No, I am not trying to convert you, but I am here to address an issue that happens a lot in the West, and that is, people falling in so-called love only to bring up religion in the end. It becomes the deciding factor in the relationship and a deal breaker for many. Love takes a hit, and everything is poof! Sayonara. In all this, a religion also becomes tarnished in someone’s mind because of this one person who has now suddenly made it a huge issue in the relationship.
“Either be Muslim, or I can’t be with you,” “My family will never accept you,” “We can’t get married,” “I want my children to grow up Muslim.” Sounds familiar? Emotional blackmail using love as the leverage? Hmmm. Many women accept Islam for the sake of their significant other but never really adopt the religion. To each their own, but is that what religion has boiled down to? A label that you slap on to please the family and culture? Before I open up a can of worms, let’s get into the story.
This is a story about Atti, my stylist. During the appointment, she looked pensive, and so I asked her if everything is ok. She said, “Is it alright if I talk to you about Islam?”. I nodded. “This should be interesting”, I thought to myself. People rarely talk about religion here, but when they do, it’s usually because they want clarity on the subject. I am always up for those conversations. It gives me an opportunity to know what misconceptions other people have about Islam and to the best of my knowledge, I try to help them.
Atti got married when she was eighteen in Greece. Soon she had a son, who is now nine years old. Her husband was an abusive man. So she decided to apply for Canada, and when her immigration came through, she divorced her husband and came here. At first, she didn’t know what she could do. She had only done college, and her diploma was no good. So she trained herself as a hair stylist and started working in salons.
Working in salons is a tough, tiring full-time job, and with a school going son with her, it wasn’t easy. The son was taken care of by friends and neighbors. For years, her life was routine. She wasn’t just working and trying to raise a boy; she was also trying to forget all the traumatic events of her married life.
Being busy was helping her, but she missed being with a man. She wanted to be someone’s person and have someone dependable in her life. One night at a party, a man approached her. His name was Bassam, an Ethiopian man. He had lived in Canada for fifteen years and worked as a construction worker. He spoke kindly and respectfully. No man had treated her like that before. She felt an attraction towards him but she still kept her guard up.
Basam liked her. She was a beautiful Greek woman — dark hair, snow white skin, blue eyes, and a sweet voice. He took her number and left. He called her the next day and asked if she would like to go for coffee. She was having a stressful day at the salon and refused. So he showed up at work with coffee and flowers.
Little gestures like those became regular that kept sweeping Atti off her feet. Finally, she gave in to him and started dating. After a while, they moved in together and he became part of the family. He took good care of her son and didn’t have to rely on others anymore. Basam took care of everything. She could work worry free, and her son also liked being around Bassam. They would do fun activities like going to ball games or going to the movies, and Bassam enjoyed doing all that for him as well. They stayed together for two years, and no issues arose.
One day, Atti came home to see her son sitting on the dining table looking utterly confused. He asked his mother “Why should we become Muslims, aren’t we Greek orthodox? Can we change our religion easily?” What was going on? Atti asked, “Why are you asking me this? What happened?”. The son replied “Basam has been telling me a lot about Islam, but it’s all different from what you tell me. Basam says you and your mother should become Muslims.”
Atti was furious. When Bassam came home from work, she asked him what was going on in his head. He said “He wanted to get married to her, but couldn’t because she wasn’t Muslim. His family wouldn’t accept her. He was ready to commit to her but won’t unless she changes her religion.
Atti was infuriated, but found herself at a crossroad, not knowing what to do next. Does she want to keep her religion and lose the man she loved? Or should she choose him and leave a religion she practiced? If this were her choice and she wanted to be Muslim, it would be a different story. But she was being coerced into making a decision. Would that be sincere on her part?
Should she become Muslim just because Bassam and his family wanted? She would feel like a hypocrite. And so she refused. She told Bassam she didn’t want to get married if these were the terms and conditions. He could stay in a live-in relationship with her and that way no one would have to change, or he could leave her. Bassam thought, maybe she needs more time to come around. So he decided to give it some time.
