Where are the Healthy Gender Relations in the Muslim Community?

By Salam Al-Marayati

We have failed in engendering healthy gender relations in our community. Face it. I travel throughout the United States, and I see troubling signs of Muslim women unable to get married, primarily because Muslim men have abdicated their social responsibilities.

Muslim men can marry non-Muslims– so they oblige — and Muslim women are stuck.  There are usually few young men around in Muslim community events. You attend any Muslim gathering and find young Muslim women outnumbering young Muslim men usually by a 3:1 ratio.  The young men are non-existent, coping with their own psychosis passed down from our community in their dysfunctional practices. Nothing wrong in integrating within the larger society, as long as it’s not at the expense of fleeing your own community.

I put the majority of the blame on us, their parents, for failing to remove the awkwardness when Muslim guy meets Muslim girl. They never developed healthy interpersonal relationships as adolescents because mosques just aren’t built to do that. The second a family walks into a mosque, the father and sons go to one side and the mother and daughters go to the other. My mosque is different, but it is the exception that proves the rule. The second a young man leaves the mosque, he’s free. The young woman, on the other hand, is stuck.

I was speaking at a university event of Muslim students, and as I was walking into the room, I saw young men and women chattering, chuckling, and just being normal. That’s right, just normal. There was no sex taking place and no inappropriate behavior. So those who act as our religious police, get a grip — just talking. That normalcy is missing in our mosques. We turn into abnormal, asexual and agitated beings when we enter a mosque. Anyway, when I entered the meeting of Muslim students, the guys went to the furthest side of the room away from the women. When I asked why, the answer was that throughout their Muslim upbringing, in Muslim schools nonetheless, it was always awkward for young women and men to mingle. In one Muslim school in Sacramento, the the boys claimed the Imam decreed it haram to talk to girls.

I put the rest of the blame on young Muslim men. Yes, we put enough pressure on them. They were punished in schools because they couldn’t sit still or had so much pent up energy. But parents, and especially mothers, have babied them too much. They are copping out. Here’s the issue now: More young Muslim women are achieving in academics and careers at higher rates than young Muslim men. You find more women doctors, lawyers and even engineers in our community. That intimidates the guys. They can’t handle women achieving when they are struggling in their schools or in finding a profession acceptable to their parents, which typically means being a doctor or lawyer or engineer.

But this idea of the man being the sole breadwinner in the family is very rare, folks. Financial responsibilities are shared now between husband and wife, and so should parental responsibilities. So guys, get over it. If you want to develop machismo, there is nothing more endearing to a woman than a man who can take care of her children and her home. It’s not about taking her out to the fanciest restaurant any more. It’s about taking the kids out so mom can relax, cleaning the dishes after meals and making a gourmet meal for your lover. But still take her out to a fancy restaurant once in a while.

Some guys have another idea on how to manage in finding a wife. Pick one from “back home” and bring her to America, where she will be happy and indebted to you for life. Ah, that doesn’t work all the time — actually, rarely does it work–but to each his own.

If Islam’s essence is justice, then aren’t we violating the essence of Islam when we accept Muslim men marrying non-Muslims while we violently reject Muslim women doing the same? I’m not saying I have the answers, but what I am saying is there needs to be more conversations about this crisis.

Masculinity in this era requires us men to have the courage to weather emotional storms and to confront danger from unhealthy relationships.  The days of exerting physical supremacy and financial prowess are over. Grow some juevos and be a man, as Malcolm X said, by becoming more responsible towards the women in your lives.

Salam Al-Marayati is executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an American institution which informs and shapes public opinion and policy by serving as a trusted resource to decision makers in government, media and policy institutions. Al-Marayati has written extensively on Islam, human rights, democracy, Middle East politics and the Muslim American communities. You can learn more about his work at www.mpac.org.

  • Muhammed

    A number of relevant issues raised – but some of the conclusions drawn and solutions being posited are off-track. Healthy gender relations are not necessarily developed by open “mingling.”

    On the issue of the “breadwinner”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fjGyS1kqMA

    Here are some balanced thoughts, that are more strongly rooted in traditional scholarship.



