Two Religions, One Couple

Anna Ismagilova

By Erinne Magee

The irony of Easter and April Fools Day sharing a spot on the calendar this year has not gone unnoticed in my household. “Which one are we celebrating?” My boyfriend, Mohammed, jokes.

“Do you want chocolate or not?” I’ll dart back at my Morrocan Muslim partner.

As an American, raised with no particular religion, I think back to my childhood and recognize that my favorite memories revolve around holiday gatherings. On Easter, I remember my brother and I searching high and low for foiled-covered eggs and piling our plates with ham (something Mohammed doesn’t eat) with no mention of the resurrection of Jesus or eternal life. If anything, Mohammed, probably knew more about the religion he and his family didn’t celebrate.

Even though my boyfriend isn’t very much involved in his Muslim upbringing and now more than ever, I’ve become fascinated by religion and spirituality as a whole (I studied Buddhism at the same time my daughter was enrolled in Catholic school), there is no denying that there are pieces of our roots that are always part of us—whether we realize it or not and whether we were brought up with religion or not. In fact, it’s in sharing a life with someone else when these roots become most clear, raising the question: “Is religion still important to me?” And additionally, “Does it need to be important to them?”

Our bi-cultural relationship reaches its toughest moments when it comes to rituals, events and holidays. The preparation for Easter, Christmas and the like, is something that brings me joy. Expecting Mohammed to find happiness in decorating a tree or stuffing Easter baskets is kind of like expecting him to have a passion for writing like I do. Yes, he smiles and nods through it, and that’s enough for me now.

Choosing a name for our son last year was one of our tenser moments. He wouldn’t budge on picking an Arabic name that his non-English speaking family would be able to pronounce. Mohammed’s argument was that since our son was being raised in America, he wanted to do as much as possible to keep some sort of his culture intertwined in the baby’s upbringing. It took a while for me to accept it. My thought process initially was about the fact that this is our baby, not his family’s baby. In hindsight, of course, I didn’t take the time to understand the significance of names in the Moroccan culture, specifically, my boyfriend’s family.

Something we are looking forward to now that we’ve made it a priority to really talk about using our differences to enrich our relationship, is raising our children to experience not only both of our cultures, rituals and celebrations, but learning about the practices of others to become even more well-rounded and educated.

We are told over and over again that compromise is key in relationships, but perhaps, it’s not so much about compromise as it is about letting go. To me, picking a baby name is “fun, but to Mohammed, picking a baby name impacts the baby’s life. Just as, to me, the holiday season is about every single member of my family being under one roof on Christmas Eve, whereas for Mohammed, the idea of Santa Claus is bizarre enough to make him question the celebration altogether.

According to licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, the couples he works with who are from different backgrounds often struggle with rituals as a whole. “It’s important to discuss the meaning infused in their rituals and finding new ones that they can create together. It’s important to have these sorts of conversations with your partner so that you can clearly discuss what matter most to you,” Klow says.

On top of religion and culture being at the core of who we are (consciously or subconsciously), we have social influences and generations of influence, all playing a role in how we interact with different people in our lives. When you enter in a romantic relationship, it’s important to remember that even two people with a Christian background, for example, are going to have values that don’t always align with one another.

It takes so long to separate ourselves from the way we were raised and how we were taught to live our lives. And it seems just as we’ve made ground on our new found sense of self, we fall in love with someone and once again, have to readjust. Or do we? I did not fall in love with the father of my children in hopes of shaping him into something he’s not.

But as I get older, I’m learning that there are two important roles within a relationship: honoring yourself as an individual and celebrating your partnership as something that is ever-evolving.