The legacy of my Christian upbringing

I once knew a fellow who explained that the reason he was not taking his shoes off to pray on the dusty carpet in the basement of his bookshop was that we should differentiate ourselves from the Jews and the Christians. I had heard other justifications for shoes-on-carpet before, but I thought he was confused. I pointed out that in this country certainly, Christians don’t tend to take off their shoes when they go to Church; at home too, they do not remove them at the door. Far from differentiating himself from the Jews and Christians, he was differentiating himself from those who differentiate themselves.

I am thinking about the question of differentiation because I have been pondering over recent days the legacy of my Christian upbringing. I think the initial response of the convert is often one of rejection. Certainly in my case I took various positions, led by a series of lectures I attended in those early days, which I now regret to some extent. The celebration of birthdays is a case in point. I was told that this is haram and so I built up yet another wall between myself and my family, refusing to accept well-wishes and gifts. I look back on that now with some derision, taking a more magnanimous stance, but the damage is done. We live in a society in which families spend less and less time together, but the birthday provides the perfect opportunity to reconnect, to get together and share a little love. Indeed it provides the opportunity to say that we care, to say thank you, even to acknowledge our place in the world. Conversely, what is the benefit of rejectionism? It does not serve any religious function; if anything it creates conflict with other imperatives (creating anger, conveying ingratitude).

In any case, there is a more pertinent question here: how much of this rejectionism is just skin deep? Much of who I am, how I act and what I think are a legacy of my Christian upbringing. I am not ashamed of this and do not think I should be. This upbringing taught me good manners and modesty after all, both of them perfectly admirable Islamic characteristics. And there is more; concerns about global justice and social responsibility come from this root, and I am thinking here of the Drop the Debt campaign and Fair Trade in particular. As a Muslim who believes that fairness and social responsibility is part of our religion, I buy Fair Trade products, but I still acknowledge the root of this concern. I buy my fish from an independent supplier and my milk direct from the producing farm via Abel & Cole. If I buy chocolate, I check that it’s from a source which pays cocoa farmers a fair wage. And I’m proud that my adopted town is known as a Fair Trade Town. All of this is a legacy of my upbringing.

Yet my upbringing has done more than affect how I act: it can be seen in my thinking. As a Christian I was raised on the parables and reported stories of Jesus’ life in the four gospels. The commentary provided by Paul’s epistles seemed less important in childhood as it becomes for the adult faithful. Jesus’ exhortations to the Pharisees to observe the spirit of the law not just its letter is no doubt reflected throughout everything I write. The gospel accounts do not call for the law to be abandoned — although Luke tells us of the infamous dream in which all foods were shown to be lawful in his contradictory Acts of the Apostles — rather there is a call to appreciate its purpose. Unconsciously I see this affecting the way I live. For example Muslims are taught to respect water and indeed there are rules about how water is used. In the spirit of this, I find the idea using heavy bleaches in the toilet abhorrent; I know it doesn’t make a difference in the big scheme of things, but my conscience drives me to choose biodegradable products. Likewise, Muslims are taught to be careful of the tongue, so in this spirit I consider it applicable to what I write.

I do not consider Islam a negation of my upbringing, but a continuation of it. Indeed, retaining that which is good, I consider it a perfection of it. I think it can be useful to acknowledge the legacy of our upbringing and to be truthful too; a lot of the rejectionism I see around me is surely just skin deep.

10 thoughts on “The legacy of my Christian upbringing

  1. “although Luke tells us of the infamous dream in which all foods were shown to be lawful in his contradictory Acts of the Apostles”In what way is Acts of the Apostles contradictory? You don’t explain. Please do.

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  2. Dear “Anonymous”, If you compare the account of Paul’s conversion in the Acts of the Apostles (9:19) to Paul’s own description of it in his letter to the Galatians (1:13-24) it is contradictory. This is what I meant, but it was not appropriate to digress in my post.

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  3. Salaam ‘alaykum,I think Islam has the ability to take the best from our cultural traditions and upbringing and purify them into acts of worship. So, buying fair trade becomes not an end in itself but part of our bridge to the next world.Shaykh Hamza wrote a really interesting article along these lines in the Guardian:http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4436548,00.htmlUnfortunately as Muslims many of us have fallen into a reject-everything-Western stance, and this is particularly harsh on converts. As Abdul Hakim Murad says, converts ‘must jump the gap without losing [their] clothes.’ Glad you’re finding comfort, intentionality, and truth in the garments you were brought up with and exploring the ways they enhance your Islam.Warmly,Baraka

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  4. I am a British Christian who is fanatical about not wearing shoes at home for the sake of cleanliness.Removing shoes in homes is cultural rather than religious. Christians in Canada, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Asia will probably not wear shoes in their homes.

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  5. Perhaps the Dyspraxic Fundamentalist missed the point. Christians across the Arabic world also remove their shoes as well, but it is not a widespread practice in Britain for Christians to take off their shoes at the door of the church. Then again, perhaps this is missing the point as well. Wasn’t it just an example of misplaced differentiation?

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  6. Coming from a Hindu background, and that too the upper caste, I faced a lot of trash thrown on the Hindu culture by the muslims after I became a muslim. I was also made to harbour hatred and suspicion for anybody who was a Hindu and that included my parents. I could no longer approach my parents with ease because of the suspicion in my mind. In other words, I almost became a complete regular muslim. Alhamdulillah, Allah did save me from such a poisoned mindset. Now, I think I have spent equal amount of time clearing misconceptions about Hinduism amongst muslims and vice versa. I take a lot of pride in the culture I come from for it’s tenacious pursuit of simplicity, frugality, discipline, hygiene, abstinence from alcohol, vegetarianism and modesty. I viciously defend my culture as well as Hinduism from random useless bigoted muslims. I do not hesitate to express my visceral hatred to those muslims who talk ill of all Hindus. One of the major reasons I found Islam attractive during my initial onvestigation of it is the life of the Prophet. I found in his sunnah the continuation of the traditions I was brought up with. Alhamdulillah, I’m glad to see another muslim who takes pride in the culture of his origins. but unlike you, I did not face any consequence in my relationship with my parents. They did not perceive my change of behaviour.

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  7. I’m glad to see that people are not disowning their backgrounds. I am heartily sick of the failed idealogues from South Asia and the Middle East who seek to define Islam here. I am a born Muslim and half my family are hindu. I would be interested to ascertain the reaction to your wife’s conversion, given she’s Armenian and their recent history.

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