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My Take: Top 5 myths about American Muslims’ love lives
February 14th, 2012
01:25 PM ET

My Take: Top 5 myths about American Muslims’ love lives

Editor's note:  Ayesha Mattu, an international development consultant, and Nura Maznavi, an attorney, are the co-editors of "Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women."

By Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi, Special to CNN

A lot has been written about Muslim women, but very little of it has been written by Muslim women ourselves.

The sensational stories — child brides, forced marriages, honor killings — always get the headlines, but nowhere do we see the stories of the independent, opinionated and hilarious Muslim women we know.

We decided to change that.

Starting five years ago, we asked fellow American Muslim women to share their stories of searching for love. We chose the topic because love is a deeply intimate yet universal emotion — and one not usually associated with Muslims.

We received 200 submissions in response to our call for stories, which we broadcast via social media and email.

Twenty five of the best submissions form our new book, “Love InshAllah,” which means “God willing” in Arabic and expresses the idea that it’s only through the will of God that we attain what we seek in life.

Taken together, the stories offer a portrait of the millions of Muslims in America, which represents the most diverse Muslim community on the planet. It includes families whose roots go back to the founding of our nation and immigrants from every country imaginable.

While compiling the book, we ran head-on into lots of myths about the love lives of American Muslim women. Here are the top 5:

1. Muslim women marry men their parents choose for them.

While some women do meet their husbands through their parents, Islam gives women the final say over whether or not to marry that person. Family plays a strong role in the lives of many American Muslim women, but the majority who submitted contributions to our book did not meet their partners through family recommendations.

The women of “Love InshAllah” fall in love at college and work, online and through mutual friends. One writer, Angela Collins Telles, met a handsome and mysterious stranger while traveling in Argentina, had a whirlwind romance, got married and now lives in Brazil with her husband their two sons. Not exactly an arranged marriage.

2. All arranged marriages are loveless.

For many of us, the idea of marrying someone you are not in love with is shocking. It brings to mind images of a couple bound together for life by duty, not love. Aisha Saeed writes about meeting a young man on the recommendation of her mother and, within six weeks, deciding to marry him.

If that seems foreign, consider that she bases her decision on their mutual chemistry after discussing shared values, passions and goals. They’re the same factors most of us consider when choosing a lifelong partner, albeit usually over longer periods of dating.

Though Saeed may not have been “in love” with him in the conventional sense on their wedding day, a decade of married life later they are madly in love with each other, with a love that continues to grow deeper over time.

Saeed chose her partner on the lasting qualities of mutual respect and kindness and they have built a beautiful life together.

3. Muslim women who wear the hijab are repressed or asexual.

Throughout history, the lives and bodies of Muslim women have been politicized.

We are either hypersexualized — think belly dancers and harems — or thought to be desexualized, as though wearing a scarf on our heads extinguishes all feelings of love or desire, and our very agency over our lives.

In “Love, InshAllah,” writers who wear hijab challenge that notion. Whether they are recently divorced and miss the sexual intimacy of a relationship, single and tempted by their hot personal trainers, or discovering the joys of a new relationship through the sweetness of holding hands for the very first time, Muslim women who cover share the love and longing of all women.

4. There is no such thing as a gay Muslim.

Actually, there is. Not only are there gay Muslims, some of them are deeply orthodox, with faith playing a central role in their lives. Two of our writers relate very different experiences of being gay Muslims — one from a secular background, the other from an orthodox perspective.

The surprises don’t end there. The more secular writer comes out to her strict Muslim parents and is accepted, while the more orthodox woman has not yet come out to her non-Muslim family. In the end, a parent’s reaction has less to do with his or her family’s religious affiliation and more to do with individual family cultures, communication and dynamics.

5. Muslim women are unable to escape unhappy marriages.

Muslim women have had the right to divorce for the past 1,400 years. That is not to say it has always been easy, or that cultural or legal impediments have not existed. The same barriers that prevent many of us from moving on from a bad relationship – fear of being alone, children, or economic issues – come into play for Muslim women, too.

But many of the writers in “Love InshAllah” write openly about unhappy marriages and eventually leave them behind. They find love on the second — or even third — time around.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Islam • Opinion

soundoff (478 Responses)
  1. Halo of Flies

    Question and be honest, who is ready to blow the holy living s.h.i.t out of Iran? (and then Isreal)

    February 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Halo of Flies

      That was not me. I am a lover, not a fighter.

      February 15, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Muneef

      Yep he is a ball's lover... 🙂

      February 16, 2012 at 6:16 am |
    • Muneef

      Rather enjoys crushing balls than killing..

      February 16, 2012 at 6:45 am |
    • Muneef

      Every male has to watch out for their balls from such maniacs...

