“I Just Love Your Ring!”
I love my engagement ring. It is beautiful and unique, one-of-a-kind. If my fiancé were contributing to this story, he’d be sure to tell you that it is nothing like what I told him to get me (of course I had dropped some not-so-subtle hints about my ring requirements, and I’m so glad my fiancé knows me better than I do myself, because I had no idea this was the exact ring I wanted).
I get compliments on my ring all the time, from friends, family, and coworkers to grocery store patrons or someone ringing me up at a cash register. As with anything you talk about frequently, you develop a go-to response:
Person: “I just love your ring!”
Me: “Thank you so much! My fiancé did a nice job!”
Sometimes, the conversation will end there. But sometimes, especially in the South where we are known for never meeting a stranger, the conversation will travel further. Most of the time, they’ll ask about the wedding date, the wedding location, the dress, and I have go-to responses for all of them. These are typically younger ladies, most likely currently in wedding-planning-mode themselves or recently married. And all brides-to-be will look for any excuse to discuss wedding details, regardless of whether they’re her own!
But sometimes, especially with the curious motherly Southern ladies (you’ve all met them), the conversation will take a turn I dread:
Person: “So where is your fiancé from?”
That is when my heart begins to race. While I have a programed response to “I just love your ring!” I never know how to answer this question. Should I tell the truth and risk judgment or lie and move forward? I have lied before, but because I have a huge conscience, I usually answer with the truth:
Me: “Saudi Arabia.”
Bam. Hits the stranger like a Mack truck. That is certainly not the response they were expecting. Whether intentional or not, they already had a preconceived idea of who my fiancé was. I am white with blonde hair and blue eyes with a Southern accent. They subconsciously assumed I would be engaged to someone similar to me, a.k.a. a white American and not some brown foreigner (and let’s be honest, we have all made similar assumptions).
I’m not worried about breaking their assumptions (it actually brings me joy); I’m worried about what they’re going to say next. I can always classify their response into one or three categories:
- Compassionate Replies
- Curious Questions
- Judgmental Interrogations
I’ve been with my fiancé for over six years, and I still have yet to find a response that doesn’t fit into one of these categories. I hope that someday I will be able to create a fourth category of “yeah, so?” where people move right along without skipping a beat and the fact that he’s Saudi is not even addressed, but we’re not quite there.
- Compassionate Replies
This is the rarest type of response out of the three. The person is empathetic and realizes that my fiancé and I face some unique challenges. Sometimes they offer sympathy for these challenges, but I think sometimes out of respect and knowing that we must already go through so much, they attempt to brush it off as not a big deal so they don’t add to our stress.
Common responses in this category include:
“That’s really cool, I went to Saudi on business once, what a beautiful culture!”
“How have things been for you and your fiancé in this election?”
“You will have the most beautiful children!”
The last one is my personal favorite and will usually result in a conversation about how much I love biracial children.
- Curious Questions
This is the most common response I get when people find out my fiancé is from Saudi Arabia (and eventually discover he’s Muslim). I LOVE getting these kinds of questions. Many people in the South have never met a Muslim or someone from the Middle East. They have all these questions, but they are afraid to go up to some random Muslim to ask, and they don’t trust what they read on the Internet. I’m overjoyed to answer these questions for them and to help break down the negative Muslim and Middle Eastern stereotypes portrayed by the media.
Here are the most commonly asked questions and my responses:
(Note: I am not an Islamic scholar but these are the conclusions I’ve drawn from discussing with my fiancé, dialoguing with other Muslims, and reading lots and lots of books)
“Is he Muslim?”
Yes, he is Muslim. Most people from Saudi Arabia are Muslim, but there are Christians and Jews living there as well.
“Does that mean you have to convert?”
It is not an obligation for me to convert, but I certainly have that choice if I ever decide to. The Qu’ran states that Muslim men may marry women that are “People of the Book”, meaning Jews or Christians, because we all agree on the most important thing: that there is only one God.
“Do Muslims believe in Jesus?”
Yes, absolutely. The only difference between Muslims and Christians in regards to Jesus is that Christians believe he is the Son of God and Muslims believe he is a prophet like Moses or Abraham. In Islam, Muslims must believe in the teachings of all prophets, including Jesus, in order to be Muslim. Muslims believe in the Virgin birth and Jesus’ miracles, and the Qu’ran even has some stories about Jesus not included in the Bible. (Interesting fact: the Virgin Mary is mentioned more times in the Qu’ran than in the Bible.)
“What’s his last name? Will you take his last name?”
For anonymity purposes, I will not write my fiancé’s last name here, but I do verbally tell them his last name and explain what it means. Yes, I will take his last name, though that actually goes against Arab tradition, which is for the wife to keep her maiden name and not take the husband’s name.
“Islam seems to treat women differently than men. How does that make you feel?”
Honestly, this is where I struggled the most when learning about Islam, mostly because of my naïveté about Islam and its practices. My mama is a feminist and raised me as such, so it was difficult for me to look through what I saw in the media to truly understand what was happening. Many people have spent their lives researching gender and Islam, and there are scholars who specialize in Islamic feminism (I highly recommend reading “Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective” by Amina Wadud), but there are three important points I like to stress as I step up on my soapbox:
- Religion vs. Government
First, it’s important to differentiate between the Islamic religion and the Saudi Arabian government (and other Middle Eastern governments). For example, it is illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia. This law is derived from the patriarchal society that is indoctrinated in the Saudi government, not Islam. Nowhere in the Qu’ran does it say that women are not allowed to drive (or ride camels, since cars obviously weren’t around in the year 609). It is actually un-Islamic to restrict women in such a way. Just as Christians try to emulate Jesus in how he treated others and lived his life, so do Muslims with Muhammad (peace be upon him). Muhammad treated his wives with the utmost respect, asked and heeded their advice on religious and government matters, and treated them as equals. However, the Saudi government wants to continue to oppress their citizens (not just the women), and they use religion to cover it up. During a movement for women to drive in 2013, an ultra-conservative Saudi cleric issued a statement saying “if a woman drives a car, it could have a negative physiological impact…medical studies show that it would automatically affect a woman’s ovaries and that it pushes the pelvis upward.” This is obviously false, and he hoped that since he was a religious scholar, the people would trust his word. Everyone requested these medical studies he was referencing, which he never produced, so his statement was discredited.
