For a long time, Muslim men married women of the book–Jews, Christians, and Muslims (Abrahamic), while Muslim women rarely married outside Islam. Likewise, Hindus married only within their faith or sometimes to others from the Dharmic (Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh) traditions. These norms are changing; American Muslim women are marrying non-Muslim men.
In America today, according to the Pew and Dr. Amin’s surveys (38% Hindu, 45% Muslim), about 40% of Hindus, Muslims and others marry interfaith. This trend is gaining momentum. This article is written to promote pluralism and equality in Hindu-Muslim marriages in America.
The increased interfaith marriages are due to globalization and the secularization of societies. Today’s young Hindus and Muslims who grew up as minorities in American schools or at the workplace are continually exposed to each other spend time together studying, dining, and working, and sometimes falling in love.
Initially, faith is not a consideration in their relationship, but it becomes an issue when the couple decides to get married. Lovers have no filters, but parents and societies do. Parents are not at fault either; they cannot fathom the relationship because they grew up in closed-minded societies with historical conflicts between Hindus and Muslims.
It is said that if God did not want a Muslim-Hindu marriage, it would have been said in the Quran or Geeta. God does not make mistakes; instead, he empowers us to figure out our own equilibrium. Further, the Quran calls there is no compulsion in matters of faith. [Quran 2:256]
“And among His signs is that He created mates for you from among yourselves (it could mean a Muslim as well a Hindu) so that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed love and compassion between you. In these are signs for people who reflect.” [Quran 30:21]
Indeed, the Quran is a universal book of guidance for Muslims; it does not say God puts love between two Muslims but two humans as if He has installed magnetic attraction between two individuals that bring them together. Therefore, there is no reason to believe the Quran will restrict the marriage of a Muslim to a Hindu (where “Hindu” should mean the person will remain the same after the marriage and till death). India’s renowned poet Ghalib writes that love happens; no one starts out saying I want to love this person. There is no reason or rhyme for falling in love.
Fundamental religious beliefs between Islam and other faiths (read 1, 2) could certainly bring complexities to many interfaith couples. Most Islamic communities believe that a marriage must be “accepted” by Allah. For this reason, a Muslim would expect the non-Muslim spouse to convert to Islam before an Islamic wedding ceremony, the Nikah. This practice (expectation of conversion of the non-Muslim spouse for Nikah) can be challenged based on today’s pluralistic worldview.
The same can be said for orthodox Christian or Catholic communities for asking for conversion prior to a church wedding. A Hindu may not ask the Muslim intended spouse to convert to Hinduism but will certainly want him or her to follow certain Hindu practices.
It is also important to understand Quran 2:221, “Do not marry women who associate others with Allah (polytheists, idolaters), until they believe in Allah. A believing bonded woman is better than a woman who associates others with Allah, even if she pleases you. Do not marry men who associate others with Allah until they believe in Allah. A believing bonded man is better than a man who associates others with Allah, even if he pleases you…”
This verse is cited to compel conversion before marriage, but it simply says that compatibility is the key to the success of any marriage. God loves harmony among his creation, particularly the married couples. In the above verse, the wisdom of the Quran emphasizes compatibility and suggests marrying a person who is on the same wavelength as you are, rather than a person with a conflicting belief.
We need to understand the essence of God’s wisdom rather than the literal text (for example, Allah and Ishvar), as the words do expand and shrink in meaning. Everyone is a believer, whether you are a Muslim, Pagan or Hindu, as far you do believe in accountability of your karma (or action). Even atheists have their beliefs. Atheists of today are responsible and accountable for their actions, sometimes more than some religious people.
In Islam, there is a prohibition on the marriage of Muslims to polytheists or idolatresses. However, Hindus are not polytheists nor idol-worshipers. They have the liberty to express the God by many names and forms, as is clearly expressed in Rig Veda; as Ekam sat, vipra bahudha vadanti (there is only one Truth, but expressed in various ways). The forms and names are options available to a Hindu but are not mandatory. A practicing Hindu may not use any form or name of God while meditating but may want to use an iconic representation of God (murti) during pooja (worship).
The authors will leave interpretations of scriptural statements to the couple in love.
Pluralism in Interfaith Marriage
In today’s pluralistic and secular society, especially in America, religion is increasingly becoming personal in nature and applicable to the believers of that faith. However, a Hindu-Muslim couple will find resistance from parents and communities for the way they may wish to run their married life or raise children.
In the past, every Hindu or Muslim society preferred their daughters to marry within the faith, believing that it would prevent divorce and the risk of their daughters returning to their homes. These rules were framed when women did not work and depended on their parents or husbands for sustenance in the South Asian societies. But today in America, most women are independent and take care of themselves and probably will not be a “burden” to their parents.
People are conditioned to think in binary terms – Halal or Haram, Zero and One, Day and Night, Black and White, and they are comfortable with it. No tradition wants to lose a member of their culture to the other, whether you are a Hindu or Muslim. For these reasons, these two societies will not allow a Hindu-Muslim couple to marry without hassle.
