Staff Note: This article does not represent a fiqhi (legal) ruling on the permissibility of Sunni/Shia marriages. We encourage those who are dealing with an intra-religious or inter-religious union to seek advice from a qualified local religious scholar, as is mentioned below. This article is solely meant to represent a counseling perspective on how to deal with marriage when the two potential spouses come from different backgrounds, whether cultural, ethnic, religious or otherwise.
I am Shia and the girl I am interested in marrying is Sunni. We met in college and now that we are both working professionals we feel we are ready to get married. We are very compatible, we were both raised in the U.S. and of Pakistani descent and we are both educated. My family loves her, but the problem is that her parents are discouraging our marriage because I am Shia. That is the only problem they have with me marrying their daughter. What do I do?
You found someone who you wish to marry and the differences in schools of thought may be a barrier to your marriage. Many people see a marriage between a Sunni and Shia as an inter-religious union. Her parents probably have strong beliefs about their Sunni practice and are not tolerant of Shia practices. Your parents may be very tolerant of Sunni practices or are assuming you will have a Shia household despite her Sunni beliefs. It is important that both her family and your family are educated about the differences and similarities in your schools of thought. Meeting with a trusted and knowledgeable Imam in your community will be beneficial for both of your families. Through this meeting, your families will better understand one another and their concerns and questions can be addressed regarding religious beliefs and practices. The two of you will need to consider and discuss your expectations of one another in regards to religious functions and attending the mosque. You also need to explore the expectations of your parents and how you will each participate with one another’s families during religious events. Determining what each of you is comfortable with and expect of one another will ease any potential conflicts within the marriage and with family members.
You mention that you feel you are very compatible with one another; this is probably because you both have a moderate level of conviction to one particular school of thought and a high tolerance for differences of opinion. A couple that can maintain mutual respect and tolerance for differences in religious views and practices of faith will have an easier transition into marriage. Some challenges that couples may face when practicing two different schools of thought are the impact on the family “culture” and raising children. You and your potential spouse must discuss how you envision practicing your faith at home – individually and jointly – as well as what types of traditions you will have in your home incorporating practices you are both comfortable with. You will also need to discuss which school of thought and religious practice you will be sharing with your children once you decide to begin a family. Since you share the same cultural traditions, you may find similarities in traditions such as language, food, and dress and this may be where you unite. Since people grow and change in their marriage, you will need to discuss how you might deal with a potential change in adherence to your beliefs in the future, for example stricter practice within your school of thought and how you would deal with these differences. Again, if couples are tolerant and respectful of differing views and practices and seek to communicate they will have fewer conflicts; however, couples that wish to change one another or disrespect the other’s views will have an extremely difficult time in the marriage.
VMCounselors was a collaborative advice column produced by two previous website authors, Amal Killawi, a Clinical Social Worker with a specialization in mental health and marriage education, and Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine, a Marriage and Family Therapist, specializing in premarital counseling. Please note that our counselors are not religious scholars and will not issue religious rulings.
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