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A MUSLIM SCARF: CAN A CHILD CHOOSE HER RELIGION?

“I want to be a Muslim,” says your 5 year-old daughter, adjusting the scarf that her auntie gave her, making her look like a traditional Muslim.
“Okay, Your father is Muslim, you can be Muslim too.”
“Yay!” she says excitedly. “Can I wear this scarf to school tomorrow?”
“Uhhhhh. Let me think about it,” you say, hoping that she might forget.
The truth is, wearing a scarf and being a Muslim at home is different from wearing it to school; and really, is she even a real Muslim? Granted, you and your husband said that she could pick her own religion when she grew up, but she hasn’t grown up yet. Can you choose a religion at age 5?

A few months ago, you attended a celebration to mark the end of Ramadan called the EID. You were invited by one of your best friends and it was a barbeque to end all barbeques. There was plenty of food, kids, and family. Had you attended such a gathering growing up, you might have become a Muslim too. But instead, you’re a pseudo Christian.
Since then, she’s been asking questions like why people fast and don’t eat pork like her grandmother who never met a pig she didn’t like. “Oh, it’s against their religion? Can it be against mine?” Now the prayers she sees her father doing hold new meaning. “Can I say them with you?” she’ll ask, kneeling at the mat beside him.
Once she realized that the sea of colorful headscarves worn by the Egyptian and African women in your Jersey City neighborhood belonged to Muslim women, it’s been a wrap. Now, she has something of her own that connects her to this religion: a scarf given to her by her aunt.
Now she’s had it a few years, and it’s not a Muslim scarf per se. It’s not even fresh anymore from using it as a belt, rope to pull her back and a zillion other things. Sometimes it’s exhausting to watch her fiddle, tuck, clip and do everything in her power to make it work. “Does this look Muslim mommy?” It’s like trying to make a plantain a banana, it’s close, but it ain’t the same thing. The other day you let her wear it to the park so you should have seen this coming. But you didn’t.
You call your mom.
“She doesn’t want to be black!” she screams into the phone. “Remember how she was so into Mexicans and then it was the Chinese? Now she wants to be a Muslim.”
“So you think I shouldn’t let her wear it?”
“Why does she want to wear one in the first place? Her head’s not cold!”
“She says she likes being different?”
“She needs to be herself! You can’t just let kids do what they want to do.”
She has a point. Are you unfairly setting your child up for disaster? Sometimes her innocence around this religion is heartbreaking because you wonder when the bubble will burst and she will know what you know. That Muslims are severely misunderstood in this country, and that’s being nice. Some people hate them. All it takes is one fool to say the wrong thing and then what?
At the risk of sounding like a paranoid white American that is afraid her daughter is bringing home a black dude, you call Sadiyyah, the sister of your best friend who invited you to the EID, to get some advice. She tells you that growing up in her black Muslim household, she didn’t have to wear a scarf, but a lot of times she chose to. “I liked that it represented my religion. Once a little girl at camp said, ‘You look like a Muslim,’ and I said, “I am!”
But she also understands, and even shares your concern about letting your daughter wear a Muslim scarf to school. Ironically, she has a five-year-old daughter who wants to wear a scarf to school too and she wonders if she’s prepared for the questions that she might get. “I think about how the radicals give the religion such a bad name and it’s a shame that we have to pull back in the world to protect our children. But at the same time, I have to know that it’s other people’s hang up. At the end of the day, she’s only five, so she may not get a lot of questions.”
You get off the phone relieved that you’re not so crazy. Even this woman who is a practicing Muslim, has your same fears.
But you still have to answer the questions: Do you let your daughter wear the scarf to school or not?
Your mind thinks to this Muslim woman that you see everyday when dropping your daughter off to school. She wears all black and is covered everywhere except for the eyes. Every time you see her you jump out of your skin. It’s like seeing a ninja first thing in the morning and you’re never prepared for it. It occurs to you that as open as you think you are about Muslims and the religion, you’re not really. At the end of the day, there’s this part of you that wants things to be easy. Maybe as a black woman in America the thought of taking on another controversial thing just seems like self-torture. But maybe you’re projecting that on to your kid. Perhaps it’s your hang up. Maybe by the time she gets a little older it will be more accepted. Maybe it is now. Maybe it doesn’t even matter because Sadiyyah grew up proud and the world wasn’t any different back then.
You have to let your daughter find her way. This little girl might just be a Muslim and if so, she’ll figure out how to be that. You won’t throw her to the wolves, but you trust that she will figure it out. You’re going to let her wear the scarf to school.

