When the news of the death sentence that was given to Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag seemed to not only shock some parts of the world and anger many human rights groups, it also raised a very valid question; can interfaith relationships truly work?
For so long, certain religions have not allowed their followers to partake in relationships outside of their respective religions. For example Muslim women are not allowed to marry outside of their religion. This is the same with Judaism, which in traditional or orthodox practice, does not allow for interfaith relationships or marriages. There are small loopholes and exceptions to this rule. For example, in the Islamic religion, there is an allowance for Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women under the precondition of conversion and an Islamic upbringing of any children. However it is still frowned upon and not advocated. Yet, over the past decade, these kinds of relationships have become more popular and there are statistically more of them. For example, in the USA, 45 percent of marriages in the past decade have involved either two religions or Christian doctrines that clash seriously. In the UK, the last census showed that more than four percent of married Muslims were in an interfaith marriage. This shows a huge increase in interfaith relationships, but also shows that modern values are starting to creep into the traditional religious values.
There is the age-old argument which is that you can’t help who you fall in love with. However, such traditional religions will try and, to use a slightly less stringent term, point you in the direction of who to fall in love with. In traditional states which only practice one main religion, this is fairly simple, and you are surrounded by others who share the same core values and beliefs as you. However, in the western world where there is a bigger mixture of religions, and therefore, people are more exposed to mixing with different religions and perhaps even falling in love with those from different faiths. Traditional core values can then become slightly more integrated within such a society, and perhaps the traditional values that one has been brought up to practice can become forgotten in an environment that is constantly changing and becoming more integrated and accepting of different religions and cultures. It can then become easier to fall for someone who you like, not just who fits your religion.
Yet, what must be kept in mind is the political and religious consequences and possible fallout that can occur from such relationships. Firstly, there is unfortunately still the fallout from 9/11 and then four years later the 7/7 bombings in London. Of course, what happened was nothing short of horrific and it can be safely assumed that ninety-five percent of the Islamic community would agree. However, there can be seen to still be some sort of pre-judgement and caution that can come from some aspects of society towards the Islamic community. Whilst this is sad, it still does happen. It can lead to somewhat fractious relations within communities and even religions too, with divisions rising for those who do try and cross the religious divide because they have fallen in love yet experience taunts and mockery by their own community. Unfortunately, it is one of the challenges that must be faced; whilst an interfaith couple have accepted their love, not all corners of society will be understanding, partly due to this fallout after such terrible past occurrences.
Moreover, what should be discussed is the case mentioned at the very start of this article. The case of Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag is a curious one, yet one that is not so dissimilar to many others where Muslim women marry non-Muslim men. What was curious about this case though was that she had claimed to be brought up by her mother who was in fact a Christian, after her Muslim father had left when she was little. However, the court in Sudan held she was still a Muslim and guilty of apostasy and that her marriage was not valid under Islamic law, which led to the sentence of 100 lashes for adultery. This sadly is one of the major challenges that faces an interfaith couple, the acceptance of their birthplace and (or) residence. It is a sad reality that this can still occur, this decision by the Sudanese court has been deemed: “appalling and abhorrent” by Amnesty International, and has led to many western embassies calling for Sudan to respect the basic human right to choose a religion. What this shows is a deeply concerning state of affairs with regards to freedom of religion and who you can marry, when you are being punished for being with someone you truly love. Surely it is time to accept that times are truly changing.
In conclusion, can interfaith relationships truly work? In short, no they can’t. There is far too much pressure on people within their religion, especially women, to follow the wishes of their parents and culture. They will always have this pressure, and if they stray away from it then there are bigger implications than just concerning the person involved. There are implications on the family and their own status. The pressure and consequences can be seen as too huge and risky for love to flourish.
Can traditional cultures make allowances for interfaith relationships? Can they move with the already rapidly moving shift in core values and religious beliefs, or will they carry on with their already somewhat harsh path, continuing to punish and shun those who fall in love with someone outside of their faith? Only time can tell but a lot can still happen.