Marriage is a perennial hot topic in our Ummah, especially for converts who are often poorly served by Islamic institutions and the community in general.
After much thought, I came up with some advice which I hope, insha Allah, may be of benefit.
Points to consider:
1)I am not a religious scholar, or an immigration solicitor. This is not intended as professional advice
2)Although this advice is skewed towards the needs of female converts, hopefully it may be relevant to converts and born Muslims too.
3) This is by no means an exhaustive or definitive list and I would be very interested in the input of others.
Before you marry
There is a variety of opinion concerning optimal engagement and ‘getting to know you’ periods.
I won’t get into all the different opinions and arguments, but what I will say is that until you are actually married, as in the nikah has been performed, you can call the wedding off at anytime.
What is of the upmost importance is that you do not feel rushed or pressured into marriage. I’d like to think the days of “Fill in a tick sheet of questions, look how compatible you are, pass the rings” has gone, but sadly, this isn’t true.
You are the person getting married. The mosque aunties won’t be in the marriage with you, nor will your wali. Decide for yourself. Some converts feel that anyone who has been Muslim longer then them, is a somehow more wiser person and take their judgment over their own. Allah gave everyone a brain to use, don’t mistake lack of common sense for piety.
Before you even decide to look for a spouse, study what marriage means in Islam. What is or isn’t halal when searching for a spouse. Arm yourself with this knowledge, as the more you know, the better you will be able to protect yourself from any bad outcomes.
Always trust your instincts. Always. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s because there’s something not right about it and don’t be convinced otherwise.
Do not feel, or be made to feel like you are being overly picky or demanding by wanting to know as much about your spouse as possible. Born Muslim families frequently subject potential spouses to scrutiny worthy of the secret services.
Try to get your information directly from the brother concerned. Third parties may be very adept at painting a rosier picture then reality.
Ready for marriage?
Some people are really fond of the idea of combining a shahada party with a wedding reception.
Two reasons for this are:
1)They underestimate the impact of conversion
2)To ‘protect’ the new Muslim
Dealing with point one first. Conversion is a huge and scary step, no matter how long you’ve been contemplating it for. As well as having to learn how to pray and to life your life as a Muslim, you also have to deal with the reactions of family, friends and work colleagues (which are not always postive). The main issue of course, is building on your relationship with Allah the Most High. All of this can be a time consuming process before you feel comfortable with yourself as a Muslim. Not to mention that there are different paths within Islam and it is often quite a learning process to find which path is for you. Being single gives you the time to explore and learn and the importance of this cannot be overestimated.
As for protecting new Muslims, presumably from the mistakes of their past, a spouse should not be viewed as some kind parent or guard dog. It’s rather insulting that anyone could assume that converts will go around drinking and fornicating unless they have a babysitter.
Yes, some people do struggle to let go of certain aspects of their old life, but marriage is not a magic wand to make that struggle easier.
I’ll repeat that: Marriage is not a magic wand. It does not magically make you a better person or protect you from all life’s ills. It doesn’t even necessarily make you a better Muslim, as being in an unhappy marriage can bring out the worst in anyone’ s personality.
If you are secure in your deen and feel you can fulfill your responsibilities as a spouse, then you are ready for marriage. If this isn’t the case then wait, no matter what anyone else says.
People tend to have two concepts of the sort of Muslim they would like to marry:
1)Prays and fasts. Avoids the obvious bad stuff. Or:
2)A Sheikh. Preferably a hafiz.
However, most Muslims fall somewhere in between the two categories. It is better to consider what sort of Muslim you are now (and be honest with yourself) and what sort of Muslim you would like to be (and be realistic with yourself). This will help you narrow down your search in order to find someone similarly minded.
Why marry a foreigner?
You should be asking this question of both yourself and your prospective suitor.
Don’t make the assumption that Muslim country = country full of good Muslims.
As for him, there is usually a surplus of eligible Muslim women, why is he not marrying someone with whom he shares a culture, similar upbringing and/or language?
