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Second Chance: Causes and Lessons from Divorce in Muslims

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By: Chereen

Practimate created a unique survey, one that dives into matters of divorce amongst Muslims. This survey was unique, in that it is the first survey in the West that goes through the causes of divorce and the lessons learned by Muslim divorcees, around the globe.  This article discusses the patterns that are emerging and what has been learned from the increasing statistic.

Introduction

Fairy tales are always inspiring.  As human beings, our inner desires cause us to instantly want the happily ever after. We want the Cinderella and the Prince Charming. That royal cake would be nice to have and to eat, as well. The wedding is planned from the start of the engagement. Everything starts off quite great, but then there comes a small bump in the road. If not taken care of, the bump gets larger. Prince Charming and Cinderella’s carriage ride soon becomes less smooth. The talk of the town has it; they neglected to attend Pre-Marital Counseling. So what happens when the road gets difficult? The roadblock called divorce begins to make its presence.

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The town begins to shriek and yell, as Cinderella and Prince Charming begin to discuss divorce. Fingers are pointed; anger is in the air, as the fairy tale couple begins to dispute their claims. Nobody was prepared for this. The King and the Queen were expecting a fairy tale ending for the lovely couple. The birds no longer sing in the morning. Cinderella has become stressed and ashamed. Prince Charming has lost his charm. The talk of the town is that he has fallen into despair. The fairy tale couple had pushed the thought of divorce far, far, away; only to be introduced to it when things were no longer going well.

Let’s talk about Facts

In America alone, there is a 50% divorce rate. The divorce rate for subsequent marriages has proven to be higher. Aside from this fact, Muslim marriages have also had an increase of divorce rates in recent years. Practimate recently conducted a survey, in order to understand the reasons behind the failed marriages. As Practimate has discovered, culture, ego, infidelity, and lack of commitment and understanding have been common causes for divorce. Naivety and lack of awareness have heavily contributed to separations between couples. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) stated, “Choose carefully for your seed.  Marry those who are equivalent (or “qualified”) and give to them in marriage” [Ibn Majah].

Survey conducted by Practimate

Results of survey conducted by Practimate indicating, the gender, reason for divorce, duration of marriage and age difference between spouses.

Pre-Marital Training

Survey conducted by Practimate

Results of survey conducted by Practimate indicating, parental status, if had pre-marital training and how it helped, involvement of parents/friends/family and how it helped.

The majority of people partaking in this survey admitted to trying to resolve the issues that arose. This consisted of 95 percent of the respondents putting some sort of input, in order to attempt to mend the marriage. However, a high percentage of people taking the survey also stated that they did not undergo any sort of pre-marital training. The beauty of pre-marital training is that it offers an increase of awareness and knowledge on the topic of marriage. Pre-marital training offers the necessary tools to make a marriage work. It also helps one understand what to do when the topic of divorce arises. While it is fact that this form of training is very helpful, survey takers were almost split when asked, “Do you think it would have helped you in choosing the right spouse or in resolving the issues that arose after marriage?” 60 percent felt it would have helped, with 40 percent remaining firm on the fact that this form of training would not have helped them.

The majority allowed for family and friends to intervene when the issues arose. While many claimed that the involvement was helpful, 29 percent of people felt that it made things worse. While family and friends might mean well, their involvement comes with a form of bias that is difficult to be eliminated due to more love being given to one side. This bias could be avoided in pre-marital and post-marital training, by allowing for a therapist or life coach to help resolve the issues that arise. Aside from that, pre-marital training gives the essential tools to use to avoid allowing for some of the issues to take place in the first place.

Communication Roadblocks

While many couples believe they can communicate, they still manage to hit roadblocks along the way. This is because they do not fully understand one another. The key to this success is quite simple, really; it involves the power of communication. As one respondent wisely stated, “Pre-marital counseling is essential. Choose an older married couple to be a mentor for the new couple prior to marriage. This couple should be the one to go to people for advice and not resolve any fights the couple cannot resolve on their own. Listen to what the other spouse is asking for. Seek assistance early on. Respect your parents but do not only prioritize them at the expense of your spouse. And most of all, honesty is key. A house built on lies will crumble!”