    Props on an attempt to develop healthy conversation on some important issues, but there is an element of balance missing. The Imam’s words in Sacramento lie at one extreme, but a mosque has its etiquette and is not simply a free-for-all.

  • Salman Dia-Eddine

    salam, hello, ahlan, bonjour, guten tag …. Quite a thought-provoking article but I do object on a few grounds.

    One is that this article I believe, is really only talking about a certain section of the community that believes in such strict gender segregation. Yes, we’ll always have a few men who think its a sin to be on the same planet as a woman. But I don’t think the broader North American Muslim community faces the problems outlined here – Muslim men and women still interact quite comfortably on college campuses, the workplace, in malls and public places, restaurants, and so on. I don’t understand why the term “Muslim community” must be viewed as the exclusive domain of the mosque.

    You mentioned Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women and pointed to this as one of the reasons why Muslim women aren’t finding suitable husbands. Are there any stats on this, at all? I’ve lived all over USA and Canada (west, south, central, east, north) and I have a variety of different social circles amongst my Muslim peers and acquaintances and in ALL of those circles, its almost unheard of to find Muslim guys marrying non-Muslim women. It just seemed like perhaps the author was inadvertently placing an inordinate amount of attention on what to me, has always seemed to be something very small.

    A lot of women are also very picky these days. They want to hold off on marriage while they pursue their advanced studies or build careers. But we are all creatures with gut instincts. If I am a 30-year old single male looking to get married and have children, I’m really not going to be that attracted to the vast majority of 30-year old females. Some yes, but not most. I’m going to be looking at those that are around 23 – 27 year old range. And those 30-year old women? They don’t want to settle for a 40-year old divorced guy with kids. That’s the nature of things. If women are complaining about the lack of quality partners, maybe its because they’ve priced themselves out of the equation.


  • Yildirim

    Islam is the essence of justice. If there is any fault in seeing that is only because of lack of time spent to understand a question such as men being able to marry non-muslim women. First of all this is wrong. Muslim men can only marry believers within people of the book. This is a huge restriction, meaning this is completely removing the people who believe Jesus is son of God (a main branch of Christianity).

    Men and and women are equal in islam, but please understand that equality does not mean identicality. Men are different in shape, size, role and emotions from women. Thus when women get certain rights according to islam such as that they deserve 75% of childrens love compared to the father who only gets 25% does not mean inequality. Neither when men gets the right to marry “non-muslims” does not equate to inequality. Men and women get same kinds of rights in most things but in few its different since we are different beings.

    This way of immature thinking leads to the same conclusion that if adults can drink alcohol but minors cant then its injustice?? there is a logical reason.. please think and investigate.

  • maryam

    incredibly important piece on discussions which we need to have more frequently in our communities.

  • Diane Gordon

    Well, I have a very diverse bunch of friends, and I don’t know anyone who married somebody from their own ethnic group. I wouldn’t criticize anybody for marrying outside of their tribe. It’s typically American.

  • http://www.mpvusa.org Ani

    Really glad you’re talking about this Salam. When I organized a scholarly talk on the subject “Can a Muslim Women Marry non-Muslim Men”, it was boycotted by members of the traditional community, led by men. I wrote about this too but from the perspective of our religious right to marry who we want, free from the culture baggage of our parents home country: http://www.aslanmedia.com/aslan-media-columns/ummah-wake-up/item/217-can-muslim-women-marry-non-muslim-men?-yes-we-can#.UPjP1B1Ii48

