How Pakistani-Americans are entering interfaith and interracial marriages and making them work

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How Pakistani-Americans are entering interfaith and interracial marriages  and making them work

Saks and Suzie’s Pakistani-Palestinian-American-Muslim family

Fifteen years ago, at a crowded picnic in Redwood City, California, young college student Saks (short of Sakib) Afridi couldn’t help but notice Suzie — “a girl with the most beautiful curly hair”. He tried his best lines to charm her and they worked.

But as she smiled and the two made conversation, one thought tormented her: “Please let this man be a Christian,” she said to herself — only to learn that he is Pakistani, Pushtoon and Muslim.

Suzie was born to a Greek Orthodox Christian family in Jericho, Palestine. Her family was “ethnically cleansed and pushed out” of their hometown when she was 13. It was at this time that she came to the United States.

“We were absolutely forbidden from falling in love with Muslims…” she says.

“The Muslim world needs civil marriage laws… a lot of the time people risk death to be able to get married.”

Her “heart sank” as she thought of what her family’s reaction would be to her dating a Muslim. But it was too late. She was already falling for Saks; soon enough, the two were making plans to see each other again.

“I told her I’m leaving [for New York] day after tomorrow and we have to meet before that,” Saks recalls. He also did a “very Pakistani thing” to assure Suzie that he is not “crazy” — he told her that they should both bring a friend along and do a “group thing”.

The date went so well that he postponed his flight for a week later; the two met every day while he was in Redwood City. There was no turning back; hereon their relationship went from strength to strength.

“We started learning each other’s languages,” Suzie shares. He began taking Arabic lessons from a teacher he fondly refers to as “an institution”. She started to learn Urdu.

They decided it was time to get the families involved.

His father’s job as a PIA pilot meant that the family spent a significant chunk of their lives in different countries, exposed to new cultures. Saks, who was born in Peshawar, moved to Libya as a five-year-old and went on to live in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the US. “We led a very well-rounded life, and half of it was spent exploring and figuring out how to cope with different environments and new cultures. I think that really helped us become more open-minded,” he says.

When he told his parents he has met and fallen in love with a Palestinian Christian girl they were forthcoming. It helped that Suzie made great first impressions on the family and “won all the aunties over” with an Urdu phrase, “Aap se mil kar buhut khushi hui [Very nice to meet you]”.

Suzie, however, did not expect the same enthusiasm from her family. “By the time I was 10, I knew that when a Christian girl falls in love with a Muslim boy she is either disowned, her mother-in-law gets a heart attack or she dies in an honour killing,” she says.

 

She couldn't help but think about a woman in her neighbourhood, back in Jericho, who mysteriously disappeared; it was later learnt that she was murdered by her brother because, “she fell in love with a Muslim”.

 

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