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

What do you really want in a spouse? The first step in figuring out who you want to marry is to get to know yourself. Examine your beliefs, tastes, and values. Where do you want to go in life? What kind of life do you want to have? Think about the personality traits in a mate 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 in common with your spouse still remains the best insurance for close companionship.

The best way to get yourself married is to start living as if you already are. How many times have you seen recently married people that stayed up until 4 a.m. playing Quake III, drifting from one job to another, 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 for marriage.

There are better places to look for a spouse than ISNA conventions. Some people I grew up with went to conventions, such as the annual Islamic Society of North America, to "spouse hunt." They always came back alone. These conventions overflow with teenage sexual tension, but do little more than aggravate raging hormones. It's not a good environment to evaluate the qualities on which a solid marriage is built. Some of the best places to find a spouse who shares your values is to get involved with causes that you are passionate about, such as charitable groups, study circles, and political organizations. You're likely to spend time among quality people in a comfortable environment, and you learn about someone's character by watching how they interact with others and handle responsibility.

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

News Flash: Mr. and Mrs. Perfect do not exist. If you're looking for perfection in your spouse, you can give up now. Too many people wait for the Perfect Spouse to come around, and they're still waiting into their 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 who are divorced or have children from a previous marriage (you don't want to deal with diapers anyway, right?). Be flexible in your requirements, and don't expect perfection. A good spouse will meet maybe 90% of your needs--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 with getting a job, going to college, buying a house, etc.) doesn't mean you have to treat it like a task to be completed. Marriage is a job that never ends and you need to work on it every day. It also means that you don't just glance at the biodata sheet of a prospective spouse and make a decision after a few meetings. Take the time to get to know the person intellectually and emotionally. E-mail is great for this, and so is the phone. Don't be pressured into making a decision unless you're sure both of you can grow into an understanding, loving couple.

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

Of course, none of these rules will guarantee eternal wedded bliss. But if 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 for defining the values and culture of American Islam, so the more stable and successful marriages we have, the brighter the future will be.

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