  • S. Syed-Ali

    More power to you, Mr. Marayati. You have hit the key points that face our youth in America. The parents of a son and a daughter, both in college, we have taught them from the time they were tots that it is okay to talk to people of the other sex, to be friends with them, but also to know the boundaries within which we as Muslims must live.
    We both work, I’m a lousy cook but can grill chicken and fish – and cut apples and other fruits – and pack my wife’s lunch, and the men in our house have no problem doing the dishes (and bathrooms, and laundry!). And in 24 years of marriage, I don’t think my wife has ever had to iron my clothes.
    I have heard imams, mostly recent imports from the Middle East, scold their congregations about the need to maintain gender segregation, about how, if two unattached people of opposite genders are together, the devil keeps them company and similar balderdash.
    When we meet people of the opposite sex professionally, we have no problems shaking hands – a practice frowned upon by the imam of the masjid I used to attend. Guess what, it is just another way to say salam, hello, and it is a handshake, nothing more.
    Our daughter – and yes, she is among the very bright young Muslimas, says most Muslim men are awkward to talk to, specially at the masjid. When she was in high school in Florida, guys she met in school were fairly normal, but when they saw her at the masjid they would pretend not to notice, or ignored her.
    Now that she is in college in the Boston area, she has found a better mix of Muslim men, and they sometimes go to the masjid where Shoeb Webb (not sure of the spelling) is the imam; she much prefers that to some of the rigidly conservative imams she has heard in the past.
    Our son, who is an achiever in his own right, says it is harder to talk to Muslim girls at social events because their parents start hovering around, somewhat agitatedly, or stand and stare till the conversation gets over. Such conversations do not last long! Or the long looks could come from the “aunties,” and that is equally unsettling.
    In any of these cases, there is no sense of normalcy. They are young, it is okay to be friendly, it is okay to be interested in the opposite sex. If there is strict segregation, guess who they will get to meet the most? yes, non-Muslims.
    So, in most traditional masjids – and they are the majority – there is a sense of social discomfit. I attended such a masjid for years, listening to the khutba and wondering if the imam was truly such an idiot or whether he felt compelled to spew the stuff he had learned during his training. But it was a Friday, and the prayer had to be in jamaat. The imam kept on about the need to say all prayers at the masjid, while I would rather say most at home.
    Iftars in Ramadan were another issue – I work evenings, and my wife and I get few evenings together, so we would rather break fast together, or with friends, rather than be separated by the gender wall at the masjid.
    I now attend a masjid where the imam is an African-American who became a Muslim 33 years ago. The congregation is small but ethnically mixed, and the imam talks of living life in America, not 7th century Arabia. The prayers are in a hall where the men are at the front and the women at the back – the shape of the hall make it hard to separate them with an aisle. Our kids, when in town, prefer to go there rather than the other places in our county, where loud admonitions are substituted for commonsense.

  • RHF

    Bravo! This article is extremely well done and should be the start of a longer series of conversations.

  • Anon

    “But this idea of the man being the sole breadwinner in the family is very rare, folks. Financial responsibilities are shared now between husband and wife, and so should parental responsibilities.”

    Is it? Are they? All the women I’ve come across don’t believe in sharing financial responsiblities, and this seems to be the going opinion in the US. Since the message of Islam is justice, it makes sense to ask that women not have their cake and eat it. If you earn an income and come home tired from work then don’t expect not to contribute, financially. I’m not a believer in women working all day and then coming home to dirty laundry, either. Ultimately, we have to strike a balance in our marital division of labour- if your wife works, then split the household chores fairly.

    I wonder whether that sounds reasonable or not.

  • Yousef

    I am sorry, but this is bogus. Maybe most of the U.S., which I heard from other brothers and sisters, but the D.C. Metro area is the complete opposite. I have tried getting married for 3 years now. I am young (23 years old) and I get the same message all the time, which is “I am not ready yet.” Both men and women are at fault.

  • Single Muslim Guy

    Dear Sir,

    I think this article is overall poorly thought out and takes a stab at a problem which is not so simplistic in nature. In my response, I don’t intend to be rude, but frankly, I’m tired of the nonsense that the Muslim community and Muslim women spew about how they have been failed by the Muslim man. So, here goes.

    I’m not sure where to begin so I will walk through your marauding article to start.

    “I see troubling signs of Muslim women unable to get married, primarily because Muslim men have abdicated their social responsibilities.”

    I know just as many single Muslim men that are not married as single women. It’s a problem that both sides are struggling with. Also, what is the “social responsibility” of men that you refer to? Be explicit, it’s easy to throw statements like this out without thought and backup.

