"Um," I replied, somewhat meekly, "some people say it is recommended in Islam to marry outside your culture."
"I see." My father nodded understandingly.
"But," he noted, "some people also say it is recommended in Islam to wake up at 4 am in the morning and offer 20 rakats of Tahajjud prayers everyday."
End of conversation.
I was reminded of this anecdote this morning when I was getting my daily dose of Canada's news. The Toronto Sun reports that according to a survey they conducted, half of Canadians are racist. Which is pretty surprising as I must be running into the other half only then.
What was interesting was one of the questions used in the survey.
Would you have a positive reaction, negative reaction, remain indifferent or it would depend on the ethnic origin if your child were to marry a person of another ethnic group than yours?
So if you have a negative reaction when your child tells you he or she has found a partner but it's from a different ethnic group as yours, you are branded a racist? I don't agree, and frankly I am surprised that with a question like that the figures are not higher than 50%.
I am not going to debate whether marrying outside your ethnic group is right or wrong. That's like debating whether liquid soap is better than a bar of soap. There is no right answer. Each has its merits and drawbacks and it depends on the individuals and circumstances to choose what works for them and make it work.
When people object to their children marrying someone different, it's not based on racism but on fears about their offspring's happiness. For every success story like Suroor or Abu Sinan, there are also many unhappy stories. I personally had a Bengali female friend who married a Pakistani guy against her parents' wishes. Couple of years down the road, she wrote a letter to her parents.
"It is better for both your peace of mind and happiness that you forget you ever had a daughter."
Why? The husband had turned from Prince Charming to Abusive Drunk and Playboy, especially after the couple decided to settle in Lahore. Their story has become fodder for all Bengali fathers in our community who warns their daughters against the charm of 'deceptive Pakistani' guys. Racism?
I think when parents object to such marriages, it is more of a desire to see their own cultural traditions maintained in the next generation, and to ensure their children do not start their new life with the additional challenges of a culture gap.
On the other hand, a couple of friends of mine are somewhat involved with IMAP. They were telling me it's amazing how many girls do not want any man from their own community. Moreover, it is now becoming a trend in many mosques for the preachers to promote cross-cultural marriages, as they tackle the problem of lack of partners in the Muslim community here. I spoke to one such imam recently.
"Kids here are Canadian," He told me. "So it doesn't matter if you come from Guyana or Bangladesh, you are part of the same North American culture."
His point was that it's hard to meet prospective partners in North America if you constrict yourself to your own ethnic origin.
"Besides," the imam continued, "if we stop our daughters from marrying a Muslim man of a different culture, ultimately, they will end up marrying white Christian boys." Now, is this racism?
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On a lighter topic, here's confirmation of the worst kept secret in India.