When a believer and non believer falls in love...

Posted by Tandarin Nike Wednesday, November 25, 2009 11:45 PM
There are several varieties of mixed unions -- inter-faith marriages, inter-racial marriages, etc. However, what happens when a believer and a non-believer fall in love*?

This is the story of a couple who met, dated for a while, fell in love and got married. The husband is an atheist and the wife is a young Muslim woman. They live in the U.S. Dr. S asked them over to Whitby, Canada, where he lives and practices in his psychotherapy clinic, for a long weekend. They accepted the invitation and went over. The budding marital problems of the love- birds came to light there. She was pregnant and worried. She hoped and prayed that she gave birth to a baby girl.

“Why so?” S asked.

She being a Muslim would like to have her son circumcised in the Muslim tradition while the atheist husband wanted to have none of it. She thought, if she delivered a baby girl, the circumcision issue wouldn’t arise and embitter their life.

Unfortunately for the mother, she gave birth, in due time, to a baby boy and the problem that existed only as a possibility heretofore materialized and became real. She asked S to discuss the matter with the husband and to persuade him for the boy’s circumcision. He reluctantly agreed to do so,.

The husband, rightly or wrongly, equated circumcision to genital mutilation. S sent the husband a twenty-page article highlighting the health benefits of circumcision. The husband responded by sending an article back to him which discussed the rights of the children against genital mutilation.

Sensing that the man was strong-opinionated, S backed off. The husband’s attitude seemed to smack a bit of intellectual “Archie Bunkerism.”

There were seemingly well-intentioned but unpleasant nonetheless, comments and insinuations by some of their friends and family also. The wife’s family was orthodox and unwilling to recognize their marriage from religious point of view. Their views did not mesh with those of the husband in any way with the result that the tension extended beyond their personal life.

In due time, the second son arrived who also remained uncircumcised like his older sibling. It was clear that the couple hadn’t done their preparatory work before tying the knot. In hindsight, they had rushed through the matrimony.

If circumcision were such a big issue for the woman, she should have brought it up for candid discussion before going too deep into her relationship. Likewise, they should have discussed how they would raise their children and into what religion (or without it), before stepping across the threshold.

I didn’t realize that the male circumcision could become such an acrimonious issue because many of the non-Muslims and Non-Jewish males voluntarily opt for circumcision from the health point of view. Many Christians have their children circumcised at a young age (many a time, at birth). I also thought that a non-believer is usually more broadminded than a conventional religious person who is usually tied up in religious dogmatic knots. Unbelief invariably arises from a capability of a person to think analytically, unconventionally and rationally.

When he married the Muslim woman, did he expect that she would start living a life of unbelief like him dropping all cultural values and traditions in the wink of an eye? Probably he did. He may choose to bring up their children in unbelief but in due time when the children are able to make their own decisions, it’s quite possible that they might choose not to follow in his footsteps. They might decide to go for circumcision later on in their adolescence or adult age if they so desired.

The difficult part of parenting is that the parents have to make many decisions (some of which are crucially important) for the children when they are young. Circumcision is one instance. Religious instruction is another.

I had decided not to give any religious instruction to my children in their young age. I would (and did) let them decide for themselves. In spite of my agnosticism, my wife’s traditional hindu life style and my children’s receiving their early education in a mixed school, my children chose to remain traditional hindu of their own volition. It never crossed their mind that they wanted to be something else. They were more comfortable with the traditional background of their parents whether they practiced religion actually in their day to day life or not. If at a later time in their life they chose to discard more of the religious baggage they would.

The marriages in which there is absolutely no compromise and accommodation regarding the individuals’ religious backgrounds, culture and cultural practices, usually end up in bitterness, in fiasco, or remain unduly in enduring and stressful relationships. Church and mosque, mosque and mandar, or mosque and no mosque are seldom symbiotic realities unless the spouses are prepared not to push them hard and test them every now and then.

A loving relationship should rise above these things. They need to come to some reasonable understanding about their children as well.

The wife in question should reconcile herself and probably she has done so already, and accept what her husband desires for their children. In due time, the children will decide for themselves. Circumcision is not such a crucial thing; if the boys wanted it, they could have it later in life.

S described an interesting case of one of his friends. Baidar Bakht, his friend who is an engineer and a writer, is a Muslim from India. His wife, Anita, comes from a Hindu family. Bakht’s daughter asked him one day, “Dad, what religion am I?” Bakht told her, “Look, you have an opportunity to learn about three religions in your life: your father’s religion, Islam, your mother’s religion, Hinduism, and your friends’ religion, Christianity. Why don’t you learn the basics of all three religions and not make a decision yet. When you become old enough then you can choose your own religion. There aren’t very many people who get a chance like that.”

This liberal attitude is quite appropriate if Anita also agrees with it. If the parents have harmony in religious matters, the children’s life becomes that much simpler.

Usually, it is expected that a non-believer is more rational and hence should be more accommodating than the religious partner. A religious person even though he or she may be quite liberal in outlook, generally lives according to the conventional practice of his or her religion. Sometimes it becomes difficult to completely give up a religious or cultural tradition although it might be very nonsensical from a rational viewpoint.

Christmas is one such example. Although it emanated from a pagan tradition, many rationalists also enjoy the festivity even though they may not celebrate it with the same vigor and enthusiasm as the Christians do. Christmas dinner is invariably an occasion to cherish and enjoy.

Sometimes it is the religious person who gives up a religious tradition readily for the sake of his or her spouse to keep their relationship happy and harmonious.

In the end, it should be remembered that a mixed union requires the nourishment of lifelong sacrifices. It is best when both partners are willing to make them. Otherwise, it is better to seek homogeneous relationships in which such issues (circumcision, etc.) do not crop up every now and then and make marriage a venomous and bitter experience for both of them.

*This essay is inspired by a case study of Dr. Khalid Sohail (S). In todays mixed marriages this abodes well as a good read.

2 Response to "When a believer and non believer falls in love..."

  1. A4ISMS Says:

    That was a very thought provoking blog.
    "In the end, it should be remembered that a mixed union requires the nourishment of lifelong sacrifices ..."
     Any marital union for that matter succeeds when the two individuals are ready to adjust and compromise ... not just a mixed marriage! Differences of opinion on sensitive and religiopus issues would really harm the said relationship.

  2. Tandarin Nike Says:

    Thats very true A4ISMS...
    Thanks for the comments. Do visit my blog.

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