*Disclaimer: This is not a letter to my parents, who are pretty cool if I do say so myself. Rather, it’s a petition and an appeal to every Muslim parent you know and love.
Dear Muslim parents,
I hope you know that in the scheme of things, you have it pretty darn easy. No drugs, no drinking, no sex, not even obnoxious tattoos to deal with! And how do you reward us for it? By making life unnecessarily, tortuously hard.
Firstly, let’s be frank here: you came here. You chose to leave behind your country of birth, knowing that you were coming to a country where the rules are completely different, and yet so many of you seem to believe you can recreate a village vibe sans village. You expect your children to marry someone from within that village, disregarding the fact that the bubble you are trying to create is about as sturdy as…a bubble. You see your kids socialising with people from all sorts of backgrounds and you have no problem with it. You encourage your kids to become active members of society, but you expect them to then restrict their romantic interest to a select few. If they develop an interest in the very same peers they have grown up with, you view it as an aberration rather than a natural course of events.
When your child comes to you, full of hope and with only the desire for understanding, what do you do? You shut them down. You refer to all sorts of arbitrary rules which you yourself are unsure the basis of, but of course it must be true, people have been doing it this way for ages. There is no other way, and if there is, it’s only going to lead to disaster. You start with the emotional blackmail. The shame card-‘how will I hold my head up in front of this auntie or that uncle?’ Then come the threats, and after that the hysterics. You know your child hates to see you like this. You know that the strength it took for them to even bring this up will be almost depleted by this point, so now all you need to do is sit back and wait for them to end it. That way, you don’t even have to be held responsible for the demise of the relationship; they pulled the trigger, not you.
I find it interesting that the opinions of the family friends you barely like is seemingly more important than your child’s desire to be accepted. I find it puzzling that you could censure them for trying to do the right thing and be honest with you. I find it terribly depressing that you would crush them with sweeping generalisations and predictions of doom and gloom before even meeting the person they are interested in. I find it even more depressing that when confronted with the lack of Islamic basis for your objections, you persist with your dogged opposition.
I know, I know, I’ve never known the difficulties of migration, of watching your kids grow away from you in ways you never imagined when you came here wanting to give them only the best. I don’t know what it’s like to know only one way and to have that way scorned. I sympathise, although I cannot empathise. But I do know that burying your head in the sand will only lead to suffocation. I recognise that culture is important. Language is important. Rituals are very important. I don’t advocate abandonment of any of these things; I simply ask you to reflect on whether a partner of a different background would necessarily destroy or even threaten them.
Of course there are some of your children who will give up on something they wanted for your sake. They may even thank you for it, years later, when the wound fades into a benign scar. But what about the person on the other side? The person whose only crime was to have a different skin colour to yours, the person who would’ve happily learned your language and loved the food you cooked even though it was burning their tongue. That person you refused even to meet, as though you were capable of indicting them before even awarding them a trial. They aren’t real to you, their feelings negligible and unworthy of consideration. ‘It’s not about them,’ you say. But that’s the awful thing: it’s not about them, when it should be. Instead of considering if they’d be a righteous, decent partner for your child, you convert this very personal matter into one of us vs. them. You perceive their difference to be an attack on the very foundations of your family, and you protect it as though the roof above your head could cave in should they step foot into your house.
You always talk about ‘the right time’. ‘You’re too young’, ‘buy a house first’, ‘finish uni and meet other people and then see’. The financial stability you are so fixated on is important. But there are ways around it, ways you could easily see if you weren’t intent on remaining blind. In some cases you even sanction dating and playing the field rather than settling down with one person, simply because that person doesn’t tick the boxes. You would rather turn a blind eye to what your kids are up to than face up to the possibility of them being with someone you deem to be ‘unsuitable’. You tell your sons to wait until they are 25, but become ashamed if and when they stray before this arbitrary age limit you’ve imposed. You tell your daughters, marry soon, but when she comes to you with someone in mind, you say now is far too soon.
If all this sounds harsh, that’s probably because it is. It needs to be. Too many people have suffered unnecessarily, and if a harsh dose of reality will help, then I’m happy to dish it out. I don’t deny your good intentions, but good intentions can produce bad results when misdirected. If you think I’ve raised a lot of complaints without solutions, then here’s the point at which I offer a few:
1.) Keep the lines of communication open between you and your children.
2.) In doing so, this means that inevitably you’re going to hear something you don’t like coming from them. Keep listening anyway.
3.) If your child comes to you as soon as they have someone in mind, you’ve done something right. This means they trust you and value your input.
4.) Don’t turn that trust on its head by becoming hysterical and full of rage. Listen carefully before jumping to any conclusions.
5.) After you’ve listened, take some time to consider what they’ve said, regardless of how ridiculous or foreign it may sound.
6.) Unless they tell you the person they are interested in is a serial killer, agree to at least meet that person. If you trust your child and have trust in the way you’ve raised them, you should already know the person can’t be all bad.
7.) Keep an open mind. Even if you dislike something about the person, think about whether it’s really something to be disliked or whether it’s just something different to what you’re used to. Consider the Islamic basis of your objections and review them accordingly.
8.) By this point you are ready to give informed advice about the person. If you truly believe they are not good for your child, say so, as gently and calmly as you can. But know that unless you have a very serious reason, you should not outright refuse to hear any replies they may have.
9.) Know that it may not work out between your child and this person. If it doesn’t, you can at least comfort yourself in the knowledge that you facilitated a Halal relationship as opposed to pushing it underground.
10.) Don’t gloat if it doesn’t work out and use it as an opportunity to rule out anyone you haven’t endorsed in the future. Your child may very well come to this conclusion themselves; respect their intelligence enough not to lead them to it.
So there you have it, Muslim parents. I know you’re all doing your best, but consider these to be some very firm suggestions for your improvement. You’ve always encouraged us to better ourselves; now it’s your turn.