TRYING TO CONVERT MUSLIM BOYFRIEND

Q: I started dating a guy in college who has an Islamic background. At first, I was hesitant to go out with him, because my girlfriends kept telling me that Muslim men suppress women and how he wouldn’t respect my independence. Nothing could be further from the truth — even his sisters are going to school, one to be a doctor and another an accountant. My main problem, is my parents. They don’t approve of him, and what’s more, every time he comes around, they keep trying to convert him to Christianity, even going so far as to give him pamphlets and ask him to come to church with them. How do I make my parents respect my boyfriend’s religion, without starting a holy war?

A: Well, seeing as you have introduced him to your family, it appears as if things are getting pretty serious. If this is the case, you may have to sit down with your parents and let them know that, while you respect their religious choices, you want them to also respect your partners, even if they do not agree with it.

That said, please realize that the Islamic/Muslim lifestyle and religion is very different from a Westernized, Christian one. Before taking any major relationship steps, find out what would be expected of you as a Muslim wife if things grow serious. For example, would you be expected to give up your career and have children soon after marriage? Would you have to convert in order to be accepted by the family?

Family is a very big part of the picture when it comes to marriage and choosing a life mate, especially in Islamic cultures. Unlike the American paradigm, Middle Eastern cultures see the couple as an extension of the family line, and thereby, they have to give grave consideration to who they allow to carry on the family name, to the point of arranging their children’s marriages.

Whatever you may personally feel about such an arrangement, you, like your parents, would have to respect that. If you think that would be difficult to do, you need to re-evaluate the importance of your relationship with this young man before coming to your parents with your request to back off.

If you feel as if you can acclimate to a different culture’s perspectives, and you think you have grown to love this person, then go for it, and let nothing stop you. Love is hard to come by, and if it is genuine, then it is worth fighting for, just go forward with your eyes open, knowing what you are signing up for before you join.

If however, you are merely just dating casually, then the point is moot. Enjoy your time together, and don’t invite said beau over to your folks house. Stick with outings with mutual friends and gravitate towards places that keep things on a amiable and fun level.

This way, you avoid controversy and can enjoy fun times in the company of a wonderful, charming friend.

Islamic/Muslim Fashion

For the Muslim and Islamic female, the keyword in fashion is modesty. Islamic designers create with this in mind, developing a large selection of sophisticated clothing that reflect the cultural ideas, religious tenants, and individual tastes of Islamic women.

I liked Al-Farah’s women’s collection, which was filled with luxurious tapestries and enchanting hues. Tops were full of flair, while skirts and bottoms were feminine with sweet touches and accents.

The Shawl Hijab’s (head scarves), were equally impressive in style and quality. Ranging in prices from, $8.99 to $12.99, they were vibrant, coming in an array of prints and fabrics.

Particularly lovely was this beaded butterfly scarf , which was made of “Chiffon, satin, sequins, beads and bits of mirror [in a] … two toned chiffon fringed edge scarf with beautiful butterflies.” Available for $18.99 US. The scarf came in colors described as caramel, mocha and sapphire.

Lamis online touts “modesty on the outside, beauty on the inside” and was an eye-opening discovery. The collections were stunning, in fact, one of the more eye catching outfits, was a fantastic, black georgette piece, set with white and silver embroidery work, for 45 Pounds.

Lamis also carried a large assortment of sexy lingerie pieces, displaying two piece teddies, lace negligee’s, bustiers and garters.

I was also able to locate tops on Lamis that were a bit less traditional, some of them midriff or shoulder baring, that could be paired with form fitting, ankle length skirts or jeans.

Artizara had a huge selection of “trendy Islamic clothing”. I nosed around and found a couple of fairly daring pieces, like a wonderfully bright georgette top, described as a “very hip empire waist shirtdress in a rich dark emerald hue, accented with an array of metallic braids in silver, copper and teal.”

I will admit, I liked the piece a lot – it was soft, feminine and flowing, with accents that would show off the youthful or fun personality of the wearer.

The baby faced model for this site’s also managed to infuse each outfit with a much needed vibrancy, to bring each exquisite set to life.

