When I first became Muslim, I hesitated to tell my father of my conversion. After four years of strained relations, I felt that he might view my decision to follow the path of Islam as yet the next oddity in a string of confounding behaviors that had befuddled him and given him reason to doubt that I was the son he had raised.
But I was not to be discouraged. My enthusiasm for my newfound faith seemed to override all feelings of apprehension. Like many new Muslims, I was so satisfied and overwhelmed with feelings of peace and contentment, that I wanted to share my new life with the entire world.
So one evening, standing in my kitchen over a pot of grits, I called home to speak with my father. I dont quite remember exactly how religion worked itself into the conversation. But I do remember telling him that I had become Muslim and I vividly remember the meat of his response: "So what are your politics?"
Now I cant really blame my father for his response. After all, I had spent the better part of my college career underwhelming him both with my academic and familial performances. But hearing such a response from someone I had always considered the epitome of intelligence and perception hurt nonetheless.
The irony of the situation was that at the time, politics hadnt even crossed my field of vision. In fact, it was perhaps the last thing on my mind with reference to my new life. As a new Muslim I was concerned with much more crucial issues, such as figuring out how to pray, guarding the words that passed over my tongue and staying away from alcohol and illicit relations with the opposite sex. But as a media consumer and regular human being, my father succumbed to the small voice of fear inside all of us that often accompanies moments of dramatic realization when our ideal world collides head-on with the brave new world of someone else.
Modern Western civilization seems to be cut from the same fabric that dresses my father in his neat ensemble of ideas, preconceptions, wishes, hopes and desires. And like myself, Islam in general is that technicolor dreamcoat of change that black and white minds find the antithesis of their very existence.
Especially in America, the Muslim community so resembles that fresh new identity I put on five years ago. Like the convert to Islam, the American Muslim community is still trying gain consistency in religious and social life. American Muslims are struggling to put food on the table, send children to school and be accepted as integral components of this society. So the pejorative politics of which my father spoke, are just as foreign to American Muslims as a whole as they were to me.
Despite my best efforts, the relationship between my father and me has never normalized. I suppose this could be attributed to failed communication, geographical distance, inability to accept new ways of thinking or some combination of the three. However, whatever the cause of our dysfunction, the fact remains that our relationship is dysfunctional. And as far as the familial bond is concerned, that is a paradigm that is unacceptable. There is no excuse for dissonance so great that parents and children are unable to come to some understanding on their changing and developing roles as human beings.
The same applies to the relationship between American society and Muslims. Muslims are children of this land. Muslims have the almost genetic imprint of societal inclusion that is our birthright as Americans. We have however grown up to find that we are not clones of our parents. America indeed has nurtured us, punished us and molded us; but it has ultimately not defined us.
The American Muslim definition has gushed forth from a different spring. It may be water, but its flowing along its own path. The question at hand is whether the two tributaries will ever meet to form an even greater torrent of culture and society that mixes and swirls, rises and falls, ebbs and flows; yet still empties into the same ocean of mutual understanding and respect.
Ali Asadullah is the Editor of iviews.com