Gendered expectations, personal choice, and social compatibility in Western Muslim marriages



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This study explores some major themes in relation to marriage among contemporary Western Muslims. These themes include gendered ideals and expectations of the potential spouse, generational differences, inter-religious marriages for Muslim women, and individual choice and parental authority in mate selection. It re-evaluates the Islamic notion of marital compatibility (kafa’a) and shows how this notion is understood and can be applied to contemporary Western Muslims. Due to little academic research on the problem particularly of unavailable spouses, the study relies primarily on blogs, online discussions of marriage among Muslims, and internet articles on Western Muslim marriages. The dilemma faced by Western Muslims, particularly females, is that there is a lack of compatible available husbands for them. The study finds that, according to marriage-minded women, this unavailability is largely due to traditional expectations of gender roles from potential husbands contrasted against the women’s unconventionally older ages, focus on education and career, and overall understanding of power dynamics in marriage. The study also explores changing methods of mate selection among Western Muslims, which include services offered by Islamic centers, Internet matchmaking, and marriage events—where the average male participant is younger than the average female participant. As the age of marriage-minded females increases, their individual choice is more recognized in their marriage while their options of suitable men decreases significantly. Many of them therefore turn to interfaith marriages, which are not recognized by Islamic law, although some religious authorities across the West them on the basis of necessity. Western Muslim women are in a unique but complicated space where they are struggling to maintain their personal ideals of education and careers and are seeking partners who share these ideals; yet, with the tension between men’s expectations of women and women’s of men during courtship, and the role of family in mate selection, the problem of marriage becomes more complex with the various axes contributing to it.