My Husband: The (Patient and Loving) Arab Villain

“Take care of her, [Muhammed*],” says a relative every time my husband and I leave her house after a weekend visit.

Muhammed: “Why doesn’t she ever tell you to take care of me? After all, I’m the poor guy who needs the extra care…” He laughs it off every time, but deep inside I know that he feels confused as to why anyone would believe otherwise; that is, that anyone would think that Muhammed would do anything else other than take care of me.

I had never thought about my relative’s weekly comments until I started to see the slight hurt on my husband’s face. I had never really thought about it much until we began to receive other similar comments from other relatives and friends: “If you hurt her, I’ll have to kill you…” or “You’re a lucky guy, Muhammed, take care of her…”

I have also received warnings from friends and strangers in casual conversation. “Make sure Muhammed doesn’t take you away to Arabia because we’ll never see you again…” or “Have you seen the movie Not Without My Daughter?” or “Did you husband make you convert?”

These questions and comments are all delivered half-jokingly/half-threatningly and followed with laughter. The truth is, however, that I know that some people who make these comments are usually waiting for my response so that they can cast away their doubt about my Villainous Husband. Others are watching, waiting and counting mistakes so they can say “I told you so,” never stopping to think that attributing someone’s flaws to their race and religion–rather than the fact that were all flawed human beings–is ignorance at the very least.

When I think about my protective, yet gentle and loving, husband, I feel hurt. I cannot understand the constant suspicion and mistrust towards another human being without cause.

The truth of the matter is that the stereotype of the volatile, controlling, sexually perverse and abusive Arab Muslim man is alive and well. 

I remember the sensitivity he felt the day he saw our unborn baby kick her chubby feet at our first ultrasound. Afterwards, he pridefully insisted that our child should bear his first and last name so that everyone would know exactly who her daddy is! I admire the quiet way he washes the dishes on the nights when I cook dinner (the rule at our house is: one cooks, the other cleans). I am thankful for the many times he has encouraged me to pray with him. I am amused when my husband walks to the left of me because he believes he is protecting me from wierdos and speeding cars. I am grateful when he pulls back my hair and rubs my shoulders when I have morning sickness. And, I won’t forget the night he made a healing balm from olive oil and Shea butter to rub on my aching back because I had been crying from the pain. I remember the worth I felt when he bragged to his family about his “smart” wife working on her Ph.D. I laugh when he suggestively picks out matching sweaters and scarves from my side of the closet when he thinks my chest is overexposed (a habit that reminds me of my own Cuban-Catholic father and brother). These flawed, yet well-intentioned, men. Villains, indeed.

My husband is my crutch.

On my last visit home, I snarked back at a relative’s comment: “You know, he beat me senseless yesterday. Look at these bruises (I pointed at my behind)! These Arab men! But, I beat him right back…” My relative rolled her eyes and silenced up. Afterwards, my husband said that I shouldn’t have made that remark and should simply ignore the comments next time.

My husband teaches me patience and back-bending respect.

I chose my husband because I know him and–flaws and all–I love him. The partner in my life, the self-proclaimed protector of our home, the proud father of our unborn child. Yes, this is the Arab Villain I have married.

The comments my husband and I have received have never been made with intentional hatred nor with an effort to inflict pain. On the contrary, they have been made from people who love us. The comments, however, reflect a larger problem in the way we (members of society) are constantly misinformed by the media about who “We” are and who “Others” are. More specifically, about who “Westerners” are and who “Middle Easterners” and Muslims are. We lack insight on this false dichotomy and forget that people are sometimes simply just people.

As frustrated as I feel sometimes, I do not hold these comments personally against anyone. Instead, I hope that my story serves as an example of how our unconscious ignorance really does affect the way we position ourselves in the world–oftentimes dehumanizing “Others” in that process. Most importantly, I hope that we could arrive at the realization that knowing someone’s race, ethnicity, religion, or cultural background does not mean we know a darn thing about who they are as people. 

*Muhammed is a pseudonym.

