Now here’s a book for you:
I also converted (from technically Episcopalian [but really more agnostic] to Roman Catholicism) a few months prior to my marriage. Converting to Catholicism is something I had been flirting with for years before I met my husband, but it wasn’t something that really gathered steam until I met him and investigated it more seriously. He was the catalyst. I converted when I did (i.e., before our wedding), because I wanted to have a marriage in the Catholic church with all the bells and whistles (which you can’t get if you’re not Catholic). A lot of people, my family included, thought I was going out of my mind. Here I had been dating a guy for less than six months and I was converting to a new religion for him? Thinking on it now, it does seem kind of bizarre how fast it all happened.
Here are some things I have learned from the experience:
Religious differences and conversion will have much more relevance in your day-to-day life relationship than in the context of the larger faith. For me, it matters less that I’ve converted to Catholicism and more than I’m married to a seriously Catholic man and that I’ve said I’m going to join him in living his faith. Trying to carve out a shared faith for our family to one day raise our children in—that’s our main task. We’re doing it on the outlines set out by the Catholic church, but our individual circumstances mean more than the institution. It will be the same for you. What matters is not so much what Catholicism or Islam is like but what my husband the Catholic or your fiance the Muslim is like. What are his expectations?
If your husband is serious about his faith, I can think of many potential changes that might be in store for you if you convert. There are lots of practices asked of Muslim women that are not asked of non-Muslim women or of Muslim men (I am thinking of some common behavior requirements like not being alone with men you’re not related to, and of some common dress requirements like wearing a head scarf and very modest dress). You might be excused from these practices because you’re not yet a Muslim, but once you are, I would be surprised if someone as religious as you’re describing your fiance to be would let his own wife be an exception to the rule. Who are the female role models in his life? He has probably learned his ideas of good female behavior from them, and will expect you (perhaps unconsciously) to follow suit, whatever suit that is. If his life has some progressive, in-name only Muslims in it, you might be in for a different ride than if his life is full of very traditional and observant Muslim women.
If he’s very religious, is he going to be happy with an in-name conversion, or will he eventually ask for more? And how comfortable are you with these changes? If a faith requires vastly different things of you than you’re used to giving, it will be easy enough to give it at first, but as time goes on and the novelty wears off, you will see that you are still the same person you were to begin with. Converting may change whose registry book your name is in, but it doesn’t change all of your heart (though it can help). The bulk of the work you have to do yourself. What are you really signing up for?
So say you are in for a lot of changes, and you’re willing to go through with it even if your heart isn’t totally in it, because you love him and you gave your word (even if in haste) and his family is demanding a Muslim wedding, which you can’t get if you’re not Muslim.
Here’s the rub: If your conversion is a contingency of your marriage, what happens when your doubts don’t resolve themselves right away either? My husband never asked me to convert (though he supported it 100% and was very happy about it). If I hadn’t done it he would have married me anyway. More important, he is not going to leave or divorce me if I do change my mind someday. What if you convert and then you change your mind? What will happen to your marriage? Will he leave you, or divorce you?
You need to be able to discuss this with your fiance. I’ve done it and it’s not a pleasant discussion. Our bottom line is that he acknowledges that while it would make our relationship more difficult if we did not share the same faith, he is going to be true to the marriage commitment he made to me because he loves me. I feel so much more secure in my commitment to Catholicism knowing that I’m doing it for myself and because I feel it is right and not because I am afraid of hurting or losing my husband.
Converting is hard enough when you do it for yourself, for your own reasons, and after a long period of intense and careful study. It’s normal to have doubts and setbacks and wonder what on earth you’ve done. I converted, with my heart fully in it, and I still felt identity crises. What had I done, getting myself involved in an institution that has some tenets I feel uncomfortable with? Had I done it in the heat of the moment? Should I have taken longer to consider? Did I do it just because I wanted to marry my husband right away so we could have sex again already? Had I misled him? Had I misled myself? So you can see, I felt/feel a lot of what you’re feeling now. There aren’t easy (or perhaps, any) answers to these doubts. The answers aren’t the point; the process and having the support of your fiance/husband as you make this decision for yourself is the point. My husband, who I have just read this whole post to, says, "I have more faith in you than to be worried about a few doubts." What does yours say?
What got me through the identity crisis stuff, in addition to my husband’s support, was showing myself and my family and my husband that I was still the same person through it all. Still a good listener, still a teller of bad jokes, still an insatiable clotheshorse. Focus on the things that you share, and the things that are true about you no matter what church you go to. What keeps me from going nuts is knowing that this religion question is ultimately between me and God, not me and my husband. Will it be the same for you?