New Muslims and Non-Muslim Holidays [New Muslim]

New Muslims and Non-Muslim Holidays [New Muslim]
By S. E. Jihad Levine

Mon. Jan. 15, 2007
This is a picture of Santa Claus and me. On the back is scribbled "3 1/2 years old." I recognize the handwriting as belonging to my mother. Since my family lived in New York City when I was that age, this picture was most likely taken in a Manhattan department store. One of the best gifts left to me by my family is a rich photographic history of my childhood. The annual ritual of taking a photo with Santa is well documented.

Holidays were a big deal in my family. My mother was Roman Catholic and my father was Jewish. One of the things my parents did to try to make their interfaith marriage work was to celebrate the holidays of both traditions. My mom hosted the Christian and secular holidays at our house, and the Jewish ones were hosted in the home of my paternal grandmother.

On New Year's Eve my mother would cook sauerkraut and we would attend midnight mass. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, found us sitting in the synagogue, listening to the blowing of the shofar.

Spring brought the excitement of Easter and Passover. The Easter Bunny would bring us baskets filled with chocolate and jelly beans. My mom cooked eggs and my brother and I eagerly waited for them to cool so we could dye and decorate them. We looked forward to the neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt. Passover found us sitting around the Seder table, reading from the Haggadah and learning the significance of the traditional arrangement of symbolic foods on the Seder plate. At the end of the meal, an afikomen (matzoh)was hidden by the adults, and then hunted by all the children. A small prize was given to the child who found it.

During the Christmas season, we made the annual trek to the department store to sit on Santa's lap, to tell him what we wanted him to bring for us on Christmas morning. There were sweet-smelling Christmas trees decorated with silver tinsel and colored lights. We left milk and cookies on the dining room table for Santa on Christmas Eve. As well, we lit the Hanukkah menorah and were given a gift every day for eight days. We helped to decorate at the synagogue, and played the spinning dreidel game at home.

All this came back to me yesterday when I went to the pharmacy. As I waited for a prescription to be filled, I wandered through the aisles filled with Christmas decorations, miniature Santas, gift wrapping paper, snow globes, wreathes, and candies. A feeling of sadness came over me. It happens every year. It's not as bad as it was in the beginning, when I first came to Islam, but it still happens.

I became a Muslim in 1998, al-hamdu lillah. As I studied and learned more about my new religion, my heart swelled with gratitude for being led to Islam. At the same time, I entered a grief process. I was keenly aware that my choice to come to Islam meant shedding my old life and starting a new one. But it was uncharted territory, frightening and exciting at the same time.

The single most difficult part of the grief process was, and continues to be, non-Muslim holidays. Not only the Christian and Jewish holidays, but also the secular ones: New Year's Eve, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving, anniversaries, birthdays, and my favorite of them all, April Fool's Day!

Muslims celebrate two holidays each year: `Eid Al-Fitr and `Eid Al-Adha. Strangely, the two `Eids exacerbate the sadness and grief more than anything else. Why?

The main reason is because I miss my family. I mourn the warmth of big family get-togethers. Family is a crucial aspect of Islam. But like many reverts to Islam, I don't have Muslim family. My husband is also a revert. He doesn't have Muslim family either. We were both in our late 40s when we married, so we don't have Muslim children.

But wait! All Muslims are brothers and sisters unto one another right? Doesn't my new Muslim "family" help to fill the void?

Sadly, no.

I have experienced many community iftars during Ramadan where I felt alone among a crowd of women and children in the masjid's basement. I sat down at tables and ate my food in the company of sisters who would not speak English, despite having the ability to do so. This left me, the only one at the table who couldn't speak Urdu or Arabic, feeling uncomfortable and like an intruder. Why would my sisters in Islam want to exclude me from their conversation?

I thought of my hubby who was upstairs with the men. Was he experiencing the same thing? Had we stayed home, we could have had a nice iftar together. Why had we gone to the masjid? To be in a community of Muslims, for a big get-together, like the warm family holiday celebrations that we missed.

Another nice Ramadan tradition that many Muslims practice is the hosting of iftar in their houses. However, I have only been invited one time in eight years to break fast in the home of one of my Muslim sisters. In spite of my being highly visible at the masjid throughout the year, such as participating in weekly halaqahs (study groups), no one else thought to include me.

As the month of Ramadan comes to an end, Muslims look forward to the `Eid Al-Fitr celebration with great anticipation. Immense preparation is undertaken to coordinate `Eid festivities. Sisters get together for henna parties. Muslims buy new clothes and shop for `Eid gifts. Families host open-house parties.
This flurry of `Eid activity often does not include the revert Muslim. It is especially true for those who are single, divorced, childless, handicapped, or elderly. It is also true for the revert Muslim not married into a particular culture. While some masjids and individual Muslims in America make a special effort to reach out to new Muslims, too many do not. Muslim reverts experience isolation and frequently outright alienation in the American Ummah. The loneliness and pain can be overwhelming, especially for the new and fragile revert. Some, feeling rejected and disillusioned, choose to leave Islam.

All Muslims in America must start to build bridges between the various cultures in our communities and masjids. We must work together to make our masjids warm and welcoming places for all Muslims. Masjids can begin by including an item on board agendas that addresses the special needs of its new members. Develop special programs and outreach for new Muslims. Perhaps a support group for new Muslims can be started in the masjid. Individuals can help by making a special effort to introduce themselves to new faces. Exchange phone numbers with new Muslims, and invite them for tea or include them in an afternoon of shopping. Invite the new Muslim to help decorate the masjid for special events. Reach out and make a phone call to let new Muslims know about events occurring in the community. Remember that Islam is the fastest growing religion in America, al-hamdu lillah!

Reverted Muslims needs support. Halaqahs and Arabic classes are only a beginning. A sense of belonging and community is what really integrates the revert Muslim into Islam. Allah Almighty has told us in the Qur'an what means:

[O mankind! surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other.](Al-Hujurat 49:13)

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1 comment:

  1. As salam o aley kum,

    I really can feel the pain of your "Wrin Salam" and appreciate you pateince in this regard. Please ask Allah for help and he will definately fullfil the emptiness in you. I wish I can do something for you... take care,

    Fee Amaan Allah.

    Gulrez Raza Khan @ FaceBook
    Kuwait
    gulrez_raza @ yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete

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