New Muslims: Marry a Born-Muslim or revert?
By: Sadaf Farooqi
Every era in time poses its own unique challenges on every aspect of life including marriage, and the contemporary world is no different.
One of the pressing challenges that the Muslim ummah faces on a global scale today is the establishment of happy, productive, love-filled and lasting marriages that overcome the trials and tribulations that sometimes commence from even the first days of their inception.
Within the realm of Muslim marriage today, a growing challenge for singles seeking righteous and compatible life partners – one that has been fueled in the past few decades by frequent job-related relocation and immigration to foreign countries – is the issue of multi-cultural ethnicities and divergent mindsets and personalities molded by a geographically variant cultural upbringing that is found in prospective marriage candidates. Concerns about the married couple’s future compatibility arise very naturally as a result of disparities in their backgrounds based on these traits.
Challenges Faced by New Reverts
Single men and women who revert to Islam in Western countries, such as North America and Europe, have to face many post-reversion challenges, such as alienation from their immediate, biological families; marital discord or divorce (if they are married); losing their children’s custody to their ex-spouses or extended families, hostility at work, and social isolation (especially during Ramadan), to name but a few.
However, to say that finding a spouse, getting married and staying happily married isn’t one of the greatest challenges they face, would be a lie. Hailing from a past devoid of Islamic belief and its practice, they are sometimes avoided warily by born-Muslim immigrant families in their area that are seeking suitors for their adult and single offspring. Even though their reversion to Islam wipes out their past completely in the eyes of Allah, born Muslims are not as big-hearted, benevolent and open-minded in their forgiveness and acceptance of reverts’ non-Muslim past backgrounds and upbringing.
The major options for completing the remaining half of their Deen that lie before them, – and admittedly there are not too many of these to begin with,- are whether they should marry a revert from the West like themselves, who will share with them not just a similar non-Muslim past and extended family dynamic, but who will also possess the same cultural habits and mindset; or whether they should consider proposals from born Muslim immigrants who hail from a totally different cultural background?
The Born-Muslim Immigrant Mindset
Stereotyping and generalizing aside, there do exist some traits and commonalities among immigrant Muslims that reverts in the West should keep in mind before jumping the gun and assuming that their marrying a born-Muslim immigrant (first, second or even third generation) would result in a problem-free marriage and that elusive picture-perfect Muslim matrimonial bliss that they so desire.
Many a time, born Muslims are not as ardent about practicing Islam at a superlative level or in enthusiastically doing full-time da’wah, as new Muslims are, because they were born into Islam, and grew up observing its fundamental rituals more as a habitual and cultural part of life instead of something that they passionately and proactively adopted by making personal sacrifices.
Born Muslims did not strive hard and swim against a social tide to become Muslim against all glaring odds. They did not sacrifice their family, homeland, lifestyle, or careers to embrace and practice a new Deen and to adopt it as a 24/7 way of life.
The nonchalance of born Muslims towards Islam might therefore come as a shock for a revert who gets married to one of them, because they might have expected their born-Muslim spouse to share, if not exceed, their own passion and fervor for Islam.
Similarly, born Muslims who have been raised in Muslim majority countries in the East more often than not have more conservative mindsets, especially regarding gender roles and responsibilities. For example, how reservedly/freely a wife is expected to converse with her husband’s friends; how much a husband willingly helps his wife out in domestic chores; whether or not a wife is expected to work and bring in a second income; and in how the elderly people of a family choose to live as dependents on their younger ones, instead of as dignifiedly independent individuals with their own income, private life and occupations. The way such issues and concerns are perceived, handled and addressed by a married person depend upon their ingrained, culturally influenced thinking and mindset, which are determined by geographically variant socioeconomic factors and cultural upbringing.
Lastly, immigrant Muslims tend to cling tenaciously to their language, customs, traditions and culture from “back home”, even after decades of immigrating to a non-Muslim majority country. They also, more often than not, tend to possess an “us vs them” mindset and attitude towards non-Muslims, rarely mingling socially with, or marrying into them willingly.
