This multi part series is a true story explaining the highs and lows of marrying someone from a different religious background and attempts to answer the question “do Sunni and Shia marriages work?”
I am a Sunni girl and I met my Shia husband nearly 10 years ago. ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ are the terms used to describe the 2 main sects of Islam. Sunnis and Shias differ on the successive leadership following the death of the last Prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). When I met my husband I was learning about Islamic History from a local lady who was teaching a course. I decided to get in contact with a Shia guy and ask him about all the aspects of history we ‘disagreed’ upon. Religion wasn’t the only thing we talked about and we started to get on really well. We realised that our similarities far outweighed our differences and we started to like each other and considered getting married.
Why do you guys revere Ali (ra) so much? Do you really have a different Quran? Your sect was created by Abdullah Ibn Saba? Why do you pray on a rock? Etc etc. These were some of the questions I asked, questions he’d been asked many times before. Maybe he bothered answering them because he liked me, maybe he was just bored, maybe he liked trying to prove his point or maybe all of these. We exchanged a few emails talking about our beliefs to see if we were compatible. At times I wasn’t sure but he somehow managed to convince me that if two people are open minded and want a marriage to work, it will work. So I agreed.
Are Sushi Marriages OK?
I told my parents and initially my Dad had reservations. He believed it would be very difficult to live with someone who had differing religious beliefs to you. He was worried about our compatibility and how I would cope in his family. My dad met my husband a few times and was satisfied that he was a good person and a faithful Muslim. He accepted the proposal. I told family members and they were generally OK. Apart from one auntie who told me she once has a Shia friend who was gay and therefore Shia people think its “OK” to be gay. Needless to say I brushed that aside. No one really had a problem to be honest (well if they did they didn’t tell me) except my cousin.
My cousin was 2 years younger than me. She was 21. She considered herself to be very religious. She asked me to forward her the email I was sent by my husband detailing his beliefs. I did so reluctantly after a few pestering messages from her. She then, without telling me, emailed him privately to question him about his beliefs.
Here are some questions she asked and his response:
1. Who are your favored scholars of your madhab, both past and present?
As Im sure you do, I read scholars books and i take what makes sense and agrees with the quran and leave out the rest. I have no one scholar which I agree with everything he said, scholars i rate include :
Sayyid Fadlullah, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, sayid atabatabai, muhammad al ghazali
I dont consider myself a follower of any particular madthab, i just read and learn, and if it makes sense i add it to my understanding.
2. I know that you do not slander Aa’isha (ra) and never have, but what is your position regarding her? Do you regard her among one of the great women of the Deen, is she average along with the rest of the wives or just as one of the first female Muslims in Islam?
(Aisha ra was the last wife of the Prophet. Some shias are thought to curse Aisha)
Firstly I would say the knowledge we have of all of the people of that time is 3rd or 4th hand at best, and also we must understand the political climate of the time if we are to interpret what is written about these people. Now we know that Aisha was the wife of the Prophet SAW, for that she must be respected and she was given (along with the other wives) the status of mothers of the believers, which means no other man can marry them ever. Now this facts do not make her or the other wives perfect or infallible. As I disagree with her stance in the battle of the Camel, I believe she was in the wrong, and if i was there I would not have supported her against the Muslims. Now I believe just as Allah says many times in the Quran, she will judged on her deeds, and nobody knows what will happen to us, let alone others. So my opinion of her in a nutshell is she did good and bad, as she was the Prophets SAW wife, we must treat her with respect, as when her side was defeated by the Muslims in the battle of the jamal Ali Ibn Abu Talib made sure she was not harmed and not degrade in any way, he gave her a force to escort her back to her area and gave her money to live with so that she wouldn’t be dependent on others. I believe that is the best example to follow on that matter, Ali fought her when she was wrong, and respected her as much as he could at other times. Remember even if she is the wife of the Prophet SAW, we cant forget our commitment to Allah.
3. What is your view and position regarding the wives of the Prophet (saw)? Are they part of his household?
I personally don’t believe they are, however 33:33 has been interpreted by both schools to mean either way. The fact that the verb changes to a masculine in the last sentence and the hadiths surrounding the revelation of the verse suggest to me, that on balance it doesnt include the wives. It also wouldn’t make logical sense as we see errors in certain wives ways. I think i talked a lot about this is that email.
4. What is your view on taqiyyah? And on Khoemini?
Taqiyyah is often a term thrown around by people debating with shias, often a non shia will accuse a shia of believing something ridiculous, for example “shia’s believe the Quran is distorted” or “shia’s believe Ali should have been the prophet”, then the shia will say, no actually i don’t believe that, then the non shia will say, ah they are using taqiyyah, and then the debate goes no where.
Taqiyah means to conceal, this verse is the source for this Islamic principle [Yusufali 16:106] Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief,- except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith – but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.
