Advice: In Love With a Polytheist

Dear Love Inshallah,

I have been dating a man for a few years now and we’ve been discussing marriage. However, he is of a polytheistic faith. Although he is liberal in his practice, he has a strong belief in God. We have not had any problems with faith interrupting our relationship, since we have the same morals and values and we have been blessed to be very compatible and loving towards one another. He is also very active in taking part in my religious activities, since he is quite aware that I am a practicing (semi-liberal) Muslim.

We have agreed on a nikkah (in addition to other South Asian cultural events). He has also agreed to “convert”. This is where the problem starts to occur. He wants to be able to practice both religions, but will always have his way of worship in his heart, even when “practicing” Islam with me. We have also decided that the children will be taught to practice the Islamic faith in our home. Therefore, is there really a point in him taking the shahada? Isn’t it still zina after marriage, since the marriage is not seen as “valid”? And will he be seen as a shirk, which is said to be completely “unforgivable” in Islam?

I have been lucky enough to have had exposure to different religious events (i.e. church services, pujas, etc.) growing up, so I have no problem attending and respecting his family’s customs and beliefs. I know God is the most gracious and merciful, but are we going down the wrong path?

Sincerely,
In Love with a Polytheist

Shy Desi Boy replies:

Sorry for my short response here — in my first column, I indicated that I do not feel comfortable giving religious advice and I still maintain that. The questions you asked — is it zina still after marriage if I marry a polytheist, for example — are questions you have to tackle on your own and if you are so inclined, with an Islamic scholar.

What I enjoy about writing this column is that it gives space, at least I hope, for us to ask — what do we feel about a certain experience/emotion/person? Too often we condense ourselves to a set of rules: Islam says this, so we must do that. I do many things in life because I believe it to be a matter of faith. Sometimes I do things because I want to do them, even though my religion is against it – and sometimes I avoid things I want to do, also for the same reason.

But I also believe that we all have a compass inside us. So my advice is to seek advice from someone other than me and above all, listen to yourself. Yes, this person may be a polytheist but is that all he is?

Is he a kind, gentle person, who will make you happy? When you are stuck at the airport and have to wait seven hours on the floor of the Delta terminal will you care that this person believes in more than one God? Or will it matter more then that this person loves you in a way that is so special you cannot articulate? These are questions no religious scholar can answer. I certainly can’t answer them either. But you can.

I wish you my best.

Miss Sunshine replies:

For believers, interfaith marriages are frought with minefields that must be navigated with great thought and grace. I believe that love is powerful, that it can expand your heart and your capacity to empathize and grow as a human being through almost any challenge, but the process of building love that supports and sustains requires a lot of effort. That effort is even greater when you differ in something that so fundamentally informs your worldview.

As you may know, the consensus of the majority of legal specialists throughout Islamic history has been that marriage to a polytheist is forbidden. If you proceed with this marriage, it will not be recognized by the majority of Muslim legal authorities, or those who adhere to their rulings. Ultimately, your decision is between you and your conscience, but there are consequences beyond the interpretations of legal scholars. You have a lot to consider.

How important is this to your family and community? Are you willing to lose the support of loved ones to be wedded to this man? Do you ever plan on living in a Muslim country? If so, what might be the consequences for how your family is treated? While you may have agreed to your theoretical children practicing Islam at home, they will know that the most important man in their life practices another faith. Will you expect your husband to hide his faith from the children? What if they decide they want to practice his faith? I think you’re placing a heavy burden on him, on yourself, and possibly on your children if you’re not open to the possibility that they may choose, at an age younger than you expect, to reject your faith for his.

The shahada, or bearing witness to the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad, is sacred. If your fiancé bears witness while inwardly holding fast to a faith in other gods, he degrades his own integrity, and mocks the process. It begins your sacred vows to one another with a public lie. I’m sure that you love one another, and you’d like the blessing of your community, but there is no blessing in this kind of deceit. Rather than beginning with a lie, it might be better to have a contract that honors the truth. If you decide to go through with this marriage and you want a ceremony that is like a traditional South Asian Muslim marriage, then write a new contract that details your commitment to one another in spite of your differences.

I hope that Allah (swt), who is indeed most merciful, blesses the two of you with guidance, with love and clarity.

Resource: On Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family by Susan Katz Miller

Two more perspectives from the archives:

A Love InshAllah writer who chose not to enter an interfaith relationship  and one who did.

Have a question for our columnists? Leave an anonymous query, here!