Let’s go to the elephant in the room:
Some people marry in order to obtain a passport/citizenship. Once they have obtained this, they will end the marriage
and guess what? They don’t even think it’s wrong or sinful. Even their families don’t see any problem with it. Partly this is because certain cultures have no problem with the idea that a marriage can be financially beneficial and partly because they can, after all what’s the convert going to do about it?
So be upfront. Do not be shy of asking tricky questions and if you do not get satisfactory answers, then proceed no further.
Cross-cultural marriages can have many issues, discuss them and make sure you are in agreement. Not wanting to go into the Culture vs Islam argument, but if someone thinks your culture is irredeemably bad, they may well end up thinking the same of you.
As obvious as it sounds, does he know that you will not transform into the perfect Arab/Pakistani/e.t.c wife? Yes, you can learn the cuisine, dress the part, find out what the cultural do’s and don’t's are, but you will never be the same as someone born and raised there.
You can’t change your past. That can be a big issue with some converts who feel their non Muslim pasts have somehow stained them indelibly, hence the desire to reinvent themselves totally, then wonder years later where the “real them” went. Again, this is why I stress the importance of new Muslims taking time to settle in the deen before making such a massive commitment to another person.
Also, your future spouse, however familiarised he may be to your country, again it’s not the same as being born and brought up there. For some people, learning about cultural differences is a joyful thing, for others constantly having to explain gets very wearing.
Really consider these issues. You are the best person to know what you can or can’t cope with. If you decide you do not want a cross cultural marriage, or that you don’t want to marry someone from abroad, it’s better to make that decision and be clear about it.
According to Relate, the Marriage Guidance service, the number one cause of marital failure in the U.K is breakdown of communication and this is in couples who share the same language. So imagine the difficulties if you don’t have a common language.
Something to bear in mind is that fluency is not the only issue. Some people may speak a language very well, but feel uncomfortable living in that language.
Yes, languages can be learned, but this is a time consuming process, especially if the language is very different from your mother tongue. Also, someone knowing a language does not necessarily mean they are able to teach that language (something to remember for all those who feel that Arab spouse = being able to read and understand the Qur’an super quick).
In other words, on what basis are they living in this country? Note, these are U.K categories:
Has U.K/E.U citizenship. If they have a parent from the U.K/E.U or have been living here for a long time, they may already have citizenship. This eliminates any “They’re only after my passport worries” and any further immigration hassles.
Indefinite leave to remain. This is known as the last step before obtaining full citizenship. However, it is also an option for people from countries which don’t allow dual citizenship as it allows them to stay permanently in the U.K, without losing their original nationality. This status confers similar rights to citizenship (free healthcare, access to certain government benefits).
Temporary Visa (Student/Migrant Worker). There are different types of these and they are usually conditional. If you have been in the country for 5 years using one of these visas and can prove that you are able to support yourself financially, then you are able to apply for indefinite leave to remain and subsequently, citizenship. Note that a student visa restricts the holder to working no more then 20 hours per week.
Asylum Seeker. Asylum seekers are not usually permitted to work. They can also be detained and if their request for asylum is not granted, then they can be deported at any time. Contrary to popular belief, asylum requests are considered on the basis of the circumstances they have left behind, not their current situation. This means that they can be married and settled here, but still be deported, so you stand a strong chance of being permanently separated.
Under a current (and extremely controversial) U.K law, non E.U/U.K citizens have to apply for a Certificate of Approval in order to marry in this country. This consists of displaying proof that you are permitted to stay in this country for longer then 3 months, and in certain circumstances you may have to answer a set of questions while witnessed by a solicitor and also provide proof of your relationship. The process costs approximately £150.
If your application is rejected, then you will not be able to legally marry in this country. Some of the larger mosques may also not be willing to conduct a nikah.
Illegal immigrant/ Outstayed their visa. Unable to work. Unable to leave the country (as they wouldn’t be allowed back in), unable to obtain legal status unless they return to their home country to apply from there and their previous illegal status would almost certainly count against them. I do not state this in order to be judgmental, but to illustrate the difficulties such a marriage would entail. Could you really live looking over your shoulder at all times?
