Review by Rebecca Beisler
When Michelle and Yusef chose to embark on life together as a married couple, some things were sure to become a little more complicated thanks to their different faiths and cultural backgrounds.
For Michelle, an Australian-born Christian, and Yusef, a Muslim, one of their first experiences of balancing two different religious traditions was deciding how they would get married. And more specifically, who would conduct the service.
Rev Helen Richmond, a Uniting Church minister, shares their story in her new book, Blessed and Called to be a Blessing: Muslim-Christian Couples Sharing a Life Together.
“Michelle’s parents were struggling with their daughter’s decision to marry someone from a very different culture and religion, and Michelle had always wanted to marry in a church and walk down the aisle. For Yusef’s family it was important that a Muslim cleric, who was a close family friend, could conduct the ceremony.”
They were delighted to find a minister who not only welcomed them but who was open to the idea of jointly conducting the service with a Muslim cleric.
Helen Richmond describes interfaith couples like Michelle and Yusef as examples of a “living dialogue between two religious traditions”.
The book draws on in-depth interviews with 28 Muslim-Christian couples based in either Indonesia or Australia. Richmond also spoke to some of the couples’ children and a number of community leaders from both faiths.
The author said finding new ways of understanding religious diversity has never been more important.
“At a time when we see much distrust between religious communities, I hope my book offers a glimpse into what helps and what makes it difficult for people from different faith communities to live together with integrity and friendship,” says Richmond.
The wisdom found within their experiences lies in how participants were able to reflect on their own faith and reimagine some of their religious understandings.
“Believing that God is not the monopoly of one religious community was a perspective that helped interfaith couples…this meant taking seriously the distinctive religious self-understandings of each while searching for common ground,” Richmond writes.
Interestingly, most couples took an approach that focused on shared actions for the betterment of humanity. They connected with each other by recognising Christianity and Islam’s common focus on kindness, goodness and integrity.
Blessed and Called to be a Blessing is a powerful and positive insight into how human relationships are challenged by and can transcend our notions of the religious other.
Blessed and Called to be a Blessing is available from Regnum books.