Dear Salma: He won’t marry me. Because I’m non-Arab.

Dear Salma,

 I have a question regarding interracial/intercultural marriages. I am an American born revert to Islam, and I have had suitors who are Arab–one whom I unexpectedly fell in love with. Unfortunately, when he asked his father for the family’s blessing, his father advised against our marriage, saying the union would not go the distance because I am not from their culture. I am devastated, as he followed his father’s wishes.

Why does this occur in many Muslim families? Why do these parents insist they are watching out for their children’s interest, while simultaneously ignoring their happiness and desires? Differences in age, race or culture are trivial if you share the same values with the person you love. I do not want to go through this heartbreak again. Please advise.

 —–Hurt and confused


Dear Hurt and Confused,

I can understand that you are devastated to lose a person you felt was perfect for you. You are right, many parents do prioritize factors such as race, ethnicity and age, thinking that these are necessary ingredients for a successful marriage. Sometimes, this thinking is a reflection of a culture that recognizes marriage as being not only about the union of two individuals, but also about the union of two families. In these cases, the importance of emotional compatibility may be minimized, or parents might assume that if there is congruity across ethnic, social, and racial lines, then emotional compatibility will naturally follow.

For you, and the many others who view factors like race and age as secondary, the deciding factor is whether you and the person you are interested in love one another. Sometimes, people do overlook the implications of differences in race, ethnicity or age. Imam Magid, of Virginia’s ADAMS Center, and I have addressed the implications of these factors in detail in “Before You Tie the Knot: A Guide for Couples.” We’ve also provided some suggestions about how to work with parents whose focus may be very different from that of their adult children.

Give yourself plenty of time to heal from this experience. It is normal to cycle through a range of emotions as you grieve the loss of this relationship: anger, sadness, shock, disappointment, confusion, etc. It can be helpful to work with a professional counselor if you find yourself stuck or becoming increasingly depressed. As painful as these losses are, human beings have an incredible capacity to heal. When you are ready to consider marriage again, remember to explore with any potential partner how he relates to his family, how he makes decisions, what his parents want for their son when it comes to marriage, and how he would deal with any challenges from his family.

It may take you a long time to trust again, and to make yourself vulnerable again. Take your time and focus on being with people and engaging in activities that nurture you.

May Allah ease your journey towards healing.

Salma Elkadi Abugideiri
Licensed Professional Counselor
8233 Old Courthouse Rd, Suite 340
(Photo Source: Erica Chang)
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1 Comment

  • Anonymous says:

    Perhaps, this is Allah sparing you hurt in the future. My Arab husband’s family did agree, and the truth is that you cannot imagine the challenges. My husband believes all my professional accomplishments are naught if I don’t cook a three course meal for him daily. He wasn’t like that before we married.

    I say this because you said issues like culture are trivial. They are not. They are the daily issues you will face. Culture is who thinks who will do the dishes, how you will discipline your children, if your daughters will marry cousins, who the “boss” of the house is. I am Muslim, and even the religion is affected by the cultural outlook. Do not think it’s trivial – it is the make it or break it of many marriages.

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