Tag Archives: interfaith

The question of conversion

While I made it apparent to my now-husband on our very first date that I had no intention of converting, it would be a lie to say that it never came up as an issue later on in our relationship.

To be fair, it wasn’t much of an issue at all. My husband’s Mum simply told my husband that Islam is a beautiful religion and that I should consider converting. She then went on to elaborate that it might be easier for the both of us later on in life we both have the same religion and raise our children with one religion rather than three. I asked my husband to tell him Mum that my parents are of different religions and neither one of them converted and that I grew up with two religions and didn’t find it particularly difficult. Unintentionally, my mother-in-law to be had hurt my feelings. As soon as she understood she had caused me pain, she apologized profusely and explained that she only wants what is best for me and never intended to hurt me. She never mentioned the subject again.

Conversion is not at all important to me, because actions speak louder than words, including the written words on a formal document. As I have previously mentioned, my husband and I intend on raising our children with three cultures (being Australian, Russian and Iranian), three languages (English, Farsi and Russian) and three religions (being Russian-Orthodox, Islam and Judaism). To me, this kind of exposure and upbringing is worth so much more than having a piece of paper that validates my child belonging to a particular religion.

My in-laws are very open-minded and progressive people. This is particularly significant because they live in a country whose government is doing its best to keep its people conservative and closed-minded. The majority of the questions my in-laws asked my husband and I were not due to intolerance, but due to genuine inquisitiveness and concern about our future. When you live in a theocratic country, it’s hard to envisage how a secular state runs. These are the two main questions my in-laws asked my husband and I:

  1. Will both of your religions be displayed on your Australian Marriage Certificate?
  2. Do you have to state the religion of your children on their Birth Certificate?

These are both legitimate questions from people who don’t know how things roll in Australia. The answer to both of these questions is a “no”, and that’s commonsensical to me because I live in a secular state. It wasn’t self-explanatory to my in-laws, however because in their country, any Government-related document is inherently connected to Islam including marriage and birth certificates. As soon as my husband and I explained the secular nature of these documents, my in-laws’ concerns were put to rest.

As one of my cousins pointed out to me, on the whole, my husband’s family has been more tolerant towards me than my family has been towards my husband. This is particularly interesting, given that popular belief regards Islam as a very strict religion and the prerequisite of marrying into Islam is an obligatory conversion. So there’s another myth busted I guess.

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Although I am new to the blogging world and am completely incompetent at using technology (I only recently learned how to make hyperlinks), I believe that my message of peace and tolerance needs to be heard. To learn a little bit more about my background please read my post titled “A little bit about myself…”. To learn more about why I started this blog, please read my post titled “Introduction…”.

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Having faith in interfaith

Image: http://lifehopeandtruth.com/change/faith/

Although my husband and I have different backgrounds in religion, culture, language and nationality, none of our arguments have ever related to any of those differences. That’s not to say we never fight – because we do, our fights just don’t ever get political.

We are one of very few couples who not only get along with but also adore each other’s parents. My husband’s parents are crazy about me and I’m fairly sure my parents love my husband more than they love me. Furthermore our respective sets of parents share a love for each other. The fact that they live in different countries doesn’t stop them from contacting each other on a regular basis. Additionally, my Mum calls my husband’s brother and sister her son and daughter (respectively), and they in turn call my Mum their Mum too. The sort of relations my husband’s family has with my family can only be seen in fairytales, and even then our ‘Happily every after’ is better than that of any fairytale.

I have several friends and acquaintances that share the same nationality and religion as their partner, but their families can’t seem to get along. That puts a great strain on the functioning of their relationship and prospective future of their partnership. My husband and I are truly blessed, that despite all our differences our families get along and they get along well.

I can’t imagine the difficulty of an interfaith marriage of which one or both sets of parents disapprove. Thus, the small hardships that my husband and I have faced (and are likely yet to face) from the outside world, cannot in any way be compared to the sorts of hardships other interfaith couples experience whose parents disapprove of their union. I can’t really comment on those hardships because, luckily, I myself have not had to endure them. What I can say, however, is that my husband’s family and my family have set a pretty damn good example of how things should be with regards to interfaith marriage and marriage in general. Other interfaith couples’ families should seriously take note and follow suit.