      February 16, 2012 at 6:47 am |
  2. Marcus

    Quran (2:191-193): (Shakir) And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.

    The only true God has promised me life after death and no need for me to kill non-believers... The Good Book – Ephesians 5:14: "Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

    February 14, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Marcus

      Being Christian apparently isn't as "hipster" as being a muslim...

      February 14, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Ailetha

      Yes, please leave out the verse directly before it to fit your purposes.. Quran (2:190) "Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors."

      i'm not Muslim whatsoever, but please do me and everyone on this board a favor and try not to twist things to look the way you wish them to when they don't suit your agenda. You are not helping anybody's cause or bringing any truth to light or doing anything but lying to people.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Roger smith

      the verse before it does not change the meaning the verse that followed it.

      learn to read

      February 14, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Roger smith

      Aailetha please explain this verse for me.............."Mohammed is God's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless
      to the unbelievers but merciful to one another" Quran 48:29

      since you want to be a muslim apologist

      February 14, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Ailetha

      I will spell it out for you since you are obviously not smart enough to interpret it. It's saying they should kill law-breakers. That's what transgressor means, since you are obviously uninformed as to that word's meaning. Gee, sounds pretty similar to other beliefs i've heard! Garsh, Beauford, where have i heard that one before? Well, Paw, maybe Christian right wing Republicans? Bible thumpers? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Gee, I don't know, Paw! Capital punishment maybe? We ourselves as an American society implement killing transgressors to a degree.

      I am not apologizing or explaining anything, but i am simply not going to stand here while people post things completely out of context and call it anything but lying. What i think about this is completely irrelevant because i'm not the one on this board seeking to lie and mislead people. That is your and Marcus's doing. I may want all Muslims to rule the world. I may want them all to die a horrible death. It's 100 percent beside the point and irrelevant.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • Roger smith

      you are an apologist because you are changing the meaning to make it look better. here is what it means.

      The Quran:
      Quran (2:191-193) – "And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution [of Muslims] is worse than slaughter [of non-believers]... but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah." The historical context of this passage is not defensive warfare, since Muhammad and his Muslims had just relocated to Medina and were not under attack by their Meccan adversaries. In fact, the verses urge offensive warfare, in that Muslims are to drive Meccans out of their own city (which they later did). The use of the word "persecution" by some Muslim translators is thus disingenuous (the actual Muslim words for persecution – "idtihad" – and oppression – a variation of "z-l-m" – do not appear in the verse). The actual Arabic comes from "fitna" which can mean disbelief, or the disorder that results from unbelief or temptation. Taken as a whole, the context makes clear that violence is being authorized until "religion is for Allah" – ie. unbelievers desist in their unbelief.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Ailetha

      If you are going to plagiarize websites that also take the same verse out of context and then proceed to call them your own analysis or explanation of why you are correct, we are never going to have a logical argument because i can't argue with stupid or debate with stupid. Nothing intelligent or worthwhile will come out of it. That which you posted is from religionofpeace.com and also does not acknowledge or do anything to explain the verse directly before it, nor that they are talking about transgressors, law breakers. You still continue to just ignore it as if that will make your argument any more cogent, logical, or intelligent and it just doesn't. You are still refusing to acknowledge the verse directly before it, AND WHILE PLAGIARIZING. i feel sorry for you.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  3. Cocoa

    Hey CNN-If love is univeral then you should have done an article that encompasses all cultures and religions. Why this special article on 'Love' for the Muslims on Feb 14th?

    February 14, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  4. massms

    The book is a money-making scheme concocted by two women to capitalize on what they believe is America's fascination with the "love lives" of Muslim women. What a crock.

    February 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  5. Roger smith

    19 Muslim hijackers killed more innocents in two hours on September 11th than the number of American criminals executed in the last 65 years.

    February 14, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  6. Roger smith

    Islamic terrorists murder more people every day than the Ku Klux Klan has in the last 50 years.

    February 14, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Erik

      That sounds like a COMPLETELY made up and unsupportable racist claim. Congratulations, moron.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  7. Roger smith

    More civilians were killed by Muslim extremists in two hours on September 11th than in the 36 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

    February 14, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  8. Roger smith

    More people are killed by Islamists each year than in all 350 years of the Spanish Inquisition combined.

    February 14, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Bob

      So, what are the Islamists doing to promote Peace? Who cares about their 'love lives'?

      February 14, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
  9. Cgreen

    Will they just go away and bury their head in the sand and live "peacefully" with other Muslims.

    February 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  10. Marcus

    Hey CNN why don't you report about the cleansing of Hindus in Pakistan? Pushed by the Islamic purists?

