Asalamu alaikum/peace be upon you,
Recently I attended a sister’s dinner, against my better judgement, where I sat in a room for 4 hours at the home of a woman I don’t know, only to be lectured on everything from how I dress (you should be in an abaya, sister) to how I raise my child (are you sure raising a free child is Islamic? Shouldn’t you be following how the Arabs raise their children, sister?) and so on. Whilst sitting amidst this small group of sisters, most of whom were born Muslim, educated, are currently mothering small children and who, incidentally, were all wearing abayas, I realized that the pressure to conform amongst practicing Muslims is often asphyxiating. I was reminded of junior high school, actually, where adolescent hormones and insecurities create a volatile mix and leave one very vulnerable to peer pressure.
Now, I am not saying that the pressure from these sisters was all negative; it’s just that it was all imposed upon me, without my asking for advice or guidance in any way. I am sure the sisters who invited me did not intend for me to be lectured, but it is the way it turned out. With my mai tai style baby carrier covered in colourful calaveras’, steel toed winter boots, uber dark lipstick, stretched ear lobes and a lot of black; I was the only obvious radical in the bunch… I guess I was asking to be a target, but I am not sure why this has to be. It’s not the first time I have entered the lion’s den looking like a tasty gazelle, but this was the first time I actually didn’t think about it ahead of time and prepare for the slaughter.
When I stopped wearing abayas full time, sometime ago now, and reverted back to my comfort level of classic goth stylin’, I knew I would be hit with comments, concern and an endless stream of advice. I was armed and prepared and eventually just stopped spending time with sisters that I don’t know and/or don’t trust. For some reason when I was invited out last week, I didn’t think about the potential target I was, even though I didn’t know anyone present, save for the two sisters who extended the invite. So I wasn’t surprised when the apparel commentary began. What I was completely taken aback by was the lecture on parenting.
Since when did we, as Muslim parents, have to start conforming to a particular cultural style of child rearing? Argh. It’s too much! Being pressured to look a certain way is sheep like enough; after all, who really thinks that one must look like a modern day Arab in order to be dressed appropriately?
But conforming to cultural child rearing? It was all I could do to not tell the sisters ‘step off’! I believe in raising a free child – a child who is respected by his parents, whose opinions are listened to, considered and if not accepted, then told why. I believe that my child has rights and freedoms within my home and that he should know that he will always be dealt with justly. This means that in my home there is legitimate authority; I am not an oppressor for my son… we do not and will not belittle, threaten, physically punish, criticize, command, lie, withhold information, manipulate through false praise, or allow anyone (adult or child) to bully. We believe in telling the truth, negotiating, explaining, teaching, giving choice and being positive role models.
With all of the ill mannered children I see in our community, why on earth would I take child rearing advice from any of the sisters whose children show signs of being raised with cultural expectations. What I learned from my years as a university chaplain was that cultural expectations of children include absolute obedience, the inability to question authority, pressure to mimic the parent’s thoughts, opinions and behaviours no matter how vile or unIslamic they may be. There is no freedom to be an equal member of the family, in cultural families children are always at the bottom of the heap, they are not respected and are often bullied. I don’t want my child to be keeping the company of such kids, let alone be raised to be one of them! Islam is about justice, tolerance, mercy and egalitarianism, so why would i raise my child with values different from these?
So, call me a radical, but I had to explain to a few of these sisters that I do not support oppressive parenting. I attempted to explain my approach to parenting, but it fell on deaf ears. Should I be surprised? No. In a community where conformity is king, speaking one’s mind is an act of extreme rebellion and is given no respect, let alone value. But what my community needs is more sisters, and brothers, who are embarking on the parent route, to speak out against oppressive cultural parenting styles and promote open and supportive parenting models. This is my latest hope and prayer for our ummah…