An oft quoted saying from the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, is “Marriage is half of the religion”. One of the main points that Muslims take from the hadith that mentions this is how important marriage is for a person of faith. It is one of the most important decisions you will ever make in your life so marriage being ‘half of one’s religion’ is not hyperbole at all. Another hadith that is not quoted as often relates to who one should marry. The Prophet Muhammad was asked this question and he responded by saying that marrying someone for their piety is best (he mentioned that you can marry for other reasons as well but that piety was best). But in a complex world filled with many divisions on race, class, gender, ethnicity, language and culture the reality often times is in contradiction with the ideal. Moreover we must consider how we are socialized as far as ideas and images we have regarding marriage. While there are have been many lectures and several books on marriage in Islam it is rare to have frank and open discussions on how race and culture affect our decisions on who to marry. While certain ahadith are quoted, such as the ones above, what happens when it comes to a real decision? What do Muslims really think? I recently conducted two polls on my website, www.brotherdash.com, on marriage. The results are quite interesting.
The first poll conducted in the Spring of 2008 asked respondents if they would marry someone of another race or ethnicity. The responses are below:
Yes, Absolutely 50%
Probably Yes 21.2%
Yes, but not over my parent’s objections 16.9%
Perhaps 6.8% (removed this option in 2nd poll)
Probably not 3.4%
No way absolutely no 1.7%
The second poll conducted in the Summer of 2008 asked a more specific question and of females only. Would you marry an African-American or Afro-Carribean brother? The results are below:
Yes, Absolutely 52.5%
Probably Yes 9.3%
Yes, but not against my parent’s wishes 16.1%
Probably Not 12.7%
No, Absolutely Not 9.3%
There were exactly 118 Respondents for each poll.
Anecdotally speaking many in the African-American community have suspected that the issue of “Blackness” is much more significant in marriage than we may pay lip service to. Many African-American Men have often complained amongst each other that Arab and South Asian Muslims would object to their daughters marrying them based on nothing but race not on Islamic knowledge nor perceived spirituality.
While no scientific studies have ever been conducted to confirm or reject this perception the data from the polls lends credence to these prevailing attitudes. What do the polls say when we compare them side by side? While we notice that there is some displeasure amongst a minority of Muslims regarding marriage outside of one’s culture or race it is much more noticeable when the race is specified to African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans. Conversely however in both polls those who appear to have no concern over marrying outside of perceived race and culture are consistent whether the person is African-American or not. 53% would marry outside of their race/culture when race is unspecified and 50% would do so when African-American is specified. This is fairly close. You also notice this consistency when the respondent states that they would marry outside of their race as long as it was not against parental desire. But there is a glaring difference amongst the “probably nots”, and “absolutely nots.” The difference is huge. Only 5% of respondents said that they would probably not or absolutely not marry someone outside of their race in the 1st poll where race is UNSPECIFIED. But 22% said that they would probably not or absolutely not when the race is specified to marrying an African-American. What the data suggests is that when it comes to marrying a Black man there is not much middle ground and there is much more polarization around the issue. You are either very much for it or very much against it when it comes to “Blackness”.
There is some insight into the respondent’s feelings however. Some of the “no” respondents did send private emails and two of them were actually Women of African and Afro-Caribbean descent themselves. One of the Women discussed how she had a bad marriage with an African-American brother and thus would not marry another. The other respondent said that she was basing her “no” decision on what she has seen in her own personal experience in the community.
I believe that the community would find it to be interesting to have a more comprehensive forum surrounding relationships and gender attitudes amongst Muslims. On the more “pro” side many Women responded that what was most important to them was the brother’s faith, personality, drive or ambition. These are characteristics that are fairly universal desirable qualities in a mate. With such a difference between “no” responses where 5% said “no” with race unspecified (thus leaving the person to pick any race/ethnicity in their mind) and 22% said “no” when forced to pick African-American it begs to ask the question as to why this is not being discussed more in the Muslim community.