    “Muslim men can marry non-Muslims– so they oblige — and Muslim women are stuck.“

    Ask God about this rule. If your interpretation is that it’s not a requirement that Muslim women marry a Muslim man, that’s OK too, really, but please let’s stop using this as an excuse for unmarried Muslim women. Accept it as a rule in the religion, or accept that it’s something that is no longer relevant. Move on…

    “There are usually few young men around in Muslim community events. You attend any Muslim gathering and find young Muslim women outnumbering young Muslim men usually by a 3:1 ratio”

    Which Muslim events do you go to? I would like to know about any event where there are 3 women to every man. Are these actual figures? Did you count? I regularly attend Muslim events where the single men far outnumber the single women. Unless you have substantial and meaningful statistics, it’s often better to avoid the numbers, they weaken your argument.

    “I put the majority of the blame on us, their parents”

    I do too. You bring your cultural baggage (which is in no way linked to the religion) and rub it off on your kids. Since you believe this is the majority of the blame, you should focus on this problem from now on.

    “I put the rest of the blame on young Muslim men”

    I was really interested in seeing where this one was going.

    “More young Muslim women are achieving in academics and careers at higher rates than young Muslim men.”

    Do you have figures to back this up? Let’s say it was true, why do you think this is happening? I know why I stopped after only getting my masters degree, because a) going for a PhD doesn’t make much sense as an engineer b) I had financial obligations to meet.

    “That intimidates the guys. They can’t handle women achieving when they are struggling in their schools”

    Are you intimidated by smarter women? What does your wife do? I don’t know where you get these ideas from? Do you have figures to backup your broad strokes? I’ve met many well educated Muslim women (women who have more advanced degrees than myself). I’m never intimidated. On the contrary, I’m actually impressed and I admire it. But what I find (almost without exception) is that these women want somebody who has the same level of education as them. Or somebody who makes more than them. It’s what they want.

    “But this idea of the man being the sole breadwinner in the family is very rare, folks. Financial responsibilities are shared now between husband and wife, and so should parental responsibilities”

    Explain this to the women. They want to work, have a career, make money, have kids but they want the guy to take care of the family and help at home, take care of the kids, take care of her etc. It’s very simple, if women want to work, fine, but expect to participate financially in equal part. I will take care of the house and kids in equal part, don’t worry. Please don’t tell me it’s “machismo” to take care of your woman and family. Decide where you want to be ladies. In the past, or in the present. You can’t have both. Pick one, please. Otherwise I’ll start going back to what it means to be “feminine” and “womanly” back in the 50’s since you insist on referring to what it means to be “a man” from back then.

    I am self employed (do you know how hard it is to meet a Muslim woman when you don’t have a certain level of income?). I recently got out of knowing a girl who was a doctor. In the middle of our talking, she tells me she is concerned she will have to bear the financial burden in the relationship! We had gone out 8 times, I never once asked her to pay for anything, and this is her concern. Are you kidding me?!

    “Ah, that doesn’t work all the time — actually, rarely does it work–but to each his own.”

    Indeed, to each his own. Again, you don’t have any figures to backup your broad strokes. I might argue that the failure rate of marriages between a guy here and one from “back home” is probably lower. In my circle of friends, I know 6 divorced Muslim women all under 40, all got out of marriages with Muslim men who grew up here. This is in my immediate community. Some of them have been divorced more than once.

    “If Islam’s essence is justice, then aren’t we violating the essence of Islam when we accept Muslim men marrying non-Muslims while we violently reject Muslim women doing the same?”

    Why don’t we let Muslim women decide? If they think they are breaking the rule and want to go ahead, so be it. If they think the rule does not apply in an era where Islam is well established, so be it. Why are men deciding? When your daughter wants to marry outside of Islam, respect her decision and support her.

    “Masculinity in this era requires us men to have the courage to weather emotional storms and to confront danger from unhealthy relationships.“

    Define masculinity. What is femininity for that matter?

    “The days of exerting physical supremacy and financial prowess are over”

    Explain that to women.

    “Grow some juevos and be a man, as Malcolm X said, by becoming more responsible towards the women in your lives.”

    What has this got to do with getting married. You’re confusing lines of thought. Taking care of the people in your lives assumes they are in your life. We’re talking about getting them to be part of our lives in the first place. Also, what does it mean to be a man? Having juevos?

