Fast forward to the family starting stage, she converts to Islam and raises her daughters as Muslims. Plot twist! And an intriguing one at that. Nakeda — still living the American dream, still sweet, popular Nakeda — shares with us how a typical American Christian could convert and happily raise children Muslim.
She shares what it’s like in her now Muslim home for the holidays compared to her childhood Christian home. And she enlightens us on surprising similarities between the two cultures and religions. Prepare to have some myths busted.
There are thousands of different religions practiced around the world, and religious diversity increases in North America every year.
TiP: Why did you convert from Christianity to Islam?
Nakeda: While in college at Howard University, I met many Muslims from various countries and states. They presented themselves in a variety of ways. Some women from India and Nigeria did not wear a traditional hijab (the head covering worn by many Muslim women), but jeans and dresses like me. There were others from Washington D.C. who wore abayas (loose-fitting, ankle-length dresses with long sleeves).
The Muslim I met at Howard that had the most influence on my conversion was Dr. Aziz, my Intro to Africa professor. He explained the tenets of Islam to my class, and I was intrigued by the dignified and peaceful behavior that he attributed to being Muslim.
So, Dr. Aziz, some amazing and intelligent college mates, and the fact that my best friend/husband are excellent examples of Muslim behavior led me to convert.
TiP: How is raising the girls Muslim different and similar to your Christian upbringing?
Nakeda: My mother always connected being a “lady” to being a good Christian girl. A lady is friendly polite and clean because “cleanliness is next to godliness.” My daughters attend an Islamic school and their teachers taught me a phrase to repeat with them daily. “Muslims are clean, organized, and patient.” So being kind and clean are two ideas that both my Christian mother and I, as a Muslim, emphasize as we raise my children.
One difference is that I do not allow the girls to celebrate non-Islamic days like Christmas. We celebrate Eid al-Fitr.
TiP: What are the holidays like for your family?
Nakeda: My family celebrates Eid al-Fitr, which is the culmination of the month of Ramadan when Muslims fast from sun up to sun down every day for the whole month. On Eid al-Fitr, we wake up early to go pray at a mosque or masjid (Islam place of congregational worship). After, we go home to eat a big wonderful meal and exchange gifts.
The early prayer service at the masjid and the gift exchange are similar to going to sunrise service on Easter and opening gifts on Christmas for Christians.
According to ReligiousTolerance.org, religious diversity and tolerance (and intolerance) is arguably most apparent during the holiday season, when most religious celebrations are celebrated around the same time: in December, often around the occurrence of the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere, the shortest day and longest night.
Here’s a list of popular religions celebrated in North America around the holidays. Something to keep in mind when teaching the kids about the diversity, tolerance, and understanding behind the phrase “Happy Holidays!”
TiP: Nakeda, what do you like better about being a Muslim?
Nakeda: I like two things better about Islam . . .
(1) religion is not compulsory in Islam. Muslims do not proselytize.
(2) pork is expressly forbidden to Muslims. I figured out that pork gave me headaches long before I considered conversion. When I realized Muslims do not eat pork I thought, “I totally get why they don’t. Cool!”
What advantages do the girls have by attending Islamic schools? And do you teach them about other religions, too? Why or why not?
Nakeda: An advantage to attending an Islamic school is that my girls get to learn the Arabic language and be educated about Islam on both an academic and spiritual level. That is significant in the post-911 dissemination of misinformation about Islam and Muslims.
And Islam cannot be taught without the recognition of Judaism and Christianity. They are undeniably linked, and the girls’ Islamic studies teachers and Christian grandmother inform them about Judaism and Christianity. They’re also taught about Buddhism and Daoism.
As they get older and want a comparative look at other religions and Islam, it will be my duty to help them learn as much as they can. Part of being Muslim is to read and become as knowledgeable as one can be.
TiP: You and the girls do not cover your head or dress differently than your average Americans. Why not?
Nakeda: I wear a hijab when I pray, when I’m invited to an Islamic event and feel so inclined. Otherwise, I do not. Sometimes though, I feel like there will come a point in my personal growth when I want to wear a hijab full-time.
My daughters’ school requires girls age eight and above to wear a hijab all day at school. Girls under eight are only required to wear them during prayer time.
For now, both school aged daughters express the desire to wear hijabs full-time as teenagers and adults. I will support their decisions either way.
There are thousands of Muslim women that non-Muslims and Muslims alike do not detect because they do not wear hijabs full-time. One would be surprised to know how many Muslim women they’ve encountered, but don’t know it because we don’t all wear hijabs.
TiP: What is your family’s favorite holiday tradition?
Nakeda: Our favorite family tradition is going to make prayer early on the morning of Eid al-Fitr, then going to eat at my mother-in-law’s house where the kids open gifts ALL day. My husband, mother, and brother-in-law buy all kinds of gifts and goodies for the kiddos!
During the holidays, and throughout the year, Nakeda and her family participate in Muslim and non-Muslim charitable and social activities; her girls play with both Muslim and non-Muslim children; and she and her husband socialize with a diverse group of friends. Are you noticing a pattern here? Acceptance, tolerance, diversity, community, family . . . this is what the Barnes family is all about. And they would like to wish the Tuned In Parents community a joyous holiday season filled with love and gratitude for the freedom to observe our many wonderful religious celebrations.
References: (chart) www.adherents.com, www.religioustolerance.com