Can our child be both a Muslim and a Jew?

Perspective by Elisabeth Becker Topkara

August 2, 2018 at 7:00 a.m. EDT

Source: Washington Post

An intercultural marriage is, like any marriage, a delicate balancing act. Even after you realize how little you can change one another, one prime battleground remains: the children.

They are the bearers of our ancestry, our hope for immortality and our greatest responsibility. Some things are easily reconcilable, like teaching a child multiple languages. Others are harder — in our case deciding when to cut our young son’s hair, whether to wear shoes indoors and when to remove them outdoors. But the most difficult question that I have asked myself since becoming a mother is this: Can our child be both a Muslim and a Jew?

Before my wedding, my mother said that any child I bore would be Jewish. Jewish law dictates that a child born to a Jewish mother inherits her identity. Islam, on the other hand, is arguably patrilineal. For this reason, it is far less controversial for a Muslim man to marry a Jewish or Christian woman than for a Muslim woman to marry outside of the faith.

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My husband and I did not make our decision to be together lightly, waiting six years to finally date. Over those six years, our daily conversations were studded with potentialities. “What if we had a daughter, would you want her to wear a headscarf?” I asked. “What would you tell our child, if he asked you about God?” Ufuk replied. We tried to feel out the future together, an uncharted territory — not without precedent (the prophet Muhammad himself had a Jewish wife named Safiyya, meaning “pure”), but certainly without a map.

When we married and had a child, our own expectations and our families’ expectations for our son Sami’s religious identity took center stage. My mother-in-law sent me hopeful, hinting videos of toddlers reciting Koranic verse.

My husband and I put a lot of weight on baby Sami’s shoulders, calling him our “peace baby,” proof that divisions could be overcome. He has been up to this task since Day One, uniting us in rituals and quite literally embodying our love.

Now that Sami is 4, what does our daily life look like? On some Fridays, he accompanies Ufuk to the weekly prayer in the mosque, where he touches his forehead to the ground in sync with his father. On others, he bakes cinnamon challah with me.

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Additional study:

I am a Jew, a Catholic, a Christian and a Muslim; I am Zia H Shah

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