Judaism – Traditional or Orthodox Judaism does not support interfaith marriages. With time, the evolution of Conservative Judaism was more accommodating of gentile spouses in the hope that they could be converted into the faith. While modern-day liberal Rabbis are willing to officiate at interfaith marriages, the couples are often persuaded to raise Jewish children.
Islam – Islamic women are not allowed to marry outside the faith. The men are often granted permission to wed non-Islamic partners but conversion is often a pre-condition. Also, it is mandatory that the children be raised to be Muslims.
Christianity – Different denominations of Christianity practice their own set of rules and dictates for interfaith marriages, Catholocism being the denomination with the most pre conditions. In recent times, Christianity has grown liberal towards interfaith unions.
Zoroastrianism – The Zoroastrian faith is quite rigid in disallowing interfaith marriages. Followers of Zoroastrianism who marry outside the faith risk being expelled from all religious services and rites. Often their children are also not allowed to participate in religious activities.
Hinduism – Traditional Hinduism does not allow for religious conversion. In theory, non-Hindu spouses are welcome since religion is only considered as a means to understanding the Divine truth. In practice, however, Hindus are often orthodox and rigid and interfaith marriages are prohibited
In Buddhism, marriage is regarded as entirely a personal, individual concern and not as a religious duty. -Ven K.SriDhammananda Maha Thera
Baha'i Religion – The Baha'i faith is quite welcoming of a non-Baha'i partner. The Baha'i ceremony to sanctify the wedding must be performed. The other religious ceremony may or may not be performed in this case.
When young people are in love they are willing to go to any lengths and make many sacrifices so that they can be married. Once this is achieved and the first flush of love begins to dissipate and reality of marriage and working towards a successful marriage begins, this is when frustrations set in. When one partner begins to resent the fact that he/she had to give up their deep seated religious beliefs for 'love', unnecessary tension and misunderstandings can occur.
This becomes an added tension after the first flush of romance wanes and a period of boredom in marriage settles in, there will be quarrels. And normally, one of the main causes of these quarrels will be the question of which religion the children should belong to. Therefore, it is most important for one to know that if there is a process of conversion involved, it must be based on true conviction and not mere convenience or compulsion. I think that part of the solution is to give up on any infatuation for a minute before marriage, and REALLY talk it out beforehand, especially before children.
Although there is a trend where these types of marriages are becoming more commonplace, it is not necessarily wise. Each individual marriage is unique, but stats indicate the divorce rate is three times as high, although personally, I think it can happen in any marriage and not necessarily in a mixed one. Let us look at the chief areas of concern in a mixed marriage. Some major issues faced by interfaith couples –
Ceremony – The wedding itself requires much thought. Civil ceremonies are preferred. Often couples choose to add features or clergymen or spiritual leaders from both religions.
Ostracism – More common in the eastern part of the world is social or religious ostracism. Interfaith marriages could cost one or both partners their families, friends, and even jobs.
Belief In God – 'Which God to believe/worship?' is an important issue interfaith couples grapple with. The more liberal minded people within their faiths are more likely to succeed. (If the definition of success is staying together harmoniously) The problems occur when an individual is or gets very religious, and then becomes quite adamant about it.
Church/Religious Attendance – Keeping the faith becomes a bone of contention often. Attendance becomes an issue especially when one partner is an atheist or practices no faith.
Faith of the Children – One of the most important issues of contention among interfaith couples is the faith in which their children will be raised. Most families work things out, peacefully deciding on one religion, both or neither.
Divorce – While some religions such as Roman Catholicism forbid divorce, other religions are far more liberal in this respect.
Young couples are increasingly turning towards non-marital cohabitation as a solution, preferring to live together without marriage to entering interfaith marriages.
Interfaith marriage is not the only type of marriage that is frowned upon. In the case of a particular sect; it was declared, "How mixed-race marriages are not allowed. How a black woman should not marry a white man and vice versa. And a Hispanic should not marry an Asian, Asians should not marry people with olive skin, & just about every other "mix" you can think of", and the reasoning was "that we need to keep the blood lines "clean".
