Raising American Muslim Kids in the Age of Trump

I’m up at 3 a.m., burping my new baby girl, Nusayba, smelling her fresh, new baby skin and rubbing her soft, bald head.

Like most parents with young kids, I think about their future: What will my daughter’s first word be? Will she like spicy South Asian food or will I have to shame myself by ordering “mild”? Will my American Muslim daughter be allowed to leave the Trump detention camps if she grows up to be a “10”? Would that make her eligible for a Trump Beauty Pageant?

I often muse about a potential dystopic future when I see the orange, thin-skinned Republican candidate speaking. He has already recommended “extreme vetting” of Muslims and once said he’d “absolutely” require Muslims to register in a special database. He retaliated against Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star parents of an American Muslim soldier. His words unleash casual anti-Muslim bigotry: A June poll found that 50 percent of people surveyed supported his proposal to bar Muslims from entering the country.

This is the America we’re raising our two Muslim kids in. My wife’s friend Khadeeja Abdullah, the mother of a 1-year-old, said she had recently seen a viral video of a young Muslim boy asking if he would be kicked out of the country if Donald J. Trump became president. “My heart shattered into pieces. Our children should not live in fear,” she said.

I didn’t live in fear growing up in Fremont, Calif., in the 1980s and 1990s. Like the Khans, my parents are Muslim immigrants originally from Pakistan. My parents didn’t keep their own copy of the Constitution in their pockets, but they were known to bust out Mervyn’s coupons and exquisite daal recipes on command. Islam was a vibrant reality for us, comfortably embedded within memories of watching Thundercats cartoons on Saturdays, listening to Dad’s Jimi Hendrix CDs and seeing my mother’s sari collection.

I have now been transformed into a professional adult in his 30s, just like my parents were when they had me. Their generation was forged from immigrant steel and clarified butter. They built mosques out of abandoned shops, drove two states away to find halal meat, started American Muslim institutions, worked full time, raised kids, taught us the Quran and found time to make lamb biryani for an extended family of 12 living in a two-bedroom apartment.

I am not doing that. I can barely catch up on my Netflix shows. But I still want my children to know the rich cultural and religious traditions given to me — traditions that I took for granted.

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Sallie G. 1 day ago

How come we never hear why Trump said to bar only Muslims- among dozens of other religions/ethnicities/atheists/agnostics/cults etc.? Do...

RHJ 1 day ago

This adherence to religion in the heart of a quasi-secular community is merely fundamentalism by another name. You need not fear Trump,...

Jim inNJ 1 day ago

"No compulsion in religion" -- But Christian in Egypt and their Churches are attacked.http://www.usatoday...


In recent conversations with about a dozen other American Muslim friends and parents, I found a lot of agreement on the challenge we’re facing: Our kids will know a kind of anti-Muslim bigotry that we never did. At the same time, there’s also a healthy debate on how to raise practicing Muslim children here.

Hina Khan-Mukhtar, a mother of three in the Bay Area, said the only way is for us to transform into “Super-Muslims,” minus the cape. “In America, you can’t be a mediocre Muslim,” she said. “You have to be the best of the best, and you have to show your kids that you have a ‘superior product’ that you are offering them. There are so many ‘-isms’ calling for their attention and for their loyalty — individualism, atheism, materialism, extremism. Islam needs to trump them all.”

Unfortunately for my children, I excel in mediocrity. This Ramadan, I opened my fasts at home with a date and some takeout food. I usually prayed Maghrib, the evening prayer, by myself in the family room. My wife, a full-time doctor, supermom and pregnant with our second child at the time, did her best to join me, but her schedule left her exhausted.

I felt guilty that my son, who is about to turn 2, was experiencing the most broke Ramadan ever. I wanted to give him the 2016 version of what I had growing up when my mother, grandmother, cousins and I would assemble in the kitchen and prepare the pakoras, samosas and fruit chaat of the Ramadan iftar meal. My father would come home and lead us in prayer. On the weekends, we’d host “milad” parties with people reciting poetry in praise of the Prophet Muhammad.

One potential route in producing “superior Muslims” is to follow the model of Orthodox Jewish Americans and invest tremendous resources and time to create enclosed schools or home schooling co-ops for our communities.

This environment might protect kids from bullying or the task of being a professional Muslim. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school, and I was often asked to be the cultural ambassador of 1.6 billion people, to explain head scarves and fasting. Even though I had to be a walking Wikipedia, it encouraged me to be more bold with my Muslim identity.

Army Major Jason Moy, my old law school roommate, is skeptical of Muslim-only environments. “Complete isolation is never a winning strategy,” he told me. “I am a firm believer in allowing our children to be completely involved in American culture, holidays and food.”

Thankfully, American Muslim kids can find halal hot dogs at their local mosques, which have doubled in number since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a sign that despite the rising bigotry, Muslims communities are able to thrive in America.

I have never been culturally, spiritually or intellectually fulfilled by most of my neighborhood mosques, especially as many still relegate women to side entrances. They tried their best and have evolved considerably, but the hodgepodge blend of Salafism, Deobandi Islam and traces of watered-down Sufism that I usually encountered didn’t move my soul.

For this reason, my family and I are spiritual nomads, not tied to any particular institution.

Razi Hashmi, a State Department employee and the parent of two young children, is also part of the “unmosqued” community. He is investing in a new project called “Make Space” in Virginia, a spiritual home for young Muslim parents, couples and millennials seeking a haven to practice their Islam and raise their children.

We live not too far away and we took my son, Ibrahim, there for Eid prayers recently. He wore his kurta and ran around the hall as the young imam preached about tolerance and requested donations so the worshipers could purchase their own space and finally leave the rented space in an Afghan restaurant.

We’re trying to retain so much of the good we inherited from our parents, throw away the rotten parts and improvise along the way. “We’re going to have to start from scratch,” said Willow Wilson, who writes the “Ms. Marvel” comic book series, which stars a teenage Muslim superhero. “In my local community, we’ve been actively discussing creating a kind of ‘Saturday school’ curriculum, so that kids get religious instruction in a community setting, but from sources we trust and in which we can actively participate.” The sources we don’t trust: shady, unqualified imams and right-wing religious material published overseas.

Instead, we’re turning to our peers and our collective best judgment as well as centuries-old traditions.

At home, my wife and I now deliberately pray in front of the kids. I prostrate toward Mecca and recite the Arabic verses out loud.

Two weeks ago, during my night prayers, my son came up next to me, bowed and turned his head and smiled. There is no compulsion in religion, nor should there be. It’s up to him and Nusayba to embrace or reject the faith and our traditions. My job is only to plant the seeds with care.