People are always curious about reverts: where they are from, how they became Muslim and so on, but then, if you are married to a Muslim, they become all the more curious: “where is he from? Did you convert for him? How do his family feel about that? Have your parents disowned you?”, but of course, it all starts from “and how did you both meet?”.
This seemingly innocent question, has always been a loaded one for Reza and I! In the beginning, we spent hours debating over how we’d answer it, and in the end, we resorted to different versions for different people! To the local community around me, Reza and I met when I was overseas, speaking at a conference. We say this because, almost every one around me would not only distrust the marriage if they knew we met online, but they’d also assume responsibility: and be put out that their council was not sought through-out! Saying we met through others, overseas, negates their sense of duty, and therefore gives us our privacy back!
To those we don’t know particularly well, we ‘met online, but through an introduction: that is to say, a friend thought I’d be suitable for Reza, the ‘friend got us talking, and we used the net for said communication! This is equally more palatable because of the stigma associated with most marriage websites!
As for strangers: the truth varies somewhere between these 2, depending on the context in which we are speaking: and for the rest, (including the 2 readers who have managed to stick with this blog, Reza and I met on the internet!), yes: we met online, through the self-same marriage websites that every one hates! I’m not ashamed to admit it, even though you might sense guilt from the above. I don’t just hide the fact for my own benefit, but also because I actually do fear for others: marriage websites are not an easy way out for the unmarried, they are actually a test, a gamble, a leap of faith in so many ways, and honestly speaking, I wouldn’t wish them on any one!
I first experimented with marriage websites about 8 months after my divorce. Truthfully, I had absolutely 0 intention to remarry at this point, however I got freaked in to action by another female in a similar position, who informed me that it would take a divorced revert so much longer to look for a partner to remarry, even if I wasn’t serious about things, I should start looking right away, because It would take on average about 6 years, (the worst part about this is, she was quite correct! And it took me 7! Which I’m told is less than the average 10 years). Any way, my look appeared to yield fruit: I met people (men), who I could have adult, civilised conversations with, who were on the same wavelength etc, including one that I began to develop a soft corner for! Needless to say, things didn’t work out, and I soon realised that the vast majority of those surfing the site were at a similar stage to me: i.e., window shopping! Moreover, I soon learned that not every one was the ‘simple, ‘loving, ‘sincere, ‘loyal, ‘practising Muslim he claimed to be! The man who had never been married before, had been engaged 3 times and was casually dating a non-Muslim! The man who had been divorced for 6 months, already had a wife and child in toe and was looking for a second so that he could ‘respectably ditch the first wife without actually giving her the slip in the eyes of the law! And the man who wanted to marry as soon as possible, ran a million miles when things started to become serious! The sites were not for me: so when I did finally get serious about ‘husband searching, I decided to opt for more conventional routes. Those other reverts reading this, or any one who’s followed the blog for a while will know what’s coming! I mean, what’s a revert to do? Every which way you turn, doors will be slammed, unceremoniously in your face! Born Muslim parents will never offer you their sons! Independent Muslim men won’t marry you because, well, you’re a revert, (and in my case, blind as well), and worst of all, you’ll have some kind of a past! If you approach the formal, so-called match-makers, they are likely to shift uncomfortably in their chairs, making small talk for half an hour, the ones with balls tell you to go play with yourself, while the polite ones tell you that they’ll keep looking, and ‘Insha Allah find some one, but you know, and they know, its never going to happen!
So, what next! Well it was off to Pakistan for me: where I lived and worked for 3 years. The culture of the East sucked me in too, as did the many half-baked proposals I received: here, again, people loved the idea of me, but not on a full time basis! Many offered ‘second wife positions like they were offering me jobs! I didn’t want this, not necessarily because it didn’t suit me or that it was wrong, but because I knew such a relationship would only worsen things with my family, and because generally, I think the Muslim male interpretation of a plural marriage is lacking in almost every sense! I didn’t want that. I came back to the UK, broken from yet more affairs of the heart, but I was more certain than ever: I wanted to marry, but if it wasn’t 100%, if it wasn’t the real thing, It just wouldn’t be happening!