With mostly interfaith and cultural differences in mind, I interviewed 3 couples, who are in a mixed marriage. Their stories are below:
Ashani who is a Sinhala Buddhist met Sunil who is a Sindi Hindu, right after she arrived back home from the US. She was 26 and he was 29. They met through mutual friends in the party circuit- She was seeing someone at that time, and initially did not have any interest in Sunil. They started seriously seeing each other 6 months after they met.
When asked if she thought she would have ever considered marrying someone from a different faith, she said that she never considered that an issue. It was not that she was looking out to marry someone from a different faith, but it didn't matter to her and neither did it cross her mind while she was dating. Ashani's upbringing and exposure was such, race, religion, culture, class of a person was not something she looked specifically at, as long as that person had good moral values and ideals similar to hers.
As for how supportive friends and family were when they decided to get married, she said that friends were supportive, but it would not have mattered to them if they were or were not. With regard to parental approval, Ashani came from a fairly liberal background, having lived abroad for many years and moving freely with people of different religons and backgrounds. Although initially she had a long lecture from her father about the pros and cons of a mixed marriage, and having stated that he would have been happier if she had chosen a Sinhalese, as this would make things less complicated for her, his chief concern was her happiness and well being on the long run. He did ask her if she was completely sure, and gave her time to think over it, before he gave his consent and blessings.
As in Sunil's case, he came from a very close knit Sindi family. His mother was hoping to propose a bride for him from India, from the same religion and background as them. She was not at all happy with the idea of her son marrying not only out of the religion, but out of the community itself. This disapproval resulted in them dating for 4 years before his parents realized they were going nowhere with this. His father finally relented and said he may choose as he pleases. His mother had reservations, but relented after the death of Sunil's father and gave her consent, albeit not too happily!
They finally married when she was 30 and he 33. They had a Poruwa ceremony first, followed immediately by a Sindi ceremony, to appease both sides of the family, which ended with the signing of the marriage certificate with the registrar.
They have now been married for 12 years and have two children. In the case of deciding before marriage about having kids, regarding what faith their children would follow, Ashani says that she and Sunil had not discussed this beforehand, that this was never an issue and they had pretty much decided they would deal with it when they had kids. It was only after they had the children they decided on which faith the children would follow. Sunil was pretty much ok with the idea of the children following Buddhism, as he was not too religious and he was not there to personally look into the children's religious education, and also because it was not easy getting used to their customs which was steeped in religion. He left Ashani to rear the children as Buddhists, as they found this more flexible. Despite this decision, both children do attend Sindi temple and religious and festive functions with their father (which Ashani attends too) but they do not impose religion on the children.
They attend the Buddhist temple once a month and say their prayers every night, which she thinks is a very balanced approach without getting too extreme. Although, initially Sunil's mother was not too thrilled with this, and tried to interfere many times, and his extended family too were a bit aloof, when they saw that Sunil was fine with this arrangement they backed off. As for Ashani's mum, she still does try to impose Buddhism on the children, and has tried many times to convince her to send them to Dhamma School. If either child decided to change from Buddhism to Hinduism at a later stage, both parents have decided that they would not oppose this and let the child decide.
On being asked if either of them would have an issue if either child decided to marry out of their religion or community, Ashani responded with a firm no, that she would not mind as long as it was a good person. As for Sunil, he would prefer if they were Sri Lankan, but would not oppose if they chose otherwise. That would be entirely up to them, and that they would respect their decision and wishes.
In hindsight was it all worth it? Of course she says, it was not a total uphill battle, and she could have not made a better choice (though she does wish she had travelled more before marriage as Sunil hates travelling) Although like all marriages they have their arguments and disagreements, she feels it is no different to what any other couple would have. Although she does find that with age Sunil is becoming more religious and more involved in his community, and this seems a bit worrying for her as she does not know if this could lead to disagreements between them later on, but she is sure that they can handle this as long as they understand and respect each other.
