Melissa Barreto

When your son or daughter became a Muslim, you may have thought that it was just a phase.

Maybe you couldn’t understand or agree with their choice because of the teachings and beliefs that you hold. You might even feel that their choice caused a rift in your relationship and things have never quite been the same. On top of it all, you’ve learned that they plan to raise your grandchildren as Muslim, too.

What are you supposed to do now?

Well, you can reject them, using your differences and negative feelings as an excuse to shut them out of your life. Choosing this path would likely lead to strained relationships, increased tensions within the family and an excruciating emotional wound for all involved.

Or, you can accept and love them anyway. You can choose to build strong bonds regardless of your differences and go on being the best grandparent you can be.

Your grandchild needs you in their life. 

Assuming that your presence can be a positive one, your grandchildren need you and should not be deprived of having a good relationship with you because your belief systems differ.

Strong relationships between children and their grandparents have a host of benefits, including increased happiness, greater connection to family history and heritage, opportunity to learn new skill sets that only grandpa and grandma have, increased emotional bonding, and a stronger support system for the whole family.

While you may have reservations about their religious upbringing, the fact that they’ll be raised as Muslim lends itself well to supporting a strong family, even if it’s one of mixed faith.

Islam’s Views on Family

The religion of Islam puts great empahasis on family and on maintaining family ties, regardless of whether or not they are Muslim. Every member of the family is to be treated with kindness and respect, especially our parents.

“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor,” (17:23).

Did you read the “old age” part? As our parents grow older and move into their roles as elders and grandparents, love, kindness, and respect are to remain. And it’s so important to the Muslim, that it’s mentioned right after worship.

That same love and kindness extends, even to our parents who are not Muslims.

“We enjoined upon humanity to be good to his parents. His mother carried him in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents, for unto Me is the final destination. If they strive to make you associate with Me that for which you have no knowledge, do not obey them but still accompany in the world with good conduct,” (31:14-15). 

In this verse, Allah, all praises are due to Him, tells us that while we do not have to obey our non-Muslim parents in matters of worship, we still need to keep our ties with them and be good to them. The Prophet Muhammad himself, peace and blessings be upon him, urged the Muslims to preserve their family ties even when it became difficult.

The Prophet, pbuh, said (translation): “The person who perfectly maintains the ties of kinship is not the one who does it because he gets recompensed by his relatives (for being kind and good to them), but the one who truly maintains the bonds of kinship is the one who persists in doing so even though the latter has severed the ties of kinship with him,” [Al-Bukhari].

Even when our family is not at its best, even when we disagree or need space, Muslims are urged to hold on to those connections and continue being good to our family members. So while your grandchildren may worship differently, you can rest assured that their Islamic upbringing will always teach them to put family first.

But, what about the holidays? 

Family celebrations hold so many beautiful memories and traditions for all of us.

While it’s true that your Muslim family may not participate in some gatherings, especially if they involve religious acts and customs that don’t coincide with Islamic beliefs, there’s no reason why these boundaries cannot be negotiated respectfully.

For example, if you are a practicing Christian, would you get bothered by a Jewish friend not wanting to partake in your Christmas prayers, knowing they do not celebrate Christmas or worship the way you do? Likely not. So why get upset about a Muslim politely declining for the same reason, especially when that Muslim is someone you care deeply about and want to have a strong relationship with? The decline is not a personal attack nor a negative judgment of your beliefs, but simply a want on the part of a Muslim to practice their own beliefs to the best of their ability.

Instead of taking offense and dwelling on customs that can no longer be shared, I suggest two things:

First, bridge the gap in understanding. WhyIslam offers many resources to better help you understand your Muslim family’s beliefs and practices. Take a bit of time and do some research. Increasing your understanding of even the basic tenets of Islam can help to build bridges towards better communication and greater empathy between you and your Muslim family.

Second, work together to come up with new celebrations and ways that everyone can share together. Going to church to observe Christmas Mass may be out, but getting together later to share a meal can still be in. How about annual sledding trips every Winter? Maybe milestone birthdays? How about gatherings for family accomplishments, like getting all A’s on their final report card or finally getting that double crochet stitch down?

Islam also has its own celebrations that you can choose how you want to show up for. My mother, who wasn’t Muslim, would call my children every year to wish them a Happy Eid, even though she didn’t celebrate it. It was just her way of showing her grandchildren love in times that were important to them.

This past Ramadan, when my children set high goals to fast as much of the month as possible, my father agreed to eat iftar with us. He isn’t Muslim and he doesn’t fast, but he took time out of his day, delayed his usual dinner meal, and ate dinner with his grandchildren to celebrate their efforts in something that they cared deeply about.

Small adjustments can make a world of difference in showing up for your grandchildren and becoming stronger as a family despite your differences.

Sharing and Being Who You Are

In bonding with your Muslim grandchildren, a time will surely come where they will notice that they worship differently than you do and may ask you about it. Please don’t take offense.

Children are curious and they’re just trying to understand you better so they can understand their world better. They may not fully understand why their faith and practice differ from yours. They may also be confused if they feel that they’ve received different treatment from you because of their faith.

Depending on the child’s age and level of maturity some deeper conversations may be better left for later, but there’s no reason why they cannot know that you follow a different faith and have different spiritual practices than they do. How you choose to explain your practices and represent your faith is up to you. But I would strongly recommend discussing the conversation with their parents afterward so they can follow up.

The key in these situations is taking caution to not confuse the child about their upbringing or identity.

If the parents have decided to raise your grandchild as Muslim, that is their right as parents and children should never be used as tools for manipulative efforts to sway that decision. Any issues you have with regards to upbringing should be discussed privately and respectfully with the parents themselves, not unloaded onto your grandchildren.

Aside from this, please feel free to share your positive passions and hobbies with your grandchildren. Talk about who you are, where you came from, and the things you love. Share silly stories and make funny faces. Let them know and love you as you are.

One of my children’s fondest memories of my mother, before she passed, was that she was always willing to read to them. She would send them big boxes of books in the mail and when she visited, she would bring stacks of books in her suitcase to read to them. With my father, it’s all about hanging outside and eating ice cream!

Grandparents are like heroes to our children. And you can be one to yours.

Melissa Barreto is a convert to Islam and homeschooling mother of five children. She is the Co-Founder of Wildflower Homeschool Collective, a homeschool organization based in Northern New Jersey.