In October 2017, an article I wrote got published on the CBC about my relationship with Sai which talked about the difficult but worthwhile struggle we both faced in being together. Sai being from an Indian Hindu background, and me being a Pakistani Muslim didn’t exactly thrill either of our families, but over time we were able to mend fences with them and find a rare “happy ending” to our story.
Ever since that got published, Sai and I have been consistently getting messages across our various social media accounts from people who are in similar relationship situations as we were, and asking for our guidance and feedback on what they should do. I’ve received private messages on Instagram and Twitter, and more recently people have started reaching out through the contact form on my blog too.
Sai has also been approached (mostly by men in India who somehow find him on Twitter and Facebook), and on one occasion he even spoke to an Indian and Pakistani couple for an hour over WhatsApp to address their questions.
I started noticing a consistent theme in many of these messages and found myself replying with the same answer to most of the people who reached out. I decided to write an in-depth response to these questions, which mostly relates to getting the families on board with the relationship, or one partner converting to the other’s religion.
Since that CBC article was published last year, I’ve reflected on whether I had somehow misled people into thinking that making a Hindu-Muslim relationship work was actually easier than they thought, or that true love was the only thing they needed which would eventually conquer all. So this blog post is also my attempt to clear that up in case some people got the impression that we had some sort of secret formula for figuring it out, and that others could do the same thing if they just followed our lead.
So, let’s start with this question I received on Instagram from a Hindu man about his Muslim girlfriend:
This is a loaded issue, and if you’re faced with this situation, you can’t approach it in isolation from the rest of your life (and your girlfriend’s life too). If someone is forcing you to convert for them, and you don’t want to, the question you should be asking yourself is, “Is this the right person for me?”
What are your girlfriend’s priorities? Is she more concerned with making her parents happy, or does she care about your mental and emotional well-being too? Is religion really that important to her? What will happen down the road if you have children and she doesn’t allow you to have any religious influence over them? Do you really want to spend your life with someone who will disregard your wants and preferences in life and force you to do things her way? What are your limits? Where are you willing to compromise, and where are the lines you draw that can not be crossed? What are your principles? What are hers? These questions are not just about right now; how you respond to this pressure from your girlfriend will set the stage for the rest of your relationship with her (and your life if you choose to be together).
Personally, I did not ask Sai to convert to Islam because I felt it would have been unfair to ask him to do that for me since I myself didn’t care all that much about the religion. If I had asked him, it would have simply been to appease my parents and have them “approve” of him, but that went against my principles of individualism, respect, and autonomy.
I didn’t want Sai to convert because I didn’t care about his religion, and I didn’t care what my family thought of that because I wasn’t doing anything wrong by loving him and being with him just as he was. If my family had a problem with it, that was their problem and they needed to sort out their issues. I didn’t take on any guilt for being this way because I had a clear conscience about my decisions. I stood by what I believed, and I wasn’t going to bend to anyone’s will about how I should live my life, even if those people were my parents. Plus, I was a rebel, and aggressively pursuing what I believed was on par for the course with me.
And this brings me to my next point – how you and your partner were raised by your families will have a huge influence on what you are and are not willing to do for one another. I can not stress this enough, but if you or your partner are weak-willed individuals, there are very slim chances of you succeeding in your relationship if you decide to take things to the next stage. Your families will 100% make your lives absolutely shit and miserable for going against them and their wishes. They will be ruthless and merciless in their cruelty. They will attack your vulnerabilities, and they will try to break you so you comply with them and get back in line. Make no mistake about it – you will absolutely be faced with the ugly, racist side of your loved ones, and you will need to stand your ground and remain unphased by the hurt and pain they will send your way for failing to live by their rules and orders.
If you were raised to be completely dependent on your parents; if you live with them and don’t have financial freedom; if you were sheltered your whole life and only given options that were pre-approved by your family, you are going to have a very difficult time going through with the decisions that will be required to be with a person of your choosing. So for example this email:
Now this is tricky because they’re in Malaysia and can’t immigrate to Canada together unless they’re married. In this case, I’d actually suggest they swallow their pride, convert to Islam, get married and move abroad and then live their lives as they want. I don’t think trying to make a point about individual freedom and rights is worth it if your life may be on the line.
However, if this couple were in a developed country like Canada or the US or UK, and were both employed and made their own money and were independent, my question would be, “So what exactly is the problem?”
