Monday, December 25, 2006

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Reverts and Non-Muslim Holidays

This is a picture of Santa Claus and me. On the back is scribbled, "3 1/2 years old". I recognize the handwriting as belonging to my mother. Since my family lived in New York City when I was that age, this picture was most likely taken in a Manhattan department store.

One of the best gifts left to me by my family is a rich photographic history of my childhood. The annual ritual of taking a photo with Santa is well documented.

Holidays were a big deal in my family. My mother was Roman Catholic and my father was Jewish. One of the things my parents did to try to make their inter-faith marriage work was to celebrate the holidays of both traditions. My mom hosted the Christian and secular holidays at our house, and the Jewish ones were hosted in the home of my father's mom, my grandmother.

On New Year's Eve my mother would cook sauer kraut and we would attend midnight mass. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, found us sitting in the synagogue, listening to the blowing of the shofar.

Spring brought the exictment of Easter and Passover. The Easter Bunny would bring us baskets filled with chocolate and jelly beans. My mom cooked eggs and my brother and I eagerly waited for them to cool so we could dye and decorate them. Our neighborhood had an Easter Egg Hunt. Passover found us sitting around the Seder table, reading from the Haggadah, and learning the significance of the traditional arrangement of symbolic foods on the Seder plate. At the end of the Seder meal, an afikomen (special matzoh) was hidden and hunted by all the children present. The kid who found it won a prize.

During the Christmas season, we made the annual trek to the department store to sit on Santa's lap, to tell him what we wanted him to bring for us on Christmas morning. There were sweet smelling Christmas trees, decorated with silver tinsel and colored lights. We left milk and cookies on the dining room table for Santa on Christmas Eve. As well, we lit the Hanuukah menorah and were given a gift every day for eight days. We helped to decorate at the synagogue, and play the spinning draedel game at home.

All this came back to me yesterday when I went to the pharmacy. As I waited for a prescription to be filled, I wandered through the aisles filled with Christmas decorations, miniature Santas, gift wrapping paper, snow globes, wreathes, and candies. A feeling of sadness came over me. It happens every year. It's not as bad as it was in the beginning, when I first came to Islam, but it still happens.

I became a Muslim, Alhamdulillah, in 1998. As I studied and learned more about my new religion, my heart swelled with gratitude for being led to Islam. At the same time, I entered a grief process. I was keenly aware that my choice to come to Islam meant shedding my old life, and starting a new one. Territory that was completely uncharted. It was frightening and exciting at the same time.

It started with my family's negative reaction to my re-version. Becoming a Muslim also meant changing the way I dressed in public: no more sleeveless dresses, no more hairstyles, no more flashy jewelry, no more nail polish. I exchanged these things for hijab, and now nothing shows of me in public other than my face and hands. My diet changed. The decor of my house changed. Just a few of many, many changes. Don't get me wrong, I do all of this for Allah (swt), and it is my choice, but it has been a process.

But the single most difficult part of the grief process was giving up non-Muslim holidays. Not only the Christian and Jewish holidays, but also the secular ones: New Year's Eve, my birthday, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving ... and my favorite of them all, April Fool's Day! The only holidays celebrated by Muslims are the the two Eids.

Ramadan and the two Eids exacerbated my grief process more than anything else. Why? Because I miss my family. Family is a crucial aspect of Islam. I miss the big get togethers. Like many reverts to Islam, I don't have Muslim family.

But in Islam, I have learned that no special day is needed to express love for my husband. Every day in our marriage can be Valentine's Day. Likewise, every day is an opportunity for Thanksgiving, or more appropriately, giving thanks, expressing my gratitude to Allah (swt) for the countless blessings in my life.