For women who have good jobs and work really hard, it’s a question of ‘do you want to take five steps backwards by getting married and being relegated to doing all the chores without this correct equity in the marriage?– Shahzad Younas
From the comfort of my dining room on a cold Wednesday evening, I am waiting to have a meeting with Shahzad Younas. He zooms in with a grey hoodie worn over a blue polo shirt. He is talking to me from his office. Beside him is a plant pot seated comfortably on the window sill and behind him is a white bookshelf resting elegantly against the white wall. The conversation commences with a brief introduction, immediately followed by a chat about the 21st-century marriage culture amongst Millennial and Gen-Z Muslims.
If you have been following Muzz’s social media platforms consistently, you may have noticed the work the team has been doing in restoring the spirit of egalitarianism back into Muslim marriages. As your eyes dart across the comment section, you’ll be met by an array of reactions; excitement, anger and enthusiastic anticipation. It is interesting to know that Shahzad Younas and the Muzz team are not standing for the bad old traditionally oppressive model of marriage. Instead, they are using their platform to educate young Muslim women and men on the true position of Islam regarding marital relations and spousal rights.
Shahzad Younas, who left a 9-year career in investment banking to pursue his own dreams, found success as the founder and CEO of Muzz; the first digital product offering cutting-edge features for Muslims looking to find their perfect marriage partner on their smartphones. Through Muzz, lots of Millennial and Gen-Z Muslims across the world are finding love and getting married. Cross-cultural and interracial marriages are not just happening but also changing the face of Muslim marriages. Genuinely interested in the success of Muzz marriages, the team is invested in educating both single and married Muslims, addressing issues such as racism and sexism in Muslim communities.
When I ask him whether there’s been a shift in mindset amongst young Muslims, Shahzad tells me that when he started Muzz ten years ago, the slightly older generation, who was 30+ at the time, was very fixated and regimented on their own views about marriage. “Culture was such a big part of it.” He says “Their partner had to be Pakistani, for example, and they had to tick all sorts of boxes. Whereas now, It’s really interesting that all young Muslims are saying is ‘Look! Are they good Muslim? Do our personalities align? Do our outlook in life and our life goals align’?” Reflecting on this subtle change, I express my views about the roles parents play in influencing the marriage culture of their children. I tell Shahzad that it appears that while a lot of young women are shifting away from the traditional model, lots of young men still appear to be holding tightly to that culture, for reasons not unrelated to preserving the privilege that comes with it.
Shahzad appears not to agree completely with my view. “I don’t think it’s necessarily just men,” he says “When it comes to the equilibrium between men and women, there’s no doubt that the men still have a much stronger voice and are much more controlling in terms of who they marry and how the marriage is conducted.” He thinks that the problem lies within the cultural practices that flow through these processes, which are most times unislamic. “On our socials, we have highlighted issues that are prevalent, which lots of women have also highlighted such as colourism and racism within the marriage process.” According to him, It’s hard to find real data on whether there’s been progress but these issues still deeply exist between both men and women. “Unfortunately,” he says “a lot of cultural aspects hold women back and to some degree, they oppress women. We know these are tricky things to talk about. And a lot of Muslims don’t want to talk about these things. But we all know that these issues exist.“
Shahzad thinks that young Muslims are not finding the guidance that they need from the older generation because they aren’t willing to talk about these burning issues. He believes that there’s so much young people can learn from their elders about how to talk to a potential partner and what red flags to avoid. Fortunately, however, they are beginning to find this guidance from married couples within their generation who have found love online, and to a large extent on Muzz, and are willing to share tips and advice on how to navigate the entire process of finding a partner and building a happy, sustainable and equitable marriage. Muzz has also contributed significantly to this guidance by helping to upturn cultural stigmas and reminding young people of the true principles of Islam. “The men who are offended by this are actually not offended by what we are talking about” he explains “They are just offended that we’re talking about it“
Speaking about the evolving culture amongst young Muslims, Shahzad believes that the reason why Muzz exists in the first place and why it has achieved so much success is because the older generation wasn’t willing to approach these difficult topics, “Instead they forced a method of finding a partner on the younger generation”, he tells me “be it, oh we’re going to introduce you to someone from our family which is also good, but pays very little attention to actual compatibility. No one’s actually asking ‘what’s your outlook in life and what are your goals and how do we make sure that this matching we’re trying to do is actually successful?’” Shahzad has also been through the matching process and according to him, it’s a very crude process. “It’s almost like “You’re a guy, she’s a girl… so what’s the problem?”
