From a young age I was conditioned to believe that the idea of having a boyfriend, let alone even talking about boys was ‘haram’ (forbidden). One of the reasonings that dating is haram is that it will lead to ‘zina’ (pre-marital sex) which is one of the 4 major sins of Islam and leads to a lowering of ‘imaan’ (faith) and therefore acts as a gateway to many other risky, detrimental behaviours. Coming from a British Muslim background, with Pakistani immigrants for parents, there was a lot of conflict between culture, religion and environment. I found this incredibly difficult getting to an age where all your friends would be talking about their new boyfriends whilst my mum’s strict restrictions regarding boys played in my head.
I feel as though my Pakistani background has limited me more in finding a partner more than being Muslim has. Over the years, my parents unintentionally used scaremongering tactics, using Pakistani culture disguised as Islamic ruling to keep me away from boys. Pakistani culture encourages marrying into the same race, which I strongly disagree with as I believe love has no racial boundaries. I have always believed that more individualistic factors play a greater part. This is a classic example of the conflict between Pakistani culture and Islam as a religion. Islam encourages establishing relationships with Muslims from other cultures as it invigorates unity rather than limiting yourself.
There is a lot of shame and dishonour attached to the concept of pre-marital relations, even if it is platonic. This creates unnecessary complications for me amongst many other British Pakistani Muslims. There’s the whole issue of ‘laug kya kahangey’ which is Urdu (native Pakistani language) for ‘what will people say?’. There is a lot of pressure in the Muslim/Pakistani community. So much so that if I was to engage in any sort of pre-marital relationship with a boy, even if a consequence is being seen with him in public, it would be a huge issue amongst my parents due to their fear of people in the local Muslim/Pakistani community speaking ill about me and as a result, dishonouring the family. There is an emphasis on carrying yourself in a certain demeanour in public as your actions essentially represent the whole of the family. This creates a lot of pressure amongst Muslim youths which may result in them going down the opposite path to what they were raised on.
These strict restrictions make it more tempting to rebel. Maybe if I grew up around people with the same background of similar core religious beliefs then I would have turned out different, however I wouldn’t change anything. Funnily enough, growing up around mostly English friends with very different backgrounds, I wasn’t influenced by their relationships and dating habits nor felt like I was missing out on anything. It wasn’t until I became friends with another British Pakistani Muslim, that I was influenced not only with relationships, dating and sex but also with alcohol and substances. There was something about somebody that’s been raised on similar values rebelling that I, much to my parent’s despair, looked up to. This was my first exposure to a fellow Muslim/Pakistani peer engaging in perceived defiant activities, talking to boys, having sex, smoking – it was a shock to the system. I feel like seeing this changed the dynamics of the stigma surrounding sex and relationships and opened my mind up about dating as a Muslim. I felt as though it gave me a sense of liberty.
My faith has always been a huge part of me, however it’s just one of the many parts that make me, me. I don’t impose my beliefs upon those who I am romantically involved with, nor feel the pressure to do so. I can be quite passionate about my faith, so ideally I would want to find a partner who has similar beliefs and core values to me so our children can be raised on a basis of common ground and understanding. It is quite important for the person I’m dating to have a deep understanding about my traditions, faith and how there are little relationship milestones that won’t be coming any time soon, or until marriage anyway. For example, not being involved with each other’s families. Family has always been important to me, so it is an internal battle having to separate those two parts of my life, but I feel like it’s necessary to keep the peace and harmony. I know that when I find the right one, I won’t be hesitant to introduce him to family, even if they come from a different background. I would hope that in the future, my parents are able to open their minds up to this and trust my judgement.
My first ever relationship with a boy was when I was 17. I remember my parents finding out and lashing out to the point where my dad claimed it was ‘one of the worst things I could ever do to him’ which was incredibly humiliating and upsetting for me. I was baffled by how my friends would be inviting their boyfriends to dinner with their families and mine were to lash out in such a raging manner over the idea of a boy in my life. They wouldn’t let me leave the house unless I was supervised, they would constantly track where I was and obsessively call to make sure I wasn’t with a boy. It almost feels like I was living a double life at some points, having to hide boyfriends from my parents, which proves to be incredibly difficult when they’re such a huge part of my life. I always loved the idea of being able to seek advice from my parents regarding dating dilemmas as I respect and value their opinion so much, but I just have to accept that I’m unable to and therefore surround myself with level-headed friends who are always happy to help.
Coming to university really emphasised the feeling of living a ‘double life’ as it made it much easier to hide relationships. My most recent relationship was unveiled to my parents, much to their despair. My parents immediately gave me an ultimatum – either marry him or cut him off. It’s an ongoing battle to find a balance, but the more I mature, the more comfortable I’m getting to open up to my parents regarding these issues and come to a mutual understanding in a safe, honest manner.
I understand from a Westerner’s point of view this may be perceived as quite extreme; however, I feel like if you take a step back and recognise that there are different norms throughout different cultures then it doesn’t seem so dire. The stigma surrounding dating and relationships amongst Muslim and Pakistani communities is prevalent to the point where it creates personal conflicts adding to the added pressure that young people already experience growing up. Despite my parent’s strict rulings regarding dating I don’t have any negative feelings towards them as it’s how they were raised outside the Western culture. However, I feel like it is important for more conservative Pakistani/Muslim parents to adopt a more open-minded approach for the sake of their own relationship with their children as it creates a divide. It’s important to have awkward and uncomfortable conversations. I have accepted that there is a certain way to approach the whole stigma around dating in Islam and within the Pakistani community which I am currently trying to figure out and make work for me.