Muslim Marriages In America: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
How do you feel after getting your son or daughter married recently somewhere in this land of gold and glitter? You looked for a perfect match, and Alhamdu-lillah you found Mr./Ms. Right (and all the little right things that you were looking for) for your son/daughter. Lucky. May Allah bless the newlyweds.
You did not find the perfect person, but you are quite satisfied with your son/daughter-in-law. Again, May Allah keep them and you happy. No. Your worst nightmares came true. They are extremely unhappy, and would try to get out of the marriage contract as soon as possible. May Allah help them. We pray that they don't come out bruised, emotional wreck and financially bankrupt. If you are not in any of these three categories then you may be somewhere in between.
When Muslim parents start looking for a match (generally very early for their daughters and very late for their sons) some of them try for a spouse from back home in the extended family, or in the circle of friends. He/She appeared very attractive, usually a professional, and anxious to relocate to America. The marriage ceremony had all the ingredients of a neo-wealthy class. The person soon moved to the new world. But within months, if not in weeks, the split occurred. They clashed because of the incompatibility of the two personalities, two different cultural upbringings or slamming of the high expectations?
So many marriages with highly sought-after spouses from 'back home' have ended in tragically and bitterly contested divorces that many parents now refuse to consider some of the best proposals from their home country.
In a number of cases the boys/girls were class/school mates and chose each other on their own. Both parents, after initial shock, succumbed to the wishes of their adamant sons and daughters although they had reservations. These marriages, on an average, appear more successful initially than the arranged ones but also seldom last very long. The infatuation slowly turns into distaste for imperfections initially overlooked or ignored and nitpicking changes to bickering to make life miserable.
Parents as well as prospective brides and grooms attend Islamic gatherings at the national, and regional levels also used to pick the person of their dreams. It is no surprise that one finds more young people in the area earmarked for the 'matrimonial services' than in the conference halls. Many organizations like ISNA, ICNA maintain matrimonial services. Islamic magazines regularly publish long matrimonial listings. Now Muslims have web sights as well.
All of us are aware that there are thousands of eligible Muslim bachelors and excellent would be-brides spread all over North America. But our search for Mr./Ms. Right seldom ends in satisfactory results. Probably, the fault lies with our setting very high expectations and unwillingness to look for anyone less than a Mr./Ms. Perfect. You may know dozens in your town who are in their late 20s and early 30s and yet unmarried.
The Muslim boys look for a Miss America who wears Hijab, drives a car, and earns lots of money. Our daughters are not far behind. They look for a well-established, professional hunk who will put her on a pedestal and provide her the ultimate in luxurious life. Good luck to you in your search. Is it not the prime reason for such a high divorce rate among newly married Muslim couples? High expectation from both sides remain unmet and the marriage derails quickly.
Marrying a Non-Muslim
The worst scenario for Muslim parents is their sons and daughters marrying out of the Muslim community. All of us have witnessed Muslim girls marrying Christian, Jewish and even Hindu boys. As for the Muslim boys marrying a Caucasian girl appears to be their dream. The excuse is found in Allah's permission to marry 'Ahl al-Kitab' girls. The parents also approve such marriages without any compunction. Do you know that Umar (R), the second Khalifa, prohibited such marriages? His reasoning was "Islaah" - it is in the best interest of the Muslim community. Who is going to marry Muslim girls, if Muslim boys will marry outside?
What lies ahead for Muslim parents in the Western world in the new century is not very difficult to visualize. In our assessment 90 percent of the Muslim parents neglect their basic duty to tell their sons and daughters what Islam requires of them when they are ready and looking for a marriage partner. Those who somehow know in theory also fall flat on their faces when the opportunity arises. Our second generation of the US raised Muslim boys and girls are unwilling to heed our sermon that Islam does not allow a Muslim to marry a non-Muslim. Try to discuss with your daughter why she cannot marry anyone other than a Muslim? See how she snaps back: "When my brother married such and such you did not stop him. As a matter of fact, you justified it by claiming marrying an Ahl al-Kitab girl is permitted for a Muslim. By what logic can I not marry an Ahl al-Kitab boy?"
