Nigeria’s Interfaith Couples Face Marital Hurdles


Olufunmilayo is a Pentecostal pastor from Christ Preeminent Triumphant Church and was married to Abdulai Lateef, a Muslim from Iperu Remo, also in Nigeria. Lateef was from a “strong Muslim background,” Olufunmilayo recalled, and died at age 52 in 2016. But he converted to Christianity just few months before his death in 2016.

Olufunmilayo said it wasn’t easy to be in an interfaith union. Despite their religious backgrounds and challenges they encountered, their marriage lasted 30 years. In an interview, Olufunmilay warned that being in an interfaith marriage “wasn’t a palatable issue.”

“So, I am advising the youth not to be carried away with any stupidity called love,” she said.

She said the sad part of being in an interfaith marriage was that the families never prayed together.

“There are pains of not being able to pray together, discuss the wonders of Jesus together, training your children in the way of the Lord or seeing things the same way spiritually to mention but few,” she said. “It is better to marry within one’s faith in order to enjoy your marriage. If you don’t want to endure your marriage, please be patient and wait for God’s will for your life.”

Reflecting on the years of her marriage, she said, “Most times I wanted my children to follow me to church which became impossible. But secretly I told them about Jesus. I also wished that my husband would join my faith because at the time it seemed as if Jesus would come the following day as we continue to be expectant daily of his coming.”

She encountered many challenges — mostly from her in-laws because their expectations about her were shattered.

“The challenge of training the children is another thing. The children found themselves between two opinions,” she said. “At times, my husband felt bad due to the terrible challenges from the in-laws. They tagged him a weak husband who could not control his family. But I was able to overcome the challenges through serious prayer and fasting and patience. I almost lost my marriage, but I thank God for the intervention of my pastors and the children of God for their prayers and counselling.”

Allowing the peace of God to reign over her family and her children to join Islam helped her to overcome the interreligious challenges in her marriage.

“They [the children] would go to the evening Qur’anic school and pray in their own way,” she said. “After this, there was no more argument or any sort of discussion about my own faith. But I decided to pray for my husband’s own salvation secretly and the children. I found time to talk and pray with my children when he was not at home.”

Taking us through the journey that led to her marriage, Olufunmilayo said she could not tell her parents that she and Lateef had agreed not to convert. To avoid being prohibited by her parents from marrying Lateef, she told them that she was ready to convert to Islam after being wed.

“He was from a strong Muslim background while I was from just a nominal Christian background where religion does not matter much mostly if you are ready to join your husband to do the same to avoid any form of chaos,” shd said. “There were lots of controversies due to religious issues, that we were not from the same religion. But he refused to let go even when I tried to reverse. Instead, the love between us grew stronger daily.”

She reflected at the time when she broke the news to her parents and uncles about her plans to marry a Muslim. Her uncle, she recalled, asked whether she has ever seen her husband’s name in the Bible.

“My parents refused bluntly,” she said. “My father’s [oldest] brother asked if I see the name Lateef in the Bible.”

But, she said, she didn’t “know that my parents were trying to save me from marital chaos.”

“Even though I knew that we had agreed that I would be going to church, and he will be continuing with his religion as well, when my parents asked me if I was ready to become a Muslim, I said yes,” she added. “I did not want them to hinder me from loving him.”

Olufunmilayo told her family — either she would be allowed to marry Lateef or she’d elope with him. Olufunmilayo and Lateef did not anticipate the painful effect an interfaith marriage would have on their in-laws and children.

“The two of us did not consider the in-laws and our children, which later became a serious issue,” she said. “But we thank God for his grace.”

Olufunmilayo’s husband died in 2016. A few months prior to his death, she said he converted to Christianity.

“I had prayed for my husband for years,” she said. “One glorious night, when he was seriously ill and he was struggling with healing, he shouted from his sleep confessing how Jesus appeared to him physically. On the day of his personal encounter with Jesus, he called all his children and told them about his encounter. So, he let them know that Jesus is Lord and that they can start going to church. But that did not disturb them. I thank God that today my children are bouncing in the Lord as part of my ceaseless prayer of salvation.”

His family, she said, “thought he was mad after he had announced that he had an encounter with the Lord.”

“That same year,” she added, he met with the Lord and had announced to them [his family’]. They decided to carry him to their family house to take care of him and he died there after few months.”

Like Olufunmilayo, when Oluwafunke Oluwabusola told her parents she was going to marry a Muslim, they also did not rejoice. After some time, they calmed down and allowed her to marry. Unlike Olufunmilayo, there has not been a barrier between Oluwabusola and her in-laws. Oluwabusola and her husband, Akeem Oyaladun, have been married for 16 years. They live in Lagos, where Oluwabusola is a practicing Christian and a member of Baptist Church and her husband is a Muslim.

“I cannot convert to Islam. I can’t even read the Koran,” she said. “I love my husband and we already had an agreement to practice our respective religions freely. We are happily married with three children. We have been married from 2007 and I thank God. Our first child is 15 years, second born is 12 and our third born is 8 years old, and they are doing well in their studies.”

She also thanked God for her years of their marriage.

“I pray we will grow old together ‘till death do us part,” she said.

When they met during their teen years, she informed her husband that she was a Christian and that it would be impossible for them to marry.

“I mentioned that I am a Christian. He also introduced himself and said he is a Muslim,” she said. “By just mentioning his name, Abdul Akeem, I knew he was a Muslim. Then he said, ‘Can you marry me?’ I was shocked because it was the second time we met. He said he wanted me to be his wife and mother of his children. I told him I can’t marry him because he’s a Muslim and I’m a Christian.

“I told him that I am not just an ordinary Christian, but I am practicing my religion. He said he does the same and observes his five times [a day] prayer[s] and fasting as a Muslim. I told him marriage is a big commitment and a serious one, especially when we are practicing different religions. I said it won’t work because my parents won’t agree. I told him to slow down and not to send anybody to me again because we don’t have anything in common.”

But Oyaladun convinced Oluwabusola to marry.

“We discussed the religion barrier, the future, especially when we start having children,” she said. “I told him I wanted my children to serve Jesus. I want them to know the truth about Jesus. That was how we started courting. Since then, we’ve loved each other and we call each other special names even up till date.”

The first time she announced to her mother that she was in a relationship, the first question she asked was, “Which church does he attend?”

“I told her he is Muslim, and she flared up,” she recalled. She [my monther] started lamenting and shared different experience of people who ended up in bad situations or converted from their religion for marrying a Muslim. I said mine will not be like that. I explained to her that I love my husband and marrying from my religion does not guarantee a perfect marriage.”

After dating for six years, they were married in 2007 — but not in a church, she said.

“The reason why I didn’t do a church wedding was because I didn’t want any further debate about it. … The challenge I faced was when we had our first child. During the child’s christening, my pastor offered to come, and I informed my husband. He said his parents were coming in the morning and so the pastor had to come very early before his parents arrived. When it was in the afternoon, around 4 p.m., the Muslims came [for the naming ceremony]. … That was how I was able to overcome that.”

Oluwabusola added, “When I gave birth to my second child, too, who is a boy, they insisted that my husband’s father will name the child. I didn’t agree to it at first, but I had to respect their decision. I managed to get a hold of the slip that had the names written on it. I didn’t like the names and so I changed it. I named my son Joseph, that is Yusuf [in Arabic]. When we had our third child, people from my church came in the morning. I’m one of the executives in my church and so a lot of people came. The Muslims also came in the afternoon for the Muslim naming.”

Interfaith officiant details issues

Dr. Mike Ghouse, a U.S.-based social scientist and interfaith wedding officiant, said he has been involved with some 244 marriages, including 14 Muslim Nikah ceremonies and 230 interfaith weddings.

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