Marrying a Brother From Abroad Part One – Before You Get Married

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.

Deen

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.

Communication

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).

Legal Status

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.

Polygamous Marriage

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.

Virginity

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.

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25 Responses

  1. VERY important and useful post for many sisters out there…Good on ya!

  2. salam, just read your post on marriage.. and i thought it was full of wonderful advice, i really hope it helps other sisters at the point of entering marriage. You hear of so many horror stories, of sisters going into mixed marriage and it goes badly wrong.

  3. OMG, where you when I was getting married to my ex? LOL. This is great advice sis.

    One thing I would caution convert sisters about is feeling like they have to adopt the culture and customs of a brother from another country. So many times the culture and customs are framed as being “Islamic” in nature when they are not. For example, a brother may say that a “good Muslim wife” should cook, clean, serve him and not “trouble him” by challenging him. However, when you actually look into the life of the Prophet (s.a.w.) we can see that he helped around his house. We see that his wives “troubled” him. They challenged him.

    I know plenty of sisters who practically killing themselves trying to be Egyptian or Pakistani or Senegalese or Moroccan or some other nationality in order to please their husbands. It’s unfair. You cannot erase who you are or the way you were raised. Some of these brothers want the best of both worlds- a western woman who is willing to work and contribute to the household but at the same time willing to emulate the cultural values of the women back home. Meanwhile, he’s kicked back doing his thing. Sisters, WAKE UP!!!

  4. Salaam Alaikum,

    Jamerican Muslimah – Yes! I can’t believe I left that out. I made a point of telling my husband prior to marriage that if he wanted to marry someone who behaves just like a girl from back home, then he needs to marry a girl from back home.

    I will tweak the post to add this, insha Allah.

  5. Hey great advise, alot of people need to know this information. I was wondering… perhaps this is not necessary but it is good practice for the community, although someone is a virgin it is still a good thing to get each other check because now of days there are many more ways of contracting STD’s such as drug use (needles, pipes etc). I hate to say it, but there have also been cases of hospital errors where patients have come in contact with STD’s, remember the 400 children in Libya who were infected with HIV because of poor hygiene practices in the hospital. Or like this year’s case of 16 Women in Kyrgyzstan contracted HIV through breastfeeding their babies, and the babies contracted HIV because of poor hygiene practices in hospital. These scenorios do occur, medical mal-practice does happen, sexual assualt does occur, people may have used drugs even if it’s once, things do happen and it is better to be safe than sorry.

    Also Hepatitis which is very high in some developing countries, or places with poor hygiene standards (especially for those of you marrying abroad). Hepatitis B is very serious, I know someone who is going through a liver transplant because of it.

    I know there are alot of stigma’s associated with taking a blood test but your health is very important

  6. This is a fabulous post. Thank you for writing it out.

  7. This is really great stuff. Having first been exposed to Islam through a guy I ended up marrying, he was the one who took care of so much of this stuff. He had to teach me about mahr and help me find a wali. This could have been pretty bad for me if he wasn’t such a wonderful man! Looking back, I realize that other people in the community should have stepped in to help me out, but they just assumed I was *just doing it for him* and wasn’t really committed to Islam. Unfortunately, some of them probably still think that.

  8. What’s the convert going to do about it?

    It seems like many marry for the greencard. Can’t a greencard be revoked? I’d have to go all “woman scorned” on their hindparts and start calling the local immigration office.

    As for preventative measures, insha’allah I wouldn’t marry anyone without citizenship or AT LEAST their own dang greencard. But that’s me.

  9. Great post, and helpful for even those who are not converts but getting into a multi-cultural relationship.

  10. wow Safiya this is just a really great post, u r so spot on with every point.

  11. Salaam Alaikum,

    I’m glad you all think it’s helpful.

    J.M and Laila – Thanks for the advice and I’ve updated the post accordingly.

  12. Salam Safiya, Thanks for sharing this post.

  13. You’ve really outdone yourself Safiya!! Thanks for taking the time to post this =)

  14. Safiya I don’t know if you will be stopping by my blog to read my response to your last comment about your 13 days! Wow, subhanallah, time does fly! Many many du’as and may Allah give you and easily delivery and all the best to your baby! I can’t wait for your birth notification! Many many many du’as! And eat lots of dates before delivery. Love ya!-Fatima

  15. Indeed a good post!

    “Does he support his family abroad? Again, these are things you should ask.”

    Supporting your parents is part of your Islamic duty..

  16. Salaam Alaikum,

    SaS and Roora-Thank you ladies.

    Luckyfatima – It hasn’t flown that fast for me. At this point (39 weeks) I feel like I’ve been pregnant forever! Mr Outlines has prepared a big bag of dates for me already.

    Gazzal – “Supporting your parents is part of your Islamic duty.”

