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 Anonymous
With editing by Hedya Chibane
This isn’t a typical rainbows-and-butterflies love story about me meeting the love of my life who is perfect for me in every way. I wish it was that kind of story, but instead, this one is about the discrimination in many Arab/Muslim communities — especially mine — that hinders or discourages us from loving others who are different from us, particularly those from other (see: darker) communities.
We met almost a year and a half ago at a neighborhood coffee shop. Joseph introduced himself, we chatted for a bit, exchanged numbers, and agreed to meet up again later that week. I wasn’t expecting it to turn into anything beyond a new neighborhood friend that I would awkwardly “friendzone,” or maybe a short fling at most; but a year and a half later, we are still together. Even though he is the best guy that I have ever been with, it’s been a challenging year and a half – because he is black.
I grew up in Dearborn, Michigan which is home to the largest Middle Eastern community outside of the Middle East—it’s a beautiful community in some ways, but very problematic in others. There is an unspoken yet well-known hierarchy within the Arab community there: a Lebanese person marrying a Yemeni person, for example, is a big deal and marrying a non-Arab, especially if as a woman, is just virtually unacceptable to say the least.
I have always prided myself on challenging discrimination, social injustice, and racism, but I realized my own hypocrisy the moment I started dating a black man. Sure, I don’t judge others based on their skin and I actively work to recognize my own implicit biases and avoid being racist in my actions or thoughts, but isn’t appeasing others’ racism just as bad as being racist? And even if you aren’t racist in your daily life, isn’t it still racist to think that someone isn’t worthy of marrying your daughter because of their skin color? I don’t consider my parents racist; they have good friends who are black and they speak out when people are being racist in our community, but that doesn’t mean their disapproval isn’t racist, right? As you’ve probably noticed, I have had a lot of internal dialogue about this.
Although Joseph is a great guy who treats me well, respects me, and appreciates me for all that I am, it’s been really hard for me to fully believe in the relationship knowing that getting my family to accept him will be a near-impossible feat. Since we started dating, I have been making up reasons to break up with him, but have never been able to bring myself to do it. I schedule break-up dates in my head all the time to give myself time to cope with the thought of ending it while having a ‘strict’ deadline. The last one was June 30th, and before that it was May 31st. It’s a strategy that clearly hasn’t worked at all because I care for him and I don’t want to let this go, but it’s how I have coped with my fear of falling for this guy and getting hurt by investing in a relationship that my family would disapprove of. And that’s the problem: I personally don’t care that he is black, but I was willing to destroy my relationship to placate the racism in my family and my community.
…Isn’t appeasing others’ racism just as bad as being racist?
And the bigger problem is that I know that my relationship is an issue simply because he is black and not because he’s not an Arab. There would be some grumbles if he was a white man, but in the end everyone would accept it because we are still indoctrinated with the colonial notion that white is beautiful. My best friend married a white man, and they have a beautiful daughter and the biggest compliment she hears from the Arab community is that her daughter is so beautiful because she “looks white.” They comment on her fair skin, her colored eyes, and her light hair. My mother even told me once, only half jokingly, that I can marry a white man now because the grandchildren would be so beautiful and white. I know that she would be so disappointed and truly heartbroken if I married a black man. I know she would struggle to love my children if they were half black, with darker skin and kinkier hair. She would shrink in her skin as her family, friends, and other members of our community asked her how she could “let me marry a black man.”And I know that she would be embarrassed to take my children back to the motherland because they would be half black. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if she never asked my husband and children to visit the land that she loves and considers home despite living in the US for over 50 years.
It’s been difficult to know this and then turn around and love Joseph as if all of this is not in the back of my mind and affecting my every move. Leading two very separate lives, one with my family and one with Joseph, not knowing how and if I will ever reconcile the two in the end is painful. I haven’t truly been able to fully love or be loved by Joseph because of all of this, and there are no words to describe the hurt it inflicts on me. To be present but not really there; to love but not to the fullest like you know your heart is capable of; to want to be loved but not when you know it’ll probably have to end though it kills you to have to end it; to want to fight for your love but also not hurt anyone (especially Joseph)—these are burdens that people in relationships that society deems wrong regularly bear.
On one of the many days that I was thinking about if I should or how to end this relationship, I realized the hypocrisy of speaking out against the various racist events across the US and the world while ignoring it in my personal life. I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t appease racism in any form, including my family’s racist belief that I shouldn’t marry a black man. It shouldn’t have taken me this long to come to that stance, but I am glad that I finally did because it’s as though the clouds have cleared away and my relationship has finally began to make sense. To be honest, that doesn’t make any of this easier, because I know it will all still have the same impact on the people I love but standing up against racism isn’t always comfortable.
Ultimately, I don’t think Joseph and I will wind up together, but I do take comfort in knowing that it will be for other, more personal reasons. It will not be due to the color of his skin.