Being Both tells the stories of a few Muslims in interfaith relationships, and a number of additional guest bloggers have written about such relationships on this blog. But my work has focused primarily on Jewish and Christian families, and I often say that I am waiting for a whole body of literature to evolve…featuring voices from Buddhist, Quaker, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, atheist (and many more) interfaith families. Below, Noor Ibrahim, a young journalism colleague, recounts how and why she seeks to tell the stories of Muslim women in interfaith relationships for a project that I hope will be published in some form. If you can, share your story with her, and help to grow this body of literature. Thank you! –SKM
In a world where interfaith love is an inevitable and increasingly common reality, it is important to engage with the stories that are often left untold. The story I want to tell is about Muslim women who have decided to marry outside of their faith.
I am a 20-something graduate student in New York City, one of the most diverse spots in the world. As an individual who has spent many years of my life away from my home country, I’ve been exposed to people of varying nationalities, ethnicities and religions. We share ideas and workspaces, classrooms and apartments, dish recipes and traditions. We build life-long friendships and global social networks. Sometimes, we fall in love.
For my Masters project, I will be looking into the topic of Muslim women who have, or are planning to, marry someone who does not share their faith. Given the lack of reporting on this specific topic, I am hoping to include the voices of a wide range of interfaith couples, each with their own unique set of experiences and insights.
I realize that this is a very personal issue for many, and as a result I feel a personal obligation to conduct my reporting as thoroughly and accurately as possible. So I am conducting in-depth interviews with couples about the interfaith marriage process, the social implications, the trials and triumphs, and their hopes for the future.
As I move forward with this project, I am hoping to connect with more Muslim women who have married outside their faith and talk to them about their experiences. If you feel you fit these criteria and are willing to share your story, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a space for your narrative, and I am ready to listen.
Noor Ibrahim is a Jordanian-Canadian student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where she is currently working on a Masters project about interfaith marriage in the US.
In seven years of writing this interfaith blog, I have posted many essays on a number of spring Jewish and Christian holidays: Purim, St Patrick’s Day, Passover, Easter. But the complex, interlocking quilt squares of Generation Interfaith now go far beyond Judaism and Christianity. Speaking in Chicago this week, I met a woman from a Jewish and Christian interfaith family with a Hindu partner, and a man from a Jewish and Christian interfaith family with a Muslim partner. Increasingly, I see the world of interfaith families, not as a Jewish/Christian binary, but as vibrant pieces bound together into a greater design, and traced with embroidery that winds across the pieces.
My book Being Both is devoted to the idea that interfaith children, in particular, benefit from exploring that whole quilt through interfaith education. But actually, all of us in extended interfaith families (and increasingly, that is most of us) benefit from interfaith education. Meanwhile, with political demagogues busy stirring up ugly religious intolerance in this election season, now is the time for every American (and every world citizen), whether or not we have extended interfaith families, to do a better job of educating ourselves about the religions around us.
Below, I have written up a quick list of just some of the religious holidays in the remainder of March. Note the ancient connections many of them have to the spring equinox, and possibly, to each other. And notice how many of these spring festivals are now celebrated by people of multiple religions. My belief is that we are all religious syncretists, tied to the religions that came before us, and the religions that surround us. And so as part of Generation Interfaith, I celebrate these connections:
March 17, St Patrick’s Day. Catholic commemoration of the Feast Day of St Patrick, primarily celebrated by Irish-Americans with parades, drinking, and the wearing of the green, as a way to connect with Irish culture. Now celebrated in America by people of many religions. Possible historical connection to Ostara.
March 20, Ostara. ModernPagan and Wiccan commemoration of the spring equinox and Eostre, the Saxon lunar goddess of fertility. Celebrated with planting of seeds and nature walks. Possible historical connections between Eostre, Easter, Passover, and Norooz.
March 20, Palm Sunday. Christian commemoration of the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, celebrated with church services and processions with palm fronds. Among Indian Christians, the Hindu practice of strewing flowers such as marigolds has been adapted for Palm Sunday.
