Okay. Not being one to shy from controversy, I’m back to write about marriage again! Yay!
I got a LOT of response on my Facebook wall over the status update regarding marrying men who come from a very different culture. I would say it was about 80% “You go girl!” and 20% “You are backbiting!”. It is a very emotional topic and one of the most important topics in our Ummah here in the West. We have the luxury of not being under threat of war or starvation, so we can worry about things like marriage and culture. May Allah help us to rectify our affairs so we can help all our Muslim and non-Muslim fellow human beings who are oppressed, Ameen.
Okay, so back on the topic of marriage, I just want to note that to my eye, twenty years into being Muslim, there are four major ways a marriage can go when a Muslim man marries a non-Muslim woman. Everything else is just a variation on a theme.
I’m going to make a generalization that many if not most Muslim men who marry non-Muslims in the west are no more than moderately religious. If they were really into the proper practice of their deen, they would strive hard to marry a believing woman. That doesn’t mean the guy is going to bars or doing things that are outright haraam, but it means that he has some weaknesses and he has allowed himself to gaze at non-Muslim women and interact with them in a manner that led to him becoming attracted to them. Maybe he met this cute non-Muslim girl at the university or the local diner. Maybe he saw her working out at the gym. For whatever reason, he became attracted to her. Maybe they started dating and got as far as cuddling and hand-holding. Maybe they even had a sexual relationship. At some point, the guy started feeling guilty or felt pressured into getting married, so he proposed and she accepted. They formalized their relationship and started their life together. So, what are the chances of “happily ever after”?
1. Non-religious Muslim guy (kind of an oxymoron but you know what I mean) marries non-religious non-Muslim gal. They live a life without any relationship with God, and they have a happy marriage based on this world with no thought for the next. They might have a “good” marriage, but woe to those who do not worship Allah! They will be parted by death and if they reject Allah they risk being in the Hellfire. NOT my definition of a successful union.
2. Non-religious Muslim guy marries non-religious non-Muslim gal. At some point in the marriage, he starts to become more serious about his relationship with Allah. He becomes regular in his prayers, fasts, starts going to the masjid and hanging out with other good religious brothers. He wants his wife to make this journey with him so he starts talking to her about Islam, but she is NOT interested. He is not happy and starts to criticize her about how she dresses when she goes out, how she interacts with male friends, and how some of her family drinks or does other undesirable things. Her response was “I was this way when you married me!” and she is not willing to change. This leads to strife at the very least and can lead to divorce at worst.
3. Non-religious Muslim guy marries non-religious non-Muslim gal. Over time, despite his lack of practice of Islam, she starts to become interested in the religion, prompted by a Qur’an she picks up one day, or her kind and religious sister-in-law, or some TV show that sent her online looking for accurate information. She loves what she finds, and over time she learns more about Islam, and ultimately she submits and becomes Muslim. Meanwhile, the husband is content to live in this world with no thought for the next. He might be outwardly happy with her action, but he doesn’t feel it touches his life in any way. As she becomes more observant, she asks him to pray or to fast, to give up watching R-rated movies, or to stop hanging out with the guys at the hookah place where all the waitresses wear tight jeans. He feels pressured and tells her to mind her own business, and he counters her Islam with HIS-lam, trying to use his cultural knowledge of the religion to force his point of view. She is unhappy and starts to feel like she does not respect her husband, and this leads to many ills including possibly the downfall of the marriage.
4. Ah, alas, thank God we come to four! In this scenario, non-religious Muslim Man marries non-religious non-Muslim gal. As time goes on, he realizes he needs to work on his relationship with Allah, and he repents from his time of forgetfulness and starts to practice by praying, fasting, and acting in a better manner. His wife is so impressed by his turnaround that she starts to investigate the religion as well, and lo and behold, she decides to become Muslim as well! Their marriage gets stronger and their relationship flowers as they hold hands striving on the path to Jannah. Happy sigh.
As you see, there are three scenarios that are difficult and unacceptable and only one that results in the happily ever after that we should all be striving for. This one-of-four chance is beautiful when it happens, but in the real world the other three versions are much more common. And none of this happens in a vacuum. These men and women bring babies into the world, and these babies grow into kids with a confused outlook on life and no sure foundation of Islam. And there is domestic violence way too often (one time is too often; it’s actually a plague on marriage in general among Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide). Throw in the cultural differences that make even a Muslim-to-Muslimah marriage a challenge and you can have some pretty ugly situations.
I am NOT talking out of the side of my face here. I am talking about situations I see again and again. Twenty years’ worth. Twenty years’ worth of men and women marrying without the slightest idea of how they are going to get into Jannah together and often not caring. Twenty years of seeing non-Muslim women expected to morph into submissive Middle Eastern or Asian wives who know how to make Arabic coffee or perfectly round chapatis and who get the news that their mum-in-law is coming to live with them in their one-bedroom apartment. Twenty years of seeing women bloom as they learn about Islam, only to come crashing down when they realize the only part of the Qur’an their husband knows is the verse where men are supposedly given permission to beat their wives. Twenty years of seeing a Muslim guy bringing a shy and scared American girl to the masjid for nikah and never seeing either of them again. Twenty years.
I have seen good marriages, and I applaud them and hold them up as examples for the rest of us. I don’t like to brag on my husband too much because I don’t want others to be jealous, but he is my role model as far as what a Muslim husband and father should be, and hitting a woman is the farthest thing from his mind to such an extent that he can’t actually grasp the concept that many of the men who pray beside him in the masjid do it routinely to their wives. I was Muslim already when we married, and I gave him the third degree before I agreed to meet him, and he fulfilled my needs as a moderate man with knowledge who was practicing his Islam and looking for a wife who was religious rather than overly cultural. I did my homework and alhamdulillah we’ve had fifteen years of marriage so far. Has it been easy? No. I am American and he is Arab. We come from different backgrounds and we have had to learn how to deal with each others flaws and peculiarities. But we have the benefit of being practicing Muslims and we always go back to the Qur’an and Sunnah when we have an issue. When you put it in Allah’s hands, you have a much better chance of success.
So, that’s my viewpoint. Marriages between Muslim men and non-Muslim women are fraught with peril for many reasons. One of the worst results of a failed marriage is the broken home that leaves many children without a father figure in their lives. Many times the ex-husband is not interested in staying around for the kids, or the ex-wife uses the children as pawns and keeps them away from their father out of spite. There are no angels on either side, just people who didn’t have the right goals when seeking a spouse.
I’m sure there will be many who disagree with me and I don’t want any non-Muslim ladies who are reading this to get bent out of shape or feel I am criticizing you directly. I’m not. But I’m trying to warn anyone who is dating a Muslim man or who is thinking about marrying one that you might want to sit back and give it a long hard rethink. As I said before, love does NOT conquer all. If you come from backgrounds that are too different, you could be setting yourself up for failure.
I pray that all of you who are currently married are blessed with spouses who will help you complete half your deen, that those who are not Muslim are able to learn about the true beauty of Islam, and that marriages in crisis are healed by the Grace of Allah. I love you all for the sake of Allah and I ask that you are blessed with the best in this world and the next, Ameen.