A good girl falls for a bad guy
You did your best to raise your daughter. In your judgement, she was a quintessential "good girl": obedient, and well mannered. However, things started changing when she reached high school. Peer pressure and urge to be well liked blinded her and she fell for a bad guy. By the time you found out it was already late. What choices do you have other then arranging for a quick marriage? And you did. But he was 'no do-gooder'; could not hold a steady job; beat your daughter, and snatched whatever money the parents or siblings gave her.
How many of you have tried to convince your son and daughter to select a marriage partner because of his/her attachment to Islam and efforts to practice Allah's way in day-to-day life? We look for professionals, who are earning or have a potential to earn good money. Next we fall for 'looks', 'family', 'education', 'financial' status, etc. here is the story of an educated Muslima raised in America:
"…I was raised in America and I saw what happens with too much freedom… Islamically you do not force marriage. But then what right did she have to love someone else before marriage? Physical or not! Love comes after marriage. Islamically, right? I got so confused with all these horror stories. All I can say is Alhamdullah. I did not even know my husband before I married him. No our parents did not choose for us. He saw me. He wanted to marry me. He came to my family. We sat with my family. Talked. Asked questions. Chaperon there the whole time. For about one week… no haram. No love. Now he is my best friend. Alhamdullah. So I got confused. Why we allow our younger generation to "fall" in love… not the Islamic way. Allah guided me, Alhamdullah. But some girls are willing to go against their family for a man…!"
A Pleasant Surprise
How many of you are willing to practice a truly Islamic marriage? Do you realize that an Islamic marriage is a simple civil contract between two adult Muslims? After the initial direct contact in the presence of family members, the two give their consent, without duress, and 'accept each other' in the presence of witnesses. 'Walima' is not a must. But following the conjugal relations, some close members of the family and friends may be asked to share a simple get together.
Check out how much your marriage deviated from these Islamic norms? Islam made marriage and re-marriage a simple social obligation. We Muslims have made it a dreaded, wasteful show of un-Islamic customs.
Earlier, 'education' and 'professional' status were the two main criteria for selecting son/daughter-in-laws. Thousands of doctors, engineers, computer experts, etc. were 'imported' as grooms and brides by Muslim parents during the last two decades. The trickle still continues.
In many Arab lands, traditionally, the groom provides for housing, jewelry, furnishing, etc. before the marriage is fixed. Sometimes the groom pays the father of the bride handsomely to get his permission to marry his daughter. Only under the Hindu influence, the Muslims in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh were forced to provide dowry to their daughters. In the United States dowry was not a big concern for the Muslim parents in 70s and 80s. Now a new trend is setting.
Handsome dowries are expected (and even demanded) especially if the daughter-in-law is not a highly paid professional and her looks are average. The bane of the Indian subcontinent is creeping in here as well. The most ridiculous aspect of dowry demands is the usual justification: "Hasn't the Messenger (S) provided a dowry for his daughter, Fatima (R)? We are not demanding much. They have to live somewhere and need household items, a new car, and possibly an apartment only. Ha. Ha. Ha."
Spend, Spend, Spend
Were you surprised to see a friend's family insisting on meticulously following here in the U.S. all those cultural rituals and wedding ceremonies that are common in their parts of the Muslim world? You thought we the 'educated' Muslims living in the most modern country at the turn of 21st century got rid of all those non-Islamic frivolities: elaborate engagements and Heena parties, exchange of costly gifts, Turra/Pagdi, Horse-riding groom, accompanied by drum beats or Doli (or limousines), etc.
Have you not attended marriages where hundreds or thousands of guests were invited to a sumptuous seven-course meal in a post hotel at a staggering cost of hundred thousand plus dollars? We don't hesitate to spend thousands of dollars on flowers, music, photographs, videotaping and layered cakes.
How many times have you not heard: "Marriage is once in a life-time event. There is no harm in being spendthrift. Allah will forgive us." (Do you still believe it after being told of a 60 percent or more divorce rate among Muslim couples?)
