FAQ on Interfaith Marriages: Pride
**What is the main message here?
Interfaith relationships should be based on mutual respect for both faiths, and marriage should be solemnized without imposing religious conversion on a spouse. After marriage, both spouse’s faiths should get equal respect and consideration in home life and raising children.
**Is religious conversion for marriage wrong?
Not if it is discussed early on in the relationship and agreed to by both parties, without coercion. Some conservative Islamic and Christian families still believe in the superiority of their faiths, thus forcing the spouse of any other faith to convert to their faith before an Islamic Nikaah or a church wedding can take place. Such expectations should be discussed upfront before getting deep into a relationship. To ask an intended spouse to give up his or her religion just before the wedding IS UNETHICAL. In such cases, the coerced spouse feels cheated at a time when they expected to experience some of the sweetest memories of their life. It harbors a doubt in their heart if a spouse deceptively practiced proselytism under the guise of love.
**What is wrong if one converts to a new faith just for marriage, as far as allowed to practice his/her own faith after the marriage?
Be careful– Religious conversion is not a hollow ritual devoid of any meaning or consequences. Let’s take a Christian-Muslim marriage as an example. As per the Sahadah oath to convert to Islam for Nikaah, you accept and declare that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his apostle. Further, you acknowledge that associating others (like Jesus) with Allah is the greatest of all sins. Similarly, baptism before a church wedding means conversion to Christianity and a commitment to repudiate former practices (of Islam) and to live with Christ forever. You must ask yourself what is your intention?
**Do my children have to convert too?
This should be the MOST CRITICAL question in interfaith relationships, even if there was no conversion required for the marriage ceremony. Ask if your intended spouse expects your sons and daughters to have baptism, bris (for Jews) or sunat to declare their faith for life.
**How decision to select a faith usually is made?
In most cases, the decision for selection of the faith for the spouse and children is made to please the more rigid and intolerant spouse, or the more stubborn parents / community.
**Are above questions relevant to Hindus?
The ‘Dharmic’ religions (Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists) are not normally accepted or tolerated by the Abrahamic “People of the Book” in a marriage. Hindus believe in one Supreme God, but they are free to worship the same God in many forms. However, this practice is forbidden in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and poses a serious issue when it comes to ‘Puja’ of various Hindu forms of God. According to the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods (e.g. Ganesh) before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God … punishing children for the inequity of parents, to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.”
**Can we teach our children both religions?
It is difficult. Young kids get confused with mixed and often conflicting messages. For example, when you take them to a Hindu or Jain temple, you ask them to believe in, respect and bow to several forms of the God. But when you take them to a mosque or church, they hear just the opposite, exclusive, and intolerant messages. When confronted with such duplicity, children lose faith in any God or religion.
**My spouse is open minded and we could get around these religious expectations.
Remember, a marriage is not just the union of two individuals but, believe it not, a union of two families and two communities. It is ethical to be upfront and honest about your intentions with your new family rather than building life-long relationships on deception and lies.
**I’m not so religious; I don’t mind religious conversion for marriage to please my spouse.
Life is full of changes. In general, people tend to return to their roots as they age, especially when they have children. How will you feel if you find yourself irreversibly locked into unintended practices?
**Conversion is only a formality, why not do it just to please my spouse and his/her family?
The religious conversion is not a one time deal; you are setting a new tone for your life. If you feed a shark, it will come back again for more food. Similarly, religious conversion for marriage will be followed by the expectation of a declaration of faith for your children via baptism, bris or sunat. Later, you may be forbidden to practice your own religion so children would not learn and follow it. Also, your spouse or his/her family may not like to be part of a religious activity while at your parent’s home. When your fantasy love period ends and it transformed into a routine married life, then these issues may become sore points in your life.
**My spouse didn’t know before but is asking now for conversion to please his/her parents.
Do not be convinced by the old trick of playing innocent. Every one uses that. If after living with the same parents and community for most of their life, he or she should have known of their parents and community’s expectations. If he/she had not, then you have the right to question his or her intelligence.
**What is the true test that my intended spouse is not a religious fanatic?
Simple! Just ask for two promises, the second one being the more important:
1) No religious conversion for marriage; and
2) No baptism, bris or sunat for your children.
**But what if he or she does not agree?
If someone you are dating lacks tolerance for what you believe in and expects you to forsake your own religion for marriage, even just in name sake, you must ask yourself if you are prepared to tolerate the intolerance that is being practiced against you.
**Why do so many marriages end in divorce?
Some of the major reasons are miscalculated expectations and the resulting complaints that my “spouse changed” after the marriage. Before entering into an interfaith relationship, find out sooner than later, if he or she has true tolerance for what you are.
**Is a fulfilling relationship possible in an interfaith marriage?
Yes, if the interfaith relationship is based on true mutual tolerance for religious diversity.
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"Your religion is like your mother. Just because your mother is less attractive than your friend's mother you can't abandon your mother and adopt a new one" - Mahatma Gandhi
A medical research scientist and a past president of Plymouth Balvihar (Hindu cultural school) in PA.
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