So: what next? …, well, a string of other disasters (many of which have already been discussed on this blog), including an assortment of other website encounters! All of this ended in failure, but, just before I vowed enough was enough, I discovered the love of my life, on one of the aforementioned sites, and we began the journey of discovering one another, which ultimately lead us to marriage by the grace of Allah (SWT). Some of you who have been reading my ‘Persian Diaries feature over the past few months have told me how my adventure reads like a fairytale! And mashallah, we are extremely happy now, but its not been easy, there are challenges, and there continue to be tests and barriers to get over. The fact remains that any relationship, no matter how perfect, takes allot more time, effort, research, patience etc, if it begins via the internet! And sadly, its fair to say that the majority of relationships that begin this way, do not have happy endings! The ill affects of said websites are increasingly taking centre stage: only yesterday, Imam Mustafa Ghazwini, usually one of my favourite scholars was on a rant about internet websites and how awful they are! Fine, I get the point, and I’d agree: websites can be dodgy. Sure there are some sincere people who are using them, but for every genuine man or woman, they’ll be around 50 who are not! Fact! And fact too: many of these relationships do not have satisfactory outcomes, (yet these outcomes need not necessarily have any thing to do with the site), rather they are to do with family approval, cultural differences and the like, and of course the inevitable hiatuses brought about by the internet: time, space, distance, understanding and so on. As I said earlier, I am in general, not really in support of these sites! But downing them isn’t the way either! My original question still stands: what is a revert to do? I would be the first person to welcome a return to more ‘traditional methods, but in order for those to work, we need time, equality, support from scholars and community leaders, and in reality, little of this will occur during my lifetime! We need to work towards it, but until we do, there will still be masses of people, be they reverts, disabled people, divorced men and women, those without family, those on the margins, and maybe even a few from in between, who will, resort to the internet.
So, if you are reading this, and thinking of dipping your toe in the water, this post should serve as a cautionary tale! I’m not the kind of person who would say ‘don’t go there! that would be the pot calling the kettle black wouldn’t it!! all I’d say is be careful! Many Muslims (especially new ones), hold on to a sort-of fluffy idea that all Muslims are good, sincere etc, and while it would be wonderful if this was true, it is sadly not the case! In addition, many strangely believe that even if a person is not ‘good, they will at least be honest: and even more bazaar: if they are not, they think the website will somehow have safeguards to route out such people! First, when you venture out in cyberspace, you are alone, completely alone! And second, if you are stupid enough to believe that the generic ‘tick box at the end of every website, where individuals are supposed to ‘swear on the qur’an, that what they have written is true: if you believe that means any thing, you perhaps need a bit of help!! I have every sympathy with those who have been taken advantage of, however, we all have individual responsibility for our own safety, and we must never let that lapse, whether online or other wise. If you find yourself alone, searching for a marriage partner, but with few in the way of friends, family etc to guide you, here are a few tips to help you on your way.
1. Your profile. Take your time when filling in the profile form: think first about what you really want from a potential spouse. Be realistic, yet spesific! “I want a good practising Muslim”, doesn’t mean much in translation: where should he/she be from? Their education level? Will you consider non-UK residents? If not why not? What age range? School of thought? Family background? These things matter, although we claim we don’t discriminate, we don’t want much, in reality, we all have expectations, and aspirations, and this need not be a negative thing! To be clear about what you want, saves you time when surfing out replies and undesirables, and also saves others hurt if they contact you, and later discover they are not meeting your criterion! (that said, I’m obviously not too hot on those who say “I want to marry a Pakistani, who is fair, 5.7 in height, extremely beautiful, from the rajput community only, and who’s father can afford to set me up in my own business!”) (that wasn’t made up, I paraphrased from another website!).
