As I’ve matured in Islam, my understanding and approach to the religion has also matured. This is something I have struggled with and continue to struggle with each day.
My name: Have blogged extensively about the name changing issue but essentially I have moved from knowing that having an Arabicized name was not obligatory but using one, mostly out of a desire for immediate recognition and to fit in to the Muslim community to a complete reversion to my birth name with affirmation that using such a name makes it a Muslim name and that it may be preferrable for many, particularly for those of us in the west and those of us with non-Muslim families to maintain our distinctive cultural names.
Holidays: I know I’ve said it at least once on this blog that I’m content with our two Eids, and I am, but I no longer share the view of those who say it is an innovation to celebrate or participate in any other celebrations. At some point in my teenage years, well before coming to Islam, my birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year’s Day, the Fourth of July and all the rest became rather insignificant to me and they still are for the most part so it wasn’t an issue for me to continue to marginalize them when I accepted Islam. Yet, now I feel this opinion is too harsh, I don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter but don’t have any issue joining my family on Thanksgiving Day and yes, even eating the turkey, I cannot count how many times I’ve discussed whether or not to eat the turkey with other Muslims. I don’t really celebrate the Fourth of July, per say, but do enjoy watching the fireworks.
Fitna-filled family gatherings: When my grandmother died a few years ago, I agreed to help my family set-up and bring supplies for the wake that was held in a church hall but declined to attend. There was of course the usual late-night until dawn mixing, music, dancing, drinking, Christian prayers, suspect food, video camera, etc that is common place at Ibo wakes. I thought that my helping to set-up and using my faith as a cover would be enough to satisfy my family, particularly my mother. But it was not enough, and of course some of my mother’s Muslim colleagues showed up, which never helps your case when making an argument on religious grounds with your non-Muslim relatives. The rest of my family went to Nigeria for my grandmother’s burial but my mother specifically mentioned that she did not want me to go because I most likely would not have attended some of the more problematic events. And for some time afterward, whenever my mother was upset with me, she would say, “…and she didn’t even come to my mother’s wake,” ahhh, talk about a dagger in the heart, it still pains me each time I reflect on that but alhamdulillah she hasn’t said that recently.
So this past year, my father’s 70th birthday/retirement after teaching for more than 30 years party rolled around with all the usual fitna, but there was no question in my mind that I would have to be there, it was not optional, and to not have gone would have been unconscionable. So I went, came a little late, because I was returning from Niagara Falls but made it, and later that year, I also attended the Nigerian Association of Greater Rochester’s (NAGRoch) Nigerian independence day celebration accompanied by my father, which I am sure made him happy. Being good to parents is of exceptional importance in Islam and I seek the pleasure of my parents in enjoining ties with my family as much as possible, doesn’t mean I’m going to celebrate Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Easter or marry a Christian Ibo guy but I am going to do what I can to please them, and seek the reward from Allah for doing so.
I remember at the AlMaghrib Reunion this past 4th of July at the ISNA convention in Washington DC, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi (hafidhullah) mentioned that he and a group of western students asked Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen (rahimullah) about the meaning of his early 1990s fatwa that it was haraam for Muslims to live in western countries. And Ibn Uthaymeen (rahimullah) replied that that particular opinion was meant for the questioner or the audience it was addressed to and not as a universal opinion and that he did not mean it to apply to them, Muslims born and raised in the west. But for so many Muslims, their deen is based on a translation of a fatwa obtained from a website with neither context nor ability to understand that it may not even be valid for them, which they then take as an obligation upon themselves to spread and sow the seeds of discord in their families and communities.
For me, the past two years of my Islam have been a maturing experience, I don’t think it’s appropriate to say I am becoming more or less radical, more or less conservative, although I know some people see it that way, but I believe it is a natural process of just becoming wiser, smarter, more secure in myself, in my identity, in my Islam, and more questioning of the status quo, which seems to predominate in some quarters of our community that tells us, women are non-entities, certainly less important than men, that a woman should neither be seen nor heard, so why should we consider her or her/our children in planning the layout of a masjid, that tries to make us justify our love for and continued existence in western lands, that tells us to disassociate and cause immeasurable harm to our families for no good reason, etc.
I used to fear that I was watering down my Islam and I asked this question to Yasir Qadhi (hafidhullah) at Ilm Summit and he replied, that it was not so much a watering down as a maturation process and a rejection of fatawa that he did not believe were ever even valid for me in the first place and he mentioned that I should try to apologize and explain that to my family and do my utmost to maintain ties with them within set boundaries.