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.


Saaleha said...

it must be hard. I cannot imagine it, since I have not experienced it. BUt I'm sure all reverts can relate to the mourning process. If I were required to make such drastic changes to my life I would feel a sense of loss too, even though I believed 100% in my new path. Well done sis, for sticking with it. MAy Allah reward your efforts.

Anonymous said...

Salam Alaikum: I loved this piece, but it left me wanting more...can you add on? Maybe give advise to new muslimahs or something along this line, or explain Eid better? This would be a good piece for a place like Christian Science I think or Islamway or Islamon line :-) Very well written, but I WANT MOREEE LOL
I miss the holidays too, especially Christman, that was the only time of year our family truly came together. Giving up the holidays of past years and my music was the hardest things to do. But I choose the right path when I entered Islam. Love and Prayers..Sis Sakinah

Jamilah Kolocotronis said...

Assalaamu alaikum, Safiyyah,

This is excellent.
I too have pictures of me on Santa's lap. And while I didn't experience the celebration of two cultures, as you did, I understand your feeling of the loss of holidays.
For years I vigorously avoided Christmas carols because I knew every word. I felt depressed on Dec. 25, knowing my family was celebrating. And I also felt down on Eid because my family doesn't celebrate with me.
I think it takes time. That's all. It took me more than 8 years to get over my feelings of loss concerning the holidays. And, actually, I still would like to have something from my husband on Valentines (astagfirullah) because the media tells me I should.
This is an excellent piece.


Anonymous said...

a salaamu aleikum,
I reverted over a decade ago and never missed the holidays. It's the family gatherings I missed. I have been through a lot ( in terms of losing touch with extended family) and what I have come to realise is that I need to focus on making the two eids be a time of joy and sharing for me and my children. We don't try to compensate for what we are missing. We focus on what we have gained. We make a point to visit friends and family as much as possible at that time. We get out of it what we put into it. We have to be creative in some aspects as well. Please have a look at my entries about Xmas at:

I hope I've offered even a minute bit of insight....

American Muslima Writer said...

SubhanAllah the first two CHristmases were so hard for me too I'd still joyfully sing carols all winter and my husband would try to purwade me not to but it was so ingrained. Now the past few years I've gotten through them with hardly a blink. Only calling my parents on their special dayts to cheer them up is what I do. But I also call them on my holidays too to cheer myself up.
By the way I was born on April Fools Day hehehe so it's a day I'm glad is not celebrated for me anymore.
Thank you for sharing this beauitiful post about life.

Anonymous said...

I think you need to understand that if your mother was a Gentile, you were never Jewish.

Its really not right for you to portray yourself as a "Jew" who became a Muslim. In Jewish law, you are considered a non-Jew, even though you do descend from Jews on one side of your family.

Safiyyah said...

Thank you Anonymous. Please refer to my post, "Am I Still Jewish?"

When I was a young teenager, the rabbi at my synagogue recognized exactly what you said: that I was not technically Jewish, despite being raised Jewish, due to the fact that my mother was a Gentile.

Therefore, he formally helped me to go through the conversion process.

I still have my Jewish conversion certificate.

Therefore, I did convert to Islam from Judaism :)

It's confusing; I know.

Thanks for your observation, and thanks for visiting. Please read "Am I Still Jewish?" and let me know what you think.

I am planning to write Part 2 soon, God willing.

Unknown said...

Sister, you've certainly been chosen for th eParadise by Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala.