Sunday, August 02, 2009

Top Question

A few days ago my fiance asked me what question I am most frequently asked about when I talk about Islam. And after answering, I thought it might make a good blog post.

Without a doubt, the number one question people ask me whether I'm in a booth, giving a presentation on Islam, or speaking about Islam in just about any capacity, is how my family took my conversion. It's rare I get away from a presentation without someone asking me about my family.

And at the same time, it's the question I am most reluctant to answer. It's probably really interesting, but on the other hand, it doesn't include the nicest things to say about my family. And out of respect to them, it doesn't seem correct to discuss in public whatever issues we might have had. The people who know me well, and who knew me several years ago, might know the extent to which my conflict with my family has upset me personally, and might also know that some of it is my own fault. So the question has a complicated answer, and one that can't be quickly glossed over in 1-2 minutes during a presentation.

I wonder how other converts feel discussing their families. And I wonder why almost every audience I speak to wants to know about my family. And also, how do other converts discuss their relationship with their families after their conversion?

7 comments:

jana z. said...

i think that people want to know how families feel when one of their own become a muslim because most of the time it can be a problem for the family, maybe even a shame. many people are hoping for a "juicy" story to hear. i dont mind discussing my family because there is no issue about me becoming a muslim there. no story to tell. people may ask but ive nothing interesting to say there.

on the other hand, if i did have issues with my family regarding my conversion i doubt very seriously i would discuss it with the general public.

but to be honest, i dont get asked about my family that much. an occasional "how did your family take it?" may arise but rarely. its usually just, "how did you find islam? what brought you to this path?".

Amy said...

Maybe it's because I do have a "juicy" tale I could share that I feel so secretive about it.

But it's so weird you don't get asked that often. For me it seems that everyone's always asking how my family took my conversion.

Thanks for sharing!

rahma said...

This question bothers me to know end, especially when I tell other muslims that they did not take it well and they poo poo my family. Now, I turn the question back on them - how would you family take it if you left islam? Well, mine took it a whole heck of a lot better than that!

Zaeneb said...

As-Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatah,

It was rather unfortunate the way that my family took it and I am pretty sure that my mother contacted the FBI. They are ashamed of me in front of extended family members, and I haven't seen most of my family now for 3 years. They are totally intolerant. At first my parents made up a huge story about how I had a mental illness, after the first year that didn't hold. I even went to see a counselor who definitely thought that I was psychotic because I told her things like everything comes from Allah, subhanahu wa 'ala.
I think ultimately what bothers me the most is that people actually believe that believing in God is a psychosis.
I think it was sad that my family reacted in the way that they did and that they treat me like I am something that they have to deal with especially since it was obvious that Islam was such a good thing for me, but they refused to see that. For example, once when I was walking down the stairs behind my father, who never yells, turned around and started screaming at me saying that religion is evil and it causes violence and that I was part of the Bombay terrorist attacks. I don't really have a relationship with them anymore in the sense that a relationship fulfills a psychological/spiritual need. I am kind to them, and I treat them the way that would please Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala. Unfortunately, they will do things to deliberately harass me like they will drink alcohol at all times around me, and once even my dad went to pick something up quickly and threw his glass of wine in my hand. So, I have to protect myself by not getting into situations where I compromise my deen. It's a difficult balance to maintain ties without compromising yourself because they will not stop trying to stop me from being Muslim. Ultimately, I think that they know that the religion is true, and they deny it, and this is why there is so much animosity regarding my choice.
Alhamdullilah that I happened to read your blog and see this post, it was actually something that I needed to commiserate about. I hope to hear your story and others, insha'Allah.

Amy said...

Rahma--that's an interesting way to respond. I also don't like for people to talk bad about my family.

Zaeneb--you wrote "It's a difficult balance to maintain ties without compromising yourself because they will not stop trying to stop me from being Muslim."

I find that to be especially true in my case as well--maintaining ties is no joke, and it's stressed so much in Islam. May Allah make our burdens light.

Sarah said...

I think that it would be a very good thing if you talked about your relationship with your families. Why don't you dedicate your time helping reverts to do right by their families so that they don't go through the same as you did? I think that would please God more than anything else you could do.

Zaeneb, you might be a good one to head that up. Maybe you would learn something about yourself as well as your parents.

Amy said...

Sarah,

That's a very good point--there are some lessons from my experience which my family that can be helpful to converts and potential converts.

And so there are times when speaking to converts personally I will mentions some of these things. And that's becaues converts can sympathize, and they can see the mistakes I made (part of the trouble was my fault, and I admit that.)

However, answering the question in public doesn't do it justice. I can say that I was overzealous in my new faith and talked about it so much that my parents became uncomfortable. But what they decided to do after that is on them--and then people just make remarks about how sad that is, and how bad they are. But they are my family, and I think it is my duty to protect them from that sort of public exposure.

In another sense it would even be backbiting on my family. And even though they're not Muslim, I still don't want to be a part of that.

Where there are lessons, I don't mind sharing them with converts, in private. But making them public on my blog, or in public presentations (whether to Muslim or non-Muslim audiences) doesn't seem the right thing for me to do. It would be backbiting, as I said.

And every convert's experience with their family is somewhat different. The Muslim community at large should be aware that converts often face negative reactions from their families, but airing my person complaints publicly does not me seem the proper thing for a Muslim to do.