“One day, Prince Charming will come along, sweep me off my feet, and we’ll go off on a honeymoon to the Maldives and live happily ever after, insha’Allah (God-willing). He’ll be well-off and have all the qualities of a distinguished man: polite, charming, dignified, and best of all, a real romantic. At last. My soulmate. Alhamdulillah, I’ll finally have my guy!”
That’s the dream that we have on the journey to finding love. But isn’t reality different for most?
I get you! There is so much pressure to find someone; whether that’s pressure from your friends, parents, or your nagging auntie who won’t let you forget that you’re still single! But the most challenging thing I believe is the paradox of choice: whilst there are so many options available, making decisions becomes that much more difficult. Sound familiar?
We have matrimonial apps, social media, in-person events, matchmakers, as well as friends and family as potential leads to find someone that will complete half of our deen (faith). However, I find that as a relationship coach, many of my clients are increasingly reporting that this ‘conveyor belt’ isn’t working very well, and once you’re on it, you get lost in all the noise.
This article doesn’t aim to cover where a couple should meet, who they should have present, nor the fiqh (the do’s and don’ts from a religious perspective) of marriage. What I aim to cover is how you can navigate the path to finding your ideal life partner.
I believe that the system needs an overhaul. Finding the right person, albeit like finding a needle in a haystack, isn’t and shouldn’t be impossible. It’s about the process.
So how do you go about attracting your ‘type’, whether in-person or through a DM, and how can you make it a process such that you’re not exhausted by considering and responding to all of those hopefuls?
Is Halal Dating the Answer?
If dating is about being casual about the whole process, a ‘no strings attached approach, ‘try before you buy or no intention of marriage nor readiness, then no! I don’t advocate that approach.
However, if you’re talking about the willingness to resist temptations -that is, you’re Allah-conscious in your communications-, and you have values of commitment, integrity, and the intention of marrying, then yes! But then I would call it Halal Courtship. Halal Courtship is all about having healthy boundaries to protect your mind, body, and spirit, and being exclusively involved with one person until a final decision is reached. No more playing around!
The early stages of courtship are the most tricky to navigate, and for this reason, it is prudent to have clarity on the journey to ensure that you don’t attract the wrong people, and thereby become disillusioned by the whole process – which may have been a beautiful one if done right.
So what is the process of Halaal Courtship?
1. Authenticity Before You Attract
I have come across countless singles in my work who have been looking for a very long time, and complain that their ’funnel’ isn’t attracting the right type of person. They’re mostly attracting people who are misrepresenting themselves.
Can you imagine how tiring and frustrating it must be to sift through all of the profiles and in-person meet-ups? We all have a finite ‘energy basket’, and we should be careful not to waste our precious time, energy, and in some cases money.
And here’s the irony of it all: we expect someone to have it all, and present themselves honestly… but we’re not even clear about who we are, and are therefore not entirely representing ourselves authentically. Or in other cases, we’ll deliberately misrepresent ourselves to widen the net because we gotta catch ‘em all.
The fact is that most of us know it’s important to be authentic in life, to be our true selves, and to put our best foot forward. However, if we know that being authentic is key, why is it so hard for people, especially when it comes to our online profiles? Well, it’s about going past the awareness stage and doing the work that’s needed, to find out who we truly are and what we want.
I too had to do some inner work with a coach to unpack who I was and what I needed from life. Some of those discoveries were the basis of many conversations with my wife Victoria when we were courting. Both of us were vulnerable enough to not falsely represent ourselves.
We both had painful past relationship experiences that left us emotionally closed. Victoria asked if I would ever move on, and I shuddered at the thought. I was too heartbroken. I remember her response: ‘be guarded, yet open, in case the right person comes along. That was the first time I realized that I had a belief that was stopping me from moving on from the pain of a breakup, but it also helped me to see that there was hope for me. As long as I protected my heart. So being truly authentic helped me to break through my limitations.
