Stories from Afar & Up Close

Your God or Mine?

So the talk is about marriage, and whether one should or should not get married to a muslim. I’d say yes, but then again, I am biased; I’m about to get hitched with an atheist Sunni. Not that it matters, we’re both products of mixed marriages (sunni-shi’a for him and catholic-protestant for me), and neither of us are very attached to any of the rituals that came with all these religions. To my Arabic teacher, a devout Sunni muslim without a veil, this is still a bit puzzling. She’s perfectly ok with different grades of religiosity, and mixed marriages are not a problem, but no religion at all? How does that work? I explain that we will do a civil ceremony somewhere, and then have it registered in our respective countries.

‘So your kids,’ she says, ‘what will they be?’ ‘Here in Lebanon they will get their (grand)father’s religion, according to the law’, I answer. ‘And in Holland?’ ‘In Holland they won’t be anything until we register them as something.’ ‘They won’t be Christian?’ ‘Unless we have them baptized they won’t be registered as such, no.

I’ve had this conversation before, and it usually stops here, because the possibility of being ‘nothing’ is a new concept for many. But my teacher was still curious about something, and carefully asked:

‘How about… what will you tell your children?’ ‘Supposing I will have them, I don’t think I will tell them anything.’ ‘You won’t take them to church?’ ‘I don’t plan on doing so, no. I guess they will pick up enough about religion from their grandparents and the people around them, and when they are older and they want to join a religion, they can do so.’ ‘So you won’t tell them God doesn’t exist? That there is nothing?’ she asks, seemingly a little worried about my unborn, godless children. ‘I don’t think it’s up to me to decide whether he exists or not, so no, I probably won’t be telling them that.

The answer reassures her. But then a more practical issue comes to her mind.

‘But if you don’t have a religion, who do you refer to when you say ‘nshallah’ [God willing] or ‘ya rabbe’ [oh my God]?’ she asks. I try to avoid these expressions as much as I can, because indeed, who am I referring to? but sometimes there is no other option. My answer is the first one of the day that she can really get behind. ‘All of them.