    February 14, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  11. Marcus

    Your biggest myth is that Islam is peaceful... This is what some think of Christians..."An upstart Islamist militia is causing havoc in Nigeria, killing more than 250 people this year alone....."... peace. PROPAGANDA. To see the hate Islam reigns one should look into Nigeria's Islamic hell.

    February 14, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  12. Dipo

    Wow!, why so much hate. Why are some so determned to show that islam is a bad religion and all Muslims are either bad or lost? It is illogical. There are good, bad, tall and short Muslims just as there are Christians (and others). And why are some determined not to accept American Muslims as Americans? What do you expect the 1 billion Muslims around the world to do?, disapear or maybe even better conver to Christianity? Will this make you happy? Why are we afraid to find out that many Muslims, especially in America live lives like the rest of US? If there are problems with terrorists, wife abusers, child molesters, drug dealers, etc.,let us addrss the problems instead of trying to blame a religion, ethnicity or race for these problems. No we are not going to get rid of them. Please let us come to out senses.

    February 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Roger smith

      islam is hated for the ideology that says to kill all non muslims....its not really a religion.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Roger smith

      p.s. you can't believe in islam and believe in democracy at the same time.....the ideology stands for everything evil

      February 14, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      You see now why religion is poison for the human mind...there are no good religions or gods. Each religion sees itself as the savior of the human race, and each condemns the other. Each tries to defend the ridiculous beliefs it espouses which only folks of other religions can see as silly...why is that?

      February 14, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  13. Jesus

    Enough with the Muslims. The world despises them. It's those that are willing to say something about it that are, in fact, trying to make the world a better place. Islam is not welcomed in modern society.

    February 14, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • FlushChina

      There are not American Muslims.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • O.S. Bird

      Your audacity in purporting to represent Jesus and speak for him leaves me near speechless. You'd better hope the Prince Of Peace doesn't burn you where you stand. You're contemptable.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • michae1hawk

      Jesus, you nailed it. Thanks for writing.

      February 15, 2012 at 1:21 am |
  14. NVKP

    Can we please end the sympathetic, they're just like us images and stories of Muslims? If they're true to their faith, they want to see Christians and Jews dead. Period. And some point in this life, you have to choose sides. You can't ride the fence forever.

    February 14, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Carl

      Christians believe that all non-Christians are going to burn in hell unless they covert. Also, ever hear of the Inquisition or the Crusades?

      February 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Roger smith

      only one 1080 people died in the inqustion over 300 years...........200,000 peopole died in the crusades over 200 years.

      the muslims killed 5 milliion xtian armenians in a genocide i top dogged you cupcake

      February 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  15. Fairfax

    I suppose genital mutation does NOT exist according to this writer? The sampling of Muslims for this article appear to American Muslims and doesn't appear to represent what Muslim women face in other parts of the world.

    February 14, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • LeRoy Ali Tirebiter

      They'll go for their cl itoralectomies when their husbands think they're getting too se xy. "Misha, I saw Kahalil looking at you today – it's time I get you cut – that'll take care of him!

      February 14, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • timothy

      genital mutilation is not part of islam - never mentioned in qur'an or in any hadith (the only 2 sources of islam). It is a practice done in certain parts of africa– but is cultural and outside of realm of islam.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • LeRoy Ali Tirebiter

      Cultural? Then why is it endorsed by imams throughout the ME? The W.H.O. has reliable estimates that almost 80% of women in Egypt have either been approached for, threatened with, or have already been victims of this dis-figuration.

      You, timothy, are either a bold-faced iiar or an ignorant fool. Either way, I call bullshít on YOU.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  16. Boohincus

    It's truly comic and ironic to listen to one group of magical thinkers (Christians/Jews) berate another group of magical thinkers (Muslims). Religion = hokum. Monotheism = poison hokum. lol

    February 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Roger smith

      where in this article are xtians and jews berateing muslims? please explain cupcake

      February 14, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Boohincus

      @Roger smith Ah, try the comments section, cupcake. Got it now?

      February 14, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Roger smith

      and you know the religion of the people making the comments if they have even any religion? do you where a tin foil hat when you determine the religion of commenter? huh cupcake please explain.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Roger smith

      hey cupcake what is my religion since you have your tin foil hat on and can tell.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Boohincus

      @Roger smith Did I hit a nerve, cupcake? Just ask Jesus about it, okay?

      February 14, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Roger smith

      cupcake what is my religion? you said you can tell by reading comments......?
      i have proven you to be of low I.Q.

      you cannot answer my question.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Boohincus

      @Roger smith Oh, you're killing me. Oooooo. Go pray or something. Okay?

      February 14, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Roger smith

      you said you know peoples religions by reading the comments please explain how you know this and what race they are....please tune in your tin foil hat..

      i have proven you to be a cupcake

      February 14, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • maverick

      all this talk of cupcakes is making me hungry!

