When Fahad and I first got together, I thought I knew a lot about his culture, because I had quite a diverse upbringing myself due to where I lived, where I went to school, etc. I grew up with my Muslim sister teaching me about her religion, explaining the five pillars, talking about why she wore a headscarf, why she and her son said bismillah before eating. However, over the past five years I’ve discovered so much more, I’ve gained quite a strong understanding of what is and isn’t appropriate for us and my mindset has become a lot more respectful.
Now, Fahad isn’t exactly hugely in touch with his Pakistani roots. I’ve heard him be called a ‘coconut’, a ‘malteser’ and various other foodstuffs that apparently relate to his identity (brown on the outside and white on the inside, get it?*). But his family’s culture has helped shape him into who he is today, and if I didn’t try and delve into that to gain a bit more knowledge, then I would be missing out on a lot of things.
Pakistani culture is very family-centric, which is the exact opposite of my own family situation, where we are all sort of independent units that don’t often rely on one another. If Fahad calls his mum and mentions that he hasn’t eaten, she’ll be over within half an hour with some piping hot food. But it can also be very strict, especially when it comes to working. Watching the pressure Fahad had on him throughout college and university was alien to me, and my very chilled out ‘I’ll write my essay the night before it’s due’ approach to studying**. But for every moment that Fahad worked hard, his parents rewarded him with the kind of love and respect I rarely see in British families. My mum was ecstatic with my A level results, and she’s pretty happy every time I get a first on an essay now, but she’s also proud every time I send her one of my stupid doodles or if I make a particularly nice meal. She’d be pretty happy no matter how mediocre my life became, which is fine. But parental Pakistani pride is only given out when it’s really been earned, and that is pretty rewarding.
It’s not always been a smooth ride, especially when we were teenagers and there were concerns about how serious we were. I remember a conversation where Fahad had explicitly said he’d been instructed to break up with me, but didn’t, and I remember writing a huge message to him about how of all the non-desi girls he could have chosen, I came from a position of greater understanding than most. But there were valid concerns about how our lives could sometimes clash, and there still are today. On the less important end of the scale, what kind of wedding are we going to have? Even if Fahad doesn’t identify as Muslim will we still have a Nikah (Islamic wedding ceremony) to please his family? But also, how are we going to raise our children? Eating pork and drinking, or not? Will there be an in-between?
Family acceptance was the biggest hurdle that we have faced so far in regard to our cultural differences. My sister had a tough time dealing with an interracial relationship when she was around my age and it had quite an impact on her life and the rest of our family. Everyone adores Fahad, but there have been tense moments where people have made assumptions about my position in our relationship and both of us have been quite hurt. The same can be said about me from his side, there are a lot of cultural assumptions made about us Western girls that aren’t necessarily true, and I think racism and Islamophobia have a lot to answer for on that front. I still come across ignorant attitudes from people who are very close to me, but rather than getting angry I try and gently make people see that what they’re saying is often unfair and untrue, and that the stereotypes perpetuated by the media aren’t accurate.
I’m sure there are things that will crop up along the way the more we discover about ourselves as people and about our relationship, but I know that I’m certainly prepared to keep learning and compromising, as you have to do with anyone that you’re in a relationship with. As long as we love each other and try and live our lives in the best way possible, I don’t think much else matters.
*this is not funny
**do not do this, seriously