There is a feeling of euphoria after a person’s conversion to Islam. The journey that leads a person to make such a huge decision can often be challenging and triumphant.
This is exactly how Tracy felt after studying the religion for over a year and making the decision to convert to Islam two years ago.
“I felt like I was reborn, I no longer recognized the Tracy I was before my conversion. I wanted to do everything exactly right and I wanted to introduce the world to the new me,” Tracy Harris from Atlanta, GA told Aboutislam.net.
“It wasn’t long after my conversion before I realized I was overly ambitious, overwhelmed, and completely confused by all of the information I received. Eventually, I began to find my own way and develop who I was in this new way of life. Finding a spouse was my next step and it wasn’t long before I was introduced to a young man from Kenya,” Tracy continued.
Tracy is an American born thirty-two-year-old woman from Atlanta, GA. She was first introduced to Islam after spending time with a Muslim co-worker, who made an effort to invite her to Islamic gatherings and social outings.
Tracy was fascinated with the sincerity she observed from Muslims during their five daily prayers and their strong sense of purpose.
“I have always felt lost in my quest to find the truth. I always wanted to have a purpose and find meaning in what I did each day. Waking up and going to work wasn’t enough for me anymore, so I decided to invest in a new way of life – Islam.
“However, this was met with so many challenges. I was confused about what to wear and what to eat. I didn’t know who to believe and I kept being told what I shouldn’t be doing. It didn’t take long to realize the importance of owning my own Islam and having a companion to walk this path with. I began letting my sister-friends know I was interested in finding a suitable mate. It wasn’t long before they introduced me to Bilal,” Tracy told AboutIslam.net.
Bilal was a thirty-five-year-old Muslim brother form Kenya when he was introduced to Tracy. He came to the United States when he was eighteen years old and lived a humble life in East Atlanta.
“The first thing I noticed was her smile. She was beautiful and kind. I knew I wanted to marry her from the first day we talked,” Bilal gleefully told AboutIslam.net.
“My experience was far from a fairytale. I was very hesitant to meet Bilal because I never even considered marrying someone from another country and culture. I was far from comfortable with my identity as a Muslim woman. So, I couldn’t imagine combining that with navigating another culture. However, when I met Bilal, he gave me a strong sense of peace. I couldn’t deny how peaceful it felt to be near him. So I decided to move forward with the marriage process,” Tracy said.
Factors leading to intercultural marriages
Intercultural Muslim marriages are becoming increasingly common in the United States of America.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of interracially married couples has increased from 310,000 in 1970 to 651,000 in 1980, to 964,000 in 1990, to 1,464,000 in 2000 and 2,340,000 in 2008.
This number is also reflective of the increase in intercultural marriages in the Muslim community.
Many factors have led to an increase in intercultural marriages, such as geographic location and the rise of education. Regardless of this growing trend, intercultural marriages remain challenging to navigate for many people.
“Soon after our wedding, I began to realize the significant differences in our mindsets, values, and upbringings. I was used to going out to eat every weekend. Socializing is a huge part of who I am. However, Bilal had a hard time going out to eat more than once a month and socializing beyond what was necessary. He expressed sorrow for his family members living back home on extremely limited incomes. He thought it was completely foolish to throw away money on restaurants and social outings,” Tracy sighed.
“I tried my best to meet my wife half-way but she was very unhappy when I would say no to things that I wasn’t used to. I didn’t mind spending time with her or taking her out to nice places occasionally. However, when it became obsessive and wasteful, I had a huge problem with it. There were many other disagreements we had about food, clothing, places of worship, and even how we wanted to raise our children. In the beginning, our differences felt overwhelming,” Bilal told AboutIslam.net.
Religious Similarities vs. Cultural Differences
When a person marries into a different culture, they step into a new world. As Muslims, we are taught to see past color and culture. Ideally, Muslims should be judged by their character and religiosity.
Finding ways to love and live with someone very different from you is no easy feat, but it becomes less of a challenge when you focus on the importance of your shared Islamic values.
“Eventually, I had to see past the differences between my husband and I. This was easy to do once I realized the type of Muslim he was helping me to become. Although we didn’t agree on many worldly things, we ultimately wanted the same thing for our spiritual lives,” Tracy told Aboutislam.net
Intercultural marriages in Islam can be successful, as a result of the couple focusing on their shared Islamic principles and values. If religion is kept in the center of a couple’s life, other challenges may pose less of a threat to the sanctity of their union. Once a couple decides to commit to honoring their shared values as Muslims over their cultural differences, they must be willing to lay certain ground rules. Here are a few tips to navigate this dynamic.
Assume Best Intent
Cultural differences can sometimes be taken out of context and even offensively when addressed. It is important to assume the best intentions when your partner asks for clarification or even has a disagreement with a particular cultural norm.
Commit to a Spiritual Routine as a Couple
Again, your strength is found in your commitment to choose your shared values as Muslims over cultural differences. For this to be successful, you must create a plan to cultivate Islam into your marriage daily. Perhaps, you may decide to read with your spouse after fajr every morning or join a Qur’an class in the afternoon. These practices can often lead to the cultivation of new cultural norms and traditions for your family.
Find Ways to Support your Spouse’s Culture
You mustn’t attempt to eradicate your spouse’s culture or minimize the importance of maintaining it. Culture is extremely important and should always be respected. Find ways to incorporate your spouse’s culture into your daily life, such as learning to cook an occasional traditional meal. These efforts can go a long way in maintaining the love in your marriage.
Ultimately, navigating your life as a new Muslim can be challenging and extremely life-altering. It is important to be easy on yourself. Learn to take your time with implementing new routines into your daily life. As a Muslim wife married to a spouse from a different culture, remember to keep your focus on your commonalities over your differences. Remember, what you focus on grows, so focus on building a bond that transcends far beyond life on this Earth.