March 21, Norooz. Zoroastrian/Bahai/Persian celebration of the New Year on the spring equinox. With roots in ancient Iran, it is celebrated by many people of all religions throughout the Balkans, Caucasus, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East with spring cleaning, flowers, picnics, feasting, and family visits. Possible historical connection between Norooz and Purim.
March 23, Holi. Hindu commemoration of the arrival of spring and love, celebrated with bonfires, throwing powdered color pigments and water on each other, music, feasting, forgiving debts, repairing relationships, and visiting. Popular even with non-Hindus in Asia, and increasingly throughout the world.
March 23, Magha Puja Day. Buddhist commemoration of Buddha delivering the principles of Buddhism, on the full moon. Celebrated in Southeast Asia with temple visits, processions, and good works.
March 24, Purim. Jewish commemoration of the Biblical story of Esther in ancient Persia, celebrated with costumed reenactments, three-cornered pastry (hamantaschen), drinking, and charity. There may be a historical connection between Norooz and Purim.
March 24, Maundy Thursday – Christian commemoration of The Last Supper. There may be a historical connection between The Last Supper and Passover.
March 24, Hola Mohalla. Sikh celebration including processions, mock battles, poetry reading, music. There is a historical connection between Holi and Hola Mohalla.
March 25, Good Friday. Christian commemoration of the Crucifixion of Jesus, with church services and fasting.
March 27, Easter. Christian commemoration of the Resurrection of Jesus, celebrated with church services, family dinners, baskets of candy for children. Fertility imagery including bunnies and eggs may have a historical connection to Eostre, and the spring equinox.
March 30, Mahavir Jayanti. Jain commemoration of the birth of Mahavira, celebrated with temple visits for meditation and prayer, decoration with flags and flowers, and charitable acts.
Passover and Easter are fast approaching, and I am still immersed in speaking and traveling in support of my book, Being Both. So I am reposting some essays from the archives. This one dates from the spring of 2010. Enjoy!
Our spring break starts today, and my two teens are genuinely ecstatic anticipating our annual family gathering in Florida. Every year, my parents reserve beachside condos, have a rental piano delivered, and invite all four of their children, the spouses, and seven grandchildren for a weeklong family swim, gab and jam session. If we’re lucky, and this year we are, we get to celebrate both Passover and Easter together. For the Seder, all of my mother’s family, her sister and children and grandchildren, join us. My father will lead the Seder with Haggadot shipped down each year in a box full of beach towels.
As in many families, we go around the table, each person reading the next Haggadah passage in turn. We clap along when we sing Dayenu. We fill the cup and open the door for Elijah. We sing Had Gadya, the allegorical cumulative Aramaic song about the water that quenched the fire that beat the stick, and recite all the Who Knows One? riddles in a single breath.
It is neither the longest nor the shortest Seder in the world, nor is it particularly progressive, though I have introduced an orange to the Seder plate, as a reminder of those who have been excluded. I suppose it is a fairly typical Reform Seder in America. The funny thing is, my father is the only one at the table, of the twenty or more family members, who is “100% Jewish by blood.” The rest of us are a family tapestry of three-quarter Jews, half-Jews, quarter-Jews, Jews-at-heart, Jewannabes, agnostics, atheists, secular and practicing Catholics, and other assorted Christians. What we have in common, besides our family ties, is a high degree of familiarity and comfort with this central Jewish ritual meal, built up over the the fifty years of the happy marriage of my interfaith parents. As far as I’m concerned, everyone at the table is part of the interfaith spectrum, part of my tribe.
My father, the patriarch at 86, has spent fifty years teaching all of us the art of the Passover meal, tending this motley flock, quietly spreading, by example, his understanding and joy in Jewish practice. He has succeeded, to the point where my young French-Canadian-Italian-German-Irish-Scottish-English cousin, who does not have one drop of “Jewish blood,” whatever that is, but who grew up celebrating Passover with my family each year, went off to college, and, too far from home to join us, tried calling her campus Hillel to see if she could have Seder with them. The answer was no. Which reminds me of the time I was rejected from a Seder table for being a patrilineal half-Jew. But that’s another story.
