Is it possible to accommodate Muslim and Christian traditions under one roof?
Religion is not a topic most people enjoy discussing. As a child, I remember my parents’ once telling my brother and me: “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company.”
However, it was still very difficult to avoid these issues growing up, especially since my mom is Christian while my dad is Muslim.
This subject matter is particularly inescapable this time of year, where the topic of religion and its relationship to the holiday season appears to permeate every news outlet and incendiary Internet think piece. And in the wake of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, among others, it seems like stark religious lines are being drawn in the sand, particularly between Christians and Muslims.
But for me growing up, it seemed perfectly normal for us to have both religions in the house for Christmas and other religious holidays.
We celebrated Christmas with ornament-filled trees and lots of presents. Both my parents went to great lengths to surprise us on Christmas morning. If my mum’s parents were visiting, she would say grace in three different languages. Although she wouldn’t describe herself as a practicing Christian, she nonetheless followed most of the core beliefs.
Never once did my father—or anyone from his side of the family—ever suggest conversion or something ridiculous like that. They fully respect her religious identity.
On the other hand, when Islamic events came around they were celebrated with much of the same enthusiasm.
My brother and I did our best to fast during Ramadan, which is a 28-day period of reflection and daytime abstention from food. This would naturally be much easier in the winter season. We also celebrated Eid al-Fitr, which immediately follows Ramadan.
Family gatherings are a focal point of these celebrations, filled with delicious, homemade and elaborate feasts, and generous gift giving. While these things have lead many to label Ramadan and Eid as being the Muslim version of Christmas, these celebrations are the most important holidays in the Sunni Islamic calendar and they always bring our family closer together.
Christian holidays saw my dad having as much fun as the rest of us whilst my mum happily celebrated Islamic events. Even my name serves as a symbol of this religious hybridity, as Nadia means, “hope” in many (Christian) European countries and Helal means “crescent moon”, a symbol of Islam.
I have absolutely wonderful memories from both faiths and wouldn’t change a thing about my childhood holiday experience. I love and respect both my parents for allowing my brother and I to experience the best of both religions and never once pressuring us into conforming to one or the other.
With open religious discussion becoming increasingly common, I think it’s more important now than ever to emphasize the idea that there’s no such thing as an inferior or evil race or religion.
The negative spotlight shining on Muslims since the Paris attacks saddens me—but I feel that if my family has been able to find middle ground during the holidays, surely the rest of the world can too.