How to Build a Successful Intercultural Marriage

Written by Stephanie Siam

wedding-silhouetteMarriage is a commitment that requires unending devotion, conscientious effort, and a lot of patient practice. Selecting a suitable husband is quite possibly the most important decision a woman will make. So much rests on who she chooses to be her life partner:

  • Will he be kind and patient?
  • Will he support me through good times and bad?
  • Will he be responsible and mature when necessary?
  • Will he be a good parent?

Factor in religion, culture, and nationality, and a woman can just about go insane trying to satisfy her need to fulfill what many consider to be an obligatory rite of passage in Islam.

It’s no secret that many Western, female converts look eastward when searching for a husband. Perhaps their attraction to the dark, brooding males of the Orient is what initially drew them towards the study wedding-hennaof Islam to begin with – no, I’m not saying women convert to Islam for their men, reread the sentence.

While there are plenty of Western, female converts who find successful marriages with Western male converts (see: Corbin, islamwichs founder and person extraordinaire), an overwhelming number of women ultimately marry men from the Levant (Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine), Arabian Gulf Peninsula (UAE, Saudi, Kuwait), India, or Pakistan.

However, no matter where these men come from initially, almost all of them share similar traits as Husbands to Western Convert Wives. And these traits can sometimes – read: always be challenging negotiations when trying to merge two cultures into one marriage.

I mean, marriage is hard enough as it is.

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Aisha’s Marriage in Focus

Written by Theresa Corbin

I’ve written about it in the context of other issues a couple of times now, but I thought Aisha’s (Allah be pleased with her) age at marriage deserved a post all on its own. Because lots of people have this same question: Why did the Prophet (PBUH) marry Aisha when she was so young?

Aisha's Marriage in Focus

We don’t know Aisha’s age when she married the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The thing is they didn’t keep birth records back in those days. They also didn’t celebrate birthdays or really even keep track of age. We do have reports that Aisha was anywhere from 9-18 at the time of her marriage.

What is important for us to understand about Aisha’s marriage to the Prophet is that we cannot apply our standards in 2016 to people 1,400 plus years ago and vice versa. When people do put lives 1,400 years ago into 21st century context, it is as if they admit to not understanding historical context or ever having taken a history class in their lives. And that’s just sad.

Life in the 7th c.

We do not live in the same world at all. In the 7th century people were not guaranteed to see the ripe old age of 30. People matured early and were ready for marriage a heck of a lot earlier. Looking back even a few hundred years ago, the legal age of marriage was as young as anything from 10-14 years old. 

Richard A. Posner, chief judge of the U.S. court of appeals writes, “The law governing the age of consent has changed dramatically in the United States during this century. Most states codified a statutory age of consent during the nineteenth century, and the usual age was ten years.” [1]

Marriage in the 7th c.

The practice of marrying early was not an aberration to the people during the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her). Christians, Jews, and pagans all married very young. So if we are going to criticize Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha, why don’t we have a problem with King John of England marrying 12-year-old Isabella of Angoulême? 

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Polygamy Explained, Part 2: Rules of Engagement

Written by Theresa Corbin

Part I here

Many people have an emotional response to the thought of polygamy.

It only makes sense. When you ask someone to think logically about their emotional relationships, it can be difficult.  The ugly emotional center of the brain rears up and goes into attack mode, bullying the more logical frontal lobe into submission.

polygamy explained part 2

It is hard to separate the emotional and the logical. Add that fact to the fact that we live in a culture that is emotionally attached to believing Disney fairy tales are true … and happen in real life … makes it very difficult to have a logical conversation about polygamy. 

But we can logically conclude that if a bird has never flown in your window and helped out with your laundry, it is less likely that a good looking, well-mannered, charming, respectful man or woman from a royal line and tons of money and super good looks will swoop in and solve and/or save you from every problem you have.

And you will most likely not live happily ever after just because you have faith in love. To my mind, this leads to alcoholism. Sorry to break the news. We are all just people and we all screw up and break each other’s hearts.

In the previous post our good friend Gracie touched on the topic of polygyny (Polygamous marriages where a man marries more than one women) and gave examples of when it is advantageous for women.

And she pointed out that, while we live in a society and a time where women have many opportunities to be educated and independent, not everyone has this system or these opportunities. And even those who do have these opportunities, may still choose polygamy for other reasons.