Unable to understand Shahzad’s emphasis on the failure of the older generation to give guidance to young Muslims, I am quick to point out why I think there is a divide between these two generations. How willing are younger Muslims to take marriage lessons from the older generation who still hold a lot of traditional values that are oppressive to women? With the amount of pushback from younger Muslim women who are redefining what a healthy marriage should look and feel like in the 21st century, there’s not so much the older generation can do. Taking the older generation out of the picture and leaving young men and women to engage with each other on these issues feels like a minefield. I tell Shahzad that lots of men are reluctant to make progress, preferring to hold tightly to the clutches of traditional values, simply because they have an entirely different worldview from women which prevents them from seeing and accepting that these traditional values are actually designed to benefit one at the expense of another.
Shahzad agrees with me this time around, and reinforces education as a solution to a large extent, in addition to all the conversations taking place. Culture, in his opinion, is still responsible for these problems “Most Muslim men are reluctant about this change” he says “It’s most often like ‘in the previous generation, it was always the women doing everything, so why should I, as a man be doing it? But then you have an educated Muslim woman who’s looking to get married, and the guy’s demanding and almost expecting her to take care of all the household chores.” Statistically, Shahzad says that this disconnect is happening because Muslim women are becoming more educated, more academically driven and professionally in a better place than a lot of Muslim men. And even educated Muslim men aren’t ready to come to terms with these changes because there’s still a lot of cultural baggage that they’re having to navigate through. “For a lot of Muslim women who are educated;” says Shahzad “women who have good jobs and work really hard, it’s a question of ‘do you want to take five steps backwards by getting married and being relegated to doing all the chores without this correct equity in the marriage?” And this is exactly why marriage is becoming more difficult for this generation of Muslims.
“Even with the old matchmakers and the old way of doing things” Shahzad continues, “The problem often is that there’s a lack of assessment of the actual compatibility between the two people in terms of the way they want to live their married life together,” He tells me that we’re too early in our journey to getting actual data on how egalitarian marriages are amongst young Muslims. But he is most likely to give a definite answer in future on whether or not Muzz marriages last longer than marriages conducted in the old way. He however predicts that with all the conversations being facilitated on compatibility and equality, there’s a probability that marriages amongst young Muslims are going to have higher success. “With education on both sides; for Muslim men and Muslim women,” says Shahzad “in terms of their roles and rights in marriage and more education for men in terms of how they interact with women and how to be emotionally more intelligent, there’s likely to be some progress.”
Shahzad thinks that one of the reasons why men have little to no clue about how they should interact with women is the level of gender segregation that happens in a lot of Muslim communities. “For most men,” he says “the first and only proper interaction with a woman is in a marriage, And that’s a huge chunk. We’re lacking the real social experience that non-Muslims have and for many men, it’s, ‘now, this woman’s moved into my house. How on earth do I navigate this?” Many of these issues are brought to Muzz’s attention by young Muslims who are finding it difficult to navigate. Education, on these issues, is definitely one of Muzz’s long-term goals. ‘We’ve talked about these issues for many years” Shahzad tells me “And we want to be talking about them a lot more” The team practically listens and responds to what the young Muslims are saying. “They ask for advice and tell us about the challenges they are facing,” says Shahzad “And we feel a sense of responsibility towards them because these are exactly the kind of topics that we want to continue talking about“
To answer the question “Are young Muslims shifting towards egalitarian marriages?” Shahzad says that we’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go. Muslim marriages are still a work in progress.
Wardah Abbas is the Founding Editor of The Muslim Women Times. She is a Lawyer, Writer and Social Justice activist.