“Muslims Talkin Sex” Series: Anti-Teen-Dating Diatribe by Mohja Kahf

GOATMILK continues its original and exclusive month long series entitled “Muslims Talking Sex” featuring diverse Muslim  writers from around the world discussing a gamut of topics in their own unique, honest and eclectic voices.

muslims dating

An Anti-Teen-Dating Diatribe

Mohja Kahf

Teen dating: What demented dunce invented it? Aunty Mohja wants to know. What possesses U.S. consumerist culture to promote it as the norm? Let’s send a boy and a girl, their horniness joyfully newfound but woefully untamed, into the dark of a theater or the back of a car, unsupervised. Let’s urge them to contort their emerging personalities around what makes them pleasing to the other they wish to attract.  Let’s expect them to go through relationship after relationship in their teens, getting jaded before they’re out of high school. What species of parent permits such perversion? A dayyuth, in Arabic, is a person who gives someone sexual access to a member of the family: a variety of pimp. Aunty Mohja is just innocently pointing out this word.

Teen dating supplanted family-based courtship in the U.S. fifties. Sure there was dating before, but only for adults. Whole industries spawned to support teen dating, and now the entire culture seems to assume it is a universal human right.

Cotillion pressure begins early in Aunty Mohja’s Southern hometown. Mothers gussy up eleven-year-old daughters in strapless gowns to be pawed awkwardly by boys at a school dance where lights are low and paper decorations evoke adult notions of “romance.” Fathers grin and push seventeen-year-old sons out the door with car keys and hotel reservations for this bizarre ritual called “prom.”  Oho, Aunty Mohja went to American high school and knows all about prom night.

This, but delicate sensibilities are shocked, shocked, at traditions of teen marriage among some sectors of Muslims. Aunty Mohja is not saying early marriage is best. But compare the two customs, both acknowledging teen sexuality. For Muslim parents to provide a nubile woman with a reliable life partner, with whom she can build a home as well as satisfy her sexual desires—someone who bears witnessed responsibility if she conceives a child, in a union nurtured by surrounding family—this is oppressive, while parents providing ill-prepared teens with the means for furtive groping amid all sorts of conflicting messages about what they are to do in this badly set-up ritual, that’s benign?

Some folks uphold the implications of teen dating brazenly, like Aunty Mohja’s neighbor: “Sure, we knew exactly when our son lost his virginity. On our sofa. At sixteen. We didn’t mind.”  At this cavalier depravity, Aunty Mohja shudders.

Yet there is an undercurrent of discontent even among reg’lar Americans, not just nutjob inassimilables like Aunty Mohja.  Aunty Mohja detects it when her co-worker sighs, “It’s hard on a mom to watch her fifteen-year-old boy behave like a cad when girls fawn over him.”  She hears it when a friend notes that his fourteen-year-old doesn’t pursue extracurricular activities because most of her after-school time revolves around her boyfriend. Many Americans documented in books by Wendy Shalit and others, do not agree with the mainstream culture’s celebration of casual teen sex. Some Americans whisper to Aunty Mohja that they were traumatized by teen dating, and don’t even like the practice but acquiesce because it is the dominant mode. Muslims can liberate Americans from this entrapment by modeling healthy lives free of teen dating.

“How will boys and girls ever find life partners?”  Bogus!  A) Life partnering is not what teen dating is about. B) Teens don’t need to be put in contrived romantic rendezvous to develop relationship competence.  C) The teen dating scene cultivates the shallow opposite of life-partnering skills, privileging pretty girls (fat girls, back of the bus) and swaggering boys (shy boys need not apply).

Family-based or community-based courtship, on the other hand, excludes no one automatically because of looks, valuing character instead, and screening candidates not for kissing talent but for shared values. Graduates of the Western teen scene, having failed to find lasting relationships despite diligent dating, pay impersonal internet match services to do the kind of screening Muslim families and communities lovingly provide to their youth for free.

“Arranged marriage!” someone will scream. Everything that isn’t untrammeled teen dating is not therefore arranged marriage. Also: What’s wrong with arranged marriage?

