There is no tradition that can claim love as its alone. We are all called to love one another. As we celebrate love, INTER is highlighting the power of interfaith relationships in their many forms: friendships, roommates, romantic partners, and classmates. We asked people to send us photos of their interfaith relationships and tell us what is amazing about them, and what is hard. Below are stories of how people caring for people of other religions or non-religions are creating space for grace, learning, love, and self-reflection.
Rebekka Rosen (above right) identifies as Jewish and her sorority sister Sarah Sandberg identifies as Christian.
Rebekka says: One of the things that connect Sarah and I is our deep connection to our religions.
What’s Amazing: My friendship with Sarah is one that I truly cherish. My favorite nights are the ones in which we stay up way after the sun has set, discussing our individual passions for our faith. We challenge each other’s beliefs, never afraid to voice our opinions. Still there are times when we know the best thing to do is just listen as that’s what the other needs to feel supported. Although we do not believe in the same concepts, our values and need for spirituality are quite similar. Both of us, sisters of Sigma Alpha iota, the international women’s music fraternity, feel most connected to our faith through psalms and other melodies. We share these songs of praise with each other constantly.
What’s Hard: And still sometimes we struggle. Although I’ve gone with Sarah to church and she’s attended Shabbat dinner, there’s a sort of disconnect that is sometimes more evident than others. And while we can be supportive of one another, it’s impossible for us to experience these events the same way. Not only due to religion. She is from southern Pennsylvania and I’m from Long Island, which gives us two very different perspectives on the world. Sometimes the other’s reaction to a story takes a great deal of patience and understanding. What I’ve come to learn is that is the exact reason our friendship is so strong. It’s the fact that we are able to have these difficult conversations and be aware that our opinions, even when different, will be respected. That insures that our friendship will remain strong and true.
Rachel Sondgeroth (above left) identifies as Christian and her boyfriend Nikhil Sonawane identifies as a practicing Hindu. They are both also Nichiren Buddhists.
Rachel says: Being in an Interfaith couple is very unique; but the situation for me and Nikhil is even more unique. He is a practicing Hindu and I’m a Christian, but we’re also both Nichiren Buddhists. We actually met through this practice.
What’s Amazing: Working in the Interfaith movement, I’ve always really had a heart for Hinduism. And what’s really awesome is that Nikhil has been so open with sharing this world with me. We’re both so open to exchange what and who we believe in and we’re also equally open to receiving what the other has to say. I’ve been to the temple with him and he’s been to church with me and we both mutually enjoy doing those things together. Being in an interfaith, intercultural, interracial, international relationship, I think that openness is really crucial.
What’s Hard: We’ve found that we have more in common with the way we approach the religions we don’t have in common than the religion we do. It’s funny, I never really thought an interfaith relationship would be a struggle. The reality is, when you’re having those deeper conversations, it does get harder. We can talk about Christian theology and he can say “Oh that’s really similar to something in Hinduism.” And vice versa. When the arguments really start is when we talk about the way that we practice Buddhism. We’re both Nichiren Buddhists, however the way that we go about Buddhism is completely different.
Getting through those different reference points has been challenging, but every day we try to stretch our skills of empathy. When we talk about our fundamental differences, we listen to understand, not to respond. I think that’s the biggest key to making it all work out. You have to be willing to not be right. You have to be willing to admit that sometimes, nobody is right. Overall, that journey has been a really rewarding experience, and I’m glad to have him to keep me on my toes!
Dani Targosz (above right) identifies as a spiritual Catholic and her friend Cristina Cavallo identifies as a Norse Pagan.
Dani says: We became friends because we roomed together when our school decided to send people to IFYC’s Interfaith Leadership Institute for the first time back in the summer of 2015. We both come from the Chicagoland area, but attend school at Carthage College in Kenosha, WI.
What’s Amazing: The two of us help lead Interfaith at Carthage College. Our different perspectives allow for more diverse conversation, as well as bringing in people from more diverse backgrounds and traditions. Cristina is the leader of the Pagan forum on campus, and I have been a leader in the Catholic community on campus. Together, we bond over what our traditions might have in common, as well as teach one another about our practices. Cristina has helped inspire my love of oracle card reading, and taught me how to use a pendulum!
What’s Hard: One thing that has been slightly challenging would be the fact that Catholics and Christians looked down on Pagans in the past. Historically, Catholics were the ones who persecuted Pagans and appropriated their traditions. I often feel guilt that the history of my tradition hurt the history of hers. We don’t let this halt our relationship by any means, it’s just a fact that we both acknowledge and try to move past. The Catholics and Pagans of the past may have had their fights, but we for sure don’t.
Rachel Kern (above left) identifies as Jewish and her friend Tahira is Muslim.
Rachel says: Tahira and I were brought together over two years ago after we worked on Stockton’s Campus Religious Council executive board. We both decided that we wanted to bring more interfaith work to Stockton and after that we just clicked.
What’s Amazing: Our interfaith friendship is very inspiring to many; a Jewish and Muslim woman, not only being friends, but doing interfaith work together. The Hillel and Muslim Student Association (MSA) at Stockton have a strong connection that we are proud of. After two years of friendship, we stand by each other through the good and the bad and I could never have imagined having such an amazing person to look up to (even though she is shorter) as a role model.
What’s Hard: We have had our challenges though. We do disagree on some politics and ideals but we understand the other’s side and would never let that get in the way of our friendship. It’s interesting, at some college campuses, Muslims and Jews can’t even be in the same room, but I could never imagine my life without the women from the MSA. They inspire me every day.
