Thursday, March 13, 2014

From "The Thrival Room": Interfaith Marriage for Muslim Women, the Unavailable Husband, and Kafa'a

Recently, a fabulous group of Muslim Americans launched a fabulous website called The Thrival Rom. There aren't that many Muslim spaces out there that are open to diverse, controversial, non-orthodox, and non-conventional perspectives, so I'm deeply grateful to the Thrival team for not just sharing my voice there but welcome and encouraging it as well. I wish the team and the website much success! May it go far and wide, and may it benefit Muslims and the rest of humanity everywhere. Aameen.
I'll write another blog introducing the website and copying/pasting their "About Me" section, but for now, here's an important message from them: The website is literally, "Your eye into Muslim America. The reality of the world is that there will always be two things that inform opinions – the way things should be and the way things are.There are plenty of websites focused on the way things should be by trying to bring the message of Islam to the world. This website focuses on the way things are for Muslims and telling it like it is." 
 I urge you to share your voice there as well. Send in your submissions at

It's also the Muslim version of the "HuffPost," if you ask me. The team members also initially founded the Sand Paper Times satirical blog; it's hilarious.

So I'm sharing here my first article for them. I will paste only the first couple of paragraphs of my article; you can (and should *grin*) read the rest as well--but do so over at The Thrival Room. The link to the website is: Interfaith Marriages for Muslim Women, the Unavailable Husband, and Kafa'a.

Feel free to share any insight into the issue as you please!

Thank you for reading! :)

So here's my piece.

The problem of the lack of suitable husbands for Muslim women, particularly Western Muslim women, has been in existence for a while, but thanks to the internet, it is finally being discussed more openly and honestly today. However, two elements of the discussion that are missing are that of interfaith marriage for Muslim women, which is traditionally deemed forbidden by what appears to be a majority of Muslims worldwide, and the concept of kifa’a (compatibility) in the Shari’a.
For the first element, it is time we started a conversation on this as well, as difficult as it may be and as haraam as it may feel for many. One of the many wrongs that many societies have in common is shaming women for the choices they make, without understanding the context or circumstances of these choices. We as a Muslim community face far more dire issues than whom a woman marries and does not marry and we cannot afford to attack and exclude from our communities women who marry non-Muslim men while completely embracing men who marry outside the faith. For too many Muslim women who marry non-Muslims, the reality is that that may have been their only available option, although many do marry outside the faith simply because they wished to do so. However, even if their decision is supposedly haraam, we should acknowledge that there is a bigger reality that’s at least just as haraam: the circumstances that lead so many Msulim women to believe that there are no compatible Muslim husbands for them because our standards are so high, so unrealistic, and so unfair that they turn to non-Muslims as potential husbands because the non-Muslim men are more compatible with them than the Muslim men are.

The second element, kafa’a, or compatibility in marriage according to the Shari’a, is in-line with the vibrant discussion among Muslims online today who cite incompatibility as the main reason they cannot find Muslim husbands. Of course, at the time the Shari’a was being developed, kafa’a was understood more in terms of socio-economic compatibility, but there is no reason to restrict it to that anymore. According to the Shari’a, for example, women raised in families where they were served by servants should marry men who can provide them at least the same number of servants so that they are not disappointed, dissatisfied, or unhappy in their marriages. In other words, the point of delineating guidelines about kafa’a was to ensure a woman’s happiness in her marriage. Women are even told that they cannot marry anyone “beneath” their status (Social and Gender Inequality in Oman: The Power of Religious and Political Tradition, p. 36) and while this probably meant, at the time, someone below their socio-economic class, it can be applied to today in other, more relevant ways. (I understand that a woman’s happiness is not always the objective of marriage in religions, but I believe that in this case, it is.) Today, we understand that with Muslim diasporas all over the world, with rising levels of education among Muslim women and men but especially among women, and a focus on career and professional success in order for a family, a couple, or an individual to survive in today’s world, the idea of kafa’a extends beyond socio-economic issues. We know from our experiences and interactions with others that a Muslim female raised in the West is likely to be completely incompatible with the cousin from “back home” whom her parents expect or suggest that she marry. They have different backgrounds, different expectations and understandings of life, possibly different goals and missions in life as well.  This is not to imply that men raised “back home” are unworthy of them; it is that there would be little understanding between them. Since there is no kafa’a between them, the marriage would not be recommended from a Shari’a perspective. While one can claim that this is “superficial”—that bringing up different backgrounds, cultures, expectations as factors to be considered in a conversation on kafa’a—I would argue on the contrary: this is a serious dilemma facing many Muslims today, and no one would be better to know whether or not a couple is compatible with each other than the couple in question themselves. Similarly, though, as Muslim women’s personal experiences with their search for a Muslim husband in the West teach us, even Muslim men raised in the West are generally incompatible with the Western Muslim women primarily because of their different understandings of gender roles in marriage....
Click here to read the rest.

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