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. Iqbal Khan


    February 16, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  2. Iqbal Khan


    February 16, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  3. Iqbal Khan


    February 16, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  4. Iqbal Khan


    February 16, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  5. Iqbal Khan


    February 16, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  6. Iqbal Khan


    February 16, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  7. Iqbal Khan

    Saving Khader Adnan's Life Is Saving Our Own Soul

    By Richard Falk

    The world watches as tragedy unfolds beneath its gaze. Khader Asnan is entering his 61st day as a hunger striker in an Israeli prison, being held under an administrative detention order without trial, charges, or any indication of the evidence against him. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30550.htm

    February 16, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  8. Dodney Rangerfield

    me Muslim – me smrat x sartm x sartm x ... think good

    February 16, 2012 at 7:48 am |
  9. niecemuslim

    Now you do. Me. And yes, I could choose a secular life but instead I chose to be Muslim. 7 years ago.

    February 15, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  10. CRAP

    Um, what about all the honor killings in the Western world? Please. This 'opinion' piece is full of crap. http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Teens+died+because+they+were+girls/6071445/story.html

    February 15, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  11. bhawk

    I am a female muslim and i think there is a lot missing in this article. First, while it may be true that parents don't arrange for all muslim marriages...there is definitely a need for their approval and unfortunately a lot of the times parents are not open to inter-racial relationships or even marriages between different sects of muslim. So while, they are not a 100% arranged..its not like the girl has as much say as she should. I agree with the myth that arranged marriages are loveless, but i still don't see why so many muslim girls meet a guy, and have to say yes in 6 months if they want to marry him? doesnt seem like enough time to get to know someone. As far as muslim women not being able to leave marriages..i think it is extremely difficult for muslim women to leave crappy marriages because there will be so much stigma and they will be tainted and looked down upon by their society or local mosque community. Everyone knows everyones business and news like that travels....many women also dont get divorces because they are afraid of hurting their parents or tainting the family name.. so its still not as easy as it should be.

    February 15, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • sharonmizbani

      I think a lot of the issues you raise are unfortunately more culture based than preached by islam. I am also a moderate muslim woman. Firstly regarding parents approval, that goes with any family and any daughter that respects her parents takes their opinion seriously. There should be NO interracial issues between muslims, there are many quotes in the quran to respectfully refute anyone who tells us otherwise when picking our husbands. Secondly, I personally have no issue with getting married after 6 months if you take marriage seriously, because lets face it, we have needs lol. Finally nosy neighbours are everywhere, unfortunately after a divorce everyone will gossip not just the local mosque women. Divorce is difficult no matter what, but what is important is that you CAN.

      June 28, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  12. ASKPhD

    as soon as I read "American Muslim women" I wondered if I should continue reading the article...This is not a good representative of all Muslim women...How about you interview women in Jordan, Saudi Arabian, Iran, Iraq, Afganistan, Yemen...

    February 15, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • common sense

      Or better yet...Indonesia. Afterall, that's where the majority of Muslims live in this world. Not the middle east...

      February 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Muneef

      Those all are secular countries except for S.Arabia and Iran.... No country is perfect but the real pure Islam is free of.. Where customs, traditions and religious cults out of the 77 branches over there plays a major role which is mistaken for true pure Islam religion...

      February 16, 2012 at 6:32 am |
  13. BC68

    Arguing about religion has is a good thing, I mean it's never caused any issues in the past right?

    OOooo... wait.. wars... yea right never mind. Keep arguing and killing people that will solve all the worlds problems (when everyone is dead).

    February 15, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • LADavid

      It's better to argue about it and find a solution than to go about your life like there aren't competing world views. You can't escape all conflict. Running from challenges only makes you weak.

      February 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • BC68

      Sorry LADavid – I'm a US Marine, I've never run from a problem in my life. However, I've also learned that you can't "argue" with someone who doesn't want to do anything other than prove they are right.

