Can You Advise on Finding a Pious Spouse?

Answered by Ustadha Shazia Ahmad


I am a 29-year-old Muslim woman who has been searching for a spouse for a little less than 2 years. I am so confused.

I am a practicing Muslim. I pray, fast, read Quran, etc. I grew up in a conservative Muslim community in America. I attended halaqaat, led youth groups, was very involved in the mosque, and lived in a Muslim bubble. Although I went to public school and worked with non-Muslims, I believed very strongly in the idea, of our way (Islam) or the highway, and was quite self-righteous. I did a lot of dawah speaking to people about the religion. As I grew older, I left behind this mindset and became more tolerant of non-Muslims, understanding their struggles, respecting them, and finding commonalities with them as human beings. I began doing dawah by simply being an example in my character.

But in the past year or so I have been straying farther from my deen. I began missing some prayers, reading less Quran overall, listening to music, talking with the opposite gender, and have been less strict with my clothing (I used to wear skirts only; now I wear pants with something long over them). I started shaking hands with men at work when meeting new colleagues.

I believe my behavior changed because my heart became poisoned/rusty or my faith decreased.  Perhaps this is true, I pray Allah forgives and guides me. At the same time, I believe there is a big cultural difference between my non-Muslim colleagues and the conservative Muslim men I grew up with in the mosque. For example, the former doesn’t care that I am wearing pants and perceive shaking their hand as professional / a sign of respect.  The latter see these things as sexual innuendo. Obviously, I am generalizing, but these are my personal observations. Similarly, growing up in my Muslim environment I would not talk about anything personal with my brothers at all; our interactions were strictly professional. It seemed that even if I laughed or said “lol” it would be deemed flirtation. However, with non-Muslims, I could just be myself and talk freely because they see the friendship between the sexes as normal, not flirtatious. It is a different world. An alternate reality.  Of course, I recognize there are lines that should never be crossed (real flirtatious behavior or tight clothing).

In many ways, being around non-Muslims has made me a more confident and outgoing person. I am allowed to “be myself” without judgment and I feel respected as a human being. Being surrounded by non-Muslims as an adult, I believe the marriage process led me to be more open and outgoing as I put myself out there and exposed some of my hidden layers because I thought it would help in attracting someone. I used to be very reserved and practically lived in the mosque in my youth. A brother I was interested in at the time thought I was intimidating. On the other hand, a married Muslim man expressed interest in me when I was younger (an experience that scarred me).

I recognize that in many ways I have become more liberal and less religious. Because I grew up with such conservative values, I am currently very confused about my identity. I feel that I may have strayed too far. Unfortunately, this identity shift has vastly impacted my search for a spouse and has caused a lot of emotional and psychological damage to my last relationship. Please make dua that Allah forgives me.

This brother and I fell in love and got engaged and both families were fully supportive. However, our relationship broke because (among other things) I was too “loose” in his eyes. I told him (because in America, that’s what I’ve been led to believe) that he is insecure in himself, otherwise, he would not question the way I dress, my work environment, who my friends are, whether I worked or shook hands with men, etc. I know I was wrong to criticize him. We fought a lot, and the relationship became very stressed and unhealthy.

Having had the time to reflect post-breakup I recognize that a lot of it was a sort of culture clash. He is a conservative Muslim. Ironically, I used to be exactly what this brother wants-this reserved, demure woman. In fact, I think I chose him because he seemed to click with my long-held conservative values and also grew up in America as I did. On paper, it seemed like we were compatible because we have similar education levels, were attracted to each other, enjoyed talking to each other/had a strong connection, and felt that we knew each other in a previous lifetime.

However, perhaps I did not realize when I chose him that I am not that conservative woman anymore. As I grew older I came out of my shell and started being myself in public, not just in private. But now the same kind of guy I’ve always wanted (a conservative/religious one) thinks I’m too liberal. He made me feel like I was a non-Muslim and he wanted me to come back to Islam. He even bought me a book about Islam which felt very condescending because I still believe in Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) and strive to practice and improve.

So I am a) confused about my identity and b) the breakup with this brother has spiraled me into depression and I need advice on how to overcome this.

