Hindu Male seeking to marry his Muslim girlfriend - How does he proceed?
June 11, 2007 4:24 PM   Subscribe

What sorts of experiences, analogies, and general thoughts can people share about interfaith marriages? Specifically, those that have married significant others that are Muslim, but all general interfaith marriage comments would be appreciated. My girlfriend and I come from very similar backgrounds culturally, but are of different religions and we are at a critical stage in our relationship - details inside.

I am deeply in love with, and have been for over the past 10 years with a Muslim woman. She is Pakistani and I am Indian (Hindu). Our families have met and and she and I had planned to get married in the very near future. My family is very liberal and has no problems with the marriage. Her parents had indicated that "it is not right" and she should think carefully about her decision.

Things had been moving along, but recently she is questioning her decision. I understand her inquisitiveness and acknowledge that it is part of the process. Also, apparently, the guilt she feels (specifically from her Mother) has gotten overwhelming to the point that she is questioning the societal implications.

I would love any thoughts on interfaith marriages and how others have dealt with the issues. I guess I am most curious about the "guilt" one party feels about letting their loved ones down. I would also appreciate any case studies or examples of other interfaith/Muslim women marriages.

I guess I am looking for general thoughts and answers on how to guide my girlfriend (and thus myself) during this difficult time without being selfish.
posted by copernicus to Human Relations (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Since I'm married to a Muslim myself, I have a bit of experience here - I always suggest reading Intercultural Marriage : Promises and Pitfalls by Dugan Regan. It will get you talking about all the things that might become issues later on in your marriage. I know you've been together for ten years, but there's a lot of 'surprises' that can break up a marriage if not dealt with now.

Most of the guilt trips are from family members thinking that you'll convert their loved one - if you both have resolved this, and agreed on what religion the children will be raised in (if any), you've done well.
posted by Liosliath at 5:05 PM on June 11, 2007

I'm Muslim and my significant other is not. We've been together nearly 10 years. It's never ever been a problem for us. That said, neither of us is particularly religious, but we are from different (very different) countries, speak different native languages and have pretty different personalities.

His family has no problem with me; in fact they are quite nice and we're close and I know they care about me a lot. Most of my immediate family is dead, including my parents. So their possible interference isn't an issue. I have heard a few rude comments from aunts, uncles and whatnot . . . but these were fairly tame, and I think they actually like my partner. But people like to grumble.

You should probably take the time to go to her mother and state your case with a very open heart. If your families have already met and no huge issues came up, this would not seem to me to be an insurpassable problem. After ten years of "love," you should have established some sense of your honor and general credentials with her folks. A direct plea to her mother - one which anticipates all her concerns - could work wonders. I'd suggest doing this without your love's knowledge - it's purer that way. If you're an honest and credible person, the only excuse her mother can really have for still being against it is a simple issue of religion. Have you considered converting?

I'd also make sure that your fiancee isn't questioning other aspects of your relationship and using this (convenient) excuse to slow things down, just to be on the safe side. You should let her know that you respect her religion and show some interest in it. In Islam, particularly in a country like Pakistan, there is probably going to be a little bit of insecurity on the woman's part - especially in a 'mixed' marriage - simply because Islam is cast in a very patriarchal light in a patriarchal culture like Pakistan's, and it's an understandable worry within her family that her cultural/familiar/religious identity will be subsumed under a husband who has a different one.

You know the family and have a good sense of this, I'd imagine. But I feel it necessary to point out that all other things being equal, she's going to have more concerns as a woman than you would as a man.

If I could talk to her 'sister' to 'sister,' I would tell her to follow her heart, not her mother's, and that after ten years she must have some reasonable idea of what sort of person you are. Baring your heart on a forum such as this is, I believe, a meaningful example of your true concern and caring.

The harsh reality is that if you two get married and have a happy and loving marriage and her parents are still upset, it's clear that they care more about religion (or maybe just appearances) than the happiness of their daughter. Which, even in a more conservative and family-oriented society, is still rather sad.

There is somewhere (I've read it, but couldn't tell you who wrote it or where it was printed) a great story about a similar couple, though I think she was Hindu and he was Muslim. They had a similar problem. They ended up not getting married due to machinations of her family. Each married eventually, but not to their "true" love, and not all that happily. A few years later, her sister married a Muslim man, again against her parents' wishes. Her sister had children, and nearly right away this melted the hearts of the parents who had been so against the marriage. The first sister realized that this could have been her, if she'd only had a bit more faith in things eventually working out. It would be a shame for this to happen to you and your love.

Good luck!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:06 PM on June 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Having reread my post, I feel I need to add a little about the bit about conversion. I'm assuming, perhaps a bit recklessly, that because you mention the liberal nature of your family, plus the fact that the two of you are together at all, that the problem is not religion on your part or your family's part, but the role that it plays in her family's lives. If you don't care terribly about religion, conversion could fix the problem. I say this as someone who thinks that for religion to come between people in love at all means it almost deserves to be subverted. I probably take the issue more lightly than a lot of people, but I have a lot of girlfriends who've "converted" to Judaism from Christianity just to solve these sorts of problems, and one guy friend who converted from Islam to Christianity for the same reason . . . all of them with a wink and a smile. God or the Gods know what's in your heart.

