Muslim Women, Not-So-Muslim Men: Interfaith Marriage in the UK

Muslim Women, Not-So-Muslim Men: Interfaith Marriage in the UK January 14, 2013

Since apparently all of us over the ripe age of 20 walk around with visible and obnoxiously loud ticking analog biological clocks, it’s no surprise that the issue of marriage is constantly smacked into our faces as though it is the sole defining moment and relationship of our lives. Marriage for Muslim women, whatever shade of practice, belief and color they come in, is a big deal. It may not be a big deal for a particular Muslim woman, perhaps, but those around her still tend to make it into a pretty big deal. Either she’s too single or too married. Or not married enough. Or single in the wrong way. Or married the wrong way. Or thinking about getting married the wrong way. Or having non-marital relationships. Or just not interested in ever getting married. Maybe she’s too picky. Too educated. Too hijabed. Too naked. Too fat. Too flat. Too ambitious. Too cultural.

While the constant barrage of marital inquisitions leaves much to be desired, there is a serious conversation to be had here. Many concerns, even if audaciously framed, are legitimate in a time where it seems young Muslim women in the West are having an increasingly hard time finding a marriage partner, and even staying with him (the context of these discussions being firmly heteronormative). The reasons for this social problem are plentiful and resemble issues in other minority groups, such as the Black communities in these societies. Professional and financially stable Black women find it difficult to meet Black men on their level (and willing to date them). Professional and financially stable Muslim women do too – amongst other reasons. Yet while we’re just having the same conversations diagnosing “the problem,” we seem to be doing very little and talking very little about actual solutions. In other words – okay, so we know that due to issues of education, age, culture, race, back-home-nostalgia and hyperconsumer marital expectations (and then some), Muslim women are staying single longer, but what the heck are we doing about it?

Rudabah Abbass explores this issue, with a bit of a different angle, as it exists in the UK Muslim community, in her most recent AJE article ‘Halal’ Interfaith Unions Rise Among UK Women. Specifically, Abbass looks at the increasing trend of British Muslim women opting (and struggling) to marry non-Muslim men. Their reasoning isn’t necessarily a dearth of eligible Muslim marde-zaat availability or rejection but rather rooted in, Abbass notes, being “raised in a country that promotes tolerance and acceptance of others [and thus] they do not see themselves any ‘different’ to their non-Muslim compatriots.” Such couples face not only the threat of losing familial support from a woman’s family or being essentially kicked out of the Muslim community, but also face the threat of physical violence. The reason for this being, of course, that the majority and mainstream opinion in Islamic jurisprudence does not allow for a Muslim woman to marry outside the faith (whereas males can marry People of the Book – albeit debate remains).  To marry outside the faith for a Muslim woman can be seen in some communities as equivalent to leaving the faith. Unfortunately, as noted in the Abbass article, pushing Muslim women in interfaith marriages outside the community forces them also outside the faith.

What was, however, most interesting in the Abbass article was the particular inclusion of Taj Hargey, an imam at and director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford. Hargey is presented as a “progressive” imam who believes that there is nothing that actually prevents Muslim women from marrying men outside the faith and thus performs marital rites for interfaith couple.

That’s all fine and dandy but here are two problems missing from the rather charming and gentle image created of the Progressive Imam That Was that point to a notable concerns in the framing of this discussion:

First, Hargey, while perhaps with some legitimate concerns and critiques, is more a Tarek Fatah of the UK, as opposed to any sort of religious authority or respected scholar. He is a celebrated part of an industry that pushes marginalizing ideas on Muslimness and Islam based on demonizing mainstream practices, most famously the veil in its many forms. His work with right-wing British groups and his rather assimilationist ideas on the beliefs and practices (or heck just lives) of most Muslims make Hargey a questionable source at best. Interfaith marriage requires serious thought and discussion but it seems that it’s often, unfortunately, partnered with polarizing, sensationalist figures who seem to push marginalizing and, at times, Islamophobic tropes. This hurts the couples in question more than it helps them.

