Monday, January 19, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Orthodox Christians, Muslims in Russia Split on Inter-Religious Marriages

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 19 – Many Russian Orthodox priests believe that “mixed” marriages between committed Christians and committed Muslims are unlikely to work, while many Muslim leaders are convinced that such marriages are not only possible but desirable, a reflection of the very different consequences the two groups see such unions as having.
As the number of such marriages has increased in Russia – in some regions, they may form almost a third of all unions – debates have broken out among and between Orthodox clergy and Muslim religious leaders over the likelihood that such “mixed” marriages will last and over the broader impact of such unions on the future.
In these debates, a sample of which provides in an article posted online today, most participants tend to agree on three things: First, the official support interethnic marriages received from communist ideologues in Soviet times opened the way for unions between men and women of different religious faiths (
Second, many of the marriages outsiders count as religiously “mixed” are not because one or both of the partners is in fact not religiously “active” but rather is simply an “ethnic” Christian or an “ethnic” Muslim who is a member of a nation that historically has been associated with one or the other faith.
And third, almost all such marriages are between nominal or committed Christian men and nominal or committed Muslim women, a combination that plays out very differently in predominantly Muslim areas where the Muslim partner tends to gain the upper hand and in non-Muslim areas where the reverse is often the case.
Given how sensitive such issues are and the difficulty sociologists have in tapping into this most private of spheres, some of the responses individual Christian and Muslim leaders offered to the site are worth noting, even though in every case they reflect personal judgments rather than more objective data.
Archpriest Vladislav Sveshnikov, an Orthodox pastor in Kulishki, said that there are few marriages between committed believers but that those which do occur require that “for the preservation of a happy marriage, [one or both of the parties] will be forced to sacrifice their religious convictions.”
Meanwhile Father Sergii, an Orthodox missionary who also serves as priest at the Lazarevsky cemetery, said that Orthodox canon laws prohibiting marriages with non-Christians retain their importance because when people of different faiths marry, one or both either have to give up their faith entirely or reduce its importance in their lives.
But Akhmed-khadzhi Tagayev, the first deputy chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate [MSD] of Daghestan, takes an entirely different view. He sees such marriages as a positive factor to the development of society and suggests that those who are opposed to such unions “fear the strengthening of Islam” in the Russian Federation and elsewhere.
And Chuvash Mufti Albir-khazrat Kurganov said everyone should be more relaxed about such marriages. “We live in a multi-national and poly-confessional state, and today we all understand this.” Thus it should not come as a surprise to anyone that “more than 30 percent of marriages in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan” are now between people of different faiths.
These arguments of Muslim leaders, however, do not appear to impress many Orthodox leaders who clearly fear that Russian Orthodox women who enter into them will convert, a development that will mean that both they and their offspring will be lost permanently to the Church.
Among those taking that view is Andrey Yefimov, the dean of the missionary faculty of the Orthodox St. Tikhon Humanitarian University. “A genuine and integral mixed marriage as a rule will not happen,” he said. Most such unions “simply fall apart” or the woman involved becomes a Muslim if she lives in a Muslim area.
The situation is different if such marriages take place in a non-Muslim area such as Moscow, he continued. “In such circumstances, happy marriages will occur but only if the husband is only nominally a Muslim. Otherwise, [the wife] will have to become a Muslim,” something she “should know about in advance.”
Of course, the mathematician turned missionary was prepared to concede by way of a conclusion, there can be “completely successful mixed marriages” because “everything is possible” even that in Russia today.

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