I actually fell in love with a velvet vintage jacket (vintage is my weakness) , that had “damask printing in aged copper and lavish glass bead work.” It was also an affordable $45 dollars.

I was partial to a Silk Dupioni Iridescent Skirt which was on sale for $49.99. Made of “crushed silk” the skirt boasted a “soft tulle ruffle at the hem.” It was also considered a formal ankle length, with a practical elastic waist that included a drawstring.

Artizara’s jewelry was simple yet captivating, with most bearing Muhammed, Allah or MarshaAllah insignia’s in agate stone that was set in gold or silver.

All and all, I’d say my hunt for trendy Islamic styles with an eye towards modesty was successful, I even stumbled upon a few treasures of my own in the process. Enjoy, and let me know if you’ve found new and exciting places to visit for even greater finds!

Islam and Courtship

As a Westerner, I must admit that I find the world of Islam a fascinating if somewhat foreboding place to approach. Despite this, I have to say that Islamic outlooks on marriage and dating are very dignified and far more of loving in its guidance than one might have originally assumed.

For instance, About.com’s Religion and Spirituality section gives a very revealing and eye opening look at the Islamic culture expounding on the rules involved in “Muslim dating.”

Number one — Muslim youths don’t date per se, rather they “develop very close friendships with their same-sex peers. This “sisterhood” or “brotherhood” that develops when they are young continues throughout their lives.”

When said youths decide to marry, they take several steps towards seeing if their intended is truly the one that is meant for them:

* [The] Young person makes du’a (a perosnal supplication), for Allah to help him or her find the right person.

* The family enquires, discusses, and suggests candidates. They consult with each other to narrow down potential prospects. Usually the father or mother approaches the other family to suggest a meeting.

* Couple agrees to meet in chaperoned, group environment. Umar related that the Prophet Muhammad said, “Not one of you should meet a woman alone unless she is accompanied by a relative (mahram)” (Bukhari/Muslim). The Prophet (peace be upon him) also reportedly said, “Whenever a man is alone with a woman, Satan (Shaytan) is the third among them” (Tirmidhi). When young people are getting to know each other, being alone together is a temptation toward wrongdoing. At all times, Muslims should follow the commands of the Qur’an (24:30-31) to “lower their gaze and guard their modesty….” Islam recognizes that we are human and are given to human weakness, so this rule provides safeguards for our own sake.

* Family investigates candidate further – talking with friends, family, Islamic leaders, co-workers, etc. to learn about his or her character.

* Couple prays salat-l-istikhara (prayer for guidance) to seek Allah’s help in making a decision.

* Couple agrees to pursue marriage or part ways. Islam has given this freedom of choice to both young men and women – they cannot be forced into a marriage that they don’t want.

It is said that such arranged marriages have a greater rate of success than love matches, which admittedly, claims a disastrous fifty percent divorce rate.

I must concede that it is a good idea to guard young people against youthful indiscretions that could lead to premarital sex, teen pregnancy or worse. In America, I know for a fact that way too many unguarded young girls are lured by the unscrupulous into sexual relationships they are not mentally or even physically ready for, leading to broken hearts and broken spirits.

Perhaps the Muslim paradigm is sound after all, and as we explore Muslim ideals, we will develop a greater understanding of the reasons behind their societal structure and religious beliefs.

Tempting Middle Eastern Fare

My favorite Middle Eastern tale, bar none, had to be 1001 Arabian Nights, as told by the beautiful and crafty Sheherazade. To save her own life, and the lives of the women in her town, she beguiled the vengeful Sultan Shahzenan, eventually winning over his heart and mind.

Arabian food shares much in common with the lovely Sheherazade, as it is alluringly captivating, pulling you in with a tempting promise that, if you pay heed, is ultimately rewarding.

It is with this imagery in mind that I hunted for restaurants that served dishes that would be fit for a king. If you are like me, and you occasionally crave authentic, Middle Eastern meals, then my list of the top spots for getting your grub on is just for you.

