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I’m Jewish. My Partner is Muslim. Here’s How We Make It Work.

Collage by Hannah Altman. 

“So…uh…would you ever date someone of a different religion?”

That was the question my partner, who I’ve now been with for two years, coyly posed to me a week before asking me out.

“Of course,” I replied. I had never thought of religion as a disqualification for dating.

“Even a Muslim?” he asked.

My answer remained unchanged. I grew up in a tolerant Jewish household. I didn’t see religion as a barrier, but rather as a shared passion, something my partner and I had in common.

Two years later, I realize my perspective was simplistic, maybe even naive. While my partner and I have learned to connect across religions and turn our interfaith divide into a strength, it wasn’t always that way.

While I told my mother excitedly about my partner as soon as we started dating, I remained a secret to my partner’s parents for the first three months of our relationship. It bothered me, as much as I tried to pretend it didn’t. He said he wasn’t that close with his parents, but I knew he called them every day. He made a vague reference to his parents not approving of our relationship, but I knew there was more to the story. I felt like I was the big Jewish secret he had to keep to maintain the image of the “perfect Muslim” he tried to portray to his parents.

As it turned out, I didn’t stay a secret for long. My partner’s parents learned we were dating after snooping on his phone and seeing heart emojis in our text messages. Not surprisingly, they didn’t take it well.  It went against their religious values for him to date anyone, let alone a non-Muslim—they viewed the act as haram, or forbidden by Islamic law. They told him they felt angered and disappointed and that they thought I would distract him from getting good grades, getting into a good med school, and being a good Muslim.

They also told him they’d assumed he would have an arranged marriage, as they did. They felt hurt by his choice, as the oldest child, to set a bad example for his siblings by going against their wishes. Though they didn’t use these exact words, I knew they also saw me as a loud and outspoken Jewish girl, someone very different from the match they would’ve chosen for him.

While my family members reacted better, several still had questions. One relative asked if I was done with Judaism, half-joking that since I’d delayed my bat mitzvah until I was 17 (a choice I made after by father died when I was 12) and now was dating a Muslim, I must not take religion very seriously.

I didn’t know how to respond. I wondered if maybe he was right. Underlying the assumption that I had a fickle relationship with religion, I think, was the idea that as a woman, I would allow my identity to be swept away by whomever I dated. As much as I disagreed with the sexist premise, I also couldn’t shake the worm of insecurity that it was true.

To combat these feelings, I decided to reaffirm my Jewishness by reciting the Ve’ahavta prayer each night before bed. Just as some people pinch themselves to make sure they’re not dreaming, my nightly recitation of the Ve’ahavta served as a check-in. Was I Jewish? Yes. I could recite the Ve’ahavta. I could read Hebrew. I was Jewish.

My partner didn’t know me well enough to see the nightly recitations as a change in my behavior. In the face of his devoutness, I had been reluctant to reveal my relative lack of religiosity. He prayed every morning, bowing before God before reading from the Quran. How could I compare? I tried to put as much feeling into the Ve’ahavta as I could, but it felt like I was just beginning my relationship with God, whereas my partner had maintained a spiritual connection for years.

Spiritually lost and confused, I sought out the rabbi at my college. Did dating someone in another faith group invalidate my Judaism? I asked him. Was it even worse that my partner was Muslim? Given the historical tension between the two religious groups—a tension that has persisted into the present day—I couldn’t help feeling that maybe I’d let my ancestors down.

Instead of answering my question, in true Jewish fashion, the rabbi posed a question back to me: Why should dating someone of another religion make me any less of a Jew? He gave me readings about communities of Muslims and Jews that have lived in harmony, and about different ways that Jews throughout history have connected to and rooted themselves in Judaism through Buddhist and interfaith practices. These texts challenged me to think about my relationship to both Judaism and Islam, as well as to reconsider my need to be an “A+ Jew".

I also reached out to the on-campus imam. I wanted to learn more about Islamic beliefs and practices, especially about love and the treatment of women. I wondered if everyone in the Muslim community would view me as corrupting my partner, leading him down a path of sin. The double-standard was frustrating to me: Why was I seen as a distraction to him, but not the other way around? I felt I was dismissed for being a woman—and to make matters worse, not even the “right” woman.

What I read surprised me. Islamic texts mostly discouraged dating because of the prohibition against pre-marital or casual sex, or having a bond that included physical intimacy as well as an emotional connection. In some ways, this value seemed almost feminist—discouraging men from viewing women as sexual objects and encouraging them instead to foster an emotional connection.

This intersection between Islam and feminism was as eye-opener for me. What surprised me even more was learning how feminism extended to the Islamic practice of veiling, which many Western women (including me, in the past) perceive as a sign of female oppression instead of emancipation from gender norms. In her book The Veil and the Male Elite, the scholar Fatima Mernissi explores of how veiling has intersected with feminism throughout history, noting that many women prefer being covered and knowing that they will not be judged by their looks but rather by their characters.