A revert who has been raised in the West might have to resort to a considerable amount of adjustment if they choose to marry a born Muslim, especially in how much they’ll need to assimilate into a new cultural setup and learn to live in a tightly-knit extended family situation where there is often very little to no personal privacy, especially in living spaces.
Reverts who are by nature easy-going and flexible; who love meeting new people and forming new relationships; who like to travel and experience new places, languages, customs, lifestyles and cultures, should not have too much trouble in adjusting after marriage to someone who is a born Muslim and an immigrant to their country.
However, those reverts who enjoy close bonds and emotional attachments with their biological, non-Muslim family even after embracing Islam; who love living in the country in which they were born and raised; who value solitude, independence, privacy, autonomy and stability in life; who make friends only with few, likeminded people sharing their local customs, language and culture should consider marrying a revert from their own region, or any other Muslim who is willing to completely assimilate into their culture and environment, instead of vice versa.
One of the biggest advantages of marrying a revert like one’s self is that the common experience of embracing Islam as a new faith leads to much greater future compatibility, because both reverts might belong to families who are not Muslim, which will bring them even closer to each other, binding them and their children together into a very close-knit nuclear family unit formed upon the foundation of true monotheistic faith and sacrifice.
Otherwise, if a revert marries someone who is a born Muslim, they might have to deal with and accept the fact, that their in-laws might probably refuse to regularly meet and greet their biological, non-Muslim family, much less get along with them in a friendly, frank and easygoing manner for the remainder of their lives.
Where to Live?
As mentioned earlier, frequent relocation and immigration has become the norm on a global scale. Whether a revert Muslim marries a born Muslim or a revert like themselves, the issue of relocating from a non-Muslim majority country to a Muslim majority one can always come up, given the abruptness with which persecution on the basis of the Islamic faith (also referred to as Islamophobia) arises in any part of the contemporary world.
Regardless, the ever-present dynamics of the upbringing of their children might make any Muslim couple – whether or not one or both of them are reverts – always consider moving to another country in the world where their unique personal circumstances might allow them to raise their children the way they want to, or live the kind of Islam-based lifestyle that they aspire to.
In such a scenario, any revert Muslim born and raised in the West who marries an immigrant who has his heart attached to his “homeland”, might need to always keep in mind the imminent possibility of moving back to the latter at any point later in their marriage, and should deeply ponder upon whether or not this move will be acceptable to them or not, before entering the marriage.
Muslim majority countries offer a rejuvenating, year-round Islamic community spirit; halal food and restricted (extremely taboo) alcohol consumption; complete lack of nudity and public displays of affection; and manifold opportunities to acquire in-depth Islamic knowledge from schools (madaris) and universities under the direct tutelage of Islamic scholars.
However, most Muslim majority countries significantly lack the overall quality of life, peacefulness, efficient law enforcement, environmental cleanliness, political stability, stellar opportunities in higher education, and civic orderliness that is prevalent in Western countries.
If a new revert is willing to make the huge adjustment to living amidst political turmoil and chaotic civic infrastructures in the tropically hot, humid, dusty and the often strife-ridden Eastern Muslim majority countries, they can marry a born Muslim and relocate to start and raise a family and hopefully enjoy a very happy married life till the end of their days.
If they however prefer living in the West and do not think that they’ll be able to make this huge adjustment, they should give preference to marrying a local revert, or a third-generation born Muslim whose family has been settled in the same country as theirs, and who has been born and raised there.
As always, exceptions to every rule or trend always exist, and we cannot always adhere to or stand by sweeping generalizations, because few issues are clearly black and white, much less those related to the wide spectrum of modern-day Muslim marriage.
Each and every singleton and married couple in the world is unique, and what works for one might totally backfire and cause pain to another, which is perfectly understandable. This is why Allah has made the earth vast, and filled it with a variety of races, temperaments, languages, climates, customs, habits, foods, terrains, auras, means of livelihood and ways of living.
As the global Muslim family grows in size because of the refreshingly consistent and unabated influx of our newly reverted brothers and sisters in faith, let us try to tear down the self-erected walls of culture, ethnicity, race, language and custom that keep them from becoming a part of our biological family through the sacred and blessed union of marriage.