Successful Interfaith Marriage: Reza Aslan and Jessica Jackley


Reza Aslan’s newest book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, had already reached the bestseller list when a video clip of the author went viral this week. The religion scholar appeared on Fox news to explain his latest work, but the host repeatedly questioned why a Muslim would be writing a book about Jesus.

Aslan–the acclaimed author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam–demonstrated extraordinary grace and patience on the show, explaining over and over that religion scholars write as academics, not as adherents. Buzzfeed asked if this was “The Most Embarrassing Interview that Fox News Has Ever Done?” Meanwhile, in the course of the interview, Aslan mentioned that his wife and mother are both Christians.

As it happens, I tell the story of this high-profile interfaith family in my book Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. About a year ago, Aslan tweeted: “I’m in a blissful interfaith marriage with my Christian wife. We are raising our children to respect all faiths and choose 1 for themselves.” When I read that tweet, I contacted him, and he and his wife agreed to be interviewed for my book chapter entitled “Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists: The Next Interfaith Wave.”

Aslan’s wife Jessica Jackley is prominent in her own field, as the co-founder of Kiva, the pioneering microfinance non-profit. But Aslan’s engagement with Christianity did not begin with marriage. In Being Both, he describes his own journey as the child of a family of Iranian refugees who were “cultural Muslims,” to a period of evangelical Christian zeal beginning in high school (during which he converted his own mother to Christianity), to rediscovery of Islam while a student of religions.

One of my themes is how being part of an interfaith family can inspire deeper understanding of one’s own religion(s), in the religion of a partner, and ultimately in the religions of the world. In describing their courtship and marriage, Jackley, who comes from an evangelical Christian family, told me, “He knows the Bible better than I do. He’s writing a book right now on Jesus. He understood my life better than most Christians.” That book eventually became Zealot.

Aslan and Jackley are now raising their twin sons with the values shared by both family religions, and with stories from diverse traditions. “What we’re going to teach our kids is the values, the beliefs, the activism, the worldview,” Aslan told me. “And when it comes to the stories, we’ll give them all of them.”

Being Both includes more on the marriage of Aslan and Jackley, the reaction of their interfaith families, and how they are raising their sons. They are two, perhaps the most prominent two, out of the hundreds of people who entrusted me with their interfaith family stories. Aslan, who received an advanced copy, calls the book, “A gorgeous and inspiring testament to the power of love to not only transcend the divides of faith and tradition, but to bring faiths together and create wholly new traditions.”

Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and The Interfaith Family Journal (2019). Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.

4 Replies to “Successful Interfaith Marriage: Reza Aslan and Jessica Jackley”

  1. Reza Aslan’s and Jessica Jackley’s successful marriage is another crack in the walls of exclusivity that surround the major religions from which they came. With enough of these small cracks eventually these isolating barriers will begin to crumble.
    Aslan’s book title “Zealot….” I believe may cause much controversy but I think it is somewhat misleading. Jesus was truly a revolutionary, a role often not appreciated by many Christians. His mission was to radically help change peoples’ values, both in his time and ours as well. But “Zealot” connotes a violent attempt to change the political status quo. Jesus’s message and actions clearly
    opposed all violence (i.e. “turn the other cheek”), even though his non violent message led and often leads to violent action.

  2. Both Islam and Christianity are religions rooted in history. We know that secular history confirms that a man named Jesus walked the Earth over 2000 years ago. Both Islam and Christianity speak of Him, and both religions present different views about who He was. Christianity presents Him as the Son of God and the only Savior between God and man; Islam denies this.

    Both religions are not just about morality, but present exclusive paths to heaven. Jesus made many exclusive statements about entering the kingdom of heaven. How more exclusive can you get than, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, NO man comes to the Father through Me?”

    We live in a culture that embraces relativism, but logical law of “non-contradiction” says that both of these religions cannot be true, especially when it comes to the pivotal person of Jesus Christ. Either one of them true and one of them is false, or they’re both false. They cannot both be true.

    Because of this, I have honestly have never understood how two people who truly believe in these two differing religions can come together in marriage and raise children together. If you are absolutely convinced in what Islam or Christianity teaches, you would have to be okay with your spouse, and possibly your children, not ending up in the same place where you are after they die. I’d embrace this type of interfaith marriage if both religions merely just taught about morality, but both teach there is much more at stake.

    I am all for a “live and let live” mentality when it comes to having friendships with others and believe that people should be allowed to believe what they want to believe, but I can’t imagine choosing to bring these differences into a relationship as intimate as marriage.

  3. Dear Absolutes, Not every Christian (or Muslim) interprets their own religion as an exclusive path to heaven. There are eminent theologians and clergy who refute this exclusive interpretation. If you do have these beliefs, I agree, it would be difficult to be in an interfaith marriage. It’s not for everyone. But many with deep connection, affection, practice and identity in these religions (including some clergy members) do manage to have successful interfaith marriages.

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