“Ramey, you cannot be half Muslim and half Christian, you can only be one“…These words echoed by my Religion teacher Mrs. Young at my former High School in 1998 had to have been one of the most earth shattering, mind boggling and mentally challenging words i had ever heard at the tender age of 15.
You see, i had a very interesting upbringing. I was raised in a household that was interfaith. My Mother of Croatian ancestry is a Christian whilst my father of Lebanese ancestry is a Muslim. Their marriage in the late 1970’s caused shock-waves through both communities and families from both sides couldn’t understand it, due to the supposed “taboo” of it all.
Not only two very different cultures but also two different religions. “What about the children?“ would be the cry of concerned relatives from both ends of the spectrum, little did they knew this upbringing of mine was one of the most healthiest and happiest when it came to tolerance and understanding.
So what was it like growing up in a household where i was both exposed to Christian and Muslim elements? Let me be honest. Pretty amazing! I truly looked forward to every Christmas and decking out that tree, helping my Mother decorate it and turning it on every night ensuring it faced a window so our neighbours could get tree envy!
I remember the excitement of sitting under the Christmas tree with all of those amazing colours shining on the floor and my obsession with the Christmas tree Angel we used to have sitting on top with her glittery halo and roughed up blonde hair. There was something so euphoric, beautiful and heartfelt about this time of the year and my house felt like a sanctuary.
Then came the period of Ramadan, the month long Muslim Holy month where Muslims are told to fast, read the Quran, pray and give to charity. Growing up i always remember being in complete awe as to how my father could refrain from food and water for long periods of the day. The unifying factor was dinner time, come sunset- we would all converge over a delicious feast that my mother would make up and my father would listen to the radio waiting for the Adhan (call to prayer) to start before we’d enjoy our usually eccentric over the top dinner.
Then came the “Eid” festivities where all the family from my Dads side would dress up in their best attire, head over to cafes and restaurants and enjoy time with family and friends. The vibe of the streets in our area during Ramadan was buzzing with excitement and energy, it truly was a beautiful time of the year that i grew further fond of .
Yet then came that moment, when i was happily 50% Christian and 50% Muslim in my own eyes- where all of that fantasy came to a sudden crash. When my High School Religion teacher asked me what religion i was- i stared her right in the eyes with a big smile and said “I am half Christian and half Muslim” – assuming that was a perfectly acceptable answer. She glared at me and smiled telling me that indeed my “beliefs” are in pure conflict and that i cannot be both, i had to pick one. This was when my perception of religions and the religious changed, almost like a perversion entered my mind about the life that i was living and it was time to reflect. She had basically told me my religious expression was invalid.
During this time neither of my parents pushed their religions onto me, respectably. Even though both parents were observant to degrees in their religion, neither was completely compliant. Yet i always felt religiously free to think as i wanted to think and this was a blessing in disguise. After doing a brief study of the religions i decided that for the time being i was happy to simply be an Agnostic. A person that is unsure about the existence of God, yet someone who still holds appreciation and respect for what religion can do to people. During my Agnostic stage of my life (from 15 years of age until about 18) i did not express my beliefs to anybody. I felt no need to and even though i had a numb feeling for religion, there was a yearning inside me to find out more and continue to explore.
Then at about 18 years of age i decided to become a Unitarian. This religion was very interesting because it was very inclusive and it mirrored my thoughts exactly. The Christian branch of Unitarianism was even better because it saw Jesus as a role model but also rejected him as a God figure.
I felt proud of my decision to become a Unitarian and i would engage with other people on discussion boards about it. When i told my Mother i had identified myself as a Unitarian (Christian branch) she was ecstatic. She expressed that i was “chosen” and that God loved me. (Suddenly?)
When i expressed to my father that i identified with the Unitarian movement in my late teens, he was not impressed. He concluded that i was lost and needed some guidance. Hell was potentially on the horizon. Either way it was interesting to see that the more i expressed myself when it came to my faith and beliefs the more it would irritate and irk my parents- at different times, for different reasons. As i become more profound in my beliefs the perversions of religion and the religious reared its ugly head again.
Years down the path, especially after all the horrible terror attacks committed by supposed Muslims i had decided to study Islam. I truly needed to know and find out if indeed my father held the same beliefs as these lunatics. I knew instantly that there is no way, my Father, whom i love dearly would actively engage himself in a religion that encourages Murder and terrorism. So i hit the books again in my Early 20’s and i really studied the faith and the Qur’an. I remember each night before bed i would open a copy of my Dads Quran and read it for 30 minutes.
It was a mesmerizing read at times, i often remember nodding my head, in agreement, at what i read because the God concept the Qur’an expressed was exactly the God concept i believed in and when it started talking about the Prophets, especially Jesus (pbuh) it really chimed intensely for me. By the time i hit 23 years of age i decided to “Upgrade” my beliefs from a Unitarian to a Muslim and this again was something i had not immediately shared.
This time the tables turned and when i expressed my love and faith for Islam to my father he was jubilant and happy, confidently asserting he knew i’d make the decision. Whereas my Mother was highly irritated, she saw it as some sort of betrayal and her Son was indeed lost in a Philosophical limbo.
Then it all became crystal clear to me. Even though my parents played it cool, deep down inside both of them had yearned for me to bat for their “team”. The bottom line is my spiritual journey is my own and i came to it without an indoctrinated mind. When i expected people to be happy that i, as a grown man, was taking observation and fleeting decisions about the World around me, i noticed it only increased their agitation and there was little support.
I remember my Father one day looking downcast and saying to me “I wish i taught you Islam when you were a kid“. I looked at him puzzled and asked why? Look at me today, i came to Islam all on my own, with a fresh mind that queried and alternated between different beliefs to come to my own “truth” or conclusion. I thanked him for not shoving religion down my throat as a kid.
I explained to him that kids that are forced into religion turn into Adults that don’t actually KNOW about their religion but instead repeat religious duties like chores. I also noticed that kids that were religiously forced into things in later years turned out to “rebel”. I told him the fact that you both left me alone to take my own spiritual adventure was a blessing and that he has nothing to be ashamed of.
When i have children i will NOT force feed them my religious beliefs. My reasoning behind it is that i will explain to my children my beliefs and why i believe what i do, yet i will encourage them to research and embark on their journey through the path of curiosity and honesty.
I had high hopes and expectations that my family would be proud of my spiritual journey from a lack of belief, to a Unifying belief to finally a belief of Submitting my will to the Almighty. Yet the way my Parents saw it was that i was playing with fire, quite literally! They’d selectively be happy for me if my journey stopped at their station of beliefs, yet then be upset and harsh if my beliefs went on to explore other stations.
That is what i mean by the hypocrisy of religion and the religious. It is only about YOUR religion. Yet for me its about ALL religions and what you connect with the most. I want my children to find their way on their own, with their own senses, intuition and faith of which they naturally will develop. As opposed to me “corrupting” them at a young age and forcing them – out of their own will- to be a carbon copy of myself.
Today i can proudly say i am a Muslim, even if it annoys family, friends or strangers. Either side i am accused of being “brainwashed” into the religion or a “betrayer” for abandoning another. The bottom line is i have abandoned nobody or nothing. My upbringing under the Christmas lights and Crescent Moon of Ramadan really was the light of tolerance beaming down upon me and truly became the staple of my spiritual journey.
I wish my parents were more proud as to how they brought me up and held no regrets for their decisions in life. I believe because i truly believe, from the heart- as an Adult. Not a child that was forced to become an adult too soon and have their journey “cut short” because their ignorant parents don’t want them to face the reality of choice.
Peace, Salam Alaykum.