To the Muslimahs that want both…

We talked about this. Your education is a back-up plan. Just so that if something happens to your husband, you have something to fall back on.

You want to get a master’s degree? You understand that the older you get, the more likely you’ll end up having to settle for someone to marry?

You want to move out for work? What’s wrong with the job you have right now? Don’t fall into this Western trap of breaking up the family unit.

What’s wrong with this rishta? What do you mean you don’t “click”? He prays and he has a stable job. What more do you want?

How many of us passionate Muslim women with aspirations have been on the receiving end of the aforementioned words of “advice”?

How many of us have been guilt-tripped out of pursuing higher education or accomplishing goals because we were told we were being selfish and jeopardizing our reproductive capabilities, i.e. the time we spend pursuing our professional goals comes at the cost of our continuously ticking biological clock.

Frequently, we are made to feel that “landing a spouse” is a greater feat than an intellectual accomplishment. This isn’t to say that parents are not proud of their daughters for being doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. but that they are even more ecstatic when the daughter is walking down the aisle as opposed to walking across the stage to receive her respective diploma. Society’s multi-billion dollar wedding industry reinforces this belief.

In Houston, Texas, recent medical school graduate, Angie Hamouie, is marrying her medical school diploma with the hope of challenging and rewriting the narrative that marriage is a bigger deal than graduation. Hamouie is a 27-year-old Syrian, German, Turkish hybrid and is born into a Muslim family. She plans to marry her diploma after matching to her dream residency program in an extravagant graduwedding. Hamouie says, “people go all out for their weddings, so if I pretend to marry my degree maybe that will convey how big of a deal this party is for me.”

We asked the Gradubride herself for some advice for Muslim women who want to focus on their career and want to get married, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting both! Here’s what she had to say:
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So many Muslim women are pressured into believing they have to focus on one or the other: the career or the marriage. And they approach this dilemma as though the two can’t occur simultaneously. That’s just not true. My advice is to follow your passion, whether it’s founding a startup, getting a masters, taking that promotion, etc. Along the way you’ll meet amazing people. Maybe you’ll marry one of them. Maybe someone will introduce you to the person you’ll marry. Or maybe you’ll decide marriage isn’t for you, and that’s fine as well. But it’s easier to meet people who you would get along with in a lifelong partnership if you meet them doing the things you’re both passionate about.

It doesn’t make sense to put your own passions on hold waiting for someone that God will send you when the time is right. When we say we’re not going to follow our passions so that we can be “available” for marriage, we are making ourselves out to be bigger than God (astagfirullah) as though we can better control when we get married than He can. If you believe in naseeb, then you believe in God’s Will to send you the right person when it is the right time for both you, regardless of where you are and what you are doing. When you hold yourself back, you start to agonize over a man you haven’t even met and start to resent the time spent “waiting” for him that you could have spent doing the things you really wanted to do. When you focus instead on taking control of your own life, you transform into an active character who is so busy having fun and challenging herself, she’s pleasantly surprised when the right man comes along when she least expects it. Perhaps getting married is the fulfillment of half your deen, but that’s just it, it’s only half. Presumably, the second half. So then what about the first half? That starts with you. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said to “Seek knowledge even if you have to go to China.” Your education itself is an act of worship. Use it to improve yourself, so that you can be a stronger leader for your family, especially for your children (in sha Allah). Better yet, use it to create a better world for the sake of humanity, as that is what God has ordained us to do on this earth. These are the highest acts of devotion. They are the fulfillment of the first half of your deen. God will send you someone who will enhance you as a person once you have achieved the best self you can achieve on your own.

I also want to point out that no one is telling young Muslim men to hold themselves back from educational and career achievements so that they can find someone to marry. So why are women expected to do so? If men can find a marriage partner while simultaneously working then apparently it shouldn’t be impossible for women either…

Finally, I recognize my advice comes from a privileged place. I am blessed to have parents who never pressured me into finding a husband and always supported my education. I realize that may not be the norm for many Muslim women. For anyone who, for reasons outside of her control, can’t pursue her passions in the way that she wants, I say work within your situation to achieve as much as you can. And never ever feel pressured into marrying someone who you feel will not support you to follow your passions once you’re married. At the end of the day, it’s your life and *your right* as a Muslim woman to willingly enter a marriage. No one is allowed to pressure you to enter this union and if your family has waited this long for you to get married, they can continue to wait until you’re ready and you feel the person is right for you.

Collectively, we need to change the rhetoric around young Muslim women in our communities and the expectations we have of them. Stop telling your daughters their education is a backup plan and start telling them that their future accomplishments and education will be valuable contributions to society. Marriage is a beautiful partnership between two consenting individuals. However, it is not for everyone, and it doesn’t have to follow society’s constructed timeline.  Hamouie’s graduwedding sets a wonderful precedent for ambitious women everywhere; it is okay to love your education and accomplishments so much that you’re ready to marry it.

To keep up with Angie and her adventures through Georgetown, follow her on Twitter and Tumblr.

Photography: Zainab Ghwari