Secondly and relatively tangentially there is an excessive focus here on “official” marriage rituals and “official” religious authority. Since when do Muslims require an “imam” (i.e. a person who leads a prayer and may take on some community leadership role, not necessarily a person who issues legal rulings) to get married? Um, we don’t, guys. In fact all you need are four witnesses (which may include a wali, but there is some difference of opinion on this) and a contract. That’s it. As often suggested in stories about unorthodox marriages (like here as well), it seems more that a marriage by an “imam” is seen to somehow bring “legitimacy” to an otherwise taboo relationship; it is seen as a mechanism to help alleviate the controversial nature of it in the broader community.

The problems of marriage for Muslim women, in particular, sees no end in sight. What it requires is not just the same echoing of woes over and over again, but solutions and discussions that avoid creating some sort of a “state” or “church” out of Islam that seek to “officiate” rituals and religious scholars and leaders as priestly authorities. Most importantly, however, we need discussions and solutions that are not pushing members of this community beyond the margins.

Stay tuned.

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13 responses to “Muslim Women, Not-So-Muslim Men: Interfaith Marriage in the UK”

  1. Hey chris i was wondering if i could get in contact with you to talk about these topics a little more and perhaps get your help on some situations

  2. Sana, do you know what guilt by association is? Because that’s pretty much what you’re entire argument about Hargey boils down to. You’re not actually engaging in his argument, you’re simply dismissing it based on his associations — loose associations at that. This is worse than an ad hominem attack, in which an argument is dismissed because you don’t like the person making it. Rather you go to great pains to associate this guy with other people you don’t like, as if calling him the “Tarek Fatah” of the UK somehow makes him an agent of the Islamophobia industry. This double-speak is evident by your categorical rejection of him as a religious authority and scholar — even though he has a PhD and has the credentials of an Imam — because he gives unOrthodox views. I recognize that Islamophobia has gotten so pervasive that we can find it everywhere, but dismissing progressive Muslim views as somehow “complicit” in this Islamophobia is not just lacking in logical integrity, it’s politically dangerous. Hargey is not an Islamophobe, regardless of how often you use the word “marginalizing” to describe Hargey’s suggestion to *expand* Muslim marriage.

    Personally speaking, I am the daughter of a Muslim woman and a Jewish man, which I guess folks like Rouiillie find distasteful. Luckily I could give a *fffffuuuuccckk* what folks on this thread or others think of that union.

  3. Like clockwork, some people just can’t stay away when there is an Islamophobe to be defended. Taj Hargey is a huckster and professional “moderate Muslim” whose specialty is attacking any other Muslims who don’t agree with him as “fundamentalists”, “extremists”, or “salafists” etc. all while presenting himself as the only “peaceful”, “moderate”, voice around. He is a reliable rent-a-quote for the right wing press whenever they need a “Muslim” to voice approval for the latest egregious Islamophobic campaign they are pushing on the day. (Don’t believe me? Look at the Islamophobia Watch page linked to in this very article for a very cursory glance at some of his greatest hits. Banning Minarets? Not violation of religious liberty. Building a Mosque near Sandhurst? A deep “provocation”. That’s only scratching the surface of his shady dealings. Suffice to say that he is a reliable stooge of the Islamophobia industry, able and willing to provide “Muslim” cover for very batshit bigoted scheme they come up with.)

    Still some people will continue to defend him regardless, as in their eyes nothing less than calling for the outright imprisonment or death of all Muslims can be Islamophobia, and is merely “robust criticism”. Rochelle, about the only thing I am glad to say is that at least you are not bothering to defend the egregious Tarek Fatah along with Hargey. (Of course it might have been different in the past. Even a couple of years ago he had a lot of defenders and apologists) Hargey is not much different from Fatah and will ultimately end up in the same place as him IMO (I.E even more openly Islamophobic). People like them who only serve to provide legitimacy and cover to every anti-Muslim initiative around aren’t arguing in good faith and it’s time you recognize that Muslims aren’t obliged to engage with supposed “progressives” who would sooner team up with Christian Fundamentalists to block Mosque construction, than defend the right to build them. Actions like that are what is actually ‘politically dangerous”, not rightfully denouncing such slimy agents of Islamophobia.

