For some interfaith Penn couples, the road to a happy relationship isn’t always paved with candy hearts. Two Penn couples, however, prove that they can make interfaith relationships work in spite of their differences.
For Engineering sophomore Shadia Al-Shafei, interfaith relationships have always been at the forefront of her life. Half Muslim and half Catholic, Al-Shafei was raised Muslim but was always cognizant of her family’s religious differences. This didn’t change when she began dating a Catholic her freshman year.
Ten months ago, Al-Shafei began dating College sophomore Michael D’Antonio. They lived on the same hall and met while studying in their hall’s lounge together. Al-Shafei has since learned that he would often wait in the lounge doing homework so that he could talk to her.
College junior Giulia Porcari and Engineering senior Dalton Banks couldn’t imagine dating when they first met in fall 2011.
Porcari, an Italian native, grew up Catholic and was at first hesitant to consider a relationship with a Protestant because of the largely “fundamentalist and aggressive” Protestant community in Italy. Banks was also hesitant to date someone who wasn’t Protestant.
“There’s a lot of other things where [Catholics and Protestants] don’t necessarily see eye to eye,” Porcari said.
Everything changed when they both took a class entitled, “Bible in Translation,” which approached one book of the Bible as a wisdom text each semester. Intrigued by their class discussions, Banks and Porcari began spending more time together, and realized that they had similar beliefs in spite of their differing denominations.
“We saw that we had a lot more in common than the surface label would suggest,” Banks said.
Both couples, however, have had issues when it comes to their parents.
Al-Shafei keeps the relationship status off Facebook because she worries about the response of her more conservative Muslim family.
“I know they wouldn’t really accept that I’m dating someone, and I’m dating someone who’s not Muslim,” Al-Shafei said.
She also hasn’t told her Muslim father that she’s been dating D’Antonio. Al-Shafei’s mother has been easing her father into the idea that she might be in a relationship, but he doesn’t think it’s likely that she would have a boyfriend, Al-Shafei said.
“[It’s] probably going to happen someday … maybe,” Al-Shafei added.
Banks and Porcari’s parents also questioned why their children dated outside of their denomination.
“My mom definitely was at least wondering where she was coming from,” Banks said. “But I told her about the context and what I had understood — who I understood — her to be.”
Porcari said that while her mother had no problem with the relationship, her father was concerned that her relationship with Banks symbolized her movement away from Catholicism.
Though both couples have similar relationship situations, they expressed different outlooks on interfaith relationships as a whole.
Since both Porcari and Banks have fundamental religious beliefs, they were skeptical that a truly interfaith relationship could work.
“The deeper your faith runs, the harder it is to relate to each other because it’s defining you,” Banks said.
Yet Al-Shafei and D’Antonio maintain that their differences actually make them stronger. According to Al-Shafei, they’ve stayed conscious of their religious differences, and have used them as an opportunity to discuss more topics.
“It sort of forces you to talk about more things,” Al-Shafei said. “It brought us closer to be of different religions.”
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