      February 14, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Boohincus

      @Roger smith Go pray, cupcake. Indeed, short side thinkers like you need it. Your anecdote about the three woman just shows the level of your thinking. Simpleton. Go pray. Beat your breast. Do whatever cupcakes like you do. But just get a life and stop acting like your anonymous ministrations prove anything or even warrant reply. Okay? Move on.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Roger smith

      you said you know the religion of the commenters cupcake but you fail to say how.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Boohincus

      @Roger smith Are you stupid? I'm under no obligation to 'prove' anything for you. If you can't figure it out that's your short side thinking at work again. This is an open forum and the fact that I dissed religion just irks you. You're no doubt of some reactionary religious persuasion, but there's little point in trying to 'prove' or disprove that. After all, we're all anonymous here, cupcake. NOTHING can be 'proved,' if only because guys like you would lie about point that was scored against you. Get it? Understand? Or is that just more than you can wrap your head around?.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Marcus

      Muhammad is dead. He never rose from the grave. Your idol is dead.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Roger smith

      im not asking you to prove anything....you stated you know the religion of the people who post on this......yet you have not told me how.

      why dont you just come clean and say you are stupid and low I.Q. and that you actually dont know the religions of the poster and your post was completely idiotic

      February 14, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Boohincus

      @Roger smith The idiocy here is yours. You know and I know that the vitriolic reactions to Islam here are overwhelmingly Christian or Jewish. So stop pretending like there's some great leap required to make that inference. Who else would it be? Taoists? Buddhists? Get a life. Stop pretending like its a significant point of contention. Just concede that your reply was simple pique over having your religion dissed. Man up. BE a man about it. Stop hiding in some oblique and childish argument about the unknowablility of the religious inclinations of the majority of the responders here.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Roger smith

      you dont get it do you cupcake. you have no idea of persons religion from a post.

      you keep telling me to pray and talk abut jesus to me.

      but im an atheist.....so obviously cupcake you cant tell.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Boohincus

      @Roger smith You recall what I said about anonymity and liars. You fall neatly into both groups. You lie to duck any point scored against you. And you know there is now way to prove any assertion made against you or by you. Yes, you are anonymous and a liar. Get a life.

      February 14, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  17. Fn0rdz

    Showing exceptions to general rules doesn't invalidate the general rules.

    February 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  18. Bob

    The ladies are welcome to try to dispel these myths in any Muslim country in the world. Let me know how that works out for you.

    February 14, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  19. Whitney

    what i got out of this article is that it's the family values, not necessarily religion, that plays a more prominent role in lives of many "born and raised" muslims.

    February 14, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Roger smith

      i guess we didn't read the same article...and ummm this article is just propaganda and does not really reflect on islam

      February 14, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Ailetha

      @Roger Smith - So this article does not represent Muslim views, but your anecdotal evidence of the three Muslims you know in this entire world out of the 1.5 billion there are does? LOL, right. Not saying i agree or disagree with you, but do you know how stupid that sounds?

      February 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Roger smith

      Ailetha tell me how many muslim women you have met that were in a forced marriage and were happy and in love? i have bet 3 THAT WERE IN A FORCED MARRIAGE and all 3 hated their husbands....now you tell me how many forced marriages you know where there is love in the air

      February 14, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
    • Ailetha

      @ Roger Smith - Don't deflect. I didn't say i agreed or disagreed with your point. i might 100 percent agree with you. You have no idea. i am simply saying it's utterly stupid to say that the experiences of three women represent the whole, or the majority, or a significant portion of 1.57 billion Muslims. That is an indefensible, weak support that doesn't mean anything, three people out of 1.57 billion. If you want to prove a point, don't talk about the three out of 1.57 billion Muslims you know. Talk about something that is actually even mildly representative and maybe you will have a point, which is to say, three out of 1.57 BILLION is not representative even a little. If i know three Americans who are KKK members (I don't), according to you, i now have the right to categorize all Americans, all 300+ million of them, as racist KKK bigots, which is 100 percent stupid.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Ailetha

      To use an example that actually relates to me, i know three gay people in America, more than three, but we'll say three since you used three. That means, according to your "logic," every American in the U.S. is gay, including you and me. See what i did there? Maybe you should not be telling people you "have proved them to be of low IQ" when you use anecdotal stories to support your views.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  20. Rod C. Venger

    I'm laughing my head off here. "No gay Muslims"? lolololol

    That's what that moron Ahmadinijihad said...just how much faith do you suppose Americans put in his words? That this "myth" showed up on this list just made my day because it shows how completely out of touch these "American Muslims" are with the true America. We laughed at him then and we laugh at these two now. lololololololol

    February 14, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      Rod..I think you may need to re read that part..i think they agree there are gay muslims...

      February 14, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.