In chapter seven I have
tried to present the doctrinal basis of Muslim marriage. In this
chapter I will try to present a discussion of contemporary Muslim marriage
with a focus upon how it is evolving in the American Muslim community.
But before that, I want to recapitulate certain points that, I think, are
clear in the doctrinal basis of marriage in Islam. These are:
Of the immigrant Muslims in America, certainly one generation of children, born and raised in the United States, has been growing to marriageable age over the last decade and are being married already. Even the first generation of grandchildren is fast coming up for marriage, as well. In the style of Muslims, there is among American Muslims, too, a definite and overwhelming preference in favor of arranged marriages, preferably with the first cousins back home in the country of origin who are brought as and bring the bride or bride groom to America. When this is not possible, the effort still is made to find a suitable match in the country of origin of the immigrant family, settled permanently in America, with the children of near or distant relatives, old friends, or wherever a match can be made. When that is not possible, an attempt is made by the parents to find a suitable match in the immigrant Muslim communities, preferably from one’s own country and, within the country one’s own provincial locale and religious, ethnic, and linguistic group. Mixed marriages, even between the different Islamic madhahib, or schools of law; sects (especially Sunni and Shia); and denominations are avoided and/or strongly discouraged. Often when these take place, it spoils, damages, and even destroys family relationships for years or permanently, causing immense unhappiness on account of the families’ unacceptance of such a marriage. Indeed, a Muslim-Christian (only between a Muslim man and a Christian woman, as a Muslim woman is forbidden to marry a Christian or Jewish man or a man of any other religion) marriage is sooner accepted both by the Muslim family and the community as a whole than a Sunni-Shia marriage. Also, immigrant Muslims in America and their families and relatives and friends in the country of origin do not readily accept the marriage of an immigrant Muslim to an African-American Muslim. This, too, causes strained relations, virtual boycott of the African-American spouse with all the strained relations and unhappiness. What Muslims in America categorically reject is the idea and practice of what is called a love marriage. The question of it, however, rarely arises in that they reject in the strongest possible terms premarital dating and courtship for marriage. But this does not mean that there is no occurrence of dating and courtship among the premarrieds and the unmarrieds and of love marriages in the American Muslim community. However what premarital dating and courtship that do take place and lead to love marriages take place in the utmost secrecy, and when and if such behavior becomes known it is regarded a matter of great personal shame and social disgrace of the family. As may be guessed by the reader, a certain dating behavior is tolerated on the part of the boys and young men, but usually none on the part of girls and young women. But it is no longer a secret that some American Muslim boys and girls and young men and young women both date secretly after high school. Those who are in their late twenties, thirties and older but not yet married or are otherwise single (divorced or widowed) and are settled in their professional and/or
work careers date, too. But irrespective of marital status and professional status, dating and courting or sexual involvement, if any, are never done in the sense of "going out" openly and publicly. Only a very, very daring soul does it openly. In a graduate seminar at the University of Southern California, I once met a student from a Middle Eastern country who was doing her Ph.D. and who openly lived or cohabited with a male student from another Middle Eastern country. She and I carried on a semester-long dialogue and became conversationally quite intimate. She told me that she was would go back to her home country after receiving her degree that very year at the end of summer and was to be married to a cousin of hers to whom she had been pledged by her mother ever since she could recall. Once I mentioned to her if she was concerned about no longer being a virgin and that it might present trouble for her, given the Muslim attitudes toward virginity of the bride on her lailat-ul-dukhl, or wedding night. This Arab Muslim young woman gave me a ready answer, which literally blew my mind. "So I’ll get," said she, "a couple of stitches before going to my home country to be married to him…. He won’t know the difference." Even though I had read about the rich Arab girls who go abroad to Europe and America, lose their virginity there during their years of study, and have plastic hymens implanted and are called humorously "artificial virgins," hearing first hand from the mouth of an Arab girl, "So I’ll get a couple of stitches…" gave me a "future shock" far more shocking than the one I had received on reading in a book by the internationally reputed Egyptian medical doctor Nawwal Sadawi the first-person account of her and her sister’s clitoridectomy (female circumcision) as little girls. I have mentioned above the preference of immigrant Muslims in America to import daughters-in-law from the old country. Actually, one reason is that even Muslim girls born and raised in America are suspected; though it is never acknowledged, that they might not be virgin on their wedding night.