Parents want what is best for their children, but sometimes what parents think is best for their children, isn’t want the children think is best for themselves. Furthermore, parents who are scared about their child marrying into a different culture or religion because they might lose the culture and religion they were born into, have unfounded fears. You don’t lose your identity to your partner when you marry them, so why would you lose your culture and religion? Anything is possible; it’s simply a matter of choice. If the families of a couple comprising of one Russian-Orthodox Jew and one Iranian Muslim could unite despite their differences and figure it out, I’m sure other families can figure it out too.

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Although I am new to the blogging world and am completely incompetent at using technology (I only recently learned how to make hyperlinks), I believe that my message of peace and tolerance needs to be heard. To learn a little bit more about my background please read my post titled “A little bit about myself…”. To learn more about why I started this blog, please read my post titled “Introduction…”.

“Good luck to him, he married a foreigner”

Image: http://www.sfu.ca/~torsten/slacker-moderated/msg00161.html

There are always two sides to a coin. While I’ve encountered stigma from Westerners regarding Middle Eastern culture, my husband and his family have too encountered stigmas about Westerners from fellow Iranians. If you thought that only Westerners felt entitled to make stereotypes about the Middle East, you thought wrong, there’s another side to that coin.

Before they had even met me and given me a chance, some of the friends and relatives of my in-laws had already concluded that I have no family values and that I’m not hospitable, simply because I’m Western. Prior to coming to Australia, my husband’s family told some of their friends about how they were going to live in the same house as my husband and I for 8 weeks. The responses my husband’s parents got were great- “Are you sure you can stay for that long? Your son’s bride is foreign after all, and foreigners don’t live with their in-laws. What if she kicks you out?” Another friend of the family told my husband’s parents the following: “We feel really sorry for your son…good luck to him, he married a foreigner”

After I had met the majority of my in-laws’ friends and family, their opinion of me had changed and they started to say things like: “She’s one of us” and “She understands us, even though she doesn’t understand our language”. Some even said, “A foreign bride is better than an Iranian bride”. I’m glad that I was able to change their mind, but really I shouldn’t have had to change anything. I should have started off with a clean slate. My husband also shouldn’t have had to change unfounded opinions about himself. He too should have started off with a clean slate with my friends and family. Neither one of us were lucky enough to have a clean slate.

Irrespective of who we are and where we come from, why do we feel the need to make assumptions about people we don’t even know based on stereotypes? I wholeheartedly agree that Australian culture differs greatly from Iranian culture, but that doesn’t make one right and the other wrong. What’s right and wrong is subjective anyway. There is good and bad in every culture and in every person.  Can’t we at least meet a person and give them a chance to show themselves for who they really are before we jump to conclusions?

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Although I am new to the blogging world and am completely incompetent at using technology (I only recently learned how to make hyperlinks), I believe that my message of peace and tolerance needs to be heard. To learn a little bit more about my background please read my post titled “A little bit about myself…”. To learn more about why I started this blog, please read my post titled “Introduction…”.

Familial Intolerance

Image- http://imgarcade.com/1/couple-fighting-silhouette/

To be honest, at first my parents had their doubts about me having a Middle-Eastern boyfriend. As soon as they met my now-husband, however, they realized their fears were simply a product of their own imaginations. My grandparents, on the other hand weren’t as easy to convince. To give them the benefit of the doubt, I’m going to apportion part of that difficulty to the fact that they don’t live in the same country as I do and my communication with them is limited to phone calls.

I received countless phone calls from my Grandma (Mum’s mum) who told me about a Russian television series she watches with the following storyline: Middle-Eastern men luring Russian women to the Middle East and then not letting them leave. It was basically another “Not Without My Daughter” conversation, except this time it was with a person close to me. Unable to just simply dismiss her concern, I was forced to engage in discussion in an attempt to prove her otherwise. Usually by the end of the conversation she would agree with me, but the next time she called it was like Ground-hog day and I had to enjoy the same conversation all over again. To my Grandma’s merit, as soon as she found out that I was getting married, she stopped comparing my life to a soap opera and told me that she was really happy for my fiancé and I, and that she had full faith and confidence in our decision to wed.

