I was sitting in a little hut overlooking the ocean at La Jolla Cove, taking cover from the hot sun in hopes of feeling a breeze from the ocean's currents.
[My reading spot… Endless ocean. Endless beauty.]
I had just spent the last hour alone with my thoughts and needed a break from reality. As I pulled out my Nook to read, I was joined by an older woman. We both smiled at each other while we enjoyed our view. Suddenly, the hut was full with two more older women and a family of south Asian decent. Despite my headphones blasting music, I overheard the oldest woman that just walked in, who was white, tell the first older woman that was in the hut with me that she was 91 years old. The woman she spoke to replied that she was in her 70s and the 91-year-old exclaimed, “Oh, my! You’re still young!” Everyone laughed.
I smiled to myself. Only a few moments ago I was thinking of how I had lived 27 years of my life and felt like that age should mean something in the wider scope of things and where I thought I would be at 27 every year since I had graduated from high school. I spent the day thinking over the past 27 years and how few goals I felt like I have met. While I know I have accomplished a lot in my life, AlhamduliAllah, society has made me feel old at 27 years of age. With the expectations that by now I should be holding a successful career, be married, and thinking of more than just staying afloat in this crazy world my generation has entered…
I tune back into the conversation and I hear the 91-year-old telling everyone that she lived in San Diego while her daughter, who stood next to her, was visiting from Los Angeles. "Where are you from?" she asked the south Asian family. "We're visiting from Los Angeles." They informed her. She asked again, to confirm that they did indeed mean the city two hours away from us and I could tell by her follow-up questions that she doubted them because of their accents.
A while later, I hear them questioning something floating in the ocean so I look up and respond to their inquires, "Oh, that's just the seaweed being pushed into that area because of the how rough the water has been today." The daughter claimed that she could see the green floating on top and she was right. The 91-year-old mother turned to me astonished by what I quickly assumed (maybe by my own biases) my accent-less English.
"Oh! Are you from here??" She asked me.
"Yeah, from San Diego actually." I smile, holding her gaze.
She clapped excitedly.
"You go to school at the university?"
"Oh, no. I did, but that was years ago." Suddenly, I am flooded with old memories, per usual whenever I think of UCSD.
"You went to UCSD?" She didn't hide her surprise.
"Yeah." I laughed. "Years ago."
"Wonderful!" She held my hand affectionately. "I worked there years ago! My daughter also attended UCSD and my granddaughter is there now."
"Oh, wow. That's great. It's a great school. Beautiful area to study in." I looked out at the glistening, endless ocean.
She went on to tell me that she worked for the first chancellor at UCSD and when she told me the last chancellor she worked for that was there before her retirement I withheld telling her that I had no idea who any of those chancellors were. I was too young to even know of them. I let her know I graduated in 2010, five years ago. They laughed at how I felt that was forever ago.
"What did you study? What are your goals? What are you doing now?" A familiar set of questions came at me one after another.
As I answered all of their questions, their shock grew and I realized they were actually impressed by my studies and what I do now. This time, it was my turn to be shocked at their reactions.
"How wonderful! You keep at it! Don't ever stop!" The mother leaned over and held my hand again and patted my knee for encouragement.
Realizing the time and knowing I needed to move my car soon, I excused myself. "It was wonderful chatting with you all. Have a lovely rest of your day!" I meant it with my entire heart. As I walked away, I prayed that their day would be as happy filled as they had just made me feel. Their kindness stayed with me for the rest of the day.
I wished then that I could have stayed and chatted more with them. It was the first conversation that I have had since graduating from UCSD, long before graduate school, that I was asked – especially by women – strictly about my studies and career without a word asking about my relationship or marital status. It definitely wasn’t something that I could easily miss about the conversation. I wondered if it was because the women asking were white, or rather not from a cultural background that held marriage as a priority for a young woman. I also felt younger, renewed in a sense, from the conversation making me remember that at 27, I really was as young as I felt. My life is still just beginning, especially for my generation and in this day and age. As long as Allah swt continues to bless me with another day, it’s another day that I will continue to make the most of my life, with both my faith and my future goals.
It doesn’t escape me that in Middle Eastern culture, a woman who has reached the age of 25 is joked about to be “expired”. When I turned 25, I finally confirmed that it was less of a joke and more of a belief people did hold when older women began to explicitly ask me what I thought my degrees would get me now that it was less likely men would see me as a viable option for marriage unless they were much older than me. I always saw it as such an odd assessment for a generation in which women have chosen to continue their education and look for stable jobs, out of necessity in this day and age, which also meant that especially American Muslims were getting married by American standards – closer to 30 years of age.
