26 January 2024

Practical Advice for Non-Muslim Women Considering Marriage with a Muslim Partner

Friday, January 26, 2024 0 Comments



You've seen and heard all the horror stories by now: how Muslim men are so bad, don't let their wives have any rights, if they marry a non-Muslim they'll force her to convert to Islam and take away all her freedoms, blah blah.


I won't sit here and defend all the Muslim guys, saying it's all just Islamophobic lies and doesn't happen - it sadly does, and while it's not about Islam but about the type of person someone is, I know that there are plenty of men that will use Islam to justify their actions.


But I am here to tell you, from my personal experience, that it's just a matter of knowing what you're getting yourself into, and deciding whether you want to go along with it. Over the years I've talked to many women in a position similar to mine, and all that I'm writing in this post is based on personal experience.


My pet peeve, when it comes to mixed marriages, is when women say "Oh, I'm not marrying his religion or culture, I'm marrying the person". I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement - a person's culture and religion play a massive role in their identity and have a heavy influence on what kind of person they are - their moral values, their everyday habits, traditions they follow, the way they behave with other people, even down to the trivial things like what they eat and how they dress. In my opinion, it's pretty important to at least get familiarised with some basics of your partner's culture and religion, to have a better understanding of what influences the way they are as a person. I mean here, of course, that both a woman and a man should show interest in the other person's background.


The first thing you'll hear, when you tell people you're planning to marry a Muslim man, is that "He'll force you to convert to Islam". I remember when I told my friends that I had an Islamic wedding (nikah) with my husband, the first thing I got in response was "Did you repeat anything in Arabic after them? Because they like to trick girls into saying the declaration of faith and converting to Islam!"

Let's clear this one up straight away - yes, I've heard of this happening. It would be either the husband, his family, or even an imam(!) insisting that the bride must also repeat the words of shahada, the declaration of faith. That doesn't mean it always happens, that it should ever happen, or that it's even in line with the teachings of Islam.

The truth is that 1) Muslim men are permitted to marry non-Muslim women, and 2) that as outlined in the Quran, there is no compulsion in the religion. Based on that, nobody can force or trick you into accepting Islam, and making you repeat a set of words which meaning you're not aware of, is simply meaningless. To actually become a Muslim you need to believe in Allah (One God), in the fact that Muhammad (pbuh) was the last Prophet, and if you don't then empty words don't make you one. When I made the decision to officially become Muslim on paper, and went to the mosque to do this in front of an imam so I could get a certificate, he asked me multiple times whether I was doing this out of my own free will and conviction, and then made sure I actually had at least a basic understanding of Islam.

In short - if anyone is trying to convince you that you have to become Muslim to marry your Muslim partner, it's a massive red flag.


Based on what I've said above, my main advice will always be to Discuss all the matters involving religion before the marriage:

  • Are you familiar with at least the basic principles of your partner's religion?
  • Do you think you'll ever be willing to convert to Islam? (it's okay if not)
  • How do you want to raise future children? Bear in mind that any practicing Muslim will want to raise children in Islam. 
  • What about you celebrating your religious holidays, for example Christmas?
  • Something that might seem trivial, but food - Muslims don't consume pork or alcohol, and will usually source their meat from a halal butcher, so you'll need to consider if these are changes you're willing to make.

Remember it's all about compromise. It's not only about you adjusting to life according to Islamic values, but if your partner is willing to marry a non-Muslim, then he needs to be accepting of your traditions and beliefs, and generally take you just the way you are. 


Another important thing, that I mentioned earlier, is the nikah - Islamic marriage contract, which basically makes the marriage religiously valid. 

I'll be honest, I had no clue about this at first. When my now husband asked me for a nikah, I was terrified because I didn't really know what it meant for me. I took some time to learn a bit about it because it was clear that it was important to my other half, and it turns out it's not all that bad! It's pretty much a contract that states that both bride and groom are entering the marriage out of their own will, outlines the rights and obligations of the couple, and specifies the value of mahr - the obligation by the groom to his bride, in form of money or other possessions (reverse dowry if you will). 

I think the most daunting thing about the idea of nikah for a non-Muslim, especially if you come from a Christian background, is that for example in the Catholic Church divorce is not recognised, and it's really "til death do us part" kinda thing. Well, good news - divorce is allowed in Islam, which definitely made this less intimidating and "forever" for me when we were only just at the beginning of our relationship.

