The name of the author has been changed to protect her privacy. The opinions of the author are solely hers and are not in any way affiliated with IRL.
Hi, I’m Mandy. I’m 32. I’m an early-intervention case supervisor that works with kids with autism.
My story starts way before I dated and married a Muslim man. I grew up in a household that did not have strong views towards any one religion.
My childhood was influenced by many religions.
My mom is Chindian, my grandmother is Chinese and my grandfather is Indian. As a mixed-race person, I grew up exposed to a good mix of Hinduism and Taoism.
My grandmother loosely identifies as a Taoist — we don’t have an altar at home, but she would put the joss stick in a vitagen bottle and I would pray along with her.
On very big occasions, such as Ching Ming or CNY, I will follow her to gatherings. So I would do two things, pray for the health of my family, and for my studies to get good results.
During Deepavali we would go back to my mom’s hometown, and we would pray to the Hindu gods.
Every new year, my grandfather would crack the santan kelapa open to see if it was going to be a good year.
I also had an auntie I was close with who was really into Buddhism, and I would go with her to the rituals. I found Buddhism very interesting because the advice they give is very practical; letting go, just being.
When my mom and dad divorced, my mom started going to church.
So on Saturdays and Sundays I was with mum, and I started following her to church. I would sit in the church pews, and I enjoyed the songs.
My aunt gave me a different perspective on Islam.
The weird thing was, my two aunts would constantly go to the library to read up on world religions — and that included Islam.
But my family was quite against Islam. They found a lot of the rules were ridiculous to them.
I asked my aunt, “Why are you reading about Islam? Aren’t you against it?”
She replied: “There’s nothing wrong with Islam, actually. It’s just the way it’s practiced here.”
She told me how she went to Turkey on holiday. “They drank or they ate pork, and nobody said anything. Over there, nobody can judge another person for doing their own thing. Everyone has their own sin.”
That’s strange, because over here, we have religious police. That’s why I stayed away from Islam — because I never understood why we had religious police.
By the time I was a teen, I had been exposed to a good mix of Hindu and Toaist gods, Buddhist philosophy, and Christianity. I really loved the values, sure — but I never gravitated to any one of them.
And then I began dating a Muslim guy.
This guy was very liberal. I actually met him in a pub in Malaysia. There were no hints he was Muslim, so I dated him for a year.
Throughout our courtship, the question did arise if I would convert to Islam in future. Flat out, I told him: “I’m not gonna convert when the time comes. My family is gonna kill me.”
We agreed with each other that we would migrate to another country, and just get married outside of Malaysia. That was the plan, but it wasn’t very solid.
When my mom found out I was dating a Muslim guy, she was furious. She said she would disown me. We ended up not speaking to each other for 8 months.
Of course, it pained me a lot to go through that. But at the same time, I was contemplating what I wanted for my own life, and I wanted to make decisions for myself.
Eventually, while I was applying to do my masters in Australia, we decided to break up for unrelated reasons.
I reconciled with my mom. But it’s funny — 3 months after that, I met another Muslim man, and we started dating.
I was more serious about my second relationship.
In my first relationship with a Muslim guy, I didn’t think about the consequences, but this time I immediately got worried. What if my mum had another meltdown?
So we had a really serious talk. I asked him, “Look, where is this relationship going? My parents don’t know about us yet, but if they do know, I don’t plan to convert.”
He said: “Let’s give this relationship a chance. For all we know, there could be other reasons we could break up that might not be concerning religion.”
I mean yeah, he had a point. So I decided to stick it out.
To be honest, this relationship was different from my other relationships. It was quite hard, but for some reason, I couldn’t leave.
In my previous relationship, I was allowed to be the way I am. This one made me realise I had a lot of my own crap to handle.
The best decision for me was to go and see a counsellor for this. When I did, I realised it wasn’t just his personal flaws that was causing the fights, it was mine as well.
With my other relationships, I exited them quickly because my partner was the one at fault… Or so I thought.
But this one made me realise I also needed to work on my own flaws as a human being.
There’s a part of me that’s always been a perfectionist. I was always good at punishing myself, but while I was good at giving love to others, I forgot to give love to myself.
It was a tough process, but I started to be kind to myself.
Meeting my future husband’s mother.
Everything I thought I knew about Islam changed when I met my husband’s mother.
We were out, and then my husband received a call from his mother, who wanted him to send her to a club.
“Is there a golf club near here?” I thought, without thinking too much about it.
Then when she came over, she was in a bareback dress — and the club was a nightclub.
I was so surprised — even I don’t wear bareback. Growing up, my parents would say something if my pants were too short.
“Wow, your mom is liberal! She goes clubbing and all that,” I said to my boyfriend.
But later on, I got to know her better. She doesn’t drink, she just goes to hang out with her friends and smoke. Sometimes, she would call us over to hang out.
She loves to dance and laugh, but she would never drink. Even though the whole table was full of alcohol.
His sister asked me to sit down with the Quran.
The first time I was introduced to his family was when his mother invited me to dinner. It was the most uncomfortable dinner I had, but it felt like an official start to our relationship.
His two other sisters (they’re twins) were very staunch Muslims and were initially against our relationship.
In their eyes, it was not proper for an unmarried woman to visit the house of her boyfriend, so my relationship was not “holy”.
One time, I was coming back to his house at night, and one of his sisters had stayed up waiting for us. She asked us to come sit with her and her husband in the living room.
She opened the Quran in front of me and asked, “Why don’t you read the first Surah?”
Her husband was sitting beside her, and my boyfriend was sitting beside me. It all was really serious stuff.
I felt really pressured. I was really freaked out.
For the first time, I refused and said, “No, thank you. I don’t want to read it now, I want to read it in my own time. Thank you, I’ll take this Quran, but no thank you.”
I was very diplomatic. After a while, they gave up. I have had a lot of Christian friends who had parents who would do this too. Whenever that happened I was also uncomfortable.
I just feel like if a person is ready, they will voluntarily come to you and ask, “Eh, can you help me understand your religion?”
But not confronted and pressured like this.
I decided to start reading the Quran.
A few months later, I thought, “Maybe, I ought to give this a try.” So I sat down, opened the Quran and started reading it.
I asked my boyfriend to join in, and he got really excited.
Boyfriend: “Oooh, you’re going to read the Quran?”
Me: “No, WE’RE going to read the Quran.”
As a Muslim, he has not read the Quran from front to back, so this was a way for both of us to get to know Islam better. So we sat down together to read it.
We asked his imam brother for advice.
Whenever we came across anything confusing, we would also ask my boyfriend’s brother-in-law, an imam who lives in Singapore.
One time, his response genuinely helped settle my family’s differences with my boyfriend’s eating restrictions — and I started to feel more positive about Islam.
“Sometimes Mandy invites me to her family’s house. And her family tried not to cook pork. But they didn’t samak (Islamic purification) the utensils, so how?”
In my head, I was quite offended. I thought, how could you care about the utensils, after all the trouble my family took to scrub any trace of pork off when they invited you over?
But I kept quiet — I was curious to see what this imam would say.
He replied, “I know we have to eat from clean utensils. But religion is not meant to drive people apart; it’s meant to unite people.”
“Mandy’s parents went to great lengths to make sure the food was not pork. So when people of another religion are already bending over backwards to accommodate you — rather than double down on your faith, shouldn’t you be trying to appreciate their effort?”
My boyfriend replied, “Yeah that’s true, now I’m relieved.” I was also relieved at my brother-in-law’s response.
This is how I started trusting that the relationship could really work in the long run.
I had a long conversation with his mother in the car.
One day, I had a conversation with his mom. We were sitting in the back of his car having a spirited conversation about perfume brands while he was getting his motor repaired.
Now, there are some Muslims who don’t use certain perfume brands because there’s alcohol content in the bottle.
But she didn’t mention anything about all that, and I was curious enough to ask why.
She explained, “In the Quran, it states that you should not consume alcohol because the judgements you make are not wise.”
“But perfumes are on the outside, nobody sprays perfumes in their mouths.”
There was a moment of silence. “Did you know the best brush in the word is made out of pig’s hair?” She asked me.
I didn’t know that, I said.
“But that doesn’t mean you cannot use it. You just cannot consume it,” she said. “Even in the jungle pig, if there is no other food around, you can still eat it because you need to survive,” she told me.
Okay, I thought. So this lady actually thinks for herself — she’s not blindly following the religion.
Another time, I asked her, “Why don’t you wear the tudung?” She replied, “Because the Quran says you only need to cover the boobs and butt. Nobody said you had to do that.”
“Those are only mentioned in the extra books. I don’t believe in those, because human beings are subject to error. But the Quran came from God.”
After that conversation, I thought to myself, “ You know what? I could live with a mother-in-law like this. I could marry this guy.”
So things started rolling into place.
When my boyfriend got down on one knee and proposed, I cried and said yes — but then I snapped out of it.
Me: “I’m not gonna wear long clothes, or the tudung you know. Are you gonna be okay with that?”
Boyfriend: “If you feel you’re ready, go ahead. But I met you like this, and I’m not gonna force you to change.”
I was relieved. But I needed time to break the news to my family. At that point, they still didn’t know I had a boyfriend.
I waited almost a year. I wanted to give them time to get to know each other before dropping the bomb on them.
But in fact, that wasn’t the biggest challenge to our relationship. It was when I went to the gyne and they discovered that I had a blood cyst that was 7cm in diameter.
I found out that I had stage 4 endometriosis.
If you don’t know what that is, it’s scar tissue from your uterus that’s floating in your system.
The doctor told me that getting pregnant would prevent the cyst from growing bigger, and prevent the cramps from happening. He said I had to get married — right now.
At the time, my boyfriend and I had been dating for 3 years, but I wasn’t thinking about marriage just yet.
When you have endometriosis, it’s 0.01% chance of giving birth. Scar tissue will prevent the baby from forming in the uterus.
[Image courtesy of The Diagnosa]
I told my boyfriend, “If we get married, your chances of getting a son are really very low.”
I laid down my terms and conditions: “If you get married to me you can’t marry another woman just to have her baby.” I was worried that he would change his mind when he got older.
He was solemn and said, “Our life on Earth is temporary. You could live another 50 years, or you could die tomorrow. In heaven you can ask for anything you want — so we can ask for kids.”
My boyfriend is not the type to be philosophical — so when he said this, I started crying.
You know, most guys either want to have kids or don’t want to have kids. But how many guys can say they will try to have a kid with you, but they don’t mind if it doesn’t work out? How rare is that?
I realised that when you love someone they don’t have to resemble you, you can accept them for who they are.
And because he believed in this religion, it saved us.
How I told my mom I was getting married.
When my mom came to visit me in the hospital after the surgery, she met my fiance, who was sitting beside me.
There was an awkward silence, and she said, “Who are you?” And he introduced himself as my friend. But I knew she knew, and she knew I knew she knew.
[Image via University of Stirling]
We talked about it later on — and I admitted to her that he was my boyfriend.
After a few months, I told her I was planning to get married to him. It was very nerve-wracking.
In the past, she would ask me, “Are you in love or do you love?”
She always asked me this when I got into a relationship, and I never found out what the difference is. To be in love or to love?
Facing me, she asked me this question once more. I told her I didn’t know the answer to that. But what I do know is that I love him enough to get married to him.
I think when parents meet their child’s partner, they always see the bad in the other person. But they don’t realise they’ve put their child on a pedestal.
I said to her, “I have flaws too, mum, though you might think I don’t.”
“But look: Here is your daughter with 0.01% of giving birth, and you have a person who is willing to marry her despite the odds of remaining childless for the rest of their lives.”
How I told my dad I was getting married.
When my dad found out, he didn’t say much. He comes from an engineering background, and they’re brutally honest.
I only had three big arguments with my dad. The first time, it was because I chose psychology instead engineering as my major. The second time was when I wanted to shift out of the house. This was the third one.
He said, “I’m not going to change my habits because of this. Do you want me to change all our pots and pans? Do we need to hide whenever we eat pork?”
“Dad, you don’t need to change anything. I will still be your daughter. I will still be the same.”
“I’m just telling you because you need to know that I’m getting married. I’m sorry, I wish you could accept it,” I begged.
He didn’t accept it. He said, “Don’t come to me when you regret it.” That was the same thing he said for the first two times.
[Image via Stuff NZ]
My family are quite hardcore, you know. They’re not lovey-dovey at all — that’s why my mom separated from my dad.
After that, I made the decision to convert to Islam.
Here’s how the conversion process works.
So we went to the Jawi institution to officiate my conversion. It’s actually quite simple. You just need to go in, ask for information at the counter, bring a witness, documents like your IC, and give your bank account details.
They asked me to recite the First Pillar, the Shahadah: “I bear witness that there is no other deity but Allah, and that the Prophet Muhammad is his messenger.”
[The Shahadah calligraphy displayed on a mosque. Image via Britannica]
I wasn’t very good at the Arabic pronunciation. Luckily they were very forgiving and let me try 3 times before I got it right.
Then they prepared the Islam identification card for me, and they also gave me a goodie bag, a prayer mat, telekung, and books on how to pray.
Lastly, they asked for my bank account number so that they can give money to new converts (also known as “Saudara Baru”).
And that was that.
Finally, the wedding day came.
[Image courtesy of Mandy on her wedding day.]
Growing up, I always wanted to have a big fancy church wedding, like you see in the movies.
But then when I was in church, I attended my mother’s own wedding when she got married again — and they’re not as fabulous as I thought.
That was not where I wanted to be. So I decided I wanted a tea ceremony. And no matter what, I needed the tea ceremony to happen.
For our reception, we wanted to incorporate everything — we came in with the kompang first, then we started the tablas. The Indian side of my family were very proud of that.
Then I changed into a lehenga, and we had the wedding dinner. The dress code that night was traditional wear — no modern dress code, please.
Even when I went through the officiation, when they asked me if I wanted to change my name, I opted to keep it. Islam only adds to my life — it shouldnt change who I am as a person.
I wanted to show my family that even though I’m Muslim now, I’m still Mandy.
My married life as a Muslim convert.
After all that, my dad started talking to my husband, who is an engineer like him. I tell him, “See, you wanted me to become an engineer, but I didn’t want to, so I married one!”
My mother also began to warm up to my husband. My husband is a foodie, so he will bodek (butter up) my mom whenever we are in town to visit. She gets very happy because she gets to cook for him.
And as for his mom, we only got closer as years went by. Sometimes she buys me stuff and doesn’t for him, haha. She always calls me the fourth daughter.
My dad had said to me, “Don’t come to me when you regret it.”
But you know what, I didn’t regret it.
I didn’t regret choosing psychology. I didn’t regret moving out of my family. And I didn’t regret marrying my husband and converting to Islam.
I’m actually loving Islam and I strive to know and learn more about it each day.
For more stories like this, read: My Dad Locked Me Home for 3 Days Because I Dated a Non-Christian Guy and What Life’s Like Being Non-Religious.