Imagine this conversation between son and father:
“Dad, I know a person who would be a good husband for my sister.”
“He’s religious and has a steady job…”
“Which village does he come from?”
“and he’s tall and fair…”
“Do we know the family?”
” very fair…”
“What’s his father’s name?”
“very; very fair… actually, he’s English.”
The Prophet (saw) said: “When someone with whose religion and character you are satisfied asks your daughter in marriage, accede to his request. If you do not do so, there will be temptation on Earth and extensive corruption.” (Ibn Maj ah, An-Nasa’i, At-Tirmidhi).
Although our religion does not distinguish between different races or colours, sadly there are sections of our community that do. As an Englishman married to a Bangladeshi, these cultural as well as racial problems are all too obvious. For many, the very idea that their son or daughter should marry outside their race or nationality, or even region or ‘class’, is almost unthinkable.
This is, of course, very frustrating, particularly for young people who are committed to their faith and sincere in their search for a suitable marriage partner. But before we rush to judgement, we should try to understand why some parents react so negatively to the idea of inter-cultural marriages.
It is clear that many of the older generation have been brought up in societies that conduct marriages in a particular way. In all probability; there would never be an opportunity for a ‘mixed’ marriage ‘back home’. Thus, they bring up their children with the expectation that one day they will marry them to someone from their own culture, who speaks their own language and understands and keeps their own traditions.
It is not surprising, then, if they are presented with someone who comes from a completely different background, whose family may not even be Muslims (as in my case), and with whom they cannot even converse fluently that they might be more than reluctant to consider the idea.
Unfortunately, to make matters even worse, there is the problem of gossip and backbiting. Islam severely condemns those who backbite or spread malicious gossip. Yet this prohibition goes unnoticed by many whose comments may cause great problems for those hoping to get married. Indeed, this problem can affect all marriages.
In my case, the sort of unfounded comments often made to my wife’s parents went along the lines of “they must have been going out with each other secretly”; “she’s very ‘independent’-can’t you control her?”; “he’s only saying he’s a Muslim to marry her”, and so on. Think how worrying such comments must have been for my wife’s father and mother. What if they were true? ‘There’s no smoke without fire’ as the saying goes! Whenever we hear gossip and backbiting, we should not only ignore it, we should admonish the person spreading it, advising them to repent to Allah. There are ways of getting married that are approved in Islam, and there are ways that are not. Sometimes, when two people wish to get married, even though they are good Muslims, they make mistakes in sorting matters out. It is right and proper to conduct enquiries through the guardian of the woman. It may be, in some circumstances, that a close family member, friend or upright Muslim may initially pass some details to her to see if there is any mutual interest. But beware of direct contact. Even over the telephone, a young man and woman may become too ‘attached’ in their feelings for one another to act objectively and be patient and proper in dealing with families, even if they show reluctance, perhaps even hostility. It can take time to become accustomed to an unexpected proposal, especially if it comes from a person from a different culture or race. How many times have our young religious brothers or sisters been rejected by the family they want to marry into, only then to dismiss the rights of the father or guardian and go ahead with the marriage in an atmosphere of resentment and bitterness?
This can cause deep and harmful splits in families. If a guardian withholds permission for marriage, and his reasons are not good Islamically then every effort must be made by respected people such as righteous, knowledgeable Imams, to discuss the matter with the guardian, advising him of his rights and his obligations in the sight of Allah. Patience! How quickly we can fail the test of patience, and how much damage can result!
It took many months before my wife’s father was persuaded by his family and by the helpful, gentle advice of an Imam. Yet he eventually gave his permission. He was not altogether comfortable with the decision. After all, he didn’t really know much about me, and we couldn’t have fluent conversations with each other. Only after I married his daughter was he able to see that everything was alright. Still, some people raise an eyebrow when they find out his son-in-law is ‘white’. And they rush to judgement, wary of a family that could permit such a strange marriage!
Let us hope, insha’Allah, that this situation will improve as people learn more about Islam and how it brings people together: “O mankind! Indeed, We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another Indeed, the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Indeed, Allah is Knower, Aware.” (AlQur’an, 49:13)
It is difficult if our efforts to marry someone who is religious and of good character are frustrated by parents, who have their rights over us and to whom we must show our love and respect. How do we balance these sometimes conflicting interests? Should you find yourself facing such problems, seek advice and help from those Muslims who are respected for their knowledge and good religious character. Above all, turn to Allah: “O you who believe! Seek help with patience and prayer; for Allah is with those who have patience:’ (Al-Qur’an, 2:153).