It is possible that men and women do speak a different language; however, that does not mean they cannot learn to understand one another. Those taking the survey were asked with all honesty, “Thinking back now, what mistakes do you see on your part?” The majority of responses consisted of two words, “trust” and “communication”, or lack thereof. Not communicating enough caused for many of the respondents to be unable to express how they felt during the marriage. Inability to express oneself causes resentment, which decreases the amount of love the couple has for one another.

As one survey taker stated, “Being stubborn, resentful, too much negativity, lack of trust and constant doubt.  Aggravating situations further by looking into the past or digging into present lifestyle, almost waiting for him to make the next mistake.”  “Forgiving too much for the sake of Allah that I almost began to think being a victim of domestic violence was OK because this is my test from Allah and I have to bear with it patiently and deal with it.  Not realizing that walking away is an option too rather than risking my life everyday feeling unhappy.” By holding back on expressing herself to her ex-husband, she allowed for him to dismiss his respect for her. Another respondent stated, “I should have trusted my instincts. I should have taken more time to understand myself and her, before deciding if she is the women whom I want to get married to. After marriage I realized we have complete different personalities.” This shows that there was a lack of communication prior to the marriage, exposed after the marriage when the couple was together. Another respondent said, “I was not able to able to say what I was feeling when there was a problem. I was afraid to open up and say I was not happy.” Fear of opening up caused for this marriage to fall apart; this was due to a lack of happiness that stemmed from the fragility of being able to be expressive. The majority of survey takers responded with the advice that honesty and trust was essential to having a successful marriage.

Dependence and Children

Naivety is mentioned often. Along with naivety, stubbornness and selfishness are also mentioned repeatedly. Dependency was also mentioned quite frequently. As a result of naivety, many survey takers depended upon their spouses for emotional support and happiness. While it is not wrong to have the desire to be offered happiness from a spouse, depending on them can be detrimental to one’s emotional well being. One survey taker mentioned, “I was depending on him for emotional support when I should learn to manage myself and depend on Allah. I should not have reacted and reflected my insecurities to the relationship. I was looking to him for affirmation.”

A combination of the above contributed to divorces that did not last longer than thirteen years. 66 percent of the respondents chose their spouses, with many coming from the same culture. In this case, culture was not the resulting factor for many of the respondents’ divorces. This is due to the fact that 75 percent of the survey takers were from the same culture.

The majority of respondents, 62 percent, had children from their marriage. As one of the pioneers of Developmental Psychology, E. Mavis Heatherington, puts it, “As marriage has become a more optional, less permanent institution in contemporary America, children and adolescents are encountering stresses and adaptive challenges associated with their parents’ marital transitions.” According to a recent study, studies have shown that daughters of divorced parents have a 60-percent higher divorce rate in marriages, with sons having a 35-percent higher divorce rate. This is in comparison to children of non-divorced parents. Children often suffer from short-term anxiety, anger, shock and disbelief, as a result of their parents’ divorce. Fortunately, many of the respondents did make mention of the fact that they were quite grateful to have been blessed with children, even though the marriage was unsuccessful.  Having a decent and respectable relationship with the ex-spouse can potentially prevent the statistic from becoming a constant reality.

The dependence upon Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is mentioned quite often, with a respondent stating, “Be patient, work hard and trust Allah in all your matters. Never give up even if you want to. Marriages require hard work, love, and respect.” A common piece of advice was to seek Allah’s guidance and pray istikhara. This survey came with plenty of wise advice, offered by respondents who wanted to guide others to success. As this survey had over 2400 responses, the wisdom was endless. The common desire to advice others to trust Allah offered an aura of beauty, through the topic that many would like to avoid discussing.

A piece of advice that a respondent gave, which could be used by men and women alike, was “Only trust Allah. Yes your mother, father, sister, or even best friend, want what’s best for you, but they want what’s best for you according to what THEY think is the best, not you. Also, don’t rush. Take your time and make sure this is the person you want to spend your life with. Ask questions, tons. Pray istikhara and then trust your gut. If there’s a nagging feeling in the back of your head, trust it regardless what ANYONE says. NOTHING is more important than the fact that this person can and will either lead you to Jannah or Nar. Stick with the person that will partner up with you to seek Allah’s pleasure, and in finding Allah’s pleasure, you’ll find your own, bi’thnillah.”

