29 Mar 2020
six-year-old son is learning about fractions. He sits next to me at the dining
table, and draws a bat, then colours half of it green. “The word half is used
when something is split into two equal parts,” he explains. I nod, go back to
Qureshi with her sons Jude Birch, 2, Sina Birch, 4 and Suffian Birch, 6, at
their home in London. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer
looks up at me and says, “I’ve got two halves. I’m half-Muslim, half-English.
Right?” He looks at me expectantly, waiting for me to confirm whether his
calculation is correct and my heart sort of breaks a little, to hear him refer
to himself as pieces of a whole.
quite,” I say. “Some of your family is Pakistani, because I am, and some of
your family is English, because Dada is. And you are fully Muslim.”
startled by his interpretation. My husband converted to Islam before marrying
me. I say, “What do you mean? Of course, he’s Muslim!”
really know what to say because where do I begin? Do I tell him that his dad
became Muslim because he had a spiritual epiphany? Or do I tell him we fell in
love but that to be together, his dad had to become Muslim first? I remind him
that his dad is Muslim. I tell him he fasts for Ramadan, that sometimes we say
namaz [ritual prayers] even if we don’t do it as often as we should. My son
looks at me through narrowed eyes, unconvinced. “You rarely pray, Mama,” he
says, dryly. In that instant I feel terribly ashamed while also quietly
impressed at his accurate use of an adverb.
warned that this sort of confusion might happen in a mixed marriage. When I
told my moderately religious family that I had met someone who was neither
Pakistani nor (at least not then) Muslim, and that we wanted to get married
once he had converted, they understandably had a lot of questions. One of those
questions was: how would we raise our kids to know that they were Muslim, to
know their Pakistani side and where they came from? Race and religion are often
rightly seen as two separate things but they are also closely entwined. I was
reminded I’d need to make a concerted effort to teach my future children about
their Pakistani origins and their religion, because their sense of identity
would not be a given. Because otherwise my half-Pakistani, Muslim kids might
risk being lost.
I send a
WhatsApp message to a friend of mine who, like me, has three boys and also
happens to be Muslim and Pakistani. I tell her how I think I’m probably messing
my kids up. “I’m not sure I’m doing this right,” I text. “Hey,” she says. “We
all feel like that. You’re doing great.”
know if I am though. Sometimes I worry someone will say they told me so. I
hastily download an Islamic app for children, full of animations of cute
characters with big brown eyes. It feels important to prove I am making an
effort. It holds the boys’ interest for 10 minutes. I remember how, when I was
growing up, I wasn’t always sure if I was praying because I wanted to or had
been reminded to. I know that there are certain habits I will need to teach
them, like how to pray in Arabic. I worry that if I push too much, perhaps
they’ll grow up resenting both their religion and me. Then I wonder sadly if
maybe that’s normal anyway, part of their teenage years to come.
when I look at my children, I hear that same question repeating itself in my
head: how will I raise you to know that you are Muslim, to know your Pakistani
about what I love most from my Pakistani upbringing: the sense of warmth and
liveliness translated into kitchen tables spilling with an overabundance of
food, surrounded by far too many people talking too loudly and at the same
time, and I realise this is what our own home is like anyway. I think of the
values of faith I hold most dear; honesty, love, kindness, generosity. I
realise our children are lucky enough to be surrounded by all this too. I would
want to pass these values on, regardless. None of this is exclusive to one sort
of identity over another. So this, I conclude, is how they will learn who they
are: from seeing it, living it, breathing it, rather than telling them who they
are supposed to be.
last six years, I have learnt that motherhood comes with many expectations.
Some of those expectations I have put upon myself, unnecessarily. So now I
watch my children being themselves, and I allow myself to consider the
possibility that maybe I am doing great after all.
Headline: English, Muslim, Pakistani ... how I tell my kids about their
Source: The Guardian, UK