My parents have never been too big on culture, or more accurately, the culture of a potential son-in-law. ‘As long as he’s Muslim’, they’d always say. But that’s not to say that they don’t have slight preferences one way or another. It never manifested itself in an overt way, but for many people I know drawing up the hierarchy of cultures is a rather easy exercise. They know exactly where various cultures stand in their parents’ eyes, and they weigh up the risks of being with someone accordingly. Some cultures are a complete red light, others orange, and a select few green. The hierarchy of cultures depends on a variety of factors, such as geographical proximity and points of cultural commonality.
The Green Light Cultures
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but in 99% of cases parents either outright state that only their own culture will do or that they strongly prefer it. Why do people want their children to marry partners specifically from their own cultural background? That’s a topic too weighty for me to do full justice to here. If I had to offer a quick summary, it’d come down to one word: ease. I’ve mentioned this before, but for many people culture offers a template by which to make decisions in life. Marriage, as one of life’s major decisions, is no different. There are set ways to go about things and set criteria by which to choose a partner. Culture facilitates communication, and quite literally so when parents don’t speak fluent English.
Some parents take the ‘close enough is good enough’ approach, which means that a prospective spouse from their region will get the tick of approval. It’s still not quite bullseye, but it’s enough for them not to kick up a fuss. For example, if they’re Turkish, they might not have an objection to someone from the Balkans wanting to marry their son/daughter. If they’re Lebanese, Egyptian might be a bit of a stretch, but still passable.
The Orange Light Cultures
The orange light will usually be signalled if the culture is an unknown variable. (Being South African, I get this a lot.) The parents in question will be apprehensive about the person being from a completely different culture, but because they lack preconceived notions about the culture they’re often willing to give it a go. Obviously this is only if they’re somewhat open-minded; for some parents simply being from a cultural background other than their own will signal a huge red light.
Some cultures are also stereotyped as being ‘inoffensive’. Typically south-east Asian Muslims are thought of as such, perhaps because of a stereotype existing of them being easy to get along with and laidback.
The Red Light Cultures
You might think that people within the same region could all get along, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt, or much worse, such as a history of tension or even outright war. For example, the subcontinent is fraught with these types of historical tensions, making it hard for different cultures within it to intermarry despite their geographical proximity.
The other situation in which the red light is definitely flagged is due to racial stereotypes, which sadly Muslims are not immune to whatsoever. You’d think that as a minority group we’d understand the harm stereotyping does, but apparently not. I’ve heard Arab parents say that they don’t want their children to marry someone from the subcontinent because of their mental associations with servants in the Arab world, who often hail from the subcontinent. I’ve heard parents from the subcontinent say that they wouldn’t want their child to marry an Arab because they associate them with criminality and gangs, and these are just a few examples. It makes me really sad, but it happens all over the world. I listened to a lecture in which the Shaykh touched on the fact that in the USA African American brothers and sisters have a hard time marrying other Muslims because of parental red lights.
In my ideal world, there would be no red lights, but I certainly understand that people prefer to marry within their own culture. Do your parents have a hierarchy of acceptable cultures to marry into? Do you?