“My Boyfriend’s Parents Expect Us to Raise Our Children Muslim, But I’m an Atheist”

I am an atheist in a serious relationship with a liberal Muslim, “Adam.” He was born in a country that’s an Islamic Republic, and he emigrated to the states when he was five. Though his parents belong to this same “liberal” sect, they are still conservative in their thinking. They left a lot behind in their old country that I imagine they miss terribly, and they probably feel isolated in a country that is increasingly hostile to immigrants, especially Muslims.

Adam and I plan to marry, but his parents want me to convert; I don’t want to. Even more important to them than my conversion is that their future grandchildren be brought up in the same religious tradition. This is deeply concerning: it’s too soon for me to think about kids, but I imagine that once I do have children, I will not want to cede any kind of “raising” to anybody but myself and my husband, especially if it means raising them in a tradition that I have a lot of fundamental problems with. Parenting is hard enough, but adding meddlesome, high-strung in-laws to the equation might make it more difficult than I can bear.

My compromise: our children should learn as much as possible about the religion to feel connected to their father and grandparents. They can go to mosque every so often and it could be one presence in their life among many others. However, the sect doesn’t permit people who are not part of the faith to enter their buildings, meaning neither I nor my children would be permitted inside unless at their births we agree to a covenant to raise them in the faith and call them Muslims. Even if I agree to this covenant, religion would never be a family group activity because I’m not allowed in the building.

I feel that my compromise is reasonable but that the rules of his sect demand something unreasonable. I believe Adam might agree to my compromise, but his parents won’t. I am set to meet them in a month and it’s already causing Adam and me a ton of stress. I want Adam to have the kind of boundaries with his parents that I have with mine, but I don’t know how it’s possible given their culture and religion.

Beyond the issue of children, members of this sect are expected to give 12% of their income to the religious leader in a process I find extremely dubious. Besides my misgivings with this rule, this is yet another way in which I feel excluded as Adam will be giving a large portion of his income to a club I am not allowed to be a part of unless I convert.

I am so in love with this man, but If his parents are part of the package, I don’t know if I can handle it; I have enough anxiety as it is. Do you have any advice? — Scared future daughter-in-law

It’s not a question of whether Adam’s parents are part of the package; they *are* part of the package. When you marry someone, you marry into their family, and Adam has made clear to you what his parents’ expectations are of the way their grandchildren will be raised. Thus, the question becomes: Is Adam prepared and willing to disregard his parents’ expectations and to raise his children outside his parents’ religious sect?

You say it’s too early for you to be thinking about children, but if you are thinking about marriage — which you are — is isn’t too early to be thinking about and discussing your hypothetical children and how you’ll raise them. In fact, not only is it not too early, but it’s also actually essential that you have these conversations about children — even if you don’t plan to have children for many years. (Here are some other topics you need to discuss before you get married!).

The reason why it’s so important to discuss children — whether you want them, how you plan to raise them (including what religion, if any, they’ll be raised in) — is to determine whether you and your partner’s idea of parenthood match up. If one of you wants kids and the other doesn’t, for example, you shouldn’t get married no matter how much you love each other. Likewise, if one of you plans to raise his kids in a strict Muslim sect and the other does not want to raise her kids in a strict Muslim sect, you shouldn’t get married no matter how much you love each other. You wouldn’t be a match.

Right now you and Adam are at the point where you have to determine whether or not your parenting goals match up, and based on what you’ve shared in your letter, it would seem that they do not. But maybe you’re making some assumptions that haven’t been thoroughly discussed yet. You say you “believe” Adam might agree to your compromise, but his parents won’t. Well, believing something and knowing for sure because it’s been communicated are two different things and you need to find out for sure where Adam stands, how much influence his parents have on him, and what his expectations are of you and of your life together should you have children.

Even if Adam decides to create those boundaries with his parents that you say you have with yours, and he disregards their wishes in favor of his own, his parents will still be “part of the package.” There is a very high chance that if their son essentially turns his back on their religion by marrying an atheist and raising children outside their sect, they will resent you for it. You say you have “enough anxiety as it is,” and that if his parents are part of the package – and they are — that you don’t know if you “can handle it.” These are pretty good reasons not to marry someone who comes from a faith you have a fundamental problem with — a faith that is a big part of his family’s identity and life.

