An frank open letter about intercultural marriage
Salamu’alaykum muzmatch Kings and Queens,
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Zubair, aka Zu, aka @ghetto004 on twitter. “Eww why is that your @?” because I’m your local ghetto spy, that’s why. Insult me again and I’m calling the police. I’m a Graphic Designer and the creator of the “Book of Zu” podcast. It’s a societal/ cultural podcast where I speak about things from a minority, Muslim perspective. I’ve covered topics like “the lack of sex education in the Muslim community”, “the communication gap between first-generation immigrant parents and their second-generation immigrant children” and another episode to mention is “the lack of emotional intelligence and communication amongst male friendships”. You can find it on Soundcloud, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
So, let’s get into it. Why is marrying outside of your ethnicity still an issue in the Muslim community? You might think “racism and xenophobia in the Muslim community? Since when has that been a problem?” Since the day you’ve been selectively choosing people from specific backgrounds to get to know for marriage because you can’t bring those from countries that aren’t on that list home. If we’re going to have this conversation, let’s be transparent, open, and honest. Let’s keep it all the way one hundred because some of you have been keeping it 10, give me 90 more.
We cannot continue to condone these behaviours; it’s inhumane and degrading. The only things that should matter when considering someone for marriage is their character and deen. That’s it. No ifs, no buts. Rejecting people on the basis of their ethnic/racial background is haram. Point, blank; period. When we return to Allah SWT, are we going to be judged according to our skin colour and ethnic background? We’re not. The only things we are taking to our grave is our deeds. That’s it. Imagine, the one who created us is not judging us based on our heritage and physical appearance but (we) the creation are? Do we know better than Allah SWT? We don’t! This is what happens when people mix their religion with their culture. All parts of your culture are not compatible with Islam. Sometimes, culture and Islam is like water and oil, they do not mix.
Allah SWT tell us in Surat Al-Hujarat, 49:13 “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.”
It’s so sad that we are battling these issues in our community. We should know better, do better, and be better. But some of you don’t want to. “I have to obey my parents, I don’t want to go against them.” You should absolutely obey and honour your parents where it is halal, emphasis on the halal part. Your parents refusing someone on the basis of skin colour, ethnicity and race is haram. If you loved your parents like you say you do, you would want them to do and be better and if your parents are discriminative, you should respectfully correct them. They may not change that day, but learned behaviours can be unlearned. Mentalities can be changed. The saying “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” is a crutch to allow negative, toxic and backward behaviours to continue.
It’s also a cop-out; if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. So, ask yourself “is this who I want to be?” Someone that is intolerant and hateful?” because that’s what it is. We’re already ostracised for being Muslim in the West, we don’t need more hate and intolerance in our community. Fight for what is good and right, even if that fight involves your immediate family, friends and whomever else.
I’ve heard of so many stories where people have been made to believe that they are going to marry someone, all for it to come crashing down on them. The ending seems to be so similar “I spoke to my parents about you and they won’t let me marry you because you’re ______”. That is the sign of a weak person and someone who is not worthy of your love and energy. Those that won’t defend you and honour you are not worthy of being allowed into your space. It should be a privilege to be able to marry you and those that don’t have the strength to fight against what is wrong are not people you should want to build a life with. You should always make sure that you are a priority and if your love and efforts are not being appreciated, it’s time to find the receipts, refund your time, energy and love, and invest it into yourself. Marriage is something sacred and should be treated with the utmost care and respect, you’re going to complete half of your deen, complete it with someone who supports, motivates, encourages and allows you to grow as a person. Not with someone who won’t bring you home because of the colour of your skin or background. We’re loving ourselves even more in 2020 than we did in 2019 and that means removing ourselves from situations that are hurting us. We’re going to do better. We’re going to grow. We’re going to elevate. Whatever your marriage journey is, whether you’re single at the moment, divorced, newly-wed, may Allah SWT bless you with happiness and shower you in his mercy. Ameen.
Take care, Kings and Queens.
My name is Zubair aka Zu, known on twitter as @ghetto004. I’m the creator of the “Book of Zu” podcast. I cover topics from the minority, Muslim perspective. You can find it on: Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts & Spotify. You can also find me on Instagram: @bookofzu. Reach out and let’s chat!
I was fourth time lucky with my husband on muzmatch. First there was overly excited Guy No. 1 who wanted to get the ball rolling and have our nikah asap, but then he freaked himself out by moving too fast. He then suggested we “slow things down” before disappearing. Guy No. 2 and I seemed to have a spark but then he ruined it all by sending inappropriate pictures on WhatsApp to which I replied, “I’m not that kind of girl” and “I’m sorry, but you can’t achieve something halal through haram methods” before ending it. I was so close with Guy No. 3. But then he had a nervous breakdown a few days before I was meant to meet his family and subsequently called it off. I deactivated the muzmatch app after Guy No.3, telling myself that matrimonial apps clearly weren’t meant for me and that I should resign myself to the single life until Allah throws someone my way. Four months later, I re-downloaded muzmatch, and the first guy I matched with is now my husband of two years. Alhamdulillah.
I could do a whole other post on how to navigate muzmatch and how to get the best out of your muzmatch experience – but maybe that’s a conversation for another time. For now I would like to share some of the things no one told me before I got married which I really wish they would have done.
Just like many young Muslims wanting to find their life partner, I sought advice and knowledge about finding a husband and ideas about what married life is like from my parents, YouTube videos with titles like “10 Tips for Finding a Spouse,” and books with titles like The Ideal Muslim Wife. I even listened to lectures given by Sheikhs, but guess what? No one told me or prepared me for what married life is actually like.
1. It was going to be just me and my husband in our own little world, no one else was going to be involved and I would only have to visit my in-laws twice a year.
2. As each day dawned, my husband and I would fall deeper and deeper in love and it would be all butterflies, smooches and cuddles on the sofa, and each night I would fall asleep in his arms and every morning I would wake up to him spooning me.
3. I would be the perfect Muslim wife who would surprise my husband on weekends with breakfast in bed, spend evenings with him lying with his head on my lap, with me stroking his soft black hair as I read the Qur’an over him.
4. There would be lots of spontaneous sex and even though the sex would always be impromptu, I would already be wearing pretty Ann Summers lingerie under my clothes.
It turned out I wasn’t just marrying him, I was marrying his entire family; I even ended up living with my in-laws for several months. There were no make-out sessions on the sofa (of course not with his parents and siblings always around), I have never made him breakfast in bed, and I thought we were having lots of sex if we managed to have it once a week. The Ann Summers lingerie was purchased but a lot of it is still in its packaging and I prefer to seduce my husband wearing my Snoopy pyjamas. But Alhamdulillah, we have made it; the love did grow and my friends weren’t lying when they said the first year of marriage is tough.
If you are currently navigating muzmatch and speaking to someone who you potentially think could be “The One” Inshallah, these are some honest, realistic bits of advice about getting married that your mum, dad, aunt and Sheikh on YouTube may not tell you.
Try to spend some time with your potential in-laws before you tie the knot. While it is not a rule of thumb that your potential spouse will have turned out exactly like their mother or father, they will have inherited or (through their upbringing) picked up some similar characteristics. My mother is an English revert and I have inherited many of her personality traits. Get to know your potential in-laws and any power dynamics between your spouse and their parents because it is most likely that if they live in the same country, after marriage, you will be spending more time with them than you may have previously envisioned. You also want to figure out the dynamics of the relationship between your spouse and their parents as this will affect your own marital relationship. It is true that in most cases when you get married, you do marry each other’s family.
You really need to acknowledge that the first year of married life is tough. Even if you are lucky to marry someone you are head over heels in love with, it is different when you start living together. They will have habits at home you wouldn’t have picked up on while “courting” prior to marriage and these habits may be annoying, and sometimes even difficult to put up with. You will have arguments and fights – I remember the first time I had an argument with my husband I freaked out because I thought each argument spelt the end of our marriage but actually it is very normal to argue. You need to go into marriage with the patience of a saint if you want it to be successful. Kindness, patience, good communication and compassion are the keys to a successful marriage. Maybe have a premarital discussion on bad/annoying habits and see which ones you can agree to work on and whether any of them are deal breakers.
You need to accept the fact that your spouse will not tell you everything before marriage and be ready for it. So, don’t be surprised if a few weeks after your honeymoon they spring something on you. Don’t forget that when you are getting to know someone before marriage and you are in your engagement period, you will most likely both be presenting the best versions of yourselves. And your friends and family aren’t going to tell your spouse-to-be about your bad breath, bowel issues and about that ex-boyfriend/girlfriend because they want to see you succeed and get married. If your spouse does reveal something after you have already gotten married, unless it is an absolute deal breaker (e.g. they had committed a heinous crime like murder) instead of getting angry and shouting “you lied to me! Why didn’t you tell me this before we got married?” you are going to have to have a grown-up discussion about it and decide to move on.
You will not be the “ideal” Muslim spouse that those Sheikhs write about in their books who cooks their spouse their favourite meal for dinner every day, wakes their spouse up at fajr and prays with them in jamaa’ah, and who never EVER rejects their sexual advances. And hey, it’s okay. It’s time we stopped pressurising ourselves to be the “perfect” Muslim husband/wife. We need to be striving to be better people, not perfect people, for the sake of Allah, which in turn will naturally lead to you being a better spouse. It’s totally fine if you have had a tough day and can only manage to pop a frozen pizza into the microwave for dinner, and it is okay to be tired and not in the mood for sex. If you are having a tough day every day, and if you are never in the mood for sex, then maybe there’s something going on that needs discussing and addressing with your spouse or your GP.
I never knew how stroppy I could be until I got married. I had forgotten what it was like to be moody or spiteful because it had been about fifteen years since I had been a teenager and had gone through that phase of fighting and arguing with my parents and siblings every day. Just before I got married, I had reached a point in my life where I was good friends with my siblings and I was the closest I had ever been to my parents. I was a picture of calmness and serenity and I honestly believed I was going to continue being this peaceful person when I got married. I even remember telling my husband on the phone one day before we got married, “I just want to settle down and live a peaceful, quiet and drama-free life.” And then I got married, the honeymoon period was over and I felt like I had regressed back into my teenage self, saying spiteful things when he was rude to me, giving him the silent treatment after an argument and losing my temper when he would wind me up and do annoying things (like criticising my cooking methods as I tried to cook dinner after a long day at work). So please don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally lose your temper at your spouse, you are not a crazy or horrible wife/husband.
What the Muslim community in each country needs are more realistic talks about marriage, both from our Sheikhs and from our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, and we need safe spaces in our localities where we can meet up and have open discussions about what it is actually like to look for a spouse and get married, instead of the far-fetched idealistic advice given in lectures and books that doesn’t translate into real-life marriage at all. In that way, the number of Muslim couples who rush into a divorce before the first year is out just might decrease.
Yousra is an English-Egyptian hybrid who hails from London but lives in Yorkshire and has been writing since the moment she learned to hold a pen. She works full time in marketing and events, and has been writing professionally since 2008. Her first novel, “Hijab and Red Lipstick” will be published by Hashtag Press in October 2020 (inshallah). You can pre-order it now from www.hashtagpress.co.uk/shop
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