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INTERFAITH MARRIAGES

 

BY

ALEXANDRA YEBOAH


Love can conquer all barriers. Desh and Zehra Bandhu are the perfect example. Raised in two different religious upbringings—Desh Bandu is a Hindu and Zehra Bandu is a Muslim—there were many challenges awaiting them. But this didn’t faze them. “The basic foundation was love. On that basis we left our families,” said Mr. Bandhu, 70. They live together in a detached four-bedroom house in Cooksville, Ont., their living room complete with immaculate white couches; the verdant foliage plants bringing colour to their dwelling. In 19 years of marriage, they never once wavered in their love for each other, not even when their friends and family singlehandedly walked away. “We never thought religion had anything to do with our feelings for each other,” said Zehra, 62. The Bandhus are just one of many to marry into another faith. Figures from the 2001 census show that interfaith marriages have increased from 15% in 1981 to 19% in 2001, due to the increasing multiculturalism in Canada.
The Bandhus had each been married for 25 years before their marriage to each other, and had two kids from each marriage; four boys in total, all of whom readily accepted their parents’ marriage. They were married in a civil marriage ceremony officiated by a Justice of the Peace. None of their family members were present at their wedding, except for Mrs. Bandhu’s younger son, and new friends they both had made. “It’s not an easy task to face a world that is against you. (There are) no supporters so to speak,” said Mrs. Bandhu.
In a period of time, Mrs. Bandhu’s side of the family soon learned to accept their daughter’s marriage, whereas, Mr. Bandhu’s parents have not been returning his calls to- date. Although Mr. Bandhu was born a Hindu, he no longer practices his faith but considers himself more philosophical. Mrs. Bandhu doesn’t go to a mosque, but practices her faith at home, praying five times a day and taking part in 30-day fasting. “Her religion is in her heart, and I respect that and leave it there,” said Mr. Bandhu. As for any problems that may be encountered in the marriage, their problems have less to do with religion than anything else. “(We) resolve any conflicts because of love. If there was any other basis, the marriage would have been finished by now,” said Mr. Bandhu. Dr. Khalid Sohail, a psychiatrist at the Creative Psychotherapy Clinic in Whitby, Ontario whose focus is on marriage counselling, said interfaith marriages can be more successful if there is acceptance of their spouse’s religion. “If both of them are not very strong religiously, they can respect each other’s faith and not put pressure on the other (to convert),” said Sohail. Although Mr. Bandhu was able to respect his wife’s Hindu beliefs, the challenges awaiting the couple had little to do with themselves than it did to do with the response they received around them, because of the cultural hostility surrounding the Muslim and Hindu community. Thomas Marchese, a film director of two short films called Exterior and Exterior: Hatred, explores how race, ethnicity and faith drive a wedge between people.
Exterior: Hatred focuses specifically on the cultural differences between the Muslims and Hindus within the South Asian community, an issue Marchese thought needed to be discussed. “I think the (tensions between Muslims and Hindus) is both (religious and cultural). It started as a religious conflict, but it’s embedded itself in the culture,” said Marchese. “It’s unfortunate when Indians migrate here, they pass this on to their children.”
There are many religious differences that an interfaith couple must also learn to cope with. Helene Ijaz, a Roman Catholic, has been married to a Muslim for 39 years, but admits that intermarriage comes with its share of challenges. “It’s difficult when dealing with two religions that are contradictory,” she said. “It’s a challenge for the non-Muslim partner to open up to allow all of these different views.” Over half of interreligious unions are between Catholics and Protestants, the two largest religious groups in Canada. For Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus, interreligious unions are less likely in 2001 than in 1981, as many immigrants have a strong cultural association with the marital traditions of their country of origin. The Canon Law states that permission must be granted for a marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian to take place. The Cathecism of the Catholic Church believes that the Catholic party, through prayer, love, patience and respect for the other, has a duty to lead their spouse to conversion.
It states under the Qur’an that Muslim men are not permitted to marry non-Muslim women. An exception is made for Muslim men to marry chaste or pious Jewish and Christian women, because of the idea that these two faiths share a similar religious outlook as Islam.