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8 thoughts on “My Husband: The (Patient and Loving) Arab Villain

  1. Hey Maha, I loved this post! Although I hate to know that u have to go through this.
    I think people always give themselves the right to judge who a person is based on their ethnic background.
    I think what u said to ur relative is fair and this would make her think before talking next time!
    But put in ur mind that u might still face idiots like that throughout ur life….not only here but also when u go visit “Arabia” one day (but it might be the other way there! It is the price of a mixed ethnicity marriage!
    Anyway, what I am trying to say is: Just ignore these ignorant comments and enjoy ur life with ur loving husband :)

    • Thanks, for your loving words, my dearest sister :)!
      You know, these comments are not common, but they do happen. Mixed marriages do suffer this backlash, but it still doesn’t give people the right to villainize anyone. My husband and I were saying the same thing you just said: When we visit the Middle East, the tables will turn.
      We decided that this is God’s test and we have to bear patiently and hopefully teach others their ignorance. Insha’Allah, it will make us better people and help teach others how to shed their own unconscious discriminations.

  2. Ii didnt know you are expecting! congratss! so happy for you :)

    Appreciate the article as well. I often get a lot of snarky comments since me and Umar are students and obviously we aren’t a typical desi Muslim couple where he is winning the bread at this point. It gets kinda annoying because people don’t see that we are happy alhamdulillah and that we know the future will work out just as it is right now.

    • I think your own story is really interesting and revealing as well. In your case, I assume that it’s from relatives and friends who have certain expectations about gender roles (what husbands should be doing, and what wives should be doing). I think that your story arrives at the same point: that sometimes people make very misinformed comments and opinions without taking the time to simply ask you how you feel. The difficult part is that most of the time, these comments come from people that we love. Sometimes, we can let things slide. And most times, we probably should (we don’t want to live bitterly and belligerently) instead of having constant wars with others. Other times, however, we need to point out how these comments sting. Finding the right time to do that is difficult. For me, I find that writing about the general situation and hoping that the “right people” read it, is the best way.
      Thanks for commenting, Maria. I wish you the best. <3

  3. Whoa! Time moves at the speed of light when one is stationary; and when one moves, presses forward, contrary to what the physicists tell us, a superluminal velocity is achieved – things transpire much faster than one would think conceivable: time dilates and everything is warped around you, becomes indiscernible, opaque, blurry. I had no idea, and yet I’m also not surprised in the least bit. :D

    I’ll be sure to make du’a for you, your husband, and the child your womb is nurturing and harboring: hopefully, by the permission of Allah, when he/she goes healthy and strong, he/she will be a part of the next generation who, I hope and pray, won’t do as the previous generations have done when comes to the prejudices your husband has endured. You know me though – I’m not one for optimism in this regard; my only exception, however, rests the optimism children provide. Their innocence tempers pessimism and cynicism…

    Tests in various forms and shades. Anything worth keeping will be attained and maintained with much resistance to its contrary – the fitna, fire smelting the gold of dross and impurities.

    Peace and kudos to the Cuban sista
    ~A

  4. Brother,

    I’m glad to read your comment! Time does move so quickly, especially when you are not making much plans. It’s funny how everything suddenly falls into place and you’re left wondering “wait, what just happened?” :)

    I really appreciate your kind words, and I also have faith that future generations will have more light and sight when it comes to viewing the world around them.

    As far as my husband is concerned, he is much more forgiving than I am–hardly noticing some of the subtle things that have come his way (perhaps out of naivete or less anger than I tend to hold).

    With that said, I hope I haven’t painted anyone as a victim. I also hope that my story hasn’t come off as a defense on his behalf. Instead, I hope that my story provides an example of how our unconscious ignorance really do affect the way we position ourselves in the world–oftentimes dehumanizing “Others” in that process.

    Peace, brother

    Maha

  5. As-salamu alaykum. I would like to Thank you for such an inspiring blog.I am interested in marrying an arab from a GCC country,Please help?
    My Mother was recently asked For my hand in marriage by an Saudia Arabian Mother for her son,My mother agreed,While conversing with her my mother came to learn they are not Syed. Coming from a Syed Family a Syed can only marry a Syed but in my case both my parents don’t have any siblings both of them being the only child,therefore I am unable to marry my cousin.The Saudia Arabian Mother came to learn we Are Syed she informed my mother she is not Syed and told my mother she can not marry her son in to a Syed Family.I would appreciate receiving correspondence.

    • Walaykum Salam, Daisy. While I am married to a Saudi, I cannot really give advice regarding your personal marriage arrangement. I was not arranged in my marriage. My husband and I met and decided to marry after a few months of getting to know one another’s personalities, likes, dislikes, etc. I am not really sure what a “Syed” is. As a convert, I don’t have much cultural background on various Islamic-cultural divisions. I am sorry I cannot be of more help, but if you have any other questions regarding Saudi culture, I would be glad to help you. Thanks for reading my blog.

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