I have long held to the credo that marriage is tough enough, why make it tougher by choosing someone with different beliefs. When I was young (and a bit naive, dare I say?) that meant someone from a different religion. But after 20 years of marriage and two years of divorce, I come to that notion with a (hopefully) deeper perspective.
My ex-husband and I, though both Muslim, had profound differences of opinion on many matters of faith. Not only dogma, but the entire way one approaches sacred texts, theology, religious jurisprudence, etc, etc, etc. We were both deeply religious people in our own ways, and both deeply committed to Islam, but we were certainly not very compatible religiously, and that was clearly one of the factors that lead to the dissolution of our marriage.
When I felt I was ready to find someone new to grow old with, the issue of religion raised its head again. It was clear to me that finding a compatible Muslim was going to be challenging. After all, Muslims are small minority in the US — estimates range between one and three percent of the population. Furthermore, we tend to be concentrated in large cities, which means smaller cities like Cincinnati, where I live (and don’t plan to leave anytime in the near future), have an even lower concentration. Recent estimates of the Muslim population of Cincy puts it at a whopping two tenths of a percent. Not a huge pool to pick from!
To make matters more complex, most of the mosque-going community has attitudes far more inline with my ex’s points of view than my own. Progressive Muslims tend to be alienated from the mosque, which makes them harder to find and connect with. The probability of finding someone within the faith and within my town seemed dauntingly small.
So I started thinking about people outside of the faith. For a lot of Muslims this is simply a non-starter, since they believe that Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslims. I personally believe that ruling is a product of patriarchy, not the Qur’an, and agree with scholars such as Hasan at-Turabi who consider it legal. Nonetheless, I was aware that Muslim women who marry out of the faith often find themselves shunned by the community. And even those spouses (male or female) who convert before marriage may find themselves accused of a half-hearted conversion of convenience.
I believe that it is totally possible that someone of a different religion could be far more tolerant and accepting of my personal faith than my ex was, and than many in the mosque-going Muslim community would be. Indeed, I believe he could hold beliefs and values far more in accordance with mine than many in the Muslim community. As far as I’m concerned, what matters most is not which religion one adheres to, but the values and beliefs one brings to the relationship. I’d probably have a hard go of it with a conservative, a traditionalist, or a fundamentalist — anyone who believes that other people’s morality and religious practice is their responsibility — no matter what religion they come from.
On the flip side of the coin, I believe that people of other faiths (or no faith at all) with a progressive mindset will hold beliefs and morals compatible with my own, even though we draw those beliefs and that morality from different sources. I also believe any future marriage I might enter into would stand a far better chance with that kind of deep, meaningful compatibility, rather than a superficial, “we’re both Muslim so of course it will work” compatibility.
These ruminations are clearly made easier by the fact that my children are older, and I don’t plan to have any more, so child rearing is less of an issue. I, too, am older, and a lot more self-assured in my beliefs. I have grappled with what I believe it means to be Muslim, what my place in the Muslim community is, and have found my spiritual home, spread across the continent and the world as it may be. If I were starting a family and raising young children, my conclusions would likely be quite different. The beliefs one imparts to one’s children, the rituals they take part in, the holidays the celebrate evoke powerful emotional responses that are often completely unanticipated. To successfully navigate a multi-faith relationship when the way one’s children are to be raised is an issue requires a unique commitment to openness and acceptance of differences.
Of course, at any stage of life openness and acceptance of difference is key to the success of an interfaith relationship (or intercultural, interracial, inter-ethnic, or for that matter for any relationship at all). Those qualities cannot be claimed by any one faith group, but rather pertain to individuals according to their own personalities.
I have been fortunate enough over the past year to find someone who shares my values, and who matches me in being open-minded, accepting and accommodating. He isn’t Muslim and while he may not pray the way I do, or fast for Ramadan (both of which could be said of many Muslims), he supports me expressing my spirituality in my own way. What could be a better basis for a long-term relationship than that, regardless of what faiths we might pertain to?
Image courtesy of fiat.luxury.