And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], "uff," and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.”[Quran 17: 23]
As Muslims, we are taught that one of the most important thing a child should do is to always be obedient and respectful to their parent. To not do so, is a grievous offense in the eyes of Allah(SWT). It is important to note though that obedience to your parents is not absolute for Allah says“there is no obedience to the creation in disobedience to the creator”. You should always try to obey and please your parents unless what they are asking of you is in contradiction with the teachings of Islam. Alongside this, kinship ties in Islam are also very important and to dissolve them without good reason is considered to be a sin. With that being said, it is important to remember such things when it comes to the subject of marriage in Islam.
The extent to which parents and family members are involved in the courtship process varies differently depending on the family and their cultural customs. Islamically though, the parents need to be aware of the relationship and the wali(male guardian of the girl) must be involved as his consent is needed for the marriage to be lawful(the Hanafi school of thought strongly recommends the consent of the wali but does not consider it to be obligatory, the other three schools of thought consider it obligatory).
As I stated in the part 1 of the series, it is not permissible for a parent to force their child to marry someone. Both the woman and man must express their consent to the marriage in order for it to be valid. Some Muslim parents, misusing the fact that Islam promotes the obedience of the child to the parents, attempt to manipulate and force their child to marry someone that they have chosen despite the refusal of their child. Contrary to popular belief, it is not “the job” of the parent to find a spouse for their child. If their child chooses to ask them to take on this role, it is permissible. Parents(and all family members) must remember that while the parent may suggest a spouse, it is not their right. Alongside this, it is the right of the son/daughter to choose their own spouse.
During the courtship process and prior to the actual nikkah, the main role of the parents is to ensure that the entire process is halal. Parents are welcome to get to know the individual that their child is interested in as well as the individual’s parents. As loving and caring parents should, parents should be sure to listen to the reasons why their child chose this person and learn about exactly what it is they are looking for in a spouse so that they can assist in the making of the best/appropriate decision. Parents are also welcome to give their opinions on the prospective individual and whether or not they approve or disapprove of the match. The last part, the ability to give their opinion and approve/disapprove of the potential spouse, is something that most parents take to heart and often use to try and control the entire situation.
While parents can express their opinions, it is important to note that the child does not have to agree with their decision if it is derived in a haram manner. For instance, we often hear about parents turning down a suitor because he/she is not a doctor or is not from their same community. The Prophet(SAW) says to choose someone foremost because of their deen and character and not because of tribal affiliation, skin tone, nationality or race.
Overall, parents and immediate family members should try and get to know the potential spouse but remember that ultimately, the suitor is not marrying the entire family and although they should get along, its the opinion of person looking to get married that matters most.
Being someone who has friends from numerous cultural backgrounds, I have witnessed the involvement of parents/families in the marriage process take form in different ways. Some parents were extremely involved to the point in which the girl met the guy once in her living room, went on two outings with him and then had her nikkah within two months. Her parents chose the brother and simply told her that "its the parents job to find a proper spouse and a good child is obedient". I also had a friend whose parents, after initially speaking to guy, let her go about the courtship process on her own and fully supported her. Alhamdulilah for both of these sisters who are currently living in happy marriages. I also have friends who have had suitors who were pious Muslims, had decent careers, exhibited good characters but were turned down by the family of my female friends because the suitors were not from their nationality. I am not going to go into so much detail about this but Ya Allah, I find it really sad when people turn down perfectly good suitors for not being from the same ethnicity/country as them. I’ve seen parents who would rather their child marry a non-Muslim from the same culture than an observant Muslim from a different culture. Astagfirullah! This is a practice that the Prophet(SAW) would not approve of and is something that has become a horrible disease in the Muslim community. When it comes to choosing a good spouse, the Prophet(SAW) said-
"A woman is married for four things, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty, and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman; (otherwise) you will be a loser". (Al-Bukhari)
"If someone with whose piety and character you are satisfied comes to you, then marry him. If you do not do so, there will be disorder in the earth and a great deal of evil". (At-Tirmidhi)
These two Ahadith(saying/teaching of the Prophet Muhammad) clearly tells us that piety and good character is the most important thing when looking for someone. Alongside this, Islam permits the marriage of Muslim men to practicing Christian and Jewish women. If Allah(SWT) thought it okay for a man to marry outside of the deen, why would he find it unacceptable for a Muslim to marry another Muslim who is of a different nationality?