Food for thought here: nikah should be important for a practicing Muslim man, who has genuine intentions about the marriage. It's not to say that without it you'll be a "bit on the side" or something, and of course even with the nikah you can't ever be 100% sure of anything, I've seen a variety of scenarios. From the experiences shared with me though, as well as my own, a Muslim man keen on having the nikah with his non-Muslim partner tends to be an indication of sincere intentions, and similarly avoiding it for no apparent reason can potentially be a cause for concern. Again, everyone's circumstances are different, and discussing these things is essential.



As mentioned in the beginning, all of the above advice is based on my own experience of marrying a Muslim man while not being a Muslim myself, as well as discussions with other women like me. I'll repeat again - the best thing you can do is to make sure you both put your cards on the table from the very beginning, know exactly what your expectations are, and whether you're willing to compromise (and to what extent).


18 January 2024

Polish Traditions We Cultivate: Grandparents' Day

Thursday, January 18, 2024 0 Comments


Truth be told, we don't follow many Polish traditions. Most of the holidays in the Polish calendar are Catholic religious festivals, which as a Muslim household we obviously won't celebrate. 

There are, however, a few traditions that we do follow - they would usually be days to celebrate our nearest and dearest. One of these is Grandparents' Day, or actually two days, because Grandmothers and Grandfathers get a day each.

Dzień Babci (Grandma's Day) is celebrated on the 21st of January, and Dzień Dziadka (Grandpa's Day) falls the day after, on the 22nd. The holiday itself isn't that old - the idea of celebrating Grandmother's Day in Poland first came about in 1964, in women's magazine Kobieta i Życie, popularised the following year, and has been celebrated ever since. 


Grandparents' Day doesn't seem to be something celebrated in the UK, but apparently, it does exist. It was proposed by the charity Age Concern in 1990 and falls on the first Sunday in October, but it hasn't really been adopted by the British public.


I found out that quite a few countries around the world celebrate the Grandparents' Day on various dates throughout the year, but interestingly Poland seems to be the only one that splits that between two separate days, one for Grandmothers and one for Grandfathers. However, in my family we'd normally combine the two and celebrate all the Grandparents in one day, usually the 21st - when we visited grandmas with flowers and cards, we would also take grandads' gifts since we were already going over. If that couldn't work, then we would visit one set of Grandparents on the 21st, and then the others on the 22nd.

Now I've passed this on to my own children, even though it's not something celebrated in the UK. We never really bought gifts for that day, only flowers for grandmas and then some handmade cards or maybe a new photo of us grandchildren, so now I do the same with my children - if I remember early enough, I ask them to make pictures that I can send to my mum and dad, and something for their last great-grandma (my maternal grandmother), if not we just call them with wishes and take some nice photo of them together, particularly for my Nan who keeps photos of all us granddaughters and her great-grandchildren on display. 

09 January 2024

My Big Fat Pakistani Wedding

Tuesday, January 09, 2024 0 Comments


Just kidding, that never actually happened.


I don't like weddings, never have. Not even as a guest.


A big, traditional Polish wedding, would be my absolute nightmare. It's normally a lot of people (because "it's polite" to invite relatives you've barely met in your life), a lot of drinking, rubbish music, awkward dancing, and even more awkward wedding games. 


I can't say I would be too keen on a Pakistani wedding either. The couple usually just sits on stage, the bride looking sad like it's the worst day of her life, and the guests basically just enjoy the party until it's time to take some photos with the couple. In most cases, men and women sit separately, so if, like me, you rely on your partner for company when you're at a wedding where you don't know anyone, you're out of luck.


When I was in high school, my youngest aunt got married. She didn't have an extravagant wedding - instead, they booked a local restaurant, invited only the closest family and friends, and that was it. I loved this idea and at that time decided, that if I ever got married, this was what I wanted to do. 


Luckily for me, my husband was on the same page, and perfectly satisfied with just a small wedding. Just as well, because at the time we were rather skint, living in a tiny bedsit, getting by. You may ask - why plan a wedding then, why not wait until we could afford something more? Truth be told, we decided to formalise our relationship to make our life together easier - while Mr I. was already legally residing in the UK, being married meant a lot less issues later on. At this point I can imagine people go "Ohhh so he married you for the visa/passport/whatever" - can someone remind him then, as I'm still stuck with him in spite of the fact that he already got the British passport? ;-)


Anyway, because of that we didn't want to go too far into the future, and settled on a date that only gave us a few months to plan everything. That sounds absolutely mental, when you think that people plan these things years in advance - the reception venue, catering, photographer, music, flowers, even the wedding dress. 


