Multicultural Muslim marriage: Some considerations
By: Karim Serageldin
It is more common for Muslims to want to marry from the same culture and it makes logical sense. Similar values, behaviors, customs, nuances and etiquette alongside language. We can even consider the food since this brings families together across a table and recipes are passed down. People may want to marry from the same culture as it is the most familiar and comfortable for them. There is nothing wrong with wanting to marry within one’s own culture as long as it is derived from a conscious decision and not by force.
Intercultural marriages are also a beautiful union of diversity that can flourish, but just like every other marriage, it has its unique set of challenges.
Some Reasons People Marry Multiculturally
The person that they felt the most compatible with happens to not be someone from the same culture. Perhaps they may also have a genuine interest in different cultures. They really enjoy exploring different foods, languages, art and styles of clothing. By their very nature they are interested in multicultural marriages and appreciate diversity.
Sometimes an individual experiences negativity from their own culture. This may be related to stigmas or a trauma surrounding their own culture. They want to find something very different and unique from their situation, something refreshing that is outside of their typical cultural structures. For example, if an Arab Muslim grew up and was frequently yelled at in their native language, the very sound of their language can act as a trigger, so they prefer to look for someone outside of that culture to minimize this effect. They are naturally drawn to potential spouses outside of the culture as a way to repel the traumatic memories.
Some Muslims marry outside of their culture in an act of rebellion. Out of spite they don’t want to marry, for example, only an Iranian doctor because their whole life they were told they have to marry this particular ethnicity and particular career path. They were told a thousand times they have to do this, so it impacts their psychology and they revolt against their family. Not necessarily to hurt their family, but to cement their independence.
When Families Object to Multicultural Marriages
In cases where the child is told they cannot marry someone because of their culture and it is due to the parent’s personal preference instead of their own choosing, we will find that these types of forced marriages run a heavy risk of divorce and pain for the married couple.
Many Muslims want to please their parents and make them happy. This is honorable, but on the other hand if you do whatever your parents tell you and you make a decision that you know in your heart doesn’t feel right; this begs the question as to whether such a decision will actually benefit one’s family and religion or will it have the potential to cause resentment.
In some situations, the parents are actually right, especially if the person wants to marry someone with a different understanding of priorities or a different religion. In these scenarios, the parents really do have the best interest for their daughter or their son and the child may not recognize how very difficult it can be to begin a life with someone from a different culture. A multicultural marriage will face its own challenges as they learn to navigate different family traditions, marriage expectations, bridging the language barrier with family members as well as simple things such as cooking recipes that remind them of their country. In situations where the marriage would truly not be in the best interest of the individual, the parents have to intercede and show they are doing it out of love and for the optimum well-being of their child. It is when the objection is only because they are not from the same culture or they don’t speak the same language, that we hit on the realm of ethnocentrism or racism.
“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” Quran 49:13
There is a big difference between a parent saying you need someone who aligns with you socioeconomically, education-wise and of course religiously versus a parent saying you cannot marry that person because they are Indian or because they are Caucasian.
Choosing a Spouse for Four Reasons
“A woman is married for four things: her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be unsuccessful.” Sahih Bukhari Book 62 Hadith 27
This often-misunderstood hadith highlights the four reasons that people typically choose a spouse and all of those reasons have their merit. Yet in the hadith the Prophet (peace be upon him) points out that it is particularly important to look for someone that aligns with you religiously. Still, today especially, we must also take into account that some people act religious in a way to market themselves for marriage. Getting to know the individual and their family will help to show if they are truly as religious as they would have you believe. So we must ask ourselves real questions like if a potential spouse prays their five salah on time, fast Ramadan, and pay their zakat not just leave it up to sentiment or religious words.
But what if the other three reasons are not taken into account?
We must be rational with marriages and acknowledge that if a couple is not compatible socioeconomically, educationally and attraction, then even if they are religious it may not last long. It is therefore only reasonable and proper to look into the other three reasons mentioned in the hadith according to the personal taste and priorities of each part, in addition to religion.
This increases the likelihood of a successful and happy marriage. If each or most of these four variables are fairly accounted for in a potential spouse, but the family says no due to only their culture or perhaps their language, that is not a decision based on religion or what is best for that person, rather it is an irrational decision based on ethnocentrism.
Online locations are one of the most common sources we have in seeking spouses for American Muslims today. They open the door to multiculturalism as these websites are a melting pot of all ethnicities.
We can look at a site like Half Our Deen and find many Muslims from around the world. Islam shows us that diversity is to be honored as a sign of Allah. If everyone only considered marrying people from the same race or same country, we would be hindering the growth of a more diverse ummah. There is nothing wrong with marrying within one’s own culture just as there is nothing wrong with marrying outside of one’s own culture.
Karim, the founder of Noor, has a B.A. in psychology & religion from UMASS Boston and an M.A. in east-west psychology with a specialization in spiritual counseling from the California Institute of Integral Studies. He is a certified life and relationship coach with years of teaching and community outreach experience. He consults with leading scholars of Islam and is working on his own theory of Islamic psychology for Muslims in the west. Check out the Coffee with Karim podcast for great lessons, insights and tips to improve your spiritual and mental well being.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of MuslimVillage.com.