Monday, May 25, 2015

You cannot Marry a non-Muslim Man : When Fundamentalist Christians are more tolerant than Moderate Muslims

*Personal identifiers have been changed to protect the privacy of the submitter.

Dear Eiynah,

I hope this finds you in good health and good cheer.  I'd like to first say a simple, "Thank you," for speaking up; for being one of the brave ones; for seeking after the truth.  I became aware of your blog after seeing your "Open Letter to Ben Affleck" being discussed elsewhere, and it's touched a nerve with me.  If you'll bear with me I'll explain why.

I'm an American, who met a Pakistani woman online, about 8 years ago.  At that time she had just moved to Germany, having been born and raised in Pakistan, graduated college and offered a wonderful job in a different part of the world. We immediately hit it off, and started chatting every day.  That led to talking via Skype, which led (about a year and a half  later) to meeting for the very first time in person.  She came to the U.S., stayed in a hotel for a couple of weeks, then went back to her resident country of Germany.  The next year I went to see her, and stayed at her apartment for a couple of weeks.

The following year I visited again, and this time she asked me to stay permanently.  Unfortunately the German government didn't see my chosen trade as something they felt they needed in their country at the time, and denied me a residence permit.  We attempted to apply for a "domestic partnership" visa but were denied that, as well, twice.  Their advice?  "Get married.  If you're married, you can apply for a 'Family Reunion' visa."

We didn't want to get married. For my part I saw it as a symbolic gesture.  I don't need any state or organization's "blessing" or approval of my love for someone.  Neither did I feel I needed a piece of paper to justify the relationship.  My girlfriend felt the same way, but also had serious concerns over her family's reaction, over the legality of her situation, etc.  As you're no doubt aware, it's illegal for a Pakistani Muslim woman to marry a non-Muslim man.  So instead, I stayed in the country beyond the allowed period of time, and attempted to remain under the radar as much as possible.

[Eiynah: (Forbidden in Islam yes, not illegal from what I know)]


(click to enlarge) While there are increasing numbers of people who don't believe in this in our shrinking world, because of it's impracticality. This is a pretty common traditional view. Incredibly unsettling, this mentality of marrying non-muslim women and ensuring that their children are raised in *your* faith...whilst not allowing your women to marry outside of the faith so their children may not be claimed by another faith. And it's disturbing aside from the treatment of women as objects and baby-making machines. It's disturbing because of the 'conquestatorial' (not a real word, I know) attitude...


That brought it's own set of stresses.  Knowing that my girlfriend could lose her job and be deported if we were caught made for some rough days and nights. Eventually we decided, after trying for a 3rd time to get me a visa, that we'd get married, and we did so earlier this year.  Within 30 days the German government had approved our application and I'm now a legal resident here, happily living with my wife and our cat.

The stress isn't over, however.  My wife told me, prior to our marriage, that she was thinking of not telling her parents.  They'd already reacted predictably to knowledge of our relationship: they wanted nothing to do with me, at all.  (For background: she grew up in a moderately wealthy suburb in Karachi; her parents are "moderate" Muslims.)   At first I was offended, and resented her.  "If you loved me you wouldn't care who knew." So, she tried to appease both me and herself and her parents, and you can imagine how that worked out.  I sat in the other room, listening to what was supposed to be a conversation between her and her parents, as she told them she wanted to marry me.

In the hour that talk over Skype lasted my then-girlfriend probably only managed to speak for perhaps 5 minutes.  The remainder of the time was taken up almost exclusively by her father, who seemed to be doing everything in his power to belittle her, to patronize her, to put her in her place.  His viewpoint was implacable: you cannot marry a non-Muslim man.  He even suggested to her, at one point, that she get me to simply *claim* I was Muslim, proving that, with him at least, it was more about appearances and societal expectation than actual religious conviction.

Image from zawaj.com
My views, on the other hand, changed entirely in listening to that one conversation.  I couldn't apologize to her enough.  I was so sorry that I hadn't understood properly just what she was going through, and how hard it was for her to even broach the subject with them.  I told her then that we could marry and we didn't have to tell anyone, if she didn't want to.  I told her that I didn't care who knew, because the important thing was that we knew how we felt about each other.  If I claimed to not care for the State's blessing on my relationship, what kind of hypocrite would I be if I were unable see beyond my own base desire for recognition from her parents, whose opinions I'd also claimed to not care about?

So we're married in secret.  Her parents don't know.  Her friends, with one notable exception, don't know.  Her siblings don't know.  We checked with lawyers and government officials ahead of time, to make sure that the gov't of Germany didn't have any sort of automatic notification system with the gov't of Pakistan where they'd be told one of their citizen's marriage status' had changed.  They don't, so Pakistan doesn't know that "one of its own" is secretly married to a dirty anti-theist male, and an American to boot.  The horror.

And now we almost couldn't be happier.  We still have some of the same stresses, but they're in the background in a sense, and most days they don't amount to anything more than a low-grade sort of anxiety and a feeling of helplessness in the face of complete un-acceptance from her parents and her country.  I'm sad to know that I'll likely never be able to visit the place where she came from, never be able to eat street food in Karachi, never be able to visit any of the beautiful gardens or mosques I've seen only in pictures.  But we deal with these things by indulging ourselves in other areas.  There are hundreds of places in the world to see, and we'll never be able to fit them all in in our lifetimes, and we both think that's great.

One irony in all of this is that my parents are fundamentalist Christians.  Evangelical bible-thumpers.  What was their reaction when they first heard about her?  Ecstatic.  Happy that I'd met someone and fallen in love.  Their reaction when told we'd gotten married at a courthouse?  Disappointed that they hadn't been there, but overjoyed that we could finally be together in Germany without the worry of being afoul of the law.  Her "moderate" parents have, to date, refused every offer to even *speak with me over Skype or by email*.  My fundamentalist parents have accepted us with open arms.  Psychoanalyze that.

