It's no surprise that many reverts face numerous challenges. From conflicting customs to dietary limitations, many Muslim reverts struggle to strike a balance between appeasing their non-Muslim loved ones during cultural celebrations and practising Islam.
Irene (not her real name), a 30-year-old Chinese Muslim in Singapore, shares her journey reverting to Islam 11 years ago and how she navigates her religion and family during Chinese New Year!
Curiosity Lead Me Here
At such a young age, Irene was curious to discover why there were many religions and beliefs. To try to understand the different religions, she started to read more Middle-Eastern books and stumbled across The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. She was intrigued by the Islamic terms used in the novel, such as 'In sha'Allah' and 'Alhamdulillah', as well as the definition provided in the footnote of the book. Following that, she slowly started to incorporate them into her daily speech.
Irene explained that "Muslims would look at me and ask if I knew what it meant" to which she would reply and explain that it means 'If God Wills, and 'Praise be to God'. She shared that some of her Muslim friends would tell her that she "can't say that because I'm not Muslim". While she understood the concept of God, she explained that was still trying to find her way.
Following that, Irene mentioned that while she was over at her Muslim friend's house, they stopped to listen to the Azaan as well as watch the Tawaf happening on TV. When she told her friend that she wanted to go to Mecca one day, her friend said she was crazy and that "I was a Kufr (non-believer) and I'm not allowed since I'm a non-Muslim". This piqued her curiosity even more and so began questioning her friend about Islam.
"Alhamdulillah, I converted even without knowing much about Islam because I knew there was only one God", said Irene. "I took my time as I was still finding my way and trying to get accepted by society, my family, and friends.”
Losing Friends and Other Challenges Faced
Irene mentioned that as she gradually started getting serious about Islam, praying, and seeking ilm (knowledge), she felt lost as some of her friends who believed strongly against her religion outrightly rejected her.
She said: "I lost all my friends. I'm not sure if I rejected them or they rejected me because I didn't know how to explain myself which may be why I pulled myself away since I was so young,"
When she was younger, she felt pressured by the things society would tell her, saying that she should be the "perfect embodiment of what Islam is". The immense stress and pressure of being questioned about the way she dressed, the reason she wasn't wearing a hijab, and more, made her run away. The feeling of not being able to fulfill anything well in society’s eyes and by her family members as well as constantly getting rejected, made her feel tired of trying.
Not only did her relationship with her friends change, but things at home did as well. Irene shared that it was hard for her family members to understand her decision, saying that people fear things they can't comprehend. She shared that she faced difficulty during the period she started getting serious about Islam as her father was also getting serious about his religion.
"He was trying to convert me, trying to pull me to his Church, and tried to preach to me as well as question my beliefs," shared Irene.
Irene explained that it was a difficult time for her as she was scared most times, saying that she "didn't have enough ilm to fight back or to counter-argue or correct him". However, as time passed, her direct family started to accept her, even though were some hiccups along the way.
She said: "I live with my mom and brother, so they used to ask me why I play the Azaan so loud, but then again, you fear things you don't understand. Over time, they got used to it, Alhamdulillah".
Irene also shared that her family members were supportive and that they even know that prayers can't be compromised, recalling that her mom would ask her "Why didn't you pray?", or "Don't you need to pray?". She also explained that the food in her house is mostly halal and that she freely enjoys eating home-cooked Chinese meals that use halal ingredients.
Celebrating Chinese New Year As A Revert
During her first few years celebrating Chinese New Year as a revert, she shared that there were some tensions between her and her family as they still had to sit and eat together, knowing that some don't agree with her decisions. The tension between her family members made her take drastic actions to travel abroad every Chinese New Year with her mother instead.
Irene said: "My mom and I, in order to avoid Chinese New Year, would travel overseas to spend time with each other. For 3 or 4 years, we did that to avoid tension and spend time with each other."
However, over the years, Irene mentioned that her family and relatives try their best to cater to her dietary requirements. Her relative would give her, her own pot and soup, as well as put the halal ingredients at the corner of the table so that they won't cross-contaminate. She also added that she will bring or order her own food if her family or relatives don't cater to her dietary requirements.
She said: "The effort is enough for me and I don't question too much. If I'm wary, I'll just not touch it because I get a little scared so I rather not.”
Irene shared that she started to realise the importance of loving your family from an Islamic point of view as well as being close to your family and building relationships. She claims that understanding the importance of family was “enough for me to not want to run away anymore”. She added that she tries to abide by her religion and sunnah of getting reacquainted with her family.
To Irene, celebrating Chinese New Year with her family is more than just that. It's about doing right by her religion through loving her family and reigniting familial bonds.
Advice to Muslims Celebrating CNY With Non-Muslims Relatives
For other Muslims who have plans to celebrate Chinese New Year with their non-Muslim relatives and friends, Irene advises taking it slow without compromising your faith and understanding that as much as you have your own fears, your family members have their own fear too.
If your family members are acting out, behaving rudely, or being petty, Irene reminds us that it all stems from fear about what they don't know and from not understanding our decisions.
She added: "You just have to greet them with kindness and don't think that everything they ask you is out of spite as sometimes, it can be just that they really don't know".
Ending it off, she advises those worrying to prepare themselves and prepare their relatives by letting them know beforehand about their dietary preferences, whether they require you to contribute the ingredients or buy your own meals.
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