The bottom line is that love is not enough to build a life with someone. It’s a big component of a successful and happy marriage, of course, but it’s far from the only one. If you disagree on such major issues as how to raise your children, all the love in the world isn’t going to spare you the impossible hurdles such divisions will create. Tough conversations with Adam and meeting his parents in a few weeks will help give you the clarity you need to decide whether this relationship has a future. You need to summon the strength to walk away if it you determine that it doesn’t.

I’ve been divorced for six months after a 17-year marriage. I recently started spending time with a friend from work. We’ve known each other for five years and have always had a playful banter. He is recently separated and is getting divorced. Some people think that there’s been more between us but there hasn’t been. My question is: Is it my place to try to convince people that we’ve been just friends until recently? Second, do I tell my-exhusband I’m seeing someone? We have no children together and no ties to each other. It was an amicable divorce. — Recently Divorced

No, you definitely have zero obligation to tell your ex-husband you’re seeing someone, and you shouldn’t. I can understand how, after 17 years together, you might still have an urge to share things with your ex, but don’t. Your marriage is over and, with no kids together, there’s literally no good reason to reach out to him with news about your dating life (and in fact, doing so might even seem manipulative). As for the guy you’re seeing: Don’t try to “convince” people about anything related to your relationship. They can speculate all they want — people always will! — but the details are none of their damn business, and what they think honestly isn’t any of yours. Free yourself from the burden of worrying about everyone’s opinions about your personal life and just… live! It’s a wonderful gift you can give yourself (and the person you’re dating).

Follow along on Facebook,  and Instagram.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.



    I would suggest that you learn a little more about Islam before you get much further then sit down with him.

    He may be liberal now, but many people turn more conservative as they age and return to their religion with a fervour they never had before as a way of making up for lost time. One thing to be sure is that, if they are already interfering now, they will continue to do so in the future.

    1. anonymousse says:

      There are not weekly articles about Muslim men kidnapping their children.


    2. Yes, that’s good advice. Remember, you might think you know him, love him and trust him because you are in a relationship with him and you know, actually know him, but you need to be realistic. He’s Muslim! There are weekly articles (proof!), that you need to be afraid of him and his culture is always lurking beneath, ready to come out if things go wrong. I mean, yeah, there are weekly articles (daily, hourly?) about white men being violent against women, abducting children after a divorce, becoming more religious with time (well, let’s face it there aren’t articles for that, but if they are Christian it’s not a risk). Sometimes people even write into Dear Wendy about white meddlesome in-laws. But this is different. Sure, you can use your brain to figure out if a white guy is bad based on, you know, that guy. But a Muslim guy? You can’t be naive. You need to go into this with your eyes wide open.
      Now, please excuse me while I go wash my brain off, even writing it sarcastically makes me feel gross. Uch.

      But seriously, LW. Your letter is all about how you feel. You speculate about how your husband feels, but only in relation to how it fits with how you feel. His happiness matters too. If you do have kids, your husbands background will be a part of who they are. Even if you don’t raise them in that religion, they need to be able to have it be a part of them and you need to be okay if they choose to be a part of it. I grew up with my parents fighting over their christian religions that didn’t see eye to eye. You know how it made me feel? No matter what, something was wrong with part of me. When my Grandparents were criticized for their beliefs? I hurt too because they were also part of who I was and I loved them. A criticism of a child’s extended family will feel like it is a criticism of them. You need to be on the same page about this for everyone’s happiness, or you need to find a better match.

  2. anonymousse says:

    This isn’t an issue you have with your potential in laws, it’s Adam. He may call himself liberal, but he is still active in his religious sect and abides by his family’s desires. He still gives 12% of his income to his mosque. Unless you can see yourself converting, I don’t understand what you’re going to do. It does not seem as though you’ve spoken to Adam about these things at length. It’s not fair for him to tell you all the things his family expects without telling you what he wants. The thing is, he’s telling you what they AND he expect.

    This is what is normally considered a dealbreaker. And for good reason. You really need to think about what your future would be like in a marriage with him.

    If you decide to stay, you need to get into a form of premarital counseling, not through his parents or his mosque.

