My kids are multiethnic like so many children here in America. They get pretty “brown” in the summer.
They’re European (my blood) and Iranian (my husband’s blood). My husband is Iranian-American, born here in the United States. His name is a common Middle Eastern name. He speaks fluent Farsi.
I know the questions I am asked stem from stereotypes about Middle Eastern people, Middle Eastern men and Islam. Westerners see radical Islamic leaders and terrorist groups spouting off hate against America. The bombings and killings in the name of Islam. They see people, including leaders, manipulating Koranic scripture and misrepresenting the faith.
The common questions I get asked about my Middle Eastern husband and family are ridiculous. They’re absurd. They come from Islamophobia. They are rooted in raging racism. I’m tired of defending my kids and my Middle Eastern husband. I’m tired of defending their ethnicity, their names. I’m tired of defending our marriage. And tired of defending what we teach our kids.
I may be really tired of defending my Middle Eastern husband and our marriage, but I won’t stop talking about it. Just like POC and women won’t stop talking about racism and gender discrimination. We can’t stop talking about these things. So, I’ll keep defending. I’ll keep talking. I’ll keep teaching.
Islam is not a hateful religion. Middle Eastern people aren’t violent people.
But frankly, I should not have to say that. Because you, as a person living in a global world, should know that. I shouldn’t have to go into every reason. I shouldn’t have to debunk every myth and lie you’ve ever heard.
C’mon people—you should know. Go to Middle Eastern communities. Mingle with people who don’t look like you, live like you, or talk like you. Visit these countries. Ask the people about their culture. But, ask smart questions.
Here are five common (and ridiculous) questions I get about my Middle Eastern husband and my mixed-ethnicity kids:
1. Does he control you?
Does this green-haired, vodka drinkin’, tattooed mama look like she can be controlled by a Middle Eastern man? Any man? I think not. My husband is the least controlling person on the planet. If anything, I try to control him. (Ahem, I do control him—shhhhhh, just don’t tell him that).
2. Do you have to wear a veil?
I don’t have to wear underwear if I don’t want to. I know I need a shirt and a pair of shoes to be served in a restaurant. But, other than that, I don’t let my husband, or anyone else, dictate my dress code.
Muslim women in America are wearing the hijab by choice. They are proud of their faith. The veil is a symbol of their modesty and their privacy. They don’t feel oppressed by it.
But, let’s be real. If my husband made me wear anything, that would be oppressive. He wouldn’t be my husband.
3. Does he make you do Muslim stuff?
You mean, like get down on a prayer rug and pray five times a day? That’d be a “No.”
1) Because I’m not Muslim. Or religious.
2) Because dun, dun, dunnnnnnn, my husband is not Muslim. He’s Middle Eastern. Gasp! I know, crazy right? Did you know a person can be of Middle Eastern descent, and not Muslim? Iranian and Jewish? Iranian and Christian? Iranian and Atheist?
3) Even if my husband was Muslim, he could practice religion all by his damn self. I don’t need to be involved. I can be supportive, but not participate.
As a family, we do celebrate certain Middle Eastern holidays, regardless of their religious roots. Many religious holidays are braided into a culture—just like Christmas. Christmas is a religious and cultural holiday. We choose to celebrate culture.
4. Does your husband think he can have like five wives?
Last I checked, that’s illegal in the United States. Plus, seriously, I think my husband would go nuts. How could any man juggle multiple women? No, really, what man wants to listen to multiple wives? A heterosexual, married man barely wants to listen to his one wife. I can’t imagine my husband with four of me. He wouldn’t even want to have sex with four of me. And seriously, I’m good in the sack. It’s just phwew! That’s a whole lotta pressure, don’t ya think? To like perform?
Most scholars agree that scriptures in the Koran state that Muslim men are permitted to have four wives max. But they are not required to take more wives, or forced in any way. If a man chooses to have multiple wives, he is required to split his time and resources equally. All of the wives are entitled to homes, food and money.
My husband is probably too broke to practice polygamy. Plus, you know, the aforementioned pressure to perform problem. Yeah, so it’s safe to say, I won’t be getting sister-wives any time soon. Unless we become millionaires. Oh, and unless we become Muslim.
Because, again my husband is Middle Eastern, not Muslim.
5. You can’t possibly think it’s safe to bring your kids to a Muslim country?
I’ll decide if I think it’s safe for my kids to travel to an Islamic nation, or not—including Iran, the country where my husband’s family lives.
Morocco is an Islamic country. My husband and I and our 5- and 4-year-old daughters had a wonderful experience there this summer. Moroccans were extremely welcoming and tolerant. It’s advisable for female tourists to cover up if they don’t want to stick out like sore thumbs. But, that’s simply a safety precaution.
Covering your shoulders and head can also be a show of respect for the people who live in Morocco, but it’s not mandatory.
Now to my husband’s country of origin—Iran. It is safe to travel to Iran. And no, I’m not just saying that because I’m married to an Iranian-American. Don’t write me off.
I won’t deny—there are several challenges and hurdles regarding travel to Iran. I won’t list them here. But if you ever want to travel there, read up on these limitations and rules extensively and understand the risks (just like you would when traveling to any foreign country).
Does Iran’s limitations on travel make me think Iranians are terrorist-driven, American-bashing, irrational and oppressive people? No. Iran’s history, like so many other countries, is so complex and one that takes understanding and empathy.
But I took the time to do my reading. To do my research. To engage with people in Middle Eastern communities. I took my hard-earned dollars and ditched a trip to Disney World, and instead, took my kids to the Muslim world. I chose knowledge over Middle Eastern stereotypes. I chose empathy over ignorance.
Won’t you have some next time you think it’s OK to ask me these questions?