Wa `alaykum As-Salamu wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
In this fatwa:
1- Your parents cannot stop you from marrying the person you want simply because he is not sharing your culture or ethnic background.
2- Parents, however, have the authority to intervene should you choose someone of questionable moral or religious character.
In his response to the question you posed, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:
We are, however, definitely responsible and accountable if we get carried away by such feelings and take specific actions or steps that might be deemed as haram (forbidden).
As far as male and female interaction is concerned, Islam dictates strict rules: It forbids all forms of ‘dating’ and isolating oneself with a member of the opposite sex, as well indiscriminate mingling and mixing.
If, however, one does none of the above, and all that he or she wants is to seriously consider marrying someone, such a thing itself is not considered haram.
In fact, Islam encourages us to marry persons for whom we have special feelings and affinity. Thus, Islam recommends that potential marriage partners see one another before proposing marriage. Explaining the reason for such a recommendation, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “That would enhance/foster the bonding.”
This permission notwithstanding, we are advised against getting carried away by merely the outward appearances of a person; these may be quite misleading. Marriage is a life-long partnership and a person’s real worth is determined not by his or her physical looks, but more so by the inner person or character.
Hence, after having mentioned that people ordinarily look for beauty, wealth and family in a marriage partner, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) advised us to consider primarily “the religious or character factor” over and above all other considerations.
Further, Islam’s insistence on parental involvement in the selection process is to ensure that a person exercises his or her choice correctly. In other words, so parents can step in if there is a serious issue of compatibility.
Compatibility entails a person’s worth in a spiritual and moral sense: the only primary criterion that makes or breaks a marriage. The Prophet said: “If a person of acceptable religion and character presents himself for marriage, marry him, otherwise, there would be widespread sedition and rampant corruption in the land.”
Therefore, if you have made a choice based on the above consideration, then your parents have no right to stop your marriage. Since it is your choice to eat the food you wish to eat, likewise, it is your choice to decide whom you wish to choose as a life-long partner.
They cannot stop you from marrying the person you want simply because the person is not sharing your culture or ethnic background.
Parents, however, have the authority to intervene should you choose someone of questionable moral and religious character. Should you proceed in such a case against their wishes, your marriage is deemed null and void according to the rules of Islamic jurisprudence.
If, however, your parents’ objection to your marriage is based purely on racial, cultural or ethnic grounds, you are allowed to seek other channels of authority to intervene in such a case, as long as the person of your choice is of acceptable religion and character.
The concerned authority is supposed to get the parental consent to the marriage, but should they insist on their stand, the authority is sanctioned to authorize your marriage.
This last option should only be exercised after you have exhausted all endeavors to communicate with your parents, both individually and through other channels in the community such as elders or respectable leaders or Imams.
It is more likely that parents are concerned about their children for genuine reasons, and that once things are explained to them, they will probably, relent.
As regards the second part of your question – whether we are to expect only all of our dreams to be materialized in the next world – that is quite true. This world is not a place where we have consummate fulfillment and satisfaction in every sense of the word since it is of limited possibilities. Yet, when we strive diligently and sincerely to obey Allah and His Messenger Allah promises us good both in this world and hereafter.
Almighty Allah knows best.
Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.