As Islam spreads in the Western world and more Muslims need husbands and wives, marriage has become not only a source of deen but a tool of social mobility.
It is difficult to approach the topic without getting people, especially women, offended.
Many new converts to Islam, who still idealize Muslim practitioners, find that eventually they are posed with the question of marriage. When it comes to converts there is a wide range of experiences. While for white-Western women is easier to find a husband in many Muslim communities in the West, women from other ethnicities find it problematic. Whether we admit it or not, race is still a crucial part of marriage in Muslim communities. Even when many female white-Western converts are willing to marry other ethnicities, some Muslim men prefer women from their own ethnic group or white women.
For small communities in the West it is difficult to provide husbands for the number of women in the congregations. On one hand, it is challenging for many men to get used to the idea that Muslim converts in the West are more complex and multifaceted than they would expect. On the other, many of these women are not willing to ”submit’ to their husbands and they would like. In addition, they may not be marrying for the first time. Some women hold jobs and are economically independent, which in some cases seems to clash with Muslim men’s perceptions of masculinity and femininity.
Thus, many women go out to find husbands oversees through either dating sites or community-based arrangements. While some women are savvy in these matters, others have little experience and lots of expectations. Few of them imagine that the marriage industry could bring about everything negative in their lives.
Some of these women flight across the Atlantic to marry people that they have never seen except through Skype or other services. Usually they pay for their own flights and manage as Western independent women without considering the differences that may exist between them and the expectations of their soon-to-be husbands.
Many of these men, is sad to say, are looking exactly for these Western girls. Canadian or American women who have nationalities, jobs and independence are the preferred target. In the Western world we fail to acknowledge that marriage, in most societies, has never been about romantic, Hollywood-like love. Marriage has often been treated as a political, legal and economic category in most societies. Yes, love may exist, love may come… but what is love? maybe not the Western ideal.
Moreover, marriage has become, once more, a tool of social mobility. While marriage has been traditionally used by women to achieve higher status, nowadays men resort to marriage in order to enhance their living conditions. High rates of unemployment and just the general conditions created in the non-Western world by neo-liberal policies, pushes a number of people to look beyond borders for more opportunities.
While illegal immigration is very prominent, marriage offers a secure option when it comes to immigration. Western women who just converted to Islam and are constantly bombarded with the idea of marriage are a good option when men from other countries want to find opportunities in the West.
Men in Muslim dating sites are often looking to relocate outside Asia, Africa or the Middle East. Some of them would marry any Western woman as long as she guarantees a permanent resident status or the equivalent in other countries. Some Western women, believing that this is the ‘real’ thing fall for the sweet talk and the compliments since it seems that Western men have lost their charm in those matters.
Few Muslim women actually ask the bigger questions… “why does this man want to marry me?” Considering the fact that most Western converts work, are independent, sometimes have children, are divorced or are not ‘virgins,’ one should ask this question. Many of these men would not marry a woman with these characteristics in normal conditions. Accepting an independent woman who has chosen, by herself, the path of Islam requires a very specific type of person. Unfortunately, some Muslim men haven’t achieved that level yet, but they are simply trying to walk through the hierarchical social scale.
We should probably ask, “would this man marry me even if I was from a different ethnicity? if I was a ‘born’ Muslim? if I was not Western?” “Would he accept me if I wasn’t Western with my independence, my job, my children, my ex-partner?” If the answer is not, walking away may be the best solution.
Yet, it is a very complex matter. We all want to think that our situation is different, even if the numbers challenge our assumptions. The issue is so prominent in Canada that the government has decided to approach it. However, government bureaucracy can do only so much to ‘protect us.’
An important rule of thumb is to understand how marriage suppose to work Islamically and realize that cultural practices permeate the Islamic ideal. Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge that if given the option, some of these men would not marry Western converts with ‘dubious’ pasts. It takes a bit more to understand the path that female converts have gone through. Because of that, we should be extra careful. A wrong slip into a marriage of convenience can completely change our lives. Trust is important but our protection is too. If we are looking for the loving marriage that everyone talks about, we must keep our selves in the right mind set, and realize that unless we really know the person, there is little that love can account for.