Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Marrying Islam

By Angela Arafat

Anyone who is married will agree that a good marriage takes work no matter the situation. The initial phase of attraction, romance and wonderment fades with time to some extent and this is a natural biological process. We can’t always be walking on air. Marriage requires communication, solid friendship and an appreciation for what the spouse finds value in. Marrying someone who grew up just down the road from you, might iron out some of the kinks, since each would have a longer and broader understanding of who their spouse was raised to be but the work of relationship remains. It stands to reason that someone from a more distant background or culture will come with an extra workload. Each culture has its own traditions and understanding about communication, and what a phrase might mean to one, might mean something very different to the other. A great deal of our communication is unique to our culture. These differences increase the workload of the intercultural marriage. When matters of differing faith are involved things become even more complex. An individual’s ideas about faith, even in the nominal believer, impact how they see matters of life, death, morality, how to deal with stressors, what holidays are sacred, and so on.

Islam is unique in that it allows for interfaith marriage as long as the Muslim man is marrying outside of Islam. Muslim women are not granted this, as Islam follows the religion of the paternal line, so a child from a Muslim woman married to a Christian male would be prone to be Christian and thus the risk is too great for her to marry outside her faith. Both Christian and Jewish traditions discourage marriage outside the faith for both genders. Thus when a woman steps out of her faith tradition and practices to follow “her heart” and marry outside her faith to a Muslim male she makes a choice between her faith and her beloved. When she chooses him she communicates to him that he is more important to her than her faith and leaves herself open for that understanding for the rest of her married life. For her, it is romantic to marry for love, disregarding all rules for the sake of her beloved. For him, it means she values him more than her God, and confirms to him what he may have already thought about her faith – that it is weak.

In full-time ministry with my husband, a convert from Islam to Christianity,1 (note: he was a Christian when I met him) I find my time often being spent with those ladies who have taken the step to marry a Muslim. While in many such cases the lady will choose to convert to Islam, but there are also the many that choose to remain Christian and reject Islam. When sharing my experiences with these ladies with other Christians I am often overwhelmed by the questions of “How in the world could she do such a thing?” This being said, I intend to share with you not only how she could, but why she did, and how she feels about it now.

In the culture that we now live in, girls are still being brought up with the “Cinderella story” firmly implanted on their ideals of courtship and marriage. Almost all the romantic movies seen are full of the imagery of the prince charming sweeping her off her feet, and a connection that is beyond explanation and oddly within a very short period of time. However, in today’s culture many men find themselves rebuked and made fun of for being the romantic. The Western male is taught to be macho and if he is seen giving flowers to his lady, is joked about for weeks on end. So we will take our American girl “Eve” and put her into the world with the notions that are exactly opposite of what the American boy “Adam” has in mind. After many attempts at having a relationship with these Adam(s), and finding her self feeling misunderstood, unheard, and under-valued, how can we possibly wonder when Eve finds a “Muhammad” who makes her feel like she has finally found her Prince?