Survey conducted by Practimate

Results of survey conducted by Practimate indicating, the selection of spouse, culture, was the marriage happy ever, how the issues are resolved that arouse during the marriage.

Remarriage

According to the survey, 69 percent of respondents have yet to be remarried. This means that the majority of survey takers have yet to go through the full process of marriage once again. The major factor in this is that many are not emotionally ready to take on another marriage. Many of the respondents feel that they need time to heal. Most stated that they have yet to find the right one. There was still a sense of heartbreak over the ending of some of the respondents’ previous marriages, with some feeling hopeful that they might return to their spouses. Optimism was consistent, with a smaller percentage feeling hopeless about the thought of getting married again. The results varied, showing that each person had their own level of comfort when it came to finding love once more.

Survey conducted by Practimate

Results of survey by Practimate indicating, if divorce was mutually agreeable, divorced for how long, if remarried since divorce.

Divorce During the Times of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

A calmer story of divorce comes from the times of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Mugheeth chased down Bareera in the streets of Madinah, as the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) watched.  Mugheeth loved Bareera with every inch of his heart; his desperation left him depressed. He begged for the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) intercession, in this matter of the heart. Unfortunately, not much could be done. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) made it clear to Bareera that he was not commanding her to return to Mugheeth. But rather, he suggested that she reunite with her ex-husband. Bareera was satisfied with the divorce. She was no longer in love, and the thought of staying with Mugheeth was one that was no longer a possibility.

Lack of communication, trust, naivety, and awareness contributed to the divorces of the respondents.  The majority of the survey takers tried to resolve the marriage to the best of their knowledge, but not being equipped with the right tools made it a difficult challenge. Going back to Cinderella and Prince Charming, many of the tips lead back to finding the right pre-marital training in order to have made their marriage last. As for Mugheeth and Bareera, Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) interceded as an unbiased, outside source. In doing so, he offered his perspective as an outsider, without forcing either side to succumb to an unwanted outcome. As a result, he paved the way for the correct form of resolution.

The Future of Cinderella and Prince Charming

Cinderella and Prince Charming could have used this tip, instead of letting the town get involved in their marriage. Their lack of awareness and naivety fueled the fire that burned down the frail curtain that was lined with love; it was preventing them from seeing the realistic side of the marriage. As one respondent cleverly stated, “Make sure both parties know what the other is expecting out of the marriage.” Stating these expectations eliminates naivety. This, in turn, promotes awareness. As a result, the awareness allows for the couple to become more knowledgeable about one another. They soon become more able to communicate with each other, allowing for trust to be built. The basis of love is trust. A marriage that is built upon trust and communication is a marriage that has the possibility of offering the couple the completion of half their Deen and constant room for helping one another grow.

What Practimate Wants to do to Help?

Alhamdulillah we have received a massive outpouring of support and participation when we asked for our survey to be filled, about 2600 people have taken the survey. 

To thank everyone who filled out the survey, and also help those who have gone through divorce, but are looking for ways to cope and deal with unresolved issues/ how to get re-married – we are doing something special. 

We will inshā’Allāh have a free series of webinars for divorcees only covering everything from how to deal with any cultural taboos and finally move on, to getting re-married. Please visit www.practimate.com for more information.

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15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Amel

    January 18, 2014 at 7:44 AM

    This is a good initiative. I think it would also be interesting if you surveyed couples who have been married for long periods of time and have not gotten divorced after, say, 15 to 20 years of marriage. Looking at the figures above, I noticed that a lot of the divorces occur during the early years of marriage, which is when a lot of the power struggles take place, even when a marriage is stable or happy. It would be interesting to examine why some couples are able to get over this hump while others are not and if this hump, indeed, exists in the majority of marriages. If it does, then it means that people should be prepared for it with various strategies that can help them not fall into despair and seek divorce when things get tough.

    • Avatar

      Fouzia

      January 18, 2014 at 12:17 PM

      Excellent advise Amel. Because there are more lessons to learn from marriages that survived 10 years and above.