Hundreds of Islamic causes in your own town and around the world cannot find resources to float or flourish. Your three dollars will feed a family in Somalia and Sudan, or pay for the education of a child in Bangladesh or India. An Afghan widow will be able to take care of her family's needs for a whole month on your $100. What do you get by serving 500 guests at a reception in a posh restaurant other than 'Wah, Wah' and behind your back some blistering remarks about you being gaudy? How are you going to explain your extravagant behavior to Allah?
Do you know that when the Messenger (S) married Safia (R), he asked the people around him to put whatever foodstuff they had on a piece of cloth and all shared it as his 'Walima'. Often the companions married and the Messenger (S) found about it days later by the color customarily sprinkled on groom's clothes.
Get Her Consent
Muslim parents often don't feel the need to get their daughter's permission before marrying them. In their hurry to marry their daughters as soon as possible, they cut short their educational career. They realize their mistake later when she faces hardship, is divorced, or has to enter the job market under financial strain. Muslims in N. America had witnessed incidents of 'honor killing' though a more common practice is to dispatch the girl to the home country and forcibly marry them there. The better solution is their Islamic upbringing. Emphatically tell them that it is their life that they will ruin, and incur Allah's wrath in the hereafter.
Often, educated Muslim girls refuse to stipulate a 'Mehr', believing it to be the "bride's price." Allah has bestowed an extra right on them and the Messenger (S) emphasized it in his last sermon. Think of it is a 'hedge' against unknown disasters.
The grooms often insist on a very small amount of 'Mehr'. They quote some Hadith. They forget that in the Qur'an 'Mehr' was measured in a 'Qintaar' (mound of gold). The 'Mehr' of certain wives of the Messenger (S) was a large sum, equal to thousands of dollars in today's value, despite the fact that the Messenger (S) was not a 'wealthy' groom and he paid all of it. We insist on keeping 'Mehr' as small as possible and in most cases, Muslim grooms assume that they don't have to pay the 'Mehr' ever. In the US, a year's income of the groom is a reasonable amount of Mehr. It is besides what she may get from her husband's inheritance.
Divisive Fault Lines
Muslims have migrated to the U.S. shores from dozens of countries. We have lost a large part of our linguistic and regional identity except only in social interaction and for marriages of our sons and daughters. We can't look beyond being Arabs, Turks, Pakistanis, Hyderabadis, and what not. Where is the slogan of 'one Ummah'? The intermarriages between various cultural and linguistic groups and between immigrants and indigenous Muslims are not very common.
Observing The Law Of The Land
Keep in mind that "Islamic Nikah" in North America also requires fulfilling legal requirements: a valid marriage license from the state of domicile, and an officiated marriage ceremony. The authorized officials (including the Muslim imams) have to file the license after duly filling in the required parts so that the county may issue a 'Marriage Certificate'. Muslim officials should also attach a copy of the 'Islamic Nikah' with 'Mehr' and other conditions (like Tafweez al-Tilaq, etc.) clearly mentioned and duly signed by the 'Wali' and the witnesses from both sides.
Muslim imams should desist from performing an 'Islamic Nikah' without a valid marriage license. It is not only illegal and land them in a hot seat, but unfair and unjust as well. What happens if the couple did not get the 'marriage license' as they promised the Imam? The Imam may be prosecuted for violations of the provisions of marriage laws of the state. If the husband or the wife was not 'legally divorced' from earlier marriage then the Imam has performed an illegal 'bigamous' marriage. If the husband was already married to another woman, then the second wife and her children have no 'legal' status. The husband may kick out the second wife and her kids on any pretext any time, and they will receive nothing out of the property left by the bigamous husband after his death.
In most polygamous cases, one becomes an instant 'Dad' or 'Mom'. Only an extraordinary human being can manage this situation successfully. Most fail and their marriage suffers. It is very difficult to control human urges. But if you look around and evaluate the situation, instead of remaining focused on getting 'another' wife, you will immediately realize that you are going to land on a hot tin roof. If legal implication do not deter you, then remember the Ayah in Surah 'Nisa' (4:129): "You are never able to do justice between wives, even if it is your ardent desire." So better stay away from breaking the law and making your life miserable.
(By Umm Iqbal)