For Muslims in Berlin, the world of dating is gradually changing
From arranged detector, Berlin’s Muslim singles on the lookout for love must navigate a thorny landscape. We take a look.
Yet single Muslims must nevertheless learn to navigate between traditional mores – often including family pressure towards arranged marriages – and their own desires, set against the backdrop of Berlin’s highly open sex-and-love mainstream
Single Muslims must navigate between tradition – often including family pressure towards arranged marriages – and their own desires, set against the backdrop of Berlin’s highly open sex-and-love mainstream. Photo: Creative Commons / Diloz
Hamsa* is in love. The 17-year-old Gymnasium student, who came to Berlin from Syria as a refugee five years ago, dresses flawlessly – her hijab always matches her clothes, her make-up and nails are impeccable. Her parents are not particularly religious, but they find traditions and modesty extremely important: naturally, they were concerned about the effect that “Berlin freedom” would have on their four kids. Hamsa did have a rebellious phase, wearing miniskirts and refusing to wear the headscarf, but she has returned to her family’s values. While she had previously hoped to become a doctor, she now wants to be a dental hygienist, since it’s a more suitable profession for a woman. Last year, she started attending a Quran school.
About five months ago, one of her classmates introduced Hamsa to her older brother, 25-year-old Mohammed. Hamsa immediately told her parents that she would like to date him. “He has dreamy eyes and a very nice smile!” she giggles. Her parents – who are not only in an arranged marriage but are also second cousins, something fairly common in Muslim families but only after running blood tests to make sure the children wouldn’t be negatively affected – have met Mohammed and approved of the two young lovebirds getting to know each other; they do not mind the age gap.
“He is a sa’s father, Nessim*, while his wife Nadira* nods on. “He works at a car repair shop and he is currently looking for an apartment for himself. We have met his family since and we all agreed to proceed further. We were really not forcing that she would have to marry someone we introduce to her. Maybe if we were back home it would be different because we would know more about the families around us, but here in Germany we don’t know that many people and we can’t tell who would be suitable for our daughter.”
Hamsa and Mohammed are allowed to meet in public with no chaperone around – something strictly religious families would not allow – because her family says they trust them. In private, Hamsa admits that they have already gone further than what would be halal, but nothing serious. “We hold hands often as we are walking, and our cheeks have touched a couple of times too,” she says, blushing but confident. “We even kissed once. But I don’t think it’s doing any harm to anyone. We are in Berlin, it’s normal here!” Hamsa will turn 18 this summer and, if everything goes according to plan, she and Mohammed will get married soon afterwards.
We even kissed once. But I don’t think it’s doing any harm to anyone. We are in Berlin, it’s normal here!
According to Seyran Ates?, a Turkish-German lawyer, activist and Muslim feminist, many young Muslims who come to Berlin begin to change their worldview and doubt traditional beliefs. “It’s not only through being in Germany but also all around the world with globalisation and the internet and social media,” she explains. “Desires, wishes, dreams are being awakened and strengthened when people learn that they are in fact possible. And living in Berlin, one of the hippest cities of the world, shows that every form of lifestyle is possible – and nobody stands alone with their thoughts, and nobody has to feel like they are betraying their traditions.”