I always held strong to my faith and stood firm against anyone’s preconceived judgment of my future, knowing all too well that God has already written for me what’s best. While I know my purpose in life is to serve Allah swt, not having met any of society’s narrow-minded standards at times makes me question my past, present, and future road that I am on. But I also know that tawakul, trust and faith in God’s path for me, is the strongest and most difficult part of my faith.
As I walked away, I couldn’t help but recall how I had felt before that simple conversation. I was thinking of my role models, my true rode model in Islam. The person I can only aspire to be and learn from for the rest of my life, Khadija bint Khwalid (may Allah swt have mercy on her soul) who was the Prophet Mohammad’s (peace be upon him) first wife. She was and still stands as the most firm and solid example of a woman that was empowering, independent, fierce, strong, loving, and all sorts of incredible. She was a woman that understood that as a woman you CAN hold all those qualities – independent and fierce business woman – but also want to share your life with another, a significant other, as a wife and mother. Because being a strong, independent woman and wanting to one day find your naseeb – in my case, a strong man full of deen and love for my creator, prophet, and me to share my life with – are not two separate roads. If you choose and Allah swt grants it, they can lead to one road.
As an Ummah, we seem to forget this, or rather be blinded by our cultural standards for a woman to not believe this. We put women in boxes, something that Islam eliminated. Our female role models in Islam are everything from mothers and wives to teachers, doctors, and soldiers. They were each their own versions of a warrior, battling the stereotypes of women in cultural ideals. While I speak of the Middle Eastern culture, stereotyping women as being either independent or dependent on a man is very well alive in all cultures, even here in America. We’re flooded with the idea of being either single or in a relationship. Honestly, as Muslims, we should know better. We should understand that no matter how much we make dua and put ourselves out there, ultimately Allah swt makes the last decision. Our rizq, or blessings, are in the hands of Allah swt.
You all should know by now that marriage or gender relationships are not something I speak of. I’m a private person in that I don’t feel comfortable writing about marriage and relationships, or even having conversations about this subject with my own family and closest of friends. I have steered away from ever truly posting or blogging about it. But after my travels/move to NYC, it wasn’t something that I could pretend to ignore anymore. Traveling as a female of my age while single was considered taboo to simply 97% to anyone I spoke to, even women I considered to hold that persona of “feminist.” More than any other risks and path I have taken in my life, not being married was the subject between friends and family that has shown me true sides of people I cared about and made me see how they viewed me and my life. I was under a microscope to those who were aware that I was struggling to find a stable job and start my career. Their answer to all my problems was, “If you were married…” I won’t deny that having someone by my side may have eased certain situations in my life – and trust me when I admit to you all here the countless times I made dua to Allah swt because I wished I had someone by my side – but I also knew that marriage alone was the farthest solution to any of my problems.
So, why am I bringing this up now? Why am I choosing to be open about this? A few weeks ago, a well-known and young female posted something about being proud of being an independent and strong women. While I don’t follow this particular person anywhere on social media, the post popped up on my newsfeed allowing me to read the responses specifically from young and married Muslim women. Among all the negative comments, the one that struck me the most was from a Muslim who condescendingly argued that choosing to be single was “selfish” to anyone involved. Selfish? It was this comment that made me sad. I could not help but take it personally, on my behalf and on behalf of so many sisters that were in my same situation. She claimed all these statements using Islam and deen as her evidence. Too many commentators believed they were reminding sisters of their responsibility to “half their deen” to get married and have children. Because, you know, it is just that simple. All I have to do is snap my fingers and a man will appear on my doorstep to propose. And all I have to do is be open minded and “unselfish” enough to accept.
Let me make something clear. I am no scholar. I am still learning about my own faith. I have so much to learn, but based on my Islamic school teachings, I believe that if I died tomorrow as a single 27-year-old, it will be Allah swt that chose for me to not yet be married. Just as retuning to Him will also be what he has written for me. He alone has written this for me. I have full faith that I won’t be asked about my missing half my deen, especially when it is not something I have explicitly chosen. I am not walking around with half my faith and if Allah swt writes for me to be married, I will not have suddenly found the other half of my faith. It will mean that half my deen will be my spouse and what I do after that will affect both of us. My spouse will become half my deen. If I die tomorrow, I will be asked about how I spent this life, my deen, my knowledge and how I chose to spend it and what I did to better and take care of my Ummah. I will know that if Jannah awaits me (inshaAllah!!!), then my naseeb will be there in heaven waiting for me. God alone knows what is best for me and THAT is true faith in Islam and God’s message to us.
