Once a woman converts to Islam, she may find herself pressured to marry right out of the gate. Depending on her age and situation (and perhaps how desirable her country-of-residence’s citizenship is) she may face an onslaught of marriage proposals straight away. To ensure the marriage-seeking process goes as smoothly as possible, women should turn to their wali (guardian) for guidance, help and support. Additionally, the consent of a wali is a vital aspect in any Islamic marriage, and his presence determines whether or not a certain marriage contract that has been performed is valid. Usually this role is filled by a woman’s father, uncle or other male relative but in the case of converts to Islam, who usually have no Muslim male relatives, finding a practising, knowledgeable and helpful wali can be a difficult task. Convert women, then, need to put time and energy into sourcing a committed and responsible wali from amongst the leaders of her local community to protect her from those attempting to take advantage of her real or perceived naiveté.
A new convert should become active in the local masjid to get a better feel for the community members and their philosophies. She should arrange to meet with the imam and express interest in having help in learning more about Islam. She may be pointed in the direction of a welcoming committee, if available, or towards sisters in the community who can assist and guide her.
It’s also extremely important for a new convert to familiarise herself with the general rules and requirements of an Islamic marriage – including the rights and responsibilities of all parties. When she feels sufficiently knowledgeable about Islamic marriage, she can then start her wali quest.
I talked with two reverted sisters, Cecilia and Léola, and with an imam who wished to remain anonymous. This is our advice:
Take the search for a wali seriously
Remember that the role of a wali is not one to be treated lightly or sidestepped. Not only is he a requirement of a valid Islamic marriage, but he also stands between you and potential suitors. He analyses the brothers who express interest, checks references, gives gut opinions and points out incompatibilities. The wali’s role is not just as a warm-body at a nikah ceremony, just meeting you for a few minutes right before the documents are signed. For converts especially, your wali needs to step in and fill the vacant role of trusted advisor in the searching period leading up to your nikah.
Give yourself options
It’s not imperative that you choose the first potential wali you meet – especially if anything seems “off” about him. You don’t have to accept a sketchy imam from your local masjid (who often won’t make time for such matters anyway) or whoever else is appointed to the position. Give yourself other options – perhaps a respected Qur’an or Arabic teacher, local scholar or husband of a trusted friend. One of the best ways to explore possibilities and find a respectable brother is for sisters to get involved in their communities and ask the other ladies for help in finding a trustworthy wali.
Make sure your wali takes you seriously
If your wali questions your wish to get married, makes degrading or disparaging remarks about you physically, belittles your expressed desires, avoids you, or fails to show up to arranged meetings, ditch him.
Common things that a “wali” like this might say include statements like; “Why do you want to get married here? Why not get married in your home town/country?” “You’re being too picky/you need to lower your standards” “Men are no good – why would you want to marry any of them?” “You’re too thin/too fat/not pretty enough” or “No man would ever respect you/marry you.”
If a wali makes you feel uncomfortable or if he’s not 100% committed to helping you throughout the process, look for someone else. Make sure your wali is someone you can trust – someone who is looking out for your best interests – not just marrying you off to the first available man he meets. Also, as Léola learned, screening using your intuition will prove vital in avoiding “walis” who only want to propose to you themselves!
Make the du’a of protection and lots of istikharah
I can’t stress enough the power of istikharah. We know it’s imperative for a Muslimah to pray istikharah before moving forward in the direction of important life decisions (new jobs, marriage etc.) But it’s also important to pray istikharah about whether or not you have the right wali. In many cases, your wali may be a complete stranger to you at first. For converts, a wali is essentially acting as a father-figure. Those are pretty big shoes to fill and not just anyone should be trusted to step into them. Seek Allah’s help, guidance and protection early on and often!
Don’t expect your wali to do too much
Your wali is there to act as an advisor/counsellor and to filter through prospective spouses. Your wali will assist in negotiating a mahr (dower) and making sure that your potential husband can support you. He should also be doing background checks including inquiries about a potential’s job, marital history, criminal history, personal acquaintances and level of Islamic practice. In conversations and questioning, your wali will, insha Allah, be able to pick up on subtle personality traits, habits or cultural issues that you might have missed.
