Dr. Zafar Iqbal.
In my stay of about five decades in North America, I have experienced changes in the lifestyle, food habits, and social and cultural practices of immigrants from the Subcontinents. Like most first-generation immigrants, the South Asian populations settling in their newly adopted land worked hard to adhere to the family traditions they brought from their country of birth.
As time passing, our family’s tradition experiences are slackening, and we become more accommodating to the local customs surrounding us. A meaningful change ensues when we become parents; our children born here rightfully consider themselves citizens of this land, bringing local culture and practices home. They grow up with the idea of freedom, land liberty, and individuality. Yet, most first-generation folks work hard to instill their religious and cultural practices in them.
The practical challenge comes when children become of marriageable age. Some Desi (South Asian) parents find it distressing that the kid they raised with all the religious and cultural schooling discarded the tradition and wants to marry someone from the other faith. A significant concern for many parents is what their relatives and friends back home would say.
Most parents realize that they cannot compel their kids to ‘obey,’ and their argument is to lose the kids for good or compromise and live with the differences.
Negotiation begins between parents and the kids. It starts with a “no” to their daughter or son’s conversion to the other faith. After several “Nos,” the parents want the other person (bride or groom) to at least carry the name representing their faith, and they get a final “No.” The wedding couple gets frustrated with their parents and their clergy for the demand to convert. However, it is good to see that the couple stands together in their decision; that is a strong bonding.
Kids grow up together in schools, colleges, and then at the workplace; they meet, study, and go out for dinners, movies, and dances. They spend enough time together and look to each other as friends, and the religious filter does not exist for them. It does not seriously cross their minds about religious differences. They fall in love and want to live together forever, and marriage is the ultimate step in their relationship, and nothing matters to them.
The famous Urdu poet, Mirza Ghalib, had very aptly described falling in love more than a century ago.
ishq par zor nahīñ hai ye vo ātish ‘ġhālib’
Love is not in one’s control, this is that fire rouses
ki lagā.e na lage aur bujhā.e na bane
It cannot be willed to ignite, nor can it be doused
Marriage is a union of two souls who love each other and decide to spend their lives together. A noticeable hurdle that comes when two people of different faith decide to get married is the non-cooperation and sometimes total refusal to accept children’s decisions by parents and religious authorities.
According to a recent poll, pew survey, nearly 40% of the weddings in America are interfaith marriages; whether they are Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, or the other, they marry outside their faith.
Dr. Mike Ghouse, a social scientist and wedding officiant with the Interfaith Marriages Organization, says that “Over the last twelve years, I have seen too many couples miss out on the joy of that sense of completeness which comes with a religious tone in their ceremony or what they have seen as a marriage growing up.”
The Interfaith Marriage Organization offers full service to interfaith, inter-racial, and inter-ethnic couples. They go further and work with the parents, and their goal is to create harmony among the family members.
The website for the organization (http://interfaithmarriages.org/) claims that Dr. Mike Ghouse has officiated religious, secular, and interfaith weddings with Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and others. Since 2010, he has officiated nearly 200 interfaith weddings.
During covid, Ghouse says he has officiated weddings throughout the United States, including Colorado, California, Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Missouri, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington DC.
Ghouse concludes, “If we can learn to respect the otherness of the other and accept the God-given uniqueness of each one of us, then life is a smooth sail. Cultural differences and religious beliefs fade with time, solutions emerge, and life becomes a smooth sail.”
Dr. Zafar Iqbal is a community activist and observant of the ongoing development in the community. He was intrigued by the Interfaith Marriages and authored this article.