaith banquet to be recognized for my efforts in weightlifting clothing accommodation.  Although I was busy with competitions and training, the organizers had supported me in the past and I wanted to support them in turn.

My friend Hiba accompanied me as my guest.  I wore a shalwar kameez with a hijab and Hiba wore a business suit.  A South Asian lady recognized me from a previous event I had spoken at and we began conversing.

“This is my friend, Hiba,” I told her.

“Your GIRLFRIEND?!” she exclaimed with a shocked look on her face.

“No, I said my FRIEND, Hiba,” I clarified.

Hiba is from Sudan, so in addition to thinking we were lesbians, the lady thought we were in an interracial relationship.  This made us laugh and joke throughout the banquet at the thought of this lady wiggling her brows like Bert in Sesame Street, thinking to herself, “I KNEW IT!”

Not everyone labels me a lesbian, but I deal with preconceived notions others have of me and this affects all of my interpersonal interactions.  As humans, we put each other into categories as a way of neatly defining and dealing with those we don’t know or understand.  My appearance as a hijab-wearing woman and persona as a weightlifter do not always mesh well together in people’s minds.

My weightlifting made me world-renowned, but added a judgment factor, since it is considered a male sport. Some people assume that that is what is scaring men off.  B*****s, PLEASE!  Don’t be jealous my traps are better than your traps, I am not going to stop lifting!

Furthermore, many people believe the stereotype that athletes don’t go to school, and are surprised at my PhD in Electrical Computer Engineering.  Some people conjecture that my going to grad school decreased my odds to find a mate or was an excuse to delay MAWWAGE!

Beyond my faith community, many Americans have never interacted with a Muslim, or have done so only on a superficial level.  The Muslims they have interacted with may practice Islam differently from me. Some winning comments I’ve received include:

“The Muslim woman I know doesn’t wear a headscarf.  Why do you wear one?  Can you take it off or are you going to get killed?”

“You don’t drink alcohol, and don’t eat pork. What can you do?”

“I know someone from Pakistan. Maybe you know them too?”

“You listen to Orbital, Mos Def, The Cure, Michael Jackson, The Smiths, Muse, U2, EPIC Trailer music, and/or Tori Amos? I’m surprised.”

In case you were wondering, I also shop at Trader Joe’s and farmers’ markets, collect mementos from places I visit, take photographs, find laughter healing, can be very indecisive, like to cook, am a proud nerd, and can be sarcastic. I am a Muslim woman, and a unique human being.

Everything I’ve mentioned also impacts my interactions with men, and the perceptions and fears they may have of me. There were a few who expressed interest, but wanted me to change something, like I was “not Pakistani enough”, or I was too “Americanized.” For others, I was WAY too religious, or not religious enough.

I’ve gotten comments, some good-natured, that I’m too picky, and that’s why I’m still unmarried.  After my press coverage, many people assumed men flocked to my doorstep.  Since I was attending competitions and speaking events where there were – presumably – tons of eligible bachelors, I must be doing something wrong.

Then there’s the good old, “You aren’t getting any younger.” According to some, at my age I should embrace my spinsterhood and live with cats!

The craziest accusation I ever heard was from an Iraqi guy at Walmart. He said that unmarried, unengaged women are actively “killing babies.” Apparently, because we are not reproducing every cycle possible.

Do I have regrets? Sure, but life is a learning process, we can only do our best with the knowledge we have, and I believe things happen for a reason. In spite of all this, I still have hope that there is someone out there who shares similar interests, morals, and a good-intentioned, non-hypocritical faith; is honest, patient, and kind; and would be happy and appreciative of who I am.

Writing this is sending my story, message and positive energy out into the universe.  Maybe something cosmic will happen!  I will continue to make dua to Allah to make things easy for me, help and guide me moving forward in all of my journeys.

profile_head_paycKulsoom Abdullah (كلثوم عبد الله), a Pakistani-American computer engineer, has been Olympic Weightlifting and Crossfitting for three years. She launched her blog Lifting Covered to document her experiences in weightlifting in the US and abroad. She was the first woman to represent Pakistan at the 2011 World Weightlifting Championships, and the first hijab-wearing woman to compete internationally in this sport. At present, Kulsoom is conducting research as a visiting scholar at her alma mater, Georgia Tech (Go Yellow Jackets!). More information about her research can be found at her professional website.

Follow Kulsoom on Twitter (@LiftingCovered) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/LiftingCovered)

24 Comments on “Why am I not married?”

  1. Alan Howard says:

    Kulsoom is an inspiration (although based on her article I am sure she doesn’t view herself that way). She should never change to meet the whims of others. I hope that she finds the right person, in her own time, on her own terms. Inshallah!

  2. yasmin says:

    This woman is awesome! Love her story (and taste in music!) and I wish her the very best in finding a man good enough to be with her 🙂

  3. Farid says:

    Appreciate her candid thoughts on Islam, culture and marriage and their interaction. The community’s judgements are always hard to deal with, and they come from every angle…

  4. Saira says:

    May Allah bless you with a excellent life partner soon, Ameen. Wishing you all the happiness.