  3. LW1: This is probably a deal breaker. It would be for me. Not so much that your BF would want his children to be exposed to his religion, but because unless you convert, you will be actively excluded from even entering the building (at least that’s how I read your letter). Is there another mosque or sect that would allow you, as a non-believer to attend on special days, but not take part in the ceremony (like how anyone can go to a Christian church on Easter but non-Christians aren’t supposed to take communion)? Also, you really need to discuss that 12% of his income thing. That’s not insignificant. If you aren’t on board with giving 12% of his (your combined?) income away to a faith that won’t allow you in its buildings, well, I can see how that would cause tension in the future. Wendy is right. Sometimes love just isn’t enough.

    LW2: It’s literally no one’s business what your relationship status is right now. Not your friends’, not your co-workers’ and certainly not your ex-husband’s!

  4. Some religions are more than just where and when you go to church. Some are a way of living, that affects everything from what you eat and wear to who you marry and how you raise your children and spend your income.

    It sounds like Adam’s family’s practice of Islam leans this way. Not as strict as some, to be sure, but a whole lot more than “well, my kids will go to the mosque occasionally.”

    Then there are the cultural differences, and that’s also key here. It seems that Adam’s parents have every expectation of being very involved in your marriage and in the raising of your children.

    You talked a lot about how Adam’s parents expect you and your family to behave. You didn’t say much about what Adam expects your marriage (and family) to look like. That’s what you need to understand. Fully.

  5. LW#1 — You need to have a very detailed discussion with bf. You may be able to resolve things, but doesn’t mean you wouldn’t have the same problem as a young mother if you marry this guy and hypothetical children become real children and everyone from your husband’s parents, to the rest of his family, to his imam and the other members of his local sect lean on him much harder to get the result his parents want. I think the bottom line will be that you need to MOA. You are not compatible. You have collided with several deal-breakers for each of you: what your religion will be going forward, what role his parents will have in your lives, how your children will be raised. This isn’t going to work.

  6. Btw, you’ve more or less deliberately danced around this topic, without demanding firm agreement, between you and your bf. I think this is because you love him, but realize this isn’t workable. Wendy is right, you aren’t too early to decide about children and how they will be raised, if you’ve already basically decided you want to marry this guy, and that is what I take from your letter, you are actually way too late in firmly pinning this down and having an agreed position as a couple, which each of you is willing to staunchly defend against all comers. You know your guy isn’t there and isn’t ever going to be there. His parents wishes and the dictates of his sect are very important to him.

  7. I think you and Adam should just keep talking about things. Hypotheticals. also, I think you need to keep thinking about what you want. For example, do you still want to do santa and a christmas tree? What if your kid asks about elf on a shelf? I think we have plenty of examples of lapsed christians but not many of other religions. Just keep talking about it.

    The one thing I will say is that it is hard to raise kids with mixed messaging. If one parent is saying God doesn’t exist and one is saying God loves you. These are problems that are hard to overcome and the way you guys talk about it is important. But if you don’t believe, how important is it that your kids don’t believe. In theory, conversion would mean nothing to you. I see this a lot more with Catholicism. So many people convert or baptize their babies to make Grandma happy. If you don’t believe, it is just water on their heads. It is just a cultural thing. But if you are militantly atheist and against all organized religion, then you have a bigger conflict.

    Now, the bigger thing I will say as an old married lady, is that life will hand you challenges that you will never see coming. The way you communicate about it and figure out conflicts, make you succeed or fail. Wendy has a great list of questions and I think it is worth exploring things.

  8. LW1, you have not yet met Adam’s parents but you already know they want you to convert as well as any children you have. You know this because Adam has relayed the message to you. He’s relaying it because those are his preferences as well, otherwise he’d say my parents think such and such but my preferences are this and that. He didn’t.

    I also think you need to make sure you don’t look at this like your view is the “correct” one. You’re already calling some of his/their requests as unreasonable even though your solution was the one that was unreasonable and didn’t work within the frame of their religion. Something you should’ve looked into before suggesting it as a hypothetical solution. Talk more with Adam and be ready for the fact that his religion isn’t going to work for the future you want.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Very insightful, CurlyQue.

      Yes. “Adam’s parents want and expect” is actually CODE for what Adam wants and expects…

      Consider yourself warned, LW.