I wish I could say the same about my Dad’s side of the family. They didn’t even know that I had a boyfriend, let alone his nationality, because they’re not the type of people that can be trusted with such information. Naturally, when they found out that I was getting married and the nationality of my then husband-to-be, all hell broke loose. My Grandma (Dad’s side) phoned me and came out with the following gem:

“My dear granddaughter, given that you study law, why don’t you just go ahead and write up a prenuptial agreement stating that you won’t change your religion and that your kids won’t be Muslim”

I had not only lost all words, but all faith in humanity. I reacted intolerantly to her intolerance by hanging up on her. My Mum later called her back on my behalf and tried to have a calm, rational conversation. My Mum explained that she herself didn’t need to write any contracts relating to religion when she married my Dad. “Yes, but you two were young and in love”- my Grandma replied…I thought that we reached rock bottom with the prenup comment, but apparently I was wrong.

“Blood is thicker than water”- goes the expression, but with relatives like that, I don’t need enemies. Thank Christ, Moses and Mohammed that these relatives live on the opposite side of the planet and I am not forced to interact with them often.

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Although I am new to the blogging world and am completely incompetent at using technology (I only recently learned how to make hyperlinks), I believe that my message of peace and tolerance needs to be heard. To learn a little bit more about my background please read my post titled “A little bit about myself…”. To learn more about why I started this blog, please read my post titled “Introduction…”.

Warm Fuzzies

In no particular order, I’d like to share a few memories that make me really happy and hopefully in some way relate to multiculturalism:

1. The time my Iranian-Muslim in-laws danced a Hora (a traditional Jewish ring dance, to the music of Hava Nagila) at the wedding of my husband and I. It was awesome. It was such a natural and beautiful unification of two seemingly opposing cultures- not exactly something you see everyday.

2. The time my Muslim mother-in-law prepared a meal that was Kosher for my Israeli best friend. This was definitely a sight to see. My Israeli Bestie and I were explaining to my Muslim mother-in-law why Jews separate dairy products from meat products, the concept of  ‘not cooking a kid in its mother’s milk’. Having understood my Bestie’s dietary requirement, my mother-in-law used Halal-certified meat (Muslim dietary requirement) to whip up a traditional Iranian dish that adhered to Kosher requirements.

3. The time my Iranian husband became an integral member of the family amongst Israelis.

4. The time my Russian Orthodox Mum and my Muslim Mother-in-law discovered that they pray for the same things but with different formalities attached. Both first pray for world peace before praying for their own individual needs. Both acknowledge that as long as there is one unhappy person in the world, no one can truly be happy.

5.  The time my sister-in-law bought duty-free bottles of Vodka in Dubai for the wedding of my husband and I, whilst wearing a headscarf. This is gold… Wearing a headscarf my sister-in-law causally asked the duty free sales assistant for two 1.5 litre bottles of Grey Goose Vodka (3 litres of alcohol was the purchasing allowance per person). Given that it is against Islam to consume alcohol and my Sister-in-law’s headscarf gave away her Muslim faith,  I can only imagine the bedazzled look on the shop assistant’s face. “Are you sure?”- the confused shop assistant asked. “Yes, I am sure. Don’t worry it’s not for me, it’s for a wedding with Russians” – she replied. I wish I could have been there to film it.

6. The time I told my Russian-Orthodox Mum that I want to embrace more of my Jewish identity, so she bought be a Star of David pendant. It’s not uncommon for me to wear the Star of David pendant and a Cross on the same necklace. It gets more interesting when I go to Iran and wear all of the above plus a compulsory headscarf.

7. The time my Mother-in-law ran outside without her headscarf (in Australia), thinking that something bad had happened to my husband and I.  Our safety was more important to her than a religious requirement.

