Since I came to the US in the late eighties, I have heard young Muslim men who were trying to get married complaining about the availability of Muslim women and the high costs and expenses that come with weddings, especially the dowry. That might have been the reason for some men to marry outside the Arab or Muslim circles, especially since females from the People of the Book are not required to convert to Islam to be married to Muslim men, although it is preferred. In fact, many of these females did convert to Islam at some point in their lives.
This practice did not draw much attention within the social fabric of the Arab/Muslim community. Perhaps it was seen as a unique establishment, often praised by family members overseas, and was the easiest way to gain their legal status in the US.
There were fewer incidents of females marrying men outside the Arab/Muslim circles since Islam forbids females to marry non-Muslims, but there is also a cultural sensitivity that exists within the Arab family’s mindset even in marrying Muslims from a different culture. Many parents believe the best option for their daughters is to stay within the closer circle of family in marriage. The wider that circle grows, geographically or ethnically, the slimmer the chances are for approval.
Now, with community numbers growing, mainly among youth, options to find the right spouse are becoming harder to find or satisfy. This issue is not just for men seeking wives, but also about women wanting to find the right husbands. Parents usually look at the concrete details of a potential son-in-law, such as the family reputation, his manners, and his financial stability when deciding his suitability to marry their daughter. The girls, on the other hand, have different expectations such as communication skills, harmony of souls, presence of character, and similar mindsets.
In the past four months alone I have married six Muslim Arab girls to new converts with diverse backgrounds, including Caucasian, African American and Latino.
Some of the parents accepted it as a normal practice, unphased by cultural differences. If the person embraced Islam, was a good person, and their daughter accepted him, that was sufficient for them. Some of the parents had a more difficult time with the process. The whole idea of a new Muslim convert marrying their daughter did not settle well with them. The ethnic or cultural differences were of concern to them, even with regard to Muslims from a different country. The differences made them fear the discomfort of having to relate to a new culture versus someone from within their own familiar comfort zone, that they could easily understand and relate to.
To our daughters I say:
Consider your parents’ sensitivities towards marriage outside your culture when weighing your options and choices of men asking for your hand. Having to go against your parents’ will is a very painful process for you and for them. Also, keep holding firmly to your Islamic values by not establishing relationships outside the appropriate channel which will likely result in feelings towards someone that you know your family will never approve. By allowing that to happen you will only cause yourself emotional pain and distress that will affect you and the other person in negative ways. Remember that parents might argue under the banner of Kafa’ah or matching, which is recognized by some scholars as an important factor to consider after religion and manners. It’s possible they might not be fair in their assessment, but remember that in the same way Islam gave you the power to reject anyone forced on you by your parents, they can also reject anyone they do not see fit as their son-in-law. If you marry someone your parents dislike, they may never welcome your spouse in the family properly, which could ultimately lead to disharmony or resentment in the marriage.
To the parents I say:
Your role is to facilitate happiness for your daughters by advising how the best choices should be made. If your daughters are protecting themselves from Haram yet when they feel they found the right person to marry, you reject him on a basis that has nothing to do with the two main characteristics that the prophet (SAAW) mentioned “religion & manners” then you are causing Fitna. The prophet (SAAW) said: “If you do not honor (only religion & manners) there shall be Fitna and much mischief.”
Your role also is to give credit to the character, trust and education you gave your daughter all these past years you have invested in her. And I am talking here about many cases where the girls are in their mid-twenties to thirties, have major positions in their work, higher educational degrees and have earned much respect in their fields of service, yet feel they have no say in the major life choice of whom they shall spend the rest of their life with!
Aren’t Islam and good character enough? If that was the standard that the prophet (SAAW) accepted, why are we taking it a step back to Jahiliyyah time? Have we forgotten that when Abu Talha came to ask for the hand of the prophet’s aunt Um Sulaim (RAA) she said: “By Allah, no one like you should be refused, but you are a non-believer and I am a Muslim woman, and I cannot marry you unless you convert, and that will be my only dowry!” Abu Talha embraced Islam on the spot.