12 Comments on “Advice: In Love With a Polytheist”

  1. perturbed says:

    I am a little disturbed by this response. In India, I know of several Hindu-Muslim marriages including one of a very good friend who prays 5 times a day and has more compassion and intellect and understanding of Islam than most so-called monotheist Muslims. When the Muslim man she was in love with failed to propose to her after years of a relationship, a Hindu man proposed to her within a month after meeting her. They have now been peacefully married for 5 years. In this context, how does one judge or measure love and faith? She saw that Allah had laid out a different path for her. Now they do their best to negotiate what are seemingly two dissimilar and disparate religions. The fluidity of faiths however, is so great in the subcontinent and often yields beautiful expressions of the divine and part of a long tradition of finding ways to create shared religious spaces. Unfortunately, there is not much writing or discussion of this issue and I wish there was because those in interfaith marriages are hardly given any guidance and rather are left to feel exiled or judged from the community and live lives outside of the bounds of the community. Fortunately for my friend, her family and his family have come around and both families are learning something about the ‘other’. And frankly, I’d rather have these marriages ‘in’ our community rather than existing on the margins as pariahs. I wish Miss Sunshine’s response had been less condemnatory and rather had explored the possibilities for an interfaith marriage which is not just an aberration but the growing trend.

  2. rethink says:

    “Seeing something as valid” is based on actions – performative (what you do) and declarative (what you speak). Islam does not hold that a person’s thoughts and feelings are enough to constitute sin. It is not about what is in a person’s heart and mind. We all have thoughts, feelings and beliefs from earlier times in our lives. If what he practices honors you, your family, and God’s creation, then it is good. Period.

  3. Ashley says:

    It is definitely a difficult question to answer. I support Miss Sunshine’s response 100% as it is the truth and you will most likely face them at some point. I also support Desi Boy’s response.

    It is up to you – how far are you willing to go for this person?

    My best friend is a Catholic man and his girlfriend is Muslim (by birth). However, for her, her faith is more culture than religion and her family has accepted it, so it works in their case.

    If you want to practice Islam in your life, and hope that asking this man to convert will make it easier, then you are dreaming, unless you tell your family the truth – “the guy is converting for me so we can have a nikah, which we want to have, so the community does not ostracize me, that is it.” Then it may work..

    It is def. possible to be happily married to someone from a different religion. However, do not be surprised if your children end up being nominal Muslims or most likely no religion. All my friends & family who have had inter-religious marriages, the kids ended up with no religion, which could be fine (depending on who you ask). If you are willing to accept this, then good luck to you both!! I wish you the best.

  4. m says:

    I am not a scholar. But I was in a similar situation, only that the man I loved was a lapsed Christian, who held a more Agnostic-Buddhist worldview, but was also reading about Islam and trying to find out about other faiths, in general. He was the person who really made me believe in God, who explained how each action we take in every day should be a testament to a divine presence. He gave up several things, including alcohol, without me even asking him to, because he felt it would be the right thing to do in respecting my faith. He asked permission even before sitting close to me.

    We discussed conversion but ultimately it came down to this: he didn’t want to convert just on the surface, because it would make a mockery of my faith and our relationship. He was a loving man who my family rejected based on skin colour, but we ultimately couldn’t reconcile our different faiths and we ended it. I was devastated because I had prayed, so much, for guidance on this issue, even before entering into the relationship… and I kept reminding myself, the faith says I cannot marry a man who is not muslim, and yet, I see so many muslim men, some of whom have expressed their interest through the traditional channels, who are, sorry to put it this way, just complete jerks. I’m not comparing – the man I wanted to be with did have flaws. And ironically, because of him, I believe that Allah (swt) has other plans for me that do not involve him, and we are simply where we need to be – maybe his role was to make me realise this, maybe his role was to help me get to a stage in my faith and then to move on from it.

    But it doesn’t stop me from thinking, after the umpteenth time I have to sit through a ‘rishta’ and the guy says he doesn’t want a hijabi, or another one who doesn’t approve of a woman who works outside the home (I work at a university) or another who says I need to accept to accept that he might occasionally drink… I wanted a man who respected me, for me. and I had that. And maybe, just maybe, in trying to follow my faith according to the conventional understanding, I might have overlooked a great blessing.

  5. This is a pretty serious and sensitive question – obviously – especially considering that polytheism (belief in more than one deity, or any deity other than Allah/ God) is the very antithesis of Islam, and in fact the greatest sin described in the Qur’an, the unforgivable sin, as it were, is shirk.

    This is not said to condemn you or your loved one to Hell, but merely laying out the facts.

    Love between a Muslim and a polytheist is nothing strange to Islamic history; the eldest daughter of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was married to, and deeply in love with, a polytheist. However, her choice was to follow Allah’s Command to leave the man she loved most in the world, for the Sake of the One Whom she loved more than even the world. (See: http://thesalafifeminist.blogspot.com/2013/06/love-in-time-of-quraysh.html)

    What you want to do is up to you, and I certainly won’t tell you what or what not to do. However, do ask yourself some questions: do you believe that obeying Allah’s explicit commands is important or even necessary? If so, does your love of God and pleasing Him mean more than love of something (or someone) finite?