Her advice to those considering a mixed marriage is to really get to know the person and family beforehand. If you are not ready, do not rush into it as it is not easy, and just like in all marriages and relationships you have to make certain compromises. Especially, if there is a wide gap in your religious and cultural beliefs and affiliations. Ashani does not see any huge difference between a mixed marriage and same religion/culture marriage. You have the same ups and downs. If at all in a mixed marriage you end up appreciating and respecting another religion/culture, and also have to practice more tolerance. Still the 1st year is pretty tough, when in most cases you have to adapt to another person, way of living and new relatives, but here you have to adapt to a whole new religion and culture which at first may seem very alien to you.
Saba and Arjuna met in university in the UK when she was 18 and he 20. She was a Muslim from India and he a Sri Lankan Buddhist. They were both more concerned about their studies and career, to think of marriage, let alone marriage to a person from a different religion, least of all some one from a totally different country and culture. This was not on top of their agenda, but subconsciously she would have preferred to marry a Muslim – ideally.
Parents were initially very reserved about giving their approval when they did decide to marry. Her mother was not at all happy, and not sure because not only did they have a different religion, but they were from two different countries! They had no clue about Arjuna's family or background which caused some fear (of the unknown) and her mum was not happy that he was not a Muslim, as she would have preferred it if he was. As for her father, he was more understanding. He talked her through the pros and cons of a mixed marriage where not only religion, but different countries and cultures were involved. He also insisted on meeting Arjuna's parents before giving his approval.
In the case of Arjuna's parents his father was not too worried, but his mother had reservations, especially as she belonged to a high class Kandyan Buddhist family. She identified Muslims as being conservative and as such she had no idea what to expect from this union, and due to this did not approve.
As for friends, majority of friends did not have any issue whatsoever, in some cases they acted as chaperones with their main issue being showing support to the couple when Parents disapproved. Still even if they did disapprove it would have not mattered to them. In fact one of her friends refused to support them at all and to date still refuses to speak to Arjuna.
Saba had a time convincing both her parents to their marriage. She had to wait it out, and literally had a stand off before parents realized that she was not going to change her mind and resigned themselves to her decision to marry out of the community. Their only consolation being the fact that Arjuna was willing to convert, although it was in name only. As for Arjuna, after getting over the initial reservations, his parents were pretty cool with his decision. They were finally married 6 years after their 'being a couple' and have been together 23 years (0f which 17 years they have been married for)
They did not initially think it was going to be an issue in choosing a religion for their children. It was only after marriage and the kids came along that they realized it was a 'big deal'. They both decided that as she was a person who is more religious and practiced her faith, the children would follow her. Arjuna had no issue with this, as he was not particular in his religious practice. If their family, friends or society had an issue with this, it did not worry them. Saba's in laws were not too thrilled with the arrangement to bring up the children as Muslims.
Despite it being an uphill battle initially, which is the case in any marriage be of mixed religion/race or otherwise, they reckon they would not change anything and would do it all over again! Saba says they were meant to be together and as such they worked through the issues and it worked out well. The only regret Saba has is the fact that she caused so much pain for her parents over this, but its all good now, especially as her Parents and family adore Arjuna (sometimes to a degree where she has to remind them that she is their daughter, and he the son in law!!)
In the case of Saba, one of the main sources of contention with regards to the cons of a mixed marriage is cricket!! When there is an India Vs. Sri Lanka match, things can get pretty tense!! Humour aside, settling in a different country and getting used to a different people, culture and tradition was tough. Also being unable to share your religious and family traditions and festivals was a bit difficult initially as well. Otherwise, a mixed marriage, she says, makes you more accepting and understanding as a person; her issues was based more on the fact that they were from two different countries and cultures. She thinks it is easier to marry someone from the same religion as there can be a lot less stress and drama at the initial stages, but then again this cannot be fully assured even if you marry within your religion and community. In any marriage you have to be pretty sure about your decision....still nothing is 100% assured. It all depends on how hard you are willing to work on your marriage, and not giving up on each other too easily
Couple C, was from the shanties of Kelaniya. Lakshmi and Mohamed first met in school at the age of 15 and 16. They said their attraction from the beginning was very strong. She was from a practicing Hindu family and he came from a devout Muslim background. Although they knew from the very outset that opposition from both families to their union would be strong, they could not deny what they felt for each other and pursued each other like the proverbial star crossed lovers that they identified themselves with, from watching Hindi movies.
