x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The search for love and happiness can take many turns

Many women simply want a a wholesome husband, writes Rym Ghazal.

“A good, wholesome Muslim husband” is what several female converts to Islam were talking about and were hopeful for at a recent event at a friend’s house.

This particular group of women come from different backgrounds and nationalities, and converted to Islam when they moved to the UAE.

Hundreds of converts (or reverts) register in the UAE every year. Dubai’s Islamic Information Centre at the Dar Al Ber Society says it welcomed more than 1,250 converts last year and 1,950 the year before. More than 20,000 residents from 200 nationalities, have converted to Islam at this centre since 1993.

Making a decision to convert often comes with great sacrifices and expectations.

Before I am attacked for making broad generalisations, I have spent a great deal of time with converts and understand their reasons for converting and why they make marriage a top priority.

People seeking some kind of meaning in their lives is nothing new, and many keep asking questions and trying out different paths in their lives.

One of the questions asked of the converts by officials as they go to authenticate their new faith in court is: why are they converting?

“We ask if they convert for Allah or to just find a husband or wife,” said an Emirati working at the court that handles such cases.

“We have women who convert to try to get Muslim Arab men of particular nationalities, as they feel they will have a better and comfortable life as they are often known to be well off and to spoil their wives.

“You can imagine how upset that makes other women who have a hard time finding husbands from within their communities without all this new competition.”

Raising my eyebrow, I asked this: “So, do you ever come across someone who actually admits she or he is doing this just to find a husband or wife?”

He laughed as he said: “The men admit it more often than the women.”

A Muslim man can marry outside his religion, as long as they are “Ahl Al Ketab” – people of the book, meaning Christian or Jewish. But for Muslim women, for their marriage to be authentic in a mosque, they must marry a Muslim. These days many have civil marriages, outside religious institutions.

Many years ago, when I was far less cynical, a friend and I actually rejoiced in our skills as matchmakers.

The kind of lists of expectations and requests bestowed upon us as we asked what they were looking for always left me feeling quite amused.

Even though they wanted a “good Muslim”, it was often overshadowed with the request that he or she must be very good looking, rich, educated and be a certain age.

Some of you will recall that I have written before about what Arab men look for in a wife and how their ideal woman is something close to a conservative Barbie.

Before I am accused of being too much of a cynic, I do know of cases where women had married very simple men, men with “good iman” (faith) with little money and are very happily married. Money isn’t everything, but I do understand that when you want to start a family, you want to be able to provide for one. I know someone who converted, and within months, married a simple imam at the mosque she was praying at. She has a doctorate and is viewed as “more accomplished” by the world, but she says, she found “her heart” when she met her husband.

Ultimately, everyone is searching for love and happiness, and people take different paths to find it. What drives people to convert and what they hope it brings them is a complicated issue.

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter:@arabianmau