3 Tips For Dating Across Religions
In Islam, which I have studied traditionally in Yemen and academically in the United States, observant Muslim women can neither date nor marry non-Muslim men. It is a principle promulgated in the Quran, the sacred book of Islam.
Muslim men, however, can marry women from other Abrahamic religions, such as Christianity and Judaism. That principle is in the Quran as well. This double standard is a medieval practice that continues to shape the culture of many Muslim societies across the world, especially those where the patriarchal system runs rampant.
When I was living in Yemen, almost everyone around me practiced the same religion—Islam—so dating across religions was not an issue.
However, when I immigrated to the United States, I entered a society in which different religions coexist by necessity, and dating across religions becomes more likely to happen. But does dating across religions lead to happy relationships?
Research tends to highlight the challenges. According to a study published in Mental Health, Religion & Culture, religious differences in a relationship can be a potential “detriment,” and being in a heterogenous religious relationship was associated with psychological distress.
According to research published in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, dating across religions often results in conflict because of both religious and cultural differences in expectations—namely, in family events, occasions, celebrations, parenting attitudes, and even daily habits.
And according to research published in the book Conflict and Consensus, dating across religions may result in external pressures from family members and society at large, further complicating the relationship.
Yet we are living in changing times, where new ways of living are not only desired but necessary. Most of those studies merely capture what has happened in the past, providing a snapshot of a moment in history, which should not determine the future.
Therefore, I have compiled some tips for dating across religions that attempt to account for the challenges raised in the studies cited above.
First, focus on and celebrate the commonalities. Most religions have common threads running through their narrative. Instead of only zeroing in on the differences, we should highlight the many similarities and use them as an entry point for fostering genuine connections.
If both religions care about the poor, for instance, then the couple could participate in shared experiences that help the poor.
To give an example: When I was studying at the University of Miami, I participated in a program called “Downtown Project,” where Muslim students provided meals for homeless people in downtown Miami. Many non-Muslim students joined, too, because they liked to give back and help those in chronic need. A sense of love was cemented because we all had a strong commonality.
Second, respect the differences. There is a reason why each religion has its own name and leader, namely because there are real differences. When those differences arise in a relationship—which they will—they should be treated with the utmost respect.
This is, of course, easier said than done, and is the principal reason why dating across religions is challenging. Differences should neither be dismissed nor trivialized; instead, they should be respected and negotiated. It takes emotional maturity and responsibility to navigate religious differences with respect and love.
Third, seek counseling if necessary. The challenging nature of dating across religions is well-established. Therefore, seeking counseling that can help mitigate those challenges and foster genuine connection can be a good approach for many couples.
Therapy is not just palliative; it is also preventive, and prevention is the best treatment. People tend to seek treatment when they have an urgent problem, but it is far more advantageous to be armed with preventive strategies before a problem occurs.
Recognizing the challenges of dating across religions, celebrating the similarities, respecting the differences, and seeking preventive counseling for anticipated challenges—these all can increase the chances that dating across religions is a mutually beneficial experience, and remind us all that the power of love can overcome many challenges.