Rafed English

Reactions of Relatives

Jodi and I sat in the family room that evening on Thanksgiving Day, just the two of us. At last I knew I had to listen. I wanted to be sure I could go over at a later time what she would say to me-this was important! I knew I was too emotionally distraught to be logical, so I set up the tape recorder to record our conversation. The following excerpts are taken from that recorded conversation between Jodi and me. She began. "Last July I decided to change to Islam, not drastic at first but this last month I decided to wear the cover. So I wear it every day, and it is my own choice. This was all on my own. Reza is happy about it, but he didn't ask me to do it. I wanted to tell you and let you ask any questions you have. I have chosen this for me. I will help you work it through, if you want to work it through. That is all I can offer. I'm willing to take all the nasty comments or whatever you want to dish out. It's not going to be easy for me to be on the 'wrong' side . . . although I don't feel like either of us is on the wrong side; we just have made different choices. I have other things I want to say, but I'd like to hear your expression."

I responded. "I'm very hurt because of this. There were several things I asked you to do and wanted you to do-to hear about Christianity from an adult point of view, from someone who really knows. I feel that you made no effort to do that. I'm very disappointed you didn't follow through on that. I am very any and have been for a long time. For the last few months it has been like you are dying and slipping away from us. It's like we are in constant grieving." "Mom, this is my own decision. It is not a rejection of you. I don't want to hurt you; I feel like I can express myself through this. I've come a long way from what I was."

"What do you expect from us as parents?" "I don't know that I expect anything. Maybe it's the fact that I'm not going to be around. I don't even know how long my life is going to be. Maybe it's just a dream, but I have been feeling like there are certain things I have to do in Islam. I have asked other people if they have these feelings and they say no. They have hopes and dreams, but mine is more a feeling that I have a certain way to go. My life may be hard and I will have to be a strong person, but if I am strong enough I can make it." "So how do we fit into your life, Jodi?" I asked.

"I see you as being very far away, and I see you as being the building blocks for what I am." "I feel like you are saying what you have had-what we have given you-is not good enough, and you are going to junk all that and reject everything about us. You're breaking all your ties like you don't care about anything in the past."

"Mom, I first felt that when I was at our church youth camp as a teenager. They were talking about how the disciples laid down everything and followed Jesus, and the material things were not that important; they even left their families. I started to think there were so many things I couldn't give up. I couldn't give up my records-I loved to play them. I was soul-searching at that point. No, I couldn't give up several things. It would surely take a strong person to give things up and go follow Jesus in that way. No, I could never do that, and I was sad about it. But then there came a time when I realized that for once in my life I didn't care about the material things, that other things were more important-the spiritual life and relationships."

We continued to talk. I harangued her about the drastic change of wearing hijab. I made insulting remarks about her sloppy clothes and scarf Over and over I accused her of rejecting us.

She tried to affirm to me over and over, "I am not rejecting you. I'm only doing things in a different way. . . . You and Dad are my models. I love the way you help people and counsel with those in need. . . . I've chosen a different way. All I can do is help you deal with it." Finally I lost control and broke down crying. "I'm just crushed. I never would have thought I'd react this way. I have worked so hard on how to accept all this, and I'm just not making it. I've suffered so much these past days. I just don't know what to do. I keep wondering where we went wrong, yet some of the things you're doing are fantastic. I don't want to lose you, yet I want to push you as far away from me as I can. If I didn't care so much, I'd want to never see you again. I hate it. But I'm going to keep working at it." We clung to each other and cried for a long time. Then Jodi added, "Reza really loves and respects you and Dad. We have chosen a little different way, what we think is right, but we see you as good, strong people too. We hope our marriage can be as good as yours and that we will help people like you do. We are dust very simple and have a lot of struggle as far as health and study and work-making everything hang together. But we want to keep working at it." Finally, we had no more to say to each other. I went to my room, and I sobbed most of the night. Never have I experienced grief like that period of time. I hurt so much that it felt as if something was physically being pulled out of me. About noon the neal day, I knelt at my bedroom window and prayed: "God of the Christians, the Muslims, the universe, what am I going to do? How can I stand this?" Then, as I sat back waiting for help, I heard the music my sons were playing in the next room--the Beatles singing "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.

Love was such an easy game to play./ Oh, how I long for yesterday!" I prayed, "God, that is just how I feel. I long for yesterday when it was so much easier with Jodi." Then the Beatles sang another song: "Hey Jude, don't be sad; Take a sad song and make it better." That hit me because I wanted to take this sad song and make it a glad song. A positive feeling came over me. The healing process was beginning. When Jodi and Reza left to go back to Arkansas, I was able to put my arms around them and say: "I want to work it through. Please help me. I love you so much. I want my daughter back, and I'll learn to accept what you have chosen." I could not risk losing my daughter and son-in-law. I would do whatever it took to heal the relationship.

Religious decisions are often among the most intense types of trauma in family life. Emotions run high, and reactions to such decisions lead to changes that may cause separation in families. The journey toward acceptance, if occurs at all, may be long and arduous. The respondents, sharing their personal stories about initial parental responses, reflect everything from acceptance to complete cutoff and rejection. Forty-six percent ranked their parents' responses at first as negative and stressful, while 23 percent indicated they were accepted in an "okay manner" without much stress and anger, Fourteen percent said their parents were very accepting and supportive. Some indicated it was not a choice for the parents to accept or reject; it was none of their business what their children chose to do as adults. Over time, healing, where needed, has begun to take place in a majority of the families. Most of the women have seen great improvement in their relationships with and acceptance by family members although a few have been cut off with no relationship worked out. Sometimes physical distance works for them as a positive contribution to the relationship because they are not close enough to need to work through day-to-day contact. In other situations, however, the distance keeps the relationship frozen at the status quo with no movement toward resolution. The women wrote of various reactions and stages that families may go through when faced with their daughter's choice to become Muslim.

Adapted from: "Daughters Of Another Path (Experience of American Women Choosing Islam)" by: "Carol L. Anway"

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