    2. Prognosti-gator says:

      CurlyQue identifies the important point, LW. You act as if you don’t know exactly what your BF thinks, but somehow you know what his parents think. This means the conversations with your BF about these topics ARE happening. If he isn’t objecting to what he’s “passing through” to you, that means he’s ok with it. If you aren’t ok with that, you need to deal with it.

  9. LW1: My husband is Catholic and I’m Jewish. You absolutely have to come to a pretty detailed understanding of your future religious practice, how any children will be raised, etc. before you get married. Before you get engaged. Basically as soon as you start thinking you might be serious, its time to chat.

    My husband and I first talked about this a year before we got engaged, and then several times after over the course of our relationship. And yes, we still talk about it just to make sure the same assumptions are carrying and we feel good about the arrangement, even though we’ve been married for 6 years and have a 2 year old. You have to get real comfortable talking about this stuff to be in an interfaith relationship.
    And that also means he needs to communicate the agreements to his parents, to set boundaries if he’s not giving them exactly what they want, etc. To take the heat when they’re mad. To stand firm when they complain. If he’s not willing to do that, then you’re in for a bad time.

    The way you describe it, unfortunately it sounds like a dealbreaker. But you need to know for sure where your boyfriend stands, not just the assumptions you’ve made. Close the door, put down the cell phones, look each other in the eye and discuss what the non-negotiables are. Do they fit? If not, break it off now because it only gets harder as time goes on.

  10. Bittergaymark says:

    LW1) Run. Yes, run… NEWSFLASH: I’d be VERY wary of making babies with anybody who had deeply religious parents of ANY religion. (Scratch that. Forget wary, I simply would NEVER do it!). Why? More often than not — the VERY religious are VERY fucked up.

    Men especially are prone to going full-blown psycho fundamental on the foolish and naive women they’ve duped into having kids with. They will lie, Lie, LIE and repeatedly plead the “hey, no need to worry about this” card. Reality Check — the MORE they say this, the more likely it is utter bullshit.

    Honestly? I would sprint away.

    Right. Now.

    LW1). I disagree with Wendy here. If the divorce was truly amicable — why not tell your ex husband?

    This whole nasty treat your ex like shit and ignore them forever is already the most immature, petty practice of far too many straight people. Honestly? I simply don’t get it. I really truly don’t. And frankly — I never will.

    1. If she’s friends with her ex – like hangs out with him and/or catches up with him regularly over the phone or whatever, then, of course sure, she should mention the she’s seeing someone. But she doesn’t say they’re friends; she says they had an amicable divorce (and have “no ties to each other.”). In that case, it just make sense to reach out to update on love lives – it actually seems pretty weird to do that.

  11. Intrigued by LW1’s report that she would not be allowed in the mosque, I went to search for whether this is in fact required of Islam.

    I found a website, alislam.org, on the Ahmadiyya, who affirm that they are “Muslims who believe in the Messiah” which confirms for me that there are many sects of Islam.

    Anyway in this sect, the answer to the question “are non-Muslims allowed inside mosques” the answer is, yes. There is reference to an expectation of behaviour (ie one is not there to practice idolatry, which might need some clarification) but the point I wish to make is that your husband’s family’s sect may be too strict to accommodate you.

    The point raised above regarding custody of children is a reasonable one – one should be clear what is to be the citizenship of the children, and to consult with a lawyer on the subject as to whether that citizenship would be recognized if the children were ever taken to the husband’s home country. This would be a state matter that could supercede the wishes of both the mother and the father.

    Another sensitive subject – polygamy. Whilst officially illegal in the US, the fact is, even the sect I reference above acknowledges that while it is not mandatory, it is permissible.

    The reality is you may not be able to make up your mind without consulting – ironically for an atheist – a clergyman/mullah in the sect of interest, maybe another Muslim sect for comparison, but above all a lawyer specializing in family law, preferably one knowledgeable about interfaith marriages. This may involve some investment but could be cheaper in the long run.

    1. The other Sarah says:

      Good advice.

      Thoughtful but definitely giving off not without my daughter vibes.

  12. LW1: I believe there are some irreconcilable differences that turn into dealbreakers. Unfortunately, these seems as some huge gaps that I don’t think it is healthy to jump on. Just imagine future fights about his money going to a sect. Or the shady remarks of your inlaws, pretending you to convert. Or the confusion of your future children, not knowing who to believe, her atheist mother or his really-into-cultish father. This panorama exhausts me just thinking about it.

