This article was previously published in SISTERS magazine.
Being Muslim can make many things in our lives easier, but it can be a source of stress within inter-faith familial relationships. Navigating through the holiday season, such as Christmas, can be difficult regardless of religion, culture, family structure, or personality but can be especially hard for revert Muslims. Regardless of the strength of a relationship, the holidays can exacerbate and intensify problems and difficulties. In any family, the holidays can be an emotional and stressful time. When these stressful times are combined with the emotional baggage of previous disagreements, unfinished or unsettled disputes, as well as conflicting faiths; this can be a recipe for disaster.
A Muslim’s obligation
When dealing with non-Muslim family members, it is helpful to bear in mind the responsibility that a Muslim has to their family. Our families can be a test for us at times, but kindness is still obligatory. Kindness and respect may not be reciprocated, but it is still our duty to exhibit virtuous conduct.
In Surah An-Nisa’ (The Women) Allah (SWT) says: “Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (you meet), and what your right hands possess: for Allah loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious.” (An-Nisa’:36)
Allah Most High also says, “And We have enjoined upon man kindness to his parents” (Al-’Ankabut:8).
Compassion: a starting point
Compassion is one of the most important ingredients to successful relationships with our loved ones.
“And make yourself submissively gentle to them with compassion, and say: O my Lord! have compassion on them, as they brought me up (when I was) little.” (Al-Israa’: 23)
That is not to say that one has to compromise one’s religious beliefs for the sake of a relationship. It just means that it is beneficial to attempt to view both sides of the equation. Viewing your family in the light of compassion can assist in sorting out any problematic emotions or issues with relatives during the holidays. One of the most helpful things you can do to avoid conflict with your family is to try and view things from their perspective.
While reorganising your life after accepting Islam is necessary, it is common to lose sight of the effects this reorganisation might have on other people. All of the “small compromises” that you ask your family to make for you during the holidays, or anytime, could actually be quite a burden on them. Whether you are simply requesting a menu change, revision of the guest list, modification of the venue or a change in activities; it is important to understand and accept that your family is entitled to celebrate the holidays in their desired fashion. Any modification, compromise or change is being made for your sake and should be appreciated as such. You do not want your family members to infringe on your beliefs or to make you feel uncomfortable; make sure that you extend to them the same courtesy. The road to compromise should of course be a two way street. The compromises you make for your family are going to depend on the individual way in which they celebrate. For example a compromise could be a simple nice gesture, such as providing the halal food and entertainment options. However, some families might find it easier just to schedule a separate event on a different day. For example, swapping a gathering on Christmas Day for a gathering on Boxing Day could be a viable solution for many families. Since all families are different, it is important to weigh the options to arrive at the best solution for parties involved.
Think about your parents. Imagine the holidays when you were a child. They probably did their best to provide you with a safe, comfortable, warm and loving environment. There was probably a delicious feast on the table, decadent treats in the cupboard and carefully selected and beautifully wrapped gifts tucked away for your enjoyment. Imagine how much it must hurt your parents for you to reject the traditions they built for you. It may seem like you are rejecting them and the way they raised you. Show them that their actions mattered to you. Show them that you appreciate everything they did for you. Do not let them think for a second that you have forgotten all of their hard work just because you do not want them to put presents under a tree or glaze on a ham. It is your duty to your parents to ensure they realise that you are not rejecting them by embracing another path.
It can be extremely difficult to sort out your own feelings about the holidays as you grow in your faith. As a revert to Islam, you will always have the “time before” and the “time after” your reversion. The attachments to the holidays are generally stemming from an emotional place, not a logical one; therefore they can be more difficult to shake. It is impossible to erase the past. In fact, you shouldn’t want to erase the past – it made you who you are today. Your previous path is what led to you becoming Muslim. Accept that the past exists and is there; you just have to untangle yourself from it.
Certain things about the holidays might stimulate feelings of nostalgia, despite their contradiction with Islam. It takes some time and reflection to discover emotional triggers that hold weight within you. Take the time to examine your feelings and boil them down into their most basic form. It is possible that you are anxious about running into a previous party to a haram relationship. You could be afraid that by associating with people who drink alcohol, it might tempt you to return to old habits. You could simply miss feeling accepted and part of the crowd. If you can decrypt your feelings, it puts you one step closer to being able to unravel the problems.
Harness the Beneficial
You need to ask yourself the following questions:
• How do I respect my family while not compromising on my own beliefs?
• Can I use the holidays as da’wah, growth, or as a bonding activity?
• Is there anything beneficial from Islam that I can incorporate into this family gathering?
• How can I make my family feel more comfortable with their compromises and accommodations?
• How can I let them know that I appreciate their compromises and support?
Although these are simple questions, unfortunately too many times they are overlooked. No two families are the same. Some families may accept Islam with open arms; others may violently reject it. It is extremely important during these times to prepare your “bottom line” and boundaries. Calmly and rationally speak to your family before the holidays about your boundaries and the reasoning behind them; it can make everything go a lot smoother.
The holidays can intensify your desire to see your family follow Islam, resist the urge to lecture to an audience that is less than receptive. Maintaining relationships with your family and showing them how Islam can benefit a person are ways to lay the groundwork for their hearts to change. At the end of the day, everything is in Allah’s hands. The Christmas season can be a trying and difficult time for those with non-Muslim family, but it can also be a magnificent opportunity for interfaith discourse and co-operation.
“The hearts of the children of Adam, all of them, are between two fingers of the fingers of the All-Merciful, like one single heart; He turns them whichever way He wants” [Muslim]. And Allah says in the Qur’an, “And verily, He alone is the One who causes laughter and causes crying” (An-Najm:43).