An Epidemic: Unmarried and over 30
There is an extraordinary number of very educated women in their thirties and above who have not found a spouse. As intelligent, educated, single women venture to find men to set the cornerstone for a family, they cannot find suitable matches. Women in their late 20s and early 30s, urged to be educated all their lives, settle into their careers or studies, suddenly become less desirable mates to some men.
Another phenomenon faced by several ethnic communities is that many educated men marry outside of their community, race and religion. They are not as bound by the ticking biological clock factor and can usually (not always) find a wife when they get serious about marriage.
Nawaz Khan*, in his 70s, has coffee with his wife in the lobby of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. He is in tears, worried about his very well-educated daughter’s prospects of finding a husband. They are here to attend the matrimonial banquet. He is amongst the many worried parents at the ISNA convention.
At any Muslim marriage event, there are more females attendees than males. The ISNA marriage banquet sold out for the women’s section weeks in advance, while men strolled in at the last minute. Al Rahmah Marriage Bureau in Baltimore has two women for every man in its database. At a local marriage brunch, many of the women attending were born and raised in the US, educated and articulate, while most of the men were first generation immigrants, without large local networks.
Muslim community leaders are taking notice and some are calling it an epidemic. Shuyūkh with large social media following often bring up the topic on their timelines.
“We are modeling for our community the lack of marriages, single families and broken homes, that good practicing sisters may never get married. So, if you are a young girl looking at the life of a mu’min versus the life of the dominant culture, the dominant culture may seem more alluring and look to have more opportunities than the mu’min life. We should not be surprised if we continue on this path that in another generation we end up with a community who is either not getting married or having more sisters marrying outside their faith and children who become adults who think that having children on their own is the ideal instead of in a two-parent home,” writes Heather-Laird Jackson.
“I know sisters who have started dating because they cannot take being single anymore,” said Sr. Denise*, a divorced mother of two boys from College Park, MD, attending the ISWA matrimonial brunch.
Another troubling point brought up by Muslims across the diaspora was the desperation angle. If a single Muslim woman of any age expresses interest in getting married she has to deal with the stigma of appearing desperate. This is very damaging to the psyche of the sisters in the community.
“’Oh my God, she wants to be married, she is so desperate – astagfirullah…’ this popular statement comes mostly from married females when a single Muslimah shares with her that she wants to be married!! Even [those] who were once in the same situation… it’s like, as a community, we don’t have each other’s back anymore,” laments Naeema*.
“Now, it became a taboo for a Muslimah to say ‘I want to get married’,” says Denise*. “[There is] way too much emphasis on sex. Women are being told that they are desperate, weak, and can’t control themselves.”
The delaying of the American adolescence experience or the new emerging adulthood stage has also contributed to the delay in marriage, especially, with the high school experience extended by local community colleges. According to the New York Times, in 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had, by the time they reached 30, passed all five [what sociologists term as] milestones of adulthood: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so.
Culturally, American society as a whole is seeing this trend of delayed marriages. “Young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a ‘capstone’ rather than a ‘cornerstone,’” say the researchers at the Brookings Institute. “That is, something they do after they have all their other ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood.”
Surveys conducted by AlMaghrib Institute of its student body found that the main reasons that its students were delaying marriage were parents, finances, education, fear of rejection and commitment for men and fear of control and intimidation for women.
“A lot of men fear rejection and get intimidated. In the meanwhile, women wait for proposals and decide to pursue further education while they are waiting. This, in turn, intimidates men more and they think the women are too overqualified or will not make good ‘Muslim’ wives for them and eventually get married to someone from overseas,” says Shaykh Yaser Birjas of AlMaghrib. Or someone much younger since they can without issues.
“For myself, being financially ready [is important] because it is such a big responsibility, starting a new family,” says Farhan, 33, of Philadelphia, PA. His career goals are the major reason for the delay in his marriage.