On her visit to our home last October my mother had a lot of one-on-one time with my three year old son. While I was in the hospital giving birth to my fifth child, she was asking some serious questions. In this short period of time my mother came to a serious conclusion; her grandson doesn’t know about God.
You see my husband and I practice Islam, we are Muslims, this means our children are Muslims too. My son is the product of an English-speaking Jamaican mother (who comes from a religiously diverse family), and an Arabic-speaking Yemeni father. As if cultural and language barriers were not enough, we also have religion in the mix. As a revert, I am the only Muslim in my family.
Islam is our way of life, however, even with this commonality in our home there are often misunderstandings and miscommunications between my husband and I…or worse, his family and I. Therefore, it was inevitable that my mother, a non- Muslim, and her grandson would get lost in translation.
My son uses the word “Allah” instead of “God”. He does not use the word pray or prayer, but he knows that we perform “salat” (prayer) 5 times a day. He goes to a Masjid instead of a Church, on Friday instead of church on Sunday or the Synagogue on Friday evening or Saturday morning . Aside from his Islamic upbringing, we are teaching my son Arabic. My son uses English and Arabic words interchangeably; he has no idea that he is not speaking just one language.
When my mother noted that my son did not know God, many things came to mind. My family, like most non-Muslims get their knowledge about “people like us” from the media. I thought it was unfortunate that I had not done a better job at showing them what our faith is all about. I realized that a healthy dialogue was far overdue. I also accepted that my non-Muslim family would never look at our faith from my perspective…it is just not possible.
In reflecting on my son’s use of the word Allah instead of God, or his idea of worship, and holidays, I realized that synchronizing our religious and cultural beliefs begins with an open mind. Since we live in different provinces, thankfully, there is less pressure to attend religious gatherings, but we stay connected. For example, when some family members give the children a gift at Christmas, we accept it; and one of my son’s favorite books, Dinosaur on Shabbat is inspired by my mom’s observation of the Sabbath. Essentially, I began to look at how I could invite my family to observe how we practice our faith on a daily basis.
From our end, we now share stories about trips to the masjid, Islamic unschooling activities, and new Arabic words learned. And our holiday activities are greatly emphasized, from talking about fasting in Ramadan (and clearing up the little misconception that 3 year olds have to fast), showing photos of the foods we eat at iftar (when Muslims break fast in Ramadan), to our excitement upon receiving new clothes for Eid celebrations. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start!
A well-rounded child lives in an environment where rituals and spiritual practices are shared. I plan to teach my son – all my children, about other faiths as they grows older. With an extended family whose faith does not mirror ours, I am sure they will be asking many questions, and we’ll be searching for a lot of answers.
I’ve always thought that the phrase “lost in translation” was all about language…but it is so much more. Has your cross-cultural practices or faith affected your relationship or interaction with friends and family?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Salma. You can find Salma blogging at Party of Five in Calgary.
Photo credit to reway2007. This photo has a creative commons attribute license.