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
I’ve been a passive reader of MissMuslim since it was first launched, occasionally clicking on links when one of my Facebook friends would post an article. I don’t consider myself “religious” in the ritual sense of the word, and the strength of my faith has wavered on and off for years, so I thought I wouldn’t really be able to relate much to the content. But when Hedya Chibane’s article on “haram” relationships popped up on my newsfeed, something clicked in me. I saw so much of my story in her, though I am still many steps behind her.
You see, like Hedya, in my parents’ culture, love and dating are unspoken, taboo topics, especially between parents and their children. My parents would rather change the channel when when an innocent kissing scene would pop up on the screen than one with a violent bloodbath, dying babies, and lots of vulgarity. My older sister went the traditional route and eventually married a Persian, Muslim man. Though they had a relationship before my parents even knew he existed, he and his family still came to ask for her hand, because why not make it as simple as possible?
Of course, while this simplified things for my sister, it didn’t make things any easier for me. With my perfect example of a sister living comfortably with her perfectly accepted husband, it was a given that I too, would have to marry a Persian Muslim man—no pressure, right?
That is how in college, having had little to no dating experience at all, I came to meet a guy. He was cute, showered me with attention and praise, and – wait for it – he was Muslim! After plenty of reading on the subject, I determined that as long as he was Muslim, it would be OK in God’s and my parents’ eyes that he was from Bangladesh, especially since my dating pool was almost nonexistent. He may not have been what my parents were hoping for culturally, but they would eventually get used to it, I convinced myself. I knew that I could throw it in their faces that it was still “halal” if they ever gave me grief about it. The thought of having a serious relationship with a non-Muslim man didn’t cross my mind at all those days—I was convinced my family would disown me.
Happy relationship, happy parents? “Check,” I thought. We got serious fast, but even though we often spoke about marriage and children, and he promised we would get married as soon as we finished college and grad school, I didn’t tell my parents. I figured, why make things more difficult for myself? I still lived with them and didn’t want them to follow my every move with a fine-toothed comb, fearing that I would be with him, alone, doing the unmentionable. Why not just wait until we were ready to get married and plan some kind of pseudo-asking-for-my-hand thing, get engaged, and be free from mom and dad’s scrutiny? That’s what we ultimately told each other, and that’s how I comforted myself in this huge lie.
In the meantime, as things got more and more serious and we planned out our future, we were also constantly together. If I didn’t answer my phone, he would call me over and over again until I answered. I’d often find 20 missed calls on the screen after being away from my phone for less than an hour. Being that this was my first relationship ever, and I had no adult figures whatsoever to turn to about what a healthy relationship looks like, I saw this as love instead of red flags. I convinced myself that if he cared that much about speaking to me and being with me all the time, it’s because he loves me so much and couldn’t bear to be away from me—it was romance.
I began to reciprocate his behavior and before we knew it, we were both fighting constantly and draining the life out of each other. He lied about how he quit smoking weed and where he really went with his friends… but he was sorry. And he was going through so much with his family (whom I hadn’t met), you know? He needed me; I couldn’t leave him. He only had me in this world. How could I give up on him, he would ask? So I didn’t. This is love, I thought. Sticking it out through thick and thin.
Two years and countless lies to my family later, our relationship was rockier than ever but we were still together and very much co-dependent on each other. I was excited because I had officially decided to go to law school, and attended my first law school fair. Everything seemed to be moving in the right direction for me until a mutual acquaintance randomly approached me and revealed that he had been dating someone from our school for the last few months. My world turned upside down. He was my everything. Sure, we had our problems, but what couple didn’t? Besides, he knew how much I had given to him–he was my first EVERYTHING, for God’s sake. I gave him the chance to fess up, but of course he lied like he always did when I confronted him. The girl he cheated on me with though confirmed the truth and I left him. But he wouldn’t leave me alone.
So much drama and dozens of hourly phone calls, and my family still didn’t have a clue. He asked – begged – me to give him another chance, to please let him prove to me how serious he is, and promised that he would never mess this up again. He pleaded with me that he made a huge mistake and he would never make the same mistake twice. He was convinced that he couldn’t be with anyone else– that he would die without me. I was broken, but I have to be honest – I was also dependent on him. Eventually, his persistence paid off and he wore me down. I told myself that if this is going to last for the long haul, I had to truly forgive him. So I did everything I could think of; I read books, I meditated, I wrote. I thought I was beginning to trust him again, but something still didn’t exactly feel right. I started noticing how much he was putting me down, how was making me feel bad about spending time with my friends, making me question my decision to go to law school, making me feel like I was selfish for going after my dreams, making me think that I was crazy. I started to believe him. My friendships were deteriorating, I was beginning to become isolated from family and friends, and I really thought something was wrong with me. I thought it was my fault that he treated me that way. Eventually, I went to a therapist. I wanted to know what was wrong with me; I wanted her to help fix me. Maybe we just needed a little more time, I thought.
