Boris Johnson was right about Muslim women struggling to find husbands

I was transported to the 1950’s where education was simply a route to marriage. Worse: I was back with my Muslim aunties, the matchmakers and gossips, for whom education is a hindrance to young women getting married, because educated women (so they tell us) have big heads, and are not properly domesticated.

In the subsequent days a storm erupted about the Mayor’s sexism and outdated views. He issued a clarification, saying that he was referring to a phenomenon called “assortative mating”: where women prefer to ‘marry up’ in terms of IQ, and so the smarter women are, the smarter the men they seek.

But such negative attitudes when put into the public space have a massive social impact and the leader of a city as diverse as London ought to be clearer about the context of his comments.

Muslim women in the UK for example are achieving more in education at a faster rate than their male peers, yet the idea that education will hinder marriage opportunities persists. They have a strong sense of being integrated into society as well as feeling woven into their own Muslim communities. These women have a great deal of pressure put on them to marry – the supposed ultimate fulfilment and destiny of an Asian woman (most Muslims in the UK are of Asian origin). Career success is considered at best a hindrance at worst a failure if she’s not married.

Rather than marrying to fulfil social expectations, most British Muslim women seek marriage for a partner and companion – like most other women. Funny that? Rather ironically though, they do have problems in finding husbands.

There are two reasons: Muslim men are trained through culture, and usually through the diktats of their mothers (so women have some blame here) to look for women who are less educated than they are, and usually younger too, on the premise that they will be less opinionated and domineering, and can be more easily ‘moulded’ into the family. The upshot is that it is still popular to go ‘back home’ to find a bride, as she is seen to be a better domesticated wife. One of the results of that is women who arrive in the UK with little knowledge of the country and the local language sometimes experience issues with identity, isolation and violence.

On the other hand, British Muslim women are not willing to marry ‘back home’. Unlike their male peers, according to qualitative studies, they would prefer to marry someone who is British or at least Western because they feel that will be a better match for their values, culture and aspirations.

The second problem is that such educated Muslim women are seeking greater equity in gender roles in the marriage, a partnership rather than a traditional male/female power structure. It is this deeper understanding of marriage through an Islamic lens driving this trend. There are many amazing Muslim men out there, but many haven’t adjusted yet. Which means that Muslim women either can’t find a spouse who is a match for their aspirations, or marriages are increasingly failing.

The irony is that Boris Johnson is therefore more spot on than we’d like to admit – how do we address the issue of these educated, worldly, community-oriented, faith-driven women being unmarried in increasing numbers? The reason his words hit a nerve is because this is not Muslim women’s problem – they are doing everything right and living up to our expectations of educated, liberated women as Islam demands. The issue with our social views is that educated women are somehow a problem, whether that be in helping perpetuate the unfair stereotype of the bossy, opinionated unfeminine graduate, or creating a marriage crisis.

Instead we need to turn our focus on the Muslim men we nurture. Our priority is to help men to step up, but today’s parents, especially mothers need to do the same. They can offer the kind of upbringing which can resolve these issues in a generation, and make comments like those of the Mayor a thing of the past.

Shelina Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf – Muslim Woman Seeks the One. She can be found tweeting here. She is the Vice President of Ogilvy Noor, the world’s first branding agency for Muslim consumers, and one of ‘Britain’s Future female leaders of the advertising industry’ according to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.

4 thoughts on “Boris Johnson was right about Muslim women struggling to find husbands”

  1. well said, perhaps women are truly the hope of Islam, an alternative to the macho tribal imamhood needs to evolve. Start female mosques with a woman leading prayers – well behaved men welcome! There is nothing in Islamic Theology to prevent this as any Muslim can lead prayers, Perhaps, Boris you could encourage such a thing in London?

    Make a movie called, “amend it like Luther”

  2. The tragedy of forced marriage and honour killing could have been avoided if the poor girls were educated in a single sex state funded Muslim schools by female Muslim teachers. Educational attainment rises quite significantly if boys and girls are educated separately. The tragedies are an eye opener for all those Muslim parents who send their children to state schools where they are exposed to non-Muslim teachers who have no respect for Islamic faith and Muslim community and do not understand the needs and demands of the Muslim children. Muslim schools are crucial for Muslim children because western education makes a man/woman stupid. The hypocrisy of the Western society is clearly seen whereas an Australian Judge failed to jail nine males who admitted gang-raping a 10-year old aborigine girl in 2005, saying the victim probably agreed to have sex with them and a UNICEF Photo of the year shows, a bridegroom, 40, with his 11-year old bride in Afghanistan. In my opinion, a UNICEF photo of the year must show a nine year British girl having a baby and another photo showing a gang of teenage girls with anti-social behaviour and vomiting out side a pub, thanks to binge drinking. Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. Muslim schools are the solutions and not a problem. They help to strengthen community cohesion, not undermine it. Muslim schools stand as shining beacons of light, serving as one of the most crucial factors which protect Muslim children from the onslaught of Eurocentricism, homosexuality, racism and secular values and traditions. They need to be well versed in Standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. At the same time they need to be well versed in Arabic, Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry. Muslim schools are not only faith schools but also bilingual schools. Infact, bilingualism is an asset and not a problem as perceived by the British education system. There is a positive co-relation between language and culture. English language is associated with western culture.

    Legally, the state has an obligation to respect the rights of parents to ensure that ‘education and teaching(of their children) is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.’
    The schools must satisfy the spiritual, moral, social,and cultural needs of Muslim pupils. State schools with non-Muslim monolingual teachers are not in a position to satisfy their needs and demands. Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

    Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental period’ otherwise, they would be lost in the Western JUNGLE.There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. At higher level of education, a Muslim teacher is not a priority.

    The silent majority of Muslim parents would like to send their children to Muslim schools but there are not enough schools to go by. The only alternative left is either British Government should introduce voucher system for parents to choose the school of their choice or designate all those state schools as Muslim community schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. There are hundreds of state schools where Muslims are in majority. Such schools may be handed over to Muslim educational Trusts or charities for their management. They are in a better position to educate Muslim children in accordance with their needs and demands. This demand is in accordance with the law of the land because there are state schools already managed by private companies. Muslim community is not asking for a favour. It is their legal right.

    Iftikhar Ahmad

    London School of Islamics Trust

  3. why should a penny of my taxes go to funding an innately violent alien homophobic creed? This is a secular Society we will keep it that way.

  4. I think the display this week of :- Go home or face arrest was good for our islamic community. Because these mosques are (deeply over crowded) and jobs are not available. Britain did not know this scandal / fraud via bogus students, bogus colleges, MQM party & major Pakistani immigration lawyers were all linked and investing in by helping these bogus students coming in UK since 8-10 years back! I am muslim, I know can not find jobs, its worthless to run a business due to too many same competition businesses in London, Manchester, Glasgow, etc etc

    It is best if you re-interview these past 10 year bogus students (especially from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sikhs,afghans, iraqs, indians, nigerians, sudanese, somalis, etc), and give them tests to attend in relating to the subject they enroled at those bogus colleges.


    Especially at our holy mosques you must do this…….

    There is no future eccept sit at home, sorry. It is too late to understand this scandal via bogus colleges, bogus marriages, calais-dover truck entry fraud, immigration lawyers helping these overseas illegally, passport fraud, etc etc

    Please I as a muslim do not mind you sending those trucks around all uk and warn these overseas tenants to leave.

    Thank you & best wishes.

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