Transcending cultures

Cross-cultural and interfaith marriages were alien to Kashmir, but with people going outside the valley for studies and work, it is not so novel now. Aliya Bashir reports.

When Munawar Kawoosa, 32, was working in a software company in Dubai, he met Jane Mariano, now Atifa, 27, an American catholic through a common friend. His heart chose to ignore the barriers of religion. But challenges were to follow.

For three years, he kept it a secret from his parents. His parents wanted him to get married to a cousin. When his parents asked him to take a month’s leave, as they had planned his marriage in Kashmir, he somehow gathered the courage and told them that he wanted to marry another girl. His father threatened to disown him if he did not marry the girl of their choice. But Munawar had made his decision. So had Jane.

“When we met, he complimented me, as I was wearing a head scarf and that had impressed him. In just few meetings, he proposed and I accepted,” says Atifa with a smile.

When Jane told her parents about Munawar, they also disliked their daughter’s choice. They told her that he should convert first and only then will they approve of their marriage. As the opposition from both the families grew stronger, Munawar and Atifa broke all ties with their families. They married in Dubai as per the Shariah.

“We never forced each other to convert. But, when we decided to marry, Atifa wanted to marry in Islamic way,” Munawar says.

Atifa, who is working as a researcher in a telecommunication company at Dubai says, “Love is all about companionship. My faith wasn’t just my faith because it was how I was raised, but it is truly what I believe in my heart. Although, it was quite unlikely to happen but I chose to listen to my heart and follow it.”

The ice broke a year later when she gave birth to her first child and their differences with their families waned. Both the families welcomed them back. “We are settled in Dubai. But in our holidays we do visit both Kashmir and America to spend time with our families. It is a great feeling for us and especially our kid to have an opportunity of learning different cultures,” she says.

=With Kashmiris working and studying in other states and countries there have been many instances of cross-cultural and interfaith marriages involving them.
When Samuel Mark, 30, lost his parents in a car accident, he left his country, the US, and came to Bangalore looking for a job. He had never thought that the journey will change his life. Mark converted to Islam took up the name Sameer and married Joziya Zargar, 25, from Kashmir.

They had met at an Islamic Conference in Bangalore when Joziya was in the city on an three-month official assignment. She was staying with her brother, Hanief.  Sameer, who was then working in Bangalore had met her brother. “I had a lot of interest to know about other religions and I enrolled myself to attend an Islamic Conference in Bangalore, where I met Hanief and we became good friends,” he recalls. As soon as Sameer converted to Islam, he hoped to marry a Muslim girl.

“I had never thought in my wildest dreams that I would marry a six feet one inch tall white American,” says Joziya with a giggle.
 
“Hey, I hadn’t even met a Kashmiri girl, leave alone the thought of marrying one,” Sameer chips in.

After Joziya completed her work she returned to Kashmir and by the time Sameer had fallen for her. “I wanted to be with her, always,” says Sameer.

When Sameer went to Hanief with a proposal to marry his sister, he opposed it. He also sent an email to Joziya where he spoke about his interest in her and about Islam. She finally convinced her parents.

Sameer and Joziya had a traditional Kashmiri wedding at her residence in Saida Kadal, Srinagar. After few weeks of their marriage, the couple shifted to Bangalore. “Though he had adjusted with my culture and religion, I would not have married him if my family had not given their consent,” says Joziya. Ehsan Khan, 27, of Harwan, Srinagar married a Buddhist girl, Yangkyi, 23, now Huzaifa of China. She was working as a designer in a garment factory. They met in an unusual way. Ehsan had ordered a blue Kurta (shirt) from the factory’s outlet but the one supplied was green.

“I still remember when she politely tried to persuade me and promised to replace the Kurta and drop it personally at my residence.  When she came to my residence to deliver the shirt, it was my birthday and I insisted her to join the party. We chatted for a long time,” says Ehsan. When they decided to marry there was a stifled resistance from their respective families. They got married in China as per the local tradition and later came to Kashmir where they had a traditional marriage. She converted. Ehsan, a lone son, is looking after his father’s carpet business and Huzaifa is a home-maker living happily with her in-laws.

Acceptance of differences and giving each other space binds the couples from different cultural backgrounds, he says. However, differences do crop up mostly due to their different upbringing and inherited values.

“There were no compulsions from my in-laws to accept their tradition and legacy. However, the biggest challenge after I came to Kashmir was to understand their language. But, now I am trying to adjust,” beams Huzaifa. “When two individuals come from different families, they have to develop their own family identity by choosing the traditions, habits and beliefs.”

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