Salams, I am a British reverted Muslim. I recently married a Muslim man of Arab origin. And from time to time, I get the sense that he wants me to act like an Arab, to cook only Arab food, to pretend to be timid, to have some mannerism that are not my nature. Does Islam require this of me? I feel like my husband wants me to lose my identity, to be someone I am not. Is he right to expect this of me as a Muslim?
Asalamu Alaikum, Thank you for this very important question. Allah (SWT) has guided you–personality, quirks, culture and all–for a reason. He has guided you, a unique person, to Him, and He does not ask you to lose your identity. What He does ask is that you- and all Muslims no matter what culture we come from- refine your manners. That’s it. And for anyone to expect you to change who you are if Allah does not ask you to do so, certainly seems unfair.
But, this might not be what your husband is doing. He might wish for you to do and act a certain way out of possible homesickness if he is living in your country, or out of wanting you to succeed socially if you are living in his country. You need to be open with him about how you feel, how he makes you feel, and see what he has to say.
However, sometimes, Muslims who come from places where Islam is the predominant religion confuse their culture for Islam. And this might be what is happening between you and your husband. Again, talk to him and be open about your concerns.
I have seen it happen to other convert/revert sisters. A husband from a Muslim majority country expects his newly (or not so newly) converted wife to change her personality, to be more like his idea of what a Muslim women should be. But really, he wants her to be like what he thinks a woman “back home” should be like. The fact that you are coming from a non-Muslim majority country might be compounding this issue in his mind.
The thing is that there is so much diversity among Muslims. There was even diversity among the companions of the Prophet (PBUH), as far as personality types and even cultures go, that it is not exactly conceivable that a certain personality or culture is more endorsed by Islam than another. It takes diversity to make a healthy, functioning society.
That being said, it is vital for you to learn from the sources of the Quran and sunnah what exactly is expected of you as a Muslim. If it doesn’t come from these sources, then you can feel free to discount it, or better yet, discuss it with your husband. So, what I recommend, moving forward, is that you kindly and gently ask your husband for his reasoning behind wanting you to act a certain way, cook only a certain food, etc. If he cannot bring a valid proof from Islamic sources and put them in context, then you need to discuss these issues with him.
Marriage is work and intercultural marriage is extra work. That doesn’t mean it is impossible. You just need to know what Islam says, what his culture dictates, and what you are willing and not willing to do or change according to culture. However, do not try to change your core identity or personality. This will only lead to resentment, and resentment is poison to a relationship. Figuring all this out will take time, so have patience and wisdom.
Also, check out this article on the cultural baggage many new Muslim encounter: http://aboutislam.net/family-society/laying-foundations/cultural-baggage-multicultural-marriage/
I hope this helps. May Allah bless your marriage and increase you in beneficial knowledge. Please keep in touch.