      February 15, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • LADavid

      BC68 – Well Semper Fi

      I'm also a Marine. And I can relate my own personal experiences. It's not only Afghans and Iraqis who's been fighting the last decade. Pakastanis, Syrians, Egyptians, Yemenis, Iranians – hell I even faced a Chechen sniper still holding a grudge. So when I say that this is a fight that's here an unavoidable, I feel justified. I've seen it. Westerners, Americans in particular, have some very real enemies out there doing things on behalf of religious texts and doctrines.

      (I am not saying that the Chechen was there due to his religious views. It was just a trip to see someone hate Americans so much for so long.)

      February 15, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  14. Reality

    o Even farting is "controlled" in Islam:

    To wit:


    "Farting is problematic in Islam. During prayer, a worshipper must not fart. Sahih Bukhari (1.4.137) writes that Allah will not accept a Muslim's prayer if he/she passes wind during the ritual.

    The exception occurs if the worshipper farts silently, or the fart does not smell. In such a case, he/she may continue with the prayer (ibid, 1.4.139).Sunaan Nasai (1.162) writes that if you fart during a prayer you must redo ablution. Sahih Bukhari (9.86.86) says that for a "farter" Allah will not accept his/her prayer until he/she performs another ablution."

    February 15, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • niecemuslim

      How Islam is practiced in daily life is influence by your family and culture. I know lots of divorced Muslim women. Some remarry some don't. The critism I see are distortions or misunderstandings of Islam and some are coming from Muslims as well. For example the farting comment is a misunderstanding of the ruling. Muslims who fart while praying are told to stop praying and go clean themselves. If they are not sure then they should continue unless they hear or smell something. Honor killings are forbidden in Islam and yet unimformed people continue to associate it with Islam (some are Muslims). So while this article was meant to offer insight into the lives of real, everyday Muslim Women I see lots of closed minds are commenting.

      February 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Reality

      Viewing Islam with an open mind:

      As the koranic/mosque driven acts of terror and horror continue:

      The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

      ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

      and more recently

      1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

      1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

      2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

      3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles. 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

      5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

      6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

      7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

      8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

      9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

      10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

      11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

      12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

      13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

      14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

      15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

      16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

      17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

      18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

      19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

      20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

      21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

      22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) - Hena Akhter's last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh's Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

      23) "October 4, 2011, 100 die as a truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded Tuesday at the gate of compound housing several government ministries on a busy Mogadishu street. It was the deadliest single bombing carried out by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia since their insurgency began. "

      February 16, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • ......

      viewing reality?don't bother hit report abuse whenever reality posts appear

      February 16, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  15. Pibblelover

    At one of my last jobs, I worked with a lot of people from Pakistan, just here with their work visas. I know that this small goup of people is not a significant sample of the world's muslim population, but... What I never understood, is why out of all of them (15 or so), there was not one woman. Some of them were even obviously uncomfortable working with women. These men were very religious, so if their religion teaches them that women are equals, why did they not seem to believe that? Also, I really don't understand the covering of the women's faces. Is it not more comfortable to not have to wear that?? I always looked at it as the jealous man's way of making sure women go unseen by everyone except him. If a woman wants to wear it, I guess I see nothing wrong with it... but no one has ever been able to explain it to me in a way that made me understand.

    February 15, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • Bro Reason

      Well, you will never see the bruises behind the "body bag" will you.

      February 15, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  16. Bro Reason


    You can't refute what she says.

    February 15, 2012 at 11:54 am |
    • ASKPhD

      Great Video!!! Thank you for posting! I do believe she speaks the truth

      February 15, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Reality

      Great video and to go along with it, the following escape route for our sister and brother Muslims:

      (from the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi)

      The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
      ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

      Are you ready?

      Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

      The First Five of the 77 Branches:

      "1. Belief in Allah"

      aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

      "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

      Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

      "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

      A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

      "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

      Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

      Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

      Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

      "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

      Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

      Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

      Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

      Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

      February 15, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  17. Dana

    Yawn. Don't give me examples of Westernized Muslim women. Show me the proof that Muslim women in their respective countries are not oppressed as the "myths" state. You only talked about "American Muslim Women". Sorry, that does not cut it. Lies.

