Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for Religious diversity

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is Representation and Diversity in Traditional Stories. I am looking for rare and interesting motifs in folktales, fairy tales, and legends that add variety to the well-known canon.

Representing religious diversity, especially in Western legend and folklore, is something that either happens very rarely, or when it does, happens in very stereotypical ways (such as "Moors" or "Jews" being mentioned in German or Italian folktales with negative connotations). For today's post, I wanted to pick some tales that feature positive encounters, and even collaboration, between people of different religious backgrounds.

Ogier the Dane
I talked about this epic last year, but I am bringing it up because it features friendship and collaboration between a Christian knight and a Muslim knight, who save each other's lives and fight shoulder to shoulder for honor (without either of them converting to the other's religion).
(I wrote about the story in detail here)

The legend of the almond trees
Also mentioned this one earlier in the Challenge, but putting it on this list took, because it features a Norse, Christian princess falling in love with a young Muslim sultan.
(Read about the story here)

Sir Palomides
I know I know, I am repeating myself, and also, Palomides eventually converts to Christianity. And yet, I find it endlessly cool that King Arthur's court accepted a Muslim knight in the first place. Somehow a lot of sources don't talk about this part.
(Read about him here)

The honest neighbor
This Jewish folktale features a Christian and a Jewish merchant who are friends. When the Jews are banished for the kingdom, the Christian promises to take care of his friend's money until the law is overturned and he can return. Years later, when the new king invites the Jews back, the merchant finds his Chirstian friend in poverty - his shop burnt down, but he refused to use the money to help himself. They open shop together in the end.
(Read this tale in Stories for the gathering)

Akyazili Baba and St. Athanasius
There is an Ottoman era türbe in Obrochiste, Bulgaria that is a place of pilgrimage both for Christians and Muslims - it is said to be the resting place of both Muslim saint Akyazili Baba, and Chirstian saint Athanasius. Local legend claims that they were great friends in life. One of them (depending on the version) fell in love with a girl from the other religion, and since it was forbidden, they got executed for it. Before they died, however, they asked their friend to build a grave site for them in one night, and the surviving friend fulfilled the wish with the help of magical powers (in some cases, they had to lie and say it was to be their own grave, since burying the executed would not have been allowed).
(Read about the story in this book, and this article)

Kanchil, the Mouse-Deer
Okay, so Kanchil stories are from Southeast Asia (mostly Malaysia and Indonesia), and since Indonesia hosts 12% of the world's Muslim population alone, it makes sense that Kanchil is usually portrayed as Muslim as well. Nothing out of context. BUT I am putting him on the list anyway, because as a storyteller, I want to pay attention to likable folktale characters that just happen to be Muslim, and Kanchil is a rock star. I have had parents in the US clutch their pearls when Kanchil happened to say "Allah" instead of "God" in a folktale. That is exactly the reaction why we should pay attention to these stories. For less pearl-clutching.

In addition, check out amazing storyteller Pam Faro's story CD "Andalusian Trilogy: Stories of Jews, Christians, and Muslims of Medieval Spain"

What other tales of religious coexistence should I add to the list?


  1. Hats off to you with such a vast lovely collection of books.. I thought I was quiet a reader myself.. but your collection is awesome..

  2. Lots to think about. Thanks for giving a reference book to learn more.

  3. The tale of the honest neighbor has such a lovely ending. Pearl clutching really does need to stop - you are so right. Yay for religious diversity.
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

  4. What a wonderful post! Given the wide and long exposure to all the world's major races and peoples over civilizations dating back forever, we're lucky we have so much mixed up religious history that sometimes, in daily living, it is difficult to know which ritual or folk tradition came from which religion. For instance, Bhakti and Sufi traditions in India have brought Islam and Hinduism together for centuries.
    I've always felt that Islam, Christianity and Judaism are closely connected in their geography, stories and histories. Would love to hear more from you on those common origins.

  5. excellent post. If more people would read diverse tales maybe there would be less adversity.

  6. Excellent topic. I agree, if we were to read more and understand other religions, there would probably be a lot less hostility on that front.

  7. I wish there was a way to make all of these folktales you mention popular in a mainstream way, as popular as The Hunger Games, for instance. Everybody should know them and talk about them and they should seep into the masses brains in a way to make them look at everybody as fully human.

    Finding Eliza

  8. These are some very nice stories. Religion us very diverse and should be able to be expressed.

  9. You are so impressive. I cannot believe your breadth of knowledge. Yes, we live in times badly in need of mutual understand but, alas, religion has long been the biggest hammer some people have.

    Meet My Imaginary Friends

  10. This made me laugh and nod:
    "have had parents in the US clutch their pearls when Kanchil happened to say "Allah" instead of "God" in a folktale. That is exactly the reaction why we should pay attention to these stories. For less pearl-clutching."
    Thank you for this perspective.
    My mother's family (Hindus) had to flee their home in what is now Pakistan during the 1947 partition of India. Their Muslim helper kept their gold safe and sent it to them,three years later. Stories, such as these, need to be shared more and more in today's polarized world.

  11. There's a great WWII children's book, Jacob's Rescue, that features a Jewish boy who is rescued by a Christian family and the two faiths coexisting even after the war ends.

    Joy @ The Joyous Living

  12. I think we need to get Ogier the Dane's story out there in multiple copies. Now's the time to read about people getting together and accepting their differences on the religious side of life.

  13. It's such a joy to be introduced to so many wonderful tales I've not heard before.

  14. Love all this research you are doing.
    A to Z

  15. I didn't know the fact about the Muslim night and King Arthur. I feel like now I've missed out on some interesting tales.

    ~Ninja Minion Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  16. The legends about Saladin come to mind. He appears in two Decameron stories, the second of which is a long, involved story about Saladin repaying a Christian merchant's kindness and hospitality during the Crusades. Saladin arranges for Messer Torello to be spirited back to Pavia by magic, with a lot of jewels and riches on a lavish bed, so his wife won't remarry under the false belief he's dead.

  17. Didn't know any of these stories. Thanks so much for sharing :-)

    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

  18. Love, love, love, LOVE this post!!! Thanks for some new story ideas and sources!!!!! (- for which it seems you can always be counted!) :-)