Of Fish and Tamarind: An Insight Into Muslim Cross-Cultural Marriage
The marriage between a husband and a wife as ordained by Allah is summed up in a traditional Malay proverb, ‘Asam di darat, ikan di laut bertemu dalam belanga juga‘. It simply means that if a man and a woman are meant to be together they will eventually meet regardless of the circumstances. Taking this proverb on a literal scale, the meeting of tamarind and fish in a pot shows the possibility of unification of two very different entities from two different worlds.
Cross-cultural marriage, interethnic marriage, interracial marriage are just some terms used to describe the union of two persons from different cultural backgrounds (note: there are nuanced differences between these terms). With an ever-increasing globalized world that assumes the intensification of worldwide social relations,marriages have taken an interesting cultural twist. According to a study done by Pew Research Center in 2010, one in seven new marriages in the United States are interethnic or interracial.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” Al Hujarat 49:13
One of the signs that Allah has created is the beauty of diversity. Islam celebrates these differences and rejects racism and overt pride of one’s nation or ethnicity. Therefore, it is not surprising to see Muslims embracing this diversity by marrying outside their own ethnic groups.
Fulfilling half of one’s deen does not come easy. Challenges are present even in marriages with couples that share similar cultural backgrounds. Being married outside of one’s ethnic group brings about an additional set of challenges that are usually not present in mono-cultural marriages. Some of these challenges include overcoming of stereotypes of the other’s ethnicity, language barriers, cultural etiquettes and preference of diet. This article is an attempt to look at Muslim cross-cultural couples and reveal how they make their marriage work.
Islam: The Ties that Bind
The declaration of La illaha illa Allah Muhammadur Rasulullah – there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger- becomes the binding agent between Muslim couples in a cross-cultural marriage. This declaration becomes a shared identity between couples in which couples realise their common and ultimate purpose, vision and goal. Newlywed couple for one and half years, Filzah, a Malay Singaporean and Murat, a Kazakh believes that one of the most important factors that kept them together is to be on the same page with regards to religion. Filzah, 25, said “We know one of our goals is to try to be better Muslims. To support each other in that journey.”[pullquote_left]”Islam is our way of life. We know that is the only way to deal with our differences.”[/pullquote_left]
Married to a British of Pakistani descent for five years, KD, a Filipino Muslim from Manila echoed similar sentiments that religion is of utmost importance in their marriage, “We avoid bringing in ‘culture’ that are not based in the religion. Islam is our way of life. We know that is the only way to deal with our differences.”
Such goals and purpose can also be seen through the ways couples raise or hope to raise their children. Maida Tauqir, 25, a Houston native born into a cross-cultural family recalled how her Mexican mother and Pakistani father raised her and her younger brother, “My parents don’t bring a lot of culture into their parenting style- my dad does it sometimes- but generally they believe that they should parent us in an Islamic way.”
Like many other Muslim parents or parents-to-be, young couple Filzah and Murat believed that their children should be raised in an Islamic household, “We hope that in the future, we will raise righteous children, who will be successful in this life and the hereafter.”
The key to any successful relationship is the ability to communicate effectively. Cross-cultural couples from two different countries may experience some levels of language barriers . Language barriers does not necessarily mean barriers in communication of two different languages. Rather, the understanding of different terms of the same language. Despite such hurdles, efforts with regards to communication should be made to strenghthen the marriage.
KD, 33, mother of one mentioned that it is especially difficult for her since her husband is residing in the United Kingdom while she resides in Canada. Although there are difficulties, technology has helped them to be in touch with each other, “We express ourselves. We tell each other what we feel, we share each other’s world, how the day been. We share stories.”
Along with effective communication, other important factors that helped make their marriage work include mutual trust and honesty,[quote]”We speak our minds, we don’t doubt each other. And we feel very comfortable in each other’s company- we can discuss any topic under the sky. We’re each other’s best friend basically,” said Filzah.[/quote]
Finding a Middle Ground
Being able to compromise is one of the challenges faced by most married couples. Filzah who met her husband in university stated, “The hardest challenge so far is learning to compromise- not specifically because of our different ethnic backgrounds. Yes, we have the same goals, beliefs and compatibility but we have differing opinions from time to time. The challenge is to really find the middle way of doing things- from household chores to migration issues.”
Compromise on the cultural level may include difference in clothing and culinary tastes, KD quiped,[box_light]“ I don’t eat spicy food. He does. When we are out he will always ask for non-spicy food for me. At home, he doesn’t ask me to cook for the kind of food he’s used to. He grew up in a household that seafood is not often served, and I’m a seafood person. The rule is never say anything against my or his food. Respect each other’s taste.”[/box_light]
Although culinary tastes may differ between couples, children with parents of different ethnicities relish the diverse gastronomy and other benefits that comes with a cross-cultural marriage. “The food at my house is awesome. But besides food, I feel like I’ve been blessed to be born in an intercultural household because I know three languages fluently,” said Maida who speaks English, Spanish and Urdu.
To end this off, cross-cultural marriage like any other marriage requires hardwork from both husband and wife. Having the same goal or purpose, good communication between the couple and learning to compromise are just some ingredients that can make cross-cultural marriage work. Challenges within marriage may differ from one couple to another. What is best is to make an effort and make du’a that the marriage lasts till Jannah.
Amirah Diyanah Kemat
Amirah recently graduated from Nanyang Technological University. Like everyone else, she struggles to have the world in her hands but not in her heart.