“Muslims don’t fall in love before marriage,” the woman said proudly. “That’s something only non-Muslims do.”
When I first heard this statement, I was confused. But maybe I was misunderstanding what the woman meant. Perhaps the woman was just saying that Muslims don’t have sex before marriage (or at least that they’re not supposed to).
Muslims don’t live together and “play house” before deciding whether or not to take the “big step” and get married. Perhaps in the mind of this woman, and that of Muslims who shared her sentiment, this was “falling in love” and thus something Muslims simply did not do.
“I love a boy. Can you help me?”
I had just finished teaching a class at a Muslim weekend school when I was approached by a girl who appeared to be about thirteen years old. “Can I talk to you?” she said to me. “I need some advice.”
“Sure,” I told her, “no problem.”
“At school, there’s a boy I love,” she said, “and I don’t know what to do about it.” She glanced sideways to make sure none of her peers or elders could hear her talking to me. “Can you help me?”
“How did you meet him?” I asked.
“He goes to my school.”
“But how did you meet?”
“He just goes to my school,” she said again, slight confusion on her face.
“Yes, I know,” I said. “But how do you know him? Do you talk on the phone? Do you meet up at school?”
“No,” she said. “I barely know him.”
Now it was my turn to be confused. “Are you trying to get to know him?”
“No.” She appeared taken aback by the question. “I’m Muslim.”
“Then what’s the problem?” I said.
“I love him, and I know it’s wrong,” she said. “I tried to stop it, but I can’t.” She looked desperate as she looked at me. “What should I do?”
“Listen,” I told her. “It’s not a sin to be attracted to boys.”
What Love Means
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines love as “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.” It also defines love as “attraction that includes sexual desire” and “the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship.”
Based on the definition of love, loving a person or “falling in love” can include an intimate relationship (and thus can involve sin if the man and woman are not married), but love itself is not contingent upon any conscious actions on a person’s part. In fact, love can be confined to a person’s heart without the other person ever knowing anything about it.
Therefore, love outside the bounds of marriage is not necessarily sinful, and it’s certainly not sinful to “fall in love” before marriage.
So I’m Not in Sin?
After I told the girl that it isn’t sinful to be attracted to boys, the girl’s eyes widened. “It’s not?”
“No,” I said. “It’s just the way Allah created us. We can’t help it. Girls will be attracted to boys. Boys will be attracted to girls. And after lowering our gazes and staying away from what’s wrong, there’s nothing we can do about that.”
“But I thought…”
“It’s what you say or do about this feeling that can make it sinful,” I said. “If you just have this feeling in your heart and you don’t do anything about it, that’s not wrong. But you can pray to Allah to make the feeling go away,” I suggested, “especially if it’s distracting you from other things.”
She looked positively relieved. “Thanks,” she said, smiling broadly as she walked away.
When I was growing up in America, I’d often hear adults laugh whenever an adolescent or teenager was attracted to someone. Their tone was often playfully condescending when they waved their hands dismissively saying, “Oh, that’s just puppy love. These kids have no idea what love means.”
And perhaps the adults were right. Maybe “kids” really don’t have a clue what love means. Maybe what these youth are feeling is just “puppy love,” a strong feeling of attraction that would pass with time and about which they would laugh about later.
But even so, this doesn’t invalidate the authenticity of the young person’s feelings, which very well may fit into the definition of “love,” even the love is short-lived and won’t amount to much more than an overwhelming sense of desire for someone.
When Young Love Is Real
Often when we think of real stories of young love, we turn to the pages of ancient history or folklore. In the famous Shakespearean drama Romeo and Juliet, the character Juliet is reportedly only thirteen years old while Romeo isn’t too much older. However, in the Shakespearean era, the concept of young lovers was not limited to fiction or drama.
In earlier times, particularly in European (or “Western”) history, it was not uncommon for young men and women to fall in love and marry quite young. In fact, if a person was unmarried by the age of twenty, this was frowned upon and the person was feared to be “too old” for any hope for marriage. In Islamic history, the love of young Aishah toward Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is often cited.
However, it is not only in fictional tales and “days of old” that young love has proven real. In the modern world, there are many true stories of young love, and they continue to happen each day.
Famous Young Love
When I was in high school, one of my favorite songs was “Everybody Plays the Fool” by Aaron Neville, and I often think of this song when I think of young people falling in love. This is not only because the song itself alludes to the foolishness young people often fall into in the name of love, but because the singer himself experienced young love. Aaron Neville met his beloved while they were both around fifteen or sixteen years old, and they got married when they were only eighteen; and they were married for almost fifty years when his wife died from cancer in 2007.
The famous singer Celine Dion also experienced young love. She met her future husbandRené Angélil when she was only twelve years old and he was thirty-eight; and they began a relationship when she was nineteen years old. And they are still married today.
Are You in Love?
This is a question that young people often ask themselves. Unfortunately, it’s also a question they are often left alone to answer. Perhaps, what they’re experiencing is just “puppy love” that amounts to a passing “crush,” or maybe what they’re experiencing is genuine young love the like of which fascinates us from fiction stories, ancient history, and modern day love stories.
But perhaps what they’re experiencing is something in between, a feeling that will one day pass but consumes them so much today that it drives them to act on it in the most reckless ways, especially if they are unable or unwilling to marry the person they love.
Such is the affair of many youth today, Muslims among them.
And in this “Are You in Love?” series, we explore the wide range of issues that define “love” for many Muslim youth in today’s world.
First published: February 2014