Still in home country. While it is possible to apply for a marriage visa (in order to legally marry on U.K Soil) and then a spousal visa, be aware that this is a lengthy process and may take years. Also, you would have to prove that you could financially support your spouse.
It is important to clarify the situation prior to marriage. It is not excessive to see proof of their legal status.
Home and Away. They are from another country and they may well want to/have to live there again. Are you willing to live there too? Seriously consider this point. If, for what ever reason, you would not be able to live outside of the U.K, make this very clear and be prepared for it to be a deal breaker. This might be difficult if the brother is otherwise a good match, but that is why it is important to sort these issues out prior to marriage and before emotions become involved.
Family Have you met them? – Marriage should not be a secret in Islam. What are they like? Do they approve of the marriage? In the latter question, while it is understandable that you might not be their ideal choice of bride (because they usually like to know the bride’s family and also because of negative stereotypes about Western women), especially if there is a language barrier, if they are actively opposing the wedding this could cause a mass of future problems.
If the brother in question is not able to stand up to his family, a lifetime of misery could be ahead for you. Some families will have no difficulty with the idea of breaking up a marriage they don’t approve of and will use a variety of tactics.
Also note the dynamics of the family as people often replicate these patterns in their own relationships.
As for your family, there is an awful trend among some converts to not view their parent’s or family’s input as valid, because they are not Muslim. These same converts then wonder why they have such a bad relationship with their family. Your family know you (often more then you realise) and it must be incredibly hurtful for them, when every Zaynab, Mohammed and Abdullah has met your child’s fiance before you have.
Also, if you love your parents and have a good relationship with them, any prospective spouse should know this. Do not marry someone who does not respect your parents, this betrays arrogance and a major lack of respect for you.
Work. The brother should be working/ actively seeking work. True, jobs may come and go, but a lack of work ethic is permanent, so beware.
If you like your job and want to carry on working, make this clear. Do not assume. I know a sister who is an Assistant Professor at a very prestigious university,Masha Allah, and she still has to turn brothers down because they want her to leave her job for good.
Does the brother have any outstanding financial commitments? Does he support his family abroad? Again, these are things you should ask.
Be clear. If you don’t want this, state it clearly. Do not be guilt-tripped or made to feel like a bad Muslimah or a stuck-in-her-bad-ways-Convert. There are many Muslim families who would throw a fit if this was even suggested to their daughter. Being a good Muslim does not mean saying yes to everything another Muslim tells you to do.
If you are thinking of becoming a second (or even third or forth) wife, do his other wives know?
Whatever the perceived benefits or blessings of polygamous marriage, the truth is, most modern Muslims are not very good at making them work.
Also, in most Western countries, polygamous marriages are illegal and involvment in one could seriously effect your spouse’s immigration status.
See this excellent post by the Dictator Princess for more details.
Some people feel they have a right to know, others feel that past history should not be discussed. It’s a situation only you can judge, but do not be pressured into divulging more information then you want to.
If either of you are not virgins, then it is a good idea to have STI testing before you marry.
Different people have different ideas about chastity. For some, it means they’ve never even held hands, for others it means they’ve done everything bar penetrative vaginal intercourse, so be careful.
Also, as a commenter has pointed out, poor public health can lead to outbreaks of not only H.I.V, but also Hepatitis, which can be equally deadly. You have a right to protect your health and request pre-marital blood tests if necessary.
Chemistry Yes, you do need to find your spouse attractive. They deserve that and so do you.
Children Do you want them? If so, when? Have either of you got children already? Would you want a spouse to act as a stepfather to them or not? All these things can become major issues, so it’s best to get them sorted before you commit.
Wali Get a good one, one you trust, but remember that the final decision always, always rests with you.
Contract and Mahr Seek religious guidance for this and remember these are your legal rights, not an optional extra.