He hath only forbidden you dead meat and blood and the flesh of swine and that on which any other name hath been invoked besides that of Allah but if one is forced by necessity without willful disobedience nor transgressing due limits then is he guiltless. For Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful.
Surah Al Baqara, Ayah 173
Let not the believers take for friends or helpers Unbelievers rather than believers: if any do that, in nothing will there be help from Allah: except by way of precaution, that ye may Guard yourselves from them. But Allah cautions you (To remember) Himself; for the final goal is to Allah.
Surah Al- Imran, verse 28
All these verses make clear that in Islam, if your life is in danger, you can either lie, or do an otherwise forbidden act in order to say your life. That is taqiyyah.
Khoemini was a decent man as far as i can tell, i agree with most of what he says, not all, but most. There are some writings attributed to him which imply that the ahl bait control every atom in the universe, which i find difficult to accept. I have also never found the original text of that, but either way, i wouldn’t accept it.
5. What is your view on Sherazi? Is he a scholar who you follow to some extent at least?
I don’t know details of this man, but i have read some of his works and so far disagree with everything from him. Particularly his stance on “zanjeer”.
Do you believe that ‘Umar (ra) was responsible for the death of Fatimah (ra)?
Nobody knows the exact circumstances of that, they reportedly had a hostile relationship, and there is some evidence which suggests a door may have hit Fatima and caused a miscarriage, but like i said the evidence, in my opinion is not strong enough to take a stance on this matter.
Based on these responses my cousin told me she believed my marriage to my husband would be haraam (forbidden). These are some of the things she wrote to me in an email:
”Wallahi I believe you are putting yourself in deep trouble ”
Wallahi your knowledge is not this deep and neither is mine and neither is any one of your friends or close familyTHINK!!! IF it is Haraam (and I say if!!!), then your actions with Ahmed will not be filled with Barakah, but will be full of sin and yes, they will be FULL of SIN because you have been warned SO MANY TIMES! You will have NO excuse in front of Allah (SWT) and if this does not scare you to death then Wallahi I don’t know what will! WALLAHI I DON’T KNOW WHAT WILL!
This email was sent to me the week of my wedding.
I cried. I remember, I just cried and cried and cried. I was so scared. I went from being happy and confident I was making the right choice to being uncertain and fearful. And the wedding was in a few days time. I couldn’t stop the wedding now, the potential embarrassment I would cause would be unforgivable. I showed the email to my dad who told me ‘it was too late to think about these things now.’ I wish he didn’t. I wish he’d said “I love you and nothing is more important than that you are sure and you are happy and you should postpone the wedding”. I thought he was wrong for forcing me into a corner. But he wasn’t wrong. My dad wasn’t taken in by the rantings of an immature 21 year old who acted as if she had more knowledge than anyone else. Looking back I probably would have postponed and then after realising my cousins words held no weight married him anyway, but with certainty rather than doubt. Maybe that would have prevented the inevitable animosity between my cousins family and ours that came a a result of my cousins subsequent actions…
That didn’t happen, the wedding was to go ahead in 3 days time. The day after receiving this email there was a henna party (a hen night) at my house. The next morning would be the nikkah (religious ceremony) and then the following day the wedding party.
My dad received a phone call during the henna party from the Shaykh (religious leader) who was to marry me the next day. The shaykh had received a phone call from an ‘anonymous lady’ who said that I was marrying a Shia, that the wedding was therefore haram and he should not perform the nikkah (religious ceremony). My dad was distraught. He didn’t know what to do. He called my cousins father who insisted the caller wasn’t my cousin. I have no evidence to prove it was her, there is no way of knowing for sure. But if it wasn’t her then it was someone who had not prior to this expressed their objection to this marriage to either myself or any of my family. The next day the shaykh met with my husband. He must have felt obliged to act upon the phonecall. They had a brief religious discussion and was very quickly satisfied that the wedding was not haram and agreed to marry us. But the damage had already been done. I cannot even begin to put into words the amount of stress that was upon my family at this time.
The wedding went ahead. I didn’t enjoy it. In fact I hated it. My mum was tense all day, worried that my cousin would make a scene. I am still unable to look at my wedding photos, not because I didn’t want to be married to my husband, but because of all the tension that was in the air. My cousin came, surprisingly joyfully as if nothing had happened. I didn’t say anything. I just let it all go on and then we went on honeymoon.
My husband was lovely, he was so nice and caring and was very happy we were married. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t sure about us for a very long time. My cousins words haunted me for a long time. Every time we had a row I thought it was Gods punishment. I began to resent him. My family stopped speaking to my cousins family. My mum was upset, everyone was upset for the first few months I thought I’d made a terrible mistake.
But there were 2 very separate issues here. One.. was the marriage haraam and two… the fall out with my cousins family……