My Father and My Religion

Amanda Quraishi

I was on a conference call one evening last week when my call waiting beeped at me. It took me a few seconds to recognize the number since I only see that area code a couple times a year. It was my dad. I let it go to voicemail.

I waited until the next day to check the message. His voice came amicably through the receiver and he chided me jokingly about turning 40 a few weeks earlier. My dad doesn’t celebrate birthdays, so I thought it was odd that he was calling me about it until I realized the real reason for his call: an annual religious celebration that is part of his church is coming up soon. He wanted to remind me about that.

I left my dad’s church for good in my early twenties, after a long struggle between the teachings I grew up with and my own personal beliefs that had gradually evolved from age, experience and study. My father’s church instructs that members should not associate with people who leave the faith, and that includes family. When I left, I did so with the knowledge that my dad would no longer be an active part of my life.

Having been through the process of losing the religion of my youth and choosing a new path (Islam), I firmly believe that there is no more fundamental or sacred right that each human being has than to explore their spirituality on their own terms. And yet, as I have experienced, it is often the people closest to us that want to control that sacred right and who feel justified in punishing us if our seeking leads us in a direction different from their own.

Sadly, this kind of ‘compulsion’ isn’t confined to any one religion. I’ve seen this same kind of manipulation and coercion happen in families claiming all kinds of religious traditions, including Islam.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years being angry at religion because it has destroyed the relationship I had with my father. In fact, even though I’ve embraced Islam, I continue to struggle against resentment toward religion for all the ‘stupid things it makes people do to one another’.

But it occurred to me recently that perhaps my anger was misplaced.

If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I know a lot of religious people who have stood by their children even when they’ve ‘left the fold’ and chosen another religion to follow…yes, even within my dad’s church. I’ve seen religious people who have stood by their children when they have chosen atheism. I am a religious person, and I would never dream about rejecting my children or cutting them off because they have chosen a different religion, or even non-belief.

Maybe, just maybe, the reason I have been so angry at religion for so long is because the alternative is admitting that the real object of my anger and resentment should be my father. It’s much easier to hate a large, faceless entity like religion than to admit that the person who helped bring me into the world and raised me; the man who read stories to me before bedtime and taught me how to ride a bike has chosen to reject a relationship with his own daughter.

Our families are our first introduction to the idea of God and the concept of religion. As children, we can’t help but associate the earliest brand of authority we know (our parents) with the esoteric and idea of the ‘ultimate authority’ of the Divine. I guess it’s an easy enough mistake to get mad at God and religion for the things our families do.

Religion has been used to justify both good and bad actions. It has been used to oppress and liberate. It can be used for comfort or as a weapon. The choice belongs to each believer. I must come to terms with the fact that my father has chosen to interpret his Christian faith as exclusionary and judgmental.

My father hasn’t seen me in years. He calls a couple times a year for an obligatory ‘check in’. He has only seen my husband and my children a few times, and has only spoken to them on the phone once or twice. He has chosen to forfeit a relationship with my family and me. These are his choices, and he’s justified them with his religion.

But I have choices, too.

I love more freely in the name of religion after having been subject to conditional love from my father. I’ve embraced my limited human vision and chosen to leave judgment to an Almighty One that Knows All. I’m relieved of punishing people for not worshipping ‘the right way’. I’m free to love everyone; regardless of certain ‘rules’ that some of my co-religionists wish to impose on others in the name of God. I have chosen to worship God…not religion; and that means that when religion conflicts with what I know of God, I’m free to disregard it. I can say to my children, my husband, and the rest of my family, “I’ll love you, and care for you, and be here for you… no matter what you do,” and I can mean it.

This is my choice, Alhamdolillah. This is my religion.

 

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Amanda Quraishi is a blogger, interfaith activist and technology professional living in Austin, Texas. You can follow her adventures on her personal blog muslimahMERICAN.com, or on Twitter at @ImTheQ.


12 Comments on “My Father and My Religion”

  1. Salaam. Thanks for much for sharing a small piece of what I imagine has been a complicated relationship with your father. I also have a Christian father.

