“Some Muslims are looking for that magical middle. How can you … find that halal love and have everything our society tells us — that it’s full of passion and you’ll find your soulmate?” one chaplain said.
By Sakshi Venkatraman
When Mariam Mokhtar, 21, started taking karate classes for fun with her little brothers, she expected to get exercise and learn self-defense, not to meet her future husband. Mokhtar and Rai Shaw were both in high school at the time, and they became friends through the class.
“We were doing karate for years,” she said. “We’d see each other like every week, and, you know, it starts off as nothing, and then you become friends because you see them all the time. And then yeah, things just developed from there.”
A year after they met, he knew he wanted to marry her. She wasn’t so sure.
“One day he was like, ‘I love you,’” Mokhtar said. “And I was like, ‘Uhhhh.’”
As a young woman hoping to find a partner one day, Mokhtar said she had always been searching for a middle ground between the traditions of their parents’ Muslim culture and the world of her non-Muslim peers. Western media and even Bollywood portray romance one way, but Muslim American couples and chaplains say the way they often meet, fall in love and eventually decide to get married are usually misunderstood or not told at all.
“A lot of young Muslims are trying to navigate their story of love between traditional cultures that their parents may come from and their newly found American culture,” Imam Sohaib Sultan, a longtime chaplain at Princeton University who died in April, told NBC Asian America in February.
That made it hard for Mokhtar to be sure of what she wanted. Though she loved him too, they were so young and still had college ahead of them. And because of her faith, she didn’t really want to date in the way her non-Muslim peers did.
“There’s a challenge navigating what social expectations are, what family expectations are and what a person’s own expectations are.”
“I was like, I would not marry this guy right now,” she said, laughing. “But then over the years, I saw him grow.”
So they waited, stayed friends, and eventually the time was right. The two got married last summer in an intimate ceremony with just the couple and their immediate family. Four years of waiting came to a head during a pandemic. But Mokhtar could not be happier.
Navigating love wasn’t always easy for Mokhtar, who is Egyptian American. Growing up, she felt everyone around her had different ideas about what partnership and marriage were supposed to look like.