2. Following on from this, there is your own personality: who/what are you? What will you bring to the marriage? Why do you want to marry? What does marriage mean to you? Attitudes: to children? Hijaab? Religion? Etc, look at it this way: the online profile is how you will sell yourself: and it needs to be targeted and pitched as such! There are lots of time wasters online, and if you follow their unprepared lead, you’ll only attract the same!
3. So, you receive an Email, and you like the sound of it, the profile is ticking all the boxes: what next? Stay calm and play it cool! Most of us have worked our way through lots of rejecting and rejections when this finally happens: and so we get way over excited! Play it cool! Express your interest without being too over-zealous. Exchange a few Emails, exploring the themes already outlined in your profile. Do this via the marriage site initially, or else set up a separate Email address specifically for this purpose. Over at RMA we have a series of pre-marital questions you can ask. Now, I wouldn’t advise throwing all these at some one in a first letter! (I’ve actually heard of people sending an entire questionnaire to a potential partner!), come on: treat others with the respect you expect! This is not a job interview! Be calm, but purposeful, be relaxed, but not casual! Use the questions as a guide only, to tees out more information about the person. If you like, keep notes from the Emails or info you have been told, this can be helpful for clarifying thoughts later on, and verifying things that don’t add up (remember! Not every one is who they claim to be!). If you do decide to chat on the phone, or on MSN, set a fixed time, and stick to that! I.e., if you plan to chat for half an hour! Do that, and don’t go any more than 10/15 minutes over the time! Why? Simple! No matter how well you are getting on, long web chats tend to become unreal, unchartered and uncensored! They draw you in to a false sense of utopia, distract you from other things, and even from the purpose you set out on! If you sense something truly developing, that is fantastic! But it will still be there tomorrow Insha Allah! Don’t let your heart run away with you! Go slow! And in all you do, remember that Allah (SWT) sees all! If there is a conversation that you wouldn’t have in front of another, don’t be having it at this early stage, just because its online and no one else is monitoring what you are up to!
4. Involve others ASAP!! If you really think there is a potential match here! Get others involved! Now, this can be tricky if your family are not Muslim! If you have a trusted friend, they can help with this, if you don’t have one person you feel you can confide in right away, introduce the other person to your social network! This can work online too: Reza introduced me to many of his friends: those he had studied with in India, back in Iran, and beyond: our communication, all be it virtual, helped me build a picture of the man I wanted to marry: and importantly, the kind of circles he moved in, and whether those were compatible with my own. From friends, you will want to involve families: and generally speaking, it is the Muslim family approval you’ll be seeking first, (that’s not to say the other side doesn’t matter of course! But in my case, we would never have got that approval, even if my man had been diamond plated!). We were fortunate in that Reza’s family approved almost immediately! However this is rarely the case! Its important, particularly for females, to insure the man has this support: if he does not, you can bet he’ll leg it when times get rough! Few men are willing to negotiate with parents, or stand up to them, plus you don’t necessarily want to be the cause of fitna between parents and their children! If you don’t see family approval, even in principal coming your way, you may need to evaluate your position within this thing!
5. 4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, spend as much time together, (that is, real time), as you can before the marriage! Online or telephone time will only take you so far! I know this can be difficult with time zones and different countries involved, but trust me, it’s the only way! It took Reza and I almost 2 years to finally concede that we were for keeps, but I don’t regret the time, the money, the hours waiting in airports! Marriage is forever, and even your istikhara won’t come out clear, if you have doubts yourself which you know some time, some talking and some meetings will iron out for you.
6. This post is dragging on so I’ll end it here, if any one has comments or questions, leave them in the comments section and I’ll respond, or else Email me privately. Websites can be dodgy, but they are not the ‘route of all evil, as some would have you believe! In truth they are sadly often the only way for many reverts etc. They can work, as long as you are realistic, sensible and not overloaded with expectations, and may Allah (SWT) make it easy for all those who are seeking to get married, aameen!