Marrying your next-door-neighbour is not plain sailing. Marrying someone from another country, who does share your culture or religion is even more complicated. One group with first-hand experience of inter-faith marriages is the Muslim Christian Marriage Support Group, based in Southall. More than 20 men and women came from as far away as Oxford, Brighton and Birmingham to attend their meeting last Sunday. Guests included Miriam Badawi (married for nearly 50 years to Dr Zaki Badawi, Principal of the Muslim College) and Gabrielle Pagan, a counsellor with Central Middlesex Relate, who is also a United Reform Church Minister. Set up by Westminster Interfaith three years ago, the group is the only one of its kind in the country and is receiving an increasing number of requests for information and advice. "Every marriage is very different" said chair Heather Al-Yousuf. "There are people worried about children marrying someone from another faith or concerned about celebrating festivals like Christmas and Eid. Our role is to offer a place where these things can be discussed safely. Sometimes we can help with practical information. And we offer friendship. People can feel very isolated. We've had calls from as far away as Canada." Miriam Badawi, a convert to Islam, said: "I feel often religious issues get masked by cultural ones. Having lived in the Far East and West Africa I know that Christian and Muslim mean very different things in different places. As my mother-in-law once told me: 'All marriages are mixed - they're men and women'." Echoing this view, Gabrielle Pagan from Relate said she felt religion was just one issue among many in marriage. "If something is going wrong, it probably won't just be caused by religious differences. There will be other fault lines." Praising the work of the group, Ms Pagan said she would be asking members to help run a workshop at a future date. Discussions covered a range of issues. Many wanted more social events. One person spoke about a Jewish-Christian marriage group in America that was organising a dual-faith Sunday school for their children. All expressed great anxieties over events following September 11. Several couples said the war against terrorism was bringing them closer together. One Catholic and Muslim couple, said: "Our faiths are central to our lives and a major factor in our relationship. They give us a common language for dealing with this." An Anglican and Muslim couple said: "It is important to let people know about the teaching of love and compassion in both our faiths and we are in a unique position to do that." For more information about the Muslim Christian Marriage Support group visit their website at: www.mcmarriage.org.uk
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