8. The time an unlikely company comprising of one Russian, one Iranian, one Israeli and two Lebanese, got together to play Monopoly one New Years Eve. The political incorrectness ran rampant. My favourite quote of the night had to be- “Of course the poor, pregnant Arab is the outcast of the society- left basically broke waiting to pass through Go to collect $200.00, while the wealthy Jew is building hotels on Kings Avenue”… In case you didn’t get it- we were trying to be funny, not intolerant. All 5 of us have experienced intolerance one way or another, so what better way to surpass it than by poking fun at the associated stereotypes of our nationalities and religions in the company of good friends.

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These individual memories bring a smile to my face and warm fuzzies to my Heart Chakra. To me, they playfully symbolise peace love and harmony. Hopefully we can have more moments like these in the world and in our lives. ❤

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Although I am new to the blogging world and am completely incompetent at using technology (I only recently learned how to make hyperlinks), I believe that my message of peace and tolerance needs to be heard. To learn a little bit more about my background please read my post titled “A little bit about myself…”. To learn more about why I started this blog, please read my post titled “Introduction…”.

“What are your kids going to be?”

Image- http://smh-assist.ca/about/silhouette-group-of-happy-children-playing-on-meadow-sunset-s/

This is another classic question I love being asked. It’s not even -“What religion will you raise your children with?”, which I can accept to be a valid question and reply with- “all of them”; but, -“What are your kids going to be?” – I don’t really know how to dignify that with a response, so I usually resort to saying:

“MY KIDS ARE GOING TO BE HUMAN.”

I grew up in a poly-religious household and turned out alright (debatable, I know), so I presume that my unborn children are going to turn out alright too.

My husband is doing his best to learn the Russian language along with Russian customs. He has come with me to church when I felt the need to light a candle for humanity and he celebrates annual Jewish festivities with me at a close family friend’s house. Likewise, I am doing my best to learn Farsi and accommodate myself with Persian culture. I have celebrated Norooz (Persian New Year) with my husband’s family and have attended the holy shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad, Iran.

We are trying to incorporate one another’s backgrounds into our lives, to better understand each other. I will never forget one night, late last year where the lighting of the 5th or 6th Chanukah candle (Chanukah is a Jewish celebration), fell on the same night as the Persian celebration- Yalda Night. My parents, along with one of my husband’s friends (who is Iranian) came over to our house for dinner. We each took turns to light one candle on the Chanukiah (a 9-branched candelabrum used for Chanukah) after which we ate grapefruit and watermelon to commemorate Yalda Night (it is a custom to eat red fruit on this night). Multiculturalism at its finest.

That is the sort of environment that I would like to raise my children in. I want to expose them to different bits and pieces of each culture and religion that make up my husband and I. Hopefully, we won’t confuse them too much. Personally, I loved growing up with two religions and two cultures. It meant that I received lots of presents and had a lot of excuses to eat and drink. My parents taught me about and celebrated Christian Easter, Russian Orthodox Easter, Jewish Passover, Christian Christmas, Russian Orthodox Christmas, Chanukah, Normal New Year’s, Russian New Year’s and Jewish New Year’s. In addition to that, the offspring of my husband and I will get to celebrate Persian New Year as well a lot of other Islamic and Iranian festivities.

If anything, my future children will just be happy to take more days-off school for ‘religious reasons’ than any of their peers. I always used my several religions to my advantage. Not wanting to attend compulsory Saturday sport at school, I told my teacher that I couldn’t go due to Shabbat (Jewish day of rest and abstention from work), which precluded my parents from driving a car on a Saturday morning. On school camp I demanded a Kosher (Jewish dietary requirement) meal one night, declaring that I’m Jewish on Tuesdays. My kids will have even more material to play with- I’m looking forward to see how creative they’ll get.

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Although I am new to the blogging world and am completely incompetent at using technology (I only recently learned how to make hyperlinks), I believe that my message of peace and tolerance needs to be heard. To learn a little bit more about my background please read my post titled “A little bit about myself…”. To learn more about why I started this blog, please read my post titled “Introduction…”.

“Which one of you had to convert?”

Image- http://ssje.org/sermons/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Conversion_Wordle.jpg

As well as having to answer the “Not Without My Daughter” question (refer to my previous post titled “Not Without My Daughter”, I have also faced some other gems for questions including:

“Which one of you had to convert?”