    • Avatar

      Brie

      February 28, 2015 at 1:23 PM

      Amel, read John Gottman’s book(s). He has answered the question about what qualities predict divorce.

  2. Avatar

    Umm zakariyya

    January 18, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    Pre marrital counseling ( esp from the islamic perspective)is the need of our times .

    To me it came as a part years of preparation by my parents ( preteen and teen years) . Parents thus play a great role in preparing their children to be wise in their relationships .

    Secondly , sisters’ youth sessions on how to be a good wife was a mental prep for me in late teens(18-20). ( brothers had their own sessions:))

    Finally, yasir birjas’ “loves notes” a few months before the wedding ( it was my fiancé who gave them to me lol. Alhamdulillah

    Marriage is work .like all other relationships.

    Tip:

    remember to thank Allah when you express appreciation for your spouse .
    Such as often saying ” Allah has put a lot of love in my heart for you ” ,makes the spouses be reminded of their ‘ spiritual partnership ‘ to get into Jannah.

    Also it’s a constant reminder that Allah is the One who puts ‘ love’ and ‘ mercy’ between the hearts of spouses . This makes the spouses bring Allah into their relationship and always seek his help for betterment of their relationship.

  3. Avatar

    Faith

    January 19, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    As salaamu ‘alaikum,

    Jazakallahu Khair for your efforts in strengthening Muslim marriages. I think it is a wonderful idea to examine how many Muslims get divorced, the reasons for those divorces and what can be done to prevent them. That being said, it’s hard to tell if this survey (at least from the information provided) is statistically valid. We’re not given much information on the sample besides a breakdown of gender, how the sample was collected, whether the sample was random (I assume not since it appears that anyone who visits the survey page can take it), and most importantly, if the sample is representative of divorced Muslims as a group. From the information provided, I can only take the results as being representative of people who completed your survey and not of divorced Muslims in general.

    • Avatar

      Fouzia

      January 20, 2014 at 4:34 PM

      Wa alaikum Salaam

      We reached out to Eddie from the deen show, Sh. Yaser Birjas, Mufti Menk, Sh. Waleed Basyouni, Sr.Yasmin Mogahed and others to share the survey with their students. We were able to collect 2600+ responses from this Alhumdulillah and learn about the recurring patterns in what causes divorce among Muslims in the west.

      The information will in sha Allah help couples prevent divorce/ be aware of common reasons for it, and also help us address the issues that currently divorced brothers and sisters are facing.
      The results given here are the first level analysis only.

      We have more detail break down like causes of divorce for
      1. Muslim man and woman separately
      2. Arranged marriage versus “Own choice” marriage
      3. Age difference between spouses
      4. Length of the marriage
      5. Same culture / different culture
      6. Parents/Family interference

      If you are interested for more detail analysis, please download it from here

      https://procdmarketing.leadpages.net/divorceanalysis/

      Jazakum Allah Khair
      Fouzia

      • Avatar

        ibnmomin

        February 9, 2014 at 8:41 AM

        Correct me if I’m wrong so that data came from students of prominent daees in the west which makes me think the crisis is among the brothers/sisters who are trying to be practicing, students of islamic knowledge etc. which is a minority within minority? Do similar statistics hold for all Muslims (cultural, secular, non-practicing etc.) in West?

        I believe the sad part is that marriages of the practicing minority should be a role model & witness for the rest of community and humanity.

  4. Avatar

    Abu Abdillah

    January 19, 2014 at 7:52 PM

    Jazakallahu khaira,

    Very informative, one thing I am curious about is the breakdown of the reasons for divorce data based upon gender. I am guessing men and women would give at least somewhat different reasons. Is it possible to provide this information using your method of data collection?

  5. Avatar

    Azzam

    January 27, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    I have been married forever Alhamdullilah.
    Simply put, focused live goals in pleasing Allah and not the desires is the key.
    Fulfill the right of the other by foregoing your own right.
    No further marriage related advice needed as the marriage is not the focus. Fulfilling the command of Allah shown by the ways of the beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) becomes the focus, in this you get success in both the worlds.

