Canada 2017 Personal Essay

Muslim girl meets Hindu boy. How our forbidden love blossomed in Canada.

'My bravery was put to the test when I met and fell in love with Sai.'

Hina Husain - for Canada 2017

October 31, 2017

My parents raised me with a culturally-sanctioned checklist. Sai met none of the requirements. (Hina Husain)

I met the man of my parents' dreams when I was a 20-year-old sophomore in university.

Young and naive, I thought love meant meeting someone who my family would least resist; someone they'd "approve" of and proudly talk about with their relatives back home in Pakistan.

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My ideal partner would be a Sunni Muslim, in the upper-middle to rich socio-economic class, fair-skinned and from a "respectable" family.

Deep down I knew checklist man was not right for me.

I kept this checklist in the back of my mind. It's not something I ever questioned. I just knew deviating from these desirable traits would not sit well with my loved ones.

But deep down I knew checklist man was not right for me — no matter how much my family tried to convince me otherwise.

He wanted to put the expectations of his parents above everything else and follow the life path they had laid out for him. I, on the other hand, wanted to explore all that life could offer, make my own decisions and see where life would lead.

After two years of dating the perfect checklist man, our relationship came to an end.

The epitome of taboo

Drastic differences in mentality and outlook are very often brushed aside in South-Asian cultures to maintain the peace and make sure children get married to the most socially and economically suited spouse.

In Canada, I could quietly end a relationship that, from the outside, looked like a match made in heaven. I could go against culturally ingrained expectations and not be punished for it.

But my bravery was put to the test when I met and fell in love with Sai.

Sai and me at a university graduation party in 2012. (Hina Husain)

Sai is a Hindu-Indian who, from a Muslim-Pakistani perspective, is the epitome of taboo. Political and religious strifes in both those countries had made us "the other" in each other's cultures.

Historically, Indians and Pakistanis have been one people, but geopolitical differences in the last 70 years have bred hatred and animosity for one another that a major segment of the population continues to uphold.

Back in our countries, Sai and I would have legitimately feared for our lives and our safety if our families and communities didn't accept the relationship.

Sai is a Hindu-Indian who, from a Muslim-Pakistani perspective, is the epitome of taboo.

In India, interfaith marriage is on the rise but far from the acceptable norm. In Pakistan, honour reigns supreme (even in film!) and major life decisions are made just to avoid bringing shame to a family. In both countries, there are still stories of couples like us being shunned or even murdered by their own families for marrying outside the acceptable norms. Some couples have even turned to India's "Love Commandos" in desperate times to ensure their safety.

A cosmic connection

"For couples like us, the price can be very high." (Hina Husain)

But in Canada, we didn't feel afraid.

We didn't need to sneak around. We could love and explore each other freely and openly and not be ashamed for wanting to be with the person with whom we shared a cosmic connection.

To me, it never mattered that Sai wasn't a Muslim, or that he was dark-skinned or wasn't going to be a doctor. What mattered was that he loved me and respected me for who I was, and he respected himself and saw that life was too short to live according to someone else's expectations.

We both saw eye-to-eye and were ready to weather the storm that lay ahead.

As was to be expected, neither of our families were initially pleased with our union.

My parents would belittle Sai at any opportunity they got. We eventually cut contact when things got really bad — an estrangement that lasted over a year.

Sai's parents were also less than welcoming towards me, but because they lived in India and had little control over what Sai did in Canada, their power over him and his decisions were limited.

We had to fight with our families to be with one another and to show them compassion and understanding when all they had for us were sarcastic remarks and empty threats.

A battle worth fighting

Today, after more than six years, Sai and I have managed to bring our families together and show them that our partner's religion or skin-colour really does not matter.

It has been a tough road to walk, but the reward has been worth it.

Sai poses with me and my family at the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa. (Hina Husain)

Canada, and the relative freedom it offers immigrant communities, has played a huge role in allowing me to see that I didn't have to be who I was expected to be. This country has given me the space to make my own choices and take control of my life in every way imaginable — particularly in love.

The life I live today would have been unfathomable to my younger self — living, without being married, with a man from a background that goes against everything my family, religion and culture taught me.

It has been a tough road to walk, but the reward has been worth it.

Some mornings as I kiss Sai while he's leaving for work, I'll be struck with the realization that I am fortunate enough to share my life with the man of my dreams, to have him come home to me and to be able to build a future together with him.

I am, in every sense of the word, truly blessed.

I'm still happy with the love I chose. "All I had to do was be brave." (Hina Husain)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hina Husain

Hina Husain is an aspiring writer from Toronto focusing on South-Asian immigrant culture. You can find her on Twitter @HinaTweetsNow.