And so I return to my recurrent (some would say obsessive) themes. Interfaith families can be close and happy and successful. Interfaith families can be “good for the Jews” in that they educate both interfaith children and extended Christian family about Judaism. But also, many Jewish institutions still exclude rather than welcome, even at Passover, when it is traditional to “welcome the stranger.” And this exclusion drives some of us to seek out the network of independent interfaith family communities in which to raise our children.
I am troubled, as are many others, by the concluding Seder words ”next year in Jerusalem.” Most of my interfaith tribe rebels against the idea of an Israeli state that promulgates exclusion based on religious identification. So no matter what my mouth says, my brain will probably be thinking, ”next year with my family, in Florida again, please.” For Passover, there’s no place I’d rather be.
This week, I attempted to take a break from writing my book on interfaith identity, in order to celebrate my daugher’s graduation from high school on a family trip to Spain. But I cannot help myself now from seeing the world through my interfaith lens. Everywhere I go, I see the evidence that around the globe, and throughout history, people fall in love across the lines of race and religion and tribe. As long as we treat these love stories as transgressive and problematic, they will remain transgressive and problematic. When we accept them as natural, as sources of creativity and inspiration, as good for humanity, we will come closer to achieving that reality.
The Cardona castle overlooks a Roman-era salt mine which provided the wealth to build the garrison and ramparts and towers over many centuries. Wilfred the Hairy began the castle construction in 886 CE. (Orson Welles chose this castle as the main setting for his Shakespearean film “The Chimes of Midnight.”) The most celebrated and iconic section of the castle is the cylindrical 11th century “Torre de la Minyona” or Maiden’s Tower. I climbed the tower, looking mainly for a view through a bright cloudless sky over the Catalonion countryside. But after stopping to read the historical plaque about the tower, the rolling landscape took on a strange and gloomy cast.
“…in the very early days of the castle, Adelaida, the lovely daughter of the count, fell in love with a Muslim jailor from a neighboring town. Despite the fact that the young man planned to convert to Christianity, the maiden’s parents sentenced her to be locked up in the tower, where she was attended only by a mute maid. Tradition tells that the suitor even built a cross using stones from the river to demonstrate how fervently he embraced his new faith. However, the lords would not give in and the young girl’s health deteriorated from her suffering. She died in captivity.”
The curators of the castle point out that this tale is legend, not history, and that the origins of the story are “lost in the mists of time.” Over the centuries, many versions of the tale have circulated in Catalonia. Some say the lover was a prince named Abdullah, and that the forbidden love affair caused a protracted war between the Christians and Moors. In this version, Adelaida draws a cross with the blood of her own fingers before dying to prove that she has never renounced her Christianity. Others say Adelaida’s brothers imprisoned her, in part because she converted to Islam. It is said that her father relented on his deathbed and called for her release, but that Adelaida died just before he arrived, or at the moment she was freed. Many believe that her ghost now haunts the castle, as does a ghost of Abdullah, who rides up to the castle every evening at the hour when the lovers first met.
Haunted parapets, star-crossed lovers, religious passion. I am sure these ingredients help to engage the tourists who come to stay at the castle, and I plead guilty to being one of them. But for me, the Legend of the Tower of the Maiden of Cardona serves as a poignant reminder of the stubborn, ongoing resistance to interfaith love. In the 21st century, interfaith couples still face family members who attempt to sabotage their relationships, religious communities that expect outrageous proof of fidelity from those who dare to intermarry, and states ready to do battle over religious difference.
I cannot help musing about how the history of Cardona might have been different if Adelaida and Abdullah had been united. In one version of the tale, the storyteller has Abdullah describe this vision to Adelaida: “I say we hope for the future together, a sunny future that will allow children with brown skin and blue eyes to run through this castle, enjoying the scenery of this homeland, as seen from this tower. I pray that you have faith, please.”
I would like to think we are closer to the time when Abdullah’s vision can become a reality. I have faith that creating interfaith families will help to build peace and understanding on the most intimate level, with global repurcussions. Inspired by Abdullah and Adelaida, let us break free from our towers of isolation, make love not war, and help to make the 21st century a time of unprecedented harmony.