  6. Pingback: Second Chance: Causes and Lessons from Divorce in Muslims - SimpleMuslimWeddings.com

  7. Avatar

    Yasmin

    March 30, 2014 at 12:20 PM

    The portion on remarriage is an absolute piece of garbage! Tell the truth! Divorced women, especially with children, are looked upon lower than people with AIDs. Who wants so marry someone who has kids? Our community treats them with pity, disrespect, and ostracizes them. Emotionally not ready is such an out and out lie! I’ve sat at the masjid and listened to women talk about the criteria for their sons getting married. I’ve listened to women with divorced sons who want unmarried or divorced women with no kids for their sons. Why would anyone in their right mind want to stay Muslim? Because when they die Jannat will be waiting for them while they suffer in loneliness for their time here on earth? No thank you.

    • Avatar

      Sophia

      May 4, 2014 at 7:28 AM

      Finally!!…Thank You!! You said it EXACTLY like it is. I’m a divorced women with no kids and thats hard as it is to get remarried, so I cant imagine how it would be with kids (actually I kinda can, my sister has a girl and it took her 5 yrs to remarry). People expect a divorcee to crawl all over the first person to ask them for there hand like we should be soooo lucky they even gave us a chance..umm no I dont think so.

      It’s flat out WRONG to treat a divorced person like yesterdays garbage, when actually a smart person would know that we come with more experience and know how to handle different situations that may arise in a marriage because we been there and done that.

      Yet we still get pushed to the side like we have some sort of disease but hey lets act like we all dont see it because we’re too busy being true devoted “muslims”, right?…

      I shouldn’t worry though and its sad to say but the way committment looks nowadays we might just all be in the same boat sooner then later

      Good luck to all

  8. Pingback: References | lyas2014

  9. Avatar

    aziz

    July 20, 2015 at 9:15 PM

    this article is kind of full of it coming from this site if you ask me. being “aware” of your partners interests, needs, emotional state and your ability to respond to those needs are impossible to know outside of an actual living together situation. this is of course haram so the idea that you can become aware of the other in advance of marriage is an entirely false expectation. the fact of the matter is modern muslim marriage is an absolute crap shoot. you are lucky if you are in the 50% that survive and even luckier if your in the 15% that have some sense of enduring happiness. let’s just get used to regular, frequent divorces and a lot of unhappy people.

  10. Avatar

    Mads

    August 10, 2017 at 4:19 AM

    Assalamouralaikum dear sisters and brothers. I wanted some advise. I’m stuck and don’t know which decision to take. Three month ago i found at that my husband is a drug addict the day we found it my parents came and fetch me from my in laws house and i found out that my husband lied many things. I’ve been with him since 8 Month from the time i left him. I Still love him and now he turned to Allah and is changing his life but he was a great liar at the time we were together and now i don’t know if i must trust him and give him a chance? But my parents are against they don’t want me to return back as they are afraid if he might take drugs again

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Manners

Podcast: How Intimate Can a Couple be Post-Nikkah, but Pre-Marriage? | Yaser Birjas

Question:

I just had my nikkah done with my husband and we are having our rukhsati done soon (in the next few months). The reason for [the] delay is just mainly to prepare for the wedding and  [to] accommodate family members’ schedule [for] the wedding. After the nikkah is it permissible to do all the acts that are permissible between a husband and wife even if the rukhsati hasn’t been done?

Sincerely,
Getting married in my 20s

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Marriage

Podcast: Like Tinder, But Safer: Troubleshooting Arranged Muslim Marriages | Newaz Ahmed

The biodatas that we send and receive are inherently superficial. We’re not given much time to make a decision on that limited information, and so the result is the same sort of superficiality, an un-Islamic swipe based on attractiveness alone.

When I tell people I want a religious wife, they seem to translate that as subservient to me, not Allah. And that scares me.Click To Tweet

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#Life

Like Tinder, But Safer: Troubleshooting Arranged Muslim Marriage

Like many people in my mid-20s, I approached my parents about getting married and initially chose to use a more traditional route. That is to say, creating a resume – or biodata – and sending it to matchmaker aunties. I wanted this approach because I wanted to be able to balance my American, Desi, and Muslim identities. I wanted things to be done in a halal way with my parent’s knowledge. However, over the past 2 years, my experience with the process has left me jaded.

