Is ‘Love Jihad’ real or propaganda?

By M Ahmedullah, 22 May 2023

Before I discuss the topic, I want to point out that nationalism – whether based on tribalism, religious fanaticism, racialism, etc. – makes it near impossible to develop a balanced understanding of anything, as agendas interfere with perceptions, focus, data collection, selective use of archival resources and their interpretations. This is true concerning how we understand and evaluate history and what happens in society. So, I would encourage everyone to be conscious and critical of whatever they hear from whatever sides and try to examine claims themselves.

Due to The Kerala Story film and the controversy, the Karnataka hijab ban and the recent election in the state, and the massive BJP setback, I have been thinking about many of the Hindu-Muslim issues that are confronting Indians and the people of the subcontinent.

Before I explore and try to answer the question I set in the title of this piece of writing, I want to point out that the phrase ‘Love Jihad’, whether real or false, has become a very effective propaganda tool for those who dislike and fear Muslims. As such, as a Muslim, one might think that I would naturally want to deny the existence of ‘Love Jihad’ and try to disprove it. But this is not my aim.

I have intimately mixed with Hindu people in London over several decades since my school days, so I understand them well. Most of the Hindus I got to know well were Gujaratis, Tamils and Malayalis and smaller groups of Punjabis and Bengalis.

Of the Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs I met in London, Hindu girls were more willing to and had more romantic relationships with Muslim and Sikh boys; the other way was minimal in comparison. I have identified three main reasons for this. First, Hindu girls experienced more freedom, and their families were more willing to accept the choices of their daughters, though in many cases reluctantly. Second, most Hindus I met didn’t take religion as seriously as compared to the Muslims.

Hindu religion was more a cultural thing to the Hindus than doctrinaire, as compared to Muslims. So, the idea that young Hindu girls are more vulnerable to conversion because they don’t get to learn about their religion – as claimed by right-wing Hindu groups and many of those coming out after watching The Kerala Story -is partially true. However, who is responsible for this state of affairs? How this situation will change if and when young Hindus are taught their religion using their scriptures – just at the Muslims do – remains to be seen.

Hardly any of the Muslim boys I saw dating Hindu girls in London were Islamic in their practice. They were just like other Hindu and Sikh boys. They mostly wanted one thing that young boys wanted from girls. Besides white girls, Hindu girls were more around and more freely mixing. At one time, Muslim and Sikh girls couldn’t even go out, and families watched them carefully – though Sikh girls became relatively freer as time passed.

There were many genuine falling in love between Muslim boys and Hindu girls, as also some the other way round, though on a smaller scale. And as Muslims are stricter about their religion and some give up their wild days after a period of fun, the conversion into Islam of the Hindu girlfriends of Muslim men becomes an issue. I know some Hindu girls who got converted to Islam in London. How their life progressed over the years, I don’t know. I knew a Sikh girl who converted to Islam and even started wearing the hijab, but when her relationship broke up with her Pakistani husband, she went back to her Sikh roots and gave up her Islamic clothing.

I know several Muslim girls in London – one Pakistani and two Bangladeshi – who married Hindu boys. I never tried to find out if there have been conversations in these marriages – either way. Most people I know who converted to Islam in London were white and black men – and in the case of black converts some have managed to convert many of their friends, neighbours and even some family members. I knew one black convert who managed to bring his mother and father to Islam quite soon after his conversion.

Islam is a religion that tries to teach and invite people to Islam and makes it a duty of every Muslim to invite non-Muslims to become Muslims. According to Islamic teachings, inviting and successfully converting people to Islam brings rewards in the next life. As such, no one can stop Muslims from trying to invite and convert people to Islam. The incentives are very high – everlasting rewards.

Third, as Islamic theology and its message are very simple, it attracts a lot of positive interest. However, some of its social rules, especially concerning women’s position, generate impacts the other way. Also, people do not generally change their religion due to history but due to theology, religious messages, the practices and behaviours of religious followers and human mortality.

In Indonesia, their law prohibits inter-religious marriages and does not allow couples from different religions to enter formal marriages. If a couple wants to get married and they are from different religions, one must convert and join the other’s religion. Usually, based on personal anecdotes, Christian girls convert to Islam, even if it’s only a formal acceptance. I know one Javanese Muslim lady who became Hindu when getting married to her Hindu boyfriend in Bali. I don’t think that was ‘Love Jihad’ in reverse.

In London, I have experienced people from many faiths and no faiths converting to Islam. I have also seen and attended religious classes for new Muslims. Most of what I saw were happy, open and taught Islam honestly and with critical thinking and questioning. But I admit I was frightened of a few groups inviting people into Islam and providing Islamic teachings to new Muslims.

I don’t believe the reason why many young Muslim men want to date with Hindu girls are due to ‘Love Jihad’. In my experience and extensive knowledge in this matter, I believe it is primarily due to love based on chance meetings, interaction opportunities and physical and personality attraction. But based on my experience, I am also sure that some individual Muslim men look for Hindu and non-Muslim girls intending to make them Muslims by getting them to fall in love.

If there is any truth in the Hindu right wing’s propaganda tools of ‘Love Jihad’ is true, it must only be true for a tiny number of people. Most love and relationships between Muslim boys and Hindu girls, when it starts, it’s due to either real falling in love or for sex.

I have based this discussion on my personal experience over many years and keeping myself reasonably informed of developments of issues and controversies in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, and also the UK.