    My answer may come off as one of those traditionally judgmental, unpleasant, “you’re doomed to hell” responses that most people expect from conservative/ orthodox Muslims, but again – I’m merely laying out what the Qur’an says, very clearly. It is up to you to decide what you hold more dear to your heart.

  6. Anisa says:

    I really appreciate this post, as well as the responses and comments to it. As a young Muslim woman who is in a relationship with someone who was raised Christian but is no longer practicing, I am so often second-guessing my decisions and worrying about what the future may hold. We would like to get married eventually, and leading up to that I go through periods where I feel really great and confident, and other times where I feel less sure of myself and wondering if we are really making good decisions for ourselves. But above all, the most important thing is to know what’s in your heart and what’s right for you. At the end of the day you will know who you are and what you want, and no one else can really make that decision. So trust yourself🙂

  7. LilBabyTiger says:

    Hi there,

    I wanted to offer my two cents as a Muslim woman who is now married to someone who was raised Catholic and also took the Shahada. I somewhat agree with the answers/responses above, but offer this additional insight:

    1) Religion (and God) is complex. It’s not simple, and not black and white. His reasons for taking the Shahada are not for anyone to judge, and while I understand the ownership you are taking, it is ultimately out of your hands. Everyone, including your own children, will have to negotiate their own relationship to God. Even “born” Muslims have to find their path to their faith.

    2) Every Muslim I know has their own unique way of practicing Islam. However your partner decides to participate (or not) has no bearing on their relationship to Islam. There are Muslims who follow all the commandments, and there are Muslims that follow none. A majority of Muslims fall somewhere in the middle. I strongly believe in Allah’s compassion and kindness and that is what has allowed me to be Muslim in a way that made sense to me.

    3) You will always have community. I can’t speak to your family, although mine did come around. But in our 4-year process to get married, I found incredible people who became my community. Some of them are like me, Muslim women who have found love outside their faith, while others have struggled with reconciling their religion and their sense of self. Find those people, because they exist. Befriend them and share stories and know that you are not alone!

    4) Lastly, talk a lot and learn a lot about his practices. With my husband, having a Christmas tree was the biggest deal in the world. I really didn’t want one, and I didn’t understand his need for one. But when I figured out that the tree has nothing to do with Jesus/Isa, and that for him, having a tree is more of a tradition and a family practice, I relaxed. It was merely a symbol of his cherished childhood, not an affront to his faith or mine. It will take time and tons of conversation. You will not understand a lot of things, and you will be frustrated. There is immense amounts of negotiations and patience required. But there is also a whole world of wisdom and knowledge that you will uncover. So talk about his practices with him, and talk to the people who know you best about why/how you feel about his practices.

    Sending you lots of love and support!

  8. habeeb says:

    I must congratulate you that you have taken your faith as seriously as your love life and is trying your best to please God. The marraige is valid as the condition of consent is the most essential pillar of nikah. Difference of faith is acceptable. The verse of the Quran that is often quoted is in regards of Muslim women being forced to leave Islam by their Quraish husbands. Interfaith Marriages reinforces ones faith instead instead and I’m a child of one. This is a fact.
    Children are introduced to each other’s faith and they choose later their path. Parents are not responsible for what their children do after puberty once they have taught them their faith.
    Love is a piece of work and faith is a test from God. You will be judged by God only and your family and community will also judge you but by your good works and success in building a family eventually they will embrace you.
    Good luck.

    A person will be with the one they love- Hadith

    my book Intimacy and the Sacred touches on this. on amazon.com

    http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000463374/Intimacy-and-the-Sacred.aspx

  9. Your marriage with the person mentioned, will remain invalid, as long as he keeps his belief “idol-worship” in his heart or mind or by way of action, even if its an iota involved and accepts half-heartedly to undergo “nikah” ceremony, unless he sincerely out of his own will submits and accepts that Allah is the Master, Creator & Sustainer of Universes. Of course, choice is yours, but don’t blame Allah the most High, for own wrongdoings, when things backfire. Once you marry him, there are no exit doors. Devils of Pooja, Mangalsutra, bindis, burning of bodies, casteism, apostasy aka exiting Islam, Indian Muslimophobia etc. are calling you. The ball is in your court.

    @ perturbed, the comment relating to your “Muslim” lady friend, marrying a “stone-worshipper” bypassing a believing Muslim, just because he did not proposed, is an insult and mockery of the Supreme law. If she really loved him, what’s wrong if she moved forward towards the proposal, but rather got carried away by a filthy wind, blowing in order to destroy our own selves.