Marriage is a difficult proposition in any society and culture. It is probably the biggest chance that one takes for oneself or one’s parents take on behalf of their sons and daughters, when they arrange their marriages, as is the case the Muslim societies and cultures. I well remember that my father and uncles back in my village had started to worry about the marriages of my sisters and cousins when they were hardly six or seven. Usually, they would be married and gone to their husband’s home before even reaching puberty. This was considered totally Islamic; because that was precisely what Prophet Muhammad had exhorted and admonished Muslim fathers to do. Early or child marriage was the rule of the day. Girls were never sent to school. If their father was a literate man and cared for it, he taught them to read and write simple Urdu. No further education was considered necessary, advisable or desirable for girls. Aisha was married to Prophet Muhammad of 51 when she was six. And, to be sure, she never missed an opportunity to remind her co-wives that she was the only one that came to him as a virgin bride. That was the point of an early marriage in Islam and remained so during my growing days in my Indian village.
But the world has changed more over the last fifty years than it had during the previous one thousand years. That is certainly true of the Muslim world. Today even Muslim parents send their daughters to school, including graduate school. Now they want not only their sons, but also their daughters to become physicians, surgeons, psychiatrists, lawyers, engineers, professors, architects, civil servants, judges, administrators, bankers, accountants, and what not. This is well and good. But it is already becoming abundantly clear that, among all other costs—and the real costs are always the opportunity costs, i.e., when and if you do one thing you cannot do something else and you must, of both logical and practical necessity, sacrifice other options and alternatives—of higher and professional education and starting a professional career and settling down in a professional job or practice is delaying one’s marriage and founding a family. So, as a consequence of higher education, as in the case of Muslim young men, so in the case of Muslim young women, unusually delayed marriage is the inevitable result. Pick up any Muslim newspaper, journal, or magazine and you can read the matrimonial column in which many a highly educated and well- employed or independently practicing professional man and woman are "Seeking Wife" or "Seeking Husband." The majority of them are made up of those who are holders of advanced university degrees and certifications such as Ph.D., JD, M.D. CPA, or the equivalent diplomas and licenses in their field. They hold jobs with high salaries or fabulous incomes as independent practitioners. These men and women are usually in their late twenties or in their thirties and forties and have never been married before. And only the Omniscient Lord knows what the shape and form and method of their sexuality has been. Usually, they have been so preoccupied and occupied and busy pursuing their education and succeeding at it and at making a career for themselves that they did not have time enough to get married and have children when young. Now finding a socially equal and suitable prospective spouse is a problem for them. Why?
One reason definitely is that they themselves and the mosque and the Islamic centers in the United States (the equivalent of the Christian church) and the American Muslim community and its organized social and cultural institutions insist that Muslim marriages must still be based on the model of the traditional arranged marriage and that it is the parental responsibility and children’s duty to abide by the traditional rules and patterns of match-making and marriage arrangements. It is still considered immaterial that the marriage of an illiterate fourteen year old village Muslim girl or a sixteen year old boy with primary school education is a very different thing from that of a thirty-four year old Muslim woman or man with an M.D. or Ph.D. who holds a highly responsible job at a large hospital or is a university professor or who might even be a marriage counselor or manager or management consultant herself or himself. She or he might do anything or meet, talk, and deal with anyone in the day’s work, but what they cannot and ought not to do is to date and court anyone to explore the chances of a prospective match of marriage for themselves. That would compromise their Islam and Islamic morals and reputation in the Muslim community beyond redemption. To find a suitable match for marriage for them is the right of Abba (Daddy) and Ammi (Mommy) alone, as their God-given right.
It is not surprising that, under the circumstances, new methods of finding a prospective spouse have emerged in the Muslim community of America and are becoming well received and popular. Some of these methods include the following. Practically, all Islamic centers in the United States have established a coed Youth Group in which both teen age boys and girls participate and have the opportunities to meet, mix, and interact with the members of the opposite sex. Often in community functions and dinners, boys and girls of marriageable age are asked to stand up by turns for everyone to see them and develop further contacts with a view to matchmaking at the parental level. Also, Islamic centers have established marriage bureaus to help parents in matchmaking for their sons and daughters. There also are bureaus and agencies that provide matchmaking services on the national and international scale. I have already mentioned the matrimonial columns of the newspapers and magazines published by Muslims in the United States in which interested parents advertise for responses to their ads seeking a husband or wife. Reproduced below are a couple of advertisements each from Islamic Horizons, May/June 1999, and a bimonthly publication of the Islamic Society of North America:
Matrimonial correspondence invited for a Muslim brother 31, MSEE, never-married, good personality, belongs to well educated family from good natured, slim, educated Muslimah [feminine gender of the word Muslim], 23-31. Please send details and a recent photo in complete confidence to….
