Backchat: To date or not to date within your faith?

August 17th 2021

Ann-Marie Boumerhe, a 30-year-old Lebanese Maronite Christian and 22-year-old Sumaiya Chowdhure of Bangladeshi and Islamic background.

If there’s one thing we can agree on – relationships are difficult. Jostina Basta from Backchat sat down with people across all different faiths and religious backgrounds to hear their takes on interfaith dating.

When we consider young Australians, the online dating scene has its own additional complexities, not to mention navigating through Australia’s ever-growing diversity. The likeliness of falling in love with someone from a different faith or cultural background is greater than ever. Last year, one in three marriages were registered as interracial, but despite this, studies show people don’t necessarily share that same sentiment when it comes to interfaith relationships.

Exploring outside of the faith

The 2016 census indicated that almost two-thirds of Australians identify with a religion. For some, they take an explorative, or a rather neutral approach when dating outside of the faith. Last year, the Australia Talks National Survey asked 11,000 Aussies how open they were towards dating someone from a different religious background. Among 18–39-year-olds, around six percent voted as ‘not at all’ open, and 20 percent as ‘very open’.

Having an Islamic and Bangladeshi background, 22-year-old student Sumaiya Chowdhure says that while her parents want her to marry within the faith, she is not “hugely focussed” on religion while dating. Sumaiya believes faith shouldn’t be a deterrent and is rather open to learning from other religions.

“I always think religion is a special connection between you and God, and no one else should have the right to speak on it,” she told Backchat.

Similarly, 23-year-old Abdul* (we’ve changed his name) is of a Middle Eastern background, identifies as agnostic, and is currently in an interfaith relationship with an Islamic woman. “For her it’s surface-level, and for me it’s non-existent. It’s easy to make compromises when you’re not that committed [to the faith] in the first place”.

Others rely on faith as a guiding or deciding factor in dating, which can often be associated with a stronger affiliation to culture and faith. Solicitor Ann-Marie Boumerhe finds that while she was previously curious in exploring a diverse dating scene, she now places faith at the forefront. “[If] I was unsure of whether I should proceed or not, I would only find solace and able to find the answer to make a decision, in bringing it back to my faith,” the 30-year-old said.

Same religion, different beliefs

Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christian nurse Maryam Daoud finds that dating within a faith can be just as difficult as navigating the general dating scene. “There could be someone that’s the same faith and has been raised the same way as you, and they can [still] be incompatible, just because of the way they take the religion,” the 23-year-old said to Backchat.

“When you’re put into the same denomination, people expect everyone to be kind of united in their thinking, however, not everyone is the same” she added.

On the same footing, culture and religion are not mutually exclusive. Just because two people are compatible with religious views, they may not align culturally. Maryam mentions that backdated cultural influences or mentalities in the community, particularly towards women, pose an additional challenge in dating. While Maryam finds she is ‘too open-minded’ to date within the community, she also finds she doesn’t fit into Australia’s dating norms and culture.

“The secular world is close-minded to seeing religious and cultural views, and then your culture and religion are closed off to seeing more secular views and opening up. It’s really hard being in between that and seeing the outside world” Maryam says.

When choosing to date within the community, particularly when exposed to Australia’s diverse dating scene, one can even find their options are narrow. “That is very much a common experience, particularly for minority faiths,” says Ann-Marie. While she is often told she has a “small pool to choose from” within the Lebanese Maronite Catholic community, Ann-Marie is still hopeful and places trust in her faith.

“I don’t look at dating as just experimenting and wanting to feel a belonging with somebody. I’m looking at dating in the context of the vocation of marriage. That very much dictates my decision-making process in that,” Ann-Marie said. Despite the limitations, Ann-Marie remains proud of her religious background and culture – where she prefers to find a match in her community to preserve its deep-rooted culture and history.

A willingness to compromise

Meeting people halfway holds different weight for different people. It may be a matter of adjustment and understanding for some, but for others, it clashes with the core of their values and belief systems.

Abdul acknowledges that he needs to make additional considerations for his partner, and vice versa. “All the communication you’d do in a normal relationship, you’d do twice in an interfaith relationship … you really have to go into it with an open mind and an open heart,” he adds.

When it comes to raising kids for example, they both want their children to learn about both their religions and make their own choice. While he admits there are things he doesn’t understand about his partner’s religion, they’ve built their relationship on respecting differences.

“You open your eyes to a whole new world essentially. A lot of my preconceptions on her part of the world have been completely changed because of [the relationship]”.

Maryam was in a relationship with someone of the same religious sector, but different dominations, with her being Coptic Orthodox and him being Catholic. Religion wasn’t initially a huge consideration, but the topic eventually arose the further the relationship progressed long-term. Despite sharing the same God and faith, the nuances between the two different beliefs unfortunately led to the breakdown of their relationship.

“We disagreed on where we were going to get married and the differences between the two churches, such as communion or raising children. Small things like that kind of meant a lot to my partner, but for me, I was willing to bend and compromise”.

Ultimately, when it comes to the diverse dating scene of Australia – there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to faith and dating.

“I definitely think it’s about the individual and how willing they are to compromise” Maryam said.

Tune in to Backchat every Saturday from 9:30am for more news and current affairs.


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