My Sunni-Shia Marriage isn’t easy – but not as Thorny as you’d think

I get mixed reactions when people find out that I, Hafsa, a British-born Indian from a practising Sunni family, is married to Ali, a British-born Pakistani from one of the most renowned Shia families in London. There are those who brush it off with the same indifference had I told them a banal, meaningless fact about me, like wearing size 4 shoes. There are others who applaud me for my bold choice of husband, believing that our marriage is a much needed demonstration of unity between the two sects. Then there are those who do not have to verbalise their thoughts on the subject – the disdain in their eyes says it all.

As much as a part of me would like to claim that my reasons for marrying Ali were about the greater good, the bigger picture, building bridges, breaking barriers… the reality is, I married him for his reflective personality, his strong will and his wicked sense of humour. I knew I wanted to continue my journey through life with him as my partner and companion. I always felt that we had more similarities than differences. Our aims and goals in life were the same. We believed in the same God, the same Prophet (peace be upon him). Okay, we prayed in different ways. So what? We both still prayed, didn’t we?

Surprisingly for some, my parents saw it in the same light as I did. I wasn’t surprised though. They have always been open-minded and my dad would always say that there weren’t that many differences between Sunnis and Shias. My mum also has a cousin who married a Shia so my doing so wasn’t exactly revolutionary.

Ali’s parents however, were a very different story. Staunch Shias with active and important roles in the North London Shia community, they were horrified at the prospect of going against their values and bringing a Sunni daughter-in-law into the family. In fact, Ali told them that I was contemplating converting to Shi’ism to make them reconsider and at one point, I seriously thought about doing it to get them to accept us. But the longer they took to agree, the more I decided I didn’t want to pretend to be something I’m not.

A lot of people told me that if I thought the events leading up to my marriage were challenging, the actual marriage itself would be a hundred times worse. At first, it was. Marrying someone from a different culture is tricky to navigate as it is, but add to that different beliefs and living with your in-laws and you find yourself in a situation that is stifling on so many levels.

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While Ali and his parents knew that I wasn’t Shia, his extended family (who had voted not to let the marriage go ahead when we first met them) didn’t know. It didn’t help that I was too afraid to pray in front of them, which would give away the fact that I wasn’t one of them. His cousins would ask me if I was Sunni or Shia, and I would brush it off with a nonchalant, “I’m Muslim.” While that avoidance tactic worked with some, others pushed me for a definite answer. I didn’t like admitting I was Sunni.

My first Muharram in their household was probably one of the most challenging, exhausting and emotionally draining times of our marriage, with everything heightened by the fact that I was living in their house. Ali’s parents weren’t just ordinary Shias – they were the pillars of their community. They have a huge house which is at the centre of many Shia traditions: Muharram activities being one of them.

During Muharram, my in-laws receive neighbours and visitors who come to listen to special lectures on the tragedy of Karbala. Each night, they commemorate a different death and things can get really intense. It’s like they save every ounce of sorrow and pain they’ve experienced throughout the year and in Muharram, they let it all out.

There I was, a newlywed Sunni witnessing the scene of a room full of women wailing in pure anguish for the very first time. I had a panic attack and left the room. That night, I remember crying in bed for my future children and what they would have to see and endure.

Ali was an idiot for throwing me into the deep end. Even his Shia friends told him to take me out of the house during Muharram because it was too much for even some devout Shias. Now that I don’t live with my in-laws anymore, it’s easier for me to handle. I keep my distance and try not to watch or engage.

The other major point of contention between us is the Shia viewpoint on the sahaba (companions of the Prophet, pbuh). A lot of Shias, especially from older generations, curse the sahaba and it’s the one thing that hurts me more than anything. I have grown up loving our Prophet’s companions and I cannot bear to hear anyone speak ill of them. My in-laws don’t curse them in my presence, which I appreciate, and my husband doesn’t do it at all. Even Ali’s cousin who is a Shia shaikh tells the rest of the family not to curse the sahaba, which is a huge sign of how today’s Shias – our generation – is a lot more open to change and logic than our ancestors. In fact, there’s a small movement now among young Shias who are against the cursing of the sahaba.

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People ask me all the time how Ali and I get through our day-to-day lives with differences in how we pray, when we break the fast, when we do nafl (optional) fasts, what prayers we do during Ramadan and so on. To be honest, these little things don’t bother either of us. We argue less about religion than a Sunni husband and wife probably do, because we made a well-informed decision to overlook our differences and get married. We know that there’s no point arguing and debating every little thing because the bottom line is, he’s Shia and I’m Sunni. There are going to be differences. Instead, we just agree to disagree.

