The failure of my relatively new marriage has left me with a lot of egg on my face. Though ending it was not my decision, I must deal with the aftermath nonetheless. One frustrating aspect is having to explain all of the circumstances to people. My family and friends, who are all non-Muslim, simply cannot fathom the intense pressure that I faced as an African-American convert regarding marriage. Literally every time I’d meet a Muslim woman she would want to know two things: 1)when did I take my shahadah and 2)was I married.
Singlehood is not valued or respected in Islam. As a single muslim, you have to deal with your coreligionists continually reminding you that “marriage is half your deen”. Though I did all I could to be devout, the hadiths about marriage always bothered me. If marriage was half my faith then I’d be failing as long as I was single. Being a female made it even worse. If men are financially unable to support a family, waiting to get married is approved. This is not the case for a woman. If a man is devout in his practice of the faith, is able to support a family and has enough in common with the woman, she is supposed to accept him as a suitor. Now I realize this is not always the case for those who are born muslim. Culturally people may have additional requirments for suitors. But as an American and a convert, this was not my experience. On the contrary, when I rejected suitors due to my own cultural reasons I was accused of being “un-Islamic” by my suitors. One brother even filled up my inbox with articles from scholars in an attempt to change my mind!
It wasn’t that I had an issue with marriage itself at the time. Prior to converting I had decided that I didn’t want to keep dating and would like to settle down again. However I also felt that in converting to a new faith I should probably take some time before making another life-changing decision. Getting married in Islam would not be like getting married as a non-Muslim though. To even begin the process of finding a mate I would first need a wali, a male that would look out for interests and act as a guardian. Though my male family members would have been ideal, under Islamic law they could not be my wali. Only a muslim male can hold this position. That meant I would have to find a complete stranger to be my wali. Now I am not going to lie, part of me had reservations about this. But I brushed my concerns aside in the name of faith. Finding a wali was a headache in and of itself. I asked a few sisters for help but they never got back to me. Perhaps as women born into muslim families they didn’t understand why it was so important to me. After all they had fathers, brothers and uncles of their own and had no worries about getting a wali. Some sisters offered to have their husband be my wali. But seeing as these women were also trying to marry me off to their relatives, that seemed to be a conflict of interest. So I declined.
Frustrated with my unproductive attempts to find a wali, I spoke with a fellow convert. She’d been muslim for over a decade and was very knowledgeable. As an American I felt she’d understand my situation and anger. I was right and we had a fruitful conversation. She recommended someone to serve as the wali for myself and another new convert. I obtained his contact information from her and emailed him. I was very pleased when he responded to me. Finally, I thought, here is someone who is concerned about my interests and isn’t blowing me off. Soon I began to notice a few red flags though. He wanted to schedule a meeting with me outside of the masjid. He stated that masjids had “too many rules and restrictions” to follow so he’d prefer to meet at a library. I wondered why he had a problem with the rules of the masjid, but agreed to meet him anyways. After all, we’d still be in a very public place so no one could accuse me of spending time with a man in private. I met him at a local coffee shop and explained my situation and background to him. Being able to speak with someone that understood my situation as an AA muslim was such a relief. In my city the Muslim community is dominated by immigrants-Somalis, Arabs, Chams and South Asians. In spite of all the claims of universal brotherhood within Islam the reality was much different. This brother was an AA convert and had been muslim longer than I’d been alive. He told me about his background and qualifications. We concluded the meeting after an hour. He informed me that he would be glad to be my wali and suggested that I pray on it. If I decided to have him represent me I could email him. I prayed on it and then emailed him three days later.
Soon another red flag surfaced. This brother-who was much older than me by the way-began to exhibit odd behavior. One day he asked me to come to his office, which was quite far from where I lived. I told him I couldn’t do that and he offered to come by my apartment and drive me out there. Seeing as he and I were not to be alone together and he knew this, it made me uncomfortable. I declined the ride and did not go to his office. The final straw was him blowing up my cell phone at a quarter to midnight! I didn’t know what his issue was, but his behavior wasn’t sharia compliant. I emailed him and told him that I no longer wanted him to serve as my wali.
My struggle to find a wali made me think that maybe marriage just wasn’t in the cards for me at the time. I had met someone I was interested in but without a wali I couldn’t move forward. I called up a fellow convert that I’d recently met and clicked with really well. She said that not only could her husband serve as my wali, he could also officiate whenever I married. Relieved, I informed the brother I’d met. My wali flew out to the East Coast and met him. He approved and we made plans to marry the next month.
If you’ve read the preceding entries, you know that situation didn’t end well. It would take another post to detail that. But two words sum it up: hot mess! The sad part-I’m far from alone in my experience. I don’t know if it’s something unique to my area, but marriages among Muslims here are quite troubled. And unfortunately it is women and children who get the short end of the stick. The cost of such marriages for women and children-especially when women are expected to submit-is just too high and potentially harmful. Between what I witnessed others go through and my own experience the past seven months, I’m a bigger fan of dating and long-term relationships that I’ve been at any other point in my life.