- Unequal Rights for All
Second, while the government of Saudi Arabia is definitely more oppressive towards women, we need to keep in mind that men are oppressed as well. Neither gender has full rights. Many of the shopping malls in Saudi are for women and families only, meaning that only groups of women or women with their children/husbands/male relatives are allowed to enter. If a man wants to go to a mall, he has to be escorted by his wife or a female relative. The problem does not lie in the religion but in the corrupt government that wishes to keep power in the elite few rather than the people. There are tons of verses from the Qu’ran and hadith (sayings and teachings of Muhammad) to prove that Islam is a fair religion between the genders, but that is a whole article on its own.
- Gender in Islam
Finally, there are a few instances where genders are treated differently in Islam, but it’s important to understand that it serves a specific purpose. For example, why are the genders separated during prayer or worship? I used to get really offended by this until I understood the reasoning. I like to think back to high school when I was very active in my church’s youth group. At the end of every youth group, we would all stand in a circle, hold hands, and pray. Think about it for a minute: I’m a teenage girl, I have the biggest crush on a guy in my youth group, and every week I have an opportunity to hold hands with him. You bet your butt when it came time to pray every week I made sure to be standing next to my hottie crush! And I guarantee that when we’re standing there holding hands and praying, I was certainly not thinking about God!
Separating the genders during Islamic prayer serves to encourage worshipers to focus on God and to prevent lustful thoughts during prayer. When it comes down to it, we have natural, animalistic instincts to mate, and God just wants to help us focus by removing those temptations entirely while praying. (On a side note, if you’ve ever seen Muslims pray, you know they do so while bowing forward on the ground. Imagine that you’re a dude trying to pray and some chick’s butt is in your face. It’d be pretty difficult to focus on praying.)
Stepping off my soapbox now.
- Judgmental Interrogations
These responses happen too much, and I have the least amount of patience for these. I try to keep my thoughts to myself and respond calmly with kindness and possibly with some humor, but it’s really difficult to stay composed when someone’s ignorance and hatred starts to show. I tend to get sassy and sarcastic. These are all actual things that people have said to me, what I think when they say them, and how I actually respond:
|What They Say||What I Think||What I Actually Say|
|“He’s from Saudi? Oh, you need to be careful.”||Careful of what? To make sure he doesn’t turn me into a camel? (My fiancé actually had someone tell him once that she KNEW that Arab men married women and then turned them into camels. Her mom told her. No joke.)||“Nothing to be careful about.”|
|“Is he one of them Muzlums?”||Is there a “z” in Muslim? No? It’s an “s”? Then why are you saying a “z”?||“Yes, he is a Muslim.” (And I annunciate the “s” very obviously)|
|“Does he make you cover your head?”||Is my head covered right now?||“You don’t know me very well if you think anyone can make me do anything I don’t want to do.”|
|“Aren’t you worried he’s a terrorist?”||If by terrorist, you mean he terrorizes the living room by not picking up his dishes after he eats, then yes.||“Do you think all Christians are terrorists based on the actions of the KKK?”|
|“Aren’t you worried that if you go visit Saudi with your children, your husband is going to keep them there and not let them come back to the US? Haven’t you ever seen that movie Not Without My Daughter?”||Do you think they’ll notice if I just walk away?||“No, I’m not worried. My fiancé views me as his equal, loves me, and treats me with respect, just as any spouse should.”|
And then my all-time favorite, which sadly, I’ve heard more than once:
“You realize he’s going to Hell, right?”
I can usually respond to the previous judgmental interrogations while remaining calm and collected. That last one, though. I can never contain my sarcasm:
“Oh, really?!?! You KNOW he’s going to Hell? Can you see the future? Besides, I thought that judgment was reserved for God? You know, James 4:12? ‘There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?’ So hold on: you see the future…you know who’s going to Hell…hot dang, you’re God, aren’t you? I cannot believe that I have the honor of meeting you, God! In the flesh, here on Earth!”
Like I said, I try to respond with kindness and compassion, but I am flawed.
Final Thoughts and All That Jazz
An engagement ring is a symbol of continued unconditional love and devotion to another person. It’s no different for me and my fiancé. We love each other endlessly and work together to create a relationship of mutual respect and kindness. That doesn’t change just because he’s not American or Christian.
I hope that I continue to receive Curious Questions from the people I meet, and that by sharing my story and maybe introducing them to my fiancé, they will learn something new about the world. I encourage you to ask questions. Go to your local mosque and observe a prayer or service. I know this sounds so intimidating, and the first time I went I was scared too, but Muslims are very friendly and welcome non-Muslims into the mosque because they are constantly wanting to educate those around them that they are promoting peace and love in their place of worship. Many mosques even have a “Visit the Mosque Day” dedicated to inviting non-Muslims to the mosque to learn about Islam.
So where is my fiancé from? He’s from Saudi Arabia. And no, he’s not a terrorist.