One of the first things a newly Muslim woman convert learns is that Islam makes people equal and the only thing that differentiates a believer from another believer is their level of piety. They also learn that Islam raises the honor of women to levels that no religion has done, that they, as Muslims, have rights, and they are encouraged to get marry since marriage is a half of the Din.
However, when it comes to Latino Muslim women of marriageable age, some have not received respect in terms of their honor, their rights as Muslims, or equal treatment as with other Muslim born women. It seems racism and stereotypes about Latina women are stronger than faith and piety.
When Religion disguised Deception
Samia lives in Argentina and knows about this: “I met a Muslim man from India at the mosque. He told me that he wanted to marry. He met my parents and after two months we got married. A week after our Nikkah (Islamic Marriage), he told me he had to return home, that his mother was ill, and he would return back to take me to meet his family. He emailed me months after, to tell me he has married another woman in his country chosen by his family.”
Farah is a divorced mother and lives in Mexico. She married a man from Morocco that she met in the mosque. After 4 years and with a little child, the husband of Farah left. Once in Morocco, he married his longtime fiancée, a girl known by his family since the time of high school and brought her with him to Mexico: “I do not receive financial support nor does my child have communication with his father. He just forgot everything.”
Karima, a Caribbean Muslim Woman, felt traded: “There was a time when I was having a hard time getting a job. I received an email from the Sheikh who offered me $100 American dollars a month to marry a Pakistani citizen, so the man can get the Visa. I wonder why this Sheikh was not recommending a legitimate marriage for me or helping me to get a job? Why I was good to sell myself to a man for a fake marriage? I think my ethnicity has a lot to do with it. This hurts me very much.”
Would They Do This To a Woman “Of their Own”? Racism as a Factor
What drives these men to act this way in the context of Islam? While it is not possible or fair to generalize and label a group of people based on a behavior, I think racism is a factor; not functioning as the main reason, it hides behind deceitful speech about religious duties owed on behalf of family and culture, and is yet evident.
It is widely believed, though not always publicly admitted, that Muslim converts are lower, because we are not Arabs, because we do not speak Arabic and are therefore less able to understand religion and, for this, less valuable to form families within the framework of Islam.
There is also a particular bias against Latina women on the part of Muslim born men and women: for many of them, we’re prostitutes, cheap and available for sex; in this perception, media representations have much to do, because we are described as highly sexualized for Hollywood, magazines, and pop culture.
This leads to a dismissive perception of cultural differences. Latinas are educated in mixed environments – engaging in conversation or activities with the opposite sex has no negative connotation as it does in other cultures where the honor of a girl is on trial if she talks too much to a fellow student. Also we’re a welcoming culture where expressions of emotions and affection are open and common. What for us is a beautiful feature is taken by others as flirting, lousy behavior, a permission to take advantage or sexual invitation. It is unfortunate that Latina women are judged with parameters that are not part of our identity.
Sorry, but They ARE Muslims
I often hear stories like this: A man comes to South America and marries a local girl. He makes all the acts, he even meets the parents. They never said that they are already married or engaged in their countries or have no intention for a long term commitment. I’ve heard some saying: “I’m looking for a Latina to hang around with, while my father finds me a suitable wife.” Problem is, the Latina doesn’t know about this. She thinks he is serious.
It is not enough to say that those men are not Muslims. These women met them at the mosque, or in religious environments. Those men identify themselves as such and that plays in favor of the deceiving, because that makes them more reliable in the eyes of the women they approach to.
Some Advices From Our Peers
Naima, from Puerto Rico, is married to an Egyptian man. She admits stereotypes exist: “I’m very happy with my marriage, but I took all the precautions during all the process. I was deeply informed about everything. I live in Egypt and I know the average opinion here about Latin Women. Sadly, hijab doesn’t make any difference”.
Maryam is a Chilean Muslim married to an Iranian for 3 years. She says the key is to learn and apply the Quran: “New Muslim converted girls are often more concerned with finding a husband than reading the Qur’an. The Qur’an commands knowledge. Knowing our rights can reduce risks. A man who has a serious interest will have no problems with you finding out all the information you need, until you feel safe and satisfied. If you see he looks down on you or is shy to show you his mother… don’t lose your time. “
For the good Muslim, cultural differences and racial stereotypes should never be more important than the Islamic values of honesty, good intentions and compliance to what the Noble Quran established for relations among believers. The Quran clearly says that believers, men and women, are friends and supporters of each other. This command should be above everything.
Muslim men, who go through life abusing the feelings of women because they consider us inferior due to our ethnic, social or cultural background, should be named and ashamed as men and Muslims. They abash Islam. What they do to a woman, they do to all women, their mother, sisters and daughters. No woman deserves that. No Muslim woman deserves to be treated otherwise than as if Paradise was at our feet.
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.