Are you praying on my team, or not?
Since I converted to Islam, some Christians react as if I lost faith completely.
WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — My mother is a diehard Yankees fan. She takes every win and loss personally. And she doesn't want to know why a player is traded or leaves the team. In her mind, once you're out, you're out.
As children we learned never to mention the other New York team in her presence. So, it made sense to me that for years she never asked me one single question about my conversion to Islam. She never asked me why I decided to abandon Catholicism, the religion she had reared me in. As far as my mother is concerned, when I converted I went to play for a rival team.
Then my son was born, and the I-don't-want-to-know-about-it mother became the crusading Yankees-Fan Grandmother. She was determined to have her grandson on her team, the winning team. She wanted him baptized, even though she hadn't been to church in years. Still, with all her demands about rearing my son the Catholic way, she still never asked "Why?" She never wanted to hear how my newfound faith helped me to embrace her and the values she raised me with.
So, when I opened an e-mail from a Christian in response to an essay I wrote about how Islam helped me find the Jesus in Christmas ("... What made you quit JESUS to become a Muslim?"), I thought, finally, an opportunity to tell someone all the things my mother didn't want to hear.
But he went on to write, "... don't get me wrong, I respect Islam and I respect Muslims, I don't agree with the image that the United States is making of the Islamic World ... but I just can't stand Christians becoming Muslims." And I could see from his use of exclamation marks and capitalized letters in the rest of his message that he was angry and hurt. And like my mother, he didn't like losing a player to the other team.
I've gotten this reaction from more than a few Christians over the years. One woman, a friend, said, "I understand if you became an atheist but to go to another faith is preposterous." She believed you stick with what you're born into and you either make it work or avoid religion altogether.
I have various reasons as to why I decided to stop calling myself a Christian, and then, years later, chose to embrace Islam. Mostly it had to do with my best friend, who later became my husband. It wasn't because he asked or necessarily wanted me to convert, but in the process of researching and reading to better understand his faith, I came to better understand myself. And as a social activist, I was drawn to the social justice aspect of Islam.
Not all Christians I've encountered in the 15 years since I converted to Islam have treated me like their rival. There have been many Christians, members of my own family even, who've supported my right to worship as I choose. They saw the common ground in our faiths. It didn't matter to them if I was no longer playing for the home team, as long as I was still in the ballpark. And for them, the only coach any of us needs to be accountable to is God.
My son started Little League this month. At the touch of a button he reaches out across thousands of miles to e-mail his grandparents in Cairo about his new glove. So with maternal instincts surging, I naively try to hold onto the hope that with technology shrinking the world, there will be more understanding and acceptance among people of faith - more breaking of rules that persecute rather than preserve any real sense of identity.
When he reaches adulthood, perhaps my son will find a world free of religious persecution, a world where there isn't someone insisting his or her perception of God is better than his. I want my son to be a Boston Red Sox fan, or even a Mets fan, if he wants. And I want my son to take to heart, as I take to heart, what the Koran says: "... I worship not that which ye worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship.... To you be your way and to me mine."
After all, I'm just a woman who still believes what her mother told her long before she'd heard of Christians or Muslims or the Yankees or the Mets. "Sweetie," she said, "God is love."
• Patricia Dunn teaches writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is a writer and contributing editor for Muslimwakeup.com.