Kent Miller has seen it all. Heâ€™s a half-Pakistani Christian whoâ€™s dated both Jewish and Hindu women, and dating outside his religion has never been a problem for him. That doesnâ€™t mean he hasnâ€™t faced problems, however.
â€œThe major obstacle is that many religions teach that theirs is the only true way to believe, which leads to an intolerance to the beliefs of others,â€ says Kent, 30. â€œThe big three religions [Christianity, Islam, and Judaism] are all related. They believe in the same God, yet they are so intolerant of others that Iâ€™m disgusted.â€
Religion was not meant to tear people apart â€“ itâ€™s supposed to give people hope and bring people together. Today, however, many religions tend to do just the opposite. People constantly fight about which is correct and which is incorrect, and in the end, instead of loving each other, we hate each other. Is this what God wanted religion, love, and marriage to do? Unlikely.
Unfortunately, one of the most sensitive and dangerous hotbeds for religious misunderstandings in the world today is South Asia, and Desis bring with them a lot of baggage when entering relationships with people of different religions. What do virtually all second-generation South Asian American twenty-somethings in interfaith relationships have in common? Parents. The biggest obstacle of them all.
As is always the case with South Asians, itâ€™s dangerous to generalize, and so itâ€™s not surprising that people have extremely differing views on the subject of interfaith dating. One Muslim girlâ€™s parents were extremely accepting of their daughterâ€™s decision to marry a Hindu man, while a Jewish boy faced severe parental disapproval over his Hindu girlfriend. But while parents may agree or disagree with their childrenâ€™s actions to varying levels and extremes, the overwhelming consensus is that if an interfaith couple is going to face any obstacles, more often than not, itâ€™s in the form of at least one set of parents.
â€œI think when they come to America, the parentsâ€™ generation is much more identified on the sub-ethnic level, and tend to identify more closely with geographical communities,â€ says Dr. Vagdevi Meunier, a clinical psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin. When their children attend school, however, they are grouped together at a national level, and identify more broadly as South Asians, she says. â€œSo it makes perfect sense that when theyâ€™re thinking about dating, they may not think as stringently about religious and cultural boundaries. But itâ€™s still seen as problematic [by parents] to date across religion.â€
While many interfaith couples claim to be in love, the vast majority agree that they would not go through with a marriage if their parents did not support it. Some choose to fight to win their approval; others just stay together for a while to have their fun, and then mutually agree to go their separate ways. â€œParental expectations or reactions determine whether or not there is a stage two,â€ says Meunier.
When Desis choose to date people of different religions, they most likely go into it knowing fully well what their parents would think if they found out. In most cases, these couples donâ€™t consider the long-term implications of their actions, and arenâ€™t prepared to face the consequences when the relationship really does progress into something serious.
â€œWe didnâ€™t really think about religion when we first met, and we didnâ€™t think it would go where it did,â€ says Hassan Ali, 23, a Muslim college student who dated a Hindu girl for a year. Hassan and his girlfriend agreed that the relationship would never get serious, but things ended up more complicated than that. â€œWe didnâ€™t want it to get too serious, because we knew it wouldnâ€™t go anywhere. It was like we picked a breakup date before we were even official. On paper it sounded good, but unfortunately in real life, it hurt.â€
Not all interfaith relationships have to end badly, however. If you truly love someone and want to share your life with them, then itâ€™s up to you to decide how important your family and communityâ€™s pressure is in relation to your love. â€œWe have to make choices, and if weâ€™re in healthy relationships, which seem so hard to come by, then who cares what the religion is as long as theyâ€™re both good people?â€ asks Timothy Bechtel, 25, a Catholic who is currently dating a Pakistani Muslim. â€œSo in the end, itâ€™s possible. But many things that are possible arenâ€™t easy; it just takes time. Change is always chaotic but worth it in the end.â€ — MARIYAM SUFI