As for (a), I feel like conservative Islam and Western culture do not go hand in hand. I feel like I have to choose one *OR* be okay with having a sort of “double-identity” — where I act one way around non-Muslim colleagues and another way around conservative Muslims. I want to follow Islam correctly but I feel that following it rigidly among non-Muslims is unnecessarily difficult.

As for (b), I’ve cried almost every day for the past six months and I don’t understand why I feel so broken when I am sacrificing this brother for Allah. I am sacrificing him so that we don’t hurt each other (thereby committing sins against the other). I know the decision to end things was logically sound. I am trying to accept Allah’s will and obey Him. But I also feel like this pain is too much. I feel like dying. I love this brother, regardless of how he treated me.

Despite my age, I won’t be able to marry anyone else. I have rejected several brothers after him because unfortunately I just can’t be with someone else while I love this brother no matter how harmful it is to me practically. Even though marrying and having a family is one of my deepest wishes, I would rather be alone than be with one man while I am thinking about another. I’m attending therapy but it’s slow progress and this pain (especially when I am alone) is deep. I would appreciate any advice you have. Thank you.


I deeply sympathize with you, the pain that you are feeling must be intense and your confusion about your religion amidst it all is only multiplying the problem. I pray that you come out of this with confidence, clarity, and a willingness to do your very best concerning Allah and concerning your obligations.

First, I recommend that you learn and be clear about what is strictly prohibited in the religion and what is not. Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), has taught us rules that should not be ignored if we wish to follow his Sunna. We would then live with faith (iman) and piety (taqwa) and be guided to live a beautiful life, in line with the shari’a.

I advise you not to call your faith poisoned or rusty or even declare that your faith has decreased because only Allah can judge that. You felt that your worship decreased over time, but I point out that your tolerance and kindness towards non-Muslims increased. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “The heaviest thing to be placed in the balance of a believing slave on the Day of Judgement will be a good character.” [Ahmad; Abu Dawud]

In terms of outward obligations of shari’a, Allah sent us the Prophet to perfect our religion for us. [Quran, 5:3] Please re-examine missing obligatory prayers and your willingness to shake hands with the opposite gender. Below, you will find a guideline for gender-appropriate interaction in this excellent letter written by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari.

Please see this:
Guidelines For Interacting With the Opposite Sex

Your clothes may not be an issue at all as long as they are quite loose, although praying in tight pants is considered offensive for a woman. [Bakri, I‘anat al-Talibin, p. 113]

As for your Muslim identity in the West, you don’t need to live a double life. A Muslim woman is always modest in the way she dresses, speaks, and behaves. This may result in being quieter in front of religious Muslim men who appreciate modesty and being a little more talkative in front of non-Muslims who lose their fear of Muslims and get to learn about our religion. There is no absolute Islamic behavior with everyone.  Allah has also allowed for differences in personalities. What is considered very modest for one person might be quite outgoing for another?

My teacher’s teacher in Damascus used to behave in a more affable way when he wasn’t around fellow scholars or students. With the public, he would even pose for pictures with them, which he didn’t normally do. It is a tradition of Muslims to speak to people according to their understanding without taking away from our religion at all.

b) I pray that you can overcome this pain soon. Time, patience, and perseverance come to mind. “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” [Quran, 2:153]

The pain of separation is never easy, but I call on you to apply your religions correctly, rectify yourself and heal before committing to another. A time will come, Allah willing, where you are able to move on, think clearly and positively, and be excited to marry the right person for you. You should not settle for someone who is disrespectful to you and doesn’t recognize your challenges and struggles.

Please take a look at this excellent article on marriage by Sh. Faraz Rabbani.
Love, Marriage and Relationships in Islam: All Your Questions Answered

Don’t hesitate to reach out while you are on this journey to re-discover yourself and your religion (deen). JazakAllahu khayran.

[Ustadha] Shazia Ahmad
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadha Shazia Ahmad lived in Damascus, Syria for two years where she studied aqida, fiqh, tajweed, tafsir, and Arabic. She then attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she completed her Masters in Arabic. Afterward, she moved to Amman, Jordan where she studied fiqh, Arabic, and other sciences. She later moved back to Mississauga, Canada, where she lives with her family.