Muslim-Jewish supper : Crescent moon decoration on the Christmas tree?

Source: FAZ

Note by Editor. In 29.11.2021 issue of FAZ Frankfurt Newpaper, recently updated, appeared an interesting article where a Muslim Pakistani Origin lady married to a an Israeli Jew. Couple has been blessed with a child. How now things are unfolding in Germany have been outlined in this article. Original article is in German and an online translation has been attempted for English speaking readers of the MT. Mistakes apologised.

Meron Mendel und Saba-Nur Cheema

Recently, we are parents. With a Muslim-Israeli-Jewish-Pakistani-Hessian child, the identity crisis is programmed – and also the challenge for the citizens’ office.
We have often been amused by friends who make raising children a project of permanent optimization. Every step is meticulously planned according to the latest trend from parenting forums. From the eco-sling to furnishing the nursery according to Feng Shui to the multilingual daycare centre (preferably with Mandarin as the first language) – everything to ensure that the baby doesn’t miss its chance of winning a Nobel Prize or an Oscar nomination before it’s even weaned. Now it’s our turn to accelerate our children – because we’ve recently become parents.

We don’t know anything about Feng Shui, but we do have a lot to offer in terms of hybrid identity: Muslim, Israeli-Jewish, Pakistani and Hessian – our child is already born with all of these. If it doesn’t work out with the Nobel Prize, the mother tongue combination at least guarantees a career as a Mossad agent.

However, the “project” of a Jewish-Muslim child has had some initial difficulties. Right when we applied for the birth certificate, we were kindly informed at the office that a dual religious affiliation – Jewish and Muslim – is not permitted. After a short consultation in the hallway, we came up with a new suggestion: How about “diverse” as a religious affiliation? With a renewed shake of the head, our progressive interjection was shot down. In the end, we had to settle for the designation “non-denominational.”

Our son’s non-denominational status is not only enforced by the state, but also by the religious communities. From the point of view of both orthodoxies, he is neither Jewish nor Muslim. The Jewish religious law, the Halacha, stipulates that Jewishness is passed on through the mother, the Islamic law stipulates that Muslimness is passed on only through the father. A reversed father-mother constellation would possibly be easier from the Orthodox point of view – preferring a double passport instead of being stateless, so to speak.

Sadly, both associations in Germany follow the Orthodox view of things so strictly, as if any other interpretation would bring about the downfall of their own community. It would be worthwhile to look beyond the German horizon. One argument for extending the transmission of religion to both parents would be gender justice, for example. Patrilineality in Islam is not without counterexample: On the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, for example, there is a Muslim community in which the principle of matrilineality applies in a similar way to Judaism. The Minangkabau community is considered the largest matriarchal society in the world. Not only religious affiliation, but also property and even the throne in the royal family is inherited through the female line. The deviation is naturally a thorn in the side of fundamentalists, and the community is also frequently opposed by Salafists on the island.
In Islam, this is called takfir
Judaism’s commitment to maternal succession can also be questioned. Until about 200 AD, the patrilineal principle applied. In America, in response to the proliferation of “mixed marriages,” the Central Conference of American Rabbis decided as early as 1983 to recognize children of Jewish fathers as full Jews, provided they are raised Jewishly. Since then, almost all Jewish communities in the West have followed suit. In Germany, the clocks tick more slowly: It was not long ago that the Central Council of Jews declared the poet Max Czollek a gentile because he did not have a Jewish mother. In a liberal, pluralistic society, it is an extraordinary occurrence for a religious association to publicly deny a private person their religious affiliation. In Islam, this is called takfir: a process that is more commonly practiced today in Iran or Saudi Arabia.
What scares our families. We don’t know if these theological issues will actually affect our son in the future. But for our families it is currently a central question: What is he now – a Jew or a Muslim? Here a clear answer is required as quickly as possible. This starts with the name. We decided on an Arabic first name and a Jewish last name. On Spotify, we’ve created a playlist that alternates songs in Hebrew, Arabic and Urdu – from Zionist children’s songs from the twenties to Koranic verses praising God.

And then there’s the matter of circumcision. In our environment, there are warnings of identity crises if the child is not taught a clear religious identity from the beginning. Perhaps we are naive and will soon fall flat on our faces, but the idea that frightens our families brings us joy. How wrong can it be to raise a child knowing that there is more than one correct religion?
The desire for unambiguity is understandable. Even the liberal and reform movements in Islam and Judaism recommend that interfaith families choose one religion in child rearing – while the other should only be “respected.” But what criteria should we use to decide this? Do we send the grandparents into a ring? Do we flip a coin?
Do we engage in the endless theological debate of whether there is a Jehovah or Allah in heaven? For us, even “respect” for the other religion is not enough. What matters to us is an equal living out of the two traditions and cultures. And why not? Why, in times when the state recognizes diverse gender identities in addition to male and female, can’t religious identity also be diverse?

Many think that identities function according to the OR principle: black or white, German or migrant, woman or man. Why can’t identity function according to an AND principle? We are migrants and Germans and believers and heretics and cyclists – all at the same time. Contradictions are part of human nature, and in post-migrant society they tend to become more frequent.
Then there’s just matzah at the Ramadan fast-breaking, when Passover and Ramadan fall on the same time, like next spring. And when we celebrate Hanukkah this week, we have baklava dipped in honey alongside the oily sufganiyot – the big danger here is not the interfaith composition, but the excessive sugar content.
Admittedly: we also have our limits. We don’t want a religious Disneyland with a Christmas tree, Tibetan prayer flag and Ojibwa dream catcher. The other day, a friend seriously asked us to put up a Christmas tree with a crescent moon and Star of David decoration in the living room.

Whether it will work, we don’t know. Perhaps those who warn us about the programmed identity crisis are right. In our defense, we can use other Muslim-Jewish couples as examples. For them, things seem to have gone well so far, as our Internet research shows. Some face a harsher reality, like the family of Sary Bashy. An American Jew, she lives in the West Bank with her Palestinian husband and two children.
In her blog, Raising my Kids in Israel/Palestine, she describes how political events affect her family life. For example, the escape of six Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jail can also lead to a family discussion in which the children learn about two points of view. If there were more children growing up in such family constellations, peace in the Middle East might be a little closer.
Even though we always catch ourselves plotting through parenting and pursuing the optimization urge for a perfect childhood, we remind ourselves that children cannot be programmed. Maybe our son won’t be interested in Islam or Judaism, but more interested in soccer, Star Wars, or nuclear physics. Maybe we as adults should give up the desire to have children go our way. So our generation has not even managed to overcome particularism and prejudice. Still, belonging to one’s ethnic or religious group is put before universal values.
Wouldn’t it be worth trying to give children the chance to find their own way? Perhaps education consists of: clearing away the roughest stones along the way. And creating the perfect Spotify playlist along the way!
Husband is, Meron Mendel, born in Israel in 1976, is a professor of social work and director of the Anne Frank Educational Centre in Frankfurt.
Wife is, Saba-Nur Cheema, born in Frankfurt in 1987, is a political scientist, anti-racism trainer and advisor to the German Federal Ministry of the Interior on the topic of Muslim hostility.

Reference for original article.

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