Two young British Muslims on the challenges of finding romance

Channel 4's new documentary Extremely British Muslims explores a dating scene where marriage introduction events are big business

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Albela (Bella) Nabi, 25, sales assistant

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Finding a partner has become complicated for my generation. Young Muslim women have a bigger voice now. In older generations, parents chose the partners and girls would trust their parents. We’ve been brought up in Britain in a different way. The attitude is that this is our life, we have opinions and we need to make our own decisions. At the same time, it’s a big thing in Islam to be married young. When I’m with my family I do feel pressure. I can’t lie. I am 25 and I should have settled down by now.

I’m pretty sure about what I want in a partner. In my dreams, we are best friends who fall in love. He’d propose on the Eiffel Tower and we’d get married. I want romance to build naturally and be in love when I decide to spend the rest of my life with someone. I don’t want to meet someone twice, get married and the next day pop a baby. An arranged marriage? I can’t even imagine it. No way.

My mum’s amazing. She wants me to marry whoever I like. ‘It has to be your choice because it’s your life and I need you to be happy,’ she says. She knows I’m picky and stubborn. She doesn’t want the responsibility of choosing my partner and then being blamed if it didn’t work out. She wouldn’t want me to say, ‘Look what’s happened! You destroyed my life.’

Most of my friends are married or have a partner they’re marrying. A few had an arranged marriage in the sense that they met a guy they’d like to marry, so the parents met. Other couples start as friends but the guy says ‘I’m serious about this’ and comes to the parents’ house to ask for her hand. That is the custom.

I’d like us to be on the same page about our faith – I’d feel more comfortable discussing family issues – so not so strict that there’s no leniency, no consideration, but not so liberal that he didn’t care. I want a happy medium. When I make a decision, I will try to please my mum and my uncles and myself. I’m lucky they are so supportive. They are open minded and pro choice, but they do say: ‘You have to get married!’ 

Mohammed Ashraf (Ash) Mahmood, 30, logistics consultant

Dating has been about figuring myself out. I’m mixed race and marriages within my family have broadened my outlook. My mum comes from a traditional Pakistani background and my father became a Muslim when he was 19 and married her. Back then, it was taboo for a Pakistani woman to marry out of the community. My sister chose her partner, but it was slightly arranged. My brother met his missus at university. Her family are from Trinidad and Tobago and she became a Muslim once they married.

Everyone is open to whoever I bring home as long as I’m happy. Mum prays for me every day. She really does just want me to get married.  At the same time she knows the task at hand is great! She runs match-making evenings and when she once left her flyer in a potential missus’s house, that was a subliminal message!

It’s not essential that a girl is Muslim, but it would be easier in the future with children if we got into our faith as a team. I want someone who has the will and desire to care about religion, but not the sort who thinks we’ll be banished to hell if we miss a prayer. Wearing the hijab is not an issue for me; it’s up to her.

When viewers first see me in the programme, I had met a girl from a strict background and thought I might marry her so I was trying to be this religious person and that wasn’t comfortable. My friends, my family, everyone was straight with me: you’re pretending to be someone you’re not. I’d be cutting off my friends, my life, to be with someone I’d only met a couple of times. I was in denial.

It is hard to find a kindred spirit. You have to be open-minded and have a laugh. I’d rather go with the flow and be myself, meet someone on my level, and we’ll better ourselves in the world together.

Some friends have gone to Morocco or Pakistan to find a wife. The thought of meeting someone a couple of times in a country I don’t know well, and then marrying them? I can’t do that. It is a guaranteed way of finding a wife, but for me the last resort. I’m 30, the age that used to be my cut-off point. Now I’m saying 35…

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Extremely British Muslims starts tonight at 10pm on Channel 4