Muslim Dating 101: If you’re a Muslim woman, don’t even think about falling in love with a non-Muslim. Despite the fact that Muslim men are, according to the Qu’ran, are permitted to marry women of the Abrahamic faiths (i.e. Jewish or Christian) and there is nothing that explicitly states that the same is forbidden for women, interfaith love is a total taboo for Muslim women, which makes dating in western countries like America a nightmare. Since we at MissMuslim believe in being a voice for the voiceless, this summer we’ll be featuring a series of stories highlighting the experiences of Muslim American women who are in or have been in interfaith relationships.
Written by Nora H.
With editing by Hedya Chibane
Growing up, I was always taught that marrying someone of the same faith and traditional beliefs was “the right thing to do.” Practicing Islam was a daily ritual. I went to an Islamic school and spent most of my time with the town Sheikh’s daughter. We were best friends, and her home was the only one I could spend the night at. One Ramadan night, while at her house, I witnessed a miracle. A fisherman had found a fish that had what looked like Islamic calligraphy on its body. From that stunning moment, I fell in love with the religion on my own and continued to educate myself while carrying the values that my parents had taught me about life and marriage. A Muslim woman should only marry a man who carries the same traditional beliefs and Islamic practices—it made sense.
I never became overly religious or conservative. “An hour for you, and an hour for your Allah,” was what my mother always said. Shortly after moving to the states at the age of 14, I accepted a marriage proposal from a Muslim man that practiced a stricter, more limiting way of Islam but also spoiled me like a princess. After we got married, he began to shove an orthodox form of the religion down my throat and made me wear a scarf. He made me believe that I was going to get disowned once my family knew that I had been (forcefully) intimate with him before marriage, so little old (too young) me believed that I had nowhere else to go. Much to my chagrin, I stayed. Not only was I a victim of what then became marital rape, I was also his captive. I never said a word to anyone, carrying this burden within me, until the abuse got to a point where I ended up in the emergency room and lost his twins that I was carrying in my belly. After five months, I finally found the courage to walk away and, despite all the trauma, I never lost faith in my religion. A year later, I met someone who I thought was the perfect man.
… I had been (forcefully) intimate with him before marriage…
My second husband, the father of my children, was my hope for a fairy tale life. His mother was American and his father Lebanese. He called himself a Muslim and he practiced in ways that were satisfactory to my expectations. After having our three boys, I discovered that he had been unfaithful to me. He truly believed that it was his right as a Muslim man to seek pleasure elsewhere for his peace of mind and relief from the hectic married life with kids. I had put aside my career goals that the first monster had kept me from just to be a good wife and an attentive mother but my then husband could not put aside his selfish desires. For sixteen years, I went back and forth with him while he continually abandoned me and our children. I dealt with verbal abuse and disloyalty, and felt anchored to the ground. I always came last to everything, always felt unloved and was never appreciated. I stayed because I was a good Muslim who believed in forgiveness and, more importantly, I stayed for the kids before realizing that this was ultimately more harmful to them. I channeled my frustration into pushing myself towards my life goals. I became a medical assistant and started college. Despite all the suffering, my relationship with God kept growing but my more traditional Muslim values began to diminish. I decided that I no longer needed a man in my life, period. My hate for love, for the agony I went through with not one, but two men, was greater than my love for the Islamic values I strongly believed in before.
I grew bitter towards men. I dated for a bit but was easily appalled by the slightest personality default or the minute religious talk was involved. I had set expectations for myself and only dated to kill time. I never allowed any of them to step over my boundaries, be they physical or mental. Most men ran after finding out I had kids, anyway. I may have felt empty inside but I was satisfied and content alone—an independent woman who lived only to provide for her children. I swore not to allow the past to haunt me so that I would be able to continue moving forward in life. The bird was free from the cage. I never wanted to be anyone’s property or last option so then I gave up on dating. My ex-husband always told me that I was going to die old and alone and it became exactly what I wanted. I still practiced my religion, but I was merely going through the motions, like it was just a duty. Prayer had been my favorite part of the day, allowing me to free my mind and meditate but now I only prayed because I had to. When my birthday came around in January, I had a meltdown. Everything I had gone through came crashing down on me. God forbid I allow my kids to see mommy cry though, so I decided to retrieve my strength while reflecting and watching the sunset. I went to the nearest coffee shop to grab a machiatto without knowing that my whole life was about to change. On my 34th birthday, God had sent me the greatest present. He sent me my interfaith love, my prince charming; my Albert.
