What happens when you fall in love across the religious divide?

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by Reza Aslan

People assume that, because we are of different faiths, we must have major problems in our relationship. In fact, it has strengthened our bond.

When we – a Muslim and a Christian – fell in love, we didn’t think much about the differences in our religions. (People falling in love usually don’t think much, full stop.)

We figured what we did share – similar values, similar worldviews, and a similarly strong faith in God – was enough. We crossed our fingers and hoped we would be able to work out how to do life together as it came at us: step by step, conversation by conversation, decision by decision. Eight years, three kids, and one beautiful marriage later, that strategy seems to be working.

We are not alone. Interfaith relationships – as well as the pairing of a secular and a religious partner – are on the rise. But despite being the new normal in some parts of the world, the idea still makes some people very uncomfortable.

No doubt there are some unique challenges to interfaith relationships. But some problems are unavoidable when two people – of any background – come together. On the other hand, there are some advantages in interfaith relationships. There are studies that show that interfaith couples are better at communicating with one another than same-faith couples. In particular, they are better at communicating effectively and coming to an agreement about important issues. Perhaps this is because interfaith couples recognise from the start that they will have to negotiate their religious differences, and so they quickly learn how to carry this skill into other aspects of the relationship.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE GUARDIAN (UK)

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Tunisian women free to marry non-Muslims

_97814350_gettyimages-504960454Tunisia has overturned a law that banned women from marrying non-Muslims.

A spokeswoman for President Beji Caid Essebsi made the announcement and congratulated women on gaining “the freedom to choose one’s spouse”.

Until now, a non-Muslim man who wished to marry a Tunisian Muslim woman had to convert to Islam and submit a certificate of his conversion as proof.

Tunisia, which is 99% Muslim, is viewed as one of the most progressive Arab countries in terms of women’s rights.

The new law comes after President Essebsi pushed for the lifting of the marriage restriction decree that was put in place in 1973.

He said in a speech last month, during celebrations of the National Women’s day, that the marriage law was “an obstacle to the freedom of choice of the spouse”.

The restriction was also seen as violating Tunisia’s constitution which was adopted in 2014 in the wake of the Arab Spring revolution.

Human rights groups in Tunisia had also campaigned for the law’s abolition.

The order comes into force immediately and couples are free to register their marriages at government offices.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE BBC 

The joy of a Christian-Muslim wedding among Egypt’s Nubians

_95478557_sally-bride-2_976bThe attacks this week on Coptic churches in northern Egypt underline the dangers faced by the country’s Christian minority. But among the Nubians – an ancient nation that lives along the upper reaches of the Nile – Muslims and Christians mostly live in harmony. Nicola Kelly attended a Muslim-Christian wedding, celebrated discreetly after nightfall, in the southern city of Aswan.

“Everyone kept telling me I should marry a girl from my community – but it was impossible,” Akram says, his eyes crinkling. “I couldn’t stay away from her.”

It’s the morning of Akram’s wedding, in a village on the western bank of the Nile, and he’s busily preparing to go to the mosque to say his vows.

This won’t be a traditional ceremony. Akram will be taking his vows alone while his Christian bride-to-be Sally recites her prayers quietly at home.

“We’re the first people to marry outside of our religion here. That’s very difficult, especially for my parents,” Akram explains.

For seven years, the couple were banned from seeing each other by both sets of parents.

Members of the community, religious leaders and friends tried to prevent them from meeting, but they still managed to arrange some brief encounters.

“We agreed to get married at night, so as not to bring shame on either of the families,” Akram says.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE BBC NEWS 

When Muslims and Christians Marry

Exchanging wedding ringsOn a blustery weekend this past February, 26 people met at the Cenacle Retreat House in Chicago to reflect on the religious dimensions of marriage. Nothing unusual about that. What was unusual about this gathering was that it brought together Christians and Muslims who are married, engaged or seriously considering marriage. Attendees hailed mostly from the Chicago area, but also from Valparaiso, Minneapolis, Rochester, Minn., and Seattle. One man even cut short a trip abroad, at his wife’s behest, to be present.

