How did you convince your family that you wanted to marry a non-Emirati? I am in love with an Egyptian guy and my parents are against it and have repeatedly said they would marry me off to a relative if I even bring up the idea of marrying my lover.– Anonymous
Thank you for your question. I gave you a short response on my Curious Cat profile where you asked this question, but I promised I would write a longer response on my blog. Apologies for the delay, I’ve had quite a backlog of questions which I am working through!
This is a good question and something I struggled with, of course, before approaching my parents about marriage. What can we do if our parents disapprove of our marriage?
It really depends on the circumstances: how old you both are, your financial positions, how open-minded or easy going your family is, what your family values in a potential match, whether anyone else in your family has done something similar, etc. etc.
My post is tailored for the Emirati community to answer this reader’s question, but it can apply equally to other situations.
My marriage story
My marriage story is both simple and complicated. As you all know, I’m Emirati — I grew up in Dubai, studied abroad then found a job in the UK. Off the bat, you can probably tell my family is more “open-minded” than other Emirati families. My parents valued education and wanted me to get the best education possible. My mother always encouraged me to study in the US and build a career for myself. They wanted me to become an independent woman. However, they were not so happy when I decided to stay abroad to work. They did know that this was the best for me and my career, so they were eventually ok with it.
Although they are more open-minded than most Emirati families, they were not too happy when I told them I wanted to marry someone outside of my community. Even though I had lived away from home for almost 10 years by this point, I should have found a nice Emirati man to marry!
I did understand where they were coming from, because marrying into another culture makes a complicated thing (marriage) even more complicated. This scared me very much and it was very difficult approaching them about it. But from my point of view, he was Muslim and we had the same mindset on a lot of things so it seemed like a “safe bet” — nothing is really a safe bet, but you know what I mean!
I think my mom had an idea this was coming. She reminded me that it would be hard to marry someone from another community but if I was sure she would talk to my dad. I couldn’t face him myself, so my mom took on the tough job of telling him.
Well, I didn’t hear from him for 2 weeks! He relayed his questions and concerns through my mom and she relayed my responses to him. Finally, the three of us had a call and I made my case. I said my little monologue about why he is good for me and why he is a great person. My dad let me talk and when I finished, he said sarcastically something like, “so, he’s your prince charming?” (فارس أحلامج؟)
I basically said, yes he is! They wanted to meet him before proceeding, so he flew to Dubai to visit. It was awkward. My parents felt more comfortable and accepted him, but I could tell my dad still wasn’t fully on board. I don’t think he was until the actually wedding day to be honest!
Will he improve your life?
I remember I was at work one day and my parents called to discuss the matter. My dad asked me again if I was sure. He said, “if it doesn’t work out, it will be our problem too. We don’t want you to regret your decision”. I told him I understood and I was sure.
He also asked me, “will he improve your life?”. That made me pause — I never thought about it that way. I think that’s a very wise way of looking at it and I ask other people this when they are wondering about marrying someone. If they are not going to improve your quality of life and will drag you down, then they are not a great option.
Marriage is not supposed to be a selfless act, it should be beneficial to you. And not just by way of companionship. No one has to get married these days, not really. This may be controversial, but honestly, marriage is so difficult and can really ruin your life if you don’t choose wisely. Choosing the right person is crucial and even if you do, it can still go wrong.
Choose the Right Person
I asked my mom how I was able to convince her to agree to my marriage. She said they agreed because I chose the right person. If you have chosen someone good for you, it’s important that you demonstrate that. Explain why you are a good match and how this person can improve your life.
Is he really a good match?
Think about how your partner will boost your life and not just that they will provide you with love and companionship. I knew my husband would improve my life because I always wanted to be better for him. He admired my ambition and it made me work harder. He could see my potential and didn’t want me to waste it. Even when I was not confident in myself and I doubted myself, he would motivate me and help me believe. He made me a better person.
Objectively, does he make a good match? Will he be a good partner to you and a good father to your future children if you choose to have any? Will he improve your life? What does he bring to the table? Think about these questions hard and write down your answers. If a stranger told you they were marrying this person, would you think it was a good idea? It is hard to look at things objectively, but the more you are able to do it the better your choices will be.
I knew my husband was committed to giving me the best life he could within his means. He was kind, intelligent, practical, level-headed and ambitious. We were a team and we were in it together and that’s what I always wanted — an equal partner both working towards the same goal of creating a happy life together.
Love is not enough
I think love is the foundation of any relationship between two people. I also think we should marry the people we love. However, you need to know that love is not enough to keep a marriage going. Love changes over time. What stays is: friendship, reliability and companionship. Some days you won’t really love your partner, some days you will love them more than ever. Do you think you would still stay with this person if you didn’t feel the way you do about them today?
I found that over time I loved my husband even more. We have only been married for around three years, but the first few were kind of tough. I saw his patience and kindness towards me in moments when I didn’t really deserve them. I saw him go out of his way to make my life better and do everything he can for me. I saw how important my happiness was to him. I recognised his capacity for these qualities before I married him, but marriage is the true test. Does he have the potential to be your lifetime companion?
More than a nice guy
People may disagree, but it’s not enough for a potential husband to be a “good guy”. That should be the minimum. What else is he? Is he ready to emotionally support you? Does he love you the way you are? Does he treat you with kindness and compassion? Does he know how to argue with you respectfully? Is he generous with his time, attention and love? Will he be there when things get hard? Will he be a good father? Will he trust you? There are a lot of things to consider and those will also be based on your personality and what you need from your partner.
