What it’s like growing up in a bi-religious household

Growing up as the child of immigrant parents in America is hard enough — what with a culture gap so big it could swallow you whole — but growing up in a bi-religious household on top of that can be even more confusing.

My mom is Hindu, and my dad is Muslim. Neither converted when they got married, so my two siblings and I grew up in a household that practiced both.

Every year, during the Islamic month of Ramadan, my dad wakes up at the break of dawn to eat and pray before fasting for the day. No water, no food. After sunset, he prays again and eats a date to break his fast. In recent years, my siblings and I have opted, joyfully, to join him in the ritual.

Leading up to Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, my siblings and I help string lights around our house porch (early Christmas lights?). On the night of, we help my mom place little clay diyas around the house with lighted tea candles, to help guide Lakshmi, Goddess of prosperity, into our home.

I have always loved both kinds of traditions, and in my mind I did truly follow and believe in both religions, Hinduism and Islam. But that does not mean it’s easy, practicing two very different faiths.

As I learned when my dad enrolled me in Islamic religious classes on Saturdays (to my mom’s unspoken disgruntlement), Islam condemns idol worshipping. Hinduism, meanwhile, revolves around idol worshipping — quite the contradiction. As a child, and even more so as I grew older and understood them more, those kinds of technical and ideological differences were very confusing, and often made me feel as though I was not truly faithful enough to either religion.

Besides just those confusing technical disparities, however, was the sporadically-frustrating fact that my family followed both, but never either religion completely. For instance, when I attended those Saturday classes, which were held at a local masjid, I noticed that most of the kids knew each other already as family friends, because the families of the masjid had become their own little community, a lot like regular church-goers. It definitely saddened me, knowing I would never be as close as they were since my family wasn’t really a part of that community circle. And how could we be, anyway? Those families were all very strong Muslims, whereas we were only half-and-half.

It’s a similar situation with all of our Hindu family friends. While we do have more Hindu family friends than Muslim ones (probably because the area of India that my parents are from is predominantly Hindu) there are still slight discrepancies. Every time we go to a dinner party, for example, my family has to make sure the meat is halal, since Muslims only eat halal meat (similar to the way some Jewish people only eat kosher meat). Once the friends know of my father’s beliefs, they buy halal meat for the next time without any issues, but it is still another barrier.

As I grow older, some of the issues only become more confusing. When I fill out the personal information section on my PSAT exam or while making a CollegeBoard account, there is no option for “half-Hindu, half-Muslim” under the religion section. I don’t know how I’ll be able to choose whether or not to join a religious organization when I go to college, and if I do choose to, how am I going to decide which one, without feeling disloyal to my other parent and faith? I also watch as my older sister struggles with her religious identity when thinking about long-term relationships with someone whose family could inevitably be much more faithful to either Hinduism, Islam or another religion than our family.

More technical disparities have become apparent. When I used to keep a Hanuman (God of strength and bravery) idol on my nightstand, I could sometimes tell that my dad would prefer it wasn’t there, although he never said anything. There is also sometimes slight, unspoken tension from my mom when my dad tells my siblings and I to get ready to go to the special Friday prayer at the masjid on days we don’t have school. When I was younger, it sometimes felt like a tug of war.

The reactions I get when I tell people I am half-and-half is a whole different story — everything from, “So you’re not actually either?” to really offensive things, like, “Oh haha, so does that mean you’re only going to blow up one tower?”

Despite all of these confusing issues that were present both when I was younger and now, however, I’ve realized that I actually really enjoy being bi-religious. The near-immediate, inevitable bond that forms between me and any other “halfie” I run into is pretty great, but there is also so much more to it. I know that if I was fully Hindu, I never would have experienced Muslim traditions as much as I have, and vice versa.

My bi-religiousness has also empowered me. I am not only unafraid, but compelled to speak out against the double standards that the American media chokes Muslims with. I am enabled to intelligently correct misconceptions about Hinduism being a polytheistic religion. Being half-and-half has also made me curious to learn about other religions, all-in-all increasing my ability to empathize with and understand more kinds of people and faiths. That’s why no matter how confusing it could be at times, and how confusing I’m sure it will continue to be as I grow older, I’m thankful to have grown up in a bi-religious household, and glad that my mom and dad did not fully sacrifice their personal religious beliefs when they got married. The exposure has opened my eyes and prevented me from developing a narrow mindset.

I don’t know if I will always believe in both (or either) Islam and Hinduism in their entireties, but because of my experience with each of them, I know that there are some rituals that I will continue participating in for the rest of my life no matter how my faith changes — rituals like fasting for Ramadan and lighting diyas for Diwali, that I never would have grown to love and admire if I had not grown up following two religions.

(Image via iStock.)

Aasha is a 16 year old senior from central Jersey who is an officer of the Model UN team at school and founder of (and a singer for) a music therapy program at her local hospital. She is a Girl Advocate for the Working Group on Girls at the United Nations as well – an experience that has changed her life. Passionate about everything that she does but probably too much of a detail-oriented perfectionist for her own good, Aasha is also an activist who enjoys making sarcastic comments about the patriarchy while simultaneously eating pizza rolls (because let’s be real – pizza rolls, not gender roles). Follow her on Instagram, @aashaik, for off-center pictures of her puppy/life!

Filed Under