Ali even makes jokes to his family about my breaking my fast “ages ago”, which he does intentionally to try and normalise our differences in their eyes. Whenever we do debate, we try not to get worked up if we disagree. Ali is a logical man and will look into Sunni practices to learn more and broaden his horizons. Similarly, I’ve read a lot more on what happened after the death of the Prophet (pbuh) to try and understand his perspective. I’m not perfect though. Sometimes, in anger or annoyance, or even as a joke, I do insult aspects of Shi’ism which Ali takes in good humour.

The only times our differences are really highlighted are when we argue about politics, such as what happened in Bahrain or what’s happening in Syria. It’s during such arguments that we realise we need to always stand against tyrants – regardless of where in the world the tyranny takes place or whether it’s instigated by Sunnis or Shias.

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Photo by Epicurrence / Unsplash

My parents have also played a crucial role in stabilising my marriage despite the challenges. They openly accepted my decision to marry Ali and have never thrown any problems I’ve had as a result of it in my face. They wouldn’t, because I didn’t go against their wishes; I had their blessing. Whenever issues have risen, such as my in-laws telling me not to fast on the 9th and 10th of Muharram like Sunnis do, instead of being outraged at their audacity, my dad told me not to fast on both days if it kept the peace in my household. My family, alhamdulillah, are open-minded, diplomatic and pragmatic. They will always give me advice that’s best for my marriage, regardless of their personal or religious beliefs. In fact, I think that both families have moved passed the Shia-Sunni thing to a large extent. Through creating relationships, we have been able to create more understanding between both sects.

I am concerned about how our marriage will affect our “su-shi” children. Last year, when I took my daughter to Eid prayer with me, my mother-in-law was furious at Ali for allowing his daughter to go to a Sunni mosque. Similarly, whenever my daughter prays at their house, they will always tell her to put her arms on either side. She’s only four but has her mother’s stubborn streak and will do whatever she wants – which usually means crossing her arms like Sunnis do.

Despite any concerns I have about our future, one thing I do know is that with my husband’s help and his willingness to keep an open mind, we will be able to tackle anything. Last Ramadan, he went for his first tarawih prayer and he really liked it. Last year, I went to a Muharram talk and I enjoyed it. We both realise that our marriage will only work if we’re willing to try new things, if we’re open to new concepts, and if we accept our differences.

After all, we have the same values and we’re working towards the same goals. We both recognise and appreciate the individual relationship we have with Allah. Perhaps if Muslims started focusing on their relationships with Allah instead of judging others, we could really get along better as an entire Muslim ummah.

What really saddens me is that you see so many Muslim initiatives aimed at engaging with other religions: between Muslims and Christians, or Muslims and Jews. Yet we find it so difficult to come together with our brothers and sisters who believe in One Allah and the last Messenger (pbuh). What does that say about us?

Maybe my views are controversial, maybe they’re idealistic, maybe they even seen simplistic, but deep down, I do hope that one day, Sunnis and Shias will unite. It’s not going to be tomorrow but I do believe that it’s possible. After all, if Ali and I and our families can do it, maybe it can be done on a larger, grander scale.


20 days ago

Get married, free, on muzmatch.

South African Match! #muzmatchsuccess

My name is Halima and I'm from Gauteng, South Africa and my husband (Arshad) is from Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa; we are both South African Indians.

He liked my profile on muzmatch on the 8th of April 2018 and on the 9th we started chatting and Alhamdulillah, today we are husband and wife.

We did our Nikah last month (March 9th 2019).

About a month before I joined muzmatch I remember speaking to my mother in the kitchen as we cooked supper and she had full confidence that I'd be getting married soon.

I told her that I felt that maybe I'm just not meant to get married and be happy, taking into consideration that I personally felt like one could never find a decent man whose intention is to make Nikah in this day and age.

My Moulana had recommended that I join Nikah/Muslim match-making groups and muzmatch populated amongst my searches, so I downloaded the app and registered. After a while I had lost hope so I deleted the app from my phone but did not deactivate my profile.

It was a Monday morning, I had woken up to get ready for work,

I checked my phone and I had an email notification from muzmatch which read "Arshad likes you".

I was quite surprised; I looked at his profile and his biography was quite captivating but it seemed so surreal - this was too good to be true.

