I watched “Titanic” as an 11-year-old in Malaysia, an exhilarated guilt coursing through me as I knew my parents would not approve. They were at work, my sister was in her room, and I had the TV all to myself. I distinctly remember feeling inspired by the idea of the young, reckless love depicted in the movie, which was swiftly followed by utter mortification at the scenes showing physical intimacy. I was a product of a Pakistani, Muslim household, and any form of physical contact with the opposite sex was severely frowned upon. I grew up watching my parents display restrained affection, manifested in subtle, fleeting looks meant only for each other. For me, that was love.
Fast forward a few years to being a 19-year-old in Australia; I recall now with great amusement how I once talked about my Pakistani friend’s “love marriages”, drawing befuddled looks from my audience. I remember one Australian-Irish girl finally having pity on me and explaining that no one understood what I meant by “love marriage” (weren’t all marriages a result of two people falling in love?) I then had to explain the concept of an “arranged marriage”, which served to completely disperse the crowd. I heard one girl mutter “primitive”, as she walked away. This was the moment when I truly questioned the notion of love that I had been raised with – why was it that so many people disagreed? Was I wrong?
As a 29-year-old girl, those questions are no easier to answer. I get asked regularly why I’m single. This is particularly hard to explain to my non-Muslim friends, whose sincere curiosity and concern is peppered with questions about why I can’t just marry a non-Muslim man, why I can’t have premarital sex (“it’s the 21st century Anam, get with it”), why I can’t relax my Islamic beliefs (“if you don’t, you’ll end up single”), why I don’t hit up some bars and clubs to “pick up” (“oh wait, you can’t, whoops”). I’ve also been reminded of the statistical unlikelihood of meeting a Muslim man in Australia (we’re only 2.5% of the Australian population, and “all the good ones are taken”).
While I cannot guarantee who I will end up with, I can hope, pray and continue to have ‘sabr’. The term “sabr” is of Arabic origin, and is commonly translated as patience - but this is only an approximate meaning. It encompasses perseverance, fortitude, resolution, self-discipline and control, and is defined as one of the key qualities that a Muslim should endeavour to attain.
What I will never compromise on is respect and trustworthiness – two qualities that anyone can possess regardless of ethnic or religious background, no excuses accepted.
I’ve seen too many marriages and relationships break down because of the lack of the afore-mentioned qualities.
The truth is, I’m happy to be patient, and now I’m happy to acknowledge there is no such thing as “the one”.