One thing I knew, despite deciding on a small wedding, that I wanted it to include both our cultures. I definitely wanted a traditional white dress for the ceremony itself, but for the reception I went for a Pakistani outfit.


I was never into big, typical wedding dresses, plus I really was on a budget, so it was definitely a task to find a dress I would love. I came across mine completely by accident, tried it on, and it was the one - quite plain white maxi, with pearl embellishments, which my friends later described as "something out of the Pride and Prejudice". 




Unfortunately I only seem to have that one photo on my own in my wedding dress, that shows it in full, but here's a little close-up of the detail on it ^


While our actual marriage ceremony was the Western part of the day, there was one Desi element I had - the mehndi, traditional hand decorations drawn with henna. Done by our wonderfully talented friend, who was so committed that she was with me from 6am creating this intricate design.




For the reception I decided to embrace the Pakistani style - the outift, bangles, matching jewellery and khussa (shoes), full works.. Looking back, after learning more about Pakistani wedding fashion, this was definitely a really simple choice for a bride, but at that time all the embroidery and embellishments felt SO over the top for me, especially considering the very simple style I chose for my wedding dress.




What did the actual wedding day involve then?


We booked ourselves a slot in the local registry office, on a sunny Saturday in September. We had all of Mr's family who live there, and some of mine flew over - my parents and sister, and my godmother with two of my cousins. My godfather who lives in London came over as well. Apart from the families we invited some of our closest local friends, maybe 30 people in total.


For the reception we booked a small local Pakistani restaurant, just to have a dinner and sit around with our guests for a little. Due to the majority of our guests being Muslim we opted for a place that was fully halal and didn't serve alcohol - we were debating a couple of other places, but finally decided to choose that particular one to make sure everyone would be happy to attend and celebrate with us. My family sorted themselves out afterwards ;) 



Even though we both come from cultures where big weddings are more of a thing, I'm happy we both agreed that it wasn't something we necessarily wanted for ourselves. We both felt that what we did was perfectly enough for what's just one day in the end. There might be a few details I would change, because hindsight is 20/20, but overall our wedding day was pretty much everything we wanted it to be.

05 January 2024

How I ended up living in England

Friday, January 05, 2024 0 Comments

I previously told you the story of how I met my husband. But that wouldn't happen if I hadn't first moved to the UK, so let's go back to the very beginning - how I actually ended up living in England.





I'm from a small town in the south of Poland, roughly 25 miles from Krakow. When I was growing up, we didn't start learning a second language at school until year 4, which considering that kids start school in Poland at the age of 7, is 10 to 11 years old. I was lucky that my parents decided to send me for English classes earlier than that - they never got to learn English at school, because in their time it was Russian, so they wanted us to have a chance to get ahead with English to get better prospects later in life. I remember my first "lessons" were with a lady who used to live abroad and then taught a few kids at her home, but that was mostly us watching Cartoon Network in English (it was SO fancy to have access to that at the time), and occasionally doing some actual learning. But then they enrolled me in a proper language school, and I found myself doing pretty good at learning it. 


While learning English we obviously also learned bits and pieces about British culture. You know - the Royals, London and all the landmarks, Sherlock Holmes, kind of the basics. It became a dream to visit London one day - a seemingly unattainable dream in the times before the open borders, and before cheaper air travel became available to everyone. 


My heart was kind of set on studying English at university when I was in middle school (something that existed in the education system at the time), and I wanted to go to a language-focused class in high school. My family convinced me to choose the history and geography one instead, because "what will you go on to study later, English philology, to be a teacher?" - well, in the end, this is exactly what I said I would go on to study anyway.


In my final year of high school, when it was time to start considering universities, I came across some information about potentially being able to study in England. My three best friends and I bunked off school one day (well, with our parents' permission, so it didn't really count), to travel to Krakow to an education fair, where we could see the offerings of a multitude of universities and colleges from around the country, but also from abroad. That's where I met the people from the University of Bedfordshire, and I was instantly sold on the idea of going there - particularly as they offered the exact kind of degree that I was after! I mean come on, if I want to study the intricacies of the English language, what better place to do it than England?


I talked to my parents, we went through the prospectus, discussed all the logistics of me potentially going, and they got behind the idea. They gave me an insane amount of support, and when they saw how much I wanted to give it a go, they never said no. We weren't like insanely well off or anything, and despite me not needing to actually pay the tuition fees because I qualified for the student loan, I still needed a fair bit of money to fulfill that dream, so I totally would've understood if they discouraged me. They didn't though, as they saw this as a big chance for me, and I'll forever be grateful for their support.




