When Khaled and I were dating, the subject of children inevitably came up. We discussed how many, what names we would like, and what religion we would raise them. From the very beginning, I was set on them being raised with his religion–Islam. Did I have a clear idea of what that religion encompassed? No. Did I know any more than the five pillars? – in all honesty, I only knew one or two. What I did know, is that my husband grew up in a formally religious environment, where every day was met with meaningful ritual. When the sh*it hit the fan, Khaled would buckle down and pray, and come back to the issue more centered, calm and confidant.
Growing up we went to church sporadically, but from the time I can remember, we were taught to recite the following prayer before we went to sleep: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” And at dinner time we would always say this blessing that my grandmother had written: “Father thanks to Thee we give, for this world in which we live, for Blessings past and those to be, Father thanks we give to Thee.” I also remember that because my mother’s family was Catholic, my maternal grandmother would always cross herself before eating.
We went to church for in spurts, becoming somewhat active members and then drifting away. Usually our return to religious devotion centered on one of us performing some sort of religious milestone, like First Communion or being Confirmed. It always seemed to me that there was a struggle to maintain a religious presence in our home, and I attributed it to my mother converting from Catholicism to the Lutheran Church when she and my father married. It seemed to me that she missed the church and religion that had been a comfort to her. Now, I realize that it is entirely possible that this gut feeling I had was just one of the many reasons, or maybe it had nothing to do with anything at all.
When I was in high school, I had two friends who I was quite close with who attended church regularly. I would spend the night at their homes as often as I could so that I would be able to go to church with their families. They were in the church youth group and often invited me to go to events with them. My teen years were filled with rebellion and angst, as they are for almost all teenagers. My friends also pushed and rebelled, even more than I did because they were the youngest in their families, while I was the “Mommy” of the group. Yet when they were in the most trouble, they fell back to center. They came back to prayer, and took comfort from their internal struggle and the struggle against their parents. They would feel at peace. I so wanted that.
And so my spiritual journey began. It was a quest of sorts–one that I am still on, searching for that way to come back to center.
I want that peace for my children. I want them to have that structure, that safe harbor, that engrained framework. I want them to take comfort in ritual, so that when they are rebelling and lashing out at the world, they will have peace somewhere inside of their souls. I want them to know and feel that they are part of something bigger than the daily struggles that challenge them. I want them to have a strong religious foundation.
So, I signed on to raising my children Muslim before I even knew what being Muslim meant. I trusted my husband because even without him explicitly telling me, I felt that inner peace he held deep in his core and I wanted that for my children. I have tried to perform the five daily prayers with my children at various times throughout the last eleven years and it always feels wrong to me. It doesn’t speak to my soul, and I cannot hear God. I watch my children pray with Khaled and it brings me to tears because I know that they hear God when they pray.
My daughter asked me the other day, “Mommy, do you pray?” and I answered her honestly. “Of course I pray.” But what I left unspoken is that I pray in a mismatched way, but a way that works for me. I’ve pieced together bits from one religion and words from another. I talk to God, I say the Lord’s Prayer, I recite the Fatihah, I give thanks and praise for everything I have and for what is to come. I ask for guidance and wisdom. The closest way that I can answer my baby without overburdening her with the baggage that comes with my quest for God is that I make Dua’a. To my children, that makes sense.
Kristina ElSayed is a mother of three, a wife and a jeweler. She creates empowerment jewelry for people of all faiths and spiritual paths at VianneFere and writes about raising Muslim children at MyIslamicLife. Kristina can be reached at VianneFere@live.com or on Twitter: @MyIslamicLife.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia