Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
Originally published June, 2006. Republished June 20, 2012.
While I am Jewish, and Abdul is a Muslim from Pakistan, we both share common values in raising our child Isaac, who is now three-and-a-half years old.
Treating each person as an individual and equally, regardless of race, nationality or religion
We both want Isaac to learn to take each person as an individual and to treat each equally, regardless of race, nationality or religion. At Isaac's birthday party this summer, we had people of varied nationalities and religions. We had Japanese, Greek, Honduran, Spanish, Pakistani and Haitian guests, among others. Abdul's late father enjoyed socializing and doing business with foreigners and non-Muslims. His close friend was a Pakistani Christian, historically an oppressed, lower-caste group. My mother demonstrated in the civil rights movement, and my family always stressed tolerance for others. In Judaism, as in Islam, each individual is made in the image of God.
Treating women and men equally
We both want Isaac to learn that women are equal to men. I work full time and have my own law practice. Abdul is my office manager. Abdul cooks and helps take care of Isaac. Reform and Conservative Judaism both stress the equality of men and women, and even Orthodox Judaism has had to become more flexible in accepting the equality of women in many areas. Abdul says that the unequal treatment of women in Pakistan and other Islamic countries is cultural and is against the true meaning of Islam and the example of Prophet Mohammad's life. Prophet Mohammad's first wife, Khadija, was a wealthy businesswoman, and Mohammad was her employee. Prophet Mohammad always consulted the women in his life on their opinions, and treated women equally.
While I am oriented towards literature, history and law, and Abdul is oriented towards math and science, we both agree that education is extremely important. Abdul drove a cab to pay for his graduate school, and I practically lived as an ascetic to get through graduate and law school. I bring Isaac to the library every week, and we borrow seven or eight books which we read in the evening before bed. We have agreed to move, at a considerable expense, in order to get into the zone for the best public school in our area.
Being part of a family means working together and spending time together
Each of us has a different "job," but both of us work together and coordinate our efforts so that everything gets done--both in the office and in the household. Isaac already enjoys cleaning up and helping out around the house, and we encourage this. It is very important to both of us to spend enough time with Isaac. Aside from work, I have no other activities and spend all my spare time with Isaac. I do not engage in any social events without my son, to ensure that I spend enough time with him. Also, Abdul usually takes one weekday off each week to spend with Isaac (one of the benefits of having your own business). On days when he is not with us, Abdul calls us five or six times during the day.
The family business, my law practice, is not just a way to earn a living but a mission
My law practice involves helping immigrants from all over the world, of all nationalities and religions. Abdul works with me. Both Abdul and I feel strongly about helping and fighting for the rights of immigrants. Our work has become more difficult since 9/11, as we cope with not only rapid changes in the law which make the law itself less humane, but also with a hardening of attitudes and racism against not only Muslims, but against all immigrants. We share the same values of upholding the rights in the U.S. Constitution and trying to make the American dream a reality. The Torah speaks many times of loving and helping the stranger.
And a note about holidays
With a Muslim, at least there is no "December Dilemma." December 25 is a holiday in Pakistan too--it is the birthday of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. Abdul has fond memories of singing Christmas carols at his Catholic school in Pakistan. For years before we had Isaac, Abdul and I would spend Christmas day together. We would sleep late, have a big Pakistani meal, and watch some TV. I also have relatives who celebrate Christmas, and this year we went to their home for Christmas. There was no tree, just family and friends getting together to eat a big meal. A friend said, "I don't know if I should wish you a happy Ramadan," and Abdul answered, "Don't worry, I celebrate all three holidays."
Abdul generally fasts only for a few days for Ramadan, not for the whole month, as observant Muslims do. This year, I fasted for one day, to show solidarity with all humankind. Eid is the celebratory holiday at the end of Ramadan. For Eid, I have Isaac tell Abdul, "Happy Eid, Daddy" and we give him a present. All his family is in Pakistan, so there are no big get-togethers. In Pakistan, Abdul prayed five times a day, and went to mosque often to hear sermons and the recitation of the Quran during Ramadan. However, he has become disillusioned with religious institutions, and no longer attends mosque. Abdul is still a believing Muslim--he believes in the oneness of God and in following the example of Prophet Mohammad. He also loves to listen to Qawwali (Muslim gospel music), which is similar to African American gospel music--it generally has a heavy rhythm and is always uplifting and inspirational.
Both Abdul and I agreed, before I even became pregnant, that our child would be Jewish. Hanukkah for us is more of a religious celebration, because I do not want it to turn into the materialistic holiday that Christmas has become. I give Isaac presents from his grandparents, and we light the candles and say prayers. This year I went to Isaac's Hanukkah party at his preschool. Abdul does not participate in the candle-lighting or the prayers, but he does not mind them either. He bought Isaac a tricycle for a Hanukkah present. So, holidays for us are very low-key, and lacking in family pressure. We really are able to relax and enjoy.
Isaac and I do candle-lighting and prayers every Friday and observe Shabbat (the Sabbath). He has started asking questions about God, such as: "Did God make me?" Isaac asks a lot of questions about Shabbat. He asks what you can and cannot do on Shabbat, and asks what day of the week it is and when Shabbat is coming. He has also started to notice that not everyone observes Shabbat: "Why are those people going shopping on Shabbat?" He does not yet seem to have noticed that Daddy is a different religion from us.
Our shared values and shared goals, and now our son, who is the light of our lives, have helped us overcome cultural, religious and personality differences.