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“Ask a Priest: Should I Go Back to My Muslim Boyfriend?”
Q: I am a Catholic woman who loves a Sunni Muslim man. We broke up a few months ago because religion was going to become an issue if we had continued our relationship. Our concern lay mainly on the faith of our future children. Obviously I want Catholic children and he wants Sunni children. It is law that a child must take the religion of their father, so it was my responsibility to end the relationship. Since neither of us had done anything wrong, we ended on good terms. It has been a few months since then, and my emotional state seems to worsen by the day. I do not want to leave my house as I feel like I’m emotionally crippled. I’m constantly crying and I don’t want to be around people. He was a very loving person who always put me before anything else. Now, he checks up on me to make sure I am all right. I know he loves still loves me very much. It seems as if he was the missing piece in my life almost like my other half. Basically, we had everything in common except for the one thing we needed to have in common — religion. It is getting to the point where I am seriously considering getting back together with him as I am in so much mental and physical pain. I know Jesus teaches us to love, and I love him very much and I know he feels the same way. I need to know what will happen to me in the afterlife if I decide to get back together with him and marry. And what will happen to my children in the afterlife if they are not Christian. Please, I really need some guidance. – V.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It sounds as though your initial decision to break off the relationship was the prudent one.
You recognized that religion would have a deep impact on your marriage and on the raising of children. You took a long view of what lay ahead, and wisely decided that there was probably no real way to reconcile your Catholicism and his Islam.
And now … you feel tempted to reverse course. You feel tempted to resume the relationship, even though nothing fundamental has changed. Moreover, you are tempted after a period of feeling emotionally crippled and constantly crying.
Changing course on major life decisions in the midst of anxiety and emotional fragility is a recipe for disaster. This goes against one the key rules of discernment of St. Ignatius Loyola.
He urged that “In time of desolation never to make a change; but to be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation …” The Holy Spirit works in moments of calm, not anxiety and desolation.
So how might you proceed? Perhaps a few things are worth considering.
First, it would be good to double-down on your Catholic faith, intensify your prayer life and sacramental life. You want to stay close to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Second, you seem to think that either you go back with your Muslim friend or you face a life of loneliness and misery. But that is a false dilemma.
An option would be to try to get out of the house more and find a network of Catholic friends.
It sounds as though you are a bit isolated, which isn’t healthy. You need a wider community of Catholic friends to help you keep things in perspective and to live your faith more easily. Having Catholic friends would also increase your chances of meeting an eligible man who shares your faith.
Third, you want to remind yourself why you broke up in the first place.
To be a good Catholic, you need to raise your kids Catholic. And for your friend to be a good Muslim, he will assume that the kids need to be raised Muslim. It is hard to figure out how to reconcile these two positions. It is not clear how to square this circle.
It is possible (though not automatic) to get a dispensation to marry a Muslim. But a 2004 instruction, Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi, from the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People calls for caution:
“67. […] In any case, the marriage between a Catholic and a Muslim, if celebrated in spite of all this, requires not only canonical dispensation but also the support of the Catholic community both before and after the marriage. One of the most important tasks of Catholic associations, volunteer workers and counselling services will be to help these families educate their children and, if need be, to support the least protected member of the Muslim family, that is, the woman, to know and insist on her rights.
“68. Finally as regards the baptism of the children, it is well known that the norms of the two religions are in stark contrast. The problem must therefore be raised with absolute clarity during the preparation for marriage, and the Catholic party must take a firm stand on what the Church requires.”
How much, in practice, you would be supported by a Catholic community and how much your rights would be upheld in a marriage, is something you would need to gauge.
A very real possibility in a case of an interfaith marriage is that the Catholic wife will be tempted to downplay her faith for the sake of domestic peace. She will be tempted to forgo her faith in a practical way and fail to pass it on to her children.
Careful! In the afterlife a Catholic parent who fails to try to pass on the faith to children will have to answer for that negligence before God.
All this advice is geared toward the long term. Sure, your friend might be a very fine man, and yes, you might have lots of romantic feelings for him now. But feelings don’t last. What is more likely to last is the deep religious chasm that separates you and him.
If you are still tempted to reverse course, think about the consequences of marrying him.
How would your children handle that? How would they reconcile the differences between Islam and Catholicism?
How would they handle Mom saying that Jesus is the Second Person of the Trinity who took on human nature, and Dad insisting that Jesus was only a prophet, only a man?
What would they make of Mom believing that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, and Dad’s religion thinking that to reverence the host is idolatrous?
In any case, even marrying a wonderful man won’t lead to the fulfillment our hearts yearn for — we are made to live in communion with God, and if that suffers, we can never have interior peace either in this life or in the next. For perspective, you might find our Retreat Guide on marriage helpful.
Whatever you do, you want to make Jesus first in your life. And ideally you would expect the same of your children.
Perhaps you might want to turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary for help. And count on my prayers.
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