    Further, you pompously lecture at length about “guilt by association”, but if you were a little more observant you would see that it is actually the favorite tactic of professional stooges and sycophants like Fatah and Hargey when they frequently denounce Muslim orgs and Mosques for phantom “links” with “extremists”. Hell, the Center for Secular Space’s favorite game in their anti-cageprisoners campaign is six degrees of “fundamentalism”, whereby each and every nebulous link to “fundamentalist” stands as a winning argument by itself. So don’t lecture us about guilt by association; the professional Islamophobes are the ones who play that game the best.

    One final thing: You do your own cause a massive disservice when you associate it with self serving shysters like Hargey. Ordinary Muslims are not going to listen to you no matter how sound your argument is, when you conflate it with the defense of such dubious individuals. I actually have several female relatives who are married to non-Muslim men, yet none of them would ever want to be associated with such professional enablers of Islamophobia like Hargey. They know far better than that. Sadly it seems that some people never will or never want to.

      • But are actually going to reply substantively, or do you have nothing to defend Hargey with?

        • Oh Tec, I’ve kinda missed you. No one trolls with quite as much eloquence and balderdash.

          But again I think you might have missed my point: I have little interest in “defending” Hargey because doing so would be completely besides the point. My point was that we ought not to judge an argument based on the associations of its adherents. For instance: I think you’re pretty effing crazy. BUT I actually agree with a lot of your positions: e.g. on the minarets (clearly a violation of religious freedom).

          One of the most common arguments of people on the religious right (Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, etc) is to cast moderate, progressive and/or unOrthodox views as “anti-[insert religion here]”. Same goes for nationalist movements as well. This argument has no limits. I just read a critique of Said that called him an Orientalist for being a secularist (!).

          There is a subtle Eurocentrism going on here: any internal debate happening in Muslim communities must be categorically judged based on its mobilization in the West. Muslims may not be “obliged” to engage with anyone, but are progressive Muslims allowed have agency or is it just the right? Are Muslims allowed to have their own social justice priorities, based on their own particular circumstances, or is everything trumped by the Tec15-imposed teleology? Are we allowed to have our own history, our own desires, our own vision of justice?

          Clearly not. So how about this Tec15: us Muslim women will wait on your signal to talk about anything having to do with sexism, k? And if anyone you don’t like says anything even remotely gesturing our concerns, then we’ll wait. Because clearly White people need to fix all of their problems before people of color can improve.

          • Sigh. You again mistake smug condescension for actual argument. You have little interest in defending Hargey? Really? Because let me directly quote what you said: “Hargey is not an Islamophobe” Boom. You implied that he was merely being unfairly maligned for being “progressive” and holding “un-orthodox views” and in response I pointed out that he is a willing shill for every rancid Islamophobe capable of coughing up his appearance fee and now you simply don’t want to discuss it anymore? Oh, okay. Incidentally, how gracious of you to concede that banning minarets is bad. Perhaps you should have checked up on that and other issues in which “progressives” like “Not-an-Islamophobe” Hargey are singularly terrible and on the side of Islamophobes (Coincidentally,I am sure) before jumping to his defense. You are the one who jumped in talking about how unfair this article was to poor, persecuted Hargey simply because he was so “moderate” and “un-orthodox ”, while categorically denying that he could in anyway be an agent of Islamophobia. Of course, now that entire line of
            argument has been exposed for the steaming pile of shit it always was, please by all means refrain from addressing it.

            Let me make one thing absolutely clear: There is absolutely nothing wrong with correctly indentifying certain self-proclaimed “progressives” as the frauds and willing accomplice of Islamophobes they are. I certainly don’t attack all “progressives”; just the ones who spend their time providing respectability to outright bigotry. It is
            not casting aspersions on anyone when the charges are entirely true.

            The rest of your patronizing screed does not merit a response as it merely rehashes and projects your own manifold issues on the discussion. A word to the wise, but you should really refrain from assuming you know anything about what I think. I can’t even begin to imagine what hilarious assumptions you are making about me this time (Remember when you thought I was a whiny liberal American college girl in my first year of “Intro to Post-Colonialism”? Nice guess Sherlock).