A man seeking a wife for him advertises:
Parents of an American Muslim young woman advertise for a husband for her:
Professional parents seek MD/Ph.D. / professional, preferably American born and raised, under 30, for American born and raised daughter, 26, completing Law (JD). Open mined [sic, I am sure they meant "minded"], confident, pleasant personality, good family background. Details/photo to….
According to the instructions provided, to answer a matrimonial advertisement the respondents are instructed to "write a letter about yourself, including your return address. Place the letter and photo (if requested) inside a stamped, sealed envelope with code of the ad…. Matrimonial is a format for Muslims to meet one another for the purposes of marriage according to the faith and practice of Islam. Use of this service for any other purpose is strictly prohibited. (Bold in the original)" According to an editorial note, matrimonial "service has been in operation since the early 70s and has, praise Allah, assisted many Muslims in finding a suitable mate."102
As I expressed the above
thoughts on the Muslim marriage in America, I received the August 27, 1999,
issue of the weekly Pakistan Link, in which in its regular "Issues and
Questions" section I read Question 1 in which the writer—name withheld
by the newspaper, hence not possible to tell whether it was written by
a male or a female—speaks his/her mind on the subject of marriage.
I am glad that Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, Imam of the mosque of the Islamic
Society of Orange County, Garden Grove, California, also currently the
President of the Islamic Society of North America, who answers the questions,
decided to publish the "full letter both for your parents to read and for
many others who also need to understand the situation of our youth."103
I found the letter revealing and have, therefore, decided to reproduce
it below for the reader who may not have seen the same in Pakistan Link.
The writer of the letter writes:
personally know many youth of Muslim background in Pakistan/India who know
less about Islam than kids here in U.S. and have less of a sense of their
cultural heritage which I hold so dear. Sometimes it even ‘seems’
that kids over there, aside form their ‘perfect’ upbringing, seem only
to be interested in the latest Hindi movie, or the latest music video on
MTV Asia or the latest clothing to wear to weddings that sometimes last
7 days. Similarly, some desi kids here may ‘seem’ or look
very valueless or ‘Westernized.’ My point is: shouldn’t everyone
be given a fair chance (assuming they are a Muslim) and that judgments
should be made only after personally getting to know a person and their
family? Parents that have immigrated to
All I am saying is that I wish that parents would really listen, (I don’t mean hear, I mean truly listen and engage) to what their kids want instead of assuming that they know what is best for them. I wish parents would go themselves to their kids and discuss with them, with respect to their opinions, and ask what the kids would feel comfortable with. With this critical dialogue, both sides can express their views. After all it is the rest of one’s life we are talking about here. But sometimes the problem can deepen here—sometimes it is hard to have a ‘real’ discussion with parents because kids might say some random things just to make their parents happy because they don’t want to disappoint their parents. It is hard for me to approach my parents with these sensitive issues because I don’t want them to ever think that I am implying bad judgment on their part. I do not want to offend them or ever make them feel that they are bad parents. So what to do?
Probably in the world of
today, it is the requirements of the Shariah concerning women that
demand the most serious consideration. Under the proposed Shariah,
their lot might be most adversely affected. Of course, only women
would be the best judges of it. But even as a man, I consider some
questions as being deserving of serious thought and reflection. I
can think of the following to be worthy of our attention:
2) Would young women be allowed to go to a college or university in another city or country and live there alone, unsupervised by a mahram [ close relative with whom sexual relations and marriage are forbidden] guardian?
3) Would the existing laws governing the legal
minimum age for girls’ marriage be prescribed in the Shariah? [This
age is nine years of age.]
4) Would the Shariah law permitting slave girls be implemented?
5) Would women be allowed to work outside the home and with namahram [those not related to them by blood or marriage] men?