“No individual choice! Arranged marriage is basically arranged rape!  Another part of Muslim women’s oppression!”  Please. Every social practice has its fraction of cases that abuse its intent and need reform. Masses of marriages are arranged every day having nothing to do with this caricature. Does it occur to fanatic foes of arranged marriage that most arranging parents actually care about their children’s happiness and therefore strive for matches that suit them, seeking their daughter’s and son’s input and choice?

“It’s only natural for adolescents to be interested in sex.”  Some teens may be naturally curious about death, but that doesn’t mean they should be given the key to the gun cabinet and a fresh box of shells each weekend and sent out to practice.

Don’t go thinking Aunty Mohja is a Puritan or a Victorian, those bogeys dogging U.S. sex culture. Aunty Mohja is a product of Islamic tradition, in which sex is a must for everyone, to be had early and often, but with proper care. Aunty Mohja says sex education should give boys and girls, at appropriate ages, full disclosure: facts and science at school and, at home, knowledge of the morals and emotions that go with sex. Give them diagrams, books, handheld mirrors for private bodily self-exams, says your Auny Mohja.

She ventures that wisdom traditions the world ‘round do not advise treating the body and its orifices casually. Orifices, which the Quran calls furuj, naming even male organs after the form of the vagina, are worth tender respect. The beginning of their sexual use requires gatekeeping and ceremony in nearly every wisdom tradition. Aunty Mohja urges that youngsters postpone partaking in the feast of the body with another person until such sharing can be entered in good faith. Those who cannot contain themselves have recourse to masturbation, a choice totally within fiqhi approaches to horniness, although the favored Muslim prescription for aiding abstainers is frequent fasting.

Aunty Mohja hears her liberal friends guffaw. Absolutely, abstinence. Youth who fail the challenge of chastity must be offered not punishment but compassion, complete restraint from gossip, and bracing encouragement to get back on the wagon—and their respect for limits must be restored.  Fear of early fatherhood and motherhood, STDs, and infection by HIV/AIDS are great—and realistic—tools for encouraging abstinence.  Until the foolish become wise, and gain developmental maturity, or at least an honorable sexual outlet, they should be urged to abstain. Urged by every ethically sound ounce of parental authority and community pressure available. “Ethically sound” does not include honor killing! which is not shariah-based, nor is it exclusive to Muslims. Honor killing violates Islamic values of individual responsibility to God, not tribe, and must be uprooted.

Sharing your orifices is an act worthy of awe and glory, not like swiveling a cotton swab in your ear. Aunty Mohja wants everyone to have good sex.  And she refuses to recognize as good sex the cotton-swab casual kind that is only good physically, scratching an itch.  Good means good, on every level, orgasmic to cosmic, flesh coming together with spirit, all are one one one, and there’s a reason why you’re screaming “Oh God oh God.” Good sex, God blesses. Good sex partakes in all that is La ilaha illa allah. It arrives at the climax of the Oneness of What Is Real.

That is what is worth striving for, not contemporary Western casualness about sex.  Not this gullible groping, snotty one-upping business of teen dating. Maybe Muslim traditions and cultures don’t have all the answers in our changing world—that doesn’t make teen dating the answer. Aunty Mohja hopes her tetchy tirade will fortify spineless Muslims who think they have to high-five teen dating to be the nice liberal sort of Muslim.

Mohja Kahf is a celebrated poet, novelist and a faculty member in the University of Arkansas’s The King Fahd Center for Middle East &
Islamic Studies

12 thoughts on ““Muslims Talkin Sex” Series: Anti-Teen-Dating Diatribe by Mohja Kahf

  1. This post is written without the greatest level of organization, so apologies in advance.

    I think the thing to recognize here is that sex, by its very nature, is risky. How ones chooses to deal with that risk is where individuals differ. Whether sex takes place within the bounds of a marriage, a committed relationship, or a one-night stand, it is never possible to completely control the situation and eliminate risk in all its forms, whether it be emotional, physical, or moral.