Before I continue, I want to preface with two things. The first is that my parents are wonderful. We’ve butted heads, but I recognize that they are doing what they think is best, via a method that they’re used to. Providing critical feedback of the method should not be taken as critical to my parents.

The second is that while I have critical feedback, I am not intending to discredit the entire process. Meeting people through family is hardly a bad thing, and maybe what some people need. It is very possible that I will still end up using this process. That said, there are changes that need to be made, especially in the modern world. I want to make sure that my younger brothers and sisters can get an idea of what the process is, and what they’re in store for.

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Superficiality

The biodatas that we send and receive are inherently superficial. They are, in total, the person’s education/career, info on their parents and extended family, and pictures. There’s nothing written about the person’s personality barring, perhaps, a few sentences about their interests. This doesn’t provide any real depth of information about the other person at all.

Then there is the emphasis that is placed on the pictures. It is important to acknowledge that physical attraction plays a role in all of this. I think one of my early mistakes was that I was trying to pretend it didn’t matter at all, and that’s not reasonable for a marriage. The problem, however, is that given the lack of personal detail in the written part of the bio-data, we are left with the photo being the most personal piece of information presented. Unless you really care about where a person’s grandfather went to University in the 1940’s, that photo ends up being the most important thing you’re making your choice on.

Like “Tinder, but safer,” a friend said to me, as I explained how these situations played out. That’s not far off from how the experience played out for me. We’re not given much time to make a decision on the bio-data, so the result is the superficial, un-Islamic swipe based on attractiveness alone.

How many times have I heard, “Oh, she’s too fat,” or “Oh, she’s too short,” or “Too tall,” or “She’s pretty dark isn’t she?” Bengali speakers will recognize the word “moyla,” [dirty] used to describe women who are slightly darker, which is terribly problematic.

It’s not just that women are being chosen based on their looks alone, but on top of that, they’re being held to Eurocentric notions of what is deemed attractive. We’re all being held hostage to a standard designed by and for an entirely different race of people, and I have been told that it would be weird for me to be attracted to a darker-skinned woman because in the minds of many, dark skin is undesirable.

The superficiality is worse for women, but even as a guy I felt it. I’m fine with how I look, but you can only hear, “Oh, your face looks weird in that picture,” or, “He’s not tall enough,” so many times before it starts to mess with you. Men face another superficial judgment as well: the problem with men being reduced to their ability as moneymakers. I’m a graduate student and there are people in my class who have a spouse and children and are making it by just fine on the stipend we receive. But, inevitably, it will come up that I’m not making tons of money, so how can I support a family? While recognizing that men do have an Islamic responsibility to financially support their families, it troubles me that the process boils men down to one thing and one thing only – money, and not just having enough of it, but lots of it.

Age

I’m relatively young, 27 in May, and so when I started this process two years ago, I told my parents that I was willing to go +/- 3 years, just because I thought that would be a good range to encompass people I’d have some similarities with. However my prospect of an older wife – even a day older – was rejected with quite some vigor. I’ve been disqualified from matching with some women because they were born just a couple of months before I was.

The majority of the biodatas sent to me are of women still in college, between the ages of 19 and 22. It doesn’t matter when I say that’s too young, or how that I feel like I’d be taking advantage of someone who hasn’t fully grown up yet. I get told that I’m wrong.

Do you know how many random aunties and uncles have told me that a 7-8 year age gap is necessary to make a marriage work because otherwise, the women “will demand too much?” It’s shocking that I’m being told specifically that I need a wife young enough to be manipulated and shaped to my desires. When I push back on this, I’m, again, told that I’m weird.

I’m being constantly told to reconsider my age preferences as if wanting to marry a woman in her mid-20’s is a weird thing to do when I myself am in my mid-20’s. The sheer number of times I face this makes me think it’s an inherent flaw in how our cultures think, and not something unique to my situation. This is to say nothing of the fact that people will, to our face, tell me (26) that I’m too young for marriage, but my sister (25) is rapidly passing her expiration date.