    February 15, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  18. llparks

    I am genuinely curious...Does anyone remember any wars from Christians? I mean really folks, more people have been killed for Jesus than any other religion. Quoting the Qur'an does not change anything. The Bible has verses about slaying your enemies. The only way that we can be a better populous is through understanding and acceptance. Those that blew up the World Trade Center were not the same people that we eat lunch next to, or that we go to PTA meetings with, just like those Christians did not start a war in Jesus name, but we accept them? For those of you pushing for intolerance, and hatred, I hope that you never have to know what it is like to feel such intolerance and hatred from another. No one minority is any more or less important than another.

    February 15, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Dana

      Do you see Christians waging war based on religious views in 21st century? Why go back to dark ages? We live here and now, so don't be so opinionated when you have no point.

      February 15, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • LADavid

      Well, when the Muslim community as a whole denounces the actions of those who are bombing on behalf of the religion, then I will have more sympathy. That is the difference. Christians denounce those types of actions and preach of acceptance of others (yes with the intent to convert). The Muslim religion as a whole? Silence as "extremist" facets continue to wage holy war onto others. Islam does not preach acceptance – it preaches THE religious option.

      February 15, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Yes, I do actually.
      How about the Manmasi National Christian Army and the National Liberation Front of Tripura, who force Hindus to convert at gun point and are known to encourage the murder of Hindu children?
      How about The Army of God and other groups who kill doctors in the U.S. ?
      What about white supremacist Christian terrorist groups like the Aryan Nations, Aryan Republican Army, Phineas Priesthood, and The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord?

      February 15, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
    • Nonimus

      When was the last time the Christian religion as a whole denounced anything? (Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, etc.)

      February 15, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • LADavid


      WWII – trying to stop Nazi power and the killing of Jews.
      Look at any domestic and foreign terrorism. From Oklahoma City Bombing to IRA. In even the most "holy of acts", the Church as a whole does not promote or accept the methods used in terrorism.

      I think what you're hung up on is the phrasing "as a whole." Yes, I concede that there will rarely if ever be an act that the entire church endorses or condemns. I used the phrase meaning a majority of dissent or disapproval of an action.

      Where is that from the Muslim communities and world? Where are the people in saying, "hey, we shouldn't be bombing Israel?" Or even those in Egypt or Turkey or the United States? Where are those Muslim voices that are saying, "stop killing people on behalf of religious views?"

      I know they're there. But they're too few and far between. That dissent isn't the voice of the religion. The voice of the religion is silence in the wake of "extremist" actions – and that silence is dangerous.

      February 15, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Okta Van Maagdenberg

      very true

      February 15, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "WWII – trying to stop Nazi power and the killing of Jews."
      Give me a break!

      Perhaps you want to revisit Pope Pius XII's stance on the Nazis.

      Or, perhaps if "the church as a whole" had taken a stand, Nazi Germany never would have been a threat.
      "Churches throughout Europe were mostly silent while Jews were persecuted, deported and murdered by the Nazis. Churches, especially those in Nazi Germany, sought to act, as insti.tutions tend to do, in their own best interests - narrowly defined, short-sighted interests."
      ( http://www.adl.org/braun/dim_14_1_role_church.asp )

      You mention the IRA? Wasn't that a sectarian fight, Protestant vs. Catholic.

      "...the Church as a whole does not promote or accept the methods used in terrorism."
      You do mean, "..., any more", don't you?

      "Where is that from the Muslim communities and world? "

      I'm not saying Muslims are blameless, nor am I saying Christians are evil incarnate, but "the Church as a whole," is no better or worse than the "Mosque as a whole."

      February 15, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • common sense

      Actually, more people have been killed in our modern era based on the ideas of secular humanism, communism and militant atheism. Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, Ceaușescu. This is in the 100's of Millions. Total killed in the inquisition, witch hunts and crusades were around 2 million. So....No...you fail.

      February 15, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  19. Johnnnn

    I don't believe there is any Muslim woman that wouldn't take a chance on a secular life IF SHE COULD> Anything other than what they've got.

    February 15, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • hj

      i am a woman living in India,a secular democracy and i have chosen Islam and there are many like me here

      February 15, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Prayer changes things

    February 15, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Jim Stanek

      After all that, I think I need to Pee.

      February 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
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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.