Interview with Sohaib Sultan
Sohaib Sultan is the full-time Muslim Chaplain at Princeton University.
Q The latest method of meeting a soul mate has been through networking events. How can these be more effective?
A S. Sultan: Before we assess that our networking events have not been successful, it is important to ask whether or not such events are ever really successful. For example, Orthodox Jews have tried similar meet-and-greet events for much longer than the Muslim community, but their singles still complain of the same inadequacies as our young singles do. So, the method itself is a good avenue for young singles to meet, but it is unlikely to ever produce many results. This is partly due to the fact that it is difficult for people to make good assessments of compatibility in a short period of time and with a tense atmosphere. Having said this, though, there are a few couples that I know who have met through these matrimonial events, and, mashaAllah, their marriages are successful. So, at the end of the day, it is worth it for the community to organize such events and for singles to try them out even if it ends up working for just a few people. One of the ways to improve these events is to have more substantial questions for the seekers to exchange. These questions should go beyond the superficial and should help facilitate conversations that touch on faith, family, and the like. In the end, though, it is also the responsibility of attendees to go into these events with positive but realistic expectations.
Q What are some of the pitfalls that young couples seem to be falling into that result in broken relationships over a short-term period? What is this generation lacking in being able to maintain relationships that succeed in longevity?
A S. Sultan: I think that previous generations accepted, even before they got married, that marriage requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Many of our parents were even raised in difficult circumstances in which life itself was about struggle. Love was seen as something that developed over the years, rather than at first sight. On the other hand, too many of our youth in this generation are influenced by romanticized ideas of marriage and are surprised to find how difficult marriage can be. Our youth are also products of an individualistic culture that undervalues notions of sacrifice. But, it is also important to point out that just because there are more broken marriages in this generation does not mean that marriages in previous generations were more successful. Nowadays, divorce is culturally more acceptable, and couples are more willing to get out of bad marriages. This is not necessarily a flaw; divorce is permissible in Islam for a reason, and bad marriages can negatively affect children in society as much as, if not more than, broken marriages. So, while divorce should be prevented as much as possible, it should not be treated as complete taboo.
Q How can we guide the youth to balance their personal pursuits with maintaining their cognizance of others and their needs?
A S. Sultan: Individualism is the core of American culture. It is here to stay, and young Muslims are as affected by it as anyone else. What I think our religion has to offer is this ancient wisdom that independence is an illusion. In reality, all our lives are interconnected in some way, and we are all a creation of the same Creator. As such, our dreams and pursuits in life should always be checked by what is beneficial for our family, friends, neighbors, and society as a whole. So, the idea of having personal dreams should be encouraged, but what should also be cultivated in the human being is to dream big for others and not only for the self. When we realize that we are part of this web of life of which we are just one strand, it is easier to live a life of compassion and compromise, and this will naturally manifest itself in all of our relationships, including family life.
Q What are some points of consideration that must be kept in mind in marriages of different ethnicities?
A S. Sultan: Inter-ethnic marriages, particularly in the American Muslim context, are beautiful and should be cultivated. However, we also have to be real about the potential challenges that come with such marriages rather than ride a wave of idealism. Our ethnic cultures have a lot to do with who we are, how we think, and how we behave. Our expectations of a good husband or wife are often informed by our ethnic cultures or what we are used to at home. As such, there needs to be an open conversation about cultural differences and how those differences might manifest in a marriage. A couple who has been born and raised in America might have more in common with each other than with their respective ethnic cultures. But, even then one needs to keep in mind how cultural differences can affect their relationship with the in-laws. Premarital counseling is always useful and encouraged for any young couple, but might be even more beneficial in circumstances where there are obvious differences.
Q Marriages can lose their original luster over time. What can spouses do for one another to help nurture themselves so that they do not find themselves bound to a less than satisfying situation?
A S. Sultan: Marriage may be hard work, but it does not always need to be so serious. The greatest joy of a successful marriage is enjoying the company of your spouse. It is important for couples to find things that they both enjoy doing together and then make a commitment to doing those things even when life gets busy or tough. Marriage is about bringing two people and two families together, but this does not mean that a couple always has to be together. There should be a healthy respect for individual likes or hobbies, and enough space should be given in a marriage for husband and wife to pursue those things. This requires working together and taking on equal responsibilities in raising a family.