For Interfaith Couples, Ramadan Can Deepen Ties To Faith And Each Other

Jesus Gutierrez, left, and Rabita Tareque, celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr in 2019 in New York. Courtesy photo.

For their first Ramadan together, Rabita Tareque took her boyfriend, Jesus Gutierrez, to a Bangladeshi restaurant in New York. As the sound of adhaan  (the call to prayer) filled the room from a nearby mosque, they dug into a traditional platter of Bengali food — pretzel-like jelapis, lentil fritters called piyazus, and eggplant begunis —  for  iftar,  the evening meal that Muslims share at sunset during Islam's holy month of fasting and prayer. 

Ramadan, always observed during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, requires that observant Muslims refrain from eating or drinking between sunup and sunset and focus on reflection, prayer, charity and building community.

Ramadan can be an opportunity for Muslims in interfaith relationships to introduce their partners to the core beliefs and teachings of Islam, as well as to the ways different Muslim cultures share what is a deeply communal experience.

Tareque, a Bangladeshi-Muslim immigrant living in Queens, New York, took the opportunity to introduce Gutierrez, a first-generation American and a Catholic born to immigrants from the Dominican Republic, to her faith and culture.  

“The Muslim population is so huge and diverse. We each have our own cultural comfort food and traditions to observe Ramadan, and I wanted Jesus to get a glimpse of mine,” says Tareque, an international migration studies graduate student at the City University of New York.  

A recent survey conducted by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that interfaith relations are not uncommon among Muslims, who join interfaith relationships in numbers similar to Christians. However, according to 2018 research that appeared in The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, Muslims' overall attitude toward interfaith relationships was negative where Muslims are in the majority.

Some say the Quran explicitly allows men to marry “People of the Book,” as the Muslim holy book calls Christians and Jews. But the Quran isn't clear about whether women can do the same.

Scientific studies, meanwhile, suggest that marriages between members of the same religious group may be more durable than intermarriages. Interfaith couples often end up landing in the same religion as their lives also merge. Gutierrez recently converted to Islam in anticipation of the couple's wedding sometime next year. The two are excited to observe Ramadan together for the first time as Muslims.  

For now, Tareque has found that her interfaith relationship has strengthened her own connection to Islam. When they started dating, Gutierrez didn’t know too much about Islam but showed a willingness to learn. The two spent hours talking about how their faiths inspire them to be better people and exploring spiritual questions. She explained the purpose of Ramadan and why it’s important to Muslims. 

“Through our conversations," Tareque said, "I feel closer to my faith than I did before. Ramadan offers a beautiful perspective on the spirituality of Islam.” 

But many couples choose to live their separate faiths in one household. Frankie Fredericks, an evangelical Christian, has been married to Medina del Castillo Fredericks, a Muslim, for nine years. An assistant principal at a New York public school and executive director of World Faith, a nonprofit that combats violence through interfaith understanding, Fredericks said that when you care about a person, you learn to care about the things that are important to them.

Like all relationships, interfaith marriages work best, he said, when the partners are supported to do their own thing. During Ramadan, Fredericks turns his support up a notch. “I'm not a morning person, but sometimes during Ramadan I try to wake up at an ungodly hour and make suhoor  (the pre-dawn meal before the fast) for my wife," he said. "I keep track of when sunset is and have some food and water ready for her to break her fast, and we eat dinner a little later so she can work up her appetite after iftar."

The respect is mutual, he added. "When she prays, I try not to disturb her, and when I pray at the dinner table, she recites her Duas  (prayers) in English with me,” said Fredericks. “We are both very deeply rooted in our faiths.” 

"It's been helpful to have someone support you during a month that can be hard when you're fasting,” said Medina, who added that her husband's interest has made her more engaged and active in her faith.

Fredericks said they are open about their own practices with their son, Astor, so he can observe and participate in both, either or neither. “When Astor was 10 months old, I was observing Ramadan, and I remember he crawled into our room while I was praying. I continued my prayers and I noticed that he just sat there in complete silence — at this point, he was usually babbling nonstop! Any time he saw me pray, he would just sit and watch, smiling. Now, when he sees me pray, he will sometimes join me or will tell Frank, "Mama's praying." 




Frankie Fredericks [left] and Medina Del Castillo Fredericks, holding their son Astor, on Halloween in 2018. Courtesy photo. 

This story first appeared on Religion News Service. 

RELATED: Muslims Mark Ramadan Amid Virus Surge And New Restrictions

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

more from IFYC

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, joined in lighting the menorah. Emhoff is the first Jewish spouse of an American vice president.
Bhattar created an art piece to honor all those that choose to love themselves and work to collectively dismantle our culture of shame around HIV/AIDS, especially in higher education and religious/spiritual communities. 
The authors write that they learned many wonderful things growing up in Southern Evangelical churches, "such as centering Christ and serving others." But in conversations around sexuality and HIV/AIDS, "We were also taught things we now know are tremendously grounded in hate and fear."
As we open the application for the 2022 cohort of IFYC alumni Interfaith Innovation fellows, we speak with 2021 fellow Pritpal Kaur, the former Education Director at the Sikh Coalition and an advocate for increasing religious literacy in the classroom.
Greg McMichael, son Travis McMichael and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were all convicted Wednesday (Nov. 24) of murder after jurors deliberated for about 10 hours.
A new book, “Praying to the West: How Muslims Shaped the Americas,” by Omar Mouallem, may meet the needs of a new generation of Muslims.
For Christians, Advent is a period of preparation for Christmas and beyond. The Rev. Thomas J. Reese writes that perhaps fasting during Advent can be the Christian response to the consumerism of the season.
Interfaith holiday events can be a great way to show respect for others and make everyone feel included. Need some tips? Our IFYC colleagues have you covered.
Studies show that American religious diversity will only continue to grow and that Thanksgiving dinners of the future will continue to reflect this “potluck nation.” We all bring something special to the table.
IFYC staff members share what they're listening to, watching and reading that inspires an attitude for gratitude this season.
How can you support Native Americans and understand important issues and terminology? This Baylor University sophomore is here to help.
Aided by an international team of artists, author Salma Hasan Ali turned her viral blog about Ramadan into a new handmade book.
A symposium hosted by the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago focused on the intersection of Indian boarding schools and theological education as well as efforts to uncover truth and bring healing.
This week's top 10 includes stories on faith and meatpacking in the Midwest, religion in the metaverse and an interfaith call for peace in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The two lawmakers appeared at "Race, Religion and the Assault on Voting Rights," the inaugural event at Georgetown University's Center on Faith and Justice.
Religion & Politics journal interviews the author of a new book on the impact of growing religious diversity in the American Midwest.
Five interfaith leaders share readings and resources that inspire them, give them hope and offer solace in turbulent times.
“There is a huge gap between the religiosity of clinicians and the religiosity of the clients,” mental health counselor Shivam Gosai says. “This gap has always been there. Mental health professionals are not always reflective of the people we are serving.”
Part of what I found so beautiful about our conversation is that we both agree that American pluralism is not simply a pragmatic solution to the challenge of a diverse democracy, it is also a kind of sacred trust that God intends us to steward.
The author, a Hindu and a Sikh, notes that faith plays a subtle yet powerful role in the show -- and creates space for more dialogue.
Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, is the first Native American to serve as a U.S. Cabinet secretary.

The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.