Nobody was at the counter. I rang the bell obnoxiously and loudly joked, “Hello! It’s my birthday, I shouldn’t have to wait this long for my coffee!” A very irritated man came from the back of the shop but suddenly froze while I ordered my drink. I started looking at knickknacks around the place, meanwhile, Albert came out from behind the counter with my drink. He wished me a happy birthday and refused to accept a cent. I didn’t think too much of the complimentary gesture but I appreciated it and gave him a hug. A few days later, I returned to the coffee shop with the kids before going to the circus and, again, Albert wouldn’t let me pay for all the goodies the children ordered. My boys started giggling and teasing me, exclaiming that I should start dating this man. That very same night, after finding me on social media through a coworker, he asked to take me out. I refused. For one, he seemed younger than me and two, I did not have the slightest desire to waste any more of my time. But he insisted and somehow bribed me with music festival tickets. I was hesitant about going on a date with a man from a different culture and even more so, the unthinkable – a different religious subscription. I knew nothing about him but I admit I was curious what the brain behind those gorgeous eyes was thinking. Our first date was beyond fun and exciting.
Albert opened my doors, made sure I sat comfortably, and was complimenting me on things that my personality was hiding. He saw beyond the wall. He laughed at my stupid jokes and understood my sarcasm. After our first date, we became inseparable. He respects my moral values and my compassion for humanity. He calls my aggression, compassion and my madness, talent. He understands my obsessive compulsiveness and always makes sure I am smiling. He tells me that I am smart and beautiful. He always tells me that I have a gorgeous smile, even though I have always thought it was crooked from former facial paralysis. He makes me feel safe and secure. Comforts me when my herniated disk acts up and relieves me from daily chores.
This wonderful man wakes up at 3 a.m. with me when I leave for work and walks me to my car to make sure that I am safe. He walks the kids to their bus stops and reassures me that they are OK while I worry at work. He says that words can’t explain the love he has for me. He doesn’t need words; his actions speak for him. My kids adore him. He always makes me feel like the best mother. Although my previous relationships have taken a toll on my emotions, Albert finds ways to keep me calm. He possesses all the qualities of a real man, and makes a wonderful stepfather.
It didn’t take long before he proposed to me. It was that day, that I had to break the news to him…. As a Muslim woman, I cannot marry a man that wasn’t Muslim.
Albert was raised in a Jewish home. He wore his religion on his sleeve… literally, he has a huge tattoo of the Star of David on his arm. I kept our relationship a secret from both of our families. I loved him for who he is and didn’t want to spoil a thing. I didn’t want him to change a single thing about himself. I wanted him to remain the man I fell in love with. But now, I began to panic. I didn’t want to disappoint my family and also couldn’t imagine a day without him. The thought of losing this love made me sick to my stomach. I wanted this man to be my husband more than anything and now my whole world was crashing down. Aside from my family’s opinion, I also worried about his Trump-supporting family. I was concerned about my future, their acceptance, and the “haram” life I was leading.
I looked right into his eyes while he asked me to spend forever with him and with tears, I said: Inshallah (God willing). He repeated “Inshallah.” During the few months of us dating, Albert had picked up on the traditions and Muslim lingo and scripture. We went for a walk on the beach that same evening and he sat me down for a serious talk. He told me that he had been studying Islam and that he was ready to convert. He raised his right hand and proclaimed the Shahada in Arabic by saying: “Ash-hadu An La-Ilaha Ila_Allah, Wa Ash-hadu An Muhammad Rasul Allah.” I was floored. It was the most romantic and emotional moment I have ever experienced.
I didn’t want him to change for me but he swears that Islam gave him peace at heart. Albert says that God sent me to him for many reasons and one of them was for him to find Islam. He still believes in the Jewish traditions and now has the utmost regard and respect for all religions. Prior to meeting me, he was close-minded—raised in a home that believes that Islam and terrorism go hand in hand. Eventually, the time came to tell our families about our interfaith/intercultural love.
He raised his right hand and proclaimed the Shahada…
Surprisingly, my parents were supportive. It took days to work up the nerve to come out to them but when I did, they were proud of the choices we made and were genuinely happy for us. My mother and father visited us shortly and fell in love with the man I was planning to call my fiancé. They noticed how my youngest child is attached to him and how the other two constantly seek his advice. My parents have always watched me struggle on my own and now, they saw that their daughter was relieved and full of happiness.
Albert and I pray five times a day and make life decisions together. Unfortunately, a few of his family members are not very happy with his decision and have not given us the respect we (I) deserve, although we have tried many times to please them. They seem to believe the media more than what their own eyes have seen but we will continue to show that our love surpasses all the hate until they learn to accept us. Albert and I will be husband and wife. There is no hell on earth that will keep us apart. He is my ultimate interfaith birthday present, a gift from God I always prayed for and nothing will take that away from me. Not only did he restore my faith in God, he restored my faith in love.