When I converted to Islam, countless people expected that one of three things would happen in my marriage to my Christian husband: 1) we would divorce; 2) my husband would join me in converting; 3) that it would be too much and I would change my mind. We’re three years into being an interfaith couple and none of those things have happened. Why? The simple answer is that we put our love for each other and our commitment to our wedding vows ahead of every bit of social pressure or intramarital conflict. In a way, that took some doing, but in a way it was simple.
In this context, I have referred to my husband as “my Christian husband.” The thing is, when I married him, I didn’t marry a Christian husband – or for that matter, a Buddhist husband or a Muslim husband. I simply married the love of my life, regardless of labels. And I didn’t vow to be united in holy matrimony “…unless one of us changes religions.” We made a vow for eternity, no ifs, ands, or buts. So when I converted, allowing our marriage to fail wasn’t an option for us. There were a number of moments when we could’ve made a different decision…
For example, when I converted to Islam, a number of people told my husband in so many words that he needed to pressure me to change my mind because I was in danger of hellfire and he was “the head of the household.” He chose me and our marriage over listening to such people. They are no longer in his life. Likewise, a number of people encouraged me to set a deadline and give him an ultimatum: either convert by X date, or divorce. I gave such people and their outrageous ideas zero space in my life.
On the other hand, we have had moments when inaction could’ve changed the trajectory of our marriage. There were many moments shortly after my conversion when we had to have hard conversations about what this change would mean. We could’ve stopped talking when the conversations brought up difficult emotions. We could’ve said, “We’ll talk tomorrow,” and never let tomorrow come. But we didn’t. We asked each other hard questions. We reassured each other of our love even as we cried through the uncertainty and the confusion. And we left each conversation even more certain that the future of our love was bright. The difficulty strengthened our marriage.
We could have pretended that we didn’t have different theological beliefs. We could have pretended that all this wouldn’t change the way we’d raise potential children, or change where and how we’d connect over spirituality. But we didn’t. We were and are honest with ourselves and with each other. And we realized that love is enough. The decisions we made about future children, houses of worship, and a laundry list of other things, aren’t important here. What matters is that we had and, as necessary, continue to have hard conversations. Those conversations were and are made easier with the knowledge that our love will always make things okay.
So many interfaith couples tell each other, “our love will get us through,” and then don’t do the work to nourish their love and find out what that means for their marriage. Yes, love is enough. But you must put it into action! Love your spouse and your marriage enough to ask each other hard questions, to give hard answers, and to listen to understand rather than listen to rebut. It’s not optional to talk about and make decisions together about how to handle getting along with the in-laws, celebrating holidays, praying, dressing according to your respective faiths, having and raising children, the dynamic of the relationship (will the wife submit to the husband or will it be an egalitarian marriage?), your diet, your social life, and every other aspect of your lives that religion affects – whether you want it to or not!
Interfaith marriage comes with unique challenges, but it is also uniquely rewarding. My husband and I never have the option of being too set in our ways, or of doing things out of unconscious habit. We never get to be so shortsighted that we forget that there are other ways of doing life. We never get to disrespect other people’s faiths; by our mere presence in one another’s lives, we each obligate the other to respect and celebrate differences and diverse beliefs and cultures. We are so grateful that we continue to affirm our “I dos” every day. We are thankful that we held onto our love when the world said it wouldn’t work. I know that I implied that interfaith marriage has had its difficult moments. But truthfully, it hasn’t been overwhelming! Waking up next to my soulmate every morning, hearing and saying “I love you” at the end of every day – those things never get old. And we have never once wavered in loving each other through every moment of my faith crisis. To us, loving each other has always been instinctively and unquestionably worth every moment.