Spectrum of Love
As times change and acceptance rises, interfaith relationships become more common. Ab Syahid shares his own story and speaks with one such couple.
Last year, I was inspired by Jack Kerouac’s magnum opus, On the Road. Upon completing the novel, I packed some clothes into my knapsack and took off, only leaving a note behind to inform my folks.
Along the way, I met Jeanine.
Feeling restless after the six-hour train ride to Bangkok, we finally arrived at our destination, Wat Pho, a Buddhist temple of architectural beauty. With the oppressive April heat abusing our skin, we opted to explore the interior of the temple. Our guide was explaining to us that every single Buddha statue there had a distinct uniqueness, from the way they smiled to the position of their hands. This was when Jeanine turned to me and asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’
I was quite taken aback by the question, though I should have expected it since we were in a place of worship. I told her that I did believe in God; that being a Muslim helps me find a calm centre in a stormy universe; that it is my life. Her question awoke slumbering ideas in my mind. It made me ask myself how I could be a better Muslim.
So there we were: two youths from opposite sides of the world who met by chance after leaving the comfort of home to look for adventure. For five weeks we travelled together, a feisty Dutch girl and myself, depending on each other as we travelled around Southeast Asia. I was sporting a heavy beard then (there was no religious intention behind it per se; it was just convenient for me to stop shaving). But my appearance was the least of my concerns as we bounced around from one cheap youth hostel to the next, both of us afflicted by the sweet bite of the travel bug.
We received stares from strangers wherever we went; curious stares that mostly came from Asians. Asians like myself. Certain Asian men in particular, who continue to subconsciously place Caucasians on top of a diamond-encrusted pedestal. The undercurrent of their impulsive judgement seems to stem from a deep-rooted place. It could be a place of prejudice against races other than theirs, or from having a strong preference for homogeneous relationships. Perhaps it emerges from a sense of insecurity that tells them Caucasian women are beyond their reach. Although it is 2012, these deep-rooted issues still walk amongst us, blatantly pointing their fingers in our faces or hiding underneath a mask of shame.
The world of today is covered in colour – not just the black and white of decades past
Even still, what was once considered a rarity or even taboo in certain cultures is evolving into something increasingly commonplace: a young Muslim man walking with a Caucasian woman on his arm, as equals. The King of Pop once said that if you’re thinking about being his baby, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white.
I was five years old when Michael sang that song to me. I believed him then, and I still do today.
Muhammad Azam, a 27-year-old graphic designer from Singapore, fondly remembers the moment he first laid eyes on Sarah Gilian, his 26-year-old fiancée from England. ‘I met her through a mutual friend. She was new to the city so I offered to show her around. I’m not usually that nice, but I was drawn to her like a moth to a flame the moment we were introduced to each other.’
The couple plan to marry next March. Why March? Sarah explains that they share the same birthday and chose that divinely coincidental date as their wedding day. ‘Why not? That way he won’t have any reason to forget our wedding anniversary. It’s kind of a free pass I’m giving him,’ she says, before breaking into laughter.
Muhammad admits that he came up with the idea of having a birthday wedding ceremony – with personal incentives as well. ‘I’d be the worst husband ever if I were to forget our wedding anniversary in the future,’ he quips.
Aware that not everyone views interfaith or interracial relationships in a positive light, I ask about the reactions from their family. ‘My mother was against it in the beginning,’ recalls Muhammad. ‘But she grew quite fond of Sarah, teaching her how to cook Malay cuisine, like rendang and mee rebus. It warms my heart, seeing both of them get along so swimmingly,’ he beams, before joking, ‘She still adds too much salt in her cooking though.’
Muhammad says his buddies responded altogether differently. ‘My friends were all over me when I started dating her, asking me for tips on how to score a “white chick” and all that. I find it offensive; I usually bite my tongue and just smile.’
I ask Sarah, an English teacher at a private school in Singapore, whether faith or ethnicity had played a role in their relationship. ‘I don’t see him for his race or religion or any other labels you want to put on him. I just see him as he is: a man I see myself growing old with,’ she shares. ‘I wasn’t a believer of love at first sight, and I’m not the mushy kind of girl. But yes, the first time we shook hands, there was a certain chemistry. I was hoping he’d ask me out, and thank God he did.’
Muhammad’s and Sarah’s seemingly limitless affinity for each other characterises the growing trend of men and women of different faiths, races or regions to enter relationships and marry. The world of today is covered in colour – not just the black and white of decades past.
Of course, Muslim men who are dating non-Muslim women have the responsibility to guide their partners towards the righteous path of Islam if relationships progress to marriage. But if love is present and God is willing, this won’t be a hindrance. After all, it has been said many times before that love and faith are the only notes that have the magical ability to drown out all the undesirable noises in the world. Insha’allah.