By Deana Nassar
Sunday, 15 September 2013 00:00
I realized as a child that while being a Muslim was awesome, being a minority was difficult Facing yet another challenge and being vulnerable, it was only natural that during these trying times I backtrack to help myself recover.
As a Muslim raised in a non-Muslim country, trials have been tough and one was prone to putting up a front to face some confrontations where in all fairness could have faced anyone especially as peer pressure growing up could take its toll.
Trying to explain why you pray to teachers, discrimination on wearing the veil, standing up in class when Islam is attacked and sometimes dealing with parents who couldn’t just grasp what it was we were facing in the ‘outside world’ were just a few of the difficulties faced by myself and the small number of practicing Muslim youths during my younger years.
One came to realize that Islam was never meant to be an individualistic faith, reserved for the chosen few. I learnt that Muslims have a duty to spread the religion, and being what was categorized as a ‘practicing Muslim youth’ I had a crucial role to play. I needed to read a lot and learn more, continue to question and in short practice what I preached.
I became aware that while some parents were busy providing the good life for their children on a material level by working, in some cases two or three jobs, they failed to spend time with their children and teenagers to provide the Islamic values which would form the base of their belief system and identity for the rest of their lives.
My parents focused on religion to keep us grounded, choosing their priorities right, making decisions and sacrifices throughout the process. For this I am grateful.
Raising any teenager can be tough, but raising them in a society which conformed differently or less seriously to what Islam teaches us is, I believe, what must have been for them the ultimate challenge. It is with this in mind that my parents encouraged us to mingle and interact with Muslims and non-Muslim children alike on a daily basis, believing it was healthier for our growth.
We are not here to win brownie points or a popularity contest but rather we are paving our way towards the Hereafter
I remember this well and recall a French lady who I genuinely loved who had reverted to Islam and that’s where the questions started and to this day continue. Her name was Amina and I loved her dearly. I learnt from her what my parents had continued to drum into my head that all the work we do should ideally be for the sake of God.
We are not here to win brownie points or a popularity contest but rather we are paving our way towards the Hereafter ultimately reaching our goal; Paradise. Somehow it is different when someone other than your parents tells you; it has a completely different flavor.
My siblings and I were taught that the journey of Islam as a whole and our own personal journeys as Muslims would not always be easy and we would meet with difficulties and trials. As mentioned earlier, they were plentiful. They told us that God gives believers the strength and courage to overcome trials and that we should put our trust in God’s plan and not be discouraged since we were with God’s will strong enough to conquer these tribulations. We were asked to remain steadfast in the journey of faith and that is what we did; or at least tried. As we grew older we learnt to take pride in our religion and attending the Eid festivities was always an event to look forward to.
There were many Muslims who attended and I felt an overwhelming sense of pride one year when my primary school gave permission to the Muslims in our community to hold the festivities there.
The school administration had declared that I was a good example of a moderate Muslim and they welcomed us. I could literally burst with pride and happiness and invited a few of my non-Muslim friends to attend asking my Muslim ones to pay them their due and to pay special attention to them. I think it may have been one of my most memorable Eid as a child.
While my parents had supported us in decisions we made guiding us all along we were to an extent offered a fair amount of freedom however, always and forever under their watchful eye.
Church Up For Sale
We listened carefully and as young people, we swam against the tide; after all it was good for the heart, and took courage. We were taught that there are no difficulties, none, no trials or misunderstandings to fear if we remain united to God.
Armed with these tools we encouraged the elder Muslims to attend an auction where a church was put up for sale. A lot of work had to be done and we asked those mothers who could bake, sew, or do anything to raise money so that we could buy the church which was next door to a mosque there. We wanted a place where we could learn Arabic and where the Quran could be taught with the beautiful hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad.
The journey was long but we never gave up. Some people from the Salvation Army tried to obstruct the process. I realized as a child that while being a Muslim was awesome, being a minority was difficult. However most of the people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, united in an effort to raise the money.
After battling and working hard for almost three years, we were handed over the keys. To this day I look back on it with pride and get just as excited as I did that first day.
Apart from being role models by trying to practice Islam, my parents did their best to provide us with reading material about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and we were encouraged to exchange these with others in a bid to promote knowledge. Cable TV wasn’t as attainable as it is now and whatever videos we could get our hands on from whatever friend or relative of a friend could supply us with were much appreciated.
regardless of where you are and in what country to get closer to God simply means we have to go His way
The Prophet, his wives and the companions’ lives were discussed and my father often asked us what we thought the companions may have done in a situation relevant to our lives. We may at the time have felt obligated to practice religion as youngsters fearing our parents and sometimes comprehending something which isn’t tangible was difficult. Admittedly, we rolled eyes like any teenager of course without them seeing; but I guess it was part of growing up.
Now, having adult children of my own, I can understand fully my parent’s fears especially in a non-Muslim country. I have however come to the conclusion that although practicing religion in a non-Muslim country had its challenges and trepidation, it was not much different in my opinion from raising them in a Muslim country. What with the world literally being in the palm of your hand unless you are grounded, the West may have a grip on you and your child’s life.
Raising children depends solely on the parents and while there are obstacles with continued prayers and faith with maybe a little firmness, we may be able to reach our destination. While some in this day and age feel more of God means less of you, this outlook in itself is the challenge.
It is significant we instill the understanding that we shouldn’t necessarily think we need more of God, but rather we need more obedience to God.
In short, regardless of where you are and in what country to get closer to God simply means we have to go His way.