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Challenges of interfaith families in Singapore, and beyond

Such families are more of a social reality for the Church in Asia than they are in other parts of the globe
Ahmad Nurcholish, right, an interfaith marriage counselor with the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace, poses for a photo with an interfaith couple in this file image

Ahmad Nurcholish, right, an interfaith marriage counselor with the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace, poses for a photo with an interfaith couple in this file image. (Photo supplied)

Published: November 07, 2023 03:56 AM GMT
Updated: December 01, 2023 04:58 AM GMT

In the heart of Asia, where diversity thrives and traditions abound, the intersection of faith and family is a place where love and understanding must find a way to coexist peacefully.

Interfaith marriages are on the rise. In Singapore, one in three marriages is an interfaith union. Whether we approve of it or not, many individuals choose to embark on interfaith relationships.

Therefore, it becomes essential to explore ways to support these couples in overcoming the challenges they may encounter.

Some issues faced by interfaith families can be very practical and finding support can be challenging.

Consider the case of Mary, a Catholic who married a Hindu man. He died many years ago but she was well accepted and taken care of by her husband’s family. But when Mary died the Hindu family was at a loss about what to do for her funeral rites.

Muslim woman Fadhilah and Catholic man Ronald have been married for many years. However, their union faces resistance from her Muslim family, who hesitate to visit their home due to the presence of alcohol, which conflicts with their Islamic beliefs.

The Centre for Interfaith Understanding (CIFU), an interfaith organization in Singapore works to find ways to help interfaith families in their daily struggles. The organization is currently collecting stories from interfaith couples, documenting their trials, triumphs, and the unique tapestry of love that they create.

The book of these stories aims to offer solace and inspiration to couples facing similar situations, to reassure them that they are not alone in their unique journey. Additionally, the CIFU hopes to shed light on the experiences of those within interfaith relationships and their encounters with religious institutions, often limited in their support.

In the context of interfaith dialogue, many often underscore the importance of living in harmony, accepting differences, and learning to love people from other faiths to create a more inclusive society.

However, when it comes to the smallest unit of society — the family — we often encounter discomfort when two individuals from different faiths decide to unite in marriage.

Traditionally, interfaith marriages have not been encouraged, and in some countries, they are even deemed illegal. It is understandable to question the wisdom of entering an interfaith marriage. If one's religion holds significant importance, why willingly invite potential trouble by marrying someone from another faith?

It's heartening to see that leaders within religious communities are acknowledging the significance of interfaith dialogue.

The interfaith scene in Singapore is more alive than ever and it is not surprising that upon becoming a cardinal, the archbishop of Singapore, William Goh, stated last year that his priorities were to promote love and unity through fostering inter-religious dialogue and building a more inclusive society.

Goh called upon Catholics to join him in these noble tasks. However, interfaith couples often find it challenging to turn to their religious leaders for assistance and are sometimes made to feel that they should not have entered into such marriages in the first place.

It is time the national churches in Asia individually and collectively established policies and systems to minister and guide interfaith marriages and families. Interfaith families are more of a social reality for the Church in Asia than they are for the Church in other parts of the globe.

To shed light on the complexities faced by interfaith families in Asia and explore ways to bridge the gap, the Initiative for the Study of Asian Catholics (ISAC), hosted by the Asia Research Institute in Singapore is launching a research collaboration with scholars and interfaith practitioners.

The project seeks to understand the dynamics, challenges, and joys experienced by interfaith couples and their families in various Asian countries.

In pursuit of a deeper understanding of interfaith families, ISAC aims to establish a platform for discussions and research on interfaith families and marriages. The hope is to engage individuals who have similar interests to share their insights and perspectives.

Addressing these concerns necessitates further interdisciplinary research, drawing from fields such as sociology, anthropology, history, religious studies, and learning from the experiences of those in the field of religious practice.

If it is true that "peace starts at home," then we should devote greater attention to interfaith families, as they epitomize our diverse world today.

In the midst of the conflicts and tensions occurring across the globe, interfaith families may indeed have valuable lessons to impart about managing differences and promoting harmony.

*François Bretault, an advocate of inter-faith families in Asia for over two decades, has been a Singapore resident since 1990 and teaches French. He and his Singaporean wife together are actively involved in Worldwide Marriage Encounter Singapore. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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