    Apologies if the statements pricks anybody.

    A small tidbit from one of the finest Indian Magazine website.

    http://www.youngmuslimdigest.com/editorial/03/2007/exam-time-dropping-time

    “Then, one of those days he vomits in the bed after a company-hosted party. She is stunned and lying awake after changing the linen, staring at the ceiling, broods a long while – over the past, over the present. Living on together, with daily demands of compromise (over values, cultural norms, moral principles, and so on), proves as intellectually tortuous as living with one of those dropouts would have been. The children are no less torn: are they Muslim or Hindu? The crisis of identity will haunt them throughout life. She is asked questions but she has no satisfactory answers to give her loved ones. But the most painful moment comes when her children feel that perhaps she is not fully honest with them. A wall goes up, a shutter is brought down. Now it is that she begins to understand why a disturbing anxiety had occupied her heart from the day she had married the man bestowed with such fine materialistic qualities.

    But she is wrong. She does not know the nature of this feeling of anxiety. She does not realize that the real reason is the accommodation of shirk with tawheed in her heart and mind. Deep in heart she knows she abandoned her God at the time of her full intellectual maturity. Yes, there is good ground for her children to have drawn shutters against her. Yes, they are right in suspecting that she is not fully honest with them. She is now lonely and will remain so until she is burned on the pier. True, jogging in shorts with her non-Muslim husband in a park is some pleasure; but the pleasure of Taraweeh Prayers in the mosque after the day’s fast, was another thing. Spiritually, she is now a ball of wool. If she has a wet eye, it is not from smoke. It is from the realization that she might miss the appointment with Muhammad at the Spring.”

    • kaathe says:

      Ugh. This is why we can’t have nice things..
      This venom and hatespilling, namecalling, prejudging, oversimplifying, thinking that your interpretation of Islam(and it is one, how ever well you can quote stuff to support your ideas-because other people can too) is problematic and really rude. To call a person filthy and suggest that contact to polytheists is enough to ‘taint'(another badword) says alot about your Idea of a human being-which is really sad.If you had used your words nicer-not comparing other people, humans to dirt and disease than it would be just arrogant-now its arrogant and extremely unfriendly and awful. ‘the best words’ and ‘in the best way’ are not your style, ay?

      • @kaathe, The Prophet (pbuh), mercy of the mankind, struggled his entire life against idol-worship of his own people, yet did he hate them, even after several attempts on his own lives? No, it was very act of stone-worship he despised including every Prophets. Oh, were my post full of venom, hatespilling, namecalling, prejudging and so on? Really! Gosh, out of a just one word namely “filthy wind” implying the lady’s overdrive, you made a mountain of lies and holes, of course. Moreover, do you have several interpretations for everything? My words are to the point, like it or not. I am answerable to the almighty for what i post here and everywhere.

  10. JC says:

    This is about competing love. The love of one’s God, and the love of a person, a creation of God. Remember that Allah (swt) is the Creator, the beginning, the end, the judge, the love, the mercy, the wrathful, the compassionate, the giver. Although I didn’t think I’d ever agree with someone with “salafi” in their name, I suggest you really think about who you love more, and why.

    This life, and EVERYTHING in it, is a test for us. Allah (swt) alone is who we should love completely and above everything and everyone else. If we know that it displeases our one true Love to love someone who believes in multiple deities, then, to maintain our loving relationship with God we should avoid loving that polytheist. Why? because, as Shydesiboy describes, that time you may spend with your ‘husband’ in the Delta airlines terminal will COME AND GO, but after we have died, and we are Judged by the Ultimate Judge, we will spend ETERNITY living with the outcome of our decisions on this earth. If we truly believe in the Lord, His message, His heaven, His hellfire, then our goal should always be success in paradise. That will last FOREVER. Your relationship with this man, which will last, what 20, 30, 50, maybe 60 years tops, will be a blink of an eye compared to the endless life of the hereafter. The question you must ultimately ask in your heart is whether spending a very short life with a person who doesn’t share your belief in the One God – the very basic concept of this religion – is worth having to deal with the consequences of that short life in the endless hereafter. If you conclude it is worth it, then, you need to examine your own faith. If you conclude that it is not worth it, then the decision becomes easier.

    Keep in mind that, as I mentioned, everything in this life is a test – this is no exception. Your actions will dictate your fate in the hereafter, and only YOU are responsible for it.

    By the way, I don’t think this question should have been sent to this website in the first place. There is no one here, myself included, who is qualified to give you a clear answer in terms of the Islamic jurisprudence and legal issues. But it sounds like you do really need to examine your own commitment to your Creator.