The children of such a marriage are to be raised under the Islam faith. Robin Margolis, coordinator of the Half-Jewish network in Washington, D.C., and the child of an Orthodox Jewish and Episcopalian WASP marriage, finds that there are a lot of unspoken challenges about being a product of an intermarriage. “First, you have the natural struggle to determine who you are. There’s always the question of ‘Who am I’. The second struggle is you have to deal with the outside world’s reaction.” Margolis created the Half-Jewish network in 2002, in realization that there was not many outreach programs available for children of intermarriage. The Half-Jewish network is a social, networking, support, cultural, research and advocacy organization for adult children and other interested descendants of intermarried Jews. The organization also reaches out to adult children and descendants of intermarriage from all religious, secular and cultural backgrounds. Margolis’ suggestion to interfaith couples is to raise their children under one faith. “If you raise (the children) as both, that can create problems.” Sohail said that complications may arise when children are part of the picture. “With the birth of the first child, the family gets involved. Many times, communication is not very good and it can become stressful.” In Nimat and Raj Vadera’s experience, raising children in an interfaith marriage has not been an issue. The Vaderas, who had three children together in their 26 years of marriage, exposed their children to both the Islam and Hindu faith, their religious differences of no concern to them. “(Our problems) had nothing to do with the religion. He didn’t feel like he gave up anything, and I didn’t feel like I gave up anything,” said Nimat, 51, who lives with her husband and three children in Pickering, Ont. The couple eloped to Montreal, where they remained for a week, a Christian priest being the one to officiate their marriage. This caused tension to mount on Mrs. Vadera’s side of the family, who are all of the Muslim faith. They didn’t speak to her for three years. Mr. Raj Vadera’s side of the family accepted their marriage. Although the Vaderas’ decision to raise their children under the influence of both faiths worked for them, this may not always be the case. Rabbi Michal Shekel, the executive director of the Toronto Board of Rabbis finds that raising children under both faiths may not always be so wise. “In our experience, that’s very confusing and puts a lot pressure on the child having to choose between mommy and daddy, and we would discourage this,” she said. Rev. Ralph Carl Wushke, chaplain at the Ecumenical Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto, said there should be a lot of discussion concerning this issue. “First, the couple must have a common understanding before they have children of how they should proceed and agree upon something. The worst thing is if the children get mixed messages,” he said.
The Church Of Holy Trinity officiates interfaith marriages with little hesitation, according to Priest Jim Houston, who is an ordained priest of the Anglican diocese of Toronto.
“The Anglican church doesn’t require (the promise of raising children under their faith). But it does require they go through a lot of formal seminars. If (there is) a qualified couple who are truly ready to be married and make the commitment, we’ll do the deed,” said Houston. In Intimate Encounters: A Documentary on Mixed Marriages, Sohail explains the reason for the increase in interfaith marriages. “Interfaith marriages are increasing in North America, because people are adopting a more secular lifestyle. They are realizing that their personal spiritual dimensions of life is more significant than following an institutionalized religion,” Jean Golden, a professor of sociology at Ryerson University, agrees, going on further to say that the increasing secularism and more contact with people of different cultural backgrounds are some of the factors as to the increase in interfaith marriages. According to the Ontario Consultants of Religious Tolerance, one factor that contributes to the discouragement of interfaith marriages is the degree of vulnerability that a faith group experiences. Jews and Zoroastrians are concerned that inter-faith marriage may cause a long-term reduction in their total membership. Another factor is the instructions found in the faith group`s religious texts. Many conservative Christian denominations discourage interfaith marriages because of Bible condemnations of such marriages, they teach that their members should not be ``unequally yoked`` with individuals who are not born-again believers. Over the years, Ijaz has learned a thing or two about being married to someone of a different faith. “You need a genuine relationship with God. The closer both parties are to God, the closer they will be to each other,” she said.
 

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