When Faith & Family Collide
Seven years ago I told my mom that I was going to spend a summer in Morocco with my (then) fiance. This didn’t come particularly as a surprise but she still wasn’t happy. Days and days went by and she was certain that I was going to get married on this trip. And she was mad. In reality, I was planning something big – my conversion (or reversion) to Islam. I didn’t want to tell her this was going to happen, hoping instead to put off that conversation until I had returned but she wore me down and one afternoon I just spit it out. I’ll never forget what she said next. “That hurts me more than you getting married without me there.” I was flabbergasted. How could my faith really be more hurtful than a marriage without my mom there? Even in a post 9/11 environment I truly didn’t think it would be such an issue. In my mind I had rationalized that if I decided to become Catholic or Methodist there would be no problem. Heck if I had said I was going to become Jewish or Buddhist it would be ok. In my heart I knew that the choice I was going to make was the right choice and although it hurt me tremendously to see how it affected the one person I loved more than anyone else I knew she would understand one day.
This isn’t where my story ends. I went to Morocco and I said my shahadah (testament of faith), a single sentence, which is all that is required to become a Muslim. It happened at my sister-in-law’s house, and was just my husband and I. In a way it was an empty feeling. Every other religious milestone in my life had been celebrated with a congregation. There were classes and some pomp and circumstance but this was a very singular experience. I spent the rest of my trip oblivious to what would be waiting when I got home.
I didn’t tell anyone that I converted when I got home. My mom knew of course but no one else. I wanted to let it out slowly so as to ruffle as few feathers as possible. I was learning how to simply live in America as a Muslim, and as one that was still under wraps. My diet had to completely change, and living in the Midwest when I say completely I mean COMPLETELY! Beer and pork are food groups here. Although I wasn’t a party girl before, there was no more drinking or going out to bars. I don’t remember exactly when I began to tell other people but it was a slow process and only as I felt comfortable enough with certain family members to let it out.
I know that a lot of my family didn’t express their anger or displeasure with me and over time they have come to accept the choices I made. There have been times where our faith has become contentious, strangely it’s usually about food. This confuses me because is it really that big of a deal? So what I don’t eat bacon why does it matter? Other times it’s because of holidays, though we don’t shun my families holiday celebrations. I’m proud to say that we celebrate with my family and my family celebrates Muslim holidays with us.
I’ve learned through this process that true love goes far beyond the boundaries of faith. My mom was my toughest critic but now she’s my biggest supporter and I know she’s taken personal hits for her willingness to stand up for me. Families are a fickle thing and when it comes to religion I have learned passions run deep, but blood runs deeper.
I’d love to know your experiences dealing with issues of family and religion. Is this something that you’ve been through or are currently dealing with?