Dear Salma: Interfaith marriages and spousal values

Question #1

Dear Salma, 

I have a teenage daughter and am concerned about how to explain interfaith marriage to her. We have a growing number of Muslims in our community–both men and women–marrying outside of Islam. She and I will talk about these sorts of things and I’ve explained to her that while Muslim men can marry Christian or Jewish women, Muslim women are not permitted to marry outside their religion. She asked why and I told her that this restriction is placed upon Muslim women because in Islam the child takes on the faith of the father. She is not convinced, and I’m not surprised. She’s a smart girl and she argued back that nowadays a mother typically has more influence over her children’s religious upbringing than a father so the line of reasoning I offered does not make practical sense.

When it comes time for her to marry, I want my daughter to choose a Muslim husband so how do I explain, in a way that makes sense to her, why it is impermissible for her to marry a non-Muslim mate?

–Worried

 

Dear Worried,

There does seem to be an emerging trend of Muslim women marrying men of other faiths. However, I can certainly understand that you want your daughter to choose a Muslim man as her husband.

There are a couple of ways to approach this issue with your daughter. It’s always good to nurture a positive relationship between your children and Allah, so that they are eager to please Him even if the rules don’t always seem to make sense to them. Sometimes, we do things simply because we understand that’s what Allah has asked of us, even if it isn’t what we prefer. I would suggest you encourage your daughter to develop this sort of relationship with Allah by talking to Him, reading Qur’an and focusing on the ways in which He is there for her. Depending on her life experiences so far, you might also encourage her to reflect on the ways she may already have discovered that Allah knows better and that we should try to trust His commands and His plans.

The second approach, which I recommend to be used in conjunction with the first, is to share your concerns with your daughter. Why do you as a mother prefer for her to marry a Muslim? What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of marrying someone outside the faith? Ask her to envision her day-to-day life with a Muslim husband and then with a non-Muslim husband. Now that Eid is around the corner, ask your daughter to imagine what this holiday might look like when shared with a Muslim versus a non-Muslim partner. What does she imagine in terms of raising her children? In this way, you encourage her to think critically and to develop good decision making skills. This is an important process that is often more helpful than presenting “rules” that we have to follow.

Through all this, know that is wonderful that you and your daughter have these kinds of conversations, and that you’ve provided a safe enough space for her to voice her opinions and ask difficult questions.

 

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Question #2: 

Dear Salma,

 My husband of two years and I are happily married—for the most part. I tend to be a bit more conservative and religiously inclined than my husband who leans more towards the liberal side of the spectrum. This does not typically pose a problem, but lately my spouse has increasingly begun to suggest—sometimes lightly, sometimes more forcefully—that I trade in my conservative wardrobe for more fashionable garb. He complains that I dress dowdily and I know he would happy to see me wear sleeveless tops, fitted jeans and knee-length skirts. As an observant Muslim woman, I don’t feel this sort of dress is modest and although his complaints leave me feeling insulted, I also come away from these spats feeling guilty. I want to look attractive for my husband and I want him to feel proud of me when we are out with friends, but how do I please him while not compromising my values?

–Dowdy and Distressed

 

Dear Dowdy & Distressed,

It’s not unusual to have spouses whose values place them at different points on the spectrum of conservatism/liberalism than you. It requires candor and respect on both sides to figure out how to accept each other’s differences while also accommodating each other’s needs and preferences without compromising one’s own.

There are many Muslim fashion designer and online stores that blend conservative dress with modern-day trends. Perhaps you can browse these sites to see what slight modifications you can make to your wardrobe that wouldn’t compromise your values. If you don’t already, perhaps you can also make an effort to dress more in line with his preferences when you are in the privacy of your own home.

At the same time, it is important that the two of you have a dialogue in which he listens and understands your religious values and what matters most to you when it comes to dress, and that you listen and understand the impact that your choices surrounding dress have had on him.

Often, the first step to resolving any contentious issue within a marriage is to sit down and have an open, honest conversation where each person listens actively to the other, with the goal of understanding, not persuading or convincing, the other.

Active listening includes mirroring back what you’ve heard each other say to make sure you’ve understood each other.  The next step is to validate each other by putting yourself in the other person’s world to see what makes sense about what they’ve shared. Being able to validate someone does not require agreement, nor does it necessarily mean someone has to change. Each person simply has to be willing to make the other person feel heard and understood. Sometimes, when there is genuine understanding of and compassion for each other, each person identifies a change he or she wants to make. Other times, with understanding comes acceptance of the other’s differences and the need to have the other person change falls away.

If you find that you and your husband have difficulty moving through these conversations without both sides getting upset, it may be worth considering brief marriage counseling in order for a professional to facilitate the dialogues and to help you and your husband nurture a mutually loving and respectful relationship.

 

Salma Abugideiri is one of two altM relationship columnists.  She is a licensed professional counselor with almost 20 years of experience and is also a founding board member for Peaceful Families Project, a national non-profit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence in Muslim families.  You can find more information about Ms. Abugideiri and her services at www.peacefulfamilies.org and www.wellnessthroughcounseling.com. You can also find Salma’s book, Before You Tie the Knot on Amazon. 

 

 

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