When a family friend found out my husband and I were planning to raise our children both Muslim and Catholic, they asked, “Are you sure you’re making the right decision?”
But what else would we do? Our daughters are both and neither, part of two very different worlds; I am a Pakistani Muslim immigrant married to a Dutch-descended Canadian Catholic.
And you know what? Our daughters are doing just fine. They are brilliant, confident and bright. At ages 3 and 1, they don’t yet understand how lucky they are to be a part of two cultures — two religions. They don’t yet have an appreciation for unity or inclusivity, but they do understand love and family.
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This way of life may not work for religious or cultural purists, but it works for us. Both my husband and I come from families in which religious doctrine was never a focus. Instead, our lives were filled with big family gatherings at every major holiday, tables overflowing with food and couches overflowing with cousins. This is what we want for our girls — times two.
We choose to celebrate every religious holiday with gusto — because who doesn’t need a reason to celebrate? For Eid, we get dressed up in traditional Pakistani clothes with bright colors and sequins everywhere and head to my parents’ house to eat lamb curry and honey-drenched pastries. For Christmas, my girls get fruit at the bottom of their stockings and a chocolate letter, keeping up with the tradition from my mother-in-law’s family. This year for Easter, my 3-year-old laid out her egg hunt haul on a brand-new prayer rug my grandmother had brought her from Pakistan.
We were at a kids indoor play center a few months ago, and I got to chatting with another mother whom I hadn’t met before. She asked about what our family background was because my daughters don’t look like me. A little bit into the conversion, she put her hand on my shoulder and asked, with a very concerned look on her face, “But, aren’t they so
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I didn’t know how to respond to such a ridiculous question. It had literally never crossed my mind that being multicultural or multireligious would be at all confusing. Challenging, maybe. Complex, sure. But confusing? Why? I didn’t continue that conversation for long, but I thought about it over and over as I watched my girls squealing in the grimy ball pit.
Was I hurting them by exposing them to both halves of their DNA? Was I going to scar them by telling them about both Mohammad and Jesus. Allah and God? What would we do if Eid and Christmas ever fell on the same day?
Driving home from the play center, I glanced at both girls in the rear-view mirror. They were quiet for once, contently tired, snuggled into their car seats. They both had ear-to-ear smiles on their sticky faces. No, I decided there and then, confusion is not going to be a problem. My girls are smarter than that. It’s not going to be easy, but they’re going to figure it all out just fine.
My goal is that when my daughters are older, they will look back on their childhood and remember how much fun they had at each occasion. They will feel blessed to know they were able to partake in traditions from opposite sides of the world — that they could gain an appreciation for customs most of their classmates know nothing about. I hope they develop an understanding of the time and place they live in — somewhere where their parents are lucky enough to be able to choose each other.
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We raise our children to ask questions, even ones we don’t know how to answer. I’m sure there will be lots of those along the way, especially with this pluralized life we’re trying to lead. But we don’t want to raise our children with only questions, either. In addition to the questions, my daughters will also have a love-filled, engaging and fulfilling life — in which they have not one but two places to belong.
This Ramadan, my girls will open their advent calendar each morning, and we’ll eat a treat together. Then, we’ll read a book about the holy month, color in some pictures of palm trees and sand dunes and maybe make cards for the grandparents. And just a few months later, at Christmas, they will help me wrap presents for their cousins and decorate the spindly tree we keep in the storage room in the basement.
They will love both of these events because their family and extended family will be there to celebrate with them, shower them with love and answer their questions. Because yes, my daughters will have questions. But they certainly won’t be confused.