Mohamed Magid, the imam and executive director of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, tells me that he often tries to press men on their motivations before they convert and that he has even told couples he won’t marry them if he is not convinced the conversion is serious.
The pressures families place on young Muslims to marry someone of similar background can be counterproductive, says Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California. Immigrant parents often want their children to find a spouse of the same nationality, an attitude that second-generation American Muslims find impractical, if not downright backward.
“We have at our center,” Turk says, “something like 60 different nationalities, and so we try our best to bring them together and say, ‘Yes, you like Pakistan. You like being Egyptian, or whatever, but your children are not that. They’re American, and so let’s come together. We’re a faith community. We’re not an Egyptian community or a Pakistani community.’” And focusing on common cultural customs, Turk argues, is less important than finding someone with common beliefs.
Just as assimilation has meant that there are few corners of the United States where Jews are unwelcome, intermarriage — and the assimilation that comes with it — is likely to make Americans more accepting of Muslims.
When Dia, who grew up in a black Baptist church, began dating a Muslim man in college, her mother was concerned. “For her this was a crack in God’s faith for me to want to marry someone who doesn’t believe Jesus Christ was our lord and savior,” Dia said. She did not convert but before she married, and since, her husband and her mother have had long conversations about faith.
Now, Dia says, “My family has accepted him with open arms. All of our views of Islam have changed because we’ve taken the time to educate ourselves. My mom finds herself defending his religion to others.”
This is borne out in survey data as well. In a 2011 study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 79 percent of Muslims rated their communities very positively as places to live. And most think that “ordinary Americans are friendly (48 percent) or neutral (32 percent) toward Muslim Americans.”