In those cases, the problem is that one partner doesn’t want to ruffle feathers. They want to get everything without giving up anything. They want to be with the person they love, but they also don’t want to upset their families. They want to break free, but they don’t want to completely let go of the safety net and comfort of their loved ones. They’re in a perpetual state of indecisiveness over what they should do and who they should choose – their families, or their partners?
And I get it! This is a huge risk. What if your relationship doesn’t work out? What if you leave behind everything for your partner, and then you two break up at some point down the line? What if your parents never accept your partner and your relationship?
The truth is, no one knows the answers to these questions, and there are no guarantees that your relationship will for sure work out in the future. The real risk, however, is taking this risk in the first place! You’re not taking a risk on the person; you’re taking a risk on the risk itself that the relationship may or may not work out, and to increase the odds of that risk paying off, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- If this is your first relationship in life, ever, and you have zero field experience in navigating commitments, priorities, or are still figuring out who you are, it’s probably not a good idea to jeopardize your life and relationships for one person.
- Is your partner worth it? Does your partner have the traits of someone who is driven and ambitious and wants to live a high-functioning life with you and you two will be able to make it happen together? Do you have faith in your partner’s abilities and potential? Will he or she lift you up in life or pull you down? Can you see yourself building the life you want with your partner?
- Have you two spent a considerable time in each other’s presence and know, truly know, who the other person is? Have you lived together? Have you travelled together? Or have you been in a long-distance relationship for three years and only meet your partner one weekend of the month and just have sex and eat food?
- Are you an intellectual match with each other? Does your partner mentally (and sexually) stimulate you and push you towards being a better version of yourself? Or are they stagnant in their growth and are keeping you back with them?
- Have you discussed difficult topics like money and relationship responsibilities, or living in a single-income household, or moving to another city for your partner, or making huge life decisions that will put you in a scenario where you will only have each other to lean on for emotional and psychological support?
There is so much more I can say on this topic, but the last thing I’ll address in this post is how you tell your parents about your partner in the first place.
When I started dating Sai, I didn’t ask my mother if I could be with him. I told her that I was dating Sai, and he wasn’t a Muslim or a Pakistani, and I was going to be with him regardless of how she perceived him. I wasn’t sorry or ashamed of my choice. I didn’t share this information with her in a way that made me seem like I was desperate for her validation or approval (because I wasn’t). I knew, through and through, that what I was doing wasn’t wrong or unreasonable, and I had no reason to doubt myself.
I only broached the topic of being with Sai long-term after I had estimated how likely it was that our relationship would succeed, and gone through the experiences laid out above with him in order to realistically evaluate our level of compatibility with each other. I minimized all the possibilities that would give my mother reason to reject Sai as a viable prospect for myself, and once I was confident in my own choice, nothing she said or did could phase me from further pursuing my relationship with Sai.
In short, is your partner the catch of a lifetime and worth the fight?
I know none of this sounds “sexy” or “romantic”, but love isn’t just some fleeting high that makes you do irrational things and make half-baked decisions. Love is work, relationships are work, and being honest about your chances with another person is also work that will go on to determine how successful your relationship will be. Don’t be lazy, and don’t be blindly optimistic. As Roosevelt said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.”
I’d like to close this post on an optimistic note and thank all the people who reached out to us with messages of love and hope and positivity. In the grand scheme of things, Sai and I were given relatively less challenging odds than what many other people face – our parents were all educated and open-minded, even though initially they turned to defensive and mean-spirited tactics to get their way. Sai and I were both financially independent, and we didn’t have huge inheritances waiting for us from our families that made it difficult for us to break free (who wants to give up free money!). And of course, we lived in Canada and had way more breathing room than people living in Muslim-majority countries, or in India, may have when faced with a similar situation.
If you read this and want to get in touch about your own relationship questions, or just want to vent about how fucking hard it is to make even a relatively “normal” relationship work, let alone one with such fraught religious and geopolitical histories on both sides, feel free to get in touch through the contact page. And if there are other aspects of relationship-building you’d like to ask about, or suggest I write a blog post on, feel free to suggest those too! I’m by no means a relationship expert, and Sai and I are figuring this out as we go along as well, but it’s always nice to know we’re not alone in fighting these battles and following our hearts and minds to make a better life for ourselves and the ones we love.