My appointment was about to end, and so she asked me what to do? “What does Islam say about such a situation?” So I told her, “There is no force in Islam. You cannot force someone to accept Islam; it should come from your own heart and will. If you understand Islam, grow to love Islam and wanted to accept, you will be more sincere and committed as a Muslim than someone who is only accepting Islam for the sake of marrying a man or his family. Can you live your life like that? Being a Muslim is not a label you slap on.”
“Being born with a Muslim name doesn’t give you a free pass in God’s eyes. It does not mean he is better than you. You might be doing a lot more good as a Greek orthodox than he does as a Muslim? Do you think God will not see that? Do you think that God will ignore your good deeds and only focus on the religion that He sent you too? As Muslims, we are judged more harshly. This man is forcing you into a religion only to keep his family happy. He knew you were Greek orthodox since the beginning; he had no problem dating you, sleeping with you, living with you and raising your Greek Orthodox son. Now he has a problem with it?”
“If today he’s asking you to change your religion for his family, what will be next? What else is he going to ask you to do for the sake of keeping his family happy? Are you willing to make those sacrifices? Do you love him enough to do that? If you are, good. If not, then you need to do some self-reflection here. There is a kid involved, who doesn’t need to see his mother weakened by another man again.”
A few months later, I made another appointment with her, and we continued where we last left. She said, ” I went back home that night and said he could live with me in any way he wanted to, but I will not change my religion just because your family wants me to.” “But don’t you love me?”, he said. “I do, very much, but you should love me enough to accept me the way I am. I am not asking you to change your religion. You can stay Muslim and be with me, but I can’t do the same. It makes me question your love for me when you put conditions like that. So now you can only love me if I turn Muslim? You should have led with that from day one. Did you think, one day magically you will turn me into you? Was that the deal since the beginning? You pursued me, you wanted a relationship with me, you wanted to be with my son, and you moved in with me knowing who I am. Why was religion not an issue then?”, she said.
“I am pretty sure Muslims have to pray, fast, go to the mosque, but you don’t do that. You drink, you slept with other women and me. That’s not allowed in your religion, so how are you a Muslim?”. Bassam was mad, but he loved her, and the only way he could be married to her was if she converted. That’s what the family, society, and culture demanded. She should have loved him enough to make a small sacrifice for her. So he thought.
Anyways, you don’t need to be Einstein to figure out what happened next. After four years they parted ways. Stories such as these are quite regular here. Muslim men from back home, come here and date women from other cultures and religions, only to make their lives miserable by forcing them to accept their religion or culture instead.
Many delude themselves into thinking that maybe they could accept the religion or culture. In my opinion, perhaps converting the faith might be easy, but adopting the culture and understanding, is a whole other story. Islam still has a book that guides you, but culture does not. It’s just not in their DNA to understand the stupidities of our mindset. That has messed up with a lot of relationships and broken up a lot of marriages.
If you are a man, who doesn’t care about culture or religion, I get it. But if ultimately these things are important enough to define your relationship, then why have that relationship in the first place? Why waste someone’s precious years only to succumb to family and cultural pressures? It’s common sense. What’s sad is that people initially start in a relationship, thinking ” I am going to date, invest my time and emotions into this person,” and when things get serious, “I will magically turn this person into me” Now everything has to match.
People, a person spends a lifetime to become who they are. It’s absurd to go into a relationship thinking that you can “change” someone. To alter someone’s personality is hard enough. What makes you think you can change someone’s belief or values? Change can only come from within. If a person wants to become Muslim and wants to adopt your cultural values, then that’s acceptable.
“She has to be Muslim. She has to conform to my family values. She has to adjust to my culture.” How many innocent women have been sucked up in this falsehood, sugar-coated with so-called “Love,” that disappears the minute you get married. The only thing that saddens me about stories such as these is how much time was wasted here, only to find out what?
Sometimes even something like love and true compatibility is thrown out of the window when it comes to changing someone or their faith, unless that person wants to by their own will. Find someone like yourself from day one and stop abusing someone else’s precious years. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that love is enough to change someone according to your likes and dislikes. Love is not the be-all and end-all of anyone’s existence, ever !
Until next time.