Monday 19 January 2009

Marrying Back Home

I was going to call this post marrying outside your culture, but I was not sure whether I had or not. For people my age (and younger – ahem) marriage seems to be the biggest personal issue to contend with. Add this to the very cosmopolitan places many of my fellow blogging sisters live in and marrying outside of your, or your parents’, culture seems to be a growing trend.

I met my husband on a trip to Pakistan (I was originally introduced to his tall, handsome, but mean cousin and had said no). The story of how we met and how I came to my decision is definitely one I will treasure forever and after a two-year engagement during which I completed my degree, we had a joyful, raucous, chaotic Pakistani wedding.

I think it is testament to my husbands mature thinking, deep-down goodness and patience mash’Allah, that eight years later we are still together when the marriages of more couples we know have broken down than survived. My husband’s first job was in a warehouse where almost the entire staff was Asian and the biggest chunk Pakistani men who had married British-Pakistani women. My husband was struck by the way the majority of these men were complaining about how they thought their lives would be better after these marriages but were in fact nightmares. They had to kowtow to their in-laws and they felt their wives were unable to respect them and they to understand their wives. One described himself as like a dog in his in-laws house. Others complained they were not allowed to send money home (not even £20 to a sister for her wedding in one case).

I can sympathise with these men to an extent, but I can also see things from the other point of view. How many young girls growing up with the Hollywood/Bollywood ideal of a man or growing up in a big cosmopolitan city is then stuck with some poorly educated small-town cousin who struggles to find work in the local take-away (so much for visions of the be-suited, Lexus-driving lawyer or accountant). How do their parents ever expect such marriages to work, are they really so blind?

Even when both parties do make the effort and as in our case the affection is genuine, you have to get over the cultural losses wihtin such a marriage. Anyone in a mixed-marriage might recognise what I mean. My husband cannot see the point of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or Dr Who (which I love all of). He would miss a thousand childhood references that inform my life as a person who has grown up in London. In contrast, although my parents tried to give me a strong grounding in Pakistani/Punjabi language and culture, I miss a lot of cultural references that hold meaning for him. In Pakistan the most romantic night of the year is Chaand Raat, the night before Eid-ul-Fitr. Our first Eid together, I painted my hands with henna and promptly fell asleep, whilst hubby sat up and sulked that I hadn’t made any effort at all.

I think that for a long time this was the thing that I found hardest. Although we shared language and faith, our culture had been very different and our culture shapes who we are and often what we aspire to. Probably our saving grace was Islam. Regardless of our culture, it guided us in so many ways and that meant that we aspired to the same things and had similar values.

The other thing that helped is that no matter how different your culture, marriage has its own language, its own history and a home has its own culture. After a few years this language is the one that takes precedence between you (if you are not sure about what kind of language this is, think about the times you know what the other is thinking, or when they say one thing, but you know what they really mean – “What would you like for Eid?” “Oh…nothing…”).

For us the most important thing was sincerity. So many people only marry abroad because they cannot find anyone here, or they want someone they can control easily. So many people are keen to marry an English girl or an American/Aussie/Canadian girl for the opportunity to go abroad and earn enough to send bucket-loads of cash home without any thought for the person they are using. Parents need to be aware of this and check their intentions as do their children. I married my husband because it didn’t take long to see that he was such a good person and could not do enough for others (even at his own risk). He married me because he said he never saw me not smiling and he didn’t want a whinging misery for a wife (too late now mate!!)


  1. Assalaamu 'alaikum sis!

    I've been an avid reader of your blog for some time now but I believe this is my first comment! When my parents were looking for my rishta and cousins from back home were suggested, I was so reluctant as I know upbringing is very different and hence mentality.

    Alhamdulillah we managed to find someone compatible from London and the rest as they say, is history...

    I wonder if you could pop me an email when you get a chance?

    JazakAllah khair.

    Wassalaamu 'alaikum

  2. Aslamu alakum
    i was actually going through the arrange marriage process with one viewing i refused and the second looked like a possible. Inever thought to marry outside the culture hence the arrange marriage process i was going through. i had told my mother i was ready at 19yrs old and to get looking the offers were coming in fast. Allah had other plans for me , in between waiting for the number to to arrive from India , as i had asked for a pure desi not a British Asain. I came accross my huband totally different in all respect, religon culture and continet. I can see the pros and cons on both sides, sometimes marrying outside the culture is hard as you have to learn a whole new way of life, food, cultre and traditions. not to mention the different mind sets, alhamduilah we have Islam to refer to when we disagree as a revert alhamduilah i have no Islamic cultre to bring into the marriage. At times its hard when you have the whole clan against you esp when its cultural and you don't want no part of it.

    On the good side its great a whole new adventure, intresting to learn and if there are aspects of your own culture you never liked well you don't need do it now. Language can be tought sometimes but you can always learn. I am glad it happended this way for me for i can not comtemplate life with the guy from Indian that i nearly could have wedded.

  3. As Salaamu Alaikum Dear:

    I am married to a brother who is not my race even though we are both Americans. It is sometimes a cultural jihaad. We are the same education level, etc., but what really holds us together is Islam, Alhamdulillah!

  4. Assalaamuaykum
    Beautiful post mashaAllah! My hubby and I are from different cultures although the same nationality - it really keeps things interesting! We have learned a lot from each other and Alhamdulillah we wouldn't have it any other way!

  5. I love reading your blog but this is the first time I commented! Btw Interesting post!

  6. Assalam-alaikam,

    Sister Saima,
    I'm glad you commented, its nice to know who's out there and I always hope to make contact with sisters through my blog whose experiences I can learn from. I'll e-mail you as soon as I get a mo.

    Sis Rainbow,
    You were a good girl - 19 and a desi! I bet so many parents wish their daughter was so easily married off.
    I'm really curious about how you and the other half met. It's not typical is it a Punjabi kurri and an Algerian.
    I have benefitted too from my husband being so different - i have retained some of my Punjabi culture but also increased my love of my faith.

    Sis Saffiyah and Ayesha,
    that's a whole another story, to be of the same country but a totally different culture. People usually assume if you are from the same country you have the same cultural reference points.

    Sis Thoughts Unchecked,
    Jazakh'Allah-khairun. I popped over to "your place" and had a good read too. Always good to see new blogs and I am very curious about Sri Lanka too.

  7. Assalamu Alaikum sis,
    Thanks a lot for the comments you left on my blog. Happy to know you liked it.
    It's been a while since your gran passed away isn't it? I am so sorry for your loss. From your previous entries I knew you were very attached to her. I pray she'll attain Jannah. Hope you're doing okay.

  8. Loved reading this post! My husband and I are from different countries, different cultures...but no complaints :-) We got married without family and when we were on vacation last year we wanted to renew our vows, this time in an Islamic wedding (small, in the courtyard, just some family members and our children) but it was Friday...and the official was nowhere to be found...