Deciding to raise any future kids as Muslims (however liberal you two interpret that to mean!) might fix it too. It's not fair that the burden is more on you than her, really, but that's the way things fall sometimes.

I won't even comment on the ridiculousness of the "honor killing" comment.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:21 PM on June 11, 2007

my catholic mom converted to judaism when they married my dad; her parents didn't have any problems with it because they were both monotheistic faiths and at least my mom "still believed in god," if not jesus. sorry if that doesn't help much.

maybe your girlfriend's mom would feel better if you promised to raise the children as muslims? or promised to give them dual citizenship with pakistan?

(bear in mind that her parents probably still carry a lot of baggage from partition and that a lot of her mom's objection is likely rooted in politics as well as religion.)

i would say, though, to believe in your love. her mom may never come around entirely, but as someone noted above, that first grandkid will help a lot.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:02 PM on June 11, 2007

Her parents had indicated that "it is not right" and she should think carefully about her decision.

How much not right is it? Is there some Granny on her side that will insist that her family disown her and nobody be permitted to speak to her. Will the marriage bring so much shame upon the family that they will be ostracized and they will be unable to marry her siblings to "proper" Muslims?

I recently read Sacred games by Vikram Chandra. The above scenario was a subplot however it involved I believe a female Brahmin and a male OBC.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:16 PM on June 11, 2007

First of all, I think it's great that you and your gf have stuck together for more than 10 years. Wow! When you do marry I'm sure the marriage will be a happy one.

Quick background:
My parents are Muslims and us children are in various degrees of atheism or outright religious indifference. Plus, we grew up among Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists. It's practically a given that we'd marry outside our faith AND our ethnic group. My dad insists for the sake of appearance, whoever I marry would have to convert even if he is not a believer. My mum would rather I not marry anyone outside the faith, even if I am an Atheist and have no faith. It's not a religious thing at all - it's cultural. It's to ensure the next generation is a Muslim, even if s/he doesn't believe.

I'm against conversion. It's a grand gesture, but surely there will be some resentment later on. It's something the other partner is constantly reminded of, this one truth that wins every other argument. And who knows, you may grow to regret it when you're older and want to reconnect with your Hindu roots.
Do consider that if you convert and the both of you visit Pakistan, the Shariah law can apply to you, depending on how its enforced. Lahore isn't Afghanistan of course, but you'll both be scrutinised nonetheless. I know if I visit my parents' relatively modern homeland (Southeast Asian country *cough*), I will be watched closely because of my Muslim last name and because I'm a woman. Religious police, yo.

All scary things to consider, I would discourage conversion unless you really believe it will make things smoother between the families. I've seen interfaith families here in California that have gone either way despite one partner converting. It isn't necessary for either of you to give up a faith or convert, but again, if you really think it will solve the problems... Having a shared culture helps, and deciding on the issue of kids too. Traditionally, the child follows the father's faith. If the both of you decide to raise the kids as Muslims, that might help soothe the tensions.

While I don't have any case studies for you, why not read this BBC article? You'll find anecdotes of those in a similar situation at that link.

Have you asked your gf's father for his approval? Have a one-to-one talk with him and ask why he's against the match. Then do your best to answer and assuage his fears. And if you're really willing to convert, let him know. Hopefully all parties can get pass the 'hurdle' of religion and lay bare the true issues; which I suspect is acceptance by others in the community.

I wish you both the best; don't let societal implications decide whether or not you commit to each other. Continue to speak to each other and never mind the naysayers!
posted by sweetlyvicious at 6:37 PM on June 11, 2007

I'm a member of an interfaith marriage. Any guilt I feel is directly associated with the thought of children. My parents, though, supported my marriage 100%, as did his.

I strongly encourage you to discuss children and how they will be raised -- it's possible that if she is just now seeing this as an issue, children may play into it.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:05 PM on June 11, 2007

In my experience, it really depends where you are. I'm not entirely sure about Pakistan/India, but my Bangladeshi technically-Muslim cousin married her Christian husband without many hitches; I'm not sure if he had to convert or not. There was some grumbling from other relatives, but it seemed to be a generational thing rather than anything else.

My sister's dating a guy from a Christian background (I think they're both religiously ambiguous though my sister and I are also technical Muslims) and I'm likely to marry a non-Muslim. My sister's in London so she'd be OK; I'm in Australia so if I married an Aussie I'd be OK here.

However, if any of us - you and your girlfriend, my sister and her boyfriend, myself and whoever my partner is - were in Malaysia, and either the non-Muslim doesn't convert in or the Muslim converts out, be prepared for trouble.

I'm for interfaith marriages though. Good luck!
posted by divabat at 7:47 PM on June 11, 2007

Just watch a movie on this -- excellent. A Fond Kiss.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:17 PM on June 11, 2007

I'm Hindu (Sri Lankan), and i'm going to marry a Muslim girl (Iranian). It's been more or less a non-issue for both us, since we aren't particularly religious. I haven't got much blowback from my immediate family, but I have had to field the occasional stupid question from a relative, mostly about how I'm going to have to convert. ("no, i'm pretty sure i won't.") As for societal pressures, that's bullshit, unless you are living in India or Pakistan perhaps? If you are living in the West no one will give a damn. That said, constant pressure from her family will make for a hard marriage.
posted by chunking express at 3:17 PM on June 12, 2007

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