Written by Michelle Yeung, for the Allahcentric Blog.
For the vast majority of converts I know, their embracing of Islam happened between the ages of 18 – 26. There’s something about those several years after one finishes high school and one moves out of their parent’s home, that finally forces them, to think. There’s also something else that people of that age often have in common; they feel a strong need to settle with a life partner, which for a Muslim, means marriage.
I don’t have an opinion on whether converts should look to marry immediately, or wait, that probably depends on their own circumstances. However, I would advise any new convert to exercise particular caution as to how they go about meeting a potential spouse. As I listened to one convert sister tell me her story of her own desire to marry and the challenges that faced her, this enabled me to realise some of the reasons for their particular vulnerability to becoming trapped in a difficult marriage situation.
New Converts can often be Very Vulnerable
Becoming Muslim and practicing Islam is a big life change. Not just in the actions themselves, but in the person’s entire life. New converts often find themselves distanced from their previous group of friends, and even family. All of the new things that they are reading, and being told, can be over whelming and whilst the new convert realises they will never be truly alone, the first couple of years can at the same time be horribly lonely.
“I’d sometimes cry myself to sleep at night, because I felt very lonely. I felt closer to Allah at those times and it felt good, and yet I would have loved to have had another person there with me, seeing me through day by day. I had a small group of friends, but they all had their own husbands and children and I felt like I had nobody. I felt that my best option was marriage.”
Lack of Protective Forces, Such as Muslim Family and a Community
The sad truth is, some people do seem to take advantage of this situation. When both parties are Muslim, the families would meet and the woman’s guardian would approve the marriage. For converts, the process is often quite different, and they may be left making key life decisions such as marriage on their own.
“I was never really a part of any Muslim community. I had a few friends, but we weren’t so close that I would tell them everything. I just didn’t feel like a belonged anywhere, I felt distanced from my family, and I didn’t exactly fit with my local Muslim community. This made me want to focus just on me, on doing my own thing, my own way. I didn’t value the community in the way that I should have done, or I do now. I guess I was a rebel, always wanting to remain independent. So when it came to meeting somebody, I didn’t tell people, I didn’t want their advice, I just wanted to do things my way and he also convinced me that this was the best thing to do in my situation”.
Looking for a Fast Way to Reach God, Through a Spouse
Muslims believe that marriage in itself is a good, beneficial thing. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said that marriage is half of the religion. New converts seem to have a tendency to want to carryout every single thing that is deemed good, straight away, and marriage is one of these actions.
“I didn’t know it then, but yes, I was looking for a fast way to reach Allah. I thought that if I could get married, to someone really good, then I’d quickly become just like them in that respect. I thought I’d be whisked off overseas by him and transformed into this great Muslim woman. I didn’t know that he had no intention to ever take me with him.”
Can be a Little Naive
It’s natural to see the good in all people, but it can sometimes be more challenging for new Muslims to distinguish true good character from mere actions. New Muslims often seem to be very easily impressed by other Muslims, just based on a few things the person says or does. For example, a brand new Muslim sister may find it very difficult to cover her hair immediately, and could then begin to hold the Muslim women who do, in exaggerated esteem.
“I wasn’t so naive as to think anyone who was Muslim could be trusted. But I suppose I must have thought that anyone who talked in an impressive way would also do the things they preached about. If a brother wore a thawb, talked about visiting his skaykh overseas, and was highly thought of as a community activist, who was I to think that they weren’t all that they made out to be? What did I know after all as a new convert?”.
My advice to any new convert considering marriage, would be to:
- Tell your friends and family that you are corresponding, and involve people whom you trust
- Meet their family and make sure that they are fully aware of you
- Be extra cautious if they seem to be wanting to cut corners (e.g. not involving parents, not agreeing to a mahr, being unclear about living arrangements or financial support once married – sisters)
- Ask select people about their din and their character
- Perform the salatul istikhara, and make lots of du’a for guidance (useful article)