Little kids everywhere often fantasize about their dream weddings, and later on about their future spouses. As they grow up, thoughts drift instead to having a girlfriend or boyfriend.
Usually, Muslims have to stop short at just thoughts. The epitome of the “halal gap” is the difference between boyfriend and boy friend, and depending on who you are, either one could give your parents a heart attack. Girls can dream for their future husband and imagine all their favorite characteristics and whatnot, but one thing is for sure: as far as our parents are concerned, that guy is Muslim and probably of the same race as us.
For a lot of Muslim girls, our relationship with boys must remain nonexistent up until we hit college or graduate, and after that every guy we associate with must be a possible husband. Muslim Student Association events at college are hunting grounds, and every mildly non-douchey Muslim guy has marriage potential.
The topic of dating and romance is uncharted territory for a lot of Muslim families, especially for many of us who have immigrant parents.
A lot of Muslim parents usually look at marriage as ripping off a Band-Aid, a simple decision to make and live with. There shouldn’t really be that much thinking put into it, they think, because you do what’s best for the family and you can live with it later. If you let feelings get in the way, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of regret.
It gets a little confusing trying to close that generational gap. Do you let your parents take over and find your spouse? Do you try and take a chance yourself with whoever comes into MSA iftars?
Race has an insidious say in this too. Most countries containing Muslims have similar customs around being a Muslim (i.e., Eid) and people in Muslim countries were essentially taught the same things. Still, a lot of Muslim parents balk at the idea of marrying outside of your race.
Parental prejudice is nothing new, and is certainly not designated only for Muslims. But there seems to be such a strong divide between different races of Muslims that it makes you wonder why it really it such a big deal. Knowing that I have to face my parents, I would be pretty hesitant to marry an Arab person over a fellow Desi person. Even if that Arab person seems to fit the requirement of marrying a Muslim, it wouldn’t fit the unspoken requirements that my parents may have in mind.
I think a lot about how my kids will turn out and how culture would pass on to the next generation (yes, I’m actually a really huge sap). Unless they had constant exposure to my parents, my kids would know little to no Bengali and probably even less Arabic. Already, between me and my parents so much has already gotten lost along the way. I’m already a lot more “American” than even my older sister and brother, and in turn a lot less Bengali.
My parents tried to fill me up with their overflowing bucket of culture and experience from Bangladesh to America, and a lot spilled over in translation. I don’t think that means I’m any less Muslim now because of it, but my Islam has certainly changed from theirs.
There’s a battle within the community over whether or not progress is bad for the Muslim faith. Older generations hold us back, and so does the Western media, which is so adamant to keep us in our place so that other people can still effectively hate Islam from far away.
Still, it gets me thinking. If our views of Islam are getting influenced by our upbringing and our exposure to different cultures — which to me is a good thing — then what’s going to happen to the next generation? Am I going to look down on my children as people destroying the meaning of Islam and straying too far from the faith?
In this way, I kind of see why parents take the concept of marrying the right person so seriously. But when I see couples with people grown into complacency by marriages they didn’t have a say in, I don’t know if I’m down for that, either.
Then again, I’m 17 years old. I have a lot of time to find The One™ over here. Maybe I’ll look back at this article one day and laugh.
Subaita writes the Monday column on Muslim identity. Contact her at email@example.com.