It's not always easy being young and Muslim in America, and one reasonis that it is often so difficult to find a suitable spouse here. Makingthis endeavor more complicated are mosques that separate by gender,cultural gaps between East and West, and parents that insist on doingthe job for you. How do young Muslims go about finding their lifepartners? Here are some tips from people who've navigated the roadbefore you:

What do you really want in a spouse? The first step in figuringout who you want to marry is to get to know yourself. Examine yourbeliefs, tastes, and values. Where do you want to go in life? What kindof life do you want to have? Think about the personality traits in amate that will bring out the best in you and help you toward your goals.And while it may be true that opposites attract, having things incommon with your spouse still remains the best insurance for closecompanionship.

The best way to get yourself married is to start living as if youalready are. How many times have you seen recently married peoplethat stayed up until 4 a.m. playing Quake III, drifting from one job toanother, or taking a shower only occasionally? Not many, I'd guess.Start cleaning up your act now--improve your hygiene, finish school,satisfy your wanderlust--so you have the right frame of mind formarriage.

There are better places to look for a spouse than ISNA conventions. Some people I grew up with went to conventions, such as the annualIslamic Society of North America, to "spouse hunt." They always cameback alone. These conventions overflow with teenage sexual tension, butdo little more than aggravate raging hormones. It's not a goodenvironment to evaluate the qualities on which a solid marriage isbuilt. Some of the best places to find a spouse who shares your valuesis to get involved with causes that you are passionate about, such ascharitable groups, study circles, and political organizations. You'relikely to spend time among quality people in a comfortable environment,and you learn about someone's character by watching how they interactwith others and handle responsibility.

Having trouble finding someone on your own? Swallow your pride--letyour friends help. Every time someone offered me help in finding awife, my pride got in the way. I thought I could find her on my own. Thetruth is, for most people this simply isn't true. I never would havefound my wife if I hadn't told an old friend what I was looking for in aspouse. He spent three years trying to hook me up with a woman he'dgrown up with in Chicago, whom he swore was my perfect match, before mypride gave way and I agreed to meet her. We got married soon after andhave been happy ever since. There usually aren't enough Muslims in anyone metropolitan area for you to be sure you'll find a mate. With thehelp of your friends, you can tap into a nationwide network.

News Flash: Mr. and Mrs. Perfect do not exist. If you're lookingfor perfection in your spouse, you can give up now. Too many people waitfor the Perfect Spouse to come around, and they're still waiting intotheir mid-30s. Look for lasting qualities (compassion, intelligence,commitment to Islam) rather than limiting ones (same ethnic background,economic level, or hometown overseas). Also, don't rule out people whoare divorced or have children from a previous marriage (you don't wantto deal with diapers anyway, right?). Be flexible in your requirements,and don't expect perfection. A good spouse will meet maybe 90% of yourneeds--the rest is what your friends and family are for.

Marriage is not a business transaction. Don't treat it like one. Just because marriage is on the Great Checklist of Life (along withgetting a job, going to college, buying a house, etc.) doesn't mean youhave to treat it like a task to be completed. Marriage is a job thatnever ends and you need to work on it every day. It also means that youdon't just glance at the biodata sheet of a prospective spouse and makea decision after a few meetings. Take the time to get to know the personintellectually and emotionally. E-mail is great for this, and so is thephone. Don't be pressured into making a decision unless you're sure bothof you can grow into an understanding, loving couple.

Parents need to be a part of the process. Deal with it. Whether Momand Dad are putting on the pressure to get married, or prospectivein-laws intimidate you, you need to properly deal with parental feelingsif you want to avoid trouble. You might think you can go it alone withyour partner, but the old adage "You don't just marry a person--youmarry a family" is still true. Parents who don't give the green lightto your relationship can create an environment that eats away at eventhe strongest marital foundation. Get parents involved in the processearly so they have a stake in making it work. Work with them so theysuggest prospective mates who have a chance of piquing your interest.Men should respectfully inform the girl's parents of their intentions assoon as possible (women can reciprocate, although it's often notculturally necessary). If you play your cards right, both parents andin-laws will be cheering as you cross the finish line.

Of course, none of these rules will guarantee eternal wedded bliss. Butif you're serious about fulfilling that other "half of your religion,"it will do you good to listen to those of us who have gone through it.The next generation of Muslims in the United States is responsible fordefining the values and culture of American Islam, so the more stableand successful marriages we have, the brighter the future will be.