We met in the most unromantic of ways: He poked me on Facebook. I wish I had a better story to tell – one that includes our eyes meeting over issues of The Atlantic and the New York Times in a beatnik coffee shop, or bumping into each other in the Eastern Philosophy section of a secondhand bookstore, but I don’t. He saw my picture on a mutual friend’s profile, thought I was cute, and poked me. And that was the eye-rolling beginning of our beautiful love story.
Neither of us gave our religious, political or historical stories any thought when we began our affair. I was a Muslim girl, he was a Jewish boy, and we fell in love - over coffee with Bailey’s on Sunday mornings, and laughing while swinging in the park. We chose to make this work, whatever way we had to, so that it worked for us. And with that came compromises, understanding, and a lot of celebration.
Many people have remarked over the years how refreshing it is to see a Muslim and a Jew come together in love and have it work so extraordinarily. It saddens me that this should be refreshingly new instead of the norm, but I recognize that we are in transitional times, and my deepest dream is that people will move towards a place where culturally historical ideologies which they did not start take a backseat to tenderness and understanding.
We brought to our relationship beautiful, supportive families, who put love, integrity and respect (the foundational tenants of their respective faiths) above all else. They saw love. They gave love. And it made a world of difference.
We also entered into this partnership with a wholehearted willingness to let go of our need to be "right" with respect to our spiritual journeys. This isn’t because we are not each committed to our journeys – we are. But we are not attached to the idea that our partner’s journey has to mirror our own. Our relationship could not have grown in a garden of "I’m right, you’re wrong, see it my way" fertilizer. Our life is about the community we create, where I sit at his family table and inquisitively and happily read from the Haggadah at Passover, and where he joyfully attends gatherings for Eid, greeting my family elders in a way that is culturally familiar to them, though foreign to him.
We were married in front of our closest people, under a chuppah of colourful saris. There was lots of laughter and tears of joy, and as a Jewish family and a Muslim family came together, we knew that love, understanding and celebration was not just the order of the day, but the guiding principals by which this love affair would not just survive, but thrive.
And then there was a child. A daughter born of a Jewish man whose middle name means "King" and a Muslim woman who grew up with the family nickname "Queen." Fittingly, her given name is Amira – a name that crosses both cultures, and means Princess.
She had a baby-naming ceremony familiar to her Jewish grandparents, and a Bayat* ceremony, familiar to her Muslim grandparents. She participates in Passover and Eid, with her entire family in attendance at both celebrations, sharing the traditions as one family.
She will be as Jewish as she wants to be, and as Muslim as she wants to be. We will not tell her that those things are mutually exclusive, but that they are both rich traditions steeped in a common foundation of love and integrity. And yes, she can be both, wholly and completely.
We teach her that if everyone looked the same, talked the same, believed the same and practiced the same, the world would be a very boring place indeed.
We teach her that bank lineups and traffic jams are to be tolerated, but people and their unique ways of sharing life and love are to be celebrated.
We have never asked her to choose a side, and we never will. Our life and our love is about inclusion, learning and celebration, and hers is too.
One day, she may insist on an answer. And if that day comes, we’ll give her the truest answer we have: We will tell her that our religion, quite simply, is Love. And the religion of Love looks like this: Love your family. Love your friends. Love your neighbours. Love the planet and all the living things that share it with you. Love those who are different from you even more fiercely than you love those who are similar, because in the light of that love, those differences shine so brightly that they come out of the shadows of things to be feared and glow with beauty as things to be celebrated.
We will tell her, and show her, that our differences make us unique and special and interesting, but ultimately, we are more similar than different. And at the end of the day, we’re all just walking each other home.
* A Bayat is an symbolic oath to the tenants of the faith common in Shia Islam, similar to a Christian Baptism or Christening.