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Selma Cook
‘Tawqa Matrimonial Services’ began two years ago when a sister came to Jamaal Richards asking if he could help her find a husband. Now, the service is on the website www.mosqueproject.com but will very soon have its own independent website. Currently there are one hundred and five sisters and one hundred and eighty brothers registered on the matrimonial database.
Most of those who are registered are from the UK. Richards comments, “We are discouraging people from abroad because it is better for potential spouses to actually meet each other. If one of them is overseas, they email and send pictures, but then they build mental pictures of each other and put the person on a pedestal. What often happens is when they do meet they are disappointed.”  The youngest person on the database is nineteen years old and the oldest is sixty but most are youth.
How It All Began
From its informal beginning, the service has been running for two years and has been online for a year and a half. This is Richards’ personal initiative and project. “Initially, I started it off because I have been involved in arbitration and marriage counseling for years then I ended up something like a matchmaker. I would speak to the brothers about a sister who wanted to get married and vice versa and the word would get around. Then I found people coming to me for this.”
Checking the Person You Wish to Marry
Richards observes that it is vital for people to verify information about a potential spouse. “This is crucial but it is not the job of the service provider to actually check up on the individual. It is the job of the representative of the sister or the brother himself. Sadly, many people do not do this properly. A sister’s representative might sit with the brother for a short time and think he is a nice chap, or the brother will give him the contact of a friend of his and the representative will think this is a character reference but in the end the brother has not been investigated properly,” says Richards.
In response to this problem, Richards has been working on a project to help people to understand the role of the representative and why it is so vital. To clarify this issue there are some points on the website and many sisters have contributed a massive list of factors to be aware of before getting married. “It is about getting the representative of the sister to do his homework and even the brother has to check up on the sister,” says Richards.
He advises brothers to see how the family interacts with the daughter he is interested in. Richards notes, “If the father asks a lot of questions and investigates him thoroughly it might mean they really care about her and value her. However, if the father just says easily ‘take her and marry her’ the brother might have to think that perhaps she has been causing problems and they want to get rid of her.” These are just some guidelines and there are always many issues involved in such situations. Taqwa Matrimonial Services focuses more on the sisters as they are more vulnerable than the brothers.
And If Things Do Not Work Out?
If the marriage does not ultimately work, Richards does not get the blame. “We offer lots of advice and provide guidelines for a couple. Even when the marriage is being performed the Imam will give excellent advice, telling them about the possible problems and how to handle them.”
At Taqwa Matrimonial Services, a marriage service is all about giving reminders. They plan to record lectures like those presented at wedding ceremonies and put them online for people to benefit from. They also want to make the website more interactive, so that when a brother or sister clicks on the database to search for someone, a message will pop up giving them advice from the Qur`an and the Sunnah.
High Divorce Rate
There is a high divorce rate in the Muslim community in the UK. Richards believes this is mostly with young people and reverts. He thinks it is because they have been used to the dating culture so commitment and stability are difficult for them. He also sees that there are cultural differences and the spouses’ expectations of each other are sometimes unreasonable. Richards notes, “Sometimes a brother expects too much. He thinks his wife should be perfect. Polygamy can be a problem too if the brother does not handle things correctly. There are problems with age and maturity, polygamy and different cultural backgrounds and the expectations that go with all that.”
With the majority of divorces happening among reverts, Richards sees that it is very important to cite good examples of successful marriages, reminding people that love develops over time. He also observes, “Many times an Asian couple are introduced and marry and they do so because they do not want to upset their parents. They both get on with the job and are committed to the marriage. Often these marriages end up happy and successful.” He also believes that sisters play a huge role in contributing to the success of a marriage.
Some of the problems reverts experience is that sometimes they might have a bit of an attitude, are not humble enough, and get angry too quickly. However, Richards observes that such people are in need of great help and support because they are making two transitions – one into Islam and another into marriage.
A Final Word
Marriage is such an important part of life. Like the Qu`ran tells us, the husband and wife are a cloak for each other and there is a lot of work that goes into a marriage to maintain happiness. Richards says, “If you get too happy you might tend to forget what the other person wants. You are fine so you think everything is fine. But you must be observant. I tell the brothers to watch their wives when they are at a function, and see if she looks happy and bubbly. Watch how she interacts with others because if she is not happy, chances are it is because of him.”
With new reverts to Islam as well as Muslims who are just starting to practice Islam, it is common that Islamic knowledge is perceived in a black and white way, and the husband often believes it is his right to order his wife around. The spiritual element of life, which includes marriage, seems to be lost in people’s initiation into Islam and Muslim culture. Without this spiritual element marriage can not be long term and happy. Richards remarks, “We should not just take the actions of the Sunnah but the meaning of it all. We should deal with our spouse like the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) dealt with his family. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) never raised his hand to his wives but these days men raise their hands too quickly and too easily.” Richards adds, “I try to avoid arbitration because I am mainly dealing with the sisters. Often the husband is not being nice or accommodating or sensitive to their needs. So a little talk with them and some advice, help them to go back and try again.”
The Muslim community is being pulled between the non-Muslim dating culture and easy divorce, and the cultural expectations that are rampant and often unreasonable. Somewhere in between all this are the Islamic guidelines that are there to steer us safely around the problems we face in life.
(This article was first published on www.islamonline.net)