1. Cosmopolis TO saw huge success and like Interlove, deals with the idea of connections and awareness. How did the idea of Interlove come to you?
Spending a year photographing someone from every country of the world for Cosmopolis Toronto, made me think a lot about ‘diversity’. One area of diversity that I thought needed further exploring is the diversity of relationships – specifically in regards to beliefs. Like Toronto is the perfect place to try and find someone from every country of the world, I thought Ontario would be the perfect place to tell interfaith love stories. In many places around the world, this project would be much more controversial, much harder to do, and possibly unsafe for the participants.
2. Why were these stories important ones to tell?
Many photographers have used portraiture to tell stories of interracial / interethnic love, but I like to believe that today, here in Ontario, these types of relationships are accepted. However, I don’t know any photographers who has told interfaith love stories and I also think it is still a topic that many people know little about. These stories are not overtly visual, BUT they are important. It is important to note that project not only includes people who believe in the supernatural, but also those who doubt (freethinkers, atheists, agnostics etc.). In a world full of stories of hate, often times with that hate being drawn along religious lines, I think it is essential to tell real stories of love. These couples’ love stories can teach us all something.
3. Some of the couples featured describe some sort of conflict in their life by being in an “interlove” relationship. What do you think propelled those conflicts and why do they (the conflicts) exist even today?
To be honest I think if you ask any couple anywhere about their relationship they will have faced many challenges. That is life. There is no consistent experience across all of the couples I have met. Clearly some of them have families that make things difficult, but also many of them have families that make things easy. Many of them explain how surprised they were by how their families accepted their partner. Ultimately belief is an important part of one’s existence, but if both partners are willing to communicate with respect and find compromise then things seem to work.
Here is a quote from Jameel (Muslim) and Lauren (Jewish)’s story:
“Considering the divisive state of mainstream social politics between Jews and Muslims, some are surprised that we do not embody those same political divisions and that our relationship has not faced any unique challenges that other married couples do not also encounter.”
4. What surprised you the most after interviewing interlove participants? What did you learn?
I am learning a lot about healthy relationships. All of the couples I have met are exemplary. It is rare to find stories of lasting love anywhere and to be able to explore these is a special experience. This project is about interfaith couples, but really I am just telling awesome love stories. One love story that definitely inspired me was Najwa and Samir who met almost half a century ago in Lebanon. http://interloveproject.com/post/109984101221/najwa-samir-newmarket-on-najwa-describes-her. They had to risk so much to be together, and today their love is as strong as ever.
5. Why do you think participants reached out to be a part of this project?
For many of the couples’ this is an opportunity to tell their story with confidence – the way they want it to be told. Many of these couples have faced obstacles, and in a way this is an opportunity to be proud of their love and also share some advice with anyone who may be charting a similar path. I have received messages from many people who are following the project from outside of Canada emphasizing how these stories give them hope. That is a great feeling.
6. What do you say to people who say they do not approve of “interlove” because it destroys the traditions/cultures which they’d like to preserve?
I think if anything it strengthens traditions and culture. When someone is in a relationship with someone of a different belief, they themselves actually have to think deeply about what they believe and why they do the rituals they do. This requires a lot of introspection, and ultimately it leads to increased confidence in one’s culture. There is no reason why the children of an interfaith family can’t explore both beliefs. Susan Katz Miller’s book, Being Both, is a great read for anyone interested in this topic. I have also seen many of the couples create their own beautiful hybrid traditions within their new interfaith family.
Here is a great quote from Annie (Catholic) and Sunder (Hindu): Our children learn and celebrate both religions and will have freedom to choose one of our religions, none or another religion of their choice.”
7. After talking to so many couples, what would you say are the keys to a successful relationship?
I guess I would call it the 4 Cs Communication, Compromise, Compassion and Common Values. Ultimately relationships are a lot of work, but totally worth it – and these couples demonstrate that well. It has become clear to me that regardless of belief, it is the values the couple shares that matter.
One of the partners mentioned to me how he thought in the beginning of breaking up with his partner because she was not of his religion. However the more he thought about it he came to recognize that he had way more in common with her than he does with anyone at his church.
8. The idea of interlove suggests two different worlds coming together in love. How do you think it is possible for interlove relationships seem to make it work despite their differences in major aspects of their lives?
Once again I must emphasize common values. Here is a great quote from Sahar who is Muslim and is marrying Alvaro who is a Catholic: “I never thought of being in a relationship with someone who was not Muslim. The more I got to know Alvaro, I realized we grew up similarly, thought the same way and had the same expectations for the future. That is when I started to think of the possibility of marrying someone who was not Muslim. I think the ‘AHA’ moment was his relationship with my sister and cousin sister. He was so good, kind and generous with them.”
9. What do you think it is going to take to make interlove relationships lose its negative perceptions and stigmas?
First of all I think that is happening naturally. In a diverse society like Toronto, people are exposed to other beliefs and this exposure leads to understanding. A project like this demonstrates how powerful of a force love can be, and how differing beliefs in the face of communication, compassion, compromise and common values can’t top love.
I am still looking for more couples to photograph for the project: interloveproject.com/apply
Posted by Samira Zia Rehman
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