Some walis, or their spouses, may take the time to befriend a new convert to help with other aspects of teaching and instruction in the deen as well. After a particularly awkward incident at a friend’s house, Cecilia decided to be more proactive in her efforts so she asked her Arabic teacher, whom she had got to know over the course of a few months of weekly classes, if he would help her. Cecilia explains “He was also the husband of a sister who helped converts in our masjid and [the sister] became a really good friend. It was nice having help from both of them as I could talk to my friend about certain things and to my wali about the more formal aspects, like what I wanted and didn’t want.”
Keep in mind, however, that it’s not every day that a wali will have the time or ability to go out of his way to help you study your deen or bail you out of hard situations. But if you are blessed to find a wali who will also offer you charity when you need it or help you get the Islamic books and other materials you need to study, he’s definitely a keeper!
Have patience with the process
If you’ve been single for long, it can be thrilling to think you’re about to complete half your deen by coupling up with your new Muslim husband. However, be prepared to slow down and spend a few months to a few years interviewing potentials. When you rush the process, things can go awry, and red flags might go missed. It’s okay to check in with you wali every once and awhile to see how the process is getting on, but don’t pester the guy. If you’ve found a responsible wali, know that most of his work will be done behind the scenes and that he hasn’t forgotten about you!
Some sisters begin with a good wali but end up getting impatient and rushing into a marriage without the consent of their wali. They get married on their own while the wali is asking them to wait – ending up in a bad relationship. Allah says,“O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient” (Al-Baqarah:153).
Don’t go it alone
With literally dozens of online matrimonial sites and hundreds of online forums on which to meet and chat with potential spouses, it’s now too easy for members to misrepresent themselves and hide behind absolute anonymity. Don’t let yourself get swept up with charismatic talkers and never agree to meet someone alone. Make sure you involve your wali as soon as you find anyone you consider to be a valid possibility.
Introducing your wali into the discussions as early as possible is for your own protection! Putting your wali in the forefront also helps filter out the players from those who take marriage rights and responsibilities seriously. Well-mannered and respectful potentials will be happy to answer any questions put to them. This ensures that the scammers will move on to easier targets while only the most serious candidates are passed on to you for final consideration.
Listen to the advice
After you’ve found a find a wise and knowledgeable wali that you trust and respect, make sure you really pay attention to any advice given. Your wali may see some warning signs or serious incompatibilities. He may not even be able to articulate his concern and just have a “gut feeling” that the potential is not the right one for you. Respect his intuition and seriously consider his advice. Trusting and accepting sincere counsel can be difficult but, as Cecilia learned, can help you avoid marriage disasters. Cecilia recalls: “I remember being upset about [the advice] and thinking I could just proceed without my wali. I had the brother’s number and could call and talk to him whenever I wanted. We could decide to meet on our own. But I decided to listen to my wali and drop the idea. Looking back, I’m so thankful because though this brother had a lot of good qualities, there was one glaring problem that would have made my life horrible.”
At the end of your wali quest, you should have found one who is knowledgeable, considerate, respectful and dedicated to aiding you in the marriage process. Remember to be serious in your quest for both your guide and your husband. Learn your rights and responsibilities and consider any sincere advice. Above all else, remember to respect Allah’s rules and be patient with the process.
Janet Kozak is founder and COO of the PR and communications firm Resoulute. She’s an entrepreneur driven by business insights and boundless creativity. Janet’s most interested in women-owned business development and social causes including public health issues and domestic violence education in Muslim communities. She founded an online advocacy and support group, Muslim Women Against Domestic Violence and Abuse, and also recently spoke on the topic of financial abuse at the 2nd International Conference on Women’s Empowerment in Karachi, Pakistan.
She can be found on Facebook and Twitter.