7) Would male physicians, including obstetricians and gynecologists, be allowed to examine and care for female patients and pregnant women?
8) Would female physicians be allowed to examine and treat male patients?
9) Would the sex or gender-based division of labor between men and women, which allocates domestic work to women and the work outside the home to men, be enforced? Would we follow the example of the Taliban [litrerally, students], who on capturing power in Afghanistan, fired women from their jobs outside the home and sent them home?
10) Would women be forbidden legally to seek and hold leadership positions in society, including the job of the Prime Minister or the President of the country? Would they be denied even the right to vote in general elections?
11) Would all existing restrictions on polygamy and divorce by the unilateral repudiation by the husband of the wife be abolished?
12) Would the Shia citizens of Pakistan have the right to Mutah, or temporary marriage for pleasure, which the Shia Shariah permits?104
The Special Case of Mixed Marriage in the United States
To its eternal credit, Islam
permits mixed marriage between persons of different religions, races, ethnicities,
nationalities, cultures, and languages. Of course, if they are Muslim,
there is no bar in theory to the marriage of persons of any background.
All Muslims are supposed to be equal in the theoretical sense and stand
to one another as brothers and sisters in Islam. At any rate, Islam
permits inter-religious marriages with an important qualification, which
will become clear momentarily. The relevant and applicable verse
of the Qur'an is as follows:
The careful reader of the
above verse will note three qualifications in the marriage of Muslim to
a non-Muslim. First, the non-Muslim must be one of the People of
the Book, second, a believing and chaste person. Third, there is
a mention in the verse of the "chaste women" of the People of the Book
only. The Qur'an recognized, by mentioning specifically, only three
peoples of the Book, viz. Sabeans, Jews, and Christians, to whom God had
sent revealed books before the Qur'an. Sabean Book and the people
of that Book had disappeared already. That left the Torah and the
Evangel (or Gospel) and their respective peoples, namely Jews and Christians,
both of whom existed in Arabia at the time of the advent of Islam and they
exist even today as a distinctive people who follow their own Book.
Hence, it is with their women only (since their men were not mentioned
in the Qur'an as being eligible for marriage with Muslims) that the marriage
of Muslim men is permitted, in accordance with the revelation contained
in the above verse permitting Muslim-non-Muslim marriage. Let me
reproduce below the tafsir, or exegesis, of Yusuf Ali of the above verse
to give authority to the interpretation presented above by me. He
It has been my experience over the last three decades of mixed marriage that, though I continued to be accepted (with whatever degree of acceptance) both in the Muslim (my own) and the Christian (my wife’s) communities as an individual in my own right, when in the company of my American, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant (Christian) wife, in other words, when we have presented ourselves in society as a mixed couple and as a family and social unit, we have usually received a formal, polite, and correct welcome and reception only. Whereas my reception as an individual has been mostly warm, our reception as a family has been mostly cold. My own conclusion, certainly my definite impression, is that a mixed couple in which are mixed persons of different religions, races, colors, and cultures does not sit well with either Christians or Muslims. It makes both of them to draw back from it in more degree or less. The consequence of this has been that we have lived, as a mixed couple and family
and social unit, on the fringes of both the immigrant American Muslim society as well as the Anglo-Saxon Christian society. Also, we have not had what is called social support from either society, which families usually receive in all societies in the ordinary conduct of life. This is understandable in that, as a family, we were never able to establish and sustain a social relationship with other families—Muslim or Christian. I am certain that our being a mixed couple has been an important factor.
Then there have been situations in which I have found myself criticized openly by Muslim women for marrying a non-Muslim woman. I have pointed out that, whereas Muslim men are permitted by the Qur'an to marry a non-Muslim woman (Jewish and Christian only), Muslim women are not permitted to marry any man but a Muslim. The criticism directed at me has been of the sort: "Dr. Ausaf Ali, don’t you think that, by marrying a Christian woman, you have denied the opportunity to a Muslim woman to be married to you (with polygamy being unlawful in America)? If Muslim men marry Jewish and Christian women, who will marry Muslim women?" I remember that when I applied under what, I think, was called "third preference" as a professional person for permanent residency in the United States in the 1960s, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in Los Angeles required me to obtain and bring to INS a certification from the United States Department of Labor in Los Angeles that I was eligible for it, because it would not mean denying employment to an American citizen. The idea being that permanent residency on the basis of third preference was granted only in the professions in which there was a shortage of professionally qualified persons in the United States. Certainly, no one can fault this rationale of allowing foreigners to become permanent residents of the United States. I, therefore, fully subscribe to the logic of the criticism that was directed at me by my female co-religionists. Their criticism was quite valid. And I have never been able to provide a graceful answer to it. I still do not know how to respond to it. I state it only as a problem resulting from a mixed, which is to say, inter-religious, marriage of a Muslim man.
But it is not only the immigrant Muslim women who criticize immigrant Muslim men for opting for an inter-religious marriage, which is almost always to a Christian woman. In America, I have not known anyone marrying a Jewish woman. In Pakistan, there was a well-known case of an American Jewish woman who was, still is, married to a Pakistani Muslim man. She is the former Margaret Marcus, a New Yorker, who corresponded in the 1950s with the famous Indo-Pakistani alim, or religious scholar, Syed Abul Ala Maududi, who founded Jama’at-e-Islami, which is the most fundamentalist political party and religious movement, first in India, where it opposed the creation of Pakistan in the 1940s, and later in Pakistan, where it exists and is alive and active in Pakistani politics today. She subsequently went to Pakistan, converted to Islam, and married a Muslim Pakistani, connected with Jama’at-e-Isalmi and a follower of Maududi there. She adopted the name of Maryam Jameelah and has written and published popular pamphlets, monographs, and books under such titles as Correspondence Between Maulana Maudoodi and Maryam Jameelah, Islam and Modernism, Islam and Western Society: A Reflection of the Modern Way of Life, Western Civilization Condemned By Itself (Two Volumes), Islam Versus Ahl Al-Kitab [People of the Book]: Past and Present, Islam in Theory and Practice, and more. In her late sixties, she is still engaged in Dawah, or missionary, work of Islam. Also, I have learned from documentaries on television that a number of inter-religious marriages between Israeli Jewish women and Palestinian Muslim men take place. Be that as it may, I have personally never met a mixed couple consisting of a Muslim husband and a Jewish wife.
I began above by mentioning my own criticism by some immigrant American Muslim women for marrying an American Christian woman. In the immigrant American Muslim community as a whole, too, inter-religious marriage of a Muslim man to a non-Muslim woman is not liked, but also is strongly discouraged, even disapproved. The reason being that the immigrant Muslims in America are too cautious, hesitant, and disapproving, even afraid, of assimilation into the American culture, and, obviously, inter-marriage with Christians is the fastest means of assimilation into the American culture. Given that, the opposition to mixed marriage is perfectly rational. It is also feared that, since no Muslim-non-Muslim marriage takes place, except as a love-marriage (certainly Muslim parents will not arrange the marriages of their sons and daughters to non-Muslims), i.e., through premarital dating and courtship, most often involving premarital going out together, steady boy-or-girlfriendships, holding of hands, partying and all that goes on in parties of young and premarried people in America, kissing, petting and necking, sexual intercourse, free sex, promiscuous sex, premarital pregnancy, children out of wedlock,
and/or cohabitation before marriage between the man and woman for a long or short period—all of which is haram, or forbidden, as being immoral and unlawful (and punishable in the case of premarital sexual intercourse as zina, or illicit sexual intercourse) in Islam—a bad example is set for both Muslim boys and girls, who are still too impressionable, and, consequently, this would or might lead to the corruption of the morals of young people in the American Muslim community. All in all, the religious and community leaders (imams [clergy], ulama [religious scholars], fuqaha [jurists, judges, and legists of the Shariah, or Islamic law], and presidents and directors of the Islamic centers and other organizations) of the immigrant Muslim communities in the United States are definitely and categorically opposed to mixed marriages of Muslims in America. To the question that the Qur'an permits the marriage of a Muslim man to a Christian or Jewish woman, the answer is given that not everything that the Qur'an permits a Muslim has to do. The same applies to the Sunnah as well—for Prophet Muhammad did have women in his harem, some of which, either as his wives or slave girls and concubines, were Jewish and Christian. This is a perfectly valid reasoning. It is certainly within the power of Muslim men to choose not to marry outside their religion, notwithstanding the permission in the Qur'an and Sunnah to marry a woman of the Book, i.e., Christian or Jewish. Indeed, there is not very pronouncedly spoken opposition in the American immigrant Muslim community to inter-marriage between immigrant Muslims and African-American Muslims, too. Here the obstacle is, obviously, not religion, but race.