            BTW, I don’t think you are “pretty effing crazy”
            or stupid, just deeply mendacious.

          • I critiqued the OP for dismissing an argument based on guilt by association. I also criticized the post for implying that someone is an Islamophobe based on their associations alone. And now I am criticizing you for doing the same thing. I am deeply confused about who, according to you, merits the label “Islamophobe” and how your definition is able to avoid tautological or guilt by association. Because all of phrases you used to substantiate your claim that Hargey is an Islamophobe are based on guilt by association: 1) agent of Islamophobia; 2) shill of Islamophobia; 3) accomplice of Islamophobes; 4) on the side of Islamophobes (all direct quotes). Is there anything that actually proves Hargey is an Islamophobe — someone who has prejudice against, hatred of, or irrational fear of Muslims — besides his unOrthodox theological opinions or is association with others?

            As Ayeshtar acutely noted, this accusation amount to little more than an Uncle Tom epithet. Hargey is only an Islamophobe if your definition of “Islam” is homogenous, absolutist, and conservative. And by this logic, anyone who questions the niqab as anything but empowerment embodied is an Islamophobe. Anyone who critiques the Muslim right is an Islamophobe. The 49% of Muslim women who SUPPORTED the french headscarf ban are all Islamophobes (

            Do I believe that Hargey’s strategy is the way to go? No. Do I agree with all of his positions? Certainly not. But do I think he merits the designation “Islamophobe” because *actual* Islamophobes co-opt his positions? Nope. And I certainly would not denounce the theological position of interfaith marriage based on his association with it.

            But that’s the difference between you and I, Tec15. I would never think to denounce someone reactively as a “sexist” because they associate with sexists or choose to participate in patriarchal institutions (e.g. marriage). I wouldn’t call someone a homophobe (a gay person no less, in this analogy) if they converge on some issues with conservative Christians. I wouldn’t even think to call a bunch of fascists because they consistently rely on PressTV as their “reliable” source. I would critique all of these things for being politically unwise or substantially errant but I don’t apply polemical labels on people willy nilly. Because I’m not in high school. And because I don’t hyde behind a pseudonym (Tec15?) when I troll around the interwebz.

            This has been fun, Tec15 but unfortunately I think this has to be my last post. I have a life and such as I’m sure you do as well. (inshallah?) Feel free to have the last word. Also I love your usage of the word “shill” — your knack for polemics are Fox News worthy.

          • That’s right, declare victory and walk away, but at least you managed to erect a number of massive straw men before retreating. If I correctly identify someone as an Islamophobe, than I must be all for the Niqab or a member of the nebulous “Muslim Right” intent on cracking down on the poor, persecuted “progressives” right? What utter, vacuous bullshit, but no surprise coming from you. Again, but I repeat myself, Hargey is no naïve, misunderstood babe in the woods being merely “co-opted by Islamophobes”, he is one of their number, a willing co-conspirator. His sole function is to provide “Muslim” cover for them (Look, even a “Muslim “Imam” agrees with me that Muslims are like rabid dogs that need to be put down,I can’t possibly be Islamophobic) and allow them to freely exercise their bigotry without being called out for it.

            You want even more proof of Hargey’s Islamophobia? Here how about this article in the Torygraph, about something Hargey said in the Daily Mail:

            In which Hargey not only claims that grooming cases are intricately bound up with “race and religion” (But only when carried out by Muslims) but that “Imams” deliberately encouraged the perpetrators in their attitudes. There is also a bunch of nonsense about “political correctness” and other familiar tropes and dog
            whistles of the racist right (Familiar to those who aren’t willfully blind that is). No surprise then that his rancid screed was published in that well known “progressive”, “anti-racist” publication the Daily Mail (Oh dear, is that more “guilt by association” from me?). Now if you don’t think that claiming that the vast majority of British Mosques were literally encouraging child molesters (Without a shred of evidence) and doing so in a
            publication notorious for bigotry isn’t Islamophobic, then I can’t help you. What Hargey does is actual “guilt by association” as he uses aberrant situations like this to tar the entire wider Muslim community as “extremists” all while proclaiming himself to be the sole “Muslim” voice of reason. Yet people like you never seem to notice this type of “guilt by association” even while screeching about how he is being unfairly marginalized.