    True, but I think it’s wise to know how much support is being given. Some people literally send their entire salaries back home and I think any future spouse would need to be aware of that, as it would have a definite impact on their life together. It just returns to my main point of knowing what you are getting yourself into.

  17. Ohhhh…Safiya!!! you’re almost there… please keep us updated .

  18. salam sis, would you mind if i did a post about your article/blog with a link back insha’Allah its worth spreading your link about, for sisters to find!

  19. An excellent post! Also if you are married to someone who leaves the marriage after getting a green card you should report the person to immigration and legally sever financial obligations otherwise you as immigration sponsor might still be liable for support.

  20. are men, convert muslims, also allowed to post comments here?

    I share many of the same concerns – indeed, despite being a muslim for more than 10 years, travelling abroad to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, I still feel that I’m treated as a ‘new muslim’ and find difficulty in finding a wife. Not quite at despair, but as I don’t have a family, there are a lot of incompatible people out there…

    on the comments above – as a convert, one does find the same questions come up: are you a muslim? (really? I got asked this once by someone I gave salaams to after finishing prayers in Jeddah, and I just didn’t know what to say)
    or when I ask some brothers to help me find a wife:
    ‘why don’t you marry someone from your country? Find a nice girl, convert her.’ (that may be what they’re looking for, but I don’t guide people to Allah, He does) – and while I’m hopeful to find someone who shares my culture and understanding of the religion, to make it easier to live together and live with my family, I can’t accept the racial or tribal hang-ups that seem to be predominant for many.

    And then it seems there’s class and education – I’m well educated, but worked as an english teacher, and study and work now well under the professional salaries of doctors and engineers, which many immigrant (non-convert) muslims and their families seem to expect. I’ve been engaged twice, only to have the families turn me away for race/cultural/class issues – breaking my heart in the process – and yes, by the way ladies, men’s hearts can get crushed as well.

    And then there’s the gender issues, there are women who say they want to have children – but also want to have a career, choose where they live, and keep their independence. Not to step on a lot of toes, but if the husband has to provide for the family, there has to be a sense of mutuality in marriage – and a willingness to accept the husband’s decisions when the responsibility will fall on his shoulders in the end.

    If you have to make tough economic decisions, or travel for work, or your non-muslim family makes demands upon you – and your wife isn’t supportive, understanding and patient… well, then that marriage isn’t going to survive.

    I don’t know if what I’m saying is prescriptive, I just think of these issues as some of those that have occured and recurred over the past years. may Allah be merciful with all of us, and may we all find blessed marriage in this life that lead us to bliss in the Hereafter.

  21. Salaam Alaikum,

    Dawud – I have a comment policy, as long as comments meet that criteria, then they are welcome.

    Thank you for such a detailed comment. I agree that our convert brethren often have just as hard a time as the sisters do. In some cultures, it is viewed that the husband’s culture must dominate the marriage, so for men to marry a Muslim from a different culture is no big deal, but for women to do the same is frowned upon. Also there are practical issues, in some countries, mothers are not able to pass citizenship onto their children, or even have the marriage recognised.

    Your points concerning class, education and responsibility in the marriage are very interesting. As for being supportive, understanding and patient, I agree no marriage will survive without these characteristics.

    Amin to your du’a. May Allah bless you with a righteous and loving wife. I still haven’t given birth yet, so I will add you to my du’a list when I’m in labour, insha Allah.

  22. As Salaamu Alaikum,

    This is a wonderful posting. I am trying to divorce my husband whom I married twice (the second time due to our child together- bad mistake) and he just refused to leave even though I said that I’m divorcing him. I told him, I may not be an expert on Islam, but I know for a fact that you can’t make me stay in this marriage even if you don’t want to grant me this divorce. He’s decided to break my marriage contract and get a second wife. This contract was typed and signed by him. Also for the 2nd time around, I had not received my Mahr and I lowered the value of it tremendously.

    This brother is someone who taught me about Islam for 3 years until I just decided to read about Islam on my own. I am now pregnant again, but I am happy with the pregnancy because Allah has allowed me to in this position to have another child and my 8 month old will have a brother or sister his age.

    I’m looking forward to sitting with various brothers with tons of questions with the intent to marry (3 months from now), but I plan to be very picky!

  23. in my opinion i believe there is no such thing as love
    i believe love is wordz
    i dont believe in marriage
    shadi is barvadi
    live on your own there is no such thing as marriage or love
    you came on earth alone you go on earth alone
    love is wordz
    life is not straight as we think
    live till you are alive
    die when your time comes
    dont suffer what you dont desearve
    i admit you cant get the one we love in this world.

  24. salam alikom
    allah make your life easy and save.
    i would like to get some advice in my stauts. i am a mouslim guy from arabic country speak arabic english i have been in uk for 3 years study english and worked at oil companies, well my Q is i want to get married from a muslim family from same country and i want to get married in UK could you please advice me what should i do i have no idea how can i go through the UK low. please advice me jazak allah khier.
    taa

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