Managing the Stresses of Complicated Interfaith Relationships


HOUSTON: There is often a large gap between the expectations of parents and their children about the child’s choice of a life partner. In the Western world, young adults can easily date people from other faiths during their college years. So, it should come as no surprise that this young generation of Indo-American Dharmics (Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs) marry Abrahamics (Christians, Jews and Muslims).

This interfaith trend started with the first generation of immigrants and has continued to accelerate over the years and will only grow in the future. We need to recognize that interfaith marriages are a matter of chance, regardless of the religious training given in childhood. Parents of interfaith married couples also need to learn to live with a new reality of life and deal with many vexing issues, like:

1. What will be the religion of children born of the couple be?
2. For Dharmics, is there any expectation of a religious “label” to be placed on the children by BBS (Baptism (Christian), Bris (Jewish) or Sunat (Islamic))?
3. For Abrahamics, will they have to be a part of the Hindu worship practice of puja and the display of Hindu Ishvara icons in the home?
4. Will there be religious conversion of the groom/bride before marriage?
5. Will there be restrictions on the names of children?
6. Will there be circumcision for religious reason?
7. Which religion will be followed for the funeral rites of the spouse and the children?

Of course, not all interfaith spouses try to impose their religious beliefs or practices on their counterpart in marriage, but it is critical to find out the facts sooner rather than later. It is also important to recognize that despite all the potential marital pitfalls, a successful and fulfilling inter-religious marriage is possible. One effective way to achieve this is by not imposing one’s religious beliefs on the other partner. Both should make sure prenuptial agreement is signed and documented as a part of interfaith marriage to protect rights for both parties involved in relationship. How do we do that? Is such an agreement available? The answer is NO. There is no institutional mechanism where families can get help. Whatever little help is available is in the mainstream secular context, which may not address factors like culture and religion. So there is a need to provide an American Hindu-specific program of education and social services because American Hindus, by and large, are very liberal in their social outlook. In matters of relationships and matrimony, they take a very soft approach with the intention of looking for happiness for their children’s lives.

In most cases, parents readily agree to interfaith relationships or matrimony for their children and will go out of their way to win the trust and appreciation of the non-Hindus joining their families. The married children may even leave their Hindu circles and cease to be part of the Hindu community. This can lead their parents to have guilty feelings of their kids losing their Hindu heritage and ceasing to be part of Hindu society. Empirical observations as well as structured studies have established that Hindus lose out of their heritage. This is all because of the parents wanting unqualified happiness for their kids, their willingness to compromise, and the nature of their spiritual and cultural practices that enable their attitude.

The solution to the problem seems to be the construction of a structured discipline that consists of three distinct phases: awareness, counseling, and rehabilitation. American Hindu Social Services attempts to address the needs and requirements of interfaith relationships, through the unflinching support of community leaders in general, and specifically those who run temples and Hindu organizations as well as a professional counseling program staffed by paid counselors, a social welfare fund and a pool of social services volunteers, which can provide assistance to those who are affected by adverse circumstances.

Dr. Dilip Amin, author and Hindu community activist will hold a workshop on Interfaith Marriages from 2 to 5 pm on Saturday, July 29 at the International Trade Center, 11110 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77072. For information call Gopi Mistry at 713-876-6450.

-An American Hindu Social Service Press Release