Love, Life Stories

My Sunni-Shia marriage is not invalidated by your unwanted opinions

"Salaam alaikum sister, I heard you wanted to marry a Shia brother. You should avoid this man if he is Shia. They are deviant."

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I often wonder if the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) knew about the mess that would occur after he passed away.

In the wake of his passing, there were factions that popped up demanding that either Muhammad’s son-in-law or Muhammad’s best friend become the righteous caliph (or leader). These two factions present two different sides of history and one may see the effects today in the ongoing spats between Iran (Shia) and Saudi Arabia (Sunni).

When I met my spouse, I had no idea what Sunni or Shia meant – only that they hated each other in the Middle East. I did know, however, that we were both American converts from the Midwest looking for a kind and pious spouse.

When I met my spouse, I had no idea what Sunni or Shia meant - only that they hated each other. Click To Tweet

The first time we met was over a toasty mocha at a local cafe in early 2013. I asked all the questions I thought I was supposed to.

“Do you want children? Do you believe both genders should work outside the home? What are your goals and aspirations?”

I loved how he seemed so easy going, respectful, and devout. All of his answers checked out so we decided to get engaged.

For many Muslims, the engagement period is almost like dating. We excitedly meet each others’ families and friends while simultaneously getting to know each other better.

Our marriage is proof that Shia-Sunni unity is possible. Click To Tweet

When I introduced him to my closest friends, I admitted that he told me he was a convert to Shiism in passing.

My friend exclaimed, “A Shia? You shouldn’t get into this. It’s all political and should be avoided!”

I had a hard time believing I shouldn’t marry somebody because of politics overseas. Whether I liked it or not, the news was spreading fast in my small community.

During the following week, I tried to go to Jummah to pray and relax.  As soon as my prayer was over, I felt a hand on my left shoulder.

“Salaam alaikum sister, I heard you wanted to marry a Shia brother. You should avoid this man if he is Shia. They are deviant.”  I could not even tell you this auntie’s name who wanted to bestow her unwanted advice into my day.

The more I got to know my fiance, the more I was assured he was the right one for me. He invited me to learn more about Shi’ism through books and lectures so I could be more informed.

I had to start avoiding any events at the mosque due to the constant bombardment of beliefs and judgments on my marriage. Almost all of the people who tried to dissuade me did not know my husband and had never seen him before.  The attacks on his character and morality were so personal for people who had never met this man.

“Sister, all Shias are liars. I do not know this man you want to marry, but I’m positive he is lying to you.”

'I do not know this man you want to marry, but I am positive he is lying to you.' Click To Tweet

“Sister, they do not even believe in the five pillars. They have their own Quran!”

“Shias hate the Prophet Muhammad so much that they wished Ali was the Prophet. You don’t want to marry a Rafidhi*!”

Some of these quotes may not seem very serious if you are not Muslim but honestly, these claims are extremely blasphemous. Shias are a very small percentage of the Muslim world – about 10-15% of today’s Muslims worldwide. Finding a convert to Shi’ism is incredibly rare.

In the beginning, my husband was hoping I would also convert to Shi’ism like he did, but I remained staunchly against it. The theology was not a perfect fit for me, but I could respect where he was coming from.

I had to start avoiding any events at the mosque due to the constant judgment. Click To Tweet

We both believed in the same God, gave zakat, and read the same Quran. We both prayed – admittedly a bit different from one another, but we encouraged one another to put Allah (SWT) first.

Since we are both converts, our parents struggle to understand why we chose to become Muslim, much less why the Sunni-Shia thing was even an issue. Also, as a convert to Shi’ism, he did not do any of the extreme cultural actions I’ve seen in other cultures which made me more comfortable.

We could bond over our similar cultural backgrounds.

Three years have passed and our marriage is still growing strong. Now we try to educate our community and beyond about bridging the divide. Our marriage is proof that Shia-Sunni unity is possible.

* Rafidhi is a derogatory term towards Shi’ites that means “rejector”, referring to their rejection of the first caliph, Abu Bakr.

Tuscany Bernier

Tuscany Bernier

Tuscany Bernier is from Indiana where she lives with her husband and two cats. She was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and raised in the rural town of Ladoga, Indiana. Tuscany recently graduated with her associate's degree in Islamic Studies from Mishkah University and is passionate about cultural diversity and women’s studies.

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