26 January 2024

# Our Mixed Marriage

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

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).

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