On Friday my mom took care of Eryn while I took some sorely needed “me” time to run some errands.
When she gets fussy, one of my mom’s tried and tested ways of getting Eryn to calm down is to take rides in the elevator. Up and down they go, pushing buttons, making faces in the mirrored walls, and more importantly, giving smiles and waves to the strangers they meet.
Recently my mom has been trying to befriend Muslims in her neighbourhood as well as mine, specifically so that Eryn can have some Muslim playmates on the days my mom will care for her once I return to work (and generally, because my mom is just friendly). So when a Muslim woman with her 15 month old took a long ride down from the penthouse to ground, my mom naturally stuck up a conversation.
After chatting about ages and the cuteness of babies, the woman asked, “So what’s her name?”
“That’s an Arabic name. Are you the babysitter?”
“No (incredulously). I’m the grandmother.”
“But it’s an Arab name.”
“Yes, my son in law is from that part of the world and my daughter is Muslim.”
“But you’re not?”
Luckily for the woman, the elevator had reached ground, otherwise she may have felt just how cold and mean my mom’s passive aggressive behaviour can become. You have to understand that she’s a very outgoing, outspoken, tall, firey-red headed German and Eryn looks every bit like her Arab/Indian father (except for her hair, that’s all me). So the notion that she is anything other than a grandmother is highly offensive to her. She is also fiercely defensive of my conversion and of her own Lutheran faith.
When I first converted it took my parents almost a year to accept my decision. They initially saw my conversion as a total rejection of their way of life and faith (even though both do not attend a church, and my dad is more “the Divine is found in all” than United). They even saw it as a rejection of our culture when I started learning Arabic and particularly when I took on the hijab. But we kept the lines of discussion open, and with time, proof that I wasn’t going to abandon them or the important parts of their way of life (ie: Christmas diner), learning that Islam is not a backward or extremist religion and that we don’t actually worship the big black box, they accepted my new found Truth and were genuinely happy for me.
My parents are amazing. They didn’t just accept me — they went beyond anything I had imagined. My mom started keeping halaal meat for our Wednesday night dinners, and now buys everything halaal just to make things easier. She’s even a favourite character at our local, colourful halaal butchery and jokes around with the staff. I think she secretly enjoys bragging about me to the Muslims she meets. Both read anything they can get their hands on regarding Islam and now that we have Eryn, my parents are learning Islamic Arabic phrases for her behalf. My dad even reads the Qur’an and loves wearing his kufi. I mean come on, they’re befriending Muslims so my baby can have a Muslim environment for when I go back to work. How awesome is that?
What we didn’t expect after going through our own familial, year-long struggle, were the public, daily struggles that my parents experience because their daughter is Muslim.
From their non-Muslim friends, neighbours and colleagues, my parents have had to deal with accusations, prejudice and outright disgust. Your daughter is a free-thinker, how can she allow herself to be controlled? Muslims are dirty and backwards. Why does she have that thing on her head — what is she thinking? She was so beautiful before. And the last thing my mom’s best friend ever said to her was that she was extremely disappointed.
It was very hard for them.
It got worse when questions and comments started coming from Muslims. At least with their non-Muslim friends, they could agree to disagree, just chalk it up to ignorance, or even engage in fruitful and positive dialogue. But they worked very hard to love the religion their daughter joined, and were now being accosted by “her people.” The main complaint from Muslim strangers on the street, work colleagues, students, even family, was that my parents weren’t Muslim.
A previously warm and friendly chat suddenly turns cold and accusatory. What do you mean you’re not Muslim? Your daughter is. How can you deny the Truth? My parents bend over backwards to defend Muslims, not only because an attack on Islam is an attack on me, but because they see how Islam has been misrepresented in today’s society. The absolute last thing they need is for Muslims to attack them.
What my conversion did for my parents was to give them a daily challenge of their own belief systems. It can be incredibly draining to have to deal with random people attacking your faith every time your daughter comes up in conversation. Even more so when people actively proselytize them. Because apparently I’m not doing a good enough job, so others have to take the charge and save my parents from hellfire (excuse me?).
Jews and Christians (and other faith groups depending on the interpretation) have a protected status in the Qur’an. They are known as “people of the book” because the Qur’an follows the same prophetic history and tradition. We believe in the scriptures of the Torah, Psalms and Gospels, and in all of the prophets from Adam to Jesus. There are parts of the Qur’an that cannot be understood unless they are interpreted alongside of passages from these previous scriptures — and this is how 1400 years of Islamic exegesis has been formulated.
There are many positive verses in the Qur’an that talk about how true believers among Muslims, Jews, and Christians, and how those who do “righteous deeds” should have no fear regarding their fate in the hereafter. There are also prophetic traditions describing how God has sent a prophet to all different types of people, and that we can’t possibly know all of the different messages.
People may practice the message of God incorrectly (in ALL religions. Al-Qaeda anyone? Anyone?), but no one has the right to make an assumption on the afterlife. Certainly how can you rely on previous scriptures to interpret your own, and then claim that these scriptures are corrupt and those of a protected status are incorrect? “People of the book are righteous, protected and great — sorry about the hell bit though.”
It really bothers me that some people actively try (or wish it, and even pray for it) to convert my parents. They are good, honest, loving people. There is no way I would join a religion that condemns them outright — and my heaven is no heaven without them.
*Eryn is a pseudonym
This post originally appeared at wood turtle, where she shares experiences in Islamic feminism and modern motherhood.