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Report of Meeting on February 5th 2019

Azhar and Alexandra Kholwadia talk about their mixed-faith marriage

Azhar and Alexandra Kholwadia gave us a remarkably thoughtful and candid account of the steps leading to their marriage and the consequent relations with their families. Azhar is from a Sunni Muslim family and Alexandra from a Greek Orthodox family, originally from Cyprus. They knew each other at primary school and maintained their friendship over 20 years as it gradually became clear that they wanted to spend their lives together. The pathway was not smooth, as they separated more than once to test the reality of their desire to marry. Both sets of families found it difficult to come to terms with the relationship, for various reasons such as the difference in religions, cultural/historical challenges and the relatively young age of them both. The response amongst Alexandra’s family was split, with some members being more ambivalent than others. Alexandra thought the issues for her family were more about ethnic identity and pride rather than about religion as such, but when it came to an Orthodox marriage ceremony the answer from the Greek church was a definite No. Eventually they were able to have a brief nikah (Islamic) ceremony, and a legal wedding in the Church of England, though this entailed Azhar using the Trinitarian formula for God, as required of the bridegroom in such a service.

Otherwise Azhar’s path was somewhat easier where his family was concerned, though they were disturbed that the couple had hidden their continuing relationship during their university years. Azhar’s mother made Alexandra feel at home and became a source of wisdom for her. There is permission in Muslim law for Muslim men to marry women of the Book (Jews and Christians), though not the reverse, and this helped. Some in his family circle still expected Alexandra to convert to Islam – precisely the fear of her family.

The couple are clear that this is not in any way envisaged, and that their intention is to allow each other to follow their own faith convictions in freedom. Naturally there are mutual accommodations, as in every marriage. There is no alcohol in their home and they eat halal meat. Christmas celebrations were somewhat strange for Azhar and Ramadhan (the Islamic month of total fasting during daylight hours) was a testing time for both of them at first. They have only been married for three and a half years, so there is much still to discover. We wish them well.

Christopher Lamb

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