By Erickka Sy Savané

6 Comments
  • Uria
    October 17, 2014

    I know this a personal matter that you are writing about but I must ask what you do you think about your daughter’s spirit claiming a religion not your own. I’m a Christian as well and the holy sport and word has shown me that Jesus is the way truth and light and none got to father except by him. You married a Muslim but how strongly is your relationship with God and conviction to save souls and draw close to one true God in the trinity. I just got sad bc I love your writing style but I was left confused at this opening of your home. I praying for you and I genuinely am not attacking just I love God and being a follower of Christ that I see it as my job as a mother to raise my own son to see lightning Christ and follow true God.

    • Erickka Sy Savané
      October 17, 2014

      Hi Uria, thanks for your comment as always. And to answer your question, I’m okay with her claiming a religion that is not my own because I am not that strong of a Christian. If anything, I am non-denominational. I’d say I’m spiritual but that word gets so over-used that I’m not so sure what it even means. My biggest issue with Christianity is that it is the ‘only way to God.’ I just don’t believe that. I choose to have my own personal relationship with God. I deal directly with Source.
      But on the other hand, there are many other things I dig about Christianity. I celebrate Xmas, Easter, I grew up with those traditions. She’ll have that and she’ll also have Ramadan if she chooses. She might want to have her own personal relationship with God like me. Ultimately, no matter which way she goes, I believe she’ll be fine. But in case I’m wrong, and you’re right, hey, keep praying for me!

      • Uria
        October 18, 2014

        Thank your for considerate response. I did not know where you were in journey but I have to say that Christianity is less about holidays and more about getting closer to God serving him and bringing others to God through Jesus by mediation of Holy Spirit. I wish you had more joy and sureness in your walk of faith because the Holy Spirit can help you lead a truly supernatural life where you are reading the Bible and getting fresh wisdom and change in your life. If you can find a church that teaches about Holy Spirit or even pray on your own for a personal encounter with very Spirt of God sent by Jesus you will never be the same . That’s in short lol my take on it it’s very dear to me I believe in speaking in tounges, spiritual warfare and a final judgement all those things are not present in other religions . I enjoy your writing and I have prayed for y’all . Peace to you:)

  • Jescye
    October 17, 2014

    I was raised Baptist but as an adult I identify myself as a non-denominational Christian. Our family reunions include Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims. She’ll be fine, she has her parents to guide her. It all ends and begins with God.

  • Adnan
    December 25, 2014

    I don’t want to impose, but I would suggest talking with your daughter. Explain to her that she can believe whatever she wants to believe but that, sometimes, there will be mean people who don’t like that. Sometimes, they will say things that are mean and things that are rude. Sometimes, those people will be kids, but sometimes also grown-ups. Explain to your daughter that, whatever these people say, she must be open and proud of what she is, whether she chooses to be a Muslim or a Christian or whatever. The thing about kids is that, no matter how hard you try to protect them, they will eventually get hurt. There’s no way for the injury to come on your terms, when you and your daughter are ready to face it. You have to prepared for that day. But one thing that I’ve learned is that, as an oppressed minority religion, if I wear my faith on my sleeve as a badge of honor, people will be less likely to call me a terrorist or otherwise denigrate me.

    • Erickka Sy Savané
      December 28, 2014

      The truth is she loves wearing her hijab scarf and just the other day a friend asked her, “‘why are you wearing that scarf?” The little girl is white and her mom, who is a new but pretty good friend, has made it clear that she hates the Muslim faith. Yes, she knows that my husband is Muslim, but she considers him the exception to the rule. I tell her that there are other Muslims like him and she doesn’t want to hear it. She’s Eastern European.
      So anyway, her daughter asking that at age 8 with a scrunched up face was not a surprise to me, but it threw my daughter off a little bit. And she actually asked me if she could take her scarf off. I told her no. That know one should make her question her faith.
      But really, getting this advice from you showed me that i need to just level with her. Now I tell her that some people just don’t like Muslims and that is okay. Somehow she gets it.

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