‘Her husband is Muslim, she has to be careful’. This was the statement that my very-sweet (but misinformed), best Latina friend had made. To me. About him. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Apparently, Ana’s mum had read a shocking news story involving a man who’d got married in Spain and then later, completely abandoned his wife to return to his own country. Half-joking, and half feeling it was her duty as a friend to enlighten me about the lesson, she continued. ‘So, I said to my mother: “I’d better tell Natasha to watch out, because this guy just left his wife alone.”’
At that moment, perched at a library table I was listening to her cheerfully grace me with these gems of wisdom – without a shred of bad intention in her heart (as is the endearing nature of this girl) – the relevance of her narrative and its link to my own life weren’t immediately clear.
Then I got it. I could see where she was going with this…but I let it play out. Feigning mild oblivion, I probed for more facts: ‘The man in the story, which country was he from?’ I asked, still waiting for that word to crop up. Was she really going to hint at – even jokingly – a connection between some marriage-abandoning fiend and my lovely Mr Zag? (who, as it happens, has been married to me for 3 years now and luckily shows no sign of hot-footing it back to his mother land).
Then there it was. the ‘M’ word.
Just Another Disreputable ‘Muslim‘
But as it turned out, at that moment, Ana couldn’t recall the nationality of the wife-deserter from her story, why not? because it was irrelevant. She shrugged off my question casually: ‘I don’t know but… the man was Muslim…’ She said this word with an expectant glint in her eye, still happily unaware of the faux pas that had just been laid on the table. Was she waiting for me to say: ‘Oh no, not one of those Muslim types, of course, that explains everything!’
Needless to say, there was no ‘eureka’ moment from me.
The analyst inside me had a dozen follow-up questions, not to know more about the story, but to prompt my dear friend into opening up her perspective just a little. What was the man’s personal history? More importantly, where was this story printed? However, the bigger picture just wasn’t as worthy of remark as this one detail about the man’s religion.
An Example of a Wider Consensus
I have to point out that my Latina friend is not the only, the first, the last, and nowhere near the most shocking example of this. Pre-judgement based on misinformation.
When we first moved to Peru we shared a house with another couple: a Colombian young man Mateo and his Californian girlfriend Shelby, really nice guys. One day Mateo – said to my Mr. Zag, without knowing how ridiculously bigoted he sounded: ‘Tell me something please Jawad, if Muslims explode themselves, do they go straight to heaven?’
Another occasion (now this is the funniest):
Husband’s boss: ‘How did you get to Peru?’
Husband: ‘I came from Spain, on an aeroplane of course, why?’
Husband’s boss: ‘What! If they had known you were a muslim, they never would have let you on that plane.’
That was actually a statement from a professional, the manager of a company and someone who’d spent many years in the USA, where you’d think he’d develop more liberal views to other faiths. Apparently not. I was livid, I wanted to go there and ‘make a scandal’ (as our Russian friend likes to say). An apology from the manager would have also been nice. My husband just told me that it was all too easy to get angry about this stuff but then it would just play to the negative stereotypes. So basically… peace and love.
But it’s not even a religious point for me, it’s just that tolerance and showing respect for others is a basic standard. I’ve got absolutely no problem telling somebody that they need to re-educate themselves on these two behaviour traits that really ‘get my goat’ (There’s a pun in that picture a few paragraphs up). Anyway, Mr. Zag is a strong, assertive man who doesn’t need his wife fighting his battles for him. I erred on the side of caution and didn’t charge into his place of work with all guns blazing. Instead we had a few laughs over dinner about Islamophobics and we quickly forgot about it. Or at least we tried to…
A week later, another colleague of My husband’s said to him: ‘but, you’re alright because you don’t look like a Muslim’. Oh the profanities I’m screaming in my head right now. Firstly, who are you and what do you think a Muslim looks like? (You probably don’t know because you’ve never met one before) Secondly, how does not looking like a Muslim qualify somebody as “alright”? Thirdly, maybe he wants to look like a Muslim, because he’s proud of it. Incredible stupidity.
An old work colleague once asked me ‘Does your husband tell you how to dress?’ I replied: ‘No, and even if he tried, he wouldn’t be able to’. I then went on to make the point of saying that, I respected my spouse enough – and myself – not to dress in tiny hot pants and have cleavage showing walking down the street. Regardless of religion, there’s definitely something empowering about realising that you are immensely beautiful, just because you’re a woman. Enchanting infact. Knowing all that, I prefer to save my curves and contours for the eyes of the one I share my bed with. I’ve never felt more free and gorgeous in my life.
Back to my Latina Friend
As for Ana, I really want to clarify that she’s highly intelligent, sweet, notably creative and open-minded about almost everything (else). Furthermore, she knows my husband, they get on really well. Yet, her story about this man who had heartlessly abandoned his wife because he was a Muslim and her consequent advice to me to watch out which, admittedly, was semi-jovial, made me realise that she’d probably never met a muslim. Even still, I use the anecdote with her as the main example, but the fact is that a staggering majority of our generation’s mind-set towards Islam is embodied in her comments. Like I said, there’s a bigger picture.
In the religion of Islam, the honourable way that a man treats his wife is a direct testament to his virtue as a good Muslim (“…And live with them in kindness…” – Quran 4:19), so abandoning your wife is one of the most anti-Islamic things a man could do. Just saying.
Instead of dropping my head into my hands in response to her story, I tried to accept my friend with understanding and patience (she’s a really good friend). What followed was a light exchange about the differences between Muslim countries: Ana agreed with me that each nation has its own laws, its own political tide, with different extents of secularism, contrasting attitudes to equality issues, human rights and social norms.
The Bigger Picture
As for the scoundrel in Ana’s story: we never did know exactly why he disowned his wife. In Britain, there are thousands of men who up and leave their wives with no forewarning, never to return. Women too for that matter. It’s not because they’re British, or because they’re Christian. Not to say that it’s fine to simply marry somebody and then flee but it happens and we don’t always know why. I’ve seen it here in Peru too, with two friends who don’t know where their ex’s are because they left without warning, abandoning all shred of responsibility. Typical Catholics?... no of course not.
Actually, as I write this conclusion, I cringe under the heavy cliché of my next words; individuals are exactly that. We’re human beings, we do things for different reasons, with different trains of thought, we make different choices (good and bad). Don’t judge almost two billion people by the actions of one fool.
Finally, take heed ladies, if you’re thinking of marrying a Muslim, be careful!