The Spiritual Balance of Interfaith Marriages

interfaith marriage

How a Christian-Muslim couple laid the basis for a healthy and fair marriage life:
When Camilla first announced her engagement to Ahmad, her grandmother’s reaction was a dramatic thud on the sofa and a stare of disbelief and outrage. 

The only words she managed to utter were unnerving prophesies of a looming divorce and moral decadence, as she thought they wouldn’t be able to celebrate the marriage in a church.

As much as the second omen might sound like the ramblings of an old-fashioned lady, the first didn’t seem so far-fetched. In a time when the divorce rate is making us everyone lose faith in marriage, how could an Egyptian Muslim and an Italian Catholic decide to come together and successfully merge two seemingly different cultures?

When I met the couple was clear that the grandmother had been proven wrong. Not only had the two exchanged their vows in a little church in the countryside, but they had also just celebrated their fifth anniversary. There they were, finally all gathered around a circular table: Ahmad, Camilla, the priest who married them and me, ready to hear the secret to a balanced interfaith marriage.

One of the biggest biases people have”, Camilla said, “is to believe that having a different religion from someone else would almost guarantee that their lives, values and opinions would be at extreme odds with one another. Religion is only one of the factors that influence our personalities, and as such it alone cannot be the sole reason for a diametrically different view of life.”

In a time when the divorce rate is making us everyone lose faith in marriage, how could an Egyptian Muslim and an Italian Catholic decide to come together and successfully merge two seemingly different cultures?

Ahmad echoed her, “What surprises me the most is a certain type of hypocrisy in people’s thinking. Since we were all created different, there is nobody on earth who carries the exact same thoughts as somebody else.

When two people share religion or culture, different opinions on certain issues are viewed as human. On the contrary, biases against interfaith marriages bring people to see those normal discrepancies as insuperable religious matters.

I think that the vital base of every marriage, be it interfaith or not, is to know exactly what the other person believes, and what are the points in which your creeds diverge,” Camilla said. “It is only possible, to wisely assess if your lives can flow into one common path, when you know which aspects unite and divide you.

I then turned to Father Alberto, as I wanted him to elaborate on his take concerning interfaith marriages. He quoted, “For where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20).

interfaith marriage

Father Alberto continued, “It means that in every gesture of kindness, love and charity, God is there. Therefore marriage, which is the pinnacle of the unconditional love between two people, is lived by the believer as the sign of God’s presence in the couple. 

I think that the vital base of every marriage, be it interfaith or not, is to know exactly what the other person believes, and what are the points in which your creeds diverge.

However, the fact that the other half is not religious or has a different creed, is not of any obstacle to a wedding in a church. Even though the other person doesn’t adhere to the view I mentioned before, it doesn’t mean that he takes the moment with carelessness.

When the groom pronounces the sentence “I take you”, it means that he accepts the bride thoroughly and completely, and even accepts her beliefs, because he wants her presence and her love in his life.

At that point it seemed natural to discuss the education of any future children they might have. I learned that Ahmad already had a daughter with another Catholic woman. “I had just arrived from Egypt and I must admit I was not at all religious during that moment. My ‘being muslim’ was limited to not eating pork and praying once in a while,” he explains.

I met this girl and she ended up pregnant. I didn’t love her, yet I was willing to marry her and bring up our little baby girl to be happy”. However, the wedding never took place, as the girl’s mother opposed it, as she accused Ahmad of being interested only in obtaining Italian citizenship.

When the baby was born they agreed to call her Fatima, which is a name that pleases both religions. Ahmad continued, “I thought she would learn about both Christianity and Islam. My girlfriend and I hadn’t discussed the issue but I had taken it for granted that she would respect my beliefs.

Ahmad said something which shocked me, “After some months she and her mother baptized the baby without even telling me. I was made aware only when everything had already been done and this just made me feel incredibly humiliated.

Therefore, what I want for our children is that they don’t have two parents fighting over religion, but two who raise them with the strong values that are common to both creeds.

During that moment I recalled a conversation I had with a friend of mine, who was also a Muslim. He was adamantly against interfaith marriages between Christians and Muslims. He believed that as Islam is much more complicated and rigorous when it comes to everyday religious rites, the chances are higher that a baby who is not raised from the beginning in that lifestyle, will be more likely to choose the Catholic path.

Camilla reassured me, “Ahmad and I went through two very similar experiences. Although we both come from religious backgrounds, our spiritual lives really started when we had the maturity to investigate our creeds. I think an imposed religion doesn’t make someone faithful, but rather it is likely to be seen just as a tradition”.

Therefore, what I want for our children is that they don’t have two parents fighting over religion, but two who raise them with the strong values that are common to both creeds.

We ended that transfixing conversation when Father Alberto shared these wise words, “Many people confuse ‘raise children in the Christian faith’ with ‘force Christianity on your children.’ The duty of a Catholic parent is to be a testimony with his life to the faith and the values he wants to pass on to his child. A good parent has to introduce the Lord’s Word to the baby, but within the freedom of choice that the Lord himself gave to us”.

 

This article was edited by Hannah Bauman at Between the Lines Editorial. You can reach Ms. Bauman at [email protected] if you are interested in her excellent editorial services. 

Michela Occhioni

Michela Occhioni

Michela Occhioni is a law student at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. Her interest for Islam and the Arab world brought her to focus on the learning of Sharia. Passionate polyglot, she has recently decided to add Arabic, Farsi and Turkish to the 5 languages she already speaks.

2 Comments
  1. A marriage is between a mature woman and a mature man of any age, all is needed is faith and nature helps with the rest. There are 18 year old men and 60 year old boys, just as there are 16 year old women and 50 year old girls.

    Koran has ordained that we marry mates of ‘our own nature’. What counts is compatibilities, some innate some acquired. First of all, to get it rolling, a must is physical compatibility (which leads to mutual and reciprocal attraction and that one can tell only when eyes meet the eyes even if so briefly – it defies status or wealth or race or color or origin or age or beauty; it is a gift for the two from nature) ….

    And to sustain it, intellectual (the two must be matched in wit), emotional (similar set of past experiences), social (similar upbringing), and above all spiritual (one that can be cultivated if both of similar faith). Then the two soulmates can set common goals and agree to use similar means to achieve them; sailing is smooth going the same way. For a true marriage, a true friendship is a must.

    Five years is too short to project what future holds, but a marriage with spiritual compatibility will last a lifetime. Therefore, to encourage longevity Islam forbids marriages of believing woman with non-Muslims, but allows Muslim men to marry women of Christian and Jewish faith, but only temporarily. And experience confirms the same, as such marriages break up in the end, or at best linger in limbo.

    Sunni/Christian marriages are especially problematic, but Shia/Christian ones have better success rate as the theologies of the two sub-faiths are very similar. Therefore, finding such closeness typically Christian women convert to Shia, and adjust well into man’s family.

  2. Nice to see this topic covered, it is highly problematic in Southern Asian cultures where even marrying someone from a different region (such as in Bangladesh) is frowned upon.

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