We didn’t start out as Muslims. I had been baptized as a Christian early on and when I spent summers with my Grandparents in upstate New York, Sundays were synonymous with pink frilly dresses, press and curled pigtails, and four hour church services.
I’m not quite sure what my mother was looking for, but after several bouts with other religious expression, she discovered the Muslim persuasion. That was a definite culture shock. I’d never had to take my shoes off at my Grandmother’s Baptist church, but here I had to take them off and sit with the women (my brother- whom I was so used to chumming around with- had to sit on the other side).
I loved bacon, ham, all things pork, but suddenly I was denied for reasons unclear to me at the time. I watched the women in their hijab and wondered if they were hot, but I was afraid to ask. I wondered who Allah was and what he had to do with anything I’d learned from birth to that point. I wasn’t angry – I mostly wondered.
I remember a sense of adventure, as if I’d been selected to participate in some elite journey; open only to a special few. Eventually I viewed the fasting as a privilege instead of a punishment. My mother began to submerse us into the Muslim community. My dad leased the upstairs apartment to Muslim tenants. We patronized the restaurant down the street that sold “beefburgers.” My new babysitter was also Muslim, and she tried to force me to eat with my right hand (did I mention I am a hopeless southpaw). Needless to say she didn’t last long.
Eventually our stint with Islam went the way of the other religions and Saturday prayer at the mosque turned back to Sunday school, itchy wool tights and patent leather shoes. Relationships faded, though we still went to the “beefburger” joint (they had the best fries). Now, as a grown woman, I have held fast to my Christian faith and am raising my children likewise. Though my Islamic experience is a thing of the past, it will always be a part of who I am.