So, after that slightly long background story, in September 2007 I boarded a plane, alone, for the very first time, and flew to Luton. In retrospect, I don't actually know what possessed me to do this - I was rather shy, full of insecurities, and there I was in a foreign country for the first time, all alone. I had £500 in my pocket, a room arranged through an online portal (that could've gone SO wrong for me, but that's yet another long story), and absolutely nothing and nobody to fall back on. I also quickly realised that I massively overestimated my proficiency in English, which I'd been learning for 12 years - I. Understood. Nothing. They teach you all the grammar and most useful vocabulary but don't tell you that people don't actually speak in Queen's English like on the tapes we listened to in class (Yes, I'm that old). Some time ago my mum was actually reminiscing about how I called her first time after coming here and cried that I couldn't communicate because I hardly understood anyone.


Fortunately, I decided to get here a little ahead of the start of the academic year, in time for Freshers Week, and threw myself into the international students' community. They were a massive help in those first days - took us around the town centre to get familiar with the area, showed us local shops so we knew where to get our essentials, organized social events. I even got to go on a few trips over the first couple of weeks: coach trip around Bedfordshire, another one to London, and even a day in Brighton. With the last one, I couldn't get my head around the fact that I was at the seaside in literally a couple of hours on the train - I remember my mum giving me an angry call because I hadn't phoned them that day, and she wouldn't believe I was actually sitting on the beach! 


Funny thing about my first London trip - it was SO underwhelming. Maybe because it was a coach trip, I only got to see most of the landmarks by driving past, and we only really made a few stops with not much time to explore. But I was massively disappointed - I said above that it was almost like a lifelong dream for me to visit London, and it was just a bit... meh. However, when I made my own way there after some time and got to actually experience London properly, I was happy to discover that my dream destination was all I hoped for and more. Now, despite our move all the way to Manchester, London is still a city that I never get bored of visiting.




My time in England was supposed to be short - the plan was to just stay for three years, for the duration of my degree, and then move back home and probably carry on with the Master's degree, or who knows. However, plans are one thing, and life itself is another - lots changed for me over those three years, and I just didn't fancy going back after graduating. I wasn't quite sure what exactly I had in mind for the future, but I was starting to feel a bit at home here, and even my family weren't asking me about moving back. Then I got together with my now husband, and the rest is history ;)




02 January 2024

How I met your father - my multicultural marriage story

Tuesday, January 02, 2024 0 Comments




Over the years I've had a lot of "Oh, your surname doesn't really go with your first name, does it?". I'd then reveal that my husband is from Pakistan, and this would usually be followed by "Wow! How did you two meet then?"

I kind of wish I had some exciting story about this, but it really is quite ordinary - we simply met at work. We both used to work at Luton airport, in restaurants next door to each other. Our places were managed by the same company though, and shared a cleaning area at the back of the house, so we naturally bumped into each other a fair bit. At that time I was good friends with another Polish girl, who started the job at the same time as me, and who was already in a relationship with a Pakistani guy at that time - she was working with my now husband, we all sort of clicked and that's how I became friends with him.


We'd known each other for about 2.5 years before we began our relationship. There was a lot of stuff happening to both of us during that time, and I was adamant I'd NEVER be with him. We used to chat online a lot - it was the glorious time of MSN Messenger, and we'd sometimes chat up until 1-2 am, but I always put him firmly in the friendzone. Not sure what eventually changed, but here we are!

We moved in together pretty quickly because I was getting evicted by my landlord who decided to sell the house I lived in. 3 months into the relationship, I think. We knew each other for quite a while though, and since I had no other choice but to find a place anyway, we figured out that we might as well find one together.


I wasn't Muslim at the time and was really only starting to learn anything about Islam, and that was also only because my life partner happened to be a Muslim. Shortly after we decided to share a home, he asked for us to get Nikah, the Islamic marriage - I remember him coming home one day after meeting his friends, with a realisation that we'd have a more blessed life if we did things properly and have the religious ceremony.

