The couples were asked to split into four groups (Muslim women, Muslim men, Christian women, Christian men) to discuss and list negotiables and non-negotiables in the form of “I shall” and “I shall not” statements.
They were also asked to list their fears, rational or not.
The married couples present agreed that all should expect to be changed in some way by the faith of their partners. That’s how far I’ve come.”Opportunities for prayer were provided at several points during the weekend: a room was set aside for the five daily Muslim prayers, there was Catholic Mass and an ecumenical morning prayer.
“I have always deeply felt the need to fulfill my promise to raise my children Catholic, and before they were born I thought that if they ever decided to become Muslims as adults I would be crushed,” said one mother. Mirroring contemporary American society, couples differed greatly in their degree of personal and mutual religious practice.
Reaction to such relationships can be strong, and many couples fear vehement disapproval from their families, ethnic group and/or society at large.
Muslim women wishing to marry Christian men face the additional worry of potential ostracism from the faith community, for although Islam permits Muslim men to marry “people of the book” (Christians and Jews), Muslim women marry only within the faith.
And Christian-Muslim couples truly are in need of especially sensitive and informed pastoral care.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.(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?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.But privately in the morning and evening they are learning to pray side by side, each using their own prayer forms and postures, including prostration, but always praying the du ’ a (supplicatory prayer), which allows for petitions and more freedom in structure and language.The couple sees praying together as one way of binding their lives together.But there are practically no pastoral resources for Christian-Muslim couples in the United States, despite the fact that according to many estimates, there are now more Muslims in this country than Jews.The few print resources available to pastors and couples are either outdated or written for a non-American context.