I believe that this stage of discovery is what many single Muslims will skip over because it’ll take too long, or I know who I am. Even if you knew that this foundational work could potentially help you to meet the love of your life? The person you were meant for?
We’re constantly changing and evolving as individuals and that requires a regular check-in.
The journey to true companionship and love lies in the beginning; the way we get to know ourselves first, to present ourselves authentically.
Remember, our actions are judged by our intentions.
‘Umar bin Al Khattab was reported to have heard the Prophet say: “The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]
In summary, take the time to get to know who you are, and don’t be afraid to say things about who you are. Don’t ever misrepresent yourself! Remember, who you are and what you have to say about yourself do not have to resonate with everyone; you have to have your quirkiness! And that’s the secret – you will then begin to attract your ‘type’.
2. Boundaries Before You Begin
By being authentic, you are now hopefully attracting the right people, but you mustn’t let your guard down, and diligently sift through people who have reached out to you; disingenuous people will always cheekily still try to creep through and take advantage of your honesty.
You must stay safe and protect yourself by setting clear boundaries when you begin to communicate with someone.
I have come across hundreds of cases over the years where individuals became emotionally invested without setting any safe boundaries and failed to protect themselves. They ended up making mistakes and eventually being heartbroken. Don’t let that be you, brothers and sisters.
Creating clear boundaries means that you are not only deliberate about how you put yourself out there, but you also have clarity on your Rules of Engagement. Yes, rules are very important, otherwise, you may get so lost in all that sweet talk that happens in the “honeymoon courting phase”, that you won’t be able to see the wood for the trees; there’s too much detail.
Here are some rules that I recommend my clients consider whilst they are courting:
1. Personal information
What personal details are you willing to share and at what stage of the process (such as your home address, family members, or place of work)?
2. Your approach to communication
– Determine what is acceptable to discuss and what isn’t.
– How often will you communicate – daily, or weekly?
– How will you discuss things? Will you use any tools and resources to help you to have meaningful conversations that help you not only get to know the person but also stay focused and safe?
– Will you use a relationship coach as a sounding board to help you sift through some specific questions to ask, who can also help you see when you are making excuses for someone, and therefore leaving yourself open to being taken advantage of?
– What things are you passionate about that you will agree to disagree with, and what will cross the line?
3. Set a time limit
How long are you willing to give to this stage? A week, a month? How about late nights or when there’s a time difference? I was in a long-distance relationship with Victoria and we were 6 hours apart, and believe me, it was the time when I had rings under my eyes. Investing your time in the early stages can be very exhausting so it’s important that you set clear boundaries and expectations right from the start.
4. ‘Meeting’ online
Meeting someone in person isn’t always possible and in some cases impractical, so you must jump onto a video chat within the first couple of weeks if you’re interested in someone. Otherwise, there’s a real danger of being catfished. You must get this out of the way to avoid the pain of finding out later.
5. Sharing photos
It’s beautiful to share parts of your world when you’re trying to get to know someone, to even impress them, but you have to be careful that you don’t overshare. So consider what private images of yourself and your family you are willing to share. Your work or parts of your social life? These are important decisions and may come back to bite you if you are not careful. Some horror stories include images being used to blackmail someone into giving money, and threats of sharing images on the internet or with family and friends.
6. What you’re asked to do
Think about what you are being asked to do. This is a tactic used by disingenuous people to test the boundaries with you. They start with small requests and it goes from there. Be careful if you are vulnerable, in need of companionship, have an unhealthy attachment style, or have past trauma, etc. You are their ideal person to abuse and they will quickly be able to determine this. Things that you can be tested by may include:
1. Money – asking for money or giving you money to ‘buy’ your loyalty
2. Keeping promises – test you through keeping ‘low level’ secrets to start with such as ‘I won’t tell anyone if you don’t and moving on to more serious things such as ‘I’ve never told this to anyone before…’’
3. Physical requests – touching hands, kissing, and sexual requests
7. Emotional abuse
On one hand, they are charming, kind, and sweet, confessing that you are the perfect person for them, and the next they are withholding praise or affection i.e. it comes and goes. They may also make you feel that you are overreacting when you question something really important so that you even question your mental well-being. And there are the threats to leave because you don’t deserve them, so you feel like you’re inferior which affects your sense of self-worth. It gets messy when it’s like this.
