Greetings and salaams to you and your family. This is the last newsletter in 2011 of the Muslim Christian marriage support group so I’m taking the opportunity to send you a more personal message than usual. Many thanks to all of you who’ve contributed in different ways to this group over the past year, by coming to meetings, answering other people’s requests for information or help and most of all by your interest and enthusiasm. I hope we’ll go on to do more together in the coming year.
At the Southall support group we are going through a transition right now : our much-loved host Father Michael Barnes is moving on to pastures new and although we are sure he will still part of the life of the group it most probably won’t be happening in Southall. We are therefore taking this opportunity to reflect on how best to develop our service in support of couples and families in the ever-growing community of Muslim-Christian couples and families. The welcome and the wisdom Michael and Brother Daniel before him have held out to us in Southall will be a hard act to follow, but be assured the meetings will commence again in 2012. Meanwhile our conversations will continue on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_185782491456844 Delighted if you can join us there!
It’s that time of year, when families like ours are reminded that we don’t just have two religions, we have two calendars. And because as you know the lunar hijri year is about twelve days shorter than the 365 day solar year we get a different ‘mix’ of festivals each year. It keeps us on our reflective toes! It doesn’t seem so long since Christmas and Ramadan overlapped, but for the next few years Ramadan falls in summer. I’m writing this to you shortly after my return to a wintry UK from a politically febrile Bahrain . The procession of festivals for us this year has been from the Shi’ite commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain in the month of Muharram to current preparations for Christmas. How do we balance two seasons in our two respective faiths with such different narratives and moods? I tend to take the position that Susan Katz Miller describes of her Jewish Christian family in her blog On Being Both http://du112w.dub112.mail.live.com/#!/mail/InboxLight.aspx?n=759721637!n=1305877108&fid=1&fav=1&mid=ea619883-2ad1-11e1-b8cc-00215ad9dfd2&fv=1
Ie basically trying to keep the two faith traditions distinct while trying as best we can to do them both justice. But at those times when special times happen together or close to each other I suppose it’s only human to look for connections beyond the theological differences. So what struck me as I watched the Muharram processions and listened to my extended Bahraini family greeting neighbours and old friends in the seasonal greeting (‘majureen’, ‘may you be rewarded’ ) was how human relationships are always at the heart of what we are doing when we participate in religious occasions, and how they are always an opportunity for us to connect with others if we let them. I was also struck by the rich mix of culture that keeps on building around these great living occasions, connecting past with present. In Bahrain and other places with Shiite Muslim communities for a number of years now, people have been marking the commemoration of the tragedy of Ashura’ by donating blood, so that the meaning behind what has been viewed warily by some Muslims as a sectarian occasion becomes a gift quite literally of life –for all, whoever is in need, regardless of creed. http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/manchester/hi/people_and_places/religion_and_ethics/newsid_9291000/9291630.stm
Of course some mixed couples sometimes feel wary of or overwhelmed by holidays of the other faith, especially if identities or precious beliefs feel under pressure. Holidays are not neutral, with the mix of memory, symbolism and emotion that’s involved. They may bring up buried or conflicted stories about who we feel we are. My perspective on this for what it’s worth is that working out how best to share our different feasts and fasts takes time, in a mixed family as in a mixed society. In the end what sorts it out is the same kind of work that gets us through the other learning curves in our relationships. Holidays can be a bit fraught in lots of families for all sorts of reasons, but in my experience even painful holiday rows can be the start of really useful relationship work if we choose to do it! With Christmas coming the Relate website has an advent calendar of relational tips that may help put things in perspective. http://www.relate.org.uk/advent-calendar/index.html
In this context the Merry Christmas 4all campaign is impressive. After all the hype of recent years suggesting that Christmas causes offence to Muslims and other non-Christians it’s really good to read the comments and contributions of a wide range of Muslims in the UK on how they see Christmas http://www.facebook.com/groups/116830538432972/. These open-hearted and generous responses of Muslims to the spirit of Christmas are an example of what inter faith empathy in a mature mixed society can be like. And by the way I couldn’t help noticing a link about a Muslim Christmas blood drive!
Apologies I haven’t had time to look for more links and stories, although I am looking forward to visiting the exhibition on the Hajj at the British Museum towards the end of January.
Wishing you and yours all the best for the holiday season, however you observe it. And for all of us a peaceful year ahead.