Whether the mixed marriage mixes religions or races, the mixed couple does not have an easy time of it. To the usual problems of marriage and married life are invariably added some problems on account of the marriage being a mixed one. There are some problems that cannot be helped. For example, my wife does not like to go to the dinners held as social functions and as festive occasions of the Muslim community in the Southern California area. She has nothing against participating in them and has always consented to accompany me whenever I said that I would really like for her to come with me. But the problem is this. American immigrant Muslims and their representative organized institutions, chiefly the Islamic centers, still maintain the segregation of the sexes and, therefore, men and women are seated in separate dining halls to eat their dinners. My wife’s view is that, if she cannot even sit with me at the same dinner table and, of course, she does not know anyone there, she feels awkward sitting virtually alone in the women’s dinning hall and eating her food quietly. Once, in an Eid dinner (equivalent to a Christmas party) she found herself sitting between women, none of whom understood or spoke English at all. In the course of the dinner, I went to check on her and give moral support to hang in there only to be reported to the authorities that a man was walking around and talking to women in the dining hall. I was taken to task for it, too. On another occasion, we were invited to the wedding of the daughter of a leading imam (clergy) of a large mosque in Southern California, which took place in a hotel. There there was present a local Protestant minister and his wife, too, as invited guests. Our host, the imam, father of the bride, introduced us to them, presumably because they and we would be good company for the evening. After the wedding ceremony, dinner was to be served. At that time, our Christian minister and his wife, our friends for the evening, began to say good bye to us, so I asked them, "Why don’t you want to stay for the dinner?" After some reluctance, they gave precisely the reason why my wife does not want to go to Muslim community dinners. So, we all had a laugh. Then I suggested that perhaps we four—ourselves and our wives—could sit together at a table, placed in something of a no man’s land between the two halves of the large dining hall for men and women and all of us eat our dinners together. I talked to the host, who accepted the suggestion—he too wanted his valued guests the Christian minister and his wife to stay for the dinner—and requested the hotel officials and the necessary arrangement was made for our wives to sit and eat at the same table with us. The dinner went well. To all those present, it was visibly obvious that an exception had been made for us—actually, our table simply stood out as an oddity. During the dinner, two men came and teased or taunted me for what I had wrought. I did not know who the one man was, but the other one was Dr. Maher Hathout, President of the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles, the oldest and one of the largest Islamic center in Southern California. "Brother Ausaf, " said he, "you are breaking the rules." Indeed, I was. Anyway, here is an example of the sort of problems that mixed couples also run into. What can be done? Perhaps, the only thing that can be done, indeed ought to be done, is for immigrant American Muslims to integrate the sexes and allow and encourage, too, families to sit together in American immigrant Muslim communities and their representative organized institutions, such as the Islamic centers and social, cultural, and festive gatherings in America, as they are in the larger American society. After all, immigrant Muslim women in America do mix with men in the coed schools, colleges, and universities, market place, work place, and everywhere else and eat with their own and other men in the cafeterias and restaurants in the American society and culture. It is, therefore, a bit silly to segregate men and women within the Muslim community itself.
The more serious is the problem of the religion of the children of a mixed marriage, when the husband and wife are of different religions, or of different sects as when one belongs to Sunni Islam and the other to Shia Islam. If not always a problem or conflict, the difference of religion does definitely create a situation. For example, on Sunday while I set out to the mosque, my wife sets out at the same time to go to the church. In a manner of speaking, this is stranger than the husband and wife setting out in the morning to go to different work places. But there it is. It comes with the territory. If it is true that the family, which prays together, stays together, then this can become a problem for the breakdown of the family. But again, this is the sort of problem about which probably no one thinks—I never thought—when one is dating, courting, and is walking on clouds in love and romance and the excitement of early marriage. As for children, we have only one, our son, whom we instructed in religion, but left the choice of a religion of his own to him. He chose Christianity. I would have liked for him to choose Islam, but I am perfectly comfortable with his choice. There is a verse in the Qur'an, too, which would lend support to his choice, because it declares: "There is no compulsion in religion" (Qur'an, 2:256). My own view is that Muslim men who contract a mixed marriage should be emotionally, intellectually, and socially ready and willing about their children not choosing Islam, or their brand of Islam, as their religion. Not to be ready to accept that is to question the very wisdom of the permission in the Qur'an for Muslim men to marry the women of the people of the Book, i.e., Christian and/or Jewish.
