For Ali Al Sayed and Mina Liccione, religious tolerance is more than just an aspiration. It’s a way of life.
Unusually for a couple in Dubai, theirs is a mixed-faith marriage, with Mina - born a Catholic - choosing not to follow standard practice by converting to Islam when they tied the knot.
She is excited to be on the waiting list for the mass that Pope Francis is expected to hold on Feb 5, during the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula.
If she gets a ticket, Ali has promised to take over the child-care duties for their 14-month-old twin boys to make it easier for her to attend.
“It takes time to understand that every ritual and every habit is personal,” he told Reuters. “So adapting to each other’s rituals is really about giving the other person space to do what they need to do.”
Living in a Muslim-majority country, Ali has faced pressure for Mina to convert. “A lot of people ask so when is she going to be Muslim. It’s one of those things like, so when are you going to come over to our house.”
But he is mindful that even the Prophet Mohammad failed to convert his uncle, so “this is something that I cannot force onto somebody.”
He and Mina started off as business partners when they founded Dubomedy, a Dubai-based arts and comedy school, in 2008.
She remembers their wedding seven years ago as a fond occasion on which both their cultures came together.
“His family came out with the (ululation), Khaleeji (Gulf) music, and my family came out with the O Sole Mio, (Luciano) Pavarotti, you know we had a singer singing Arabic songs and an Italian song,” Mina said.
The couple also celebrate Christmas and fast together for Ramadan.
In Dubai it is the norm for children of mixed-faith marriages to be raised as Muslims. After a lengthy discussion, Ali and Mina decided to do that.
“He said it was very important to him that he raise our future children Muslim, and I was fine with that,” Mina said.