One topic that emerges from the discussions I have with other Muslims and people in general relates to marriage. Starting with, I don’t agree with marriage. Not because I think married life is negative but because, under the prevailing patriarchal logic, marriage is not conducive to full relationships. Patriarchy has also polluted Islam and, therefore, the way in which gender relations are understood as part of a Muslim’s life including the concept of marriage.
Since I converted to Islam, I have received 11 marriage proposals. I have refused them all. Many people have seen in my attitude a sign of pride and rebellion. They are wrong. I do not rebel against married life, but against the terms in which it is presented to me and the role I am supposed to have because I am a woman in it. Manly-man-male ideas about women, prejudices related to the fact that I am not “pure Muslim, but converted,” “not Arab,” and stereotypes about Hispanic-Latina women, have all played a major role in the deep indignation and disgust with which I have rejected each prospect.
According to Islamic Teachings, you join your partner to develop a life in common based on Rahma (mercy), Mawada (love), and Sakina (tranquility). Marriage is a recomendation, not an obligation. All the marriage proposals I’ve received started with a kind, understanding and caring Muslim man declaring himself “open minded” and “willing to have a relationship based on mutual support and honest communication.” But as I said, started. After some time progressed, the real dimension of things began to be revealed.
From all those proposal in which there was some progress, there are three that stand out because they were the most insulting. Not only because they hid harsh sexism and evidenced offensive ideas about me, especially the idea I am somewhat more pretty and useful than a doormat. Worst of all is that the gentlemen thought they were offering me the best deal in the world and that I should accept it because, it is “sunnah [prescribed]” and all women who are “good” Muslims would accept. These are the three most memorable proposals, in brief:
1.The Pharaoh and the Commandments
“You woman, listen to me: I’ll be your husband and I’ll give you whatever you want. I’ll give you my life as a gift. I will protect and take care of you. I will be loyal. I understand your activities, so you are free to do them, but you must ask for my approval (?). You must give me the password to your Facebook, your email and your Skype and as your husband, I will have access to your private life in the broadest sense of the word. I don’t want you to have male friend, even to talk anymore with men. I don’t want you to share your pictures in social nets or wherever. You are not allowed to question my decisions. You will come to my bed every time I need it. You won’t refuse me as a man. Your mind belongs to you, everything else will be mine.” NEXT!
2.Be my Second Best
“Well, I don’t think you’re in position to reject me, because you are not a 25 years old woman; also you’re a woman “with a past.” I offer you to be my second wife. At your age, you are not too useful to have my babies, but I appreciate your beauty and cherubic face. I’ll pay a dowry of XXXXX dollars if you assure me that you won’t cheat on me. Because, you know, you’re a Latina and everyone knows that all Latinas are cheap….” NEXT!
3.But, you’ve got the Ring
”But I love you!! Yes, I have been seeing another woman all this time. She is 24 years older than me… well, I slept with her while I am with you … I didn’t think it was important to tell you… But, why are you getting angry? … It’s my personal life! … I don’t have to give explanations to you! … Why are you so selfish?… I’m not marrying her am I? I chose you! …. You’ve got the ring!” NEXT!
– “I know you went through College and Postgraduate, but you wouldn’t want to work after marriage, right?” “You’re pretty but you ruined it all when I saw your profile on LinkedIn: I don’t need a woman too educated. Just someone to clean and have my kids”
– “Having kids is really not an excuse to get fat as a wife;” “What’s your jeans size?””After all, you have that thing that makes me love a woman a lot: a cup D.”
-“Actually this only can be a temporary marriage, because I am already married in Pakistan, but I feel so alone in this new country;” “Better we stay friends, because the truth is I have talked with my parents (after 2 years) and they prefer I marry a pure Muslim;” “I married last week. I forgot to tell you.”
I do not like the assumption many men have that a woman should not or is not in a position to refuse a marriage proposal. These men assumed, wrongly, that a woman is just looking to get married and that she is willing, a priori, to accept anything. This idea implies a passive conception of women regarding marriage and a one-dimensional view of their contribution as a human being in Islam.
