5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Being in an Interracial and Interfaith Relationship
For Muslim Women’s Day on March 27, Bumble has once again teamed up with our friends at MuslimGirl.com to amplify their perspectives. Here, contributing writer Saniya Ali shares lessons from finding love on Bumble — outside her Muslim religion, as well as her race and culture.
Growing up in Pakistan, the idea of being in a serious relationship with someone outside my own race, religion, or culture never seemed like an option. I always thought if I were to get serious with someone, he would be a Pakistani too. Then I met my boyfriend on Bumble. He’s a Black American, born and raised in Northern California.
I was drawn to him because his answers to Bumble’s prompts were witty and clever. I knew I liked him, even though he is, as he puts it, a “not so practicing” Christian, and I’m a Muslim. As I got to know him, I learned he believes in a higher power, which I respect.
We’ve managed to make our relationship work by prioritizing honesty and communication. It hasn’t always been easy; opening my heart to someone from a different background seemed foreign to me. But when it’s right, you just know it.
Our interracial and interfaith relationship has helped us grow both as individuals and as a couple. Here’s what I’ve learned about love and life that I’d like to share.
Race is not important when choosing your partner in life. Sharing values is.
It’s impossible to be happy with someone who doesn’t share the basic human values as you — race, religion, and culture aside. For instance, do they prioritize their family? Do they want kids, and if so, how would they raise them? Do they support women’s equal rights? Do they value diversity and inclusion?
I asked these questions straight away during our first couple of dates. Once we both realized that we’re open-minded people who like to give others chances, moving forward with the relationship came naturally. We realized that our basic values matched.
You don’t need to have the same religious background as long as you both respect each other’s faith.
Before meeting my boyfriend, being with a non-Muslim never seemed like an option for me. Family, and society, told me that if I did choose to go down that path, our lifestyles would be incompatible, or we’d disagree on the way we view God and the world. After living in California for five years and interacting with people from different races and faiths, a new world opened up for me. (There was no diversity in terms of race when I lived in Pakistan.)
We started our interfaith relationship with open minds. It helped that I didn’t wait to ask about my boyfriend’s faith. From the beginning, we discussed what religions we follow; whether we grew up going to places of worship; and what customs we practice, including prayer. Even if you come from different religious backgrounds, you may be able to find some commonalities in your beliefs. Even if you don’t, you can respect each other’s practices while continuing your own journey through faith. This way, neither partner feels like they have to give anything up for the other.
Your family may not be accepting in the beginning, but things can get better.
Sadly, not all families are accepting of interracial couples, especially if different cultures and nationalities are involved. In my case, when my parents saw what a great match my boyfriend and I made, they started to see the light. It didn’t happen overnight, but they saw the positive change in me when I had the right person in my life.
If you’re in the position of seeking acceptance from your family, make sure you have an open line of communication from the start. Be certain the person you’re dating is as serious about the relationship as you are before bringing it up to your family. And when you do decide to have the conversation with them, share the anecdotes that they’ll relate to the most. You could talk about the values the two of you share, or how they go out of their way to make you happy.
Make sure to tell your partner what to expect before attending family gatherings together. I gave my boyfriend the heads up on little things he could do to impress them, how to conduct himself with cultural sensitivity, and how to impress them with his knowledge of our background. This gave him the opportunity to shine, all while ensuring he didn’t feel out of place. If they’re anything like mine, your family will notice and appreciate the effort.
My boyfriend brings sweets to my family every time he visits, calls my mom “Auntie” as a sign of respect, and takes off his shoes before entering the house. You’d be surprised how far little gestures like that can go to impress the ones you love!
Ignore the naysayers — and put your mental health first.
Growing up in Pakistan, I’d always heard the phrase “log kya kahengay,” which means “what will people say?”
It took me some time to realize that while people might talk, spread rumors, or even say hurtful things, my choices remain mine alone. And as time passes, those gossips will move on — so I might as well do what makes me happy.
One of the most important things you can do for yourself when embarking on an interfaith or interracial relationship is to take your time. Ease into it. Be honest about whether it’s what you really want. Take the opportunity to learn about yourself. Taking it as slow as you need to will help protect your mental health — and ensure you aren’t as affected by outsiders’ views.
You’ll have more holidays to celebrate throughout the year!
Some people who are involved in interracial or interfaith relationships choose to celebrate their own religious and cultural holidays separately with their family and friends, without their partner’s involvement. For my boyfriend and me, the more exposure we have to our respective festivities and traditions, the closer we become. I’ve celebrated Christmas and Thanksgiving at his family’s home. (They gave me presents, too!) He comes to birthday parties, Friday dinners, and movie nights at my family’s house. This year will be the first Eid he’ll celebrate with me and my family, and I couldn’t be more excited.