Ozer’s, which can be found on 5 Langham Place, Regents Street, has an appreciable crisp, clean and open architecture, which in my mind, if far more conducive to a relaxing dinner climate than overly ornate and busy designs. The Turkish cuisine is a delight for the palette, but try to beat the rush, as it is usually crowded, which can make the service slow. It is reasonably priced, and surprisingly authentic. Mon-Sun 12N-12M

Fakhreldine on 85 Piccadilly, near Green Park, is another place with a tasteful if barren interior, which makes it feels more like an office park restaurant, despite the purple color. That said, the food is excellent. I have to give a thumbs up to the wait staff, who were amazingly swift. Although expensive, you and your date would love the food. Iif you appreciate space that is not overly done up, Fakhreldine, is your spot! Mon-Sat 12N-12M Sun 11am-11pm

25 Heddon Street is the destination address of restaurant called Momo. The interior is a tad ornate, but Momo pulls it off with great aplomb. Everything is visually balanced, allowing for appropriate, Middle Eastern air. The staff is some of the best around, always friendly and accommodating. Amazing food is par for the course, with incredible drinks to wash it down. A romantic time can definitely be had here. Mon-Sat 12N-2.30pm Mon-Sun 6.30pm-1am

Since Shakira burst onto the pop music scene, incorporating Lebanese dance moves with a sweet Latin beat, I have wanted to learn how to belly dance. Imagine then, my delight, when I learned that Levant (Jason Court, 76 Wigmore Street) had a bevy of dancing beauties to entertain crowds at their fabulous restaurant. If you don’t find yourself getting a bit closer after a night at Levant, one of you doesn’t have a pulse! The romance is supplied in spades, with hookah pipes, rose petal covered tables, and an attentive staff. The food certainly matches the cozy atmosphere and is, like my beloved Shakira, Lebanese, in origin. The prices won’t drain the bankroll either. Mon-Sat 12N-2.30pm Mon-Sun 6.30pm-1am

If you are in the mood to be treated like a Sultan, then give these hotspots a try, I am sure you won’t be disappointed!

Arab Dating

The internet has shrunk the world to a point where cultural lines have blurred to near non-existence. This fact is made unequivocally clear when one begins to comb the web in search of information on Arabic relationships and finds dating sites with a surprisingly diverse range of options to choose from.

Take for instance, Lebanon Links. Photos of attractive Middle Eastern folks are plastered across a page that proclaims that it is free to join. Once signed up, you could vote on photos of members from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, India, even Germany and France, via a HOT OR NOT style set up.

At another site called Love City , I saw, to my great surprise, that some Middle Eastern singles listed themselves as gay, Christian or seeking Christians.

Middle East Heart detectives showcased free chat and picture profiles, and was barren of fancy trimmings, a good thing in my opinion, as I despise flash filled websites.

Then there was Love is Islam, an eye-opening site that was more traditional in its outlook and approach. Out of curiosity, I clicked on a link that read ABOUT ISLAM, where ideals about arranged marriages, pen pal and love matches were compared, with arranged marriages coming out on top, “When the faith is central and the commitment to that covenant central, divorce rarely follows. That marriage is based upon a union before God and its survival is a tribute to Middle East wives. This is the wisdom of the Islamic approach and it is shared by all faiths of The Book. In the end, how you meet is irrelevant. How you treat Arab wives once wed, this is how you show honor to both your faith and God.”

The ideology behind Love Is Islam was not surprising. The smorgas board of choices and Arabic outlooks was.

Why? I suppose, like maybe many others, I labored under the assumption that nearly all-Arabic peoples were Muslim conservatives, with rare exceptions. I suppose I can scapegoat the long beleaguered media for this.

Every time you hear the word “Arab”, it is in association with Islam, the Koran or Iraq. Because of this, it is very easy to harbor preconceived notions.

I have great faith that my Arab dating blog will be an invaluable tool in changing that, educating people to the fact that people of Middle Eastern descent are just as multifaceted as any other group. It will also keep in mind the stringent belief systems this fascinating society holds dear, as we focus on courtship, fashion tips, cuisine, hang outs and the importance of religion for fundamentalists.

As a writer, I feel that part of my job is to foster a greater understanding of human nature, as it pertains to romance, dating, life, love or whatever – Arab dating with explore these facets and more, and hopefully, the world would grow even smaller still.

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