The Muslim Eastern man, who we will call Muhammad for conveniences sake, does not have the inhibitions to be romantic. In fact, romance is considered a fine art and those who can do it well are highly admired. Muhammad can quote poetry and send flowers without a moments blush, enjoying the rush of the romance as much as the young Eve who has caught his eye. Not only is Muhammad a romantic, but he is often exotic in appearance and accent, which seems to almost always appeal to the young Eves out there. Muhammad may only have to court the young Eve shortly before all of her pre-conceived ideas about “Eastern” men, have been dashed on the rocks. Muhammad will often respect Eve all the more if she has high moral standards, while Eve will find Adam often rejects her for not allowing physical contact. If Muhammad is serious in his intent with Eve, he will certainly be generous in gift giving, and take great delight in showering Eve with gifts. Eve will see Muhammad take great delight in his family relationships and notice his tender relations with his mother especially, while her former Adam may be quite distant from family. Eve will also notice how Muhammad loves and dotes on children, while many of her former Adam(s) have squirmed uncomfortably with a child nearby. While Muhammad may enjoy a good game of sports, Eve will notice that it won’t attract all his attentions.  Eve will see that Muhammad makes her feel truly wanted, needed and admired. Muhammad’s culture allows him to be totally romantic and not feel threatened by attacks for being too attached to the young lady in his life. He will make his lovely Eve feel like the center of attention, and a princess in his eyes. Muhammad will speak eagerly of marriage and forever commitment with no hesitation, while Adam can stumble over these words all too often. Muhammad may also be a lot more accepting of those few extra pounds that Eve keeps wishing would fall away, as a little bit of weight for him is a sign of health and not of weakness. Even when considering the issue of religious differences Muhammad will often be very accepting of her choice in her religion. Muhammad may show signs of being more devout than even the Christian Adam(s) that she has gotten to know previously. Eve will see Muhammad at prayer as much as five times a day, she will see Muhammad praising God for everyday things, and she will see Muhammad practicing moral values that she has seen so lacking in many of the previous Adam(s). Eve will rarely know the differences in her faith as to that of Muhammad’s because rarely will she have had an ample teaching on the issue. Muhammad may or may not be a resource for her in this question, and certainly not an unbiased one. In her world of acceptance and respecting everyone’s beliefs she may not see the reasons behind not marrying into another faith. We can no longer wonder why Eve would take this step, as it is very plain indeed why Eve would be eager to accept Muhammad’s invitation into marriage.

Eve’s family may or may not be supportive of her marriage to Muhammad, and rarely does this really matter to our Eve, who is so independent and romantic in her thinking. Her family may use stereotypes to dissuade her from this marriage, but they will have little effect, since Eve sees her Muhammad in a very different light. Her family may even use the “Not Without My Daughter” video, to show her the horrors that might occur in her life with this Muslim. Eve will typically shake her head at these attempts, knowing her Muhammad to be so different. What young lady doesn’t face some opposition in the fairy tales to her love? She feels that her dignity requires her to stick up for him, and rarely will anyone present an argument for not marrying him that actually holds water.

But what happens now? Muhammad has been a wonderful prince charming, but will and can he be a “Happily Ever After”? What Eve doesn’t often understand is that once Muhammad is her fiancé or later her spouse, is that his view of her will change dramatically. Muhammad doesn’t have to be a conniving, manipulative man for this to occur; he is merely being a Muslim married man. He doesn’t typically plan of entrapping his Eve, or being dishonest with her. (Although this is a common view, it is rarely accurate and is a common misunderstanding between the Muslim culture and that of the West.) Muhammad has honor now to consider, and his honor cannot be underestimated at all. Eve’s behavior will from now on reflect directly onto Muhammad’s honor. Where Eve was free to be who she wanted to be, dress as she pleased, and think as she liked; now Eve is a reflection on Muhammad. Muhammad’s responsibilities don’t end with her as his wife, but also to all of his siblings and to his elderly parents. His honor covers the whole family unit, and shaming him will have a high price. Eve will now suddenly be pressured to become a “good” wife by the standard of Muhammad’s entire community. While she may keep her faith as her own, she will be pressured by all sides to look, act, dress, cook, and behave as a Muslim wife. Muhammad will no longer be viewed as a young bachelor in his mosque, but as a family man. He will be put under intense pressure to have his family be what the Muslim community sees as right. What might have never crossed his mind in courting his Eve might become extremely shameful to him in marriage. For example, Eve may have enjoyed celebrating Christmas with Muhammad during their courtship and they may have even admired Christmas trees together, but now, as a Muslim family man a Christmas tree may well become a symbol of shame to Muhammad, and therefore be forbidden in his home. Now the requirements of manhood in the Muslim world are coming into full play, he must show himself a real man by having control over his home and family. Eve sees her kingdom melt before her very eyes, and struggles to keep her dreams afloat wondering what ever happened. Muhammad is simply carrying on with the tradition of the Arab East that has been tradition for centuries. As Will Durant put it, “the career of the Arab woman passes from a moment’s idolatry to a lifetime of drudgery”.2 Muhammad’s expectations of romance are of a very temporary kind, he is the charmer romantic and then once the prize has been won, her status falls from princess-goddess of love to that of a wife. While Muhammad may never be violent to Eve, it is not unusual for a different kind of temperament to surface once the marriage vows have been said. Muhammad’s Eastern culture permits him not only to yell and scream when angry, but also permits physical beating of his wife.3 If Eve is the type to fight back, then the fight will get dramatically worse, as Muhammad sees his authority challenged. Eve will see her children forbidden to enter her church and raised as good Muslims. If the children do not turn out to be good Muslims the shame will be as a fire on Muhammad’s head. While Eve will be surprised at many of these things her Muslim sister counterparts will not be. Her Muslim lady friends will expect their husbands to be extremely protective and jealous of them and if they see lacking on their husband’s part they will become enraged that he is not doing his part as the man of the family.

