Lessons Learned as the Daughter of a Hindu-Muslim Interfaith Marriage

Interfaith Marriage
Interfaith Marriage

All the courts in India were closed. There were Hindu/Muslim riots and all the market workers had left for the day. What day might you ask? The day my Hindu father and Muslim mother tried to get married the first time. I say the first time because, well, it took a few tries, but the third time’s a charm, right? Talk about the universe sending a signal! In 2001 I moved to the US with my sister and mom with my dad coming five years later. Both well-educated and outcast from their communities and families, my parents struggled a lot being an interfaith marriage in the ’80s in India. 

I often found myself trying to prove myself to be worthy of being one religion or the other to those around me, as I felt I did not belong to either community. Not understanding the weight and scarcity of my situation, I always struggled when family members would treat my father differently because he wasn’t Muslim. I was taunted by kids and teachers at a religious Saturday school in New Jersey calling me a half-blood Muslim as I, at the time, identified as Muslim. I mean come on, what even is that? This is not Harry Potter! This drove me away from religion entirely and I felt a lack of identity. I didn’t belong in either bucket, but I started to entertain the idea that maybe that was okay.

[Read Related: Partition Drew a Line Between us and we Dared to Cross it]

This situation caused a multitude of misconceptions like I was half Indian and half Muslim, which obviously makes zero sense. My favorite is the idea in desi culture that the family follows the man only. I would have people tell me it was alright I was “Muslim” because my dad was a Hindu. Or that I’m not Muslim entirely because my father is Hindu, but that is another issue.

Cue the lessons: 

  1. You are not what others say you are; you and only you can define who and what you become. 
  2. Keep an open mind in life, especially about topics that make you uncomfortable and scared. These are the topics that will get you thinking outside of the box society created for you and allow you to truly accept others. 
  3. Ever think where you got your opinions? How do you know they are right? Rewiring your brain can be difficult but sometimes it is important. 

One invaluable thing I learned is that circumstances do not dictate your growth and who you are. I decided to explore what I liked and disliked about religion and social constructs. I also began to understand that the same people that ostracized my family and I were simply misinformed, uneducated on the topic, and frankly close-minded.


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My parent’s decision to love and help one another caused them a lot of financial and emotional setbacks, and I’m sure a lot of regret and pain. To this day, some topics are still too painful to talk about. But luckily for me, the result was two parents who only want the best for my sister and me, who irrespective of color, creed, gender, origin, or economic status, accept all people for their good and bad.

I didn’t have much of a relationship with either set of my grandparents, another price paid at the expense of customs. My grandparents eventually came around, maybe a little late but something is always better than nothing and for that I’m grateful. It takes a deep level of understanding to acknowledge that they will always feel differently due to their upbringing and the stigmas of Indian culture, but I can take solace in the fact that without these experiences I wouldn’t be who I am. 

[Read Related: Reflecting on the Trauma of India and Pakistan’s Partition — More Than 70 Years Later

Coming from a diverse background and growing up around two resilient immigrant parents who had to make ends meet, I know a thing or two about not feeling like you are heard or understood. Sometimes I wonder, am I going to do a traditional Muslim Nikkah when I’m married or a Hindu Mandap? Are my kids Hindu, Muslim, or none? There isn’t a clear path here which shows me that I have the best gift—the ability to make my own choice. Fortunately, I was not pigeonholed early in life with the idea that every woman and man must be made uniform to be worthy of respect, love and community.

As tumultuous as our world seems right now, just remember there are people like my parents who push beyond boundaries. People like our friends and family who pushed past some of these barriers and accepted us as human beings first to break the cycle of confining societal norms.

The opinions expressed by the writer of this piece, and those providing comments thereon (collectively, the “Writers”), are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Brown Girl Magazine, Inc., or any of its employees, directors, officers, affiliates, or assigns (collectively, “BGM”). BGM is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Writers. It is not the intention of Brown Girl Magazine to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual. If you have a complaint about this content, please email us at Staff@0mq.349.myftpupload.com. This post is subject to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. If you’d like to submit a guest post, please follow the guidelines we’ve set forth here.
By Dolly Maharaja

Dolly is a 22-year-old proud immigrant daughter, born in India, lived in Kenya, who then migrated to the US. She … Read more ›

The Family Immigration Process That’s Meant to Reunite, Keeps us Apart

These days, the phrase, “love knows no bounds” doesn’t seem to hold true. For many couples, specifically, those in long-distance relationships, the lengthy and complicated immigration process can keep lovers apart for six to 24 months. Well, aside from the thousands and thousands of miles of the deep ocean in between. I’ve been there; I have been an immigration attorney for 10 years and I found love abroad (my wife was living in the UK when we met).