Wafa Demashkiah (above right) identifies as Muslim and her boyfriend Ali Shambayati identifies as Agnostic.
Wafa says: Growing and learning together is an important part of any relationship, and being with someone from not only a slightly different cultural background (he is first generation Iranian and I am first generation Lebanese) but also having a different view on religion can make for some interesting conversations to say the least.
What’s Amazing: Each time we open up the topic of religion and what we believe it gives us a deeper understanding and respect for each other. It is a beautiful relationship where not only we can both learn new things about each other’s perspectives and challenge each other to think in different ways, but we can also learn to respect and understand each other’s different values and beliefs.
What’s Hard: Having a different view with anyone on anything can be difficult at times. The world is made up of many different people with many different ideas and views on things. The most challenging thing when being in an interfaith relationship is trying not to get offended when your partner does not understand why you hold certain things of value in your religion. It is also challenging when you try to find a balance between how much is “too much” when including your partner in your/your family’s religious practices. Any relationship is challenging, but once you find that prefect balance between two faiths, a relationship can flourish!
Aminata “Mimi” Diallo (above right) identifies as Muslim and her roommate Semoni Sherwood identifies as Agnostic.
Mimi says: Although we went to the same high school, we didn’t become close friends until we both realized we were going to the same college. At that moment, we instantly decided to become roommates.
What’s Amazing: One aspect of our interfaith relationship that stands out significantly to me, is the fact that we’re both so open to each other’s beliefs. I’m a Muslim and she’s agnostic but those differences only strengthened our bond. It’s really the little things that count in our relationship. For example, when I do my daily prayers, she always makes sure to keep people out of our room, so they won’t disturb me. That thoughtfulness means a lot to me.
What’s Hard: The holidays are always challenging in any interfaith relationship. Although Semoni was raised Christian, she now identifies as an Agnostic. The question becomes, do I get her a Christmas present like all our other friends do? If not, then when is it appropriate to get this amazing person a gift or show solidarity for her beliefs? This conflict is more internal because she honestly doesn’t really care. On the other hand, she gets me a Christmas present every year even thought I don’t celebrate Christmas; but I don’t really mind. Even though it is more of a national tradition to give Christmas presents, it always gives me pause.
Maya Williams (above left) identifies as a nondenominational Christian and her slam poetry partner Mia Willis identifies as Rinzai Zen Buddhist.
Maya says: I have been friends with my fellow slam poetry team member and creative partner Mia Willis since my freshman year at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC.
What’s Amazing: Our friendship has helped her reconcile her relationship with organized religion; for me, our friendship has helped me reconcile that selfcare is not a selfish act to pursue spiritually.
What’s Hard: Although it can be challenging trying to see where the other is coming from initially when our worldviews cause us to engage with situations and people differently, it’s still a fruitful friendship to be in, and I am grateful for it.
Laura Bohórquez (above right) identifies as Catholic and her boyfriend Michael Uhl identifies as Lutheran.
Laura says: I am from Bogotá, Colombia and Michael is from Bensenville, IL. We met at Loras College in Dubuque, IA.
What’s Amazing: We are both Christians, and actually, Lutheranism and Catholicism might be two of the most similar Christian denominations. However, interfaith dialogue has helped us realize those small, but significant differences in our belief and practice. It has been due to our experiences with interfaith dialogue that we have been able to discover the differences in the services we attend, and why those differences exist.
What’s Hard: Since Catholicism and Lutheranism are so similar, sometimes it is confusing to know what to do during services or prayer. Sometimes I say a Catholic response during a Lutheran service or I do the sign of the cross before a meal prayer. It is more awkward, than anything, but sometimes it is challenging to get it right. Good thing we’re here learning together! Another challenge we will encounter as our relationship becomes more serious is how we approach marriage and how we raise our children in the future.
Linden Huffman (above right) identifies as a secular witch and his girlfriend Chandler Scott-Smith identifies as a Unitarian Universalist.
Linden says: My girlfriend and I have different ideas on the concept of “God” and the power of the universe, as well as different ideas on how to approach spirituality and our faith (actively or passively).
What’s Amazing: Being in an interfaith relationship is amazing, because she gives me so much perspective on my beliefs. She provides a view I wouldn’t necessarily have seen before because she sees the world in a different light.
What’s Hard: A challenge of the relationship is we both have trouble sometimes seeing the rationale of the other’s faith tradition when it comes to certain topics. However, we both know that each faith tradition is coming out of positivity, so we do our best to try to understand, even if we can’t completely.
Eiman Ali (above left) identifies as a Sunni Muslim and her best friend Kimberly Acosta identifies as a protestant Christian with Buddhist influences.
Eiman says: We grew up together and have been best friends for 10 years!
What’s Amazing: Being 12-year-old best friends with different beliefs really satisfied our curiosity. I lived in a community with many Christians, so having someone that I could openly ask questions to was very beneficial. Kim didn’t know very many Muslims, so she learned a lot from me. We had some common grounds in our beliefs like trusting in God’s timing, and everything happening for a reason, so we were still able to comfort each other spiritually.
What’s Hard: However, it wasn’t always easy. There are some aspects where our traditions were starkly different. For example, when it came to boys. As girls heavily influenced by our backgrounds, we understood relationships very differently and our rules did not mesh. Over the years, we have learned to consider our different backgrounds when giving and receiving advice on things like relationships.