In the social milieu and cultural environment of the United States, growing up is replete with difficulties. Muslim children and/or children with Muslim names have one more reason of having a difficult time of it. I know this because, not only my son’s last name is Ali, but his first is Salim, both foreign sounding and, for those who have any notion of Muslim names, they are Muslim sounding, too. Even though neither of his names is difficult to learn and pronounce for anyone, no matter what his or her native language, yet he went through, while growing up, a great deal of teasing, taunting, and worse on account of his name both from students and even some teachers in the public school system. Finally, I counseled him to let himself be called by his middle name, which is Charles. This eased matters a bit for him. Hence, while we still called him by his first name at home, he was called by his middle name outside the home. Only after this experience of ours did I understand why the Chinese, Japanese, and Far Eastern people in general give their children popular American first names. Now even American immigrant Muslim parents have begun to give such first names to their children which would be conveniently learned and pronounced by other American children and spare them (the Muslim children) some of the teasing, because they have a "funny" name. This is well and good and, I do not think, any Muslim in America should object to it. If I had had any realization of it, in all probability I would have favored to give our son Charles as his first and Salim as his middle name.
A far more serious problem, in respect of the children of the mixed marriage, is with regard to their marriage. Whom shall they marry? A person of their father’s people or a person of their mother’s people? I know that, as I would have liked my son to choose Islam as his religion, I would have also liked for him to marry a Muslim girl. But, as I did not interfere with his choice of his religion, so I did not interfere with his choice of a Christian wife. But I know a number of my Pakistani Muslim friends, who married Christian, Anglo-Saxon, African-American, and Mexican, women, who however do not want their sons or daughters to marry persons with those attributes. They want them to marry Muslims. This presents a king-size problem, as it always has. I am reminded of the experience of the mixed marriage of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Quid-i-Azam [the Great Leader of the Muslims of India before and after the partition of India] and the Creator of Pakistan in 1947. He married a Parsi woman of Bombay, India. Parsis are the followers of Prophet Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, who in the sixth century BC founded the ancient Persian religion, called today Zoroastrianism. Since the Qur'an makes no mention of him, therefore Muslims, by common consensus, do not recognize the Parsis as a People of the Book. Hence, Jinnah’s marriage to the Parsi woman was objectionable on doctrinal grounds. When the only child of this mixed marriage, a daughter, came of age and fell in love with a Parsi young man, as her father had fallen in love with a Parsi woman, she (the daughter) declared that she had decided to marry him. Jinnah opposed the match. He counseled his daughter thus: "My dear daughter, there are millions of nice Muslim boys in India, why can you not marry one of them?" Jinnah was reputed to be one of the cleverest barristers in India, but found his match in his own daughter, for her ready reply was: " My dear Daddy, there were millions of nice Muslim ladies in India,
why could you not have married one of them?" Now a widow (having married her Parsi) Jinnah’s daughter is still alive and lives in New York. I think there is a great lesson to learn for all Muslims who make mixed marriages. I know Muslim friends who cause untold unhappiness and inflict it upon their sons and daughters, who want to do precisely the thing that their fathers and mothers themselves had done as young people. Those who did not let a weekend pass without going out on a date, when graduate students themselves at USC, now that they are fathers, are ready to kill if they got wind that their grown children at college or university went out on a date. In this respect, perhaps no people are more inconsistent and hypocritical than are immigrant American Muslims.
