One Muslim Chaplain's Blog

Rita Hayworth and the Ismailis: A Familiar Tale of Interfaith Marriage Gone Wrong

In Politics on January 10, 2013 at 8:54 pm
Rita Hayworth (Wikimedia Commons/Studio publicity photo)

Rita Hayworth (Wikimedia Commons/Studio publicity photo)

Watching the credits to the movie The Shawshank Redemption, something caught my eye. The picture of Rita Hayworth that the prisoner in the movie had displayed in his cell had appeared courtesy of one “Yasmin Aga Khan.” That name, a Muslim name, stood out to me. I decided to go to the authority, Google, to do a little investigating. What I learned from that unfamiliar name became an all-too-familiar story having to do with so many Muslim men and the children they leave behind when they engage in interfaith marriage without taking proper precautions.

In May 1949, the Hollywood actress married Prince Aly Khan, who was the father of the Agha Khan, the leader of the Ismaili Muslim sect. Aly Khan was the first son of an Agha Khan to be passed over for another son. Known as a playboy, Aly Khan had met Hayworth and they had one child together. This child, Yasmin, later gave permission for her mother’s image to be used in the movie I had been watching.

The rest of the story plays out like a scene from Not Without My Daughter. Only two years after a champagne-filled wedding ceremony followed their premarital conception of Yasmin, the couple divorced (apparently due to his infidelity) and Aly Khan expressed concern that his daughter be raised as a Muslim. One news story suggested, “Aly remarked that Rita has received letters threatening the youngster’s life unless she is reared in the Moslem faith.” It is not clear who sent these letters or whether the existence of these letters was a lie made up to pressure Rita into action, but one thing is sure, Aly Khan made an “offer of $1,000,000 if she would rear Yasmin as a Muslim from age seven and allow her to go to Europe to visit with him for two or three months each year.”

It is unclear how a Christian woman could be charged with the task of raising a Muslim child, but Hayworth was resolute that her child not be a fish out of water in her own society:

“”Nothing will make me give up Yasmin’s chance to live here in America among our precious freedoms and habits,” declared Hayworth. “While I respect the Muslim faith and all other faiths it is my earnest wish that my daughter be raised as a normal, healthy American girl in the Christian faith. There isn’t any amount of money in the entire world for which it is worth sacrificing this child’s privilege of living as a normal Christian girl here in the United States. There just isn’t anything else in the world that can compare with her sacred chance to do that. And I’m going to give it to Yasmin regardless of what it costs.”

This story has played out in marriages the world over. While there is nothing to suggest that Muslim men are prohibited from marrying “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians), there is definitely reason to take the decision more seriously. Aly Khan, despite being the son of the imam of the Ismaili Muslims, was clearly not a religious man. He did not think out the ramifications of what would happen if his marriage ended and the task of raising his child fell to the mother. In the West in particular, many Muslim men are marrying Jewish and Christian women despite the fact that Muslim women are finding men in short supply. Certainly, they are not looking for someone with the character of Aly Khan (who, incidentally, later became a UN representative to Pakistan; it was remarked that his UN speech was the first time he addressed a topic other than wine and women). But what is more important than “keeping Muslim men for Muslim women,” is safeguarding the transmission of religion to the child. In a panic, Aly Khan thought that he could throw money at the problem or leave the responsibility of raising a Muslim daughter to a spouse who did not even practice the faith.

Many Muslim men are Aly Khans. They fall in love, take advantage of the allowance of such marriages, and fail to prepare for what happens to the children if the marriage should fail. It is only natural that such women should want to raise their child in their own religion, especially if their husbands gave them a shallow exposure to Islam through their own negligence of practice. This story took place in the 1950′s…but it could have happened today. Actually, it does. And it’s a lesson even for those of us who married a Muslim. Marriages almost always become about the children they produce. If you have differing conceptions of the faith and how to practice it, better to talk about it now than later if, God forbid, your child is caught in the middle of a divorce.

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