For some people polygamy works (but if you are in a country where it is illegal and you want to get polygamous, you have two options 1-don’t do it, or 2-leave). That is not to say it is for everyone. It REALLY isn’t.

A tip for the sisters: No one should make anyone be a part of a polygamous relationship against their will.

Muslims didn’t start the party

Some non-Muslims base their opinion of Islam solely on the practice of polygyny. But can we please, just for today, remember a little further back than the American media recommends? 

Islam was not the initiator or promoter of polygamy. Polygamy was being practiced long before the existence of Islam. Jews, Christians, and many other [religions and] cultures practiced polygamy, and some still continue to do so. Famous prophets practiced polygamy, such as David, Solomon, and Abraham. In fact, Islam was the only religion that restricted and regulated polygamous marriages. 

And, we at islamwich do not advocate polygamy outside of the strict Islamic guidelines.

THAT never works, because it can so very quickly become oppressive. The way some communities practice polygamy is rather reprehensible. I have heard of men marrying pairs of sisters and even mothers and daughters (you are just asking for drama in those situations) and all women are sleeping on the floor of one room. That is called greed and neglect, not polygamy.

Even within some Muslim families polygamy is not practice in compliance with the Islamic guidelines. I have seen it a hundred times, some lazy piece of $#!+ brother marries a nice religious sister, who may not have a lot of Islamic knowledge, but she tries. And this brother convinces her that it is his right to marry another woman.

The problem is he isn’t taking care of the first wife. She works, does all the chores, and is raising their children. I am sure he is bored with no way to expend his energy besides sitting around playing video games and talking about how women don’t wear hijab properly. And I am sure she is exhausted from all her responsibilities. His “logical” answer is to get another one. WRONG!!!!!

Another tip for sisters: You get to write a contract when you get married. If you aren’t down with getting polygamous, put it in your contract. And YES, it is allowed. Just ask Ibn al-Qayyim who wrote in Zâd al-Ma`âd (5/117-118):

If a man agrees to the condition that he will not marry a second wife, he is obliged by that condition. If the man breaks his promise, the woman will be entitled to terminate the marriage contract.

And there is a precedent for it in the Sunnah

The rules of the road.

[..] marry women of your choice, two or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one. (Quran 4:3)

1-      Polygamy is not an obligated rule; it is a permissible act.

In truth, not many men can stand up to the test of polygamy, but they still want to fail trying because they believe it to be their “right”. But:

Polygamy is not a right, but a responsibility to ensure social justice […] What Allah has granted is in fact a restriction on an existing practice of that time when men could marry as many wives as they wanted.- 

2-      It’s all about the Benjamins-

It is the man’s responsibility to provide for his family. He must, to the best of his ability, provide his wife and their offspring with an appropriate standard of living. If the wife decides she would also like to earn money, it is hers to keep, entirely (this is not to say that couples cannot make different arrangements for financial means. They can but only if both partners agree). 

So, if you cannot afford one wife and your children with her, you absolutely cannot go looking for another wife you cannot afford to provide for. To be clear, wives should be given separate accommodations. So, if you can’t afford two house or even apartment, shut up about another wife. 

3-       Allah says in the Quran that men are not capable.

You will never able to be fair and just between women even if that were your ardent desire. (Quran 4:129).

In this verse, just treatment means so much more than a man’s financial capacity to support more than one wife. We have seen it before, men with money are very capable of showering their loved one’s with things, but seem incapable of doing the same showering with time or affection. 

A husband must give equally to each wife his time, support, and companionship. 

4-       It ain’t no fantasy, folks  

Polygamy in Islam is not an orgy as it has been too long thought of in the Western men’s lust fulfillment fantasy. Polygamy in Islam is taking on the responsibilities of another family. It is a man giving his respect to all his in-laws. It is dealing with the good, the bad, and the ugly from multiple women. It is working as much as you have to, so you can support your wives and all your children financially, physically, emotionally, intellectually, and so on.

It is hard enough to be man enough for one woman and family; imagine having to work two to four times as hard.- My husband said in an interview after he did the dishes: an effort to live up to the Prophet’s (PBUH) example of being man enough to do housework.

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Polygamy Explained, Part I: A Societal Need?

