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 women who are in or have been in interfaith relationships.
Written by Jennah Muhammad
With editing by Hedya Chibane
I grew up in a Muslim, Pakistani household in Canada. My father was both physically and verbally abusive towards my mother, taking advantage of the distance between Canada and Pakistan, where my mother would have had a support system to help her escape. I remember an ominous family trip to the hospital in the middle of the night. We drove in silence, me in the backseat with my siblings. Years later, I found out my mom needed to get stitches on her lips from the intense punches my father, her not-haram, Muslim husband, landed that night.
My mother endured many other instances of abuse at the hands of my father until FINALLY one instance propelled me out from hiding in the closet (literally). That day, I stepped in front of my mother and screamed at my father to leave our home. My mom, a victim of violence for the duration of her married life, didn’t know how to respond.
From then on, I became the stubborn, headstrong one of my siblings; I was the black sheep who clearly was neither parent’s favorite. But I didn’t care—I had had enough. Though he remained manipulative and controlling, my dad finally stopped beating her after 15 years of marriage.
Domestic violence is not uncommon in Pakistani and Indian societies. I think this is why my own mamoons (maternal uncles) told my mother to do her best to keep my father happy… So she could avoid conflict.
The four of us kids carried this trauma with us as we grew up—we all have our issues to this day. I developed a strong desire to always be in control, which helped me navigate and excel academically. But I also harbored a lot of anger.
He wept when he heard the awful things my parents would say to me.
When we were in our 20s, my father finally tried to spark a relationship with us by talking to us. At that point, I was engaged to a Pakistani Punjabi Muslim man in med school—it was every desi parent’s dream. He really was, and I’m sure still is, a good guy. But I was more than two years older than him, had darker skin, and wore pants that his family found to be too tight. My mom made sure to let me know that she loved him more than me. She would never forgive me if I ruined the relationship and so I felt this pressure to be perfect and especially to hide all of the skeletons in my family’s closet. I couldn’t be 100 percent honest with myself and with him. And it all fell apart when I met Steven.
What can I say about us that’s different from what you’ve already heard? Nothing. We love one another. That’s it. He softened me. In word and deed, he is methodical and steady. I wanted children. He wanted commitment. So we got engaged. Steven so desperately wanted to make my life complete. His wishes were mine, too—he wanted my family present at the wedding.
He even agreed to convert and become Muslim, even though he didn’t agree to change his name. He wept when he heard the awful things my parents would say to me. We tried everything—intervention by neutral third parties, phone calls, emails, etc. — but when it came time to do the nikkah, my parents flaked. Two months later, his Baptist uncle married us instead.
The following month, we found out that we were pregnant. Four months after that, my sister called and told me that my parents were possibly considering having a “real” wedding for us. When I gently told her I was visibly pregnant, that fell through.
As I write this, I’m now 35 weeks pregnant with our second child. I can’t believe how much fulfillment I’ve gotten from living a normal, stable life. I had no idea what a normal family life was, even though my parents were both Muslim. I could not have dreamed of this life as a child because I didn’t even know it existed. It is SO GOOD; a stark contrast to the instability my siblings and I grew up with. I can hardly contain my excitement—soon, my second child will be meeting my husband and son. A few weeks after that, my husband and I will be celebrating our third anniversary.
I have to admit that the designation of “haram” was offensive, until I re-read and saw the quotation marks. How could something so wonderful be forbidden? And yet, the pain and horrors that my mother and my family endured or put each other through be
My brother, who I haven’t spoken to in a long time, contacted me a few weeks ago, out of the blue. He told me he fell in love with a woman, but knows the terrible truth: my parents will never accept their relationship because she is black. My heart ached for him.
But there was some light to our conversation. “I’d like to meet my brother-in-law and nephew,” he told me. For the first time, someone in my family actually claimed them as their own. Finally, my happiness, my world, was legitimized.