The alienation of Western Muslims happens on multiple levels. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 here. I don’t intend to insinuate that these three parts are the only ways that lead to feelings of alienation, just that these are three common ones that I have seen multiple times. Can you think of one I missed? Feel free to leave it in the comments and I’ll do my best to address it in future posts.
Alienation from Family
This occurs in many, many forms. The causes of this alienation often differ for born Muslims and converts. The most disastrous for any human is complete and permanent rejection by family. Even if there are later attempts to mend these ties, it is very difficult to heal these wounds and rebuild trust from nothing.
Personally, I hid my conversion from my family for quite a bit of time due to fear of rejection. Even still, there is quite a bit of tip-toeing around the subject. “Amanda” and “Muslim” are never said in the same sentence, and my parents never see me in hijab. The pressure from a convert’s family often leads to the convert (at least temporarily) living a dual life. We may wear hijab full-time, pray on time, eat halal food, and avoid gossip and backbiting while we live on our own, but when we return to our family environment slip back into old habits. This dual personality is dangerous to Iman and self-image, while also being physically and mentally draining.
Often, there is misplaced blame for the conversion which creates a great division. Parents blame the child’s spouse or peers for brainwashing their precious angel. There is more discussion around Stockholm Syndrome than of the actual beliefs which their birth child has come to embrace. It often does not matter how much knowledge the convert holds in that religion, the parents refuse to discuss or even acknowledge the fact that their child could have made this decision on their own. This creates higher tension and lowers the ability to forgive and mend hurt feelings.
For those raised in Muslim families, often the younger generation is ostracized for being “too religious”. I have seen many Muslim women ridiculed by their family for choosing to wear hijab, because their family wanted to blend in with Western culture and be viewed as progressive. I have seen mothers refuse to let their daughters wear hijab due to fear of bullying, while it was all the daughter dreamt of – leading her to choose between disobeying her mother and wearing the scarf behind her back, or not fulfilling one of the commands of Islam. Outside of the superficial clothing, I have even known people who were raised in Muslim families who were treated with contempt for maintaining the daily Salat or fasting the entire month of Ramadan.
This extends to first and second generation immigrants, who are sometimes accused of their families of “becoming too Westernized”, or even of losing Islam due to the socialized habits that come from school, university, and simply living in a Western country. This represents an inability to separate cultural habits, dress, and speech from Islam as a religion.
Alienation by In-Laws
One immensely difficult task that Muslims face when seeking marriage is finding someone to spend their life with, and who will be accepted by their families. Both converts and born-Muslims run into similar issues in this matter. The proposed spouse is too light, too dark, the wrong ethnicity, isn’t rich enough, doesn’t speak _____ language, doesn’t wear ethnic clothes, doesn’t wear niqab, or even wears hijab when the family doesn’t. When we look at the Qur’an in Surat Al Baqarah ayah 221, Allah tells us that it is better to marry a believing slave than a disbeliever. If we should be expected to marry a slave due to their religious belief holding more merit than anything else, why is so much emphasis placed on superficial aspects?
Often, the parents and extended family put culture over Islam. They feel as if someone is attacking their culture if something is deemed unIslamic.
One example: I have a good friend, a convert, who married into a Pakistani family. Her one and only request was that there was no music or dancing at the wedding. Her future in-laws flipped. It was if she was saying their entire culture wasn’t good enough; their traditions weren’t good enough; they were all sinners.
These situations create tension between newly weds and their families, which does not create strong, supportive family ties.
Speaking as a convert, we often are in dire need of our in-laws’ support because we have limited-to-nothing left of our prior support system. Especially if we are marrying a foreign-born Muslim, where family extends far beyond the nuclear family common to Western nations, the well-wishes of the spouse’s family are essential to surviving and succeeding in marriage.
Overall, families are diverse and full of individuals with variant opinions, personalities, and abilities to confront contentious situations. A change in religion or level of religiosity can create friction, and it is one test that we must bear in this dunya.
May Allah grant us Sabr, Ameen.