Every couple of months, someone asks me for advice on how to deal with their interracial, interreligion relationship. Usually, it’s a brown Muslim girl who is dating a white Christian guy. Their devotion to religion varies and sometimes the races vary, but overall, it’s a big tension in the relationship.
Normally, most of the tension surrounds how and when to tell their respective families. For the brown kids, you’re worried about disappointing your parents for becoming too “Americanized”. If you come from a Muslim family and especially if you’re a girl, you need to marry a Muslim man because he’s the head of the household. If you marry a Christian or whatever, then yours and your kids’ salvation is in question. In Islam, a majority of people end up in semi-arranged marriages because you’re not supposed to be having intimate relationships with people of the other sex. The normal process is that your families find you someone, the two of you meet and talk for a little bit with your respective chaperones, and then you decide if you want to get married. The steps can vary a bit in length of time (sometimes it’s quick and over a weekend!), how many people are there when you meet, and how much you can talk to each other before you decide. You might even be told that you’ll bring shame to the family and/or aren’t part of the family anymore if you don’t break up with the white person. Needless to say, bringing a white guy or girl home is a big source of drama.
For the white kids, you’re worried about the racist/religionist things your family will say. You’re worried if they’re going to ask your significant other how they if they have terrorists in their extended family or if your wedding ceremony will be conducted in English vs. Arabic. If your family is religious, they’ll have similar concerns about your salvation if you have a two-religion household. They’ll be worried about your “exotic” significant other teaching your kids anti-Christian, pro-Islamic propaganda. Those in the know will joke about how you’ll never get the scent of curry out of your clothes or that they hope you have one of the cute mixed kids.
On both sides, I’ve had a lot of friends who did not know how to break it to their families. They felt guilty for lying outright or by omission about their significant other. They’ve gotten in fights with them because they aren’t courageous enough to talk to their family. I’ve been on the side of feeling hurt that I was a hidden girlfriend. I’ve also been on the side of hiding a person until I absolutely had to tell my family. Don’t get me started on how this is much harder if you’re bringing home someone of the same gender or someone transgender.
People ask me for advice on all aspects of becoming less religious. Some women start with asking me for advice on how to let their parents know they want to stop or start wearing hijab. I wore hijab until I was 19, and I was woefully unprepared for my brown girl hair that needed to be washed every morning to look decent. I’ll readily admit that I still never learned how to do anything to my hair other than a ponytail and more recently, a braid.
When people ask me for advice on relationships, they do so because of my very public success and failings on relationships on Facebook. I went through the steps of telling my family that I was dating a white guy and them demanding that he convert and that I get married to him. Some families are okay with fake conversions, but my family really wanted it to stick. They ended up being disappointed that I didn’t return to religion. The marriage didn’t work out for other reasons. On this topic, divorced Muslims, especially those who divorce someone their family didn’t approve are some of the most isolated people. Their relationship with their family never returns to normal (so many I told you so’s) and they don’t know how to constructively talk about their hurt and how they move forward without betraying their true selves. Similarly, I have major sympathy for people who feel stuck in a relationship because they don’t want to admit to their family that they were “wrong.” I hear it’s similar for some Christians, too.
I wish I could magically get all families to be tolerant. On both sides, I hear a lot of the same thing:
“You’re not the daughter/son I thought you were”
“We raised you to be better”
“Think of how much this will hurt your grandparents”
“We are only worried about your salvation and your children’s salvation”
“A marriage can’t work with two different, opposing religions”
“They won’t understand our culture and it won’t be propagated in the future”
“I will stop talking to you and you won’t be welcome here if they don’t convert”
I could go on, but it’s hard for me to write. I wasn’t the only one who went through all of this. I have friends call me in tears about how they thought it was so important for their family to be at their wedding and how they are torn between the love of their life and their family. I’ve had friends who called off their engagements after this and I’ve had friends who left their families. I’ve had friends who were in the middle, but felt like they were constantly being guilted and manipulated by their parents. I’ve also had a few friends who had awesome, supportive families who were chill and wanted to support their kids. They say there are still some awkward moments, but both sides try to look at the general picture of being good people instead of the nitty gritty details of if you believe in Jesus and/or Muhammed (pbuh).
If I could talk to some of these parents/families, I would tell them that you want to have an open, honest relationship with your child and their new family (especially if little ones come along). If something happens good or bad, you want your child to be able to tell you instead of feel isolated and alone. The most important thing at the end of the day is to let your kids be themselves, be happy, and make their own decisions and mistakes. Love makes everything better.