  2. Rosa RC Casarez says:

    I was raised catholic just because my mother’s family was what they call in Mexico (catolicos de hueso colorado… red boned catholics) My father did not believe in the catholic religion or attended religious services anywhere for that matter. He did however read the bible on a daily basis like most would a magazine or a book. My mother would encourage my siblings and I to attend as many services and religions and expereince for ourselves what we felt would be right, I find that admirable of her. I can relate to much of what you share about religion. i was introduced to JW by my now husband at the age of 18 (he isn’t baptized and neither am I but most of his family is and we have many JW friends) 26 years later I am still attending ocassional meetings and special events. My husband and I along with my children struggle sometimes because WE WILL NOT discriminate anyone for their religious beliefs. Our family events and gatherings are a mix of cultures and religious beliefs and for that we are seeked by many friends and family members. I don’t believe it’s your father’s religion that made him make that choice but his person.

  3. Farah says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you Amanda.

  4. I love this post, and I love Q! My ex boyfriend’s mom did this as well. She gave up a relationship with her son and used her religion as the excuse. It hurts my heart to see something as beautiful and faith used to divide and hurt. But I guess people will use whatever they can to justify their ignorance. Sometimes you just have to brush the haters off (yeah, I said it!) and live your life…… even if those haters are your family.

  5. “I have chosen to worship God…not religion.”
    Beautiful and poignant. Thank you Amanda🙂

  6. Beautiful piece. Thank you so much for sharing.🙂

    • “I have chosen to worship God…not religion; and that means that when religion conflicts with what I know of God, I’m free to disregard it.”

      This is my favorite line of your piece, because I wholeheartedly agree. There are those who say you cannot pick and choose in religion… but if some religious doctrine goes against what I know in my heart of God, I cannot follow it and so, choose to do otherwise. It is nice to know there are others who feel this.

  7. alianaji says:

    Wow, forget about religion, the key word that caught my eye here is Love, i guess when we choose to love unconditionally everything else just falls into place, and then that love has led you to a religion of peace, may your message reach as many who have an otherwise opinion of Islam,MashAllah..

  8. Ray says:

    You have chose well.

  9. kw0205 says:

    How insightful of you – I have spent many years distrusting organized religion, and it just now dawns on me those feelings come from the people, not the religion itself. I was raised similarly as you – never baptized, but my parents were. We were alienated from extended family growing up, and friendships were discouraged from outside of the religion. My mother left the church for a long while and started going back five or so years ago (she was never dis-fellowshipped). She has not alienated us; she does not witness to us every time we see her (thankfully!). One of my sisters is very active in her non-denominational Christian church, and I can honestly say she is much more judging of others than my mother is. My mom says, and she believes, it’s not her place to judge anyone. She is living her life the way she feels is the right way. How can I argue with that? I am blessed and fortunate that she treats her family as lovingly as she does. I can only imagine the change from when she was active before to when she chose to go back now may be leadership within her congregation too, that may not preach to not associate with unlike-minded people. I have friends of many, many different faiths and value the ability to talk openly to learn about different religions. I think a lot of us do a disservice to our children by not teaching them, or let them interact, with other faiths.

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  11. Eolia Disler says:

    Thank you for sharing your view about faith and love. I wholeheartly agree with you. The people in a religious community (whatever their believes) do not represent “God” and the way to walk to meet Him. It’s our understanding of the relationship we can have with Him, and what He is (His nature) that is the most important for each one of us. I’m a convert in the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-Day Saints (my family is catholic but I was not baptised), and it’s not the people who made me chose my Church but the way I felt about God in it.
    I have always been open-minded concerning the believes of others, and that will never change. Love is the base of my choices in life (ok, I make some mistakes from time to time… but we are here to learn and progress, don’t we?). How could I pretend to follow Jesus, to live His teachings, if I judge and shun others? “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again”. (Matthew 7:2)
    I have now a bad relationship with my mother (not because of my faith mind you), and even if she refuses to acknowledge that she abandoned her role as my mother, I will never stop reaching out for her. Because with Love, there’s always Hope on the way.
    With love, your sister in God.