It’s important as an Ummah, and for every person out there that Allah has blessed with a significant other, that the next time you look down on your single sister (I say sister because we all know our brothers don’t get the same ridiculousness that we do), to remember that the next time you see a single woman that stands tall in her strength and fierceness, don’t be quick to judge and assume she wants the life of singlehood. Don’t judge if she did make this choice for herself. Personally, I have yet to meet a woman that wants to spend the rest of her life alone. Maybe she wants to get her career going so that she marries a man that sees her for the independent woman that she is. Or maybe she just claims to not be ready. (Same goes for any man that I have met.) While it may be her choice and maybe she does choose to be single, it is Allah swt alone who wills whether her naseeb and rizq is in this life or the next. This is to be understood whether it is about marriage or employment or anything else.
Allah swt has written for her what is best and if she has strong faith, she will understand that only the best for her awaits her. Another reality is that it may very well not be her choice at all. Some have not reached that level of being ready for marriage. Some are burdened with so much in life that marriage has not consumed them... yet. Some have never been asked or no one has actually expressed interest in having a relationship geared towards marriage with them. Some, God has created them to be meant for bigger things – whether it is to serve their family, Ummah, or Allah swt in ways we are not aware of. Whatever their reality may be, only Allah swt knows why it was written for them and NO ONE has to right to judge or claim ridiculous assumptions of “selfishness” or more comically state, “You should have gotten married younger. You didn’t try hard enough.” I can’t turn back time or astaghfurAllah demand God for an answer to why he put me in this situation of nearing 30, unemployed, and single when I want my life to look a different way. But, I 100% trust that this is best for me now and Allah knows best. Therefore, I don’t see my situation in any shape or form as negative as long as I continue to live my life serving Allah swt to the best of my abilities. Allah swt has blessed me with so much, AlhamduliAllah.
I have grown accustomed to responding to anyone who throws backhanded insults at my single status, with the clear assumption that there is either something wrong with me or I have not done my part in finding a man. I was raised on the deen to be a strong and independent woman who loves my family and considers myself to dress in comfortably modest clothing while barely wearing any make-up at all. This does not make me better or less than anyone else around me. This is just who I am and as long as who I am is not a disobedience to my creator, then I see no reason to change… As human beings, we are not perfect. However, just as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) married Khadija (may Allah swt be pleased with her) for exactly the strong woman she was, why should I not strive to follow in the footsteps of the greatest female role model and want someone who strives to follow in the footsteps of the greatest male role model in Islam.
Marriage is half our deen, but it is not the sole purpose for our lives or why Allah swt created us and put us on this earth. We are here first and foremost to serve Him and while marriage is a part of this, it is the not the only way to serve our Ummah and strengthen it. As Muslimahs, we are constantly told to make dua and put ourselves out there. Yes, we most definitely should. But also remember that just by making sincere dua and putting ourselves out there, whether it be for marriage, or employment, or anything else in life, it does not mean that it will be handed to us. It will happen when and if Allah wills it to happen and at the best time for us. Remember the words of Umar Ibn al-Khattab (may Allah swt be pleased with him), “No amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of worrying can change the future. Go easy on yourself for the outcome of all affairs is determined by Allah’s Decree. If something is meant to go elsewhere, it will never come on your way, but if it is yours by destiny, from you it cannot flee.”
Never forget the words of Allah swt, “But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you, and Allah knows while you know not.” [Qur'an, Surat Al-Baqara, verse 216]
There is not a person who knows me that doesn’t know that I have been struggling to find a stable job since 2013. I have my freelance editing and photography business as I continue to look for stable employment. I yearn to be able to use my university and graduate school degrees as well as practice my passions by working in publishing, education, or non-profit organizations. Almost as much negativity as being unmarried, I get so much heat for being unemployed, as if it is by choice. I continue to make dua and apply to hundreds of jobs and make as many connections as I can, all while knowing that the job will come whenever Allah swt has written for it to come. Patience is what I struggle with more than anything. While I struggle with my situations, my tawakul or trust always stands firmly in Allah swt and His plans for me. For whatever He has written for me is best for me and He does not place burdens on us that we can not handle.
Whatever you’re going through, place your tawakul in Allah swt. My single sisters, even my married sisters that are struggling with their marriages, or my sisters that are receiving heat for not bearing children, my unemployed sisters, all my sisters out there struggling in areas in which society and our cultures look down upon because it doesn’t meet their “ideal standards of norm” without actually understanding our situations, place your faith in Allah swt and allow Him to guide you.
I hope this even speaks to my friends and family that may not be religious or spiritual, everything happens for a reason. Don’t judge anyone because you cannot be placed in their shoes and please don’t use religion against anyone that is struggling. You are not better than anyone. Only Allah swt can judge. Only He knows what is in our hearts. AlhamduliAllah for that!
As always, this is a reminder first and foremost to myself before anyone else.