On Arab Parents and Religiosity: What Went Wrong?

By: Neda Ahmed

Religion is a taboo topic, and I dare you to disagree. Whatever spiritual path you may be following, speaking freely about religion, especially to our parents, was, is, and will continue to be a struggle.

The stereotypical belief that reaching teen-hood means you give up all your religious beliefs probably stems from somewhere. This is what our parents see of other kids, it terrifies them in a way that is very irrational, so they violate us because their biggest nightmare is their own children turning out the same.

Whatever you identify asーJew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, etc.ーif you’re Arab, chances are your parents imposed their lifestyle on you, one way or another. This is not to say that they don’t do this out of love, but we weren’t raised to cherish our beliefs but rather see the instructions of our religion as restraints and see the ideas as a foundation of an invisible prison when, in reality, religion has a possibility to be the farthest it could be from that.

I don’t get how they are still indoctrinating people when their beliefs are based wholly on fear. Are their beliefs based on fear, or was fear the only way they knew how to pass on their beliefs to us? We’ve been repressed and forced without an explanation to not do certain things ever since we were kids. Here’s the thingーas we grow into adolescence, they will not be able to force us to do things or believe certain ideas anymore. Surprisingly, this is when they start mourning our loss of deen. May I ask whose fault is it, if we’ve been raised to fear you instead of paying respects to the beliefs we hold?

While there is no religious text that orders its believers to beat their children into obedience, Arab parents do just that to make their children obey the askings of their spiritual instructors. However ironic is that it also caused conflict, I’m sure, within those who went through that. A request lies on doors now: I ask you to put away any memories associated with religion aside (yes, I know this is an exceedingly difficult thing to ask), for a few minutes. It can be different for us.

You can be religious without being an extremist.

You can be religious and still be kind and compassionate.

You can be religious and still be a human, in every sense of that word.

Your parents aren’t the perfect model of practitioners of religion, neither are mine, hers, his, or theirs. In the same way we will never be perfect practitioners as well, but we’re genuinely, truly trying our best. It’s time we understand our beliefs and not be coerced into being a ‘believer’ blindly. Because deen is – in unequal measures – logical and factual belief based on an understanding of its constitution mostly, with a spattering of faith (that is often blind). At the end of the day, nothing you do counts unless it’s genuine, in terms of everything divine.

Break down and understand the values of your beliefs. Rely on the religious text, on certified actual scholars to explain the religious text, on credible books about religion, and allow yourself to ask however many questions you have. So the sheikh at the local mosque won’t probably be who you’re looking for, neither is the priest at the local church, or even that scientist you idolize so much. Your religion teacher is also not your very credible source of information. Ask your parents why they believe in this or that and listen to them. They’re not the most credible of sources as well, but it’s important to know why they wanted you to believe in a specific thing. More importantly, the number one rule here is to ask questions, because we deserve a choice in our faith and religion, if we choose any, to begin with.

I say this with regret but it saddens me to see that those our age who practice their religion loudly are viewed as extremists or people whose mindsets are rotten. Break down this cycleーif someone wants to read their religious text on the bus, at school, or pray in front of everyone, it’s not your business. Those who prioritize their beliefs over anyone else are not backward peopleーthey’re just people whose values and norms are different than yours. There’s this stigma around religion, surprisingly so, and it’s our responsibility to break it down. In that same vain, recognizing religious trauma is important, because there’s also this stigma around not practicing faith or certain religious behaviors. This is a very privileged stance and it is also my personal opinion. There’s much that we need to work through in terms of who produces our knowledge of religion, and why. This very violent, very terrorist rhetoric fed to us by our parents needs to end.

PSA: Everyone is allowed to live their lives however they please. No faith or religion in the world demands you forcefully shove it down another person’s throat, that includes the belief that there is no divine power, cool? Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Agnostic, or Atheist – your faith is your own, don’t enforce it on others, please.

Maybe we should discuss religious trauma next?

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