After learning about the Muslim practice of veiling, I immediately began drawing parallels to the Jewish practice of bedeken performed at weddings to evoke separateness and holiness. I realized that I’d found a point of intersection between Jewish and Muslim feminisms, one that pushed me to expand my Westernized vision of feminism. This interfaith feminism allowed me to develop a sense of connection with women from both religions, exploring and connecting over our similar (and different) experiences.

Even so, when mutual friends asked us if I would start veiling myself in line with Islamic tradition, I bristled at the implication that I would have to hide my body because of my relationship status in a way that my partner wouldn't. After all, I wouldn’t ask my partner to wear a kippah; it seemed sexist for people to expect him to ask me to veil. This reminded me of the practice of changing last names after marriage. Just as women are sometimes expected to leave behind their “maiden name,” so too are they expected to ditch their culture in interfaith relationships to conform with that of their male partner.

But that isn’t who I am. And unlike before, when I felt the need to be perfect in the eyes of both Judaism and Islam, I realized that part of my religious growth would be accepting  who I was, even when I fell short of the high standards prescribed by both religions. I grew comfortable with the challenge of navigating interfaith differences—and similarities—as I knew it would be a long-term project for both of us.

Celebrating our differences has also brought my partner and me closer. We have developed the term “cultural moment” to describe situations where we feel a difference in how we were raised. The first time my partner attended an on-campus Shabbat dinner with me, I remember feeling disappointed when he looked slightly uncomfortable holding the thimble-sized cup of Manischewitz wine during kiddush, didn’t join us in drinking after we toasted l’chaim, and only ate a few vegetables in the meal that followed, instead of packing in the roast chicken. Later, I asked about his reluctance to join in. Did he not want to share in my religious traditions?

He did, he explained, and apologized if it had seemed otherwise. Unlike Judaism, Islam forbids drinking entirely, and so while it is traditional in Judaism to enjoy a glass of wine every Friday, he couldn’t partake in this tradition. As for the meat, he explained that after doing a lot of research, he concluded that he couldn’t eat it. Despite the similarities between kosher and halal meat, he learned that unless meat was doubly blessed and processed according to both traditions, falling into one category would not mean that it fell into the other. I appreciated his thoughtfulness and realized that part of our relationship as an interfaith couple would entail such intentional learning, as we both sought to respect our own religions while appreciating the other person’s. (We quickly came up with grape juice as an adequate substitute for the wine.)

Interestingly, engaging in interfaith dialogue and hearing about other people’s religious practices and connections has also made me feel more comfortable in my own Jewishness. Eventually, I stopped going through the motions of the Ve’ahavta, and instead devoted the time before bed to a mindfulness practice of gratitude and yoga. I realized it’s OK if I’m not the one with the most “God points.” We are all seeking meaning and beauty in life, and we all find it in different ways.


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Bro your husband isn’t a good muslim anyways its haram to date may allah guide him

What are you doing is prohibited in Judaism but in America ou guys don't care about Judaism at all unless youre ultra orthodox this is from what i witnessed its VERY taboo here in Israel if something like this happen it brings shame upon family

Also agree with the comment about it being very strange he wouldn’t eat kosher meat. As a Muslim who was raised in Saudi Arabia, and someone who knows the religion well, we can absolutely eat kosher meat (the Prophet Muhammad ate kosher meat, and didn’t even inquire about meat served to him on another occasion.) Muslims are also encouraged to have moderate views, and rejecting and nitpicking kosher meat is ridiculous. Hate it when Muslims Cherry pick and choose their extremism — he is ok with dating before marriage (which is not accepted), yet won’t eat kosher meat (which is widely accepted by Islamic scholars.)

You’ll get there. I love that you’re both persevering with the relationship, regardless of all of the obstacles you encounter. Jews and Muslims have more in common than not. And that aside, you’re both part of the human race. He’s lucky to have such a smart, open-minded, honest lady in you. Good luck in your relationship.

Wow, I though that I was the only one. My husband is muslim, when our families fought he never once blinked an eye to come to my defence. After 32 years he still worships the ground that I walk on. Our kids chose their own paths and religion.

Amazing story! May G'd bless you and your husband! Thank you very much!

Very strange that he will not consume kosher meat, kosher is accepted as permissible for Muslims by the majority of orthodox scholars.

How to cite this page

Saylor, Zia. "I’m Jewish. My Partner is Muslim. Here’s How We Make It Work. ." 10 February 2022. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 2, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/im-jewish-my-partner-muslim-heres-how-we-make-it-work>.

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