I was flying across the Atlantic every few months so, as you can imagine, dating was quite expensive (though she quite liked the fact that for our first intentional visit, I paid several thousand pounds for a global migration conference as an excuse for flying over).

Marriage immigration is complex and costly. The eligibility and procedural requirements are confusing and require multiple long and complicated application forms over the course of six to eight years: from fiancé(e) or spouse visa through adjustment of status process, the Removal of Conditions Application, and thereafter applying for U.S. citizenship.

To put it in perspective, many immigration applications end up being 200-300 pages long. For you to know exactly what you need can be either extremely expensive — using an attorney, who typically charges $2,000-$12,000 per application (not including government-filing fees) — or time-consuming learning how to DIY. If you opt for the latter, it is quite scary to have to figure out the requirements and procedures and follow up with case status checks in hopes of finally getting some peace of mind that your case is progressing as it should. 

[Read Related: Tug of war: Brown Women and the Feat of Marriage]

The worst part? The grueling wait. Waiting while not knowing how long until you can bring love home; waiting to start a family — the next chapter of your life. You keep hearing people say, “life is short!” and you thought that you finally found a partner you want to spend it with. Unfortunately, life (bureaucratic procedures) get in the way. 

The combination of distance and long immigration processing times puts our next chapter ‘on pause’ while we do everything we can to bridge the gap — the gap that effectively challenges our ability to build a ‘real’ relationship. Or did it? Is there a test for this kind of thing? I mean, apparently, the U.S. Immigration Service (USCIS) seems to know what a “real” relationship is and tests ours against some “standard” to determine if it is genuine enough to grant a fiancé(e) visa or spousal green card. What makes a strong Fiancé(e) or Spouse visa application? I’ve experienced love; I am human. What do they want from me to bring my partner home?

I have been a U.S. immigration lawyer for over 10 years and I myself found love abroad and firsthand had to go through the process of bringing my spouse home to the United States. My wife is an NRI who grew up in the Philippines and lived in London where we met (more on how our meddlesome Indian families instigated our “meet-cute” in a future article). Having recently gone through this journey, and having helped hundreds of immigrant couples over the years, it became obvious that there had to be a better way. It should not be expensive, unaffordable, or overly complicated for you to bring your loved one home to become a family. 

[Read Related: How to Follow Your Heart, Even When it’s Hard]

When we were apart, we did everything from waking each other up in the middle of our respective nights, with the time difference, to one partner falling asleep with the other on the phone. We watched movies together on Netflix. We made travel plans and talked about what the future would look like. We craved each other and expressed our love daily, maybe even hourly.

The future can be uncertain for any couple, but perhaps even more so for those in a long-distance relationship. When one partner is waiting for a spousal visa or fiancé visa, there can be a lot of anxiety and stress about the process and wait times. Even one mistake can set the whole process back months or even years and, if you are not familiar with the process, there’s always the overhanging uncertainty of whether or not the visa will be approved altogether. 

In today’s globalized world where borders are becoming less relevant than ever before, largely thanks to technological advances which allow individuals across countries via Facetime, WhatsApp, and Skype chats without having left home, there is more of a need for a streamlined immigration tech platform that helps “modern” couples who are dating long-distance with the help of technology.

The number one reason Fiancé(e) visa or Spouse visa applications are denied is lack of documentation evidencing your relationship/intent to marry. This article shows what evidence you can provide USCIS to prove you have a genuine relationship and thereby strengthen your visa application. OurLoveVisa.com is an immigration attorney-designed platform that provides free tools and features to help couples going through the U.S. K-1 or marriage visa process plan, manage, and track their immigration journey. Many couples going through the K-1 fiancé visa process, or CR-1/IR-1 spouse visa process, have found its relationship timeline tool, which is as easy to use as Instagram, helpful in building their application. The best part: it’s free to use. The OurLoveVisa.com platform was built so you can focus on what is truly important, your relationship!

The long, unreasonable immigration processing/wait times are definitely another topic for discussion and, as time goes on, I will continue to share and elaborate on my and my wife’s joint and individual journeys through marriage, immigration, and closing the gap from our long-distance relationship. In the meantime, I hope the information provided will bring value to you and your journey.

By Kunal Tewani

Kunal Tewani is a US immigration lawyer who grew up in New York with his extended family under one roof. … Read more ›