THIS IS CHAPTER TWO IN THE PART ONE: THE BATTLE BENEATH SERIES
When I was little, I was in gymnastics. I wore a short sleeve shirt underneath the leotard and shorts on top of it. When I was seven, my mom made me a gymnastics suite that was long sleeved with pants that had elastic at the ankles and wrists. I wore a scarf that day. It was the summer I was "practicing" wearing the scarf / hijab. Even at a young age, decision-making in my life had stages and trials. I worked through how wearing a scarf would be.
I remember that day specifically because a girl in my gymnastics class made fun of me. She said I looked funny all covered up like that. I told her it was part of my religion. I don't think she understood what that meant and at seven years old, I'm not sure I even completely understood it.
What I never really realized about this memory until I was older was how much my parents cared about my passions. Instead of telling me, no you have to quit gymnastics because a muslim girl can't wear what they wear, my mom made me an outfit. She made it possible.
I still quit after that summer and decided to start figure skating instead because that's what my older sister was doing. My mom made our competition dresses and I skated for the next twelve years of my life. Sure, I got stared at, but most of the time people rooted for me and remembered me.
What I take from my experiences as a child is the encouragement and the pushing of boundaries. My parents didn't exclude us from hobbies and sports that normally wouldn't be for the "muslim girl" and it made an impact. It made us grow and not be afraid of being different and being surrounded by people who are different from you, we learned to look past the stares and as time went on I began to realize people are not as prejudice as you make them out to be. Most that stare are curious but too timid to ask questions.
With that said, my upbringing was very different and very much focused on faith, not culture. I make this statement because my surroundings as a child, greatly impacted my views as an adult. From the crucial learning and foundational ages of 3-8 I was living in Tulsa, OK in a very very small muslim sunni community. My family was one out the 5-7 shia families that existed in the area.
I went to an Islamic sunni private school where I learned about my faith. My parents also taught me at home, the shia ways that differed from what the sunni school taught me. I knew and understood the major differences. Major RELIGIOUS differences. Culturally, I was raised fairly sunni and very American. My dad’s sister also married an American so even my Lebanese family had the same half culture as mine.
So by 8, I knew the five pillars and their importance, I memorized the last 36 surahs, and started wearing the scarf. All for the sake of pleasing God. Never was I forced to do any of the above. I was taught and guided but all was done because I truly believed this is what would please God. We prayed together as a family, we read quran together and discussed. My dad did Islamic lessons. My dad passed down as much to us about religion as he possibly could. And all that he taught us was backed up by school and when it was different he explained why. All the while in my secluded bubble after those crucial years, I knew my purpose in this life, I knew what God expected of me and why.
Then I moved to Dearborn, Michigan when I was nine.
THIS IS CHAPTER ONE IN THE SERIES: THE BATTLE BENEATH
My favorite holiday growing up was Christmas.
Every year we went to my grandparents’ house and celebrated Christmas. We had dinner, there was a tree and we unwrapped gifts. Sometimes mom would convince grandpa to play the Handel’s Messiah on the record player and we'd all listen and sing and crack at the high notes.
I don't remember how old I was when my mom told me "we don't believe in Christmas and it isn't our holiday, but we celebrate with Grandma and Grandpa and the rest of the family because it's their holiday."
There were other things we didn't do. When we visited grandma and grandpa, they took turns going to church. One would go to early service and the other to late service so there would be someone watching my sister and me. Grandma called the meat we brought her "blessed meat" and when we started wearing the hijab she called it our headgear. We'd swim at night when no one was in the pool so men who weren’t related to us wouldn't see our hair. They’d pray before we ate. Sometimes they’d let my sister and me do the prayer. They’d have us read devotionals from “The Upper Room”. Grandma would jokingly complained that any more rules my mom told her about, she'd accuse my dad and ask "has he been reading more books?"
At some point in my childhood the story was told to me:
My father is Lebanese and came to the U.S when he was twenty for college where he met my mother at the school library where they both worked.
My mother was raised Methodist, but gradually became agnostic in college. My father was not a practicing Muslim at the time that he met my mother and together they began to explore faith, particularly in Islam and my mother converted six months before they got married. A year after that they told their families they had gotten married. My mother’s family who was all predominantly Methodist and Christian, accepted my mother’s conversion and welcomed my dad to the family. My dad’s mom didn’t talk to my dad for a year and my mom a year after that.
They established themselves in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Four years later had my sister and then four and half years later, had me.
I was born a Muslim (as all children are from Muslim parents) in Tulsa, OK as a half Lebanese half American girl with a loving Muslim family and a loving Christian family which resulted in the emerging of two faiths and cultures that were very present in my life.
It was rare for that time, but to me it was normal and all I had ever known.