- Don’t forget to check!
You mustn’t shy away from doing this. It is one time within our faith that we are allowed to and should ask very personal questions from a nominated referee about the person you’re communicating with. Why? Because you want to check that what someone has shared with you matches up with an independent and impartial person. That is why the person who gives you a reference should not be a relative but an Imam, community leader, or someone they have traveled or traded with.
3. Conscious Choice Before You Commit
Now that you’ve started to attract the right people insha’Allah, and have set clear boundaries of communication to keep you safe, it’s time to relax a bit. No! This is perhaps the most difficult part as it’s about deciding to move ahead with someone and commit. Many people will get cold feet at this stage because they’ll be saying yes. And when you’re saying yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. This is when doubts will creep in. Therefore, the decision may be difficult, especially if you’ve had past negative experiences, your attachment style, or your deep-seated beliefs around commitment.
As you will be making an important decision about your future life, it‘s vital to have an outsider perspective and that’s precisely what we do as relationship coaches. You can’t always see clearly when you’re in it. In our work, we help individuals to navigate this often complex, but hugely important, stage of their life.
Some of the things that my wife and I have come across in our work include faith being used to commit quickly (spiritual pressure), so the choices made are rushed and not the best. Sometimes individuals are insecure due to previous relationship break-ups, therefore, find it difficult to say no. Some have even been manipulated or controlled, and as a result, are vulnerable, but can’t see it. Others are too emotionally attached, and their decision-making is foggy, even though they have come across several red flags.
If you’ve done the right work to get you to this stage, you should be clear and confident about why you’re deciding to choose to move forward. And that doesn’t mean you have committed for life yet, but it does mean that you are serious enough and are now ‘engaged’ to this person in a Halal Courtship to commit. No more the grass may be greener elsewhere, peeps!
If on the other hand, you don’t wish to continue, you have to find the courage and ways to end the communication. Don’t feel guilty. It’s your life. You cannot and should not make a blind decision. It has to be based on who you are, what you need, and of course, some wants and desires. The key thing is that you should be very clear on what’s acceptable or not so that when you’re making a choice, it’s a conscious choice considering all the facts.
You should never feel that you are being forced or pressured to make a decision, and there is no defined time limit on when you should choose. It’s all a personal matter. The main thing is that in all of your interactions, make sure that you are Allah-conscious. Yes, being in a Halal Courtship means you should keep it halal, bro! Stay within the boundaries set within our faith, and that includes where you meet, the types of conversations that you have, and how sincere you are.
Whilst the courting process may be full of excitement and fun, we mustn’t get carried away by romantic notions of perfection, and your expectations are so high that there isn’t a person as such that exists on planet Earth. On the contrary, don’t be so gullible to the point that you’re not protecting yourself by throwing yourself irresponsibly into every encounter that you have with someone.
Choosing a life partner will be one of the most important decisions that you will ever make in your life. This person will be the mother/father of your child, your business advisor, your leisure friend, and ultimately, your retirement companion!
When I think of my wife Victoria as my retirement companion, I can’t wait until we’re on the sunny shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Granada, Spain. Sitting back, sipping some Soy Chai Latte, and chatting about how life is beautiful because we’re helping Muslims to create, cultivate, and celebrate love. The halal way!
So you see, all the work that I did to become authentic to myself was in preparation to receive Victoria in my life. Alhamdulillah, none of it was in vain. Now it’s your turn to do the same.
I pray to Allah that you all remain authentic, stay safe, protect your hearts and minds, and find everlasting love, Ameen.
Originally published on www.muslimmatters.org