Falling in love across faith lines
“For me it was to take a stand for what is right. I waited for seven years before getting married finally. I wanted to make my parents and others realise that it was right and meant to be done anyway!” Sanjib Roy, a senior journalist of a private TV channel said while speaking of his interfaith marriage which took place 10 years ago.
This strong sense of doing the right thing comes from one’s values, the very values constituted by one’s faith, views and virtues. And when two people share similar values, views and perspectives of the world around them, the bond becomes the strongest.
Their faith, either in God or otherwise, is too strong to be affected by other’s faith or actions. That is what makes an interfaith or mixed-faith marriage both sensible and sensitive.
“I used to wait for her for hours. I fell for her at first sight. Yet I could not talk to her. Then the day came finally, the day of rendezvous! I waited 3 months before I finally let her know of my heart. How could I walk away just because she believed in a different God?” said Aniket, a Hindu man who recently got married to a Muslim girl.
Love. The word encompasses a range of emotions in human being. Some say love makes people blind, illogical and irrational. That may be true of infatuation and a semblance of love, but love in the true sense is something so much more concrete and tangible. Perhaps those who are not easy with love and lovers, in fact offended by them, write such feelings off as whimsical and insubstantial.
Such people can be stirrers. “All of a sudden you will find some people unnecessarily intervening in your life. Some of those can be relatives you hardly met before. Their questions know no bounds! What will be the future children’s names, what will be their religion, which language will they speak in, is she going to convert and so many silly and useless questions!” Nessar Hamid, a Pakistani expatriate living in Warsaw, Poland with his orthodox Christian wife Christina Suzane, said over the phone.
Interfaith marriage is still an uncomfortable topic in this side of the world, though rapidly becoming a new normal. In the western world, given the burgeoning number of migrants, mixed marriages, whether of race, religion, caste or creed, are hardly given a second thought.
There extensive research and studies all over the world about interfaith couples. The key advantage in interfaith marriage is the couples are more efficient in communicating with each other and to outside the world and resolving issues in a mature way.
“Interfaith marriage does not, from any aspect, mean to weaken each other’s faith. It rather strengthens my faith. It made me strong enough to respect my husband’s faith and religious doctrine,” Suzane said.
She further explained that faith must not be confused with doctrine.
“Faith isn’t something you can or have to prove scientifically rather hold it firm. Let them believe in their account of truth while you believe in yours. It’s easy,” Suzane elaborated.
Nessar, coming all the way from a distant area of Swat, Pakistan, fell in love with Suzane while studying at Warsaw University, Poland.
“We met on a Christmas eve on the university campus four years ago. My parents and relatives were against the marriage as we married under civil law. But how can I ask her to convert when I met her at her religion’s festival?” Nessar commented.
Civil marriage is a marriage registered and performed by a government official either in a religious way or secular.
Suzane comes from a conservative Christian family, too. For her, it’s the message that matters.
Being a sociology student, Suzane perceived the religion based on strong faith that shall accept and respect other faiths.
“For me it is not important, if the name was Ibrahim or Abraham, the prophet, who agreed to sacrifice his son on God’s command. Now what’s in the name? Sacrificing a child, whether its Isaac or Ishmail, is equally painful for a father. The message is important to reach to the truth,” Suzane had her explanation.
South Asian stories
The families in such marriage still play a big role, especially in South Asian countries. Incidents of honour killing still occur in India and Pakistan for interfaith and inter-cast marriages.
Sanjib Roy, the TV journalist, had to encounter an unprecedented situation when he first spoke of his feelings for Shaila, a Muslim girl, to his family. His father, a philosophy teacher in a local college, put all his lessons to his children at stake to prevent the marriage.
“All his life he taught us that children should be given freedom to do as they deem right after a certain age. But when I told him about Shaila, he displayed a different face,” Sanjib said.
His mother cried, shouted, even tried to scare him with suicide threats. What gave Sanjib strength was faith, faith that ‘the right thing has to be done.’
How did it feel? Sanjib took a pause to answer this question. He said, nothing could be more devastating when the closest ones of your life do not stand by your side when you need them the most.
“I started reading religious books so that I could make my mother understand. But it never worked,” he said.
Although they did not accept the marriage in the beginning, the ice started to melt after Sanjib’s first child was born.
“My mother demanded at the time that my daughter had to say ‘jal’ ( Bangla word for water commonly used by Bangali Hindus) instead of ‘pani’ (Urdu word for water commonly used by the Muslim majority) if we wanted her to visit us. My wife and I even agreed to that just to restore peace,” Sanjib explained.
Faith is solely a private matter according to many such couples. Even two persons of same religious background do not share the same faith sometimes. When love aligns, faith is not an obstacle.
Speaking of the family ‘drama’, Aniket, the civil engineer, said, “My family was appalled and agitated. I tried to make them realise, the decision was a well-thought-out one, rather than an impulsive, irrational and emotional one.”
Aniket and Faiza’s marriage was the 200th marriage recorded by advocate Manik Chandra since 2005. Aniket seemed very excited about the number, a double century!
Speaking of family reactions, Faiza who works for a private organisation, said “My mother is so religious that she does not even come in front of unknown men. She was visibly hurt when I first told her about Aniket. Other than trying to prevent the marriage she said, ‘It’s your call. The journey, hardship and the happiness will be yours. Do it at your discretion’. She did not agree to the decision but neither obstructed it.”
“Our society injects the idea of ‘self’ and ‘other’ into our heads at a very early age. Such ideas are the weapons of the ignorant and the weak. Faith is more than that. It is personal. It is my personal opinion, judgement and conviction with no harm towards others,” Faiza said further.
What about the children? The all three couples have their own spot of agreement.
Sanjib Roy said, “I teach my two daughters that humanism shall be their religion. Love for humans. Love for everything is the manifestation of the divine to me. I wish to believe that it should be my daughters view too.”
Faiza was quite radical. She said, “Doesn’t matter which religious book my future children read, or which doctrine they choose, as long as it is full of love, it is fine with me. A human’s faith should be in peace and love, not in hatred.”
The path may not be as smooth as the above couples think. Even the fight may not be so predictable. But the faith will lead them to hope, to a leap in a new world without hatred.
As Kahlil Gibran says, “When you love you should not say, ‘God is in my heart,’ but rather, ‘I am in the heart of God.’”
Note: Some of the names in this write-up have been changed for the sake of privacy
* Farjana Liakat works for Prothom Alo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org