So, Eiynah, when I read your open letter I started to cry, and damned if I'm not doing it again right now.  I wish we all could have a discussion.  I wish we could see each other as human beings first, and as Americans or Pakistanis or Muslims or whatever second.  I wish the dialogue didn't get drowned out, time and time again, by the voices of the most vehement and spiteful and hateful among us. So thank you, very very much, for speaking on behalf of my wife and I, even though you don't know us.  It makes me feel just a bit more optimistic that things might change for the better.  I apologize for being so long-winded.  I suppose I've been keeping a lot of this pent up for a long time, but something about your letter struck a spark and I felt like I had to let you know that the words you wrote *did* make a difference, however small.

You made one person feel a bit better about the world today.  thank you for that, and I hope the rest of your days are full of wonder. 

Sincerely,


D

----------

Dear D,

Thank you so much for your heartfelt letter. It made me quite emotional to read your story, because I relate to it a great deal.

Even though my husband and I are both of Pakistani background, and both belong to Muslim families...his family is *a lot* more conservative than mine (I'd define my family as very progressive, and his as 'moderate', like your in-laws). When our relationship had started getting serious and they heard he'd met a Pakistani girl who had piercings and tattoos, purple hair...they were pretty disgusted.

I'll spare you the details of the drama that ensued. But let's just say that ours wasn't a very traditional, family-filled Pakistani wedding. We had the full support of my family, but not at all of his. His parents didn't attend, they didn't want to know me at all. Prior to our wedding, during phone conversations with my then boyfriend (where his family tried to convince him not to marry me), I was often compared to a 'white woman', a gori - as if that was some terrible insult...as if that was the most incompatible kind of person for a Pakistani to marry.

I didn't actually meet or speak to his parents till years later. I can tell you it's not a wonderful feeling to be so loathed before someone has even met you. Nor is it healthy for a person to suddenly be abandoned by his entire family simply because they choose not to accept who he loves. :(

I too realized just how difficult it was for him to broach the topic of 'us' with his family, and felt terrible for him. Several years down the line, his family and I are civil with one another...but the  underlying tension never quite goes away.

Through all this, our relationship as a couple grew stronger, our bond deeper. But there is also some sadness...there are so many questions, so many 'what if's'. Even though I am not an overly girly girl, I did imagine a certain kind of wedding....not one where the love of my life had to make a choice between me and his family.

*Sigh*

So I've been there. Despite my being Pakistani and technically Muslim....

If a Pakistani doesn't fit the mould like they are supposed to, even they are met with intolerance.

The part about your parents being fundamentalists and hers being moderates - yet yours being more accepting is incredibly telling. There is definitely something about Islam and Muslim culture that is arrogant and inflexible, where orthodoxy is implied....even amongst our most "moderate". There is a literalist approach to scriptures that isn't present today in the majorities of other Abrahamic faiths.

How are our communities claiming to propagate peace and love, when even such differences are not acceptable to them? I do not know... :/

Islam is newer, several centuries behind....perhaps it has not yet gone through enough witch burnings to reach an enlightenment. What surprises me though is the strict adherence in this age of modern science, social media and the internet. Googling anything, anywhere is a smartphone away. There isn't a good enough excuse to be this orthodox, as intolerant as Christians and Jews from times past. Yet the literalism thrives, the ignorance is using social media to spread itself it seems, rather than eradicate itself. 

As you said,

"I wish we could see each other as human beings first, and as Americans or Pakistanis or Muslims or whatever second." 

****

I wish you both the best. Make the most of your travel, and your lives with each other. Use this experience to strengthen your bond. You two have been through a lot together, and sacrificed a lot for each other! You get a head start in terms of marriage-bonding, if you ask me :)

****

This post is dedicated to my rock and best friend Mr. Mango.

Thanks to my patrons: Fred, Steve, Martin, Ruthless Atheist, Lisa Fontaine, Humanist Agressor, Jesus&Mo, Pastafarian Woman, Alexander, Know the Question, Mb Cunney, Ali, Leneke Van Houten, Alberto and Yasmien - your support means a lot and will help me allocate more time towards writing and drawing!

Please help me devote more time to the blog by supporting here !

4 comments:

  1. Excellent Writing, Yes I do believe that one will no longer be able to enjoy the poetry and street cafes of Karachi, I have never been there too and I so much want to. Once again, Congratulations on your brave step

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not the case in Indonesia where interfaith marriages are quite common.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes of course, there are exceptions. And this case is not meant to demonstrate that this level of intolerance is the norm. Rather to start a conversation about why it is more common than it should be, and not just amongst fundamentalists.

      I am glad that Indonesia is better in this regard. However, that's probably because it is often cited as one of the more 'liberal' muslim countries to begin with. It does have its issues with religious oppression such as the virginity tests for policewomen, etc. But hey, if there is more tolerance for interfaith marriage - that's excellent. Wish the rest of the muslim world could follow.

      Delete
  3. This touched a nerve. The poster above mentioned Indonesia and I'm unfamiliar with the laws there. However, in many ways--by culture and religion--they are very similar to my country; Malaysia. And here it is illegal; that is to say, you can marry a muslim, but you ought to convert first or the marriage is invalid. And we are often hailed as one of the best examples of 'moderates' in the muslim world--the irony.

    There's a sense of deep sadness when a woman tells you she wishes you were born in her religion, not because she believes literalism of it, not because she is intolerant, but because around her are and the only way she can attain a little bit of peace is by useless wishing. How many beautiful relationships are extinguished like this, or doesn't even take place from fear, I wonder.



    ReplyDelete