Your parents will be concerned for you and don’t want you to make the wrong choice. The generational gap is very big when it comes to marriage, things work differently now. Especially with Emiratis, we are such a small community and we are also exposed to the whole world because of the international nature of our country. It’s hard to find a partner from the same culture.
I think my parents knew deep down it would be hard for me to find a suitable Emirati. I was ambitious, career-oriented, outspoken, open-minded and independent. It is hard to find an Emirati man that will tolerate that, much less value it! I remember one of my Emirati colleagues told me once that his cousin was rejected for marriage because she had studied abroad. Her potential spouse said she was “too bold” because she lived abroad. Like being bold is a bad thing?!
One of the reasons I chose my husband was because he was impressed with my achievements and admired my ambition. I found someone who respected me and valued me for who I was. I didn’t have to downplay my achievements. I didn’t have to change who I was.
I know my parents would not tolerate marrying me off to someone who would stifle me and try to control me. I think they saw what kind of a person he was through my descriptions of him and when they met him.
Build Your Case
When you’ve thought about the questions I raised in the previous section, start building your case. Prepare your arguments and good reasons for choosing this person. Does he have a good job? Is he educated? How well do you know him? All of the answers to these questions can help in building your case.
Write down all the reasons why you should marry him. You have to make a business case — why is this partnership right for you and your family? (My dad loves the business partnership analogy!). Also, be prepared for their arguments. Have a response ready for them.
Apart from family reputation/honour, the main reason your parents don’t want you to marry this man is probably because they are worried it will fail. As good as your husband may be, it is also important that you are mature enough as well.
You didn’t mention how old you are — age and experience matter a lot. You will need to explain to them that you know yourself and what is good for you. Part of building your case is showing them that you are sensible and that you have made the right choice.
My mom also said that this situation is really difficult but the only thing you can do is be patient and keep trying. You need to keep talking to your family.
You may also want to try a different approach. Can you talk to one of your parents separately? Are you closer to your mom for example? Whichever parent you are closer to and spend the most time with, talk to them. Explain your feelings and how happy this would make you. If you can convince one, you are halfway through.
Keep the dialogue open and be calm about it. Try not to get emotional and upset when they react negatively. Show them that you love them and you do care about their opinions and understand where they are coming from. But you have thought about this deeply and you know what you want to do.
Try to soften their hearts by being patient and kind. It is difficult, but it may work in time.
Reach out to friends and family
To do anything big in life, it’s really important to have a support network. Have you reached out to family? My aunts, cousins and brother were supportive of me and helped in different ways with my parents. It helped a lot when people my parents respected told them that they should give me a chance.
You need a strong support network to get through this. Open up to friends and family, don’t be worried about asking for help.
Find a mediator
If you can find someone in your family that your parents listen to to support you (an aunt or uncle, for example), it could help your parents change their minds. The more people on your side, the stronger your case will be.
It may be helpful if they can get you together in one room and talk through the problems. They listen to your parents’ side and then your side and discuss with discuss the point or give their opinion. In cases like this, it’s helpful to get someone to intervene.
Normally I would suggest going to a family therapist, but I feel like your parents would not be open to that option!
I am very concerned that your parents have threatened to marry you off to someone else. This is not ok — it’s one thing to disagree with your choice but it’s another to make you get married to someone else. You have to provide consent to get married. Saying yes because they are pressuring you is not consent.
I’m not sure if they are being serious but be firm and tell them that it’s not ok. Again, reach out to family who can help you and get your parents to see some sense.
If it gets bad, you may want to contact The Dubai Women and Children Foundation. I haven’t dealt with them before, but they are supposed to be able help with domestic abuse (which this very much is). There are a few more domestic abuse resources in the UAE here.
Don’t forget that forced marriage is forbidden and invalid in Islam.
Islam and mixed marriages
The main condition in Islam for marriage is that the spouse is Muslim. If there isn’t another reason to reject the marriage, then your family are not justified in stopping you. They are actually causing harm because they aren’t allowing you to complete half of your deen.
I assume it is unlikely your parents will respond positively to Islamic advice and evidence, but I would suggest you read up as much as possible on this topic. Find examples from the Prophet’s (PBUH) life and other teachings to show why they should consent to marrying someone from a different culture.
Unfortunately, our culture is really difficult when it comes to intercultural marriages. Even legally, it is quite difficult to get married to a non-Emirati. I’m not sure when this will change, but I pray with time it will.
Be patient and persistent
As I always advise my Muslim readers, pray. Do Istikhara if you haven’t already and tell your parents about the outcome. Increasing your prayers and duas will help you keep your strength and give you patience.
If you know that he is the right man for you, be persistent and strong.
My story started out complicated and I was worried sick for many nights, but in the end it was simple. Alhamdillah, everything worked out in the end with patience and time.
I pray that you are granted whatever is best for you.
“Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.”– Aristotle
Until next time,
I absolutely loved reading this article and devoured it ! I think its really important for a woman to be looking for red flags early on in the relationship so you are completely sure this is the man you want to invest your time and money with ! Marriage can be like a business deal where you both are building a beautiful life together. I think for a woman you are actually trusting him so much so its crucial that he is genuine, kind, and loving – characteristics that you have mentioned in the article above.
I am so glad you liked it! Definitely agree, you need to be alert to red flags and make sure the person has characteristics that you need in life. It’s important for such a big decision as marriage. It is probably the biggest commitment you will make in your life! Thanks again for your lovely words, they mean so much 🙂