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I used the link in his bio to view his Facebook profile, we had a mutual friend which was my cousin that also resides in Kwa-Zulu Natal, so I felt a bit more assured that this is definitely real considering that I had started to think that this could potentially be a catfish.

We started chatting that very morning and there was an instant click. It felt like we were long lost friends because of how well we understood each other and could complete each others sentences. We had the same interests and the same intention; we could speak for hours on end without running out of things to say.

We had realized that we are most definitely soulmates.

Within 2 weeks he called my parents to ask for my hand in marriage. In July 2018 (21st), I booked a flight to visit him and his mum for the day and after spending time together we knew that this was the right decision and that Allah SWT had created us for each other.

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We then saw each other once again in August 2018 (25th - A surprise for my 21st birthday planned by him and my mum); and again in November 2018 when he flew up to attend my younger sister's wedding with his mum, younger sister and brother-in-law.

Slowly the long distance had become difficult, our younger sisters were both already married and settled and we started wondering when would we actually get married. In February this year he decided to relocate to Gauteng and found a temporary job.

His dad visited my parents and they decided to set a Nikah date, Alhamdulillah once the date was set everything fell into place by the will of Allah. He found a job as a PC Engineering lecturer and we were able to find our own place with our parents help and support.

Today I am happily married, living my dream with my husband and I have wonderful in-laws that love me as much as they love Arshad.

The most important quality I wanted in a husband was someone that could take my family as his own and Alhamdulillah I found that in Arshad.

We are now a huge happy family Alhamdulillah.

Jazak'Allah muzmatch! Arshad has found me due to the creation of this wonderful app (He always says that he found me, not the other way around).

I would advise everyone to put their trust and faith in Allah SWT, never give up hope that Allah SWT will send the one who is meant for you when the time is right - for Allah is the greatest of planners. May all the other individuals find their spouses through this app as well Insha'Allah.

Halima & Arshad

1 day ago

Egyptian Romance #muzmatchsuccess

My name is Yasmeen and I found my husband, Taymoor, on muzmatch on the last day of last ramadan. We were both divorced.

The first time we talked on muzmatch was in June and we got married one month later in August 2018. I always wanted to send our story to inspire others who are searching for a good husband and wife.  

We are both Egyptians, from Cairo, we even work & live very near to each others in New Cairo city. I am a digital marketing manager and Taymoor is an IT manager. I am 37 years old and he is 40.  

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I have a daughter who is 12 years old, and I was searching for a real Muslim man who would be a good husband and father. Finally I found Taymoor, who is a good man and a good Muslim, he is very kind.

I am telling my friends that I found someone who really looks like me from the inside.  He was divorced and also has a kid, who is 5 years old. When we first chatted on muzmatch we spoke for over 6 hours, he was surprised much we got on, he even thought that this was a prank!

I couldn't believe that I finally found the man I was looking for. The first time we met, was after Eid al futr, in the House of Cocoa, as Taymoor knew that I loved chocolate. We talked about ourselves for over six hours, I did not want to leave and neither did he.

After we met I told my family and friends, and he did too. He and his family visited us and we got married in only two months, I never imagined that I would find my soulmate and marry him that fast.

I always wanted to find a man to trust and love, after being a single mom for years, I found out that my dream man was hard to find, but alhamdullah I found him on your app.  

Alhamdullah, we are very happy together, my daughter lives with us and his son visits us on the weekends. You cannot imagine how much I am now recommending muzmatch to all my friends.

It didn't even take me long to find my husband. I used the app for almost one month or less.

I am so happy alhamdullah now that I married a real muslim I always wanted.  

2 days ago

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Close Call #muzmatchsuccess

My name is Sara and I just wanted to thank muzmatch and let you know that I finally got engaged on 24th December 2018 and found my Fiance - Ghazunfar on the App.  

We are really happy Alhamdulilah and just wanted to thank you for creating a platform for Muslims to find a suitable match for marriage!    

I believe it's a real blessing because initially we matched but we didn't talk as he hadn't read my messages and was not appearing online. After around 4 weeks, I unmatched however after some weeks I logged in and I came across his profile again. After some giving it some thought I decided to rematch and give it a try again.

The next day he replied to me and the is history.  Its been a almost a year since we matched on Muzmatch and we have set the Nikkah date which will be 1st March 2019 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.  

Our families are very happy and we are looking forward to entering into the blessed union of marriage Insha'Allah. We just wanted to say keep up the good work, may Allah bless you and request that you keep us in prayers.  

One last thing to everyone using the  muzmatch App - please do not give up, there is someone out there for us all!  

2 days ago

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