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BY DOREEN ABI RAADRegister Correspondent
BEIRUT, Lebanon — When Rania
married Ali, he was not a practicing Muslim and she had long since drifted away
from her Maronite faith.
All seemed well when Ali agreed that their daughter,
Sandra, be baptized Catholic. But now that Rania has
returned to her faith, a terrible strain has been placed on the marriage.
The predicament that Rania and
Ali find themselves in is becoming more common in Europe, as well.
In Italy, for instance, demographics have shifted with an
influx of Muslim immigrants. And the Italian Bishops Conference recently issued
a statement discouraging interfaith marriage between Catholics and Muslims.
“The experience of recent years shows as a general rule
to advise against or … to not encourage these marriages,” the Nov. 30 statement
The bishops pointed to the “intrinsic fragility of such
unions,” the “diverse conceptions” of the institution of marriage and “the
different visions of the role of women.”
Like others in this article, Rania
and Ali cannot be fully identified by name due to the sensitive nature of the
Ali was against the idea of his daughter’s first
Communion but eventually relented.
“Ali didn’t mind me being a Christian when I wasn’t a
practicing Christian. But when I had my conversion, it was like I ‘broke the
deal,’’’ Rania explained. “To him, it was like he
wasn’t married to the same person anymore.”
He worried, too, how his wife’s “fanaticism” would affect
their daughter. In an effort to save her marriage, Rania
agreed that she would practice her faith in private and not tell Ali about any
of her religious activities.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes that in
many countries, mixed marriages often occur. “A case of marriage with disparity
of cult (between a Catholic and a non-baptized person) requires even greater
circumspection” (No. 1633).
The Catechism teaches: “Difference about faith and the
very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become
sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of
children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise” (No. 1634).
It points out that canon law requires “express
dispensation” from ecclesiastical authorities in order for a mixed marriage to
“This … dispensation presupposes that both parties know
and do not exclude the essential ends and properties of marriage; and
furthermore that the Catholic party confirms the obligations, which have been
made known to the non-Catholic party, of preserving his or her own faith and
ensuring the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic Church” (No.
In Lebanon, the Maronite
(Catholic) Council of Bishops does not have a formal position regarding
interfaith marriages. However, “the Catholic Church warns against
Muslim-Catholic marriages because their unity may be in danger because of the
different outlook on marriage, as well as opposite attitudes and points of
views,’’ said Bishop Roland Aboujaoude, Maronite Patriarchal Vicar General.
As for Ali and Rania, religious
differences took a toll on their daughter. She “went to the extreme opposite —
hating God — because he was responsible for all the problems in the family, as
far as she was concerned,” said Rania. Four years
later, Sandra, now 15, still rejects God.
“My main prayer now is that she finds God,” Rania said. “Before my conversion, I used to ask God to
keep her well and healthy for me. Now my prayer is, ‘Please, God, let her find
you. Let her love you. Let her be for you.’”
Rania admits that had she been
stronger in her faith, she never would have married Ali. “It affects you. It
affects the children. It affects everything. What compromise can you give? That
you will stop loving God? That you will love God only by yourself, but not
introduce him to your children?”
And she prays for her husband’s conversion: “Even if he
doesn’t have a conversion, God will bless him. One way or another, He will use
those prayers. I am sure.’’
Again, the Catechism has something to say in this regard.
“In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular task:
‘For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the
unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband’” (No. 1637), quoting St. Paul in his
First Letter to the Corinthians. “It is a great joy for the Christian spouse
and for the Church if this ‘consecration’ should lead to the free conversion of
the other spouse to the Christian faith. Sincere married love, the humble and
patient practice of the family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare
the non-believing spouse to accept the grace of conversion.”
A Catholic priest in Lebanon, who prefers not to be identified,
said, “In rare cases a Muslim man, without converting, will consent to be
married to a Christian girl by a priest. He would have to promise to let her
raise the children Christian, which he won’t do most of the time.’’
He said he knew of only two cases in which a Muslim
husband has consented to this, but both were well educated and not practicing
“If later on, through pressure of his family or by an
onslaught of Muslim piety, the man begins to take his religion more seriously,
he will try to prove this by bullying his wife for all to see. This is a mark
of piety,” explained the priest. “Anyway, it is partly cultural. Being brought
up in a Muslim culture, a boy generally cannot ever imagine a woman being his
For women married to Muslim men, keeping the faith can be
Carol, an American who is married to a Muslim in Lebanon,
believes it is important for Christians to “have the armor of God, the helmet
of faith and to be able to defend our faith by knowing the Bible, inside out.”
“The more you are aware and are able to defend your
faith,” she said, “the more people respect you.”
The situation may be more dire still for women who don’t
have a strong faith to begin with. Intermarriage makes it extremely difficult
for their faith ever to come to maturity.
When Lena first met her husband 41 years ago in England,
she didn’t even realize that he was Muslim.
In her native Italy, almost everyone was Catholic. “I
didn’t even know what a mosque was.”
When Lena and Ahmed began dating, it was Ahmed who had
posed the question: “Don’t you pray?”
“It was important to him that I believe in something,”
recalled Lena. She began to ask Ahmed about his faith.
“He gave me the Koran and I stayed in the house for two
days reading it. I saw that Muslims believe in the Virgin Mary.”
Three months later, Lena and Ahmed were married. It was
Lena who suggested they be wed in a civil ceremony. A year after their
marriage, the couple moved to Ahmed’s homeland, Lebanon.
“My parents always told my sisters and me growing up that
children should take on the same religion as the father,” Lena said. “Little
did they know that we would all end up in mixed marriages.” Lena’s sisters
“I always have explained to my children that they are
Muslim. For them, religion is a personal thing,” Lena said.
Recently, while crossing herself in the car, her small
grandson expressed surprise. Lena explained to him that she does not pray in
the same way as his grandfather.
He said, the whole thing was outside the boy’s
experience. “You do like the cross on the church.”
Doreen Abi Raad writes
from Bikfaya, Lebanon.