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. Ya Abu Lehia!

    I lived in Morocco for 6 months so I think I have a much better idea about how Islam functions in daily life considering I was a minority in a Muslim nation. Most of you have probably never left the US, so I cannot be upset with you for acting so ignorant towards a culture you have never experienced first hand. It upsets me that people are so critical over someone's belief system when they don't have one of their own or have one that is a slight variation of their's ( Christianity...Judaism). I dated a Moroccan girl while I was there. I even met her parents and they knew I was Christian and did not mind.

    Catholic priests molest children.

    February 14, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Roger smith

      hahahah you are really a muslims who likes to lie....and ummm catholic priests have nothing to do with muslims and their evil ways

      February 14, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • Roger smith

      her parents were not true muslims then....the koran clearly states to kill xtians and jews and not to befrriend them

      February 14, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • hj

      Roger Smith,dont slander our religion,if you dont want to learn it ..fine,but dont slander it.....

      February 16, 2012 at 12:39 am |
  2. Paul

    This article is pure propaganda just like the show "All American Muslim" – All American Muslim conveniently leave out: honor killings, violent beatings of wives for talking back to the husband, stoning women, pouring acid on a woman's face for looking at another man. These atrocities happen in Europe and America, so I can't imagine what goes on in the backward Arabian countries under pure Sharia Law.

    February 14, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • Myfairlady

      those atrocities happen to women, yes, by people following their culture. honor killings are totally a cultural concept, as if everything else you just stated. Islam frees women, gives them eternal respect and does not condone violence on ANYONE.

      February 15, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  3. massms

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

    February 14, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
  4. Roger smith

    wow everything in this article are muslim lies. i have known 3 muslims women and all 3 hated the men they were forced to marry.

    February 14, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • hj

      wow amazing ,all it takes are 3 muslim women,to judge truth from the lies, i guess the other million muslim women just dont count news flash-there are plenty of women trapped in unhappy marriages irrespective or religion,muslim women have been given rights to divorce and right to chose,its not Islam's fault if muslims dont follow it...

      February 16, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  5. Rosstrex

    CNN Crescent News Network at it again – Let's promote a perspective that does not align with reality about Muslims 24 hours a day. Eventually people will believe the false narrative that Islam is just another religion and Muslims are just another religous group.

    Islam is an oppressive religion that attacks all other religions. Muslim majority countries ban all other religions. Try to build a church in Saudi Arabia or ANY Islamic State. Try to divorce your Muslim husband in ANY Islamic State. Try to convert to ANY other religion in ANY Islamic State..... Each time you will be stopped by Islamic Law and Muslims that believe in that law.... Islam is not just another religion it is a threat to all humanity.

    February 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • Cocoa

      Good points.

      February 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • hj

      please take time to learn about Islam from authentic sources before commenting.....

      February 16, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  6. louise


    February 14, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  7. tony

    I have a muslim friends (mostly Afghan), ummm, they are freaks! I thought Mexicans banged their wives like 5 times a day, Muslim men practically sleep with their D@#$ in their women. The women are super freaks too. The stories I get from my friends. I am about to go for a muslim chick...ha. That's why they pop out babies every other day.

    February 14, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Ryan

      I can't explain how much, alulidhlmalah, almaghrib has changed my life. It has been that ilm boost that we all need and now I can't imagine my life without it. I am always eagerly awaiting the next seminar while still remembering the life changing experience of the last seminar. Thank you almaghrib for making me change to who I am today and who inshAllah, I will become in the future.jazakallahyour scottish sister, Suffiya Qadar

      July 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  8. Halo of Flies

    Are those three women facing forwards or backwards?

    February 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Karinne

      Hahahahaha .....

      February 14, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  9. anonymous

    It's funny reading this posting. I have never known an Muslim woman who was a) happy in her marriage, and b) had the freedom to come and go as she pleased; and this is in America. Did these women write this book under coercion of their men?

    February 14, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • NotAMuslimFan

      They're in a bad place and this is their denial that justifies the lives they can't change.

      February 14, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  10. Arran Webb

    Hair or no hair? That is the most important question.

    February 14, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  11. GodPot

    "months leading up to June 20 paint a picture of an increasingly desperate Andrea Yates, subject to psychotic episodes and severe depression, struggling to live up the ideal “Christian” lifestyle, trapped with her five young children twenty-four hours a day . And instead of seeking serious professional, psychiatric help, the couple could only call on more of the same, stultifying fundamentalist dogma."

    "Until the terrible events of June 20, Russell and Andrea Yates and their five children were the kind of family that a Ronald Reagan might have pointed to as a model for America, or that might have been paraded on the platform at a Republican national convention: responsible, professional father; “stay-at-home mom” and home-school teacher; well-scrubbed, neatly dressed, smiling children—a tribute to “traditional family values,” as envisioned by the Christian right"

    "According to a statement she gave police, Yates drowned her children one after the other in the family’s bathtub. She told the authorities that she had first drowned the younger sons—John, 5, Paul, 3, Luke 2. While she was attempting to do the same to her six-month-old daughter, seven-year-old Noah walked in and asked, “What’s wrong with Mary?”

    Yates confessed to chasing Noah through the house and dragging him back to the bathroom. When police arrived, Yates reportedly told them, “I just killed my kids.” The bodies of the four youngest were found still wet under a sheet on a bed. Noah was found in the bathtub." – ICFI WSWS July 2, 2001

    Why post this here? Because it seems like all of the Christians like to point at the crazy Muslims who killed their kids for honor or were abusive but completely ignore the fact that there are crazy insane parents in every walk of life and every religion, even yours.

