The world is more diverse today than ever before. Society is no longer homogeneous and with more fluid borders, ease of movement and more open mindedness across cultures, mixed culture marriages are becoming more common.
Within Islamic communities, there are marriages between those of the same religious and ethnic background, same religion with different ethnic backgrounds and between Muslims and non Muslims. Each has its benefits and drawbacks.
Marriages from the same religion and ethnicity are the most common across all societies. It is the easiest, because the couple is already attuned to each other’s customs. However, a danger in this is that many cultural practices are unconnected with Islam, but are simply accepted and adopted by each succeeding generation as forming part of the Islamic rituals – for example in the matters of Ramadan, celebrations, funerals and even the methods of du’a and prayer. If you were to scrutinize these practices, you would find many of the customs and rituals passed down from your parents and grandparents are not in line with Islam at all, but are a blind imitation of what they were taught. Please go back to the basics of Islam according to Qur’an and Sunnah, so that you can distinguish between Islamic rules in their pure form and any deviations or innovations which you might have inadvertently picked up from your heritage. The issue with inherited Islam is that it makes us stop learning and questioning, and before long, we are practicing Islam wrongly without meaning to.
Marriages between Muslims from different cultures are less common. The challenge is to understand each other’s cultural backgrounds in order to better understand your spouse. A cross cultural marriage is a wonderful opportunity to re-examine your own cultural influences and your own Islamic rituals. When you see something being done differently, this causes you to consider your own methodology in Islam as well as to study the Islamic approach practiced by your spouse. If you see your spouse doing something differently when it comes to Islam, don’t simply assume that only your way is right. Take time to study what the Qur’an and Sunnah say, because that is the right way, and it could be that one or both of you were mistaken. A cross cultural marriage removes both spouses from the comfort zone of imitating the rituals of their forefathers. It forces you to be open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Sometimes it takes someone looking at things from a different perspective to make you reassess what is Islam, and what is custom. It also allows the couple to pick the best and the most correct of either culture so that your children inherit the best of values, understanding and practices from cultures.
Do not cling on to your own cultural practices if it is opposed to Islam, and do not take it adversely when your spouse challenges aspects of your own culture if they are not in line with Islam. Always use the Qur’an and the Sunnah as your ultimate guides, and in case of doubt, seek advice from the proper channels, and not from your parents, aunties or uncles who are bound to be biased towards their own understanding of Islam based on the cultures they were brought up with.
When it comes to marriages within or between cultures, be mindful to continue brushing up on the deen based on Qur’an and Sunnah, and to correct whatever aspect of Islam that you had inadvertently been implementing wrongly in your life. If both the spouses share the common goal of marrying for the sake of Allah, then performing what is correct under the Qur’an and Sunnah will override whatever aspects of your heritage to the contrary. There might be resistance when you eradicate certain cultural practices from your life. As a married couple, you are in charge of your own household affairs and are responsible for the correct establishment of Islam within your four walls. At no point should either spouse’s culture override Islam. You cannot defend your own cultural beliefs to the extent that you forget the harm of ignoring what Islam requires. This state of blindness will cause you to lead your family to spiritual destruction. Human beings without guidance will hurt themselves and this is why Allah guides us to go on the right path. If we forget Him, He will make us forget ourselves. Once we go towards the Creator, He will give us wisdom and understanding. He will help us escape what harms us. Just by doing that, everything will become clearer.