Race

As a Bengali man, I have no problem marrying a woman of Bengali descent, but it’s annoying that even in 2020, it’s seen as a taboo to marry outside of your race in Desi culture. I personally have had it conceded to me, that if I choose an Indian or Pakistani woman on my own, that might be ok, but nothing else. Not an Arab. Certainly not someone with (black) African descent. And a white/Hispanic/black convert would cause a genuine scandal.

And even this concession is not universal, as there are many Bengali parents I know who will not let their child marry anyone outside of their own culture. Even when people have pushed through it and married outside of their ethnic backgrounds, there is still gossip and concern as to how the parents could “let this happen.”

Going into this I thought, “Well, all I have to do is show a few videos from Imams talking about how inter-racial marriages shouldn’t be taboo for Muslims,” but it doesn’t matter how many of these clips I show, it falls on deaf ears.

I understand the concern of losing culture and heritage to life in the West, I get it. But if I want to teach my kids about their Bengali roots I can do that with a wife of any background, and if I don’t want to teach them, having a Bengali wife isn’t going to make me any more likely to do so.

Ultimately, the feeling I get is that the older generation wants in-laws who they can go and have chai and gossip with, to do traditional things they saw their parents do with their in-laws. And again, while I empathize with the desire to do something familiar, this seems like an unhealthy reason to dictate why your children can’t marry someone from another race or culture.

Classism

I understand that families need to mesh and that it makes things easier if there are similarities that exist. However, in what world am I reading a biodata and seeing what a woman’s uncle does for a living, and then deciding that she’s marriage material?

It doesn’t work for me that way, but it works on the minds of the older generation, and there are even ways of working the class distinction to your advantage. Uncles in the community have actually told me that marrying into a “lower class” may be good if you want someone to be subservient to you because they’re thankful you brought them to your status. But they’ve also told me that marrying a “higher-class” woman isn’t bad either, because a rich father-in-law could have its perks. Caveat- beware of them being snobby with you, since you may be expected to be thankful, subservient one instead.

I can’t even wrap my head around what people are talking about here, but it’s yet another factor that I end up having to deal with during this process.

Religion

I want a wife who cares about the deen and prays 5 times a day, and I want this not to be a controversial take.

I have been told that’s unrealistic. Literally a couple of weeks ago, an auntie told my sister that ‘modern women’ do not pray regularly and so I should not expect that in a future wife. She said this, of course, to my sister who is both a modern woman and someone who prays five times a day without fail.

It’s crazy to be told that I’m being too picky because I want a wife who already has her religious-ness established. I have been told, by both aunties and uncles, that it’s better for me to marry a wife who isn’t too religious yet so that I can shape her deen. This isn’t about mutual growth in faith as you may hope for in a marriage. This is about controlling women with religion by only teaching her what I want to teach her. When older women tell you this, it raises so many concerns about what they’ve been through and what they want future generations of women to go through.

When I tell people I want a religious wife, they seem to translate that as subservient to me, not Allah. And that scares me. I don’t mean to fetishize anybody, but I want a wife whose religion drives to be bold, to stand up for what’s right, to be outspoken. I want to partner with someone whose religiosity pushes me to be a better version of myself, not to do what she’s told.

Marry Back Home

I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me, as someone who has lived their entire life in the US, to think that I’ll mesh much better with someone with a similar background. This isn’t universal, some people will genuinely get along better with people from “back home,” and that’s fine, but this needs to be a personal choice.

Yet, I keep getting told that it would be better for me to marry from “back home.” I have been told, straight up, if you bring a wife over here, she’ll be more “indebted,” to me because I brought her to America. Setting aside that I don’t want to marry someone who just wants to marry me for a Green Card, why would I want to marry someone who feels like they owe me?

I fail to see how marrying from “back home” is an issue of compatibility in this case, it feels way more like an issue of subservience.

You can see here that the concern isn’t about finding a spouse who matches with my personality, it’s about finding someone who’ll come and cook and clean and bear children for me without speaking up about it because they feel like they owe me. Which segues to…

Gender Roles

I want to preface this section by saying that this is one topic where my parents haven’t, at all, been the source of my concerns, but rather, this something that comes up when talking to certain members of the community.

