27, Single, and Muslim



He was one of the sweetest men I have ever known. He was my best friend and my boyfriend.

For my graduation present, he planned an elaborate, thoughtful, and interactive gift. It celebrated the culmination of my years at school in tandem with our time together as a couple. He placed a blindfold over my eyes and took me outside of our school building. It was after sunset and the air was crisp.

He took off the blindfold and I saw a white card on the ground with the numeral one hand-drawn on it in that precious sans-serif script that he practiced daily. I picked it up, heart racing from the excitement, and peeled it open.

The spot we kissed to that one David Gray song as you cried in my arms, the card read. Ah, that had been a good night. I had been crying because we had been fighting; we kissed away the disagreement.

I looked at him with a grin confirming that I knew the answer before racing over to that memorable spot. He then had me follow a series of clues built around other moments of our relationship – all leading to this very moment, the experiences that brought us closer together and deepened our bond.

That kiss. Even today, five years later, if I hear David Gray, or sit in a car in the rain, I can’t help but think of that kiss, that moment.

That night, we relived every laugh, every touch, every connection. There was that time in early autumn when we skipped around campus, crushing the biggest leaves we could find, enjoying the crunch under our feet. Or the time I stayed up all night helping him with his final for class the next morning (I’m pretty sure I actually did the entire thing). Or the time he showed me how to pick a Christmas tree, because I had never done it before. And how could I forget rolling around town in his old Volvo wagon, which he so proudly owned, to get our groceries and do the laundry? These were some of the best moments of my life and he was a part of them. He helped make them.

He once told me that it is through vulnerability that we develop connections with others. I loved him for the sake of his brutal honesty, lasting loyalty, and courage to be sensitive. Unfortunately, our relationship did not last because he was not Muslim. At the time, I believed that I could never marry a non-Muslim – for the sake of Allah, my family and for myself.

I still wouldn’t marry a non-Muslim, but with much more clarity as to why. My reasons for wanting to marry a Muslim man come from the same place that confirms my faith on a daily basis. Just as I’ve been challenged and tested in dating, my ability to practice Islam has also been under attack time and time again. And yet, despite that, I wake up each morning and make the choice to believe in Allah through the religion of Islam. This choice comes from a place so deep within me that only through the union of two believing and conscious souls can it be reached by another human being. I cannot imagine a love for myself without that.

So here I am now, five years and three Muslim men later. I’ve dated/courted three different men, for up to five months individually in pursuit of finding a potential life partner (perhaps overcompensating for having dated a non-Muslim man?). Two of them I met through friends and one through an online dating site. None of them worked out for various reasons – but all proposed marriage to me within the first month of our meeting. Muslim men seem to enjoy proposing – it’s their way to say, “Hey, let’s date.” Throughout these relationships, one thing remained constant: my inability to deal with the pressure of planning for marriage while simultaneously getting to know a person.

When it comes to finding a life companion, more often than not, people are seeking to fulfill some hypothetical image that they’ve developed in their minds of the perfect partner. It’s easy to fit me into that hypothetical mold: I’m cute, outgoing and love having fun. I have a master’s degree from a good university, and who can forget my healthy and semi-modernized Arab family? But give me two months with one of these Muslim men seeking a wife, and I’ll bring his fantasy to a screeching halt. I’m not perfect. I am insecure. I snap at the people I love most when stressed. I watch horrible TV. Oh, and I’ve had physical relations with other men. But don’t we all have issues, pasts, and flaws? Everyone comes packaged in a nice box with a cute bow on top, but opening the box unleashes reality.

The first guy was just way too religious, in that dogmatic, you-shall-not-travel-for-work-without-mahram type of way. I knew him for a month and he insisted on talking to my parents, me talking to his, and us figuring out the details of a potential life together. You better believe I ran away when he started spewing unenlightened commands.

The second relationship was a bit healthier. He was Shia and I, Sunni. In the end we didn’t work out because our personalities were too different. Discussing marriage so early in a relationship teases out these differences much sooner. But it also tends to exacerbate them, leading me to not really know whether it was pressure that pushed us apart or actual incompatibility.

I find that I can always learn from a failed relationship: my heart mends, life goes on. I appreciate having had the opportunity to explore my faith through a new lens. I was challenged spiritually and from there, gained the courage to realize that I can practice my religion differently than my family (which is difficult to push against). So really, was it a failed relationship or a successful life experience?

The last relationship was probably the most difficult because I saw a real possibility for marriage. I was older, felt that I knew myself better; and, because of that knew what I was looking for more clearly. We met through a Muslim dating site. Our emails were exciting, we both loved the same music, had an appreciation for design and craft, we loved having theoretical discussions on the human experience, and spoke in the same cryptic and intense way. We lived in different states but didn’t let that hold us back because we were in awe of the potential that existed between us.

