Can love and romance overcome societal disapproval of interfaith marriages?
This question is asked by many Egyptians who are keeping relationships secret due to the fear of public backlash. Religion is a very touchy subject in Egypt and often interfaith marriages can prove to be problematic. Sometimes they can even be deadly.
Why is it a taboo to marry a person from a different religion?
Many people see interfaith marriages as a channel for converting to the another religion. However, this argument collapses on itself because Muslim men can marry Christian women without either being forced to convert. The same cannot be said for Muslim women because, according to Islamic law, they are not allowed to marry non-Muslims.
"I am an atheist born into a Muslim family and it's not something I can tell them either. My boyfriend, who is also an atheist was born into a Christian family," a 25-year-old female who spoke under the condition of anonymity said.
Coptic Christians in Egypt are known to often be very religious, holding tightly to their faith. Converting to another religion can result in violence inflicted on the man by his family and also to his family by others within the community.
"Neither of us can convert and having a civil marriage abroad or in Egypt would not work either because we'd both lose our families and we won't be able to live in Egypt freely," she explained.
Usually kept out of the public eye, discrimination against Coptic Christians in Egypt happens on a regular basis. For example, if a manager of a company is a "religious" Muslim, he'll play favorites and could easily fire a Coptic Christian for little no reason. This discrimination that's been going on for the last few decades has strengthened Christians bonds and added to the ostracism of anyone who leaves the community.
This discrimination has left the Egyptian society divided.
Furthermore, marriages and divorces are often regulated by the country's religious institutions and though divorce can easily be obtained by Muslim Egyptian woman, it gets much harder for a Christian woman due to the strict rules of the church. For this reason, many Coptic Christians reject the idea of interfaith marriages.
In 2013, a Muslim man and five others were killed in Menya while five homes burned to the ground because of a romance that erupted between a Muslim girl and her Christian neighbor. Despite how common violence occurs due to interfaith relationships, it remains an undiscussed subject. Authorities, newspapers and local news often fail to report such stories and usually blame clashes on "abductions" or "family fights."
The reason behind the media's lack of attention and the authorities reluctancy to address this societal dilemma remains unclear.
"We need to start talking about this and stop shoving everything we deem 'uncomfortable' under a rug," said Omar Mohammed, a young Muslim man who is dating a Christian American woman.
"My family won't accept her because of her religious beliefs and her nationality," which further complicates the relationship.
"We need to talk about this because couples like us are not doing anything wrong. We're just people in love," he explained.
Another reason why interfaith marriages are widely rejected in Egypt is because of the children the couple may eventually have. In the Islamic law, if a Christian woman ends up marrying a Muslim man, their children would grow up to be Muslims and Muslim women cannot, under any circumstances, marry a non-Muslim man because the children will take the father's religion.
Another argument also stems from a Islamic religious point of view. It stipulates that Muslims cannot marry people from other faiths because non-Muslim are "kufar" or "infidels" and "heathens." This argument is not agreed upon by many Muslims. Even though the Quran allows Muslim men to marry women from other religions, some say that this only applied in former times when people were not "enlightened" by the religion.
The younger generations are divided on this subject but tend to keep their views to themselves. It is simply a topic not commonly discussed and many people are not very receptive. Interfaith marriages nevertheless need to be widely discussed because for starters, ignoring it doesn't resolve the issue. Secondly, it's happening and thirdly, most importantly, there is nothing wrong with it.