LOVE IS NOT DISHONORABLE
BY HALIMA BEGUM
Since I was a child, I was taught to be a good and obedient girl. To keep in line with other good Muslim Asian girls, I was not to speak too loudly or walk too cheerfully. I was instructed to study hard and gain knowledge, but also to learn to cook great curries and do prime housework so I could one day find a good Muslim Asian man and take care of his home and family. I remember feeling oddly about this. I understood that I had to study, but what was the point of it if I was going to be locked up in a house with babies, and in a kitchen with pots and pans?
The idea of such a fate filled me with misery and disdain. And rebellion too: this wasn’t for me, and I wasn’t going to happen.
This engineered scenario not only included my mother’s housewife dreams for me but also the expectations of my potential future in-laws. I had to become an obedient daughter-in-law who would not work outside of the house and would look after her new family. In my home and community, I grew up watching generations of women doing this. It petrified me to see them taking upon themselves to be ‘patient’ in order to maintain “peace” within the family and the wider community. I knew the cost of such choices and what comes as a result. Even though these women are unhappy, their only remaining solace is to assert their prowess when it comes to “handling a family” and displaying the “patience of a saint.” It becomes who they are. Otherwise, I wonder, what would become of them?
When you are living a life you did not choose, the only way to overcome it is to somehow show support for it.
But I won’t be someone who cries privately while pretending to be happy in her misery. I want to be free in a world where being born a woman feels like a lifelong burden. Why does it have to be this way?
I wanted an equal partner by my side, not a chieftain who would feel free to subjugate me. Disappointing my parents was my only option, however sad it made me.
The day I told my parents I was in love with a man that didn’t meet their requirements was the day my family’s name was forever stained, or so they believe. I remember so vividly the fear I experienced at the thought of telling them something so intrinsically natural. Yet, all they know about is arranged marriage, love is not an option. It is actually a taboo when it comes to marrying someone who will be with you for the rest of your life.
Their look of disgust and betrayal will live with me forever. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but from their perspective, I was a dishonorable creature.
I have dared to fall in love with a white man and to live with him unmarried. This is the worst crime of all for a conservative and religious Asian family. In fact, marriage alone has the power to render legitimacy to a relationship and make it worthy of respect.
It baffles me to see how much my family struggles to understand my choices (marriage is an utterly intimate choice for my partner and I to make when we are ready). They knew since I was a child that I would not marry a traditional Asian boy whose family controls every aspect of the couple’s life. They knew I dreamt of falling in love with a man of my own choosing and that I wouldn’t care about his color or creed. But their response relies heavily on three most efficient mechanisms to exercise their power over me: shame, honor, and control. They are still expecting my partner to convert to Islam and that we get married as soon as possible.
Sadly, at times their shaming has its intended effects. I do often feel abashed about falling in love. It’s a foreign sensation yet I can see it creeping up in my mind. Their honor codes impact me too. Often I feel responsible for their unwillingness to accept my choices. The indoctrinated honor code of womanhood is hard to dismantle. I see the games they play; sometimes it’s love and sometimes it’s manipulation.
It is hard to disentangle which is which. But I can’t give in – the cost is too high.
I know my mother was a strong woman who went through a lot and I will always respect her. She made her decisions and she bore the consequences. But I cannot mirror her choices. I am an autonomous woman who does not perceive herself as an inferior who must be restricted by the honor codes in religious Asian families.What my mother and many women in my community did is not something we should necessarily uphold and maintain.
By taking control of my life, I will bring about change to my family and community, one step at a time.
This article was written for sister-hood.com and is reproduced with their permission.