After three weeks of talking, we agreed to meet. He met my family, because it was the right thing to do as Muslims, and we discussed marriage on our first in-person date. It was a whirlwind that led to an implosion of our short-lived, state-hopping adventure. Relationships need to be functional, and this one was not. There were time zone issues and travel cost limitations. Long-distance relationships are hard enough, but building a friendship and trust with a person while also being long-distance was impossible for the two of us.

But then I always hear: if two people are meant to be, then naseeb will make it work. That could be something we just tell ourselves to make the blow of failure easier to stomach. A few months later, and I still can’t tell you the exact reason as to why we did not work. Was it a function of incompatibility or long-distance?

This brings me full-circle to my relationship with the Catholic guy from undergrad. On paper, we didn’t seem compatible. He partied, I didn’t. He was way too hipster and I was that #basic suburb girl. He didn’t have the same appreciation for faith and spirituality that I did – he saw divine presence in that really tasty burger that made his day that much better. He couldn’t understand my anger as a minority, as a woman – he was the quintessential privileged white male.

All of these things aside, love manifested itself in real-life moments. He cared about me and I cared about him. If there’s anything I can take away from my life’s experiences is that you cannot make love, romance, chemistry, or butterflies in your tummy solely out of a mutual desire for marriage. I couldn’t click my red heels together and float off to that happy place called forever with the Muslim men I’ve met so far.

“Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”[1]

Love is the culmination of moments and memories between two souls. It is the experiences that two people share that teach them humility, kindness, and appreciation for humanity with constant support from and devotion to the One. It is through unwavering loyalty and commitment to another human being that self-improvement can be made – and it is in this that I hope to fulfill half of my deen.

A friend and I were wondering how often we can give our heart away to different people. Does each relationship take away something – leaving our hearts smaller, chipped apart, and tattered? Many women are left exhausted, jaded and bitter – usually taking it out on the opposite sex. “Men don’t like me because I’m too dark-skinned, too fat, too intelligent, too much of a feminist, too loud, too independent, too sexual, too too too…” My male counterparts also express their bitterness with the opposite sex. “Yo bro, all these Muslim women want is some doctor or lawyer that makes way too many figures, has a six pack, and can be a bad boy and good boy at the same time.”

There is probably a bit of truth to these statements; and, let’s be real, I’ve said these things at different points in my life – but I refuse to allow myself to fall apart after a failed relationship.

My heart has only grown exponentially with each love, with each man. I have seen weakness in other human beings and they have only strengthened my belief that we are not all that different. We all have the ability to love if only we find courage. The memories of my experiences are what make my David Gray rainy days a bit brighter.

Hania [pen name] is a Muslim Arab-American designer and community advocate working in educational improvement. Her work places the human experience at the forefront of designing a built world that pays homage to the memorials of our pasts, while simultaneously becoming the monuments of our futures. She focuses on environmental literacy, historic preservation, and urban revitalization. She enjoys lengthy discussions on Islamic theology, love, and spatial awareness. She dabbles in ceramics, painting, writing, and sometimes the oud.

[1] Peck, M. Scott, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978. Print.

4 Comments on “27, Single, and Muslim”

  1. gemmajawaher says:

    This was really moving, thanks for being so candid… xx

  2. Dennis says:

    This is beautifully written. I would like to ask how you feel your ex boyfriend would impact on a future relationship.
    I know the question seems judgmental but I’m actually asking for personal learning=> male worried about impact of prior relationships on future ones.

    • Dennis says:

      The concern specifically is that whether or not I fit her ideal of attractive, successful, kind, funny or meaningful; to what degree will she one day remember meaning in what she had with him, and to what degree would the romanticized memories pull her away from our relationship when metaphorically, [winter comes].

      jks on the GoT reference ^ : P

      • Hania says:

        Hi Dennis – One of the points I try to make in the piece is that people don’t get one love in their lifetimes. If I believed that, then I would not continue to search for someone that could be my life partner. That being said, the reason I was able to feel so deeply for someone was because of the experiences we shared – I had to walk away because, as a person who wants marriage, I recognize that there are certain things I need from a partner to build a life with someone and he was lacking in those areas. Thus, the ultimate goal is to find someone who is true to me and who I can share experiences with that will one day allow me to feel an even more meaningful depth of emotion. I am a different person now, I want different things, and it would be unfair of me to compare any ex of mine with someone I am dating/or will date. I hope that makes sense. Its been five years since I’ve seen this person and have comfortably left their memory in the past. I would hope that whoever you end up with has also managed to leave the past in the past, and is ready to embrace a future with someone new. So, just do the best you can do and be the best version of yourself, and steer clear of jealousy and comparisons. If the person you are seeing is still not over her ex – then she should not be in a new relationship. Best of luck and blessings with you.