    It used to be easier I think. Men and women had clear roles. The guy had to work and bring home the money, the woman stayed at home and took care of the house and the kids. Now, for better or worse, it has mostly changed. Women work, they make money, sometimes more than their husbands. With this change, men are expected (rightly so) to take care of the house as well and also the kids. The problem is that while this has happened, women still expect to be financially reliant on men.

    I think Muslim women also make it harder in general. I recently met a Muslim girl who on our second date out said that if I didn’t get engaged with her, her mother would probably not want us to continue speaking with each other! On our third date she already wanted to start planning wedding date?! What is going on? Ladies, if you don’t let me go through the normal process of getting to know you without jumping 5 steps to marriage I will not do it. It’s really simple. Not because I’m intimidated or scared of commitment, but because I don’t know you!! I haven’t met your family! You haven’t met mine! Have you gone completely mad!?

    So overall, I categorically reject your thesis. Muslim men are not to blame for the problem of single women and men in Muslim communities. It is just as much the women’s fault, probably more so. They really need to think about why they are single. How many opportunities did they miss to get married with a decent guy but felt they wanted something better. Will a doctor marry a decent man who happens to have fallen on hard times and is unemployed? Will a lawyer marry a man who makes less than her? Will a woman who has a PhD marry a guy who has a bachelors degree?

    I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, but I can’t believe the director of MPAC wrote this article. It’s a poorly thought out thesis and doesn’t solve any problems. It attacks one side without really understanding the problem. Might I recommend that you please, please stop. Focus on the women in your life. Let your daughters marry outside of Islam and set an example. Let them marry an unemployed man. Let them marry a coffee shop owner. Let them marry the under employed writer. Let’s start there. You can do it.

    P.S.: Altmuslim should state clearly if these comments will be posted on the site and also if the email address and name will be made public along with the comment.

  • Shami Kebab

    Though I agree with the sentiment of this article– particularly that young muslim boys and girls need exposure to each other within our communities in a normal way that is reflective of the societal norms of the countries we live in– I also think its more complicated than simply social awkwardness and a disparity of gender performance that is resulting in this divide, and I’ll explain more fully later on. The double-standard of gender-interactions certainly does lead to awkwardness between brothers & sisters and yet normal interaction between muslim and non-muslims of the opposite gender. But why is that? It’s because we are often strictly judged for talking to Muslim girls while growing up, if not by the girl’s family and the intimidating eyes of her father/brothers, then by our own families for doing so let alone community gossip. I can testify that as a Muslim man, I have in the past and STILL struggle with knowing where the acceptable boundary of conveying interest (or none) lies when interacting with sisters because I was told to be very proper/formal with them as a child. As well-intentioned as this teaching was for me and many others, it did create a divide that couldn’t hold up when it came to interacting with non-muslim women and I think part of the problem is because it was presumed that the Muslim girls would understand while their non-Muslim counterparts wouldn’t, so we had to be normal around them instead if we wanted to avoid being social outcastes. To this day I feel guilty showing any kind of public interest in a woman, and I know that’s not healthy. At the very least, we should be able to talk to muslims of the other sex without being chastised or seen as flirty or less of a muslim for doing so. It grieved me much in college how I could talk to non-muslim female buddies of mine casually, walk to my MSA and get in the elevator with a sister and not even acknowledge each other’s presence (which sadly, did actually happen.) If we take the terms “brother” and “sister” seriously, why don’t we acknowledge each other the way we do non-Muslims of the opposite sex? I want to be closer to my Muslim sister but I end up closer to my non-Muslim sister, and this is a problem. Modify this barrier, and we’ll see some improvement.