  5. Talal says:

    I couldn’t read beyond the first few paragraphs for fear of finding out you’re already married. If you’re not marriage material I don’t know who is. More power and faith to you.

  6. Phoebe says:

    I’m on your team (the human team? the awesome women team? the people who confuse other people team? the has a way with words team?)!

    Rock on with your bad self. :^)

  7. Sadia says:

    Awww Kulsoom, I feel just like you at times! Because of my career interests in sexual health and reproductive justice, I always get the “I’m not muslim enough” by my fellow muslims and “too muslim” for non-muslims. I’m also neither brown enough or “too brown.” Can’t there ever be a middle ground? Anywho, keep doing what you do and thanks for sharing your story! Sometimes, I feel like I’m the only Muslim woman who gets remarks for not being too much or being too little of one identity. I also get that I’ll never find a man with my interests, but eh, I got time and so do you (if you want that life, though; if you don’t, that’s cool, too!)!

    Enjoy the worlds of engineering and weight-lifting, and continue to pursue your passions!

  8. kikei says:

    Thank you for sharing Kulsoom. I feel exactly like this! I’ve got to the point now that when someone (ahem, family) asks, ‘do you expect a man to drop from the sky for you?’ I answer, ‘well, if a skydiver lands on my roof, I’ll take it as a sign from Allah that he’s the one!’

    Sometimes, I admit, I feel a little bit… well, sad. I feel sad that women who are as accomplished as yourself, or who are ambitious or who work hard in non-traditional fields, are often looked down on, or else considered not appropriate for marriage. I feel sad that if someone is unmarried and/or childless then there are judgements made about them without the consideration of what the person who is being judged actually wants.

    InshAllah, you will find your perfect match. And when you do, please write about the experience here – it gives me a little bit more hope that I’ll be able to find that kind of person for myself one day.

  9. What an awesome woman! I guess men are freaked out that you can bench press more than they can? Seriously, however, I feel your pain. If you are a Muslim woman that bends the boundaries, even the slightest, marriage is more challenging. Thank you for putting words to this struggle. You may be an awesome weight lifter, but you give weight to the way many educated, vibrant, cool Muslim women feel.

  10. Nur says:

    You haven’t found the right person who will appreciate how truly inspirational you are. Then again, we shouldn’t measure a woman’s success based on if she is married or not. Inshallah he comes along very soon 🙂 Until then, keep kicking some butt!

  11. To each their own.. and yes the universe has been conspiring for all that happens with us.. Keep faith and stay tuned for realizing your being in this time and space. Good Luck and prayers!

  12. nasiau says:

    Non-Hypocritical faith. You go girl!! you know what you want, and that means Allah WILL give it to you,.,.

  13. Danya Levine says:

    Take it from me- marriage is not all its cracked up to be :)Finding your true self , being comfortable with who you are , and taking life’s gifts openly are what makes for a happy life . You are awesome , you are smart , and you are beautiful- never let anyone else make you feel any differently – their inability to see that is their flaw .. not yours. I have found that people say stupid things a lot – but do not do it to be mean or insensitive- they do it out of ignorance. I was once told by a woman who’s 16 year old daughter was unmarried and pregnant- that I should be traded in by my husband for a real wife who wanted babies. LOL Can you believe it ? Talk about not throwing stones in glass houses . She had no idea that she was being rude, inconsiderate and hypocritical. She thought she was just making a joke ???? if only people would think more and talk less the world woud be a much happier place . Stay strong! .. the right people come into our lives at the right times. We just need to be open to it .

  14. Reblogged this on Man in the Mirror and commented:
    Wonderful blog!

  15. Sobia says:

    Kulsoom, my dear, you make us all proud. And will make any man a lucky one!

  16. Diyana says:

    Never fear, dear Kulsoom. Thanks 4 the inspiring story but there it has already been written that there is somebody out there for everybody. It is not in people’s time but in Allah’s time. Keep the faith & may Allah reward you immensely! 🙂

  17. Lina says:

    You make us proud. A true inspiration. The society and people are so easy in stereotyping and labelling us.. Trust me we are all in the same boat; I hear you. Keep up the high spirit ..may God grant you serenity and more success.

  18. Ruby says:

    You are so talented mashaAllah. A Muslim women who is excellent in sports and education. You are a role model for a lot of women who hesitate to practice their faith in front of non muslim public or hesitate to show their talents and make their dreams come true.
    I was in a similar state few years ago. Your story reminded me of mine. My dad had passed away, I was going through hard times and was living alone in the US. Because I had no boy friend people assumed that I might be a lesbian and I dont have feelings towards men. Some people wondered how is it possible for me to stay single for so many years without having a relationship. Few desi aunties who were my neighbors kept an eye on me, where I was going, coming from or even who is visiting me.
    All I had was faith in Allah and I knew that He knows that I have not done anything wrong. Finally Alhamdullilah, I met my husband when I was 28. Everything was same, I was the same, the people around me were the same but the only thing that changed was the way they looked at me and talked to me. Allah knows whats best for you and has the best in store for you. Allah is surely with the one who is patient.

