Segregation is one of those topics people tend to get up in arms about, whether for or against. Some people prefer partitions. Some people won’t attend events with partitions.
Those who oppose segregation tend to be either married couples who want to go to events together, or singles who lament their missed opportunity to mingle with the opposite sex. (Of course, there are conscientious objectors too, but let’s just leave them out of the discussion for now.) This begs the question: is segregation killing your chances of getting married?
At first glance, the answer could be yes. If there are no opportunities for people to see each other, let alone talk, it’s virtually impossible to meet anyone at Muslim events. Even when there’s no partition, social conventions often dictate minimal contact between the sexes. No one is going to escort you out of the building if you do talk to someone of the opposite sex, but it’s not easy. If you don’t know the person, it’s not the done thing to approach them and just say ‘so, isn’t this panel discussion on gender rights in Islam fascinating?’ Even if you have a slight acquaintance with the person, you usually need some pretext to strike up a conversation. This is particularly the case for females, who are often discouraged from initiating any form of expressing interest out of fear of appearing ‘desperate’.
Consequently, many people get into what I like to call a ‘locked eye romance’: exchanging glances and smiles over the refreshments table (everyone suddenly becomes a tea drinker at these things), maybe even a friend request, but not having the space or confidence to do anything further. This is typically the case in MSAs, where people may see each other every other week at BBQs or lectures but have little opportunity to engage in conversation. But this scenario plays out even after people have left university, leaving 20somethings to play the let’s-look-at-each-other-across-the-room game long after it was a fun teenage distraction. This can leave people dispirited and frustrated, and unless there’s a mutual friend who can help out, it frequently fizzles out and goes nowhere.
The lack of opportunity to talk to people of the opposite sex has one rather hilarious side effect: incentivising volunteering. Muslims love a good volunteer session, because not only do they get to feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but they also get an added bonus: a legitimate excuse to mix with people of the opposite sex. Whether it’s helping out on a uni Shura, feeding the homeless or planting some cute little seedlings, activities will necessitate some level of interaction, and from there, it’s much easier to strike up a conversation organically. Volunteering is seen as a less confronting way of meeting people than an explicitly matrimonial event, since everything happens ‘incidentally’. Of course, it could be seen as slightly problematic that people are volunteering partly to meet a cutie with a social conscience, but others see it as the only real ‘in’ when everything else is segregated.
But is desegregation the saviour of the shoddy Muslim matrimonial scene? Well, not really. It may eliminate some problems, such as a lack of opportunity, but it can introduce all kinds of other pesky dilemmas. If people are very casual about gender interaction, it could very likely result in a very relaxed, let’s-talk-for-years-before-we-decide attitude to marriage. This could work for some people, but for others, it’s just plain annoying and not at all conducive to finding a spouse. It’s all too common for people to get stuck in the Muslim friendzone, a place where hangouts and flirtations abound but from which marriages very rarely eventuate.
The Muslim friendzone is not an entirely comfortable place to be, even for people who aren’t particular fussed about gender mixing. It’s difficult for Muslim men and women to become BFFs in the first place because so many topics are just entirely off-limits. If they do become close, one person will often decide that they want more and end up either getting rejected in spectacular fashion or pining away in secret, reading text messages dozens of times to extract hidden meanings. Inevitably, people tend to distance themselves from their friends of the opposite sex once they get married, so some might argue that there’s not much point in investing in a relationship which is bound to die off.
I don’t have any solutions as to how to crack the code of meeting someone. Clearly, it’s not as simple as having a big fat freemixing fest. Some people may argue that it’s not the Muslim community’s responsibility to find you a husband/wife, that if you come to Islamic classes or events your intention shouldn’t be to meet people. However, some may argue that marriage is a communal responsibility and that if we as a community don’t do more to facilitate marriages, people will resort to less reputable, riskier methods. I definitely see the issue of marriage as something we all should invest in and share as a communal responsibility, but I’m just not sure how this should be addressed. The more I see, the more I think it’s simply a matter of luck/naseeb/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, of being in the right place and the right mentality at the right time. Whether you want to wait for that to happen or try to cook up a bit of your own naseeb over a bake sale is entirely your call.
How do you think Muslims could more easily meet and form connections? Does there need to be a more concerted event as a community to facilitate marriages?