Mixed Marriages in Sri Lanka
“Religion was never an obstacle…”
Two stories of mixed marriages from different corners of the country
“Religion is a way of life, but many problems occur when we consider that man was created only for religion” says Muthukuruppan Sambanthar (71), a retired school principal and former Hindu Religious Affairs Director of the Kandy Department of Education.
He was a Hindu, and at the age of 31, he fell in love with and married a Muslim woman: Abdul Majeed Mehrun Nisa who was a bank employee. The couple described how they had encountered religious questions during and after their marriage.
“Both our communities opposed our relationship. At one point we were threatened and warned that it could affect our jobs as well. Both communities were dead against it and challenged us, but we never took it to heart. We were very determined. Ours was a registered marriage under the general law and my wife still uses her name as Abdul Majeed Mehrun Nisa and I use mine as Muthukaruppan.
Muttukaruppan Sambandar, who was a student at the Yahalatenna Muslim Mahavidyalaya in Kandy, says he had never developed a different opinion about the Muslim community. He learned about the Islamic faith and studies Arabic through a Moulavi teacher at the school. He was a good singer and performed Islamic songs on his school stage. Since his older brother was a communist, he was able to think beyond the fundamentalist ideas of ethno-cultural differences, he said.
How did I become a Muslim…? Muttukaruppan Sambanthar explains
“I went to Maskelia for my mother-in-law’s funeral. My wife wanted me to attend the final rites, but since I was not a Muslim I could not directly engage in the rituals. When I asked what I should do about this, my wife I told me that I could become a Muslim by reciting the Kalima. So, I went to a mosque and met with the Moulavi and opted to formally pronounce ‘La’illaha illa Allah, Muhammad ar-Rasoolullah‘ and accepted Islam as my religion. Thereafter, I was able to perform my mother-in-law’s funeral rites. I’m happy about this” he says.
The Muthukaruppan-Mehrun Nisa couple have three children: Sha, Saji and Sajeev which don’t reflect any religious identity. We spoke with their family who recalled the many hardships that the couple underwent, caused by relatives and neighbours around them – and how this resulted in them living in isolation.
”When we started our life, we had nothing. Both families abandoned us. There was some help from friends but it was not enough. We did not have a bed to sleep on or a permanent place to stay. We had to struggle, even for food. But we didn’t give up hope. We began to live with austerity so as to live with a principle of setting a precedent for others. My wife was from a well-to-do family and initially had difficulties; but she gradually prepared herself for the challenge. Now our situation has changed for the better. Those who abandoned us, appreciate us today. Many relatives who left us have a good relationship with us now and we command good respect and recognition from our communities too. It’s a great achievement”, they said.
Here is similar story about a couple from Batticaloa
Mrs. Chandrakantha Mahendrarasa of Batticaloa, a Christian spoke with us:
“I married a Hindu. Our wedding took place at the Mamangam Hindu Temple in Batticaloa. Thereafter, our marriage registration took place in a Christian church. Thereby we were able to satisfy both our parents and relatives.” Chandrakantha is a senior lecturer at the Eastern University of Science who is a realist and not a religious fanatic.
“We initially decided that our religions should not be a hindrance to our life and that there should be no restrictions on religious practices. Accordingly, we celebrate Thaipongal, Deepavali and Tamil New Year festivals together. Similarly we celebrate Christmas and the Gregorian New Year too. Thus, we are followers of both these religions”.
“We participate in poojas and other rituals held in Hindu temples and in Church Masses together. It’s been 15 years since we married and we have not had any religious differences between us’ she says. They have thus resorted to dualism and maintain a balance between themselves and their relatives.
Chandrakantha says: “We don’t differentiate between gods. Thus, religion has never been a hindrance in our lives. We don’t tell our son what religion to follow. Religions are there to guide people, not to promote contradictions and obstacles”.
The couple also promote understanding between different religious groups. They underwent some issues when admitting their son into school. The religion they follow had to be mentioned and that particular religion is taught at the school. However, this couple made arrangements for both religions to be learned.
Her husband’s family initially feared that their son would embrace Christianity. This was eventually overshadowed by the fact that we were able to fulfill the wishes of both families. Hindus do not eat meat on Fridays and she practices this. This small give-and-take policy is the secret to their happy life.
The Navarathri celebration is an annual event at the Eastern University but due the workers’ strike in 2019, they had difficulty in conducting it. Ms. Chandrakanta, who works as a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Science at Eastern University, took great interest in conducting this annual event. Together with the assistance of faculty members she successfully held the festival.
Thus, understanding of these families living in Kandy and Batticaloa has made their life special.
All religions teach the best. We accept all religions. If you live in a society with good behaviour, morals and goodwill that becomes part of a religion.
This is the message that both families conveyed to us.