By Aisha Faiz
In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
Marriage is one of the most important decisions in one’s life. How are you supposed to know whether someone is “The One,” or if you are just blinded by her beauty, akhlaq (manners), status in society, or you are just plain ole tired of waiting so long that you are infatuated with the idea of a “special someone,” no matter who that someone might be? That is a tough question. A potential spouse cannot be compared to a suit, or the new iPhone that is out in the market. You cannot “choose” a partner, then “return” her if you see that you two do not get along very well. Although divorce is a permissible yet disliked (by Allah) option, let’s hope that we do not marry with the thought that if anything goes wrong, we can always get a divorce. A few characteristics should be looked for in potential mates.
Deen Comes First
In Islam, we are all equal to each other except for those who have a higher level of taqwa (faith in Allah). As such, a man should not discriminate against a potential spouse because she is from a different country, has fewer (or a greater number of) degrees than him, or if she is not as wealthy or as beautiful as he wishes her to be. There is a hadith which states, “A woman is married for her deen, her wealth or her beauty. You must go for the one with deen, may your hands be in the dust! (if you fail to heed)” [Muslim]. This hadith applies to both men and women. We should not be preoccupied with how a person looks or how much money s/he makes per month. Beauty is important as you must be able to feel some sort of attraction to your partner. Wealth is as equally as important since you must be able to spend on your family and zakat. Nevertheless, deen comes first and should be the most important factor when choosing a partner. Beauty fades, money comes and goes (and eventually runs out), while a good person’s character gets richer by the day. It is important that we do not fool ourselves by judging a book by its cover. Just because a sister wears hijab and a brother dons a beard (perhaps because he looks quite handsome with it as opposed to having no facial hair) does not mean that they are doing it out of religiousness. It is your duty to ask around, or ask your elders to find out about this person’s habits and qualities.
Does Ethnicity Matter?
There may be a sister who abides by the deen, exhibits good behavior, has a good education, and is beautiful too…except she does not come from the same cultural background as you. Now what? I believe you should go about the matter as you would with a potential spouse who is of the same ethnicity.
Allah (S.W.T.) says:“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)” (49:13).
Therefore, it is clear that cultural differences should not stop us from marrying a partner of our choice. Allah does not care if I marry someone of the same race, or a different one, so long as we strive to keep each other on the right path. Allah will judge us for what is in our hearts, not our outward appearance. Nevertheless, we must be realistic about interracial marriage and its consequences.
Cultural differences are perhaps the number one reason why some people are afraid of marrying outside of their culture. What language will we speak? Maybe English, but what about our grandfathers who do not understand a word of it? What type of food will we eat? Which customs will we incorporate into our wedding—his or mine? What language will our children speak? Which culture will our children marry into—his or mine? Yikes. The list goes on and on, though the last question shouldn’t matter to such an open minded couple. The point is that interracial marriages can be very complicated. They can also be as simple as you make them. The husband and wife can teach one another his/her respective language. Though it is not a quick solution, it is possible. For the time being, if English is a common language, they can speak that.
Language is nothing but a means to communication. Children can be taught both languages as children’s minds are like sponges that are ready to absorb knowledge. As a child, I was spoken to in Dari and Pashto as my mother is from Kabul, while my father is from Qandahar, Afghanistan. It was not difficult for me to learn Pashto, Dari, English, as well as understand Hindi just from watching Desi serials on television. Anything is possible as long as the couple and their families are willing to cooperate with one another.
Expect Many Stares
It seems that people are either fascinated by, scared of, or just curious about interracial marriages. Expect people to stare at you as though you have five heads and just landed from the UFO that came from Mars. You will have to learn to adapt to it. Sometimes some people may think to themselves, or even come up to you and ask, “Couldn’t she find a person within her culture? Is that why she degraded herself by marrying a ________?” People are inconsiderate but that does not mean you should disregard a potential spouse.
Convincing Your Parents
Some of us are blessed with parents who have knowledge of the deen. The rest of us, however, are not so fortunate. Some parents are stuck with the old ideology that one should marry within the race as opposed to ruining their “pure” (insert appropriate ethnicity) bloodline. This sounds more like Hitler’s logic in that he did not want the “superior” ethnicity to be lowered through marriage to someone of an “inferior” culture. We should point out Qur’anic verses and Hadith regarding the believers’ equality before Allah and how one’s level of deen will matter on the Day of Judgment. Our skin color will not matter, neither will our superstitious manmade customs, ideologies, and “status” in society. Many parents, though aware of the deen, will not allow their children to marry outside of their race for fear of what “society will think.” Some questions I would pose to those parents are:
1. Do you live your life for yourself, or to please others? Is your whole life a façade, such as a staged play in which your family members’ every action is controlled?
2. Have you forgotten the purpose of your life? Allah (S.W.T.) says, “I have only created jinns and humans to worship Me” (51:56). That is the purpose of our lives, but marriage is a blessing. It is half our deen as our partners help us stay on Siraatul Mustaqeem (the Right path). Please stop obsessing over how your child’s spouse should be an engineer, doctor, or lawyer.
3. Ultimately, does your child’s happiness matter to you, or your selfish desires of having him/her marry within the race merely to please society?
Please, do not turn down a potential spouse because of something like ethnicity, or the person’s profession. Granted, s/he should be able to earn a decent living, but deen is of utmost importance, and it is possible that you may not find a person who is religious and meets your other standards while also being of the same background. If your parents do not heed your proof from the Qur’an and Sunnah, then ask an Imam to help. Regardless, remember to be kind to your parents even if they do not agree at first.