Perhaps in the end, a brief explanation for not giving permission to Muslim women in the Qur'an to marry a man of the People of the Book is in order. I think the doctrinal explanation has to come from the cultural constructions of gender, theory of genderization, and the conceptual framework and/or the ideal of spousal relations in Islam. The Qur'an teaches in no uncertain terms that "men are in charge of women" (4:34), "men rank a degree above them" (2:228), and "virtuous women are obedient women [to their father and husband in the main]" (ibid.). This teaching of the Qur'an is not dissimilar to the teaching of the Jewish and Christian Bible. But in the contemporary Jewish and Christian religious wedding ceremony, I understand, the wife to be is no longer required to promise to obey her husband to be. In Islam, the requirement of obedience to the husband, as enjoined by the Qur'an, is still expected, applied, and required of the Muslim wife. Hence, the permission to the Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim husband would entail her obedience to him, as her husband, which Islam does not permit either. Furthermore, the Muslim, by his or her faith and belief in the Qur'an, accepts the Jewish and Christian prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus—only to mention the most outstanding ones—as prophets of Islam, too, and regards the revelation sent to them as the authentic revelation of God’s Will. The Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel are revealed Books of God. That is what makes Jews and Christians the People of the Book and, as such, acceptable as the Believers in God and a Jewish or Christian wife of a Muslim man deserving of full and complete respect by him and his family and relatives and the Muslim community at large. No Muslim may speak ill of her religion, the founders of her religion, or her mode of worship, nor object to her going to her house of worship, viz., synagogue or church, the laws and norms of behavior of her religion, and, indeed, her whole way of life, while still remaining married to a Muslim man. But, by contrast, the Jewish or Christian husband, because he does not regard Muhammad a true Prophet and Messenger of God, Islamic revelation a true divine revelation, and his path a true path to salvation may ridicule and speak ill of Prophet Muhammad, Islam, and the whole Islamic way of life, which, as everyone knows, Jews and Christian, more often than not, do routinely. Inter alia, these are some of the reasons why Islam—and I would consider them good reasons, too—does not, in my opinion, permit Muslim women to marry Jewish and Christian men. Because she would be duty-bound to obey her husband, because he is her husband, the Muslim wife would even have to forego going to the mosque for prayers and religious instruction and guidance, if he forbade her to. So, there certainly is a problem in the mixed marriage of a Muslim woman to even a man of the People of the Book.
I want to make one more observation in regard to the mixed marriage. It is perhaps quite true that we are all racists, sexists, prejudiced, even probably bigoted, in more degree or less. None of us rates all religions and humanity equally. Those who say they do are lying through their teeth. To treat all people fairly, justly, and equally is probably even more difficult than treating one’s multiple wives fairly, justly, and equally, which no man can, as the Qur'an forewarns in its verse 4:129 which says: "You are never able to be fair and just as between women even if it is your ardent desire." How can you, for instance, expect even Yahweh God to be fair, just, and give equal treatment to all humankind when He has already declared in advance that the children of Israel are his Chosen People! How can you expect people of any religion or race not to be partial—consciously or unconsciously—to the people of their own kind. But there are certainly people—so very rare—who are more impartial to others than partial to their own. Hence, I think, it is in the adverbial adjectival "in more degree or less" as to one’s racism, sexism, prejudice, and bigotry to those who are different that the crucial difference and hope of humankind lies that a reasonably
tolerant society may even make multiculturalism, of which a mixed marriage is as multicultural as anything multiculturalism can ever get, to succeed. To what extent, the above reasoning is valid I am not sure. But here is the problem, which I want to bring out.
Because one may meet, fall in love with, and get married to a person who is tolerant, receptive, respecting, and accepting of another person of a different race, religion, sect, denomination, color, complexion, class, caste, creed, language, ethnicity, nationality, ideology, loyalty, or whatever else that distinguishes human beings does not mean that the other members of his or her family feel the same way as the individual in question does. A son or daughter, who is extraordinarily free of racial or religious or any other kind of prejudice, may come from a family where every one else is absolutely racist, sexist, prejudiced, and bigoted. When this is the case in a mixed marriage, the problem of the in-laws is compounded many fold. One never measures up and practically is never trusted by them. There are Christians to whom a Muslim son-or-brother-in-law is never quite trustworthy. Also, there are white people for whom a non-white son-or-brother-in-law is never good enough for their daughter or sister. This is the problem presented at the micro level to the people, who have a mixed marriage, as against the problem at the macro level presented to them by the attitudes and opinions of people in the wider society toward mixed couples, as family and social units, in the society in general, discussed above.
I had finished writing this
chapter when Pakistan Link, dated February 18, 2000, arrived. In
it an article, entitled "Marriages of Our Children in North America" by
Zafar Jafri, an immigrant Muslim who has lived in America for 35 years,
caught my eye. I am reproducing some passages from it in my translation
from the author’s Urdu. He writes: