As German mother of three half-Arabic children it is one of my major tasks to build a bridge between the cultures – a balancing act.
When I met my husband in Watford College, England, 20 years ago I would have laughed if someone had told me then that one day I will marry a non-European foreigner. However, love is without control and my love led me to an unexpected destiny.
As a typically correct and A-level educated young German I sought counseling on the legal issues before marriage from an advisory bureau in Hamburg. They sent me a detailed brochure about the laws with regard to marriage between a German and an Arab. As precaution, the consultant had written a note at the beginning of the brochure, advising me to better check if my future husband did not already have one or more wives waiting for him in his home country. I guess, the consultant had meant well, sure due to experience, but my fiancee did not have another wife in his harem. I was and still am the only one.
Meanwhile more than 16 years have passed, my husband and I are still happily married and our whole pride is our three children, two girls and one boy. All three speak fluently Arabic, German and English, which I admit to owe in great part to the technical invention of satellite TV. Our religion is Islam and we are striving to open both cultures to our children, often proving to be a balancing act, which is time and again due to the lack of tolerance from people in both cultures. Nevertheless, we are flying to Germany every year to visit grandpa and grandma and my family regularly comes to visit us here in Bahrain. Keeping contact is most important and thus the two cultures are approaching each other quite a bit, not only because the love between children, parents and grandparents, but also because of the intensive process of getting to know each other, which extremely supports mutual understanding and sympathy.
My family often clarifies old prejudice such as the suppression of women in Islam and Islamic fanatics when the discussion arises in Germany. We cannot and do not want to deny that such circumstances exist, but they are not the general truth. We also like to joke about the usual cliches of both cultures and Grandpa is all smiles when his grandchildren taunt him with a wrinkled nose about his pork sausages, he still enjoys eating them and we don’t mind him. The children have learned very early to deal with the differences in culture and religion and also not to insist on commenting and judging everything. Hence, my family and friends in Germany forego alcoholic drinks during shared meals without any problem, while we spoil them with our Arabic cookery. Mutual approach is the motto for us. Our headscarves have never been a subject of argument, we all know and like each other as we are, with or without a head scarf that does not matter at all. Equally we take care that any lady visitor not wearing the head scarf in Bahrain is treated with respect and courtesy, we do not tolerate any discrimination.
Due to the fact that I come from a different culture I cannot smooth talk the existing disadvantages of neither their father’s culture nor mine, and I cannot deny any real shortcomings. We often discuss the problem subject such as religious extremism and racism. It is easy in a family whose members come from the same culture and religion to criticize or malign another one. This is not possible in our family without running down the people we love. Despite our children’s young age (14, 11 and 6) they have learned many things about religion and traditions from both the Arabic and German sides. The mere knowledge reduces the fear of cultural or religious differences, because the fear of value and identity loss is often based on one’s own uncertainness and fear of the unknown. Knowledge is power and in this case it replaces the swooning feeling of ignorance, which troubles the people in both parts of the world and because of which the people from different cultures often reject each other.
However, it is not as easy as it seems or one would wish, because there is at least one major obstacle to the rapprochement and understanding between the two cultures, namely their drawbacks, which is on the one hand the confusion of traditions and customs with religious morals, and on the other hand the estrangement and rejection of religious values (may be an important subject for another article). Nevertheless, I believe where there is a will there is a way. There are reasoandund backgrounds for every behaviour that need to be known and viewed from different perspectives in order to explain and understand it, which is not the same as uncritically accepting. May be, people from bi-cultural backgrounds (like my children) are one day able to help building a bridge between the cultures and to dismantle prejudice and fear. They may do so not by changing the cultures and religions from scratch, but by creating understanding and tolerance through their natural cultural bridging.