I read with much interest the letter by Arctic Wolf on the subject of inter-religious marriage.
Let me relate two true stories with regard to relationships with partners of different faiths.
The first one happened to my friend's elder brother, a Chinese, who was involved in a relationship with a Malay woman. Although there was suspicion about his relationship, he kept it from his parents because he knew there would be strong objections.
However, when it was time to get married and his conversion to Islam became a certainty, he could no longer keep it a secret. His parents were duly informed and he made it clear that the marriage was going ahead regardless of their attendance or blessings.
Naturally, his parents were shocked, disappointed and angry when told. Caught in between parents and an elder brother, my friend tried to play the mediator's role.
The mood in the groom's house was so sombre and dark that one would have thought that there had been a death in the family rather than an impending marriage celebration.
Eventually, my friend, after much difficulty, managed to persuade the parents to attend the wedding. The parents, to tell the truth, were afraid that they would lose a son if their relationship deteriorated further.
However, due to much unhappiness and disappointment, my friend's mother fell into a depression following the wedding. Although she did recover, she did go though a period of mental agony and emotional suffering as any mother would when disappointed by a beloved child.
As a parent, if you had brought up your child as a Muslim, Christian, Hindu, etc., how would you feel if one day your child suddenly decides to walk away and embrace a different way of life?
The second story revolves around another friend of mine, a Malay woman, who was in a relationship with a Chinese man. As the man's parents were retired and living overseas, their relationship was easily kept hidden from them.
When it came time for them to get married and the man needed to convert to Islam, this was done without his parents' knowledge. On the wedding day, none of his relatives showed up simply because no one knew - not even his brother who was living nearby.
His decision not to inform his family was taken because he did not want to cause much unhappiness and quarreling at what is a once-in-a-lifetime celebration. I, for one, can certainly understand his action because he must have made the decision to convert under tremendous pressure and possibly, much guilt.
But I certainly cannot imagine how his parents would feel when they are finally told of the marriage and his conversion.
Based on the two stories above, my question is this: why should there be compulsion to convert a non-Muslim partner when it come to marriage involving Muslims?
Let me stress here that I am not only against forced conversion to Islam but also forced conversions involving Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faiths either by law or by other forms of pressure.
Imagine if everyone in this world insists that one's spouse follow one's own faith; there will be much chaos in many families.
The irony is this: won't it be true that there will be much more goodwill around if there is no forced conversion on anybody's part? Once there is goodwill, unity and integration will be much easier to foster.
We may have sinned by God's rules if our own spouse is of a different faith. But isn't it true that God is also merciful in that he will forgive us if we don't force our own spouse to convert based on understanding and compassionate grounds?
If we force a spouse to convert but in the process cause a whole family much heartache, disappointment, suffering and later even a breakup, what does that make of us? Are these the necessary 'collateral damages' in fulfilling our own religious duties?