Marriage. As humans, it’s a word we’ve either come to love or despise. From hearing about everything from failed relationships to individuals who have been married for over three decades, it’s fair to say that it is an issue that has been talked about throughout time. However, when we look to the Muslim community, we see that there seems to be a hesitancy to talk about the real issues surrounding marriage, especially the issue of interracial marriages.
There are two sides to this spectrum; on one hand we have the reluctance of the elder generation to accept inter-racial or mixed cultural background marriages, and on the other, we have the use of social media to over-glorify and fetishise the idea of marrying outside of your race.
As young Muslims grow today, their ideas and perceptions of what marriage should be or should look like has heavily departed from basic Islamic teachings and principles. As a result, not only have we seen an increase in the rates of divorce in the Muslim community, but more and more people are entering unhappy and unfulfilling relationships because they just don’t understand or know what to expect when marrying someone.
When talking about the internal workings of the South Asian community, discrimination and racism is prominent. Even on a nationalistic level, for a Pakistani to marry an Indian is still seen by some to be shocking. Some still see this as a decrease in their ‘status’, with their spouses never being accepted as a part of the family, despite belonging to a larger South Asian culture that is shared across the subcontinent. Such a mentality is also present within Arab communities, where once again the preference of whiteness in a partner, often absent in those originating from other backgrounds, is emphasised, leading to fewer marrying outside of their community.
It’s hard to ignore the heavily racialized aspect of this idea, with marriages between ‘light skin’ and ‘brown skin’ often gaining comments of disapproval from cultural elders within the community. Unfortunately, this sentiment extends to also include anyone who doesn’t belong to their specific community, with reverts and those from the Black Muslim community being seen as being ‘less’ Muslim. It is important to take this moment to remind ourselves of the hadith where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) states:
“There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.”
Not only does this hadith demonstrate how racism is completely against the teachings of Islam, but the sense of superiority that exists within the Muslim community that is linked to one’s ethnic/racial identity is completely absurd and utterly incorrect. When it comes to marriage, we should remind ourselves of the characteristics and criteria that we should look for when finding a spouse that was laid out by the Prophet. One example, found in the Sahih collections of Bukhari and Muslim, states that:
“A woman is sought in marriage for four reasons; wealth, social status, beauty and deen (piety). So seek the one with deen – may you then be successful.”
Whilst these criterias set out four characteristics, it is clear that the most important is deen. For both brothers and sisters, priority must be given to those who show religious commitment and piety. Their race, ethnicity or culture should never be the determining factor in turning them down or accepting them. Cultural traits can be adopted, languages can be learnt, national recipes can be taught – marrying someone outside of your race is not the end of the world.
When it comes to convincing parents of this matter, it is better to get someone involved who is a person of knowledge and is aware of the correct Islamic teachings surrounding marriage to help explain this. This can be a relative or an elder within the local community. As the younger generation, it is not only our duty to inform our parents, but to actively work to break down barriers that are un-Islamic when it comes to marriage.
But perhaps more shockingly, the rise of social media has had a more dire impact on the ideas surrounding marriage in the Muslim community. A clear example of this can be seen through toxic hashtags like #couplegoals or #relationshipgoals on Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube, whereby individuals post ideas surrounding what they believe to be rare or ideal about relationships. Muslim posts under this hashtag has often seen the glorification of interracial marriages, leading to certain races and ethnicities becoming fetishised. Suddenly it has become ‘fashionable’ to marry certain groups of people, just for the colour of their skin, their culture, or the kind of hair their future children will have; a mindset which in itself is inherently racist.
Whilst this has probably been borne out of a reaction to the elder generation disapproving of marrying outside one’s culture, it reduces marriage to aesthetics only, and also distorts the intentions of getting married. As Muslims, not only must we must remind ourselves that we will be judged according to our intentions, but that marriage is more than just an aesthetically pleasing experience. As the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated, marriage should be based on compatibility – this should be your determinant factor in marrying someone, alongside their deen.
Another clear and quite frankly disturbing idea that pops up time and again under this hashtag, is the idea of ‘trust’ and ‘loyalty’ – two concepts that should form the foundational basis for any relationship. What is problematic about this is that young Muslims who are looking to get married, are being taught that these traits are rare, which as a result, is putting many off the idea of marriage. This can also encourage Muslims to explore relationships outside of marriage first; how else can you determine they are truly loyal, they argue.
However, as Muslims, we seem to forget that Allah (swt) has given us clear guidelines of what is expected of us as Muslim men and women, when looking to get married and our conduct in relationships. This is evident in the Quran and Hadith, but condensed versions are also available; The Ideal Muslim and The Ideal Muslimah are useful first books to read to provide an outline of this. Whilst social media does have many benefits, it is always recommended to turn to the right sources, rather than those that do not possess the right information.
As the younger generation looks to marriage, its important that such choices are not solely determined by their race, ethnicity or culture, rather the emphasis should be on the person and who they are. When using social media, it is important to keep in mind that what we see, hear or read does have an impact on us. Sometimes we must consciously unplug from the mass information provided to us and turn to sources that can correctly guide us on such manners.
In a world that is driven by societal expectations and judgement, whether online or offline, it can be hard to navigate our way through, but through remembrance and asking Allah for guidance, surely we can find the truth.
by Zahraa Ahmed for The Muslimah Diaries
Zahraa is the Founder & Editor-In-Chief of The Muslim Diaspora. She hates writing about herself in the third person, but can usually be found researching and reading about South Asia & The Middle East, political events and issues surrounding women and the wider Muslim & BME community. She can be found on twitter @itszahxra.