But men are not the only ones to blame. We can’t forget that sexism is the product of an education in a system we share and that it starts at home and is reinforced by religious belief. Umma [nation or community] has its part to play too. I think even when it is not fard [duty] or mandatory, all the business around marriage in muslim communities – marriage counselors, literature about how to catch a man and what a Muslim woman should do to get married, all the preaching that says marriage is the straight way to “Complete the Deen” or increase your piety – reinforce the stereotype about what a Muslim woman must be and the idea that marriage is a duty and that you can’t be a good muslim or an acceptable woman if you don’t get married.
The first thing a newly Muslim woman is told after doing the Shahada is that she MUST get married and put on the headscarf, otherwise she’s not really serious about her new faith. Not, studying the Quran. Not, acquiring a basic knowledge on the foundations of Islam. Not, learning the procedure of performing each one of the 5 pillars. No. Get a man and cover.
This blackmailing is highly damaging, sexist, and reductive of our position as women in Islam: first, it bypasses the focus regarding spiritual development and what the Quran itself states as the priority – seeking knowledge; second, it creates an artificial burden on women to perform a role that they may not have considered when entering Islam, which can add extra anxiety to the already complicated process of starting a new life in a new faith; and third, it sends the message that the only thing a woman can expect from herself as a Muslim is to find someone who validates her as believer through a wedding and until that happens she’s not “perfect.”
Considering the conservatism and rampant misogyny within Muslim communities, a woman who is not a virgin, not young, who does not fit within the canons of traditional beauty, who has children or is divorced, works outside the home, has a career or aspirations to excel in public life, has little chance of marrying within Islam. Instead, it is more likely she will be judged by her lifestyle and accused of being “inappropriate” and will be is isolated.
“Islamic marriage,” as it is generally understood nowadays, with a sexist and patriarchal vision of women, undermines the unique and beautiful experience of a spiritual awakening in a woman, because it sends a message to women that if they can’t get married, or don’t want to get marry for any number of reasons, they are not worthy before Allah – and this is very cruel.
Misrepresenting the teachings of the Quran to drive women into passive roles, adding to this the pressure for marriage, can lead to personal tragedies: I have seen firsthand cases of women converts who, in response to these recommendations, have married without obtaining prior knowledge of the Quran and Marital Fiqh (Laws on Marriage in Islam): they have been cheated, dragged to bigamy, abused in domestic violence, dismissed and expelled from their houses or abandoned once they become pregnant, without the support of the Umma and the Sheikhs, once so eager to make these women someone’s wives, to provide support or further guidance .
Don’t we have already enough messages telling us women we’re not worthy for ourselves and that it is bad to have autonomy? Do we really need to reproduce this within Islam?
Islam is a message of self empowerment and accountability. That’s the example given to us from many Muslim women along the history of our faith and today. It would be important to remember this to develop a new discourse on dating, relationships and marriage, regarding the diversity of women who become Muslims, their particularities and preferences. Insisting on us knowing our rights and duties within our faith before taking any step is core. Is important to remember that our relation with God is personal. God trusts us because we’re worthy, we alone with our hearts and souls. We’re worthy for ourselves.
What about me after this?
Well, I still want to get married, but I am unsure I will marry a Muslim man. All what I know is, if I get married someday, I’ll seek a union based on the universal essentials according to real Islamic Teachings: Rahma (mercy), Mawada (love), and Sakina (tranquility). I will marry a man for whom I am valuable to for my heart and not for my beauty, age, or fertility. A man confident enough to treat me as a person and not as an object. I won’t choose a man for his money or properties, but for his humanity. I don’t want to take anything from him–I expect his respect for what I am able to do for myself. I want to look in his eyes and see me reflected back as an equal. I don’t want to be the precious jewel he puts in a locked box. I will be a woman: simple, natural, non-perfect, but always close to him, out of a free decision.
For Love’s Sake.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a Writer, Mentor and Community Educator in Capacity Building for Grass Roots Female Leaders and Advocates. A Muslim Feminist who is an Independent Researcher of Gender and Islam in Latin America on Feminist Hermeneutics, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. She blogs in Spanish at Mezquita de Mujeres, a site dedicated to explore the links between Gender, Religion and Feminism as well to Women from the Global South as Change Makers in their communities.