Written by Gracie Lawrence

Since the days that exotic tales of everyday wealthy Ottoman life began to waft onto European shores, wondering Western romantic minds have been painting up portraits of what Eastern harrams (pronounced hair-ums in some southern cities) must have looked like. Ladies lavishly washing, beautifying themselves and their long manes, and perhaps even making exquisitely succulent turkey dinners … together … just for you.

Polygamy Part 1

Equally ridiculous is how having 4 sets of in-laws, the various responsibilities of those women and resulting amount of children, and how alllll that would affect Sunday night football never quite occurs to many men.

I thought it would be interesting to talk about why anyone might want to be in a polygamous marriage in the first place (PART 1) and no, not from a male point of view … boring! Secondly, what responsibilities that would entail for a man (PART 2).

Wait, whaatt? Muslim men have duties to their wife/wives?  YUP!

Polygamy (or more specifically, Polygyny- in which a man has more than one wife) can be a difficult thing for the Western mind to imagine as anything other than an oppressive venture.

However, the disturbing–to-some fact remains that a large part of the world does practice polygamy and has practiced it for thousands of whyyourarelyseeafemalypolygamist[1]years (conjuring up stories of King Solomon here).

According to the Ethnographic Atlas, of 1,231 societies noted, only 186 were monogamous; 453 had occasional polygyny; 588 had more frequent polygyny; and 4 had polyandry (in which a woman has more than one husband- Part 3, maybe?).

However, even in countries where polygyny is practiced only 16-30% of people actually utilize it. Therefore, clearly even in polygyny friendly societies, this form of marriage is not dominant.

Moreover, there are various kinds, female choice polygyny systems seen among South American natives (see this one about a Bolivian tribe) are going to be different than a male coercion model.

There are many reasons why marriages may become polygamous. But I think it first appropriate to bring forth the appropriate backdrop.

Lifting the Western goggles

Picture it … the Earth, the date- today.

Even in this century, the majority of the world does not have the economic system or wealth of modern post- industrialized nations. 

Taking into consideration that most of human civilization has been overrun with serious poverty, men and women dying from preventable diseases, and women dying due to childbirth related complications, (Maternal Deaths Sub-Saharan Africa) life and social taboos in many places were and still are vastly different from the Western context.

Now that we have taken our Western goggles off

Let’s have a look around and think of just some examples where polygyny might occur and work … without being oppressive to women.

1. Poverty

You’re a poor girl whose father and only bread winner of the family just passed away. Unfortunately for you women don’t have the option of earning wages. And you really don’t like being poor. While there are plenty of single, young goat-herding men around- they are also poor and therefore not very interesting to you.

There is, however, an older, charming a la’ Sean Connery merchant who is actually very well off.  He already has two wives, but have you seen their homes? And you would be the youngest and favorite wife, right?

2. War

You’re a poor girl who lives in a village that has just been annihilated by a fairly rich country. Most of the men have been slaughtered, including your father the protector and only bread winner of the family.

You are stuck with the few males who were too old to be considered a threat to invaders. They all have at least one wife already. But you really want some babies, a few meals a day, and some protection in your now lawless area. Polygyny is a better than your only other option- prostitution (which sky-rockets in conflict zones).

3. You’re tired

You are a married woman with a few kids, and you have been married to your husband for a while now. He’s a nice guy- you love him- you would never think of leaving him or separating him from the kids. But the man has the sexual appetite that can be compared to a pack of starved wildebeests … every … single … night.

You on the other hand are a once a week kind of girl. You tell him he either needs a new hobby or a new wife- not that he can’t just overcome his urge, but you’re pretty practical at this point in your life–why not?

I could go on and on with these circumstances and the driving factors for women to want polygyny (your parents don’t even have to die in these scenarios and the last one isn’t even poverty dependent). 


Even Tim Harford at Slate recognizes the benefits of such a system in his article hilariously entitled I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do: The Economic Case for Polygamy

This probably all sounds very foreign to you, and of course it is! (Except for the marrying for money part because we all know of some gold digger who did that.) It is not part of our culture to have a lot of these problems, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been an issue or are still occurring in many parts of the world RIGHT NOW.

What Islam does is regulate these unions so that as few people get hurt as possible (no abusing women, using men purely as sperm donors, the rights of children, etc.).

And in a species such as ours where almost every characteristic (including sexual appetite) can be spread over such a vast spectrum of varying degrees of intensity- I believe such flexibility in law (religious or otherwise) actually strengthens societies.


Part Two here

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