    February 14, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • P.Y.

      So,you found ONE crazy woman that killed her children and want to put it as an example of religion ? It was one woman from 250 million people,don't forget it.

      February 14, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • GodPot

      "The nation is always shocked by criminal cases such as Andrea Yates, a mother of five who methodically drowned all of her children in a bathtub then calmly called police, but mothers killing their children are more common than we might think. According to the American Anthropological Association, more than 200 women kill their children in the United States each year. Three to five children a day are killed by their parents." – aboutdotcom

      February 14, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  12. Meh

    A gay muslim is a dead muslim

    February 14, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Whitney Vang

      Not in America he isn't.
      But Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. need to get the memo that, for a Muslim, it's okay to be gay, **no matter what the Quran or Mohammed says**. Okay?

      February 14, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  13. Gohard

    arranged marriages are custom, and not from Islam.These two have no knowledge. As far as there being gay Muslims! This is a big sin and IS NOT FROM ISLAM!!!!

    February 14, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • well

      That's right! No living gay Muslims, you know what I mean?

      February 14, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  14. well

    That was the most unintentionally funny thing I have ever read. Smokin' hot hijab chicks, happy arranged marriages and living gay Muslims. Does it get better?

    February 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • jonsnow

      best part is they were trying to sound open and accepting but they couldn't even fake it!

      February 14, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Rudi

      Posted on I actually loved it. Lost has me again, body and soul. I do think the monmeevt, slow as it may be, was much, much better than it has been previously. I mean, if this was last season, we still wouldn't know what Hurley freaked out over in the minimart (and likely wouldn't find out until the beginning of next, next season or something). I think they're doing a nice job of satisfying us in little ways while still bringing up new mysteries (who are the Six?! How did they get off the island?? etc). I definitely agree that they need to keep with the forward motion and pay everything off and stuff. But this left me very hopeful.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  15. US

    Love is a human thing. It could be had by anyone. Muslims are not robots! haters only inflict themselves!!

    February 14, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  16. :(


    February 14, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Halo of Flies

      Look how infuriated all those people are as they stand there and watch.

      Didn't anybody read The Kite Runner?

      February 14, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • chuckmartel

      Very appropriate response to this idiotic islami pig poop. Film says it all.

      February 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  17. GailScott

    Thank you for this article. Like many Americans, I didn't know these things. I didn't presume Muslim women had life-long marriages with men they didn't love or care for, but I had no understanding of how it works. Of course you only hit the surface, but this article has encouraged me to find some books by women like yourselves. Thanks again.

    February 14, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  18. You Americans keep forgetting 9/11 very fast....


    February 14, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Keksi

      Where in that video do you see them celebrating 9-11???

      Explain us in DETAIL.

      February 14, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Halo of Flies

      I would love to explain you in detail, but I don't even know you or your friends, sorry.

      As for the video, either they won the lotto, are enjoying a birthday party or they just killed a bunch of Americans and are over-joyed.

      February 14, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  19. Halo of Flies

    For BG on Valentines Day

    My thorns, now flies.

    Buzzing around my gruesome head and face.

    My wasted body……finally brought down. Breathe still in me, just a whisper.

    Nurtured and cleansed. Bandaged and cared for.

    Now I am risen to say my final farewell.

    Do not worship me.

    Do not mourn for me.

    Do not build churches for me or profit from me.

    I am a man, born of a woman from the seed of my father.

    I am as you are. A man and a human being.

    Learn from the sacrifices I have made. Learn from the hypocrisy.

    Bury me in good company. Remember me as a friend.


    February 14, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • BG

      Good. For a second I thought you were either an obscure Alice Cooper song or a 90's noise-rock band. What's this from?

      February 14, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Halo of Flies

      I wrote it yesterday.

      I am an Alice Cooper fan, well done! I had a strange feeling you wold get it.

      February 14, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • BG

      Vinnie had a good run. Now he mostly works on golf game and weekly radio show. Gotta say, his radio stuff is kind of dry.

      The poem is respectable, but slightly contrite, dismissive and, considering it's author, as sumptive. I mean, to give it all at the end? That would make Jesus a bit of a wuss, no? Talk about losing your religion and undoing what you worked for...

      But good lyrics nonetheless. All you need is some E minor root chording and off you go !

      February 14, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • BG

      * give it all up *


      February 14, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Halo of Flies

      Constructive criticism is always appreciated.

      Vincent also has his restaurant in Phoenix with Randy Johnson which is doing well. They have a signature hotdog called "The Big Unit"

      Hey you are all rght brother. Rock on.

      February 14, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  20. Joseph

    The world is tired of hearing about Islam. When will this religion simply fall into mainstream society and quit begging for attention. I mean, who really give a rip about them any more?

    February 14, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • disgustedNY

      Sick of these attention-mongering nut cases. They make up less than 0.5% of the US population yet CNN insists on giving them a daily stage.

      February 14, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • B(iraq) Osama

      america and islam have a very close relationship. they may make up only 0.5% of our population, but these moslems make up over 50% of the population that our own hand made weapon systems spend time with. All those carefully, lovingly, joyously meticulously crafted weapon systems, aircrafts and bombers and drones, that we manufacture year in year out, most of them end up living among moslems all over the world.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:09 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
About this blog

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.