            Oh b.t.w, and if you still don’t think that Hargey is Islamophobic after all this (And as I recall you were previously sympathetic to arguments similar to the one made by Hargey in his recent piece), then the gulf between us is even bigger than ever. If pieces like that don’t constitute pure, uncut, weapons grade Islamophobia, I don’t know what does. You don’t have to be “absolutist and conservative” to recognize such bigotry, just possess eyes and ears. Sometimes the Uncle Tom label (Even though I didn’t actually bring it up) is entirely accurate and appropriate. People like Hargey, have such an unmistakable, unbroken record of promoting Islamophobia, that I knew instantly upon seeing the Telegraph headline that the “Imam” referred to
            could only be him. He is “just” that predictable. But by all means keep on defending him and patronizing me. Ultimately the biggest victim of all this will only be your
            own long term credibility as you keep burying your head in the sand. Ciao.

          • Is there a way for us for have a conversation without the vitriol, Tec? Because all of your insults and accusations of me only serve to coat your otherwise respectable and sympathetic points with hatefulness. I agree with a lot of what you brought out: Indeed, one of the most profound challenges of our times is how we name and publicize injustices occurring in communities of color without bolstering the disguising aims of the racist Right, the Western imperial machine, and Islamophobia. It is something I have been struggling with for a long time. I still don’t have it figured out. You are absolutely correct that the Hargey deserves scrutiny. But I also think that the polarization this predicament tends to engender is doing no favors for women who tend to be the political footballs in such jockeying. Am I allowed to question Hargey’s designation as an Islamophobe without being labeled mendacious? Am I allowed to criticize both the Islamophobic Right as well as the Muslim Right simultaneously without being called the embodiment of “vacuous bullshit”?

            I do not suspect you are a member, sympathizer, or otherwise associated with the Muslim Right, Tec15. And I apologize for calling you “effing crazy” — it was a a poor attempt at a joke. If I ever straw manned you or your arguments, I also apologize.There are no excuses for such things.

            But I’m not sure how many more times I ought to attempt to reach you half way, only to have you insult my integrity and character, before I recognize that you may be fighting in bad faith. I did not “declare victory”. I am not trying to “win”. I’m trying to have a conversation with you. Do you want to have a conversation? Or do you want to have a fight and hurl names at each other? If it’s the former, let’s have a conversation! I could learn a lot from you! I’m happy to give you my email if you wanna spare MMW from our bickering. But if you want to hurl names, I think I’ll opt out, because I’m already paying too much for therapy.

          • That’s much better. Thanks for the apology anyway. Sorry if I came across as aggressive, but this subject is one my major pet peeves. I appreciate that you are at least willing
            to have a conversation anyway. From my past experience with certain other self proclaimed “progressives” online, I know that arguments like this can feel like banging your head against a wall. You are much more reasonable than them.

            I stand by my assertions regarding Hargey, but I am open to further conversation. Sure, you can provide your email if you want to.

  4. Am I the only person here who is actually having a positive experience with interfaith marriage? I am a Muslim Woman engaged to a Jewish man in the UK with the full support of our families (we are marrying this year and couldn’t be happier). I find it isn’t as problematic as everyone keeps saying in articles like this because we refuse to apologise for loving one another and for wanting to build a life together… so our families and those around us just seemed to follow suit. We are not subject to anyone’s approval and know that we do not have to justify our choices to anybody, so nobody asks us to. I have found that when you enter into a situation like this, without apologies but with respect for your partner’s family and the richness of their culture, everything works out in the end.

    We have created an amalgam of our cultures and celebrate both Jewish and Muslim holidays with our families who are a very big part of our lives. My only fear about our children in the company we keep is that they will most likely be fat… the food is delicious you see.

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