In regards to my experience with the role of parents/family in the marriage and courtship process, I must say, it sadly has not been the most positive. As I have overwhelmingly stated, Islamic teachings and obligations come before those that are cultural. This is not because I do not like my culture or because I am not proud of it, on the contrary I am very proud of my ethnicity, but more so because I have seen the results of choosing culture over deen and it is definitely NOT the straight path and will not get me to Jannah. In part 1 of this series, I expressed how I went about the courtship process slightly different than Islam recommends, mainly because my family is not set up in a way that would support that process. After I began to court the brother, we decided that we knew each other well enough for him to call one of my parents to let them know about our courtship and intentions. Sadly, that conversation did not go so well, mainly because my mother did not accept that he was not of the same ethnicity as me. After this initial conversation he met my family on two separate occasions, neither of which went well. For me, this was thoroughly disappointing. Firstly because, I vehemently detest treating someone in a different manner because of their ethnicity, especially when it comes to marriage and Islam. Secondly, being someone with convert friends, I have heard tons of stories of sisters( mainly black Americans) who have left the deen because they were treated badly because of their race and were constantly being turned down for marriage. Being that this brother is also a convert, I did not want him to leave his first full on interaction with a Muslim family with the idea that Muslims were rude and racist and although they love it when you convert, they don’t really consider you to be part of them(sadly, this sentiment is often times expressed by converts). Instead of discussing about his opinions of and interactions with my family, I found myself apologizing for the rude and unIslamic treatment. Despite this initial horrible reaction from my family, we continued to court and I met his family who Alhamdulilah are very nice and welcoming individuals.
Though I do of course love my family, their involvement in this process thoroughly dampened something that should have been filled with joy and happiness. Parents are allowed to express their disapproval in their child’s choice of a spouse but when that disapproval is haram in nature( based on the person’s race, culture, social class etc) that disapproval does not need to obeyed. My mother consistently mentions how in Islam parents are supposed to choose their child’s spouse and how children are supposed to be obedient, etc, etc. I respectfully respond that her objections are not within the realms of Islam. In essence, my mother thinks I’m being unbelievably stubborn to which I respond(in my head of course) “I’m not trying to buy a pair of shoes and you’re telling me no, its a life partner I’m choosing, the other half of my deen. It’s not about being stubborn”. Interestingly enough, this is the same approach(you’re being stubborn, Islam says you must obey me) that she took when I decided to start wearing a jilbab full time. Truthfully, if this happened 5-6 years prior, I might not have been so strong in standing my ground but after growing and developing, I came to the conclusion that I need to make decisions that are the best for me and although I do factor in the opinions of others, I don’t necessarily share the same values, beliefs and viewpoints as my family and community therefore I don’t expect them to agree or see things from my perspective. I simply want my decisions to be respected as I am a thoughtful person who does not make rash decisions.
I know there are some Muslims who read this and think, 'she should just stop courting the brother and find someone from her own background’ . My response to that is, I have had suitors from my own culture and their deen was nowhere close to what I wanted in a spouse and though there are some sisters who are willing to put that aside, the state of my faith and the observance of my future children(inshaAllah) are way more important than having a husband who speaks my native language or grew up with the same customs as me because, truthfully he can learn the language, I can teach him the customs but going into a marriage thinking that I’m going to change the way he practices his deen is not smart and would only lead me to hardship and me possibly setting myself up for failure.
At the end of the day, parents need to try and remember that the happiness and opinion of their child is the most important. Yes some parents think that a child should be happy simply from knowing that they have made their parent happy but honestly, the idea of me living in sadness and despair because of something as arbitrary as race is not how I would like to live my life. As Muslims, we should we always try and please our parents but remember that if they are leading you astray, it is your right to say ‘STOP’ and do things properly.
*Part 3 of the "Marriage Series" focusing on cultural and ethnic customs in the engagement, nikkah and walima will inshaAllah be posted next soon.
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