My preferred response is “We flipped a coin for it” making the stupidity and primitive nature of my answer aptly reflect the stupidity and primitive nature of the question.

I mean it’s just wrong on so many levels, that I don’t even know where to begin. At school I was taught that you could always find the answer, or at least part of the answer to your question in the question itself. So, the person asking this question had already answered some questions for themselves- that either myself or my husband had converted AND that this conversion was obligatory.

This offends me. It offends me due to the  fact that my Mum is of Russian Orthodox faith and my Dad is a Jew and neither one of them converted to the other’s faith. Surprisingly, their decision didn’t bring about the end of the world.The concept of converting for marriage has always been a bit foreign to me because my parents didn’t feel the need to do it, so naturally I didn’t feel the need to it either. Even if I did feel the need to do it, it would have been by choice and not by obligation. I’m going to make myself clear and say that I have nothing against people who choose to convert to their partner’s religion. It’s totally cool, however it’s just something that I was not prepared to do myself, or ask someone to do for me.

I made it very clear to my now-husband on our very first date that I am what I am- a daughter of an Orthodox Mum and Jewish Dad and that I intend on staying that way. Take it, or leave it. I told him that if he has an issue with that or can envisage his family having an issue with my faith/(s) that he should tell me now so that we could walk away from the table as friends. I also let him know that it was nothing personal and that it had nothing to do with him being Muslim (this is actually the case, this isn’t another example of my intolerance).

Had I been dating a Jew, who later told me to revoke my Orthodox faith, I would have told them where to go- somewhere nice, but far away from me. Had I dated a person of Orthodox faith who asked me to denounce my Judaism, they would have joined the Jew who disagreed with my Orthodox religion. Prior to marriage,  my underlying message to potential suitors was as follows: if you want to change my religion- don’t date me. It’s that simple.

Before I answer “Which on you had to convert?” let me start off by first reframing the question: “Did one of you need to convert to make your relationship work?” No. Thank you for asking.

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Although I am new to the blogging world and am completely incompetent at using technology (I only recently learned how to make hyperlinks), I believe that my message of peace and tolerance needs to be heard. To learn a little bit more about my background please read my post titled “A little bit about myself…”. To learn more about why I started this blog, please read my post titled “Introduction…”.

Listen to your Heart Chakra

It’s truly amazing how what we say and do can effect those around us. I will never forget a conversation I had with one of my best friends in a cafe called “The Little Prince” (the cafe is named after my favourite book of all time by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry).

My Bestie and I were trying to decide what to eat, whether or not we wanted to share one meal or share two meals or eat a meal individually. I don’t really think we were paying too much attention to our surroundings or the effect that our conversation could have on other patrons of the cafe. After a long moment of pondering, my Bestie turned and said: “Seriously, what are we going to eat?” and I responded with:

“What does your Heart Chakra tell you? Let’s listen to that and find an answer”.

I’m not really sure if I was being serious, or if I was joking. To be fair, in the context of my conversation with my friend it was irrelevant. To the both of us it was a typical comment about keeping your attention in the present moment and being mindful of what your heart, mind and body wants. I can’t say that the comment was all together insignificant to us, but it wasn’t really eye-opening either.

It was, however, eye-opening to someone else. There was a lady sitting on a table next to us, who had overheard our conversation and expressed how it had deeply moved her.  She repeated the words “Listen to your Heart Chakra” and smiled to herself and said that she will do her best to listen to her heart in her everyday tasks, when doing something as simple as choosing a meal. She thanked us profusely several times.

After the lady on the table next to us left, my Bestie and I realised that we had just shared a truly beautiful moment together. We had helped someone remember how to listen to their heart.  We achieved that by doing nothing other than simply being ourselves. At that moment I realised how important it is to stay true to yourself and to stay positive, for yourself and for those around you. I learned that everything you say or do leaves an imprint on the lives of others and how important it is to leave positive imprints. In simply being your positive self, you can have a positive effect on the person next to you.

