Can Your Love Cross Borders?

Religion, Race and Nationality as Dividing Constructs for Present Couples

To the loved ones in my life

There are six people in my life, three couples to be precise, who are battling for the survival of their relationship. Their fight comes against age-long traditions of wanting to maintain a form of exclusiveness or purity within cultures. Hence, their struggles are against constructs such as religion, race, and nationality.

I have to note that the clash is not within the couples themselves, but more to do with their parents and close relatives. You see, the Christians parents don’t want a Muslim boyfriend for their daughter. The Lebanese mother doesn’t want a Sri Lankan wife for her son. The Turkish father doesn’t want a French man to be with his daughter.

Therefore, attempts to reconcile the relationship take the forefront, and when that can’t be achieved, hiding the relationship becomes the alternative. That means sneaking in phone calls and texts, constantly lying about your whereabouts and concealing a significant part of your life and character. Questions about the impending future are bound to catch up and worrying about getting caught become a haunting refrain.  I can see firsthand how stressful it gets for them. Having to choose between their significant other and loved ones eventually takes a toll on their relationship.

To take a closer look, one of the couples agreed to an interview.

Due to their delicate situation, they will remain anonymous.

Q.1. Can you, in brief, introduce yourself, your partner and the relationship you have?

Him: I’m 27 years old, Lebanese. I am an atheist. My girlfriend is Lebanese too. We have been together for 4 years. We went through a long distance relationship for 3 years and a half, and now we are finally in the same country, Lebanon. Our relationship is going well but is under a lot of pressure.

Her: I’m a Lebanese girl. I’m 26 years old. I studied Filmmaking and I’m currently working at a production house here in Lebanon. I’d like to leave this country as soon as I get a good chance somewhere else, preferably in Europe.
My partner is also Lebanese, he’s 27 years old and currently still studying.
We have a great relationship, it’s been 4 years that we’re together, we are very honest with each other, we communicate well, and we really love each other.
Although we have faced some difficulties like a long distance relationship, the differences between us and the society we live in, we kept going and we never gave up.

Q.2. What is the main objection to your relationship? Is it the difference in religion? Race? Nationality?

Him: The main objection to our relationship is religion. My family is from the Muslim Shiite sect, whereas hers is from the Druze sect My parents, and most of Muslims follow what the fatawa prescribe. In this case, the fatwa requires a durzi girl to convert to Islam in order to marry a Muslim guy, otherwise, the marriage is prohibited. However, the Qur’an does not explicitly forbid marrying a durzi girl. I will leave this to you!

Her: The main objection to our relationship is religion. We are both atheists, but I come from a Druze family and he comes from a Muslim Shiite family. So both parents/families will stand in our way if we were to take the next step. Both our parents want us to break up.

Q.3. How does your family deal with this issue?

Him:  I want a civil marriage of course. So I spoke to my parents many times, they told me that: “Regardless how good and rational your girlfriend is, we will not agree on this marriage. It is against our religion and traditions, it is forbidden. She either converts to Islam and you get your marriage done at the “Islamic Jaafari Court” or you go on your own and we will never accept your marriage.”

Her: My parents want me to end the relationship. Their main reason is that they are scared of what could happen in the future due to differences in religion. And the thing is that they’re affected by the society they live in and this is controlling their decisions in this situation.
I’ve tried, many times, to explain and make them see my point of view in this, but nothing changed. They still want me to break up with him. And of course I don’t want to, so I’ve been lying to them for the past 3 years. It’s not easy, but they’ve left me no other choice.

Q.4. How is it affecting you? Your relationship?

Him: This whole situation is affecting us badly, we are not going about our lives like any other normal couple. We are going out secretly to avoid the trouble from both families, and frankly, it is putting us under a lot of pressure.

Her: It’s putting me under a lot of stress. I feel like I can’t be with my parents or talk to them about anything because of this.
I can say that it’s not affecting the relationship a lot, because we have been together for 4 years and we’re still going strong. But our relationship is a secret. So it puts us under a lot of stress and sometimes when we go out, I’m worried that I might run into a family member or something like that. And this is very annoying and stupid maybe (stupid compared to real life problems).

Q.5. What would you want your family to understand about your relationship?

Him: What I want from my family is to understand that this is my life, my decision to make, and they should be happy to see me happy and respect my choices.

Her: What I want from my parents is to try to see him for what he really is, and not exclusively for what his background is. I want them to stop comparing us to other failed interfaith relationships. I want them to try to see things from my point of view. I want them to let me live the way I see fit and not the way they expect from me.
My dad loves Gibran Khalil Gibran and he constantly repeats his famous quote: “Your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” I just wish he’d actually apply it in real life.

Whenever I tell our story to people, friends or otherwise, they smile and just tell me that it’s a great story. It hurts to see my parents reacting this way compared to what “strangers” say to me.



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Joana Aziz is a Syrian Barcelona-based freelance writer. She was the Arts & Culture Editor for Time Out Magazine (Beirut) and has written for Home Magazine, Conatus New, Middle East Eye and Freethought Lebanon.

She has a BA in Communication Arts from the Lebanese American University, an MA in International Studies in Media, Power and Difference from the University of Pompeu Fabra and is currently pursuing her PhD in Communication at the same university.

Aside from having a writing career, her ambitions for the future include teaching, researching, and activism.