Neither of them ever thought they would ever marry out of their respective religion. Still, the intensity was such that with lots of help from friends and some family, they were married within two years. She was 18 and he 20.
Although Mohamed's family was initially against the whole idea of him marrying Lakshmi; they finally came round on seeing that he was serious and would not change his mind. Their only condition being that she converts to Islam and to practice Islam along with any children they may have in the future. In Lakshmi's case it was a lot harder, as her parents point blank refused to accept her marriage to Mohamed. There were a lot of threats, and her mother even hit her, locked her up in a room when she could not talk Lakshmi out of it. After much opposition her Parents gave in due to the fact that they were already in financially constrained circumstances, and they also had two other daughters to think of. They also feared that if they continued to refuse, Lakshmi would elope, and so very reluctantly gave their blessings to the union.
They have now been married for the past 11 years. Lakshmi having converted from Hinduism to Islam and taken the name of Fathima. She is a practicing Muslim and proudly states that she has been observing the month of Ramadan by fasting from the very beginning, and says her five times prayers at the appointed times. They have a daughter aged 10, whom they are bringing up in Islam.
Because she converted, she has no problem in the upbringing of her daughter. She states that she would insist that her daughter too married a Muslim; despite all the trouble she had to go through initially.
She also states if you are from the same religion, things are a lot easier, but still there is no guarantee. They were fortunate enough to have friends, family and community who rallied around them. She too was extremely 'bullheaded' in her stubbornness that she would marry Mohamed and no other, and he was the same. They have both stated that their perseverance and insistence was fully worth it, especially as they can see how both the families have come around now and are supportive and respect them and their decision.
On being asked if more people should marry from a different religion/culture, they both shrugged and said whatever that works for a person. They said they were lucky (they do have arguments), but you had to be completely sure. When asked how can you be completely sure, they replied- "You can't".
I went for these interviews expecting lots of controversy and drama, but was pleasantly surprised to find out despite the initial opposition and "turbulence", things had somehow worked out for them. This is not true for all cases, as can be seen by the marriages of a Sri Lankan Hindu male married to a European Christian female ending in divorce. Two Sri Lankans ... one getting very involved in the religion ...while the other not so much, ending in divorce. So each situation is incredibly different.
I cannot end this without broaching on the subject of famous celebrity interfaith marriages, of which some are listed below:
• Katie Holmes (Catholic) and Tom Cruise (Scientologist)
• Sasha Baron Cohen (Jewish) and Isla Fisher (No faith)
• Katy Perry (Evangelical Christian) and Russell Brand (Atheist)
• Chelsea Clinton (Methodist) and Marc Mezvinsky (Jewish)
• Tony Blair (Anglican) and Cherie Blair (Catholicism)
• Courtney Cox (Christian) and David Arquette (Jewish)
• Liz Hurley (Church of England) and Arun Nayar (Hindu)
• Iman (Muslim) and David Bowie (Agnostic)
• Ivanka Trump (Christian) and Jared Kushner (Jewish)
• Kyra Sedgwick (Jewish) and Kevin Bacon (Catholic)
• Shawn King (Mormon) and Larry King (Jewish)
• Rita Wilson (Greek Orthodox) and Tom Hanks (Christian)
Barring the marriage of Katie Holmes to Tom Cruise, where religion was a major issue for their divorce, majority of the others are still very much together, or have split due to more personal reasons, and not necessarily due to the fact that they were from different faiths, race or cultures.
I think Malcolm X said it best in his autobiography "I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being - neither white, black, brown, or red; and when you are dealing with humanity as one family, there's no question of integration or intermarriage. It's just one human being marrying another human being or one human being living around and with another human being."