Making a case for the Interfaith child: Debunking myths, stereotypes and rhetoric

Perhaps one of the topics that are not as often discussed is that of interfaith children and their experiences, especially those relating to Muslim/Christian marriages as opposed to Jewish/Christian marriages. Interfaith children are those who are growing up (or interfaith adult for those who have grown up) where either parents are of different faiths – or one parent has no religious affiliation. Within the British Muslim community, there are many children, young people and adults who are growing up or have grown up in a household where their father is a Muslim and their mother is of another faith which is usually (although not exclusively) Christian or Jewish. Interfaith children arouse wonderment and awe often being subjected to a lot of questions about how they “survived” growing up, what made them chose their faith (or the lack of) and if they “feel” more of one faith than the other.

While it appreciated that interfaith children may have certain life experiences that perhaps somebody that has grown up in a single faith family may not have encountered, some interfaith children have had negative experiences within the British Muslim community. Some interfaith children and adults may recall instances where some members of the Muslim community did not make them feel welcome, or did not consider them “really Muslim”. While it is accepted that professing to be Muslim cannot be Christian simultaneously, the fact that a child or adult comes from an interfaith background is something that should not be turned into an issue of contention.

Aren’t you confused?

One of the many (patronising) questions that people who have grown up in interfaith environments and households get asked concerning their upbringing is whether they are “confused” or how they “survived”. Conversely, some are inundated with questions as to whether they have an affinity towards one faith as opposed to another – this can often play into the boundaries of emotional tennis. Growing up with an interfaith background does not always necessarily lead to confusion, rather the experiences and advantages of growing up interfaith children have is that of literacy in both religions – a dual faith education.

This is especially helpful in demystifying misconceptions and media driven rhetoric pertaining to Islam, and engaging the wider society in understanding. As a second generation interfaith child and convert to Islam, I have benefited immensely from a dual faith education. It has been especially helpful to me in actively defending and making a case for Islam and using my Catholic education for dialogue and comparative religion, along with breaking down stereotypes of Muslim women in everything I do.

Does it create disunity?

Growing up in an interfaith setting promotes a sense of transparency concerning the different faiths, especially when a child or young person reaches the age of reasoning and is capable of acknowledging the differences between the two faiths in deciding which faith to follow. Due to be raised in an interfaith family, children being raised as Muslim or have decided to convert to Islam, can serve to educate their non-muslim relatives and friends about the religion. This does not always mean that one has to be overly proselytising, but in a climate where there are a lot of negative opinions against Muslims, something as simple as your good actions and approach may alter the opinions that some hold.

As to the misconception that being raised as an interfaith child may create disunity, in a lot of cases it is often the contrary. This is because when two parents are of different faiths, the need to maintain harmony and cohesion especially where children are present fosters a climate for understanding to ensue, as a child’s early experiences of difference and diversity will start in their home environment. Having said this, it should not be disregarded that there are some instances where disharmony in an interfaith marriage do occur and while this is the case, how it is tackled it more character defining than the problem itself. Dialogue, patience and understanding are vital in ameliorating situations that may give rise to the possibilities of conflict, thus maintaining tolerance and peaceful co-existence.

You have a “watered down” understanding and implementation of Islam

Some interfaith children and adults can be subjected to pre-judgements and assumptions that their understanding and implementation of Islam is not as “pure” in comparison to those who have grown up in household where both parents are Muslim. In making these presuppositions this does not define them, rather this is character defining for the person who held such an idea. God knows best as to the internal state and religious observance of an individual, we do not have jurisdiction to adjudicate on such a matter. In many experiences of interfaith children, especially my own, being raised in an interfaith environment could mean that the non-Muslim mother can be supportive in aiding the child to become a diligent and practicing Muslim. How many instances and images have you seen of the non-Muslim mother taking her children to the Madrasa to enhance the Islamic education of her children? How many times do you find it the case that a non-Muslim mother is more encouraging towards her children becoming upright and practicing Muslims than some Muslim mothers who discourage such practices and are not practicing themselves?

Unfortunately, these attitudes are hindering many Muslim children with interfaith backgrounds from becoming integrated and accepted into their religious community. Religious observance is not solely down to the parents one has, but rather it is the commitment, love and conviction (along with piety) that one has toward the religion of Islam that is the true defining factor in your relationship and standing with God.

In debunking the misconceptions regarding Muslim children who have grown up in interfaith environments, more should be done to make them feel more welcome and included in the British Muslim community. They represent a rising trend that may lead to the gap understanding and tolerance being bridged, the potential for children and adults with such backgrounds make then not only outstanding exemplars of tolerance in Islam, but tomorrows leading orators and defenders of Islamic monotheism.