    Education, in my opinion, is the best thing that one can do to prepare teens for daring and/or sex. No matter how much you want to, you can never fully control another human being, even your own children. The best you can expect from your fellow human beings is intelligent decision-making with a full understanding of the risks and consequences involved.

    I do think your assumptions regarding the virtues of community-based relationships are a bit extreme. Candidates chosen through this process are invariably filtered by the values of the community in question, and if those values are in any way at odds with the daughter/son, bingo, you have conflict! Also, to assume that the values of the community are necessarily good is a rather large one. Last I checked, families are composed of human beings, and they possess the entire range of characters, including, unfortunately, ignorance, prejudice, and irrationality.

    This sort of thing does have a loose Western equivalent, which is simply parental approval. Dating teens and adults are often scrutinized by their parents, who can exert considerable pressure on their kids and influence their dating life.

    Moreover, the negative habits associated with teen dating (favoring the assertive, the physically attractive), are no different than the habits involved in adult dating. It sucks, yes, all around.

    The difference with community-based dating is that, I imagine, there is significantly greater risk of pariah-dom if parent and child don’t see eye-to-eye. When greater the importance of the community, the less likely an individual is going to assert his or her deviations from it. I’m not going to say that one approach is better than the other objectively, but I personally favor anything that respects individual choice more.

    I know this piece is a self-described diatribe, but I can’t help but feel that it is a little bit too self-assured. Perhaps you are writing with great enthusiasm and obvious bias to make a more striking point, but I think truth of teen dating and relationships is a bit more complicated.

  2. Very powerful post. I’m not sure teen dating is going away. However, I have read reports that many young people, in countries where traditionally marriages were arranged (such as India) are returning to the practice – by choice! AND the success rate of such marriages is way above average. The reason, experts believe, is because the young married couple has such enormous support from both families.

  3. Hey Aunty Mohja,

    I am not a Muslim in any way shape or form, and never shall be. I am in fact a Christian, and one who is very serious about what he believes.

    I just wanted to say that whilst there is much (that is important!) on which you and I would disagree, on this issue PREACH IT SISTER.

    I’d not go as far as shooting for arranged marriages, but certainly parents need to be fully involved in their kids’ lives, TO THE POINT of deciding when they’re ready to go courting. This is unpopular, but it’s also wise – is there any parent out there who really thinks it’s a wonderful thing for their kids to lose their virginity early?

    Good job, anyway – Johno the Aussie

  4. Pretty Good Pretty good.

    Yet, there are some trobling points. Frist, I agree with the point that she romantizes young marrige. I find it interesting that she omits the fact that young girls in Muslim countries are often married to men much older to them who have consiterably more education and social sway. This is not in all cases and it changing rapidly, but this is a fact, simple. But then as she said, all systems have there good and bad points

    second arraged marriges are fine, if it’s a possilbity. Sure, Arab and South Asian people have the communal ties, but the many Americans (and Canadians) don’t have that option. As a white convert, my mom made it very clear did not want to shoulder that responcibility. And honestly, neither would I. I think for Muslims we must leave the degree of perental involvment individulized, and not just set preachy standards.

    But, on the early sexual explorations, she’s dead on. My liberal white parents activly discuraged me from dating, “Your too young”. And well, I was. With the exterme low self esteem of these age groups, It’s esy for bullies to take advantage. I went to school with countless girls who were date raped by university students. “I’m just not ready” would lunch you into a social pariah. And yes, I see how this harkens back to what I was talking about at the begining.

    Althoght I am a bit of a charlitan, a Muslim convert university student with a non-muslim boyfriend (Istaghfirallah!), I’m just that, a 20 somthing woman who can deal with serious questens and push pull heartache. This, I know for a fact, comes with age.

    • creepy post — rationalizing one of the most oppressive to women and outdated traditions hopefully disappearing from the modern world — except apparantly being revived by fundamentalists,
      Yes – its hard to be a teenager, and I’m glad I live in America.

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