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The Cross - Religion Family

- Sangeeta

In a cross-religion family, traditional celebrations are a great way to introduce children to each religion. This helps foster tolerance and integrity, and aids the complete development of a child.

When two people belonging to different religions tie the knot, this raises several issues which are to be resolved before starting a family. For instance, When Suresh married Shabnam, a Muslim, it was decided that Shabnam convert to her husband's faith and vegetarianism, as he hailed from a Jain family.  However, they decided to reside in a Muslim neighbourhood, so the children have an exposure to both cultures.

First and foremost, the couple should decide how they want to raise their children, and at the same time should refrain from rigidity. 

Next, they should create an environment of constant interaction and expression in the house. This will not only help the parents deal with their own situation of inter-faith, but also enable them to raise their children with the tradition and values desired.

The best time to teach children the value of religious practice and philosophy is during celebrations, when they are very young.  At that time, a child is discovering and grasping, and any celebration is a time for fun, filled with relatives, friends, laughter and eats. Religion or its connotations do not have any importance for a toddler, but the ritual of say, lighting diyas and bursting crackers during Diwali is a source of enjoyment for him. By doing so, he does not automatically belong to one faith or another. One must always remember, children have a more simple and direct way of regarding things, and one must not let our own concerns or prejudices overshadow their simple enjoyment.

Many interfaith families do ascribe to dual or integrated celebrations, which maybe a good way to bring up children in a rapidly changing social environment.  In such case, the children may experience both rituals. They can observe each of their parents following the rituals associated with the celebration, and gain from this experience. It need not be necessary for the children to actually participate; mere observance or varying degrees of participation should suffice.  For instance, celebrating Christmas as well as Janmashtami will not only help the couple understand each other better and strengthen their marriage, it will also teach the children tolerance and love. They will learn the qualities of faith, goodwill and devotion, through these stories of the birth of Jesus Christ and Lord Krishna. After all, it is meaningful, enjoyable rituals that hold a family together, and religion is not always the factor but the tradition behind it is what should matter.

As children grow older and begin to understand the difference between family traditions and religious practices, one should then imbibe in them the religious values sought to be inculcated. We must remember that children learn the values of integrity and tolerance from their family. Religious training of any kind does not necessarily ensure the development of good character. It can only reinforce the values and spirit found in the family. Besides, religious training should always be accompanied with proper parental interpretation and guidance, otherwise it may even be experienced as a negative force. After all, history is replete with instances of bloodshed in the name of religion. So, families who observe, even cursorily, dual faiths in a single household, are at an advantage in having a more tolerant approach. 

It is not very important to have lots of rituals or religious traditions, but to have meaningful ones. Rather than overwhelm them with religious customs, the significance and the messages of love, brotherhood and integrity embedded in each faith should be emphasized.

If you have the right attitude, exploring cross religions or even cross cultures can be fun! An excellent example is our very own popular media personality Farida Jalal and her family. The 'secret' of a happy inter-faith marriage, as she stated in a popular TV show, is to give space to each partner to practice his or her religion, and to bring up your children with respect for each faith.

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