For men, there is an emphasis on making money to provide for a family, and for women, raising children and taking care of the home. There’s no problem with this model, but it is not the only model. It’s a valid option, but I am being told it’s my only choice.

In the eyes of many, the preference is to pick a homemaker. This seems at odds with the desire to select a woman with a good education, making it seem that I’m then not expected to let her utilize that education professionally. After all, it could be embarrassing for me if my wife makes more than me, and I have been told to be careful, because a wife who makes too much money could be “too independent.”

I must also be careful to stay in my exclusive role as a moneymaker too, and not try to go beyond that. I had pictures with my nephews in biodata because they mean the world to me. I was told to take them out because somehow a man taking care of children is deemed…bad?. I also like cooking. I once said this to an auntie and I remember her saying, “Why do you like doing girl’s stuff?”

Quite bluntly, I don’t want a wife who will only cook and clean and raise children for me. I want someone I can share those duties with because they’re my equal partner, an idea that, to me, keeps getting glossed over in this process. Every couple deserves the opportunity to figure their marriage out for themselves.

Quick Marriages

There are limits to what we can(‘t) do as Muslims. I understand that we shouldn’t have 3 year-long courtships or live together before getting married, and I am not advocating that. But we should be allowed some time to make such an important decision. I’ve been shown bio-datas and have been expected to come back with an answer in two days – just two days – about whether the information on this piece of paper is the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.

Please, can we have a few months? Can we talk, and try to make sure that this is the decision we want to make (chaperoned)? When reviewing potential spouses, try to make sure everyone is one the same page about how much time you give to each other in order to avoid heartbreak and confusion.

Nature Of Relationship With Parents

My parents and I have a pretty good relationship. It’s relatively open and comfortable, but it’s still a Desi parent-child dynamic. Expressing a dissenting opinion is disrespectful, which means it can be harder to speak up without fear of disappointing them.

Plus, my parents and I never openly spoke about sex or physical attraction, at least not in-depth. To go from that to suddenly having to talk to your parents about the physical aspects that you’re looking for in a wife is awkward, and it can lead to miscommunication.

It’s a culture clash on top of a generational one. I have a hard time articulating what I want to my parents, and it’s not easy to figure out. If you know this before starting the process, you can make an effort to speak as openly about things as you can. You can even recruit an older cousin or friend, or an Imam you trust to help you. Don’t do what I did and go by yourself, have people to support you to make sure you and your parents are communicating well.

In Conclusion

It’s not reasonable to expect that you’ll get everything you want in a spouse. There will be compromises that are made, whether they be with yourself or with what your parents want. But don’t sacrifice on the points most important to you. Determine those, know what your must-haves are, and negotiate on other things. Make sure your potential spouse is on board. It can be awkward, especially with how many of us were raised, but talk to your potential spouse about these important things.

While this was a reflection of my own experience, I place emphasis on the aspects I feel are more universal. Speaking to other Desi Muslims in my age bracket, it certainly does seem that my concerns are relatively common. Obviously, there are individual factors that are at play, but these were things that came up regularly when speaking to elders in the community.

I also, again, want to stress that this isn’t an attack on my parents. While I have a level of frustration with how this situation has played out, I recognize that this is what they’re used to. And to their credit, they have made some concessions. Furthermore, it’s not just parents who are playing a role in this. The (often unwarranted) voices of certain elders are given undue emphasis, and that, I think has complicated the situation even further.

Ultimately, I’m not telling people that they shouldn’t consider arrangements or biodata, but if you do, then you must openly discuss this with your parents. Make sure they know what you want, and stand firm if it’s something important, even if it complicates things. It may put a strain on your relationship with your parents, but it’s better to open about things now than to have anger and resentment towards them for years later.

I’ll end with a specific piece of advice to the brothers: You have a duty to learn about why these issues are red flags and to push back on them yourselves. Women can be labelled as too rebellious if they push back themselves, and we need to be aware of this. Speak up for your (biological) sisters, family members, and friends when you notice their discomfort. Make sure you establish with your potential spouse that she is actually on board with the process, not just going along with it because she feels that she needs to. It might be awkward, but it’s important to establish a clear line of communication with someone even before you get married.

May Allah bless us all with happy, healthy, and fruitful marriages. Ameen

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