Abida Mian's Blog

An outlier that's living, learning and being myself…

Quora Question: What is it like to be raised by a Muslim?

I’m writing this in response to a gentleman that commented on one of my answers. I want to set the record straight, and talk candidly about why his perception of Muslim men doesn’t correlate with my own personal experiences with my father. I’m certain he’s not the only progressive moderate Muslim in the World.

Do I think Islamophobia exists? Yes.

Do I find extremism abhorrent? Yes.

#againstreligiousprejudice

Dear Anonymous,

Meet my parents.

4

You:

“Rules to oppress and subjugate women, slaves and kafirs does not mean we have to believe that it is noble or good.”

I don’t disagree that there are extreme Muslims that treat women despicably. I condemn that wholeheartedly.

My father was born in India, his family were Muslim. Prior to the partition, his friends, the boys he grew up with were Hindus and Sikhs. The partition changed his perception of religion, as a young boy, he couldn’t reconcile in his mind why there were so many dead bodies along the path to the newly formed Pakistan. Abandoning the life he once knew, his friends, his home, all he wanted was for it to all end.

Later, my dad learnt that his childhood Sikh friend was killed by adult Muslims. He was horrified. “How can they say they know allah, when they can take an innocent boy’s life?,” he told me. My father still identified himself as a Muslim, but he didn’t feel the need to pray five times a day. It was how he lived his life that mattered.

My father never thought Islam was superior to any other religion. Always spoke highly of Hindus & Sikhs. He loved and respected Gandhi. He was to show me the film about his life as a young child, so that I learnt tolerance, forgiveness and empathy for others.

In contrast, I grew up in the Western world, but with no ethnic diversity. I was more interested in Mathematics than religion, it made more sense to me.

His philosophy was integration, that I was to respect the culture and traditions of the country I grew up in. Whilst other non Christian parents took their children out of school morning prayers, my father forbid it. He told me that the world didn’t revolve around me, that I needed to learn what’s important to others, and not feel like I’m different.

2

My dad bought me this dress especially for my school Christmas party. Would it surprise you to learn that I’ve always celebrated Christmas? That every 25th of December we have traditional roast dinner, crackers, hats, and rubbish Tv? That my father made me address our White Christian & Jehovah Witness neighbours as Aunty and Uncle as a mark of respect? Surely not Muslims, they have no regard for other religions?

My dad’s answer on who he supported in the cricket showed his fairness. Me: “Dad, when India & Pakistan play against each other, you’d naturally support Pakistan right?” Him; “Why do I have to choose. Prior to the partition, I was a happy Indian boy, those fond memories I cannot erase from my heart. In the spirit of sportsmanship, whoever is the better team. There’s nothing better than watching cricket with a bottle of beer in your hand.” What a Muslim that drinks alcohol? He did go to university in the UK, so it wasn’t surprising. In fact, my mum would moan if he had too many beers, but he’d hide the bottles under the sofa and remove it later. It was clear my mum wore the trousers in our household 🙂

But this will shock you further. Until my dad’s funeral, I never read the Quran or stepped into a mosque. My father taught me Mathematics at a very early age, he was highly educated (PhD) and believed there should be more women in the physical sciences and engineering. He was a big advocator of every child whether rich or poor being educated. Throughout his lifetime, he sent money to his local rural village school in Pakistan, he also sent money (we still do after his death) to a poor woman who lost her husband and couldn’t afford Hepatitis medication. What? But Muslim men oppress and subjugate women, I hear you say.

When I went to university my life changed for the better. I became friends with people that were ethnically diverse. My best friends are Indian, Chinese, Arab, English, Ghanan. In a lot of respects they live their life differently to me, because most of them have their faith and I don’t.

The thing is making generalisations about a group doesn’t work in the real world. Does inequality only exist in Islam? Let’s take a look shall we:

Homophobia:

My neighbour of many years, Paul, is openly Gay. My mother was born and brought up in Pakistan, so I was expecting her to feel uncomfortable around him. This shows I was prejudicial towards my mum, expecting her to react unfavourably. I was happy to be proven wrong, she thinks he’s lovely and chats to him when she comes to visit. On the other hand, my other neighbour was brought up in the West, is a devout Christian, said she’s against racism, but if she could be God she would not have gay people. Where’s the humanity? Let me tell you, that’s the last time I’ve spoken to her.

