Failing to explain traditions

muslim datingLabels for premarital rituals are oddly controversial. Whether you call it dating, courtship, hooking up or just hanging out, these labels carry with them all sorts of baggage.

In an article in the New York Times, Neil MacFarquhar takes us into the American Muslim dating — I mean “matrimonial banquet” — scene and explains in a rather delightful way explains the intricate issues Muslim young people deal with in finding their life partners.

The 1,450-word article paints a wonderful picture of a banquet room, of pushy parents and aging singles desperately searching for a mate, but fails to explain the reasons behind the traditions that place Muslim young people in such precarious situations. Amid all the graphic details, the article falls into a series of clichéd observations on strict religious cultures.

The article comes across as a real-life American version of Bend It Like Beckham, minus the soccer.

Check out this rather revealing section:

Both the banquet earlier this month and various related seminars underscored the difficulty that some American Muslim families face in grappling with an issue on which many prefer not to assimilate. One seminar, called “Dating,” promised attendees helpful hints for “Muslim families struggling to save their children from it.”

The couple of hundred people attending the dating seminar burst out laughing when Imam Muhamed Magid of the Adams Center, a collective of seven mosques in Virginia, summed up the basic instructions that Muslim American parents give their adolescent children, particularly males: “Don’t talk to the Muslim girls, ever, but you are going to marry them. As for the non-Muslim girls, talk to them, but don’t ever bring one home.”

“These kids grew up in America, where the social norm is that it is O.K. to date, that it is O.K. to have sex before marriage,” Imam Magid said in an interview. “So the kids are caught between the ideal of their parents and the openness of the culture on this issue.”

The questions raised at the seminar reflected just how pained many American Muslims are by the subject. One middle-aged man wondered if there was anything he could do now that his 32-year-old son had declared his intention of marrying a (shudder) Roman Catholic. A young man asked what might be considered going too far when courting a Muslim woman.

We complain about this a lot here at GetReligion, and some of you have voiced concerns that we harp on it too much. That’s fine by us, but until American journalists, particularly the ones at the major trend-setting institutions, start educating the reader on Muslim tradition and philosophy, there is no reason to let up.

After reading this article, all one is left to believe is that Muslims are strangely uptight about marriage, sex and, gasp, even alcohol, and they are simply in shock with the American culture thrust upon them. We’re left to believe that it is just tradition for the sake of tradition.

There’s obviously a great deal of difference among Muslims on the importance of tradition. Can you pin that variance on anything in particular in Muslim society? Is it nationality? Or is it various Muslim religious traditions?

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  • Boinkie

    I agree that second generation people tend to follow the customs of their parents, but wasn’t the girl in Bend it Like Beckham a Hindu?

    Perhaps a closer story would be Mississippi Marsala, Fiddler on the Roof, or even My Big Fat Greek Wedding…

  • Dominic Glisinski

    Something I’ve never seen or read anywhere is an interview, or “mini-documentary” of Muslim girls awaiting nuptials. What are their feelings and experiences? Are they relegated to sitting on the shelf, draped in fabric, like mass produced merchandise? Do they have any say? To what degree? Do they have the right of veto as to whom they are assigned in marriage? How seriously do Muslim women take their religion really? In Christianity it is the women that run the show, in Islam it seems to be men who call the tune and take the lead.
    Perhaps someone has a link to something of this nature?

  • dpulliam

    Boinkie, I think you’re right about the girl in Beckham being Hindu. Just goes to show you how much that movie impacted me. Good film, but it glossed over the religious issues.

  • Robert Hargrave

    The girl in Bend it Like Beckham was Sikh.

  • Will

    As is Parminder KAUR Nagra

  • Jennifer

    Yes, she was Sikh.

  • Michael

    And they discuss the fact that white people assume she’s Muslim, calling her the derogatory “Paki” and the father talks about the assumption that because he wears a headwrap, people make assumptions about his faith.

  • mattK

    What word was not even hinted at in the story? This one.

    I have trouble beliveing that any of Tevya’s daughters would have tolerated it for an instant.

  • Charlie

    “journalists, particularly the ones at the major trend-setting institutions, start educating the reader on Muslim tradition and philosophy, there is no reason to let up. ”

    But a journalist’s job is not to educate, it is to report the news. All else is vanity. Worse, you are putting the responsibility for the education of the public on the media, when that responsibility belongs-rightly- to the public to educate itself.

    God help us all if we are expected to learn about religion and culture from a *&%$ newspaper.