Brace Yourself for Jewish-Muslim Intermarriage
by Stephen Schwartz
From: Stephen Schwartz
The striking thing we have in common is that neither of us proceeded along a predictable or linear path. Is this American, Jewish, just typical of religious people today, or what?
It seems a universal norm that those who feel faith most strongly are those who experienced the greatest number of alternatives before affirming it. One could hardly imagine life-changes more dramatic than those experienced by Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Perhaps it's when we describe these personal transformations that people of religion best communicate the intensity of our belief to the broader, secular world.
I agree that getting parents to act in the interest of the community is a great challenge. Christians seem to have fewer problems with this concept. Muslims are divided because radicals define community interests in a destructive and dangerous way.
I certainly support dialogue between the Jewish community and interfaith families—after all, I am a product of such a family. I'll note, however, that few Muslims of my acquaintance take comfort in the prevalence of Jewish intermarriage, as so many seculars and Christians do. Traditional and moderate Muslims more or less expect Jews to hold to their covenant and to remain conservative on such matters. They're often dismayed when they learn how deeply religious "liberalism" has penetrated the Jewish community.
The venomous Judeophobia seen today in Islam is a recent import from Christian cultures, and most Muslims seem to desire for Jews to remain as Jewish and as religious as possible, since this conforms to mainstream Muslim theology. One must keep in mind also that the Jews of Arab countries were generally outside the liberal and radical political culture that overtook Jews in the Christian West. For the Arab Muslim, the Jew he or she knew before 1948 was pious, family-oriented, and dedicated to hard work.
On the other hand, Jewish-Muslim intermarriage is one of the great unknown topics of Jewish historiography. The Quran specifically gives permission for Muslim men to marry the women of the People of the Book and to provide the wives with economic rights. There seem to have been many more marriages of this kind in Islamic history than Westerners might imagine. Of course, the offspring of a Muslim father and Jewish mother remains Jewish although embracing Islam. There are stories to be told there.
All of today's American religious communities must first sort out issues of identity before tackling matters of belief. American Catholics need to decide if their church will continue on the path created by the long domination of Irish and Anglo-Saxon clerics, or will open up to the Spanish, Filipinos, Vietnamese and others whose level of involvement and spirituality is much higher but who remain a somewhat marginal element in society. Muslims need to get away from the perception of Islam as an "Arab" religion.
Jews have a special responsibility—not for the first time—to demonstrate that diversity and free opinion do not dilute essential principles. The firmness of the Jews is an inspiration to believing Catholics and, to the extent they understand it, will be a positive model for Muslims. After all, when France banned religious symbols in public schools, the first to protest alongside the Muslims were the French Jewish leaders. And Israel maintains sharia courts as well as Jewish and Christian religious courts, a system completely unknown in the U.S., where so much propaganda against sharia is disseminated.
As the holy prophet Muhammad aleyhisalem said in a sound hadith, "the history of my community will resemble that of the House of Israel as one shoe resembles another in a pair." The Jewish experience remains significant. I hope it will also remain fruitful and instructive for all monotheists and for society as a whole.