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 Amany L. Werner
With editing by Hedya Chibane
Someone who’s viewed as different is notoriously brave for standing out from the crowd and being noticed for their uniqueness–whether it’s how they think, speak, or even laugh. Growing up, I admired meeting people who weren’t like us, though we weren’t normal either considering we were French expats with Syrian blood in Saudi Arabia. There would be new neighbors who moved next door or my dad’s co-workers who were either expats or Saudis, most of whom have been very nice to me. Different students from around the world eventually surrounded me for 12 years when I attended an international school that Mom fought hard to get me enrolled in.
My Syrian side of the family, on the other hand, saw “different” as overwhelming, strange and foreign. And I was as strange as ever, their only French relative who spoke 3 languages and eventually studied abroad who wasn’t married yet (and I hope not so soon).
When he realized I was not accepted very well, my father took matters into his own hands and enrolled me in all-girl Quran class that met every weekend so that I’d be in the company of “good, Syrian Muslim girls your age.” He felt it would help me fit in and become part of the community.
Instead, the classes made me feel even more alienated. The teachers would tell everyone that I was an “ajnabiyeh”—foreigner— in a “Non-Arabic school,” which made it harder for me to make friends. To make matters worse, because I had a stutter, I couldn’t memorize the surahs correctly and would mumble a lot. This marked the beginning of my identity crisis, my fight to fit in; it was a burden I thought I had to bear until they accepted me.
I hated feeling like I had to stay quiet, and I felt compelled to lie a lot to make sure I’d become “one of them.” When I hit puberty at the ripe age of eleven, my Syrian family forced me to wear the hijab whether I liked it or not, no questions asked. The hijab was sacred and that was it.
My mother, who converted to Islam in France in her late twenties, disliked that at fourteen years old, I was being conditioned to think and act a certain way—and deprived of any freedom of choice that was rightfully mine, Islamically speaking. She pulled me out of the class and encouraged me to focus more on school—education would be my only way out of the slippery slope I was on.
Unlike other girls my age from more conservative families, I still got to go out, meet up with friends… and even date a French-Syrian boy of the same age, after meeting him at a French school when I took classes there.
…I was an “ajnabiyeh”—foreigner…
The hardest part had to be hiding this from my father who, despite studying, working, and living in the South of France for thirteen years, was still Syrian at heart. He comes from a big, traditional family that values and strictly abides by cultural traditions and has never been progressive for as long as I’ve known them.
Ultimately, the French-Syrian boy wasn’t who I made him seem to be in my mind, even though he ticked off all the predisposing qualities my family would approve of in a husband: Syrian, with Syrian nationality AND a Sunni Muslim (the most important trait).
For the year and a half that we were together, I was too naïve—my hormones raging too much to care—to realize that despite being from similar cultural backgrounds and sharing the same religion we were the furthest from a match made in heaven. He didn’t care to get to know me and when we would disagree on things, he would tell me, “You were brought up the same way I was so your argument makes no sense.” I constantly felt like I had to conform because I was “different,” I wasn’t the cookie-cutter Syrian Muslim girl I was expected to be.
When I got my letter of acceptance from the university in UAE, I took it as a chance to leave and start fresh. I dated other guys of various nationalities but they all regarded me as “one of the girls.” Finally, I wasn’t different anymore—I was just me.
I wouldn’t meet him for the first time until a few months after I my first year in UAE began, when I was with my best friend, visiting her at university. It was small, only occupying a floor, but it was a one of a kind, offering majors in the arts like audio engineering, game programming, design, and animation. It felt like home to me, and I loved visiting every few weeks and getting to talk to him.
He was always such a cheerful guy, goofing around with everyone and radiating such a comfortable vibe, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t smitten. For a year and a half, I’d visit the university occasionally and if he was there, my mood instantly lifted. But he never asked me out, and I guessed that maybe he thought I was too out of his league.
It was my twentieth birthday when he mustered up the courage to take me out, along with my friend, offering us lunch and a movie. The movie was terrible but it didn’t matter, we had chemistry and we went for it. Looking back, those were the best few weeks of my life because I was myself—he’d never object to how I was talking or behaving or whether I was sitting properly.
I grew to like him more than I have ever liked a guy before; he was an open book, different in every way possible: he was an introvert, passionate about movies, and read more books than I have. He was witty, subtle, smart, confident, American and not Muslim.
I laugh remembering my first Eid-Al Adha with him—he was so curious, asking me many questions. He knew I wasn’t religious but he’d ask me if I ever “went around that black cube.” His family was more tolerant than any member of my strict Syrian Muslim one.
They let me stay over on the weekends, made an effort to get to know me more, and appreciated me for being Muslim—his Mum cooked halal meals when she invited me for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I grew to love his Mum and sister dearly, thankful for the kindness they showed me and for teaching me so much more about American culture than what I got from books and movies.
His sister, Nicole, was the most curious about Islam in his family and had almost converted a few years prior. She asked me how it was being Muslim, even in the loose sense, and growing up in a strict and religious country while still being “Western minded.”
…His Mum cooked halal meals when she invited me for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I told her it was all thanks to my mother and father’s stark contrast in Islamic education.
When it came to me and her brother, Nicole was intrigued by our many differences. She hoped we would make the relationship work.
Life isn’t made up of fairy tales with happy endings, however. After four solid months, we parted ways. But I learned a lot. It was the best friendship-turned-relationship I’ve ever been in; “haram” or not. It took one person to accept me for exactly who I am—different religion, culture, and all—to make me fall in love with and truly appreciate every little thing that makes me who I am.
If it wasn’t for him being a good man, telling me what I needed to hear even months after he ended it, I may have never learned to understand the consequences of my actions; I may have fallen into a self-destructive pattern again. Taking off the scarf was the first thing I did for me— with it on I felt it rid me of my true identity.
Years have gone by but it’s still hard to reconcile that he isn’t part of my life anymore. Regardless, I’ll never be able to forget this remarkable man—he helped make me who I really am. And I no longer feel ashamed of being different.