    Secondly, men universally are falling behind women and that’s not just a Muslim phenomena. Sadly here too, we must face realities within our communities. The Psychologist, Philip Zimbardo’s book, “The Demise of Guys” explains how our modern generation (especially males) is affected by technology’s instant gratification and how this in turn changes the brain by dopamine addictions that warp our reactions to pleasure, sense of reality and affect our motivation by chemical changes in the brain. Thankfully all this can be reversed. It is important to note that given many of the haraam activities our contemporaries invite us to, many of us prefer to stay indoors and be computer-geeks, but this is not a healthy trend either. I would also like to add that the author is correct in saying that many Muslim moms are babying their sons and not giving them enough room to grow and mature as men while their fathers are stuck in work all day- they have little positive male-mentoring because of this, let alone the language/age divide that many of us face with our parents. I grew up in a strong female-lead household and learned the value of respect for women early but I still don’t see myself as a stay-at-home dad while my wife is a bread-winner. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with that set-up if it works, I just think that a man is properly respected if he is both provider and care-giver and not just one or the other. Lastly, I don’t think its ok for Muslim women to start relationships with non-Muslim guys JUST BECAUSE Muslim guys can. If she can’t get married to a Muslim guy that’s different. But it’s not ok for women to copy mens’ mistakes in general. Yes, its allowed for us to marry among ahl-al-kitab but it is not preferred. Many men do not even exhaust their search for a muslimah before they move on to non-Muslims and this is wrong. Moreover, the allowance is there in part to preserve chastity especially if one fears committing zina, but most Muslim guys won’t even think that far; a flashing yellow light [caution] is a green light for them.

  • JoFro

    The Muslim man looks at the Prophet on how to be a man. Before the Quran was revealed to the Prophet, he had one wife, a Nestorian Christian, who was much older to him and a businesswoman and he was married to her for years. They even adopted two children, didn’t they?

    Once she passed away, he took 13 wives. His wives ranged from the ages of 9 to their 50s. He was known to have concubines as well.

    Are you honestly suggesting that Muslim men go clean the dishes and take care of the children while their wives go out and work? And be married to just one woman, when he has the choice to marry 3 more? You want him to go and marry a hard-working Muslim girl when he can go out and get a non-Muslim to sleep around with and then marry and possibly convert to the Islamic faith?

    This is silly talk and no Muslim man whose aware of Islam is going to take you seriously!

    P.S. I’m sure you’re not going to show my message on your page but I hope it atleast makes you think.

  • http://rouilliewilkerson.wordpress.com/ Rouillie Wilkerson

    Intersting article. But seriously, I think the problem lay largely in the perception of American Muslims – period. We don’t have a history of support or tolerance like a number of other western countries and Islamic based ones. I myself, for instance, am looking outside of the US to complete my deen. I want somebody practicing that isn’t trying to push “innovations,” and pretend like Islam has a modern face aside from what is taught in the Qur’an. The online rubbish on “Islamic subjects, issues and lifestyles” that are US based, is appalling! I just don’t want to deal with it here…Insha’Allah.

  • Pamela Taylor

    Right on, Salam. Our gender relations are a clear commentary on the failure of ikhwan theology. Sad to say, I’m afraid gender relations in the American Muslim community are far better than they are in many Muslim communities.

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  • Manal

    Islam has its own rules that are not written down by prophet mohammed peace be upon him but they are from Alla so it is very dangrous to say that awomen should marry non muslium men because this is forbbiden in the Quran,if there is issues regarding young muslim women ,then the muslim community should try to solve it ,also the mosgue is our holly place where all muslims go to pray & listen to their scholars but not a place for girls and boys interactions though there is alot of other places for that even in muslims countries

  • Jekyll

    Are you the high priestess of equality Islam that led a prayer in front of confused men ? I am sorry to be up front, but it’s people like you that make the conservatives run back into their majidis and even the people who want to see changes, good halal changes frown. You are much to blame for the injustices against women as the Ikwans.

  • Jekyll

    You are not alone, sister.

  • Jekyll

    AAhhh…I see a troll…

  • Jekyll

    ani zoonveld I believe, yes boycott was correct. Another manji like person…Gay rights, inter marriages mixed prayers, it’s all good right ?

  • Syeda Sarah

    Dude, where did you learn about Islam? Your mind is twisted in so many knots, it makes me dizzy. Undo them and learn again.

  • Syeda Sarah

    I don’t care who is at fault here but, you sir, are not qualified to doubt the clear rules of the religion.

  • rachel grey

    are you honestly suggesting its acceptable to take a 9 year old as a wife???? are you KIDDING ME???
    Oh and yes, do the damn dishes.. it’s 2014, not the stone ages.