Gender:

Pope Francis:

“There is no problem for a woman — religious or lay — to preach in the Liturgy of the Word… But at the Eucharistic Celebration there is a liturgical-dogmatic problem, because it is one celebration — the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharistic Liturgy, there is unity between them — and He Who presides is Jesus Christ. The priest or bishop who presides does so in the person of Jesus Christ. It is a theological-liturgical reality. In that situation, since women are not ordained, they cannot preside.”

So, I take it that a woman will never become a pope in the future?

Hierarchy:

My father brought me up to believe I was no better than a beggar on the street. That the colour of your skin doesn’t matter. There is only one race, the human race. So, why have some got a higher social standing than others? Why did Gandhi have to highlight the plight of the “untouchables”, and how come they still convert to Islam & Christianity to this day?

My point if it’s not bleeding obvious! There are “good” and “bad” people in every religion. Oppression of certain groups happens in all faiths. I have a lot of respect for my Christian, Muslim & Hindu friends, because I judge them by their moral compass and not stereotype them with every Tom, Dick & Harry that follow their religion, as you do.

Now on to the current issue of Islamophobia:

Islam faces many challenges. There has been a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes, I’ve seen first-hand how vile people have been taunting and threatening women that were entering and leaving the mosque at my dad’s funeral.

I always think it’s important to be fair in life. There are women that are forced to wear the hijab and burka, but my friend Haleema isn’t, to her it’s part of her identity as a Muslim. Whatever your beliefs, no man should tell a woman what they can and cannot wear. I have no problem with a woman wearing one if its of her own volition.

In the States, women were punched in the face and their head scarves removed. Over here, a woman was kicked in the stomach, she lost her baby. Totally unprovoked attacks. Haleema doesn’t like it, but I tell her not to wear her hijab if she’s leaving her shift at the hospital late at night. She’s a paediatrician, helping save children’s lives irrespective of their faiths, yet all bigots care about is what’s she’s wearing, and not the person she is inside. Is that right?

This picture of a Muslim woman on a French beach. On one hand it’s a sensitive time and it’s best not to antagonise people, on the other, she is wearing a head scarf, her face is still visible. Elderly women wore head scarves in the old days. Would a nun be threatened with gas if she was there? Are we now dictating what women can wear? Are they hurting anyone? Behaving like this and trying to kid yourselves it’s right! A civilised nation?

Muslims are worried for their safety, as well as wanting to make others feel safe around them. How can they overcome this hurdle? Should they sacrifice their religious freedom because of prejudices of others?

It would be remiss of me if I weren’t to admit that l do make prejudicial judgements. I’m human like everybody else. We are not born prejudiced. We pick up prejudice from various sources during our life: newspapers, movies, politicians, social media, family and friends.

Your comment:

“There is no logical reason for Islam to even exist. Those people that follow the religion are all the same”

You’re entitled to your opinion, but your reasoning is illogical, the truth is that statement is false. Muslims differ based on how they were raised, their life experiences, their education, exposure to different cultural groups, their personality. You cannot judge a whole religion by judging small groups of people. There are many good people also who truly and in the right sense follow the religion.

Acknowledging that prejudice is part of our human nature, a way of us understanding the world, is the first step. We may not be able to change the inherent way others think, but we can challenge them to reduce their prejudice.

What is foreign to our own beliefs can often appear threatening at times. Despite not identifying with a particular faith and it’s rituals, I still celebrate Eid, Christmas & Diwali with my friends, tolerance is part of my nature, as it should be for anyone. There is no need to erase differences in perspectives, and we should not abuse or belittle people that try to find meaning in their life (provided they are peaceful) through faith. I sometimes ponder whether the mathematical beauty of nature is suggestive of a non-physical being of consciousness and intelligence or it’s just random coincidence, but in the meantime, I won’t lose sight of what’s important, my moral compass.

Kind regards,

Liberal minded woman who believes in equality for all regardless of gender/sexuality/status raised by a Muslim man. How the f*** did I turn out like this 😉 Sorry, to disprove your perception!

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