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Interfaith Relationships in Australia: Faith versus Family

It’s hard enough for couples of different faiths to overcome their differences. Throw in the mother-in-law, and the real trouble begins.

A loyal husband? Or a deceptive son? He’s a good Jewish boy-and single-in the eyes of his mother…but a loyal husband in the eyes of his Muslim wife. Deceiving his Jewish parents is the only way to resolve this couples family conflict.

Dr. Siham Yayha, a clinical psychologist, recounts this client’s tale as an example of the extent some couples go to in order to protect their interfaith marriages.

According to the 2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 87% of couples were made up of people who shared the same faith as their partner.

However, according to Dr. Siham Yayha, interfaith marriage is a growing trend in Australia, with more people inclined to try it.

“If you don’t try it, you don’t have the chance of falling in love”, said Yayha.

“Nobody can control falling in love, or having that attachment towards somebody, and then you start the journey of whether or not this is something you can do”.

Yet, love isn’t always enough for couples to find their sense of happiness. Sometimes it’s the family’s approval.

Growing up in a Muslim family, Abil Elyassih,43, spent a lot of time trying to convince her family to accept her marriage with Farage Esber, 56; a Christian Orthodox.

“It was very hard. My family was against it/ they would only accept him if he became Muslim… if he converted and changed his religion”, said Elyassih.

Pictured: Abil Elyassih (left) and Farage Esber (right).

However, despite their religious differences and her parent’s disapproval, Abil and Farage eloped and have now been married for 20 years, and have two children.

Farage Esber says that the key to his happiness, marriage, and family, have been his ability to protect his inner circle.

“My advice to anyone, whether they marry within the religion or outside the religion, is to protect your inner circle”, said Farage Esber.

“Do not let anyone interfere. Not their parents. Not your parents. You make a decision that is suitable for your family, and you move forward”.

Despite this, however, conversion of religion is still a common discussion that occurs amongst couples with interfaith relationships, as it is the only way their families will accept and acknowledge the possibility of a marriage.

Lyz Menounos and her boyfriend are currently experiencing this problem first-hand, as both of their families oppose the thought of intermixing faith.

Lyz is a Greek Orthodox, while her boyfriend is Muslim, yet they both see their differences as a way of showing respect to one another and their families.

While Lyz still celebrates Christmas and Easter, her boyfriend makes sure to attend Church with her and gather for Christmas lunch. In return, Lyz attends the big celebrations that happen after Ramadan.

Pictured: Lyz Menounos (right) and her Muslim boyfriend (left).

Although Lyz’s parents are accepting of her boyfriend, they think that he will eventually convert into a Christian.

“They may be okay with it now, but in the long run the actual underlying attitudes have not changed”, said Menounos.

The same thing is also expected of Lyz too, with her boyfriend’s family having an understanding that she may convert to Islam.

Brooke Bevilacqua, also recounts a similar scenario, as she also feels the expectation to convert her religion. Brooke is Christian, while her boyfriend is Jewish Orthodox.

“With his family, they’ve always been very accepting; they’ve never really pushed it”, said Bevilacqua.

“It’s never been a topic of discussion, but I do know that if we were to marry it would be expected that I would convert because they would want their grandchildren to be Jewish”.

“I believe that we could continue our relationship with me keeping my Christian beliefs. But I think it could create a little more tension – not so much with him or his immediate family, but with grandparents and cousins and aunties and uncles, I think that a few problems could arise. It would be safest for me to convert”, said Bevilacqua.

Pictured: Brooke Bevilacqua (right) and her Jewish boyfriend (left).

This is why Siham Yayha suggests that couples should first make sure if their families back up their relationship, and to not get into a relationship if they know that their families are against it.

Other than families disapproving of interfaith marriage, raising children can also be seen as a form of challenge for interfaith couples.

Jenny Sanbrook, a family therapy counselor states that an interfaith marriage could be difficult for children to apprehend.

“If there’s pressure on the child, to take a particular view, or if there’s pressure to side with one parent…. that is going to be a problem”, said Jenny Sanbrook.

Despite her mother being Muslim and father being Christian Orthodox, Yamema Esber, daughter of Abil Elyassih and Farage Esber, was raised as a devoted Christian.

Yamema never felt the pressures of having a conflicted sense of identity, since both of her parents agreed on raising her as a Christian.

“Because I was raised in the Christian faith, every week I would go to Church, and then probably when I was around 10 or 12, it was sort of like, ‘if you want to go, we’ll take you…but it’s your choice'”, said Yamema.

Although Christianity is her main religious practice, Yamema still finds it beneficial of having interfaith parents.

“I appreciate the broader experience. I think it’s a positive thing, because of the way I was raised, I feel like I’m solid in one. I’ve gained a lot from Christianity. And having Islam there, in terms of my mum being it and my cousins practicing it…I feel like it’s given me a broader appreciation of the different types of religions”, said Yamema.

Although external influences, such as family, could impact the functionality of interfaith couples, psychologists state that the best way to maintain a healthy relationship is to show respect.

“I think the core factor is respect. Respecting the other person, and their point of view, and not having to make people think the same as you do”, said Mary-Jane Beach, a family therapist.

Mary-Jane Beach stated that when you look at the commonalities of the religions, they all seem remarkably similar, even though they have some different beliefs.

“If you read the Book of Mormon, the Quran or the Bible, they’re very similar. They’re basically about treating people well…. they’re not as different as people might think”, said Mary-Jane Beach.

Pictured: Auburn Gallipoli Mosque, Australia.

According to Farage Esber, religion is supposed to teach people to care about each other and to respect each other.

“If a person wants to have a conflict with someone else because of religion, that means they don’t really understand their religion”, said Esber.

“That means they failed their religion”.


Vodcast by Miray Bakaroglu (side note/ file was too big to upload, so I had to link it to YouTube):