I'd obviously never heard of it, and not gonna lie - at the time it freaked me out a bit. Of course, I did think of our relationship as something long-term, quite possibly permanent. But that was unknown territory, it was *his* faith. At first, I refused. It seemed scary - I was brought up a Catholic, and religious marriage was something really serious, the whole "till death do us part". He didn't push, it wasn't a "make or break" kind of thing at the time, he just asked me to give it a thought. I took a bit of time to read about it, trying to understand what it would mean for me in the future. When I realised that it was actually a pretty straightforward thing, if things didn't work out we could just get a simple divorce, I agreed. While at that time it had no real significance for me, it was important to my husband to make our relationship "proper". The nikah we had was a simple affair, held in his friends' house with one performing the ceremony and the rest of them being our witnesses. 

I say that to me it wasn't really that important, just something to make him happy. I could see though, that it mattered. From that moment, if we stumbled across any of his friends in town, he would proudly introduce me as his wife. And since the relationship was "halal", he decided it was only right to introduce me to the family. I remember him being really worried about what his parents, who live back in Pakistan, would say - on one hand, he wasn't comfortable telling them he started living with his gori girlfriend, but also felt guilty that he didn't inform them about his intention to get the nikah done. Their reaction was great though, especially mum - she was absolutely lovely and you could see she was genuinely happy for us.

This happened in early 2011, and as we continued living together, we eventually decided to get married officially, and in September 2012 tied the knot in a small ceremony. No grand wedding, either Polish or Pakistani style - this would be my ultimate idea of hell, being a centre of attention at this massive party. Ours was a simple registry office ceremony, followed by a dinner in a local restaurant, with just a handful of our families and friends attending. I honestly hate massive weddings, even as a guest, so this is what I always wanted for myself, and I'm glad this suited my husband too. We did make it into a bit of a cultural fusion though, just a litttle bit - more on that another time though, or this will go on forever.

As I'm writing this in 2023, two kids and a global pandemic later we're not divorced ;) We're still massively different people and sometimes our views still clash, but there are way more things we agree on, and some that we compromised on over the years, so it just goes to show that our kind of cultural mix can successfully work.



I hope that after reading this you'll come back for more stories! 


01 January 2024

Relaunch

Monday, January 01, 2024 0 Comments

 



Hi! Welcome, or welcome back - if you're a returning visitor, let me explain what's happened here.



Let's start from the very beginning...



It was 2013. I'd been married for a few months, pregnant, and as of January, a new Muslim. All the big life changes happening in the span of 4-5 months. I had no-one in my circle who would understand my experience, so I turned to online communities, and somehow found this forum full of Poles interested in Islam. And would you believe it, there was someone from my town on there, so I made a couple of new friends who I had something in common with - both married to Muslim men, and one of them a Muslim herself.


One of these ladies had an established food blog at the time, and I casually mentioned that I used to blog in the past - I cringe at the very thought of my 15-year old self though - and I was actually trying to get back into it. With some encouragement, and after finding out that the blogging community in the UK was pretty active, I sort of decided on a niche, and picked a name.


This is how "Halal Mama" first came into existence.


At that point in my life, it was great. The name was reflecting me as a new Muslim exploring the halal food scene - recipes, restaurants, learning about ingredients to avoid and exploring new foods, and also as a soon-to-be mother. 


It worked for me for quite some time - I had a few posts on halal food that gained traction, in the way I wanted them to. My social media followers became this small community linked by joint interests, and I even made a real-life friend out of that. I even got to work with some great brands, trying new products and eventually landing some paid gigs.


But eventually it stopped working for me. When we moved to Manchester in 2018 I became a stay-at-home-mum, and over time I just lost myself. With that I lost the passion I had for the blog too.


Fast forward to 2023, I decided that enough was enough. I wasn't going to get my passion back by clinging on to the old, so I decided to get rid of "Halal Mama". I started with my Instagram, which is where I'm most active - luckily I was able to grab an username I wanted, so the first step was done. I'm yet to figure out a domain change, so you might be seeing the "halal-mama" address for the foreseeable, but it's no longer what the blog will be called. It's time to detach from branding myself just as a mum, and to be ME again.


Oh, I'm also that person who hates when things doesn't go perfectly, and constantly starts things from scratch, I obviously deleted or drafted all the old posts, so I could start all fresh away from the whole "Halal Mama" stuff - most of them were rubbish anyway, and the semi-decent ones will get updated, but there's a whole different range of topics I want to write about now.


So here I am, starting fresh after 10 years. Whether you stumbled across this as a new reader, or have previously connected with me - thanks for reading! More posts coming soon, but in the meantime you can read more about me HERE or use one of the social media buttons to connect (I'm mostly on Instagram)


Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash