My girlfriend is a beautiful, funny and intelligent young woman and I’m very lucky to have her in my life. We met in college, we know each other’s families, and are each other’s best friends. I’ve been with her for almost two years and I would like to start a life with her. There’s only one issue — as a Muslim, I feel my future wife has to believe in God. I’m not the strictest of Muslims, I occasionally drink and don’t follow everything written in the Quran, but my girlfriend is an atheist. She says she’s open to believing, but that is a requirement in order for our marriage to be valid within Islam and so that we can marry in a mosque. I want that not only for religious reasons but because it’s a cultural and familial tradition. We’ve talked about her converting but it’s usually ended up with us brushing it aside or with her being hurt because she says I can’t love her for who she is. Of course I love her and want to be with her, but I also want my future marriage to be validated by my religion and accepted by God. But I don’t want to pressure her into converting, either. What do I do?
— Feeling Lost
I know such mixed marriages can work because my family is Jewish and my sister’s darling husband is Muslim. (My sister is darling, too.) However, they are equally unobservant, which makes moot the religious requirements you are stymied by. I spoke to Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of the new book “‘Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America” and she notes that American Muslims are increasingly marrying outside their faith. It’s acceptable within Islam for a Muslim man to marry a Christian or Jewish woman as long as she espouses a belief in God. (A Muslim woman cannot have a religiously valid marriage to a Christian or Jewish man.) It’s also easy to convert to Islam. But if your beloved doesn’t believe in the religion of her own forbears and has no interest in adopting yours, it’s good you’ve recognized that pressuring her into feigning piety is a poor way to start a life together.
But as Riley points out, your focus on the wedding day is obscuring the more pressing issue of what role you want religion to play in your life after that. This is something Riley has found many interfaith couples don’t discuss during their courtship, to their detriment. So you two must. You each need clarity on what you see as the role of religion in raising your children, for example. Your girlfriend has made clear her lack of religious feeling is an essential part of her. So you must use Solomonic wisdom to resolve your dilemma. You have to decide whether it is better to end the relationship because your faith demands it or to accept that since she is everything you want in a wife, what you thought was a requirement actually isn’t.
How much sympathy do you give someone who ignores the doctor’s advice? My wife had been to dozens of doctors for several health problems. In most cases, she refuses their advice, but complains when she is no better. Among her ailments, she suffers from insomnia. She has had sleep studies done and found there is no physical reason for this inability to sleep. She has been advised to stop napping during the day, spend only eight hours in bed at night and get out of bed and read a book when she can’t sleep. She refuses to do them all, yet continues to complain. This has gone on for years. At what point do I get to stop playing the role of sympathetic spouse and tell her that until she tries to get better, I don’t want to hear about it anymore.
Now would be a good time for her wake-up call. If your account is correct, you’ve been a sympathetic, if frustrated, source of support for years. If your wife won’t do the basics to address her many problems, it’s likely that she enjoys being mired in them and the attention she gets for her “health crises.” So stop feeding the beast. Start with her sleeping problem. If she won’t follow these obvious rules, then say, “Honey, I know not getting any sleep is miserable, but you’re not taking the doctor’s advice, so I can’t talk about it anymore.” It may be that you eventually need to tell her your separate sleeping arrangements are going to be in separate domiciles.
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