On a blustery weekend this past February, 26 people met at the Cenacle Retreat House in Chicago to reflect on the religious dimensions of marriage. 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.Where can priests and campus ministers go when called upon to counsel the small but growing number of such couples?
(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?
However, couples also indicated with equal vigor a willingness to learn about and from the other: “I shall learn more about the religion/culture/language of my partner.”This exercise highlighted the importance of discussing negotiables and non-negotiables as early as possible in the relationship, so as to avoid misunderstandings later.
However, even after going through the difficult process of negotiating boundaries, couples cannot presume that the initial lines drawn would be immovable.
Compromise is more complicated in the other direction, for a Muslim cannot agree to pray in the name of Jesus, or even to “God the Father.”It’s not just the language of prayer that can be tricky, but postures too.
One Lutheran-Muslim couple said that they did not pray salat (ritual prayer that includes specific movements) together because doing so may be considered a credal affirmation of Islam.
What follows is a brief exploration of three major challenges facing Christian-Muslim couples, and indeed most interfaith couples: negotiating boundaries, praying together and raising children.
On Saturday night, retreatants participated in an activity designed to get them thinking about boundaries.
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.
Yet all wrestled with the same concerns: different religious understandings of marriage (sacrament versus sacred contract, divine versus human institution), greater family involvement in mate selection and marriage, Islam’s proscription of dating, potential legal problems in countries with sharia (Islamic law) in force, greater cultural differences (and more difficulty distinguishing the religious from the cultural).