Mixed marriage, the canonical term for marriage between a Catholic and a member of another Christian church, is a fact of life in America’s religiously plural society. But many may not realize how prevalent it is among Catholics. A study by Creighton University’s Center for Marriage and Family in 1999 indicates that today roughly 40 percent of all Catholics marry non-Catholics. Most of these unions involve Catholics and other Christians (a more ecumenically sensitive term is interchurch marriage rather than mixed, which has some negative connotations).

However, increasing numbers of Catholics are marrying Jews, Muslims and adherents of other religions (the canonical term here is disparity of cult, but interfaith or interreligious marriage are more user-friendly terms). Catholic-Jewish couples, because of their greater number and longer history in American society, have a growing list of resources, including books, Web sites and support groups like the national Dovetail Institute and the Chicago-based Jewish Catholic Couples Group. But there are practically no pastoral resources for Christian-Muslim couples in the United States, despite the fact that according to many estimates, there are now more Muslims in this country than Jews. The few print resources available to pastors and couples are either outdated or written for a non-American context. (The Canadian Centre for Ecumenism has just published an exellent document, Pastoral Guidelines for Muslim-Christian Marriages. )

The dearth of resources, combined with the reluctance of many imams and pastors even to broach the subject, has left Christian-Muslim couples at a loss. To whom can they turn for advice about the unique issues they face? Where can priests and campus ministers go when called upon to counsel the small but growing number of such couples?

FULL ARTICLE FROM AMERICAN MAGAZINE 

Prophet Muhammad’s letter about how Muslims should treat Christians

prophets-letterDespite being an overall minority, there is a significant Christian population living in countries like Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt.

World Bulletin / News Desk

Amid the chaos that has laid siege to all people of the Middle-East and North Africa since the Arab Spring uprisings against dictatorship paved the way for militancy and civil war in region, the Christian world is increasingly expressing its concern over the condition of Christians living in the region.

Despite being an overall minority, there is a significant Christian population living in countries like Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt.

In this context, it may benefit both Muslims and Christians to recall the words of the Prophet Muhammad regarding how Christians should be treated by Muslims in the following translation of a letter he sent to the Christian monks at St. Catherines, Mount Sinai (Egypt) in 628 AD:

“This is a message from Muhammad sof of Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

FULL ARTICLE FROM WORLD BULLETIN

Christian-Muslim marriages are latest casualty of sectarian strife in Central African Republic

BANGUI, Central African ­Republic — The door is unhinged and the rooms are bare, signs of that afternoon when Christian vigilantes arrived at Henriette Oumpo’s mud-brick house to kill her husband.

“They broke down the door,” she recalled, her face etched in grief, “and they began searching for him.”

Her husband, who is a Muslim, escaped through a back window. Clutching knives, the fighters looted the couple’s possessions. Then they prepared to kill Oumpo, 60, and burn the house down. But some neighbors intervened and informed the fighters that she was a Christian by birth. So they spared her life — on one condition.

“Renounce Islam,” one of her attackers said as they left. “Or else we will return and kill you for marrying a Muslim.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST 

What happens when Muslims and Christians tie the knot?

_70615822_wedding.bandsWhen Heather Al-Yousuf, first met her husband of 28 years, they both felt a strong connection to their own faiths.

But their love was not straightforward as Heather is Anglican and her husband is Shia Muslim. However, Mrs Al-Yousuf thinks this is why so many inter-faith couples are drawn together.

Inter-faith marriage is on the rise in the UK. But as couples from different faiths fall in love, what are the challenges they face?

“There are quite a lot of Catholic-Muslim couples, and Catholics from quite a strong Catholic background meeting a Muslim from a strong Muslim background.

Heather Al-Yousuf is Anglican and married a Muslim 28 years ago

“It is almost like there is something they recognise about each other, there is an unconscious connection there – same kind of families, same kind of faith informing how they live life,” Mrs Al-Yousuf says.

She believes each faith puts family at its core. However, inter-faith relationships also challenge both faiths. Where do they marry? In what faith do they raise their children?

According to figures from the 2001 census, more than 4% of married Muslims are in an inter-faith marriage in England and Wales.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE BBC