In conservative Muslim countries, an imam may not perform the Islamic Nikah without conversion (Shahadah) of the Hindu party, however, in America, a progressive Imam would perform Islamic Nikah without conversion of the Hindu party. To avert the marital gridlock, sometimes a Hindu may fake-convert. Young adults should understand that any religious commitment for marriage is not a hollow ritual. It has deep meaning and consequences. Fake conversion could also have legal consequences, especially during child-custody battles during a potential divorce proceeding. Instead of a fake conversion, it is better to be truthful and honest (truthfulness is emphasized over 75 times in the Quran, it is one of the central values of Islam), especially when other options are available, meaning a “Hindu” can marry a Muslim without conversion.
If a Hindu-Muslim couple manages to have an in-depth conversation with their parents as adults, or seek guidance from an interfaith Marriage officiant, or a marriage counselor, others may come together to support the couple. Invariably, even if the parents are reluctant initially, they will come together when they have their grandchildren. America brings positive changes to every American, especially when there is an intention to share and respect equality from both sides.
God is within us. He is “closer to us than our jugular veins” (Quran 50:16), meaning He is aware of what goes on with us. No one in the family or workplace would ever question the rituals you follow on the toilet seat. Why should they question how you pray? America is a land of liberty and freedom. The Hindu-Muslim couple can always think outside the box. Parents, too, may ultimately come to accept when they see that their children are happy. Happiness is indeed the bottom line for all parents.
Getting married is only the start of a long-married life journey. Further, in all practical sense, marriage is not only a marriage of two individuals but, to a large extent, an alliance of two extended families and cultures. If Hindu and Muslim parents and close families are at odds or cannot stand each other in one room for two hours, that will inevitably bring major problems in a couple’s life later.
A couple’s happiness is based on how they manage their married life affairs. Lack of communication is one of the reasons for divorce. There are many additional difficulties the Hindu-Muslim couple can expect to face.
Coming now to the logistics, a Hindu-Muslim couple must pay attention to many unique aspects. A partial list is given below. Many of the points below are binary, thus leaving a limited room for “both ways” or “a middle way” as wished by pluralists or seculars.
- How will you get married? Will it be is Islamic Nikah, Hindu Vivaha, civil wedding, or an interfaith wedding with both traditions giving fullness to their relationship?
- Does the Hindu party have to take Shahadah (conversion) before Nikah? Will the Muslim party also formally convert to Hinduism for Vivaha?
- Will Hindu party be asked to accept a new Islamic name?
- Will there be any expectation of change in the dress code (hijab, sari or bindi)?
- Will there be any restriction against performing namaz or pooja in the home or for displaying a photo of Kaaba or murti of Lord Ganesh in the living room?
- What will be names of children, will that be Muslim, Hindu, or none of these?
- Will children have circumcision (sunnat)?
- How will children be raised? What religion would they follow? Will that be only one faith, both faiths or none?
- Will children visit both, only one or none of two religious institutions?
- Will your children be taught from the Quran and Geeta, only one or none?
- Will children celebrate both religious holidays, from only one faith or none?
- Will your family eat a meat-based or vegetarian-only diet?
- Will there be any restriction on alcoholic beverages in the home?
- Would you visit and donate to both, only one or none of two religious’ institutions?
- How would you insulate your spouse from your parents when necessary?
- When societies look down upon you, how will you manage outsiders?
- When you visit relatives in an Islamic country, that country may not approve your non-Islamic wedding or a Muslim-Hindu marriage and may decline the visa. How will you manage such legal issues, including those related to inheritance?
- Will you or your children be buried Islamic way or cremated as per Hindu rites? Sorry, both or none are not an option here!
Two bolded items, children’s name and their religion are the most important points on this list.
On many of the above points, a true pluralistic couple will decide to do both ways; for example, to teach children from Geeta and Quran. An exclusivist supremacist person will impose his or her religious ideology on their spouse and will propose to settle for only one of two or three ways. Those couples not ready to face reality now may opt for neither of two religious options. It is ultimately the couple’s choice how to run their private life.
How many of these above decisions are made to please one party over the other? Is there a good equality and consideration from both parties? If the couple cannot find any agreement on any of the above points, it is good to pause and reexamine their commitment to interfaith marriage.
Even in the best of marriages, the spouse’s religious beliefs and commitment and acceptance by parents can bring conflicts during married life. The strength of one’s religious beliefs evolves over the years as one approaches marriageable age, more when the couple reaches the parental stage and even more so when they reach the retirement age. It is hoped that all young Hindu-Muslim couples contemplating marriage will find this article helpful in thinking through the additional complexities due to religion.
Pluralism is respecting the otherness of the other, including faith, political belief, and the culture of others. It is about admiring the goodness in others without asking them to be your copycat. Islam (read 1, 2) and Hinduism are fundamentally pluralistic faiths. If the couple is truly a pluralist and believes in equality of two faiths, a successful and ever-lasting Hindu-Muslim married life is possible.