What are Muslim parents’ thoughts on dating? It depends on the type of parent you ask. Muslim parents seem to fall into four different categories on the subject of dating.
Worried parents are certain that dating must be avoided at all costs. Hopeful parents are optimistic of their children’s options for a mate and have high hopes that this search will be conducted in a manner that is in keeping with Islamic standards and any dating will be ‘halal’.
Aware parents may be open to or knowledgeable that their own or other Muslim youth may have dated intentionally or even unintentionally and are open to the idea of ‘halal’ dating. Thoughtful parents see themselves as visionaries who understand the need to establish institutions within the American Muslim community to properly deal with the issue of dating.
Worried parents: No ‘Halal’ Dating
Worried parents were aware that their children may perceive them as strict. They felt that this in no way compromised the level of communication between parent and child since children regardless of age were to obey their wishes.
These parents shared with me that they were confident that their son/daughter was not dating, but had no evidence other than their strong convictions to substantiate their facts. They were worried that if their child didn’t marry young or marry within their cultural or ethnic background that it would be harmful to the family.
If this parent was American born they seemed to feel that settling on available potential spouses was important and overwhelmingly wanted their children to seek spouses in a manner other than how they did when they got married unless they had had an arranged marriage.
For these parents there was no such thing as ‘halal’ dating and male female interaction in any form was forbidden and to be avoided.
If this parent was a naturalized American, they seem to feel that if no spouse was immediately available they could always get help from family ‘back home’ who would send a girl or recommend a boy they knew.
Worried parents also seem to feel that the only real solution to the ‘problem’ of dating was to attempt to arrange marriages for their children when they were quite young so their child was not tempted by these worldly activities.
Hopeful parents: No Worries
Hopeful parents were almost the opposite of worried parents because they were confident that their son or daughter would find a spouse ‘when it was time’. Interestingly, hopeful parents seemed to strongly feel there was a specific time when their child would move towards marriage – usually after finishing either an education or career goal.
This was consistent even if the present age of their single child was over 30 or even 40 years of age. Surprisingly these parents had this timeline confidently in their mind but not necessarily because their son or daughter put it there, but rather because it was their own schedule of their child’s life.
Hopeful parents felt assured that their child’s character, education, personality and successes would garner suitors in the future so there was no real action being taken in the present to assist with finding a mate.
I found that these parents often had a perception of what could be termed ‘halal’ dating in that single Muslims should actively seek spouses by meeting and talking to them to determine their suitability. Introductions to potential mates could be made from school, work, or community events.
These introductions were expected to be initiated only at a time when their son/daughter was actively seeking a spouse. The potential couple would access each other’s suitability through a halal meeting where they were not alone, but could still speak to and view each other.
Aware parents: More Realistic
American born Muslim parents have no confidence that their son or daughter will find suitable spouses to marry. Aware parents on the other hand seem to start out with the idea that inappropriate behavior is or has happened. These parents may be aware that their own child or a child of family they know had been approached by or even innocently spent time with someone.
These parents may also be aware of a Muslim youth who was ‘secretly’ dating. If they were secretly dating another Muslim this was overwhelming done through social media, cell phones and meetings at a mosque or Muslim event where the couple would spirit away for a few moments.
These parents were usually silent to the parent of the offending child in hopes of avoiding uncomfortable situations and were quietly anticipating that the situation would straighten itself out by the person making a conscious choice to either quit or get married.
Aware parents may also know or suspect a single Muslim of openly dating a non-Muslim from school or the job. Aware parents seem to feel the prevalence of dating within the American culture is so strong that it is unrealistic to expect all single Muslims to naturally resist.
Aware parents were very much in tuned to the fact that their son or daughter was vulnerable to being taken advantage of by worldly people whose sole purpose was to break the traditional modesty habits of Muslims. Thus they give in to the idea that their child will be approached, perhaps tricked or coerced into a dating behavior so they often seek to create halal circumstances for single Muslims to meet.
If the ‘aware’ parent is American born, they may feel that ‘halal’ dating is the only option for marriage. These parents do not have the cultural predisposition for an arranged marriage and feel that their son/daughter must meet and know the personality and character of a potential mate.
Parents who are naturalized citizens that consider themselves aware are either very frightened but accepting that their son or daughter may interact with members of the opposite sex, or may feel angry and frustrated that they do not have the wherewithal to stop their son or daughter from interacting with members of the opposite sex. These parents overwhelmingly reminisce about how they would not face this particular problem back home because of the cultural and societal norms.
Thoughtful Parents: Seeking Solutions
Aware parents seem to feel the prevalence of dating within the American culture is so strong that it is unrealistic to expect all single Muslims to naturally resist.
It is the lack of Islamic institutions in place in America to facilitate marriage for Muslims that worries the ‘thoughtful’ parents. Although these parents are sure dating is not a desired practice in Islam, they feel at odds with what options are available for the single Muslim.
In addition, I found that these types of parents especially if they were naturalized Americans often didn’t feel that the ‘traditions’ adhered to by Muslims in the developing world are truly effective or are nothing more than cultural practices that have become legitimized by religious interpretation.
Thoughtful parents seem to be a bit pessimistic. American born Muslim parents have no confidence that their son or daughter will find suitable spouses to marry. These feelings of uncertainty cause these parents to search for solutions usually found in inquiries, recommendations and conferences around the country whose specific purpose is to provide opportunities for single Muslims to meet.
I found that American parents overwhelmingly felt that their child would find a mate solely by chance encounter regardless of their efforts and often feared their child would leave Islam to date with impunity, marry and then return to the religion.
Those naturalized American parents I spoke with were active in setting up programs within the local Islamic center or nearby Islamic organization that would allow again for ‘chance’ meetings of singles and opportunities for marriage.
Whether a parent was Worried, Hopeful, Aware or Thoughtful, what they all agreed upon was that the issue of dating for Muslims in America had no easy solution and was not going away anytime soon.
First published: August 2015