Art

These beautiful portraits peer into the lives of interfaith couples

These beautiful portraits peer into the lives of interfaith couples

Jinan and Duane are a Muslim-Catholic couple who live in Peterborough. (Image: Colin Boyd Shafer) Jinan and Duane are a Muslim-Freemason couple who live in Peterborough. (Image: Colin Boyd Shafer)
 

Photographer Colin Boyd Shafer isn’t religious, but when he was teaching psychology and geography in Malaysia in 2008, he was struck by how little people talked about faith. After returning to his hometown of Kitchener, Ontario, he decided to focus on religion by photographing interfaith couples. The result is the Interlove Project, an ongoing collection of about 50 black-and-white images that capture intimate moments between partners who were brought together in spite of—or perhaps because of—their differing beliefs. The series is on display at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre until May 22 as part of the Contact Photography Festival. We asked Shafer to share the stories behind some of his shots.

(Image: Colin Boyd Schafer) (Image: Colin Boyd Shafer)
 
Nahid and Maurin

Toronto
Nahid and Maurin are both originally from Bangladesh, where he was raised as a Sunni Muslim and she was brought up Baptist. They went to the same middle school in Dhaka, but only met when studying engineering at the University of Toronto. Their relationship would have been frowned upon—maybe even dangerous—in Dhaka, and they spent two years fighting familial objections before their parents granted their reluctant blessings. “They’ve had to endure a lot,” Shafer says, “but I think that they’ve probably endured less because they’ve been in Canada.”

(Image: Colin Boyd Schafer) (Image: Colin Boyd Shafer)
 
Eman and Jess

Toronto
Eman, who was raised Muslim, and Jess, who is Jewish, are comedians who met in a bar. They’re the only LGBT couple who have taken part in the project so far. Their conservative parents still refer to their relationship as a close friendship. “Our daily life together is truly wonderful,” they told Shafer, “but knowing our parents aren’t 100 per cent on board is frustrating. It’s as though our being in love is somehow wrong.”

(Image: Colin Boyd Schafer) (Image: Colin Boyd Shafer)
 
Samir and Najwa

Newmarket
In 1960s Beirut, Najwa’s Muslim parents enlisted Samir, a Catholic, to tutor their daughter. Their lessons quickly turned into a clandestine romance. Their first few years together overlapped with a Muslim-Catholic civil war in Lebanon—and when their relationship was discovered, Najwa’s family withdrew her from university and prohibited her from seeing Samir. They continued to see other in secret, got married and have been celebrating Eid, Christmas, Ramadan and Easter together for 42 years now. “If I had to choose a couple that has endured the most for their love, it would probably be them,” Shafer says. “Their story would be perfect for a movie.”

(Image: Colin Boyd Schafer) (Image: Colin Boyd Shafer)
 
Denise and Richard

Scarborough
Richard was a teacher-in-training at the high school that Denise attended—he was a 24-year-old Anglican-born agnostic; she was an 18-year-old devout Catholic. His family initially objected to the couple’s difference in age, not religion, but came around when they realized Denise was wise beyond her years. Now they’ve been married for nearly 40 years. Shafer shot them at one of their favourite spots, an ice rink in Etobicoke.

(Image: Colin Boyd Schafer) (Image: Colin Boyd Shafer)
 
Brendan and N’aina

Ottawa
Brendan and N’aina met while studying engineering at Carleton University. He was raised in a secular household where he was taught to be respectful of all religions, while she was raised Muslim. Unlike some of the other couples who participated in the project, they experienced no soap-operatic family objections. When he photographed them, Shafer noticed they had a loving curiosity in each other’s beliefs: Brendan once read the whole Qu’ran in English, asking N’aina questions along the way.

(Image: Colin Boyd Schafer) (Image: Colin Boyd Shafer)
 
Rejeanne and Frank

Waterloo
Frank grew up in the United Church; Rejeanne is Roman Catholic. When they met in the ’70s, even that was enough to prompt fierce objections from family members and faith communities. Frank was in the army, so the couple consulted the military’s Catholic priest and Protestant pastor. Both told them they’d have to convert if they wanted their marriage recognized by their respective churches. Instead, they got married in Copenhagen, where the union was less controversial.

(Image: Colin Boyd Schafer) (Image: Colin Boyd Shafer)
 
Am and Melvin

Oakville
Am’s Sikh family embraced Melvin’s Baptist roots, and vice versa, so religion wasn’t the couple’s biggest obstacle—distance was. During their courtship, Melvin was living in Cleveland and trying to get Canadian citizenship. He finally became a citizen around the time they got married, after 15 years of long-distance dating.

(Image: Colin Boyd Schafer) (Image: Colin Boyd Shafer)
 
Grace and Jonathan

Toronto
Jonathan nearly broke up with Grace numerous times because of he was struggling with the idea of marrying someone of another faith—he’s Jewish, she’s Palestinian Catholic. He says he made a definitive choice after telling himself, “You have more in common with her than you do with anyone at the synagogue.”

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Correction

May 6, 2016

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Eman and Jess had been introduced to one another by their parents.