When East Marries West

It is more common for Muslims to want to marry from the same culture and it makes logical sense. Similar values, behaviors, customs, nuances and etiquette alongside language. We can even consider the food since this brings families together across a table and recipes are passed down through. People may want to marry from the same culture as it is the most familiar and comfortable for them. There is nothing wrong with wanting to marry within one’s own culture as long as it is derived from a conscious decision and not by force. Intercultural marriages are a beautiful union of diversity that can flourish, but just like every other marriage, it has its unique set of hardships.

Why do People Marry Multiculturally?

  • The person that they felt the most compatible with happens to not be someone from the same culture. Perhaps they may also have a genuine interest in different cultures. They really enjoy exploring different foods, languages, art and styles of clothing. By their very nature they are interested in multicultural marriages and appreciate diversity.

  • Sometimes an individual experiences negativity from their own culture. This may be related to stigmas or a trauma surrounding their own culture. They want to find something very different and unique from their situation, something refreshing that is outside of their typical cultural structures. For example, if an Arab Muslim grew up and was frequently yelled at in their native language, the very sound of their language can act as a trigger, so they prefer to look for someone outside of that culture to minimize this effect. They are naturally drawn to potential spouses outside of the culture as a way to repel the traumatic memory.  

  • Some Muslims marry outside of their culture in an act of rebellion. Out of spite they don’t want to marry for example only an Iranian doctor because their whole life they were told they have to marry this particular ethnicity and particular career path. They were told a thousand times they have to do this, so it impacts their psychology and they revolt against their family. Not necessarily to hurt their family, but to cement their independence.

When Families Object to Multicultural Marriages

In cases where the child is told they cannot marry someone because of their culture and it is due to the parent’s personal preference instead of their own choosing, we will consequently find that these types of forced marriages run a heavy risk of divorce and pain. That pain will be focused on the married couple, not the culture and not the religion.

Many Muslims want to please their parents and make them happy. This is honorable, but on the other hand if you do whatever your parents tell you and you make a decision that you know in your heart doesn’t feel right; this begs the question will this actually benefit one’s family and religion or will it have the potential to cause resentment.

In some situations, the parents are actually right, especially if the person wants to marry someone with a different understanding of priorities or a different religion.  In these scenarios, the parents really do have the best interest for their daughter or their son and the child doesn’t recognize how very difficult it can be to begin a life with someone from a different culture. A multicultural marriage will face difficulties as they learn to navigate different family traditions, marriage expectations, bridging the language barrier with family members as well as simple things such as cooking recipes that remind them of their country. In situations where the marriage would truly not be in the best interest of the individual, the parents have to intercede and show they are doing it out of love and for the optimum well-being of their child. It is when it is only because they are not from the same culture or they don’t speak the same language, that we hit on the realm of ethnocentrism or racism.

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” Quran 49:13

There is a big difference between a parent saying you need someone that aligns with you socioeconomically, education-wise and of course religiously versus a parent saying you cannot marry that person because they are Indian or because they are Caucasian.

Choosing a Spouse for Four Reasons

“A woman is married for four things: her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be unsuccessful.” Sahih Bukhari Book 62 Hadith 27

This often-misunderstood hadith highlights the four reasons that we should choose a spouse and all of those reasons must be considered, not just one. It is important to look for someone that aligns with you religiously, but we must also take into account that some people act religious in a way to market themselves for marriage. Getting to know the individual and their family will help to show if they are truly as religious as they act. We also must ask ourselves if a potential spouse is religious, they pray their five salah on time, fast Ramadan and they pay their zakat. Is that enough, what if the other three reasons are not met?

We must be rational with marriages and acknowledge that if they are not compatible socioeconomically, educationally and you don’t feel an attraction to them, even if they are religious it may not last long. It is important to note that if all three of the other reasons are met, but they are not religious then again this is going to create a hardship for the marriage. 

It is better to marry someone who possesses all four of these characteristics mentioned in the hadith with an emphasis on spirituality and religiosity, as if the Holy Prophet is giving us practical and wise advice. This increases the likelihood of a successful and happy marriage. Religion is the crux of the matter, absolutely, but if you have religion without the other three components this would be a difficult marriage. If all of these four variables line up, but the family says no due to their culture or perhaps their language, it is not a decision based on religion or what is best for that person, rather it is a decision based on ethnocentrism. 


Closing Thoughts

Online locations are one of the most common sources we have in seeking spouses for American Muslims. They open the door to multiculturalism as these websites are a melting pot of all ethnicities. We can look at a site like Half Our Deen and find a large variety of Muslims from around the world. Islam shows us that diversity is to be celebrated. If we considered the idea of marrying people only from the same race or same country, we would be hindering the growth of a more diverse ummah. There is nothing wrong with marrying within one’s own culture just as there is nothing wrong with marrying outside of one’s own culture.