Eve often will gradually stop attending church services and many drop out entirely. Eve may often even become confused with her own faith, having questions that Muhammad has brought to her that she has no real answers to.  She, herself may feel a bit of shame of her situation amongst her Christian friends. I have known many women who never shared their marriage situation to their Christian friends due to fear of lack of understanding. Or she has another reaction and that is one of drastic evangelism, if he can’t be what she wants as a Muslim she must find a way to convert him. Her full time job becomes making sure she is a good witness, dropping hints and wheedling him to church events, starting religious discussions to argue the points and finding ways to convince him that her way is better. She is determined to change him, and being a woman, she is convinced she can.

Here is where I meet Eve, who is not only often baffled by her husband’s customs and ways but often feeling rejected by her own church family. Often she is coming to us for suggestions on how to convince him of Christianity and to make him into the man that she is determined for him to be. Eve wasn’t wrong to look for something better, or even something different. Eve’s wrong comes in her ignorance of what God intended for her, her ignorance of her essential Christian doctrines and her desire to have the romantic fairy tale. Eve needs our Christian love and support; rarely does she need to be told her sin, she knows it better than any of us, for she lives it out every day. For of all the sins I can think of, the sin of loving someone doesn’t seem as evil as some seem to make it out to be, and yet it is easy to judge and feel superior to these individuals. What Eve has been never really been shown is her value to God, Muhammad’s value of women or his real expectation of married life. This isn’t to say Muhammad did this intentionally to entrap her, but that their basic understandings of courtship and marriage were so different from the beginning they never saw the holes that were bound to show up. His reasons for marriage and courtship practices are based on a very different cultural setting than that of what Eve has. Her reasons for marriage and her ideals of courtship are often based in fairy tale and myth and when the fairy dust wears off she finds herself baffled. Those who seek out to change their Muhammads into Christians continue to fight the uphill battle and while we have met probably as many as thousands of these ladies we have yet to hear a success story, but this does not mean we do not support their prayers to see their husband converted. A wife who compromised her faith to follow romance will not have the ability to convert a husband’s mind, but we continue to pray with her that something will influence him in his life that he might be drawn to Christ.

As Christians and Muslims alike, we should recognize these differences that inevitably come in these relationships and avoid them. Romance between the cultures is work but romance between the religions is often disaster. No one should enter a marriage relationship with the hopes of a belief system to be changed in order to be happy. Recognizing the differences of what one’s culture, family and religion expects in a marriage is a must and realism is often put on a back burner when romance is involved. Neither party will be happy in these situations, and I would encourage anyone in such a situation to back away and really look at the differences before making commitments that will be regretted.

If you would like to share with me I would love to hear from you.



2 Will Durant, The Age of Faith, “The Story of Civilization” series, Book IV, 1950, New York: Simon and Schuster. Islamic Civilization: Chapter VIII: Muhammad: 570-632 Arabia.

3 Quran Chapter Al-Nisaa 4:34  “Men are in charge of women by [right of] what Allah has given one over the other and what they spend [for maintenance] from their wealth. So righteous women are devoutly obedient, guarding in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. But those [wives] from whom you fear arrogance – [first] advise them; [then if they persist], forsake them in bed; and [finally], strike them. But if they obey you [once more], seek no means against them. Indeed, Allah is ever Exalted and Grand.”  Notice the escalation of the verse from one step of punishment to the next. There is no doubt that striking the wife in these cases is meant in a physical and violent manner.