Saturday, July 17, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Inter-Religious Marriages on the Rise in Russia Despite Xenophobia

Paul Goble

Staunton, July 17 – Russian Orthodox women are increasingly entering into marriages with Muslim men despite the xenophobic attitudes of the society around them, but because of the special challenges such marriages entail, a Russian psychologist argues, both government officials and religious leaders should provide these unions with special support.
During a telebridge on Thursday between specialists on this subject in Moscow and Kazan, Olga Makhovskaya, a senior specialist at the Academy of Sciences Institute of Psychology, said that “marriages with Muslim men are becoming ever more preferred by non-Muslim Russian women” (
According to the Moscow scholar, “inter-religious marriages in Russia have no small potential for stability since not only elements of ‘the common Soviet past’ (language, education, etc.) but also ‘very similar family models’ bring people together.” Among those commonalities is “the high level of the authority of the husband” in both faiths.
But within that commonality, Makhovskaya continued, there is a distinction in that the status of the husband in the Orthodox tradition is “more formal” while in the Muslim one it is more “real.” Moreover, Orthodox husbands “are not inclined to participate in the internal affairs of the family,” but Muslims ones “in the ideal case is not just a provider.”
Instead, the Muslim husband both “’deifies’ children, while devoting to them and to his wife significant attention.” Those qualities, she said, are making marriages with Muslim men ever more attractive options for Orthodox women in Russian cities, especially since the influx of migrants means there are more of them with whom they are likely to be in contact.
But such inter-religious marriages are not without problems, Makhovskaya argued. That is because women who enter into them often find it difficult to adapt to “certain limitations in their freedom,” especially since in Orthodox families, specialists have found, the dominant partner is the one, male or female “who is psychologically stronger.”
Participating in the telebridge from Kazan were Nailya Ziganshina, the president of the Union of Muslim Women of Tatarstan, and Elmira Zaripova, the republic official responsible for registering marriages. Zaripova said that inter-religious marriages there now “form 21-23 percent of all unions … and such pairs divorce only half as often as mono-ethnic ones.”
Asked about how the members of religiously “mixed” marriages deal with sensitive subjects like determining what faith the children will be raised in, Zaripova said that “everything is decided in family councils, together with grandmothers and grandfathers. But in the end, the child himself chooses his faith when he grows up.”
No one ever forces the child to choose, the Tatarstan official continued, “but as a rule when he has grown up, he chooses the religion of that part of the family which loves him more and which relates to him more warmly.”
According to Moscow’s Makhovskaya, however, the situation in Tatarstan represents “a certain oasis from the point of view of the well being of inter-cultural marriages.” The situation in Russian cities, she suggested, is “far from what has been described by the women from Kazan.”
Inter-cultural marriages are contracted there “against a background of a high level of xenophobia and the non-acceptance of ‘the alien,” as well as scandals connected with such marriages by show business stars like the Orbakaite-Baysarov case.” And these things all “harm the reputation of such unions.”
And as far as the religious choice of children is concerned, Makhovskaya continued, “then in ‘stable’ families, this question does not have a ‘dramatic’ character. But ‘if the family is heading toward a breakdown, there will be a struggle over the children in this regard and on the religious front.”
Makhovskaya called for more research on and discussion about inter-religious marriages, all the more so because such unions offer many benefits for those in them. “If your chosen partner is of another nationality,” she said, “this strengthens and enriches you, broadens your chances, and your children will grow up … learning two languages and two cultures.”
“As a rule,” she concluded, “such bi-cultural children will be more stable in society and better adapt themselves in a variegated milieu.” Consequently, Makhovskaya suggested, “it remains to be hoped that namely such an approach will be the norm” for young people of different religions who choose to get married.”

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