    I believe successful relationships between people from different beliefs succeed when: A. they don’t seem to care about it. Or B. They are not that extreme. And yours is neither one.

    Don’t procrastinate decisions about this.

    LW2: No. Unless you are friends with your ex, you don’t have to tell anything about your new bf.

    1. There is a difference between a sect and a cult.

      1. Bittergaymark says:

        12% of earnings? That’ pretty damn cultish to me…

      2. I mean, not really? As a Recovering Southern Baptist (TM), I can say that they are more similar than most religious people would like to admit. (See also Evangelicals and Trump).

      3. Traditional Christian tithing was 10%. Our former local school Superintendent of Schools always tithed 10%. I don’t think that occurs in most churches today, but it once was the expectation in many. Churches which tithed traditionally provided more social services and financial support to members in difficulty. Now that is the role of government, which is probably why tithing is passe. Today contributions to churches often just cover the staff salaries and attempt to cover adequate building maintenance. A lot of churches have closed, others dying a slow death.

      4. @Bittergaymark: Muslims are all supposed to tithe 10% of their income to charity. It’s foundational to the religion–one of the Five Pillars of Islam. What seems odd to me is 1) the extra 2% tithe and 2) that it’s going to the religious leader instead of to charity.

  13. The 12% thing would’ve sent me running.

  14. Ruby Tuesday says:

    Mormonism requires members to give ten percent of their income to the church and prohibits non-Mormons from entering their temples. Christianity can be just as fucked up.

  15. Umm not being able to set foot in a mosque? I’ve never heard or that and I was raised Muslim.

    The % of donation seems off to me. Also, I know plenty of Muslims who donate directly to reputable charities rather than through the mosque’s charities if they can afford it.

    I’ve seen plenty of interfaith marriages, whether across different religions or different denominations. It isn’t easy but it seems like they all require a degree of flexibility and openness from each spouse.

    If you marry this guy, you two need to decide how to raise this kid, not your in-laws.

  16. 12% is a lot of money, I grew up in a pretty religious Muslim house hold and was told to fork out only 6% of my pay, I did this for a while and than became rebellious throughout my working teen days from 17 year old to 24 year old.

    I stopped paying the 6% when my mother passed away due to cancer when I was 24. Now I have not contributed the 6% and have never went back to the mosque for payers, not even for the New Year Eid celebration, my dad is like an Imam at the mosque, my 3 siblings all read their payer 5 times a day, fast, and read the holy book and go to the mosque every year for Eid, not me…

    I on the other hand drink alcohol, smoke weed, have sexual relationships with woman, watch porn, fuck I even eat PORK and love my bacon and eggs in the morning, lol…

    I basically shit on my religion, I go against everything it stand for, and I don’t even care, I don’t believe in religion anymore so call me an Atheist if you want, but I don’t even call myself that. I’m just a human that is trying to enjoy this one life that I have, as long as I live it being truthful and nice to everyone I should go to Heaven if that even exist.

    My advice, you have one life, live it the way you want and enjoy it as much as you can, just be fair and nice in the process, treat people how you would like to be treated.

    LW don’t fucking convert, don’t give in, be yourself and stand for what you believe in.

  17. As others have said, this isn’t an in-law problem, it’s an Adam problem. If he wants to participate in his faith, fine, but it’s going to impact you a LOT. At least you’ll know that before you marry him.

    Here’s a scary number, by the way: 17% of a $75,000 salary put into a savings account over 45 years with an average 3% return is well over a million dollars. That he chose to give away rather than to spend on you, your retirement, and your family. Think about that.

    1. Realized as soon as I clicked send that I misread and it was 12%, not 17%. The number is closer to $850,000. But still.

  18. Sea witch says:

    Don’t marry this man. Time and time again I’ve seen marriages where one partner didn’t seem to care all that much about the religion they grew up in right up to the point where they had children. Then, suddenly, they rediscovered their childhood religion and insisted on raising the kids in it. It’s usually led to divorce.

    Doesn’t matter what the religion is – I’ve seen it across a variety of faiths and sects.

