Middle Eastern men and women are some of the most attractive people in the world. They are tall, have gorgeous dark complexions, and almond shaped eyes with thick, lush lashes. Because of their diet rich in foods like avocado, couscous, pomegranate, and falafel, Middle Eastern men and women also have smooth skin which is soft to the touch and great figures (not to mention crazy libidos from all those aphrodisiacs!). The Middle East also happens to be the epicenter of the Muslim world. For people who aren’t from the Middle East or part of the Muslim tribe, Muslim dating can be incredibly confusing. Here is what you infidels need to know about dating a Muslim woman or man.
Muslim Dating: Haram or Halal?
There is a lot of debate as to whether Muslims are allowed to date at all. Premarital sex in the Muslim religion is strictly forbidden. Since dating (in the Western sense) involves actions like kissing and touching which ultimately result in premarital sex, Islamic scholars consider that dating is haram (forbidden). So, traditionally, marriages were arranged with the couple not having any unsupervised time together before the marriage – or possibly even meeting each other before the engagement.
Things are changing though, and especially in the Muslim immigrant communities. These more-liberal Muslims believe that dating is simply a way to get to know each other. Muslim men and women aren’t relying solely on matchmakers anymore. They are taking part in Muslim matrimonial sites, speed dating, and other events. They talk, meet, and get to know each other. As Muslim woman Zeba Iqbal points out, this sounds a lot like western dating. But there is one big difference: with non-Muslims, dating is just about meeting a special someone, and that meeting may or may not result in marriage. With Muslim dating, the meetings have one goal: marriage.
Thus, for Muslim dating to be halal, both partners have to date with the sole goal of marriage. A lot of Islamic scholars and Muslim websites have further defined halal Muslim dating. For example, Zaufishan lays out these rules of halal Muslim dating:
- The date occurs in a public place
- The date does not occur in seclusion (khulwa) unless there is a chaperone (mahram)
- Flirting and physical contact are forbidden
- The family is usually involved, such as in the introduction process
Muslim Men Dating Outside the Faith
Islam allows Muslim men to date outside of the faith. In fact, it is often encouraged as it is believed that the woman will convert to Islam. And, in Islam, if you get someone to convert, you are rewarded in this life and the next.
Muslim dating is a lot more relaxed for men than women. While men have their own social and cultural problems to bear (I would never want the responsibility that comes with being a first-borne Muslim son!), they have a lot more freedom than women. They aren’t going to be judged as harshly for dating outside the Muslim faith, or for dating at all. This is why you see so many stories in forums about Muslim men dating Christian women.
Here is a piece of advice for non-Muslim women dating Muslim men: you can tell how serious the relationship is by whether he mentions you to his family. As members at Loveinshallah.com point out, this has nothing to do with religion. It is the constant struggle he will feel between his family, culture, religious views, and feelings for you. If the Muslim man does not tell his parents (or at least friends) about you within the first year of the relationship, then just walk away. He is just using you until he can find a “good Muslim girl” to marry.
Muslim Women Dating Outside the Faith
There is a lot of debate about whether it is halal or haram for Muslim women to date outside of the faith. The general conservative opinion is that it is forbidden, since the faith is passed down through the man.
The more pertinent question though is how a Muslim woman would even meet a man outside the faith. Muslim women are obviously held to much higher standards of modesty than Muslim men, so her family is going to do a better job of keeping her under lock and key, well away from treacherous infidels. And, if she did manage to meet a non-Muslim man, would she be able to overcome the social pressures which have been put upon her since birth and decide to date the guy?
One thing you will notice is that Muslim women are more likely to date outside their faith as they get older. This has to do with age discrimination which is very evident in Muslim dating. By the age of 25, the “alarm bell” is ringing for Muslim women. If she isn’t married by 30, meeting Muslim men becomes very difficult.
In an interview for Huffington Post Live, Palestinian-Muslim comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh joked about her relationship with an atheist man, and how her parents came to accept it.
At first, they wanted her to marry a Palestinian man.
Then they wanted her to just marry an Arab.
Then they wanted her to just marry a Muslim.
Then, when those alarm bells started ringing as she got older, they just wanted her to get married.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Tradition and Culture
When talking about Muslim dating, it is important to remember there is a big difference between the rules of Islam, and the rules associated with tradition and culture. They are not always the same. Like how Islam says that it is permitted for a man to marry a non-Muslim woman. Islam may permit this, but the man’s culture and family may forbid it completely.
If you are thinking of dating a Muslim, don’t underestimate the power of tradition and culture. The Muslim man or woman in question might be very “liberal” and Westernized, but that doesn’t mean he or she isn’t going to feel the pull of a lifetime of tradition. This is especially true if the Muslim man or woman is first-generation and from a country which is war-torn.
As one woman points out over at 30-Days.net, “In some ways, there is no such thing as ‘the individual’ in Islam. Everyone is part of a family, a people group, and/or a community. Decisions are made as groups, not individuals and pressure is put on by families. Families have an extremely strong influence on their children – even from across the ocean!!”
To give you an idea of how strong tradition is, I know atheists from Muslim backgrounds who religiously fasts during Ramadan. Before you dismiss this as weird, consider how many atheists from Christian backgrounds put up Christmas trees each year. Traditions are part of the fabric of our lives, and it is hard to let them go.
It becomes a problem when Muslim men and women want to break free of the traditions, but have that nagging sense of guilt and responsibility weighing down on them. This is especially true of Muslim dating rules. From an early age, Muslims are told they aren’t allowed to speak to members of the opposite sex. When they do, they hear a voice telling them “Tauba!” (repent!). As Zeba Iqbal says of this little voice, it leaves them very self-conscious and uncomfortable interacting with each other.
Muslim women are held to incredibly high standards for modesty. Under Islamic traditions, men and women aren’t expected to talk to each other at all. Of course, modern living doesn’t exactly permit it to work out this way. My good friend in Palestinian often goes out to lunch with his female colleagues. But they definitely aren’t in secluded places together.
Embrace the Muslim Culture – As Strange and Difficult As It Can Be
If you are coming from a Western culture, then some of cultural aspects of dating a Muslim can be incredibly strange (or downright difficult). Like when you don’t get offered a glass of wine (which you need to calm your nerves) at dinner with his family. Or like how you can’t even kiss during daylight hours during Ramadan. Or when you try to figure out why there is never any toilet paper in the bathroom.
I’ve talked about cultural differences before in my post about interracial dating. If you don’t strive to embrace them, it can quickly destroy your relationship. And I don’t just mean reading some of the Quran and learning basic Arabic. You’ve got to really embrace the culture as a positive influence. And when it gets difficult, just remember how weird some of the things in your culture and religion are!