Fast forward another two years, after his infidelity, I came to find out he did it again. Long story short, he lied again, I (stupidly) forgave him again, and only a year later, I found out that while he was begging for my forgiveness and trust again, he was also still sleeping with that girl. An entire year, while we were together. After I had already caught him again. Well, third time’s a charm—I let him go. I finally refused to be in a relationship where lying and infidelity, where being put down emotionally and made to feel like I’m crazy, is normal. He threatened to kill himself– he actually told me he was laying in the middle of the road the night I found out and broke up with him. I had to go over there to stop him. I blocked his number so he would call me from different numbers. I’d block those numbers. He installed call scramblers to bypass my blocks. He showed up to my apartment. He tried having his friends beg me. I knew I couldn’t stay with someone like him anymore—I couldn’t be his property any longer.
He saw me as his perfect, innocent, virgin bride. Literally. He made me feel bad about having friends, going out, even just THINKING about drinking and smoking—all while he did all of those things behind my back and more (like the cheating), and lied about it. I went through a dark phase where I thought that maybe if I had done something differently, he wouldn’t have lied? I was convinced there was something wrong with me. I forgot that I was a pretty attractive, smart, and funny girl. Looking back, I wonder if I let the cultural pressure of needing to get married ASAP keep me in the relationship. It took years of being single and learning to forgive myself to go back to being me again.
If I could have openly spoken to my parents about my relationship, I could have recognized it was toxic and identified it as abusive much sooner. But I was terrified. I didn’t want to ruin the perfect image they had of me in their minds. I wanted to wait until we were both ready to finally tie the knot, like he had promised me, before he took my virginity.
I hope that if I am ever blessed enough to have a daughter, my future husband and I teach her to feel open enough to speak to us about these issues.
It’s been over 6 years since we’ve broken up, and a lot has changed. But I’ve had to do most of the growth without my parents, who I know love me. I know it’s partly my fault that I didn’t just bite the bullet and speak to them sooner, but here I am. The therapist I went to while I was with my ex, when I thought I needed to “fix” myself, was so much more than that, I later realized– she was the only adult figure in my life who I could openly speak with about my relationship at the time. She made me realize, without saying it, that I was in an unhealthy and emotionally abusive relationship.
I was so emotionally broken after all that time that I couldn’t even think of dating. I did not want the baggage of my previous relationship to damage any future relationship I might have, and boy, did it take a while for that baggage to make it through customs. I worked on forgiving him, on letting go of resentment, but most importantly, I worked on forgiving myself and loving myself again. I was single for over 5 years after I finally walked away from him. I was starting to think about what the appropriate number of cats was just short of “cat lady,” and to freeze my eggs or opt for adoption. I was convinced I would probably never meet a man that would love me the way I wanted and deserved to be loved. I wasn’t willing to settle. Not again.
Then one chilly night in October, while out with my girlfriend, I met a guy named David. David is white. David’s his mother is Christian and his father is Jewish. Dressed in sneakers and a hoodie, I obviously wasn’t expecting to meet a man that evening. But we locked eyes that night and haven’t been able to stop staring and smiling at each other since. He treats me like a queen and constantly reminds me of how lucky he is. He sees things in me that I don’t see in myself, and has believed in me even when I was having a hard time believing in myself. He wants me to soar, to live all my dreams, and I want the same for him.
David’s family is Eastern European, a culture that is basically the polar opposite of mine. His parents are not religious, and they’re also much less restrictive and trusting of their children than mine. Unlike me, meeting the girlfriend isn’t as big of a “to-do” in his family. I have spent holidays with him and get along very well with his family. They welcomed me into their home and lives with open arms, and have never questioned or made us feel bad about our decision—they just want him to be happy. I sometimes catch myself feeling more at home and myself with his parents, where I can completely be myself, than I do with my own. I can’t help but be a little envious of the support he receives from his family, but feel guilty at the same time. David has yet to meet my parents. As understanding as he is about it, I can’t help but fear that it will cause a rift in our relationship in the future, especially if my parents react the way that I predict they will (hint: not well). I can only hope that he has as great of a relationship with my parents as I do with his, but if I’m being realistic, it is a long shot. More than likely, their relationship will be awkward, at best.
I had all but given up on my romanticized version of “love,” the love that I thought I had with my ex and–who knows– I might not have a happy ending with this guy. Only time will tell. But I refuse to believe that God, whoever He is to you and whoever He is to me, would rather I stay with a man like my ex purely because he is Muslim, and damn me to hell for being with a man like my boyfriend because he is not. I would hope the same goes for my parents when I build up the courage to tell them this story.
I hope that if I am ever blessed enough to have a daughter, my future husband and I teach her to feel open enough to speak to us about these issues. I hope that we can be a place of comfort and wisdom and I pray that we can raise a daughter well enough to make good decisions on her own– whether they be about the faith she follows or the person she ends up with. Because ultimately, as cliché as it sounds, love is love.