In simply being myself and telling people about my background and the background of my husband, hopefully I have left and will continue to leave positive imprints in the minds and hearts of all the people who surround me and interact with me for whatever reason.  When I go about my everyday activities such as going to work and university, getting my hair and nails done etc. I talk to people- some are my friends, some acquaintances, some are people I am meeting for the first time. Usually I tell people that I am married (or if the conversation was prior to the wedding, that I am engaged).  They would ask me about my other half; how we met each other, how he proposed etc. One way or another the topic of nationality would arise and I always tell people the truth.

At first people look a bit shocked when they hear about a union incorporating bits and pieces of Russian, Iranian and Australian cultures, as well as Jewish, Orthodox and Muslim religions. Sometimes people tell me that I’m brave for what I am doing. I would usually pull a face and ask: “Brave for doing what? Falling in love? Getting married?” Usually at about that moment, the penny would drop. What someone had once thought to be impossible, unlikely or improbable had become not only probable, possible, but also kind-of normal and okay.

Just by being myself, being in love with my husband and sharing my story, I am  able to show to at least one person, that it’s okay for cultures, religions and nationalities to intertwine. Hopefully the people I speak to will go ahead and share with their friends and family a story about a Russian-Australian-Orthodox-Jewish girl they once met who got married to an Iranian Shia Muslim boy. That it is possible. That it is normal. And that it is okay.

Hopefully, I can continue to plant seeds of hope and peace in the minds and hearts of the people I interact with and by a chain reaction they can plant the same seed in the minds and hearts of the people they interact with. As my Dad told my husband and I on our wedding day: “You guys are spreading the message of world peace, one family at a time”. I only hope that it is received with love and interpreted positively… and I am sure it will, in so far as people choose to listen to their Heart Chakra.

~

Although I am new to the blogging world and am completely incompetent at using technology (I only recently learned how to make hyperlinks), I believe that my message of peace and tolerance needs to be heard. To learn a little bit more about my background please read my post titled “A little bit about myself…”. To learn more about why I started this blog, please read my post titled “Introduction…”.

A little bit about myself..

I am a Russian Orthodox -Jewish-Muslim.

Isn’t that a mouthful? Is that even possible, I hear you say?

Allow me to elaborate…My father is Jewish and my mother is of Russian Orthodox faith. I was baptised and am , to some extent, a Russian Orthodox.  Traditionally the Russian Orthodox faith is passed down along the father’s line, which complicates my situation given that my father is a Jew.  Judaism, on the other hand, is passed down along the line of the mother. Given that my mother is Orthodox, I also can’t really call myself Jewish. Ironically, I have parents of two religions, and I technically belong to neither even though I embody both.

Amongst my mother’s side of the family, I am known as “the Jew”, and amongst my father’s side of the family, I am known as “the Christian”. Similarly, given that I am an immigrant from Russia, I am considered a “Russian” in Australia and an “Australian” in Russia.

Just getting that down on paper has made me question how I haven’t yet had an  identity crisis/nervous breakdown in my life. But wait-because that wasn’t confusing enough, the plot thickens…My husband-dearest is an Iranian Shia Muslim.

Personally, I can’t wait for my children to start posting on this blog, because their stories will probably be even more unconventional than mine, given that they will embody three religions that, generally speaking, can’t seem to agree on anything other than a war. However, given that my husband and I are only at the “practicing” stage of the baby-making process, you- dear reader, will have to make-do with my stories.

Love and Light ❤

Image- http://blog.ccbcmd.edu/rpurimetla/files/2012/04/coexist_happy_700w.jpg

Introduction…

human being

Image: http://christanncox.blogspot.com/2013/03/gay-rights-world-so-hateful.html

As an individual with roots in differing cultures and not only differing but contradicting religions, I have reason to believe that we can all harmoniously coexist. I would like to share my personal interfaith and inter-cultural experiences, particularly the challenges and rewards I have reaped from my various religious and cultural backgrounds.

I have created this blog to illuminate the theme of tolerance from my personal experiences where I have been the victim, perpetrator and everything else in-between. Hopefully this space will inspire people to spot our similarities, not our differences.

Love and Light ❤