Play houses and train sets. Dress up clothes and books. Basket after basket of squeaking, rattling, sparkling, colourful baby toys line the walls of the weekly play group — begging to be claimed by tiny hands.
Several toddlers play with a box filled with dinosaurs and wooden blocks. An older boy runs around with a fireman’s helmet over his eyes and is quickly asked to sit down quietly for a circle time story, after he almost runs over a newly crawling baby.
Ivy swoops down the plastic slide for the eighth time. She smiles in quiet delight and claps proudly before climbing up again. Soon she points to the room set aside for snacks and gets ready for a water and Cheerio break.
Holding tight to her hand is Oma. An amazing woman who stresses over how much Ivy eats, who dutifully makes sure Ivy is warmly dressed, who beams with pride at how easily Ivy goes down for her afternoon nap. Oma. The wonderful non-Muslim grandparent who cooks halal food and mentions Allah’s name before Ivy takes a bite.
A superhero to both of my girls who makes sure they have a full week of fun activities and learning opportunities while I’m off at work. She loves them unconditionally, and claims she’s a better parent to them, than she was to me.
Suddenly, a hand reaches out and taps Oma on the shoulder.
“Where are you from?”
“Yes, you look like a German”
“And what exactly, is a German supposed to look like?” She asks sharply with fire and ice — in her German, sarcastic way.
“Oh. Haha. I suppose like you. Tall. Are you the babysitter?”
“No. I’m the grandmother.”
“What is her name?”
“Isn’t that a Muslim name?”
“Is she Muslim?”
“She and her sister, my daughter, and son-in-law are all Muslim.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“How do I feel? I LOVE my daughter and my son-in-law. They have beautiful and wonderful children. I LOVE my grandchildren is how I feel about that.”
To say that my parents are amazing people simply isn’t enough. There are no words to express how incredibly sensitive, loving and supportive they are. That despite all of the changes made to their lives because of my conversion, they have bent over backwards to accommodate me, my family and our faith.
I know my conversion was difficult for them. I’ve written before on how we all struggled in the beginning, and how my parents continue to deal with negativity BECAUSE I am Muslim:
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.
It makes me wonder how much thought is given to the upheavals in the lives of convert families. The stereotyping of Muslims is so prevalent in popular culture and the damage of generalizations extends so far within social consciousness that, at least within our experience, I’m always trying to dispel misconceptions to the people I love. And not because I’m defensive of my chosen faith — but to provide my family with a script on what to say when people approach them with negativity and ignorance.
The woman who approached my mother wanted to hear my “convert confessions.” She wanted the inside scoop on the horrors of Islam. Perhaps some sordid, tabloid-worthy details about how my husband forces me to cover and holds the threat of taking the girls away to some exotic and dangerous desert country over our heads — and that my mother stoically cares for her grandchildren in the hopes that she can influence their future lives and save them from the same horrors. Like she’s going to dish freely about her opinions on a world religion or reveal her fears to strangers.
“How do you feel about being Muslim…” isn’t something that’s normally asked of Muslims themselves — and when it is, it’s wrapped in a subtext of “…you know, given that Muslims are terrorists and have all that negative Media attention.”
This line of questioning wants to hear stories of courageousness in the face of ignorance, struggle against an oppressive religious patriarchy, personal pain or triumph over misogyny, or stories discounting whatever stereotype is driving the curious.
Asking my mother how she feels about her Muslim family is rooted in judgement and discrimination — even if the questioner assumed her asking was innocent.
This is not to say that my parents only receive backlash. In many ways, their acceptance of my conversion and effort to help support of our way of life — despite the differences — has also encouraged positive conversations and experiences.
My mother is well known at the local halal butcher shop, and everyone always greets her warmly while Eryn is treated with free lollipops. My father spends countless hours ferrying Eyn back and forth from school — and has made friends with all of the mothers at the daily pick-up (especially the Muslim ones who want to meet Eryn’s Opa). Both of my parents have taken the time to learn basic Islamic Arabic phrases and use them frequently with the girls. Sometimes this elicits raised eyebrows or stares — but it has also bridged gaps, and at times, garnered smiles from people who never expected to hear Muslim greetings at the kiddie park.
Like ripples in a pond, there’s barakah — blessings — in their efforts that may extend far beyond anything we can perceive.
It’s the eve of the New Year and I’ve been thinking all day that in the coming months I’d like to explore this concept further. Specifically how our actions effect the world around us.
From a personal perspective, I want to explore some of the reasons why I converted and (finally) share my story online — but also to explore how that changed the lives of others around me. To quote from a famous doctor “We all change, and that’s good. As long as you keep moving. As long as you remember all the people that you used to be.” Conversion doesn’t just affect one person, even though the path toward faith is just between you and God.
And from a more global perspective, I want to start an exciting new project spotlighting the work of amazing Muslim women — sharing their struggles and successes, providing a platform for women to tell their own stories, and exploring how their efforts are changing the world. I have some seriously awesome interviews lined up, but if you know of anyone I should be speaking with, please feel free to contact me.
Here’s to love and happiness, blessings and light. May we all come closer to our goals and dreams.