I've been following along with the recent posts at loveinshallah.com in response to the controversial contribution, "How I Met My Son's Mother." First of all, big ups to this guy who was so courageous to write a piece on this website and be subject to such scrutiny. There's not much left to say that hasn't already been said in several response posts on that website and the 140 and counting comments.
Reading all of these posts about the ideals of Muslim marriage and how we fall so far from that ideal did get me feeling, to use a phrase that I actively despise, "some kinda way..."
I'm probably just ovulating or something and my hormones have come out of a year and a half long hiding, because I almost started crying at a beautiful moment between a tiny newborn and her teenage mother when I was doing baby's exam yesterday. But reading these blogs about people seeking out marriage in the halal way reminded me of what I once wanted for myself, and frankly, what I gave up on a long time ago.
It all unraveled years ago when I was on an online site and this brother from Florida was serious about setting up communication. This was not the first one and nor was he the last. He was also not the first more than 1000 miles away who wanted to skype. In these settings, I usually gave an email that I used to forward my old University of Michigan mail that I used for the purpose of signing up for internet things that I didn't want to spam me...and for online dating. No phone numbers, no skype dates. Anyone who wanted to skype with me immediately I figured were too into my looks, anyway.
So brother from Florida was earnest. He was not at all my time and had a career trajectory that was not appetizing (the lyric comes to mind, "I'm a hustler, baby, I just want you to know..."). But otherwise, he was just fine on initial contacts from an Islamic standpoint. And for him, I was just fine...pre-med (at that time), with a promising career, "just throw a hijab on [me] and [I'd] be perfect."
I didn't take offense to this because I never said never again to hijab, and at this point in the game, approaching 25, I didn't know if I should be so picky as to not want to be with a man who felt hijab was fard.
Then he asked me if I had a wali. Ooohh...
"Because, you know, I talk to sisters on here and they act like they're serious, but then I find out they don't have a wali, which is absolutely required."
This was either about to be my perfect out for the Florida Hustler or it was going to be yet another cop-out for a brother who may have had promise.
I didn't have a wali. I hadn't sought a wali and at that point was unsure if I wanted to, even though I know that it would be required if I chose to go about marriage at this way. What was I thinking? I know exactly what I was thinking. I was thinking that I had to finesse this Muslim marriage thing. I have a Christian father who gets nervous anyone has a Muslim name or comes from a majority-Muslim country for "extremist ties," in spite of being married to a Muslim woman who practices five pillars. My "coming out" as Muslim in my early 20s imposed a deep rift in my family that my adult brother with autism cannot afford, nor can my parents' otherwise loving and functional relationship afford. It's a sucky place to be in as a daughter of an interfaith couple, but so it is. My parents, for this reason, were not fit to guide me through the marriage process.
Of course, my father would love to arrange my marriage with a man that he trusts. That man would be a Christian man. I bet he still would love to, but that's another story.
So, if I wanted to go forward with legit Muslim marriage, by the books, I probably would need a wali. But where would I find one? One of my formerly atheist now Muslim convert friends from medical school who converted to Islam prior to marrying her husband easily told me that I should talk to an imam, that he would help me.
Yes, thank you so much. Because it was so hard for you, dating your Muslim husband the regular way.
I hope this friend is okay. She had no wali and shut herself out from her friends in the time leading up to her marriage. I didn't even get to do my "there is no compulsion in religion" talk with her before she apparently converted and struggled through salat with Arabic words she didn't understand.
So here I was, trying to be more honest, on skype (still wasn't comfortable with it) with Florida Hustler Brother who was right. If I wanted to do this right, I needed a wali. But doing things right would mean ultimately alienating my father from this process, and maybe alienating him from my life as well. I realized that getting a wali was just a red herring. The process of attempting to get "Muslim married" by getting to know a man outside of the dating paradigm and essentially arranging my marriage was incompatible with maintaining a relationship with my father and having my parents at all involved in my decision to marry.
Because my mother is a wife that defers to her husband. My mother is also a woman who did not have patience for her pool of Muslim suitors, which for her as a black Muslim woman in the late 70s were black Muslim men, the new Muslim crew following WD Muhammad or at that point, stragglers from the Nation, who she had seen preferentially select "lost found girls" because "they put out." She is also a woman who does salat in English and does not shudder when people tell her that her prayers will therefore not be recognized. She slides easily from reading the Qur'an daily to living her Islam in the way she sees fit, and in that mode of Islam, she sees no conflict in having married my Christian father, whose morality is more excellent than any other Muslim man she's known, including her own father.
Therefore, she would not be my ally in seeking to get Muslim married at the expense of my relationship with my father.
There's always the slim possibility that I would go about this process, not alienate my father, he meets my suitor and sees past the religious difference to see that he was a genuinely God-fearing man who had the best intentions for his daughter. My mother would also be pleased with such a suitor.
But in order to get there, I would have to begin a serious search, and in order for it to be safe for me as a single woman searching without the aid of family or other elders of a spouse, I would need a wali, a legit one, a trusted guardian who really had my best interests at heart.
And I'd either have to keep it from my father or endure months of disapproval from him until the process yielded success, and the impact that would have on my mother and brother as my father took out his frustration on my mother, as he did when I first told him that I would "never be Christian."
I'm not being melodramatic. My father still tries at intervals to get me to realize my salvation through Jesus Christ and convert.
Some would argue that the decision should be easy, that I should aim to please God more than my parents. And what more example do I need than the father of both my and my father's religion, Abraham, and blah blah blah.
I mean, it is a valid argument. I should want to please God over everything else. But people who make these arguments typically were never in the position I was in. Without my parents, I have no one in this world. And at the very least, as a single woman, that is not safe.
So I closed the Skype conversation with Florida Brother and never spoke to him again. I would not be getting a wali. And from that point onward, it slowly degenerated to, "I will not be getting Muslim married."
To which I occasionally wonder, what will become of me? Marriage being half of my religion, I either will not get married at all or, if I marry, I will be less of a Muslim because of it. The ramifications are clear. I will become like my mother, who has not prayed with anyone else besides me, occasionally, when prayers are silent because I do salat in Arabic and she does salat in English. She fasts in isolation, she practices in isolation. She hasn't been in a mosque since before I was born. She's able to exist as a Muslim woman married to this Christian man praying in English because of her isolation. This was not what I wanted for myself.
It's not true that marrying a non-Muslim man means that you're children will be raised non-Muslim. I've seen more Muslim men married to non-Muslim women raise non-Muslim children than the other way around. Cultures are different, and in ours, often, the mother's faith rules. But it is true that a strong, believing father of another faith will continue to have an influence and somewhat control over especially his daughter's potential spouses, especially if that daughter loves and respects him.
I wore hijab for two years, successfully finding ways to hide it from my father until I couldn't anymore and for multiple other reasons, stopped. The same way goes my plans for marriage.
And I've come out the other side a shadow of the Muslimah that I initially sought to become. I strove to become part of a world that I could not have become a part of without disowning myself from my father and potentially permanently destroying our relationship. But my father is a good Christian man who believes in God with all of his heart who raised me to the best of his ability and wants the best for me and he does not deserve such cruelty.
My mother, a few years ago in my angst about my situation, apologized to me as I spelled this out for her. She should not have placed me in such a precarious position. What a thing to apologize for, to have married a solid husband, a great father and provider.
In the end, I have made a choice about how I will seek my partner. It is one that both of my parents approve of and because of that, feels a lot safer, although in reality, I realize that there is no safe way to do such a thing. Not only in terms of safety of emotions, but in terms of safety of person. I go forward prayerfully as with everything I do.