  19. SA says:

    Kulsoom I am nowhere near as talented as you are mashallah. I have a regular 9-5 job, am university educated with the usual likes and dislikes. I am just an ordinary human being. I couldn’t care less if I had an arranged or a love marriage.

    You would think I would be married by now but alas no it isn’t so. My parents who mind you have been looking for eons to find someone suitable for me have been given all sorts of excuses. I am too religious (just because I wear a headscarf), not pretty enough, too old (am 26), not this enough and not that enough. I have been told multiple times by my family to find someone on my own but that’s not easy for someone who has never had male friends and has always had a no nonsense approach towards Muslim men.

    I have learnt to keep myself extremely busy so I wouldn’t be spending valuable time worrying myself out. When Allah has destined a time for marriage to happen it will happen inshallah.

  20. Salaam/Peace to everyone! I first want to say I am floored by the everyone’s kind and encouraging words, thoughts, prayers and love. This is the best to come out of my writing being shared, regardless of what happens to me. It has also made me realize I am not alone, and many of us face similar struggles, unfortunately. I do hope by speaking out that it helps to foster more discussion on these issues which I feel can slowly lead to change. It is difficult being outside of the box, and I can understand why we do not want to go outside of society’s norms. Not that I know what “normal” is, because based on the crazy comments we all get, normal seems to be the new abnormal! I never thought of myself being out of the norm or causing controversy, I am an introvert that tries to mind her own business and do what she likes to do. Sometimes I put too much on my plate, getting overwhelmed and busy, along with dealing with life’s challenges (Ruby, I am sorry to hear of your father passing. I also lost my father some years ago and still struggle with this). I don’t understand how other people have so much time and energy to criticize and talk about other people so much! I would say I feel sorry for them, and would like to give them a list of tasks I can’t get to so they won’t have the free time to belittle others. Thanks to those of who have shared your experiences and stories. I wish the best for all of us. I get my ups and downs, but want to keep a positive outlook & stop blaming myself. I would like to keep doing what I love to do. I hope that whatever happens to me, I can keep sharing my experiences and be at peace with whatever is in my destiny, because that is Allah’s will.
    Love, InshAllah, to all of us 🙂

    • Reading about people like you inspires me and makes me feel less alone. There are plenty of “us” ie Muslim women who just want to do what we like and are not married – out there. I could share horror stories 🙂 I hope this makes you laugh 🙂
      This one guy, Dr. (of course 🙂 during a marital banquet – first thing that came out of his mouth was that I “didn’t know how to make conversation”. That was the first time I had met him and I was floored – without me opening my mouth I was already told that I couldn’t speak properly. Puzzled and dejected, I tried to excuse myself for “coffee”. Loser followed me. Apparently he didn’t get the hint and tried making small talk; he must have realized he said something wrong. Smart guy – MD after all… So then I excused myself to go to the “bathroom” and this time I stayed there until I knew he would have to talk to someone else. Two years later, I saw this guy eyeing me at an event – I lost a lot of weight over the years. Apparently, losing weight to him meant that I was now “attractive”. Fortunately, it also deterred him from approaching me. SO what you see as deterring others – your degree, your olympic baller status as a weight lifter – might just be Allah’s way of protecting you like the douche bag(s) I was protected from 🙂 So fikr not 🙂

  21. Astou Thiongane says:

    I feel honored to know such a very special Sister. I think when Allah decides it, you will find the right person. In the meantime keep on being who you are, an awesome Muslima.

  22. Golden Heart says:

    I am really happy to come across such article by chance.I feel like crying tears of joy to see all awesome Muslim women like you ❤
    I am one of kind in my culture * i am Syrian xD * with my interest ,hobbies and activities .I like to draw alot and i used to stop for few years from drawing becz many told me it is haram….Stu** yeah?.But i came back to draw again after mom support .I do digital art and my dream is to found a company who produces animation like Japanese anime in Islamic manners so it will be my way to spread Islam message.As well as i have my own taste in music.I like to listen to rock songs xD but that never effects the fact i am too religious and not kind who makes male friends but still confident in my attitudes in society. I think out of box.Yeah i am still young to worry of marriage * I am 21* but an ambitious woman in here is not so appealing for marriage becz she will be careless about home , husband and rising children due to their believes.Who care.I don't.I am living my life as i want and i won't change it for anyone.For instance , i wanna say that i am really proud of you Kulsoom. I love sport and i used to had dream to be Olympic but nothing available for a woman who wears hijab here.I tried my best but no use.Maybe if i moved to another country i may start something even if it is too late. Anyway , may Allah reward you all , bless you and make your dreams come true ~ ♥♥♥♥

  23. Zee says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the many folks in here, that YOU have yet to meet the man (who will appreciate you for being you!)

    And like you, there are plenty of bright and educated women out there, who have dedicated their lives to their hobbies, their careers, their parents, etc…and are facing the wrath for not being married by a certain age. So, kuddos to you for speaking out here, and seeing humor in the wrath. May Allah guide you to someone He has designed just for you… and soon inshaAllah!

    I’d love to read your blog, when Mr. Right comes along. 🙂