    1. I am not disagreeing with the caution to the LW to re-consider the marriage idea, but I do have to say that *I* am example of someone in an interfaith marriage who always said I’d be happy raising my kids in my husband’s religion (judaism), which is a cultural identity for him, instead of the religion I was raised in that I never felt particularly strong about growing up and feel zero connection to as an adult. Our kids are now 8 and 4 and I never wavered; we celebrate jewish holidays (g’mar tova!), light shabbat candles, go to synagogue on occasion, and send our older kid to Hebrew school (as we will our younger kid when she’s older). I mean, maybe I’m the exception but it doesn’t feel that exceptional to know what’s important to you and stick with that.

      1. Oh, and I didn’t convert or anything. I still don’t feel religious, but I’m happy to help give my kids a religious foundation and to support their growing identities as Jews.

      2. I’m Jewish, agnostic, and hoping to become more observant for cultural connection reasons. My fiancee is a Buddhist. We seem to get along all right.

      3. Sea witch says:

        I’m sure it works for many people, but I’ve seen more than a few divorces over it.

  19. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    LW1 I think it works if the parent who isn’t religiously oriented doesn’t mind if the other parent raises the child in that parent’s faith. In this case it would be Muslim. That is completely dependent on you not minding. If you do mind then it is probably a dealbreaker. If raising them in a faith means they go to services weekly and you don’t want that then it is a dealbreaker. If it means tithing your income and you don’t agree then it is a dealbreaker. If it means you can’t enter their building and you can’t accept that then it is a dealbreaker. He isn’t talking about taking the children to a mosque once or twice a year.

  20. LW1: a “liberal sect”, is it possible to collide those two words? This sect seems pretty exclusive to me. Intercultural marriages work when there is an open mind on both sides.
    Why should your BF’s parents have a say in your potential children’ education? It doesn’t matter, what they think and want. It isn’t their children anyway. I wouldn’t even consider it. They would just be grandparents, that is all.
    Discuss with your BF about what HE wants. If he can’t distinguish between his opinion and his parents’, then I would move on.
    Frankly, all what you say would have me avoid this marriage. It seems way too complicated, and too rigid opinions to deal with on a everyday basis. I get that you love him, but well, you seem worlds apart. The difference is attractive, I get it, but at the end of the day, you have to be realistic. Being married implies shared values. I can’t see that here, not at all. I see exclusion, requests, a difficult dialogue: a recipe for disaster. A marriage is a long journey: when there are tensions, and they always come at some point, the differences (cultural or whatever strong differences) can break the couple. It is a challenge and it can succeed only if your BF is open to discussion and can distance himself from his sect/family. Don’t renounce your values and who you are.
    Enjoy him as a boyfriend, but don’t marry him.
    By the way, I did date a Muslim man who was very kind and nice, but I could measure the cultural abyss when we had really serious conversations. It was a fine boyfriend, but not a serious prospect for me.
    Last but not least: the 12% compulsory donation would be out of the question for me. 12% of his income, his choice, but certainly not of mine or of my family’s income. You have a say in a marriage budget.
    All in all: don’t marry him. It would be a mistake that you would have big trouble to extricate yourself of, especially if you have children.

  21. The other Sarah says:

    Echoing what others have said that your boyfriend relaying his parents message to you is his way of telling you he wants the same things.

    Your letter reads like a really bad idea. Don’t marry him, you’re asking for a future of headaches and heartaches. I can tell from the letter his parents don’t like you. And they haven’t even met you yet!

    If Adam doesn’t have the boundaries with his parents you want they aren’t going to magically materialize after you meet them or just because you ask him.

    There are some fundamental differences in your relationship I don’t see how you can compromise on because that would require one of you to change who you are.

  22. LW, you and Adam need to get on the same page and be a team. It doesn’t really matter what his parents want…this is between you and him. He should 100% support you not wanting to become Muslim and he should be the one to set boundaries with his parents. You should both agree to a percentage he can give to his Mosque if he wants to do that. My SIL married a Muslim man and she is a very liberal free thinking Quaker. His parents live in another country so they don’t have to deal with that. Their kids grew up going to both and learning about both religions. They did end up getting divorced when the kids were in high school – not because of religion but because he didn’t respect her and expected her to do all the childrearing, cooking, cleaning, and he thought it was cheating if she occasionally went out with girlfriends to hear some evening music or something. He was very sexist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *