When I was a little Muslim girl growing up in Midwest USA, my Egyptian father did everything in his power to segregate us from Christmas. Christmas, we understood, was a religious holiday; someone else’s religious holiday.
I managed to get away with some things. At school I engaged in the arts & crafts activities of Christmas. Everyone at home appreciated the clove-covered apples wrapped in shiny ribbon that made a room smell nice. My father would not allow me to take part in Christmas plays or even watch them for that matter. But I did find myself humming along to Oh Holy Night and The Little Drummer Boy during music class. I couldn’t help it. They were catchy tunes. Those songs were overtly religious and were frowned upon by my father, as opposed to Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein Deer that were both allowed. (more…)
Over the past few years, I’ve started questioning some of the givens about Islam that I grew up believing. My questioning has very rarely been about the foundations of Islam as a religion; those I find myself wholeheartedly believing in. One God, Muhammed is the last prophet, praying five times a day, fasting the month of Ramadan, paying alms, doing the pilgrimage once in your life; these and others are things I haven’t found myself questioning.
There are other issues, however, I find myself continuously questioning and not understanding. Details. Mostly things related to the roles of men and women in society and in religion. I read a Qur’anic verse or a Prophetic saying and sit in front of it bewildered, not really understanding what it means or why it seems to mean something that doesn’t make sense to me. And so I do some reading or I speak to people more knowledgeable than me. Sometimes I will hear an argument or an interpretation that convinces me. Other times I won’t. And the conversation will most commonly end in: Nadia, are you a Muslim or not? Do you believe in Allah and that the Qur’an is the word of God or not? Do you accept Islam in its entirety or not? If so, then you need to accept that there are things that we don’t always understand. If God says do then we do. That’s it.
There’s nothing like the death of a parent to smack some sense into you. Or maybe, rather, to smack confusion into you. Or perhaps it’s more like smacking you into realizing
Michelangelo's Finger of God
you need to confront the confusion you already had but did not want to face.
My father taught me almost everything I know about religion; i.e. Islam. I did my own readings, of course. I had a phase of about six years while studying medicine in university when I became a bookworm of Islamic knowledge. Just the other day I decided to organize my personal library at home. I thought I’d organize my books according to subject. I came across the books I bought during that time and I was horrified. Besides a number of books that guide one to the best methods of preaching Islam to others, and other books about how to purify oneself to a place of high moral and ethical standards according to Islamic philosophy, there were books such as Leadership and Following in Islam, Dying with Passion, and The Methods of Ideological Invasion. My books were chosen usually as either required or recommended reading by Muslim Brotherhood “sisters” and “brothers” who were mentoring me at the time. It was pounded into my head that one should not stray from books written by certain authors so as not to have my head messed with, basically, by writers following a non-pure path of Islam. And since I was still young, impressionable and pretty much ignorant and incapable of making up my own mind for myself – or so I was made to believe – I was instructed to follow the advice of those brothers and sisters who were more worldly and knowledgeable than me.
Many years later, I now clearly see how cult-like that part of my upbringing was. My head became lazy. I turned into a person who resorts to certain authorities on religion, i.e. Islam, rather than figuring things out with a mind open to all possibilities.
Before I married, I loved coconut. I loved coconut chocolate bars, coconut sprinkled over rice pudding, and coconut in basboosa, an Egyptian desert. I loved coconut.
I do not know who to attribute this design to. It was used as a profile picture by friends - and then me - on Twitter. It reads: one nation, one people.
My husband, on the other hand, couldn’t stand it. He’s the type of person that makes a disgusted face whenever a food he dislikes is mentioned. It really only took a few short months and the thought of coconut made me feel sick to my stomach.
That’s the kind of conditioning one experiences growing up in Egypt. That’s how I was conditioned to have discriminatory feelings towards Egyptian Coptic Christians.
It is time for me to tell this story. I tell it with the utmost shame. But it is a story that must be told. Unless we admit we have a problem and try to understand why we have it, we will never be able to fix it.