By Raquel Reichard
April 3, 2015
Easter weekend is approaching. For most Latinos, that means getting together with friends and family, making bunny masks and decorating eggs with the little ones, participating in community egg hunts and, most importantly, sitting down for a traditional meal that starts with a prayer to Jesucristo – after all, those new pastel outfits and delicious bunny-shaped chocolates are all in celebration of the resurrection of the big JC.
But what happens when this fun and memorable time with your family begins conflicting with your new beliefs?
While nearly 80 percent of Latinos identify as Catholic, Protestant or some other Christian faith, many are converting to Islam. In fact, Latino Muslims are one of the fastest-growing segments of Islam in the US, and Latinas specifically account for more than half of those converts. While Muslims believe in Jesus, his virgin birth and his ability to heal the sick and give sight to the blind, they don’t subscribe to the Christian narrative of Jesus’ crucifiction and rising from the dead. In fact, followers of the Muslim faith don’t consider Jesus to be the son of God, but rather a great prophet.
These tenets directly contradict the meaning behind Easter, making the Christian holiday, at best, an awkward family gathering, or, at worst, four hours of interrogation, mockery and Christian preaching. We spoke with five Muslim Latinas about what it’s like going back home for Easter. Here’s what they had to say:
1) Claudia Haviv, 27, New York
I graduated from a Catholic school in Colombia, and was raised in an extremely Catholic family. While they knew I rejected much of the religion as early as 10 [years old], my family wasn’t exactly prepared when I told them I had converted to Islam. I also made this decision after moving to New York, so they were both confused and scared. My dad was shocked. My mother would always talk about “poor Muslim women” and how “oppressed” they were. My cousins would say, “quitate eso,” referring to my hijab. But oddly enough, it was my friends who were the most opposed to it. I’m a Latina in STEM – a biologist – so most of my friends who studied science with me back home couldn’t wrap their heads around my newfound spirituality. Many stopped talking to me and even deleted me from Facebook.
While my family, overall, has been really respectful, they do get upset that I don’t call them on Easter. But I think think if they expect me to say “Happy Easter” and “Merry Christmas,” they should tell me “Happy Ramadan” or “Ramadan kareem.” Nobody calls me when I’m fasting, so why should I call them?
My mother also uses the holiday as a way to push Catholicism on me again. Just today she sent me something about the meaning of love, and it had a cross on it to represent Jesus. She takes Easter as an opportunity to “remind” me that Jesus died for our sins. But while I believe and love Jesus, he plays a different role in my life and faith. It’s pretty frustrating to constantly receive these messages. It’s like, while she might accept me and my faith, she doesn’t fully embrace it. She sees me as someone in need of saving, and that does make me sad.
2) Isolda Matamoros, 29, California
I was raised in a Christian home, and it was tradition every year to celebrate Easter. It’s a very important religious day. I remember as a kid impatiently waiting to get through the sermon and the prayers to have some real fun at the egg hunts. In that sense, I guess Easter hasn’t changed too much for me since converting to Islam seven years ago. Today, I’m still interested in the egg hunt more than anything else.
I have gone to church with my family on Easter just to be supportive, but I know that my hijab confuses people. That’s OK. It’s not their fault that they’ve been miseducated on Islam, but I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, so I don’t tend to join them at church anymore. But, I do connect with my family afterwards. My kids know there’s no Easter bunny, but we make the best of the holiday. I dye eggs with them at home, and do the egg hunts with my family. It’s a lot of fun, and, ultimately, that’s what life is all about – not comparing differences and, instead, finding a common ground.
Things can get a little awkward when it’s time to eat, though. Nicaraguans love pork, and they’ve tried to feed me ham a lot. I guess it’s a way that they’ve tested me. These days, I just bring my own halal meat. I don’t want to impose or burden anyone, so me and my cousin, who’s Muslim as well, just come prepared. Then there’s the prayer circle. It really doesn’t bother me. That’s not how I pray, but that’s how they know how to pray. I’m supportive of it, because every belief is good. I have to remember to be humble. Sometimes, however, if the prayer has moved some of my family to a really spiritual place, they will start speaking to me about Jesus and offering their advice. I listen respectfully as they talk, but once they’re done, I remind them that I don’t share their beliefs. They tend to accept that, and we all move along.
3) Mariam Rodriguez, 36, New York
Growing up, Easter was more of a cultural thing for my family. I used to buy Easter baskets for my son and wear pastel colors, more as a Guatemalan cultural holiday than as a religious one. Since converting to Islam, however, I no longer participate in these ways. It’s not really something I feel that I belong to anymore. It’s not a belief that I share. But just because it’s not something I’m involved in doesn’t mean that I don’t want the kids to enjoy themselves. If I see a chocolate bunny, I usually get those for my niece and nephew. I don’t see any harm in that. It’s not horrifying that people have different faiths. We have to respect those beliefs, even if they’re not like ours.
My family will invite me to celebrate Easter over dinner, but I don’t feel comfortable doing that. Luckily, they never try to pressure me into it. They do invite my son, and that decision is totally up to him. I don’t want him to be disconnected with the family. Sadly, I do know that some of my family members talk about me and my faith when I’m not around. They tell my mother that she needs to watch me before I become radical. They ask why I joined such a “horrible” religion and often make Islamophobic comments. It really hurts, because a lot of them pretend like they accept me, but meanwhile they are disrespecting me behind my back. I’d rather they come to me than my mother.
4) Hana Bermudez, 24, Florida
I grew up Catholic, so every Easter and Good Friday, my family and I would go to Mass and get together with extended family to celebrate the holidays over dinner and music. We would do Easter egg hunts, and enjoy other festivities.
I converted three years ago, but to this day, my mom asks me if I will go to Mass with her. I went once when I was first considering Islam, but it actually just helped solidify my decision that I needed to be on another path. I won’t go to church with her anymore, but I do want to make her feel comfortable, so I join family gatherings on Christian holidays. They know I’m not celebrating what they are celebrating, but I still want to be with my family. I want to show them that what I’m doing isn’t outrageous or that different from their beliefs, even if we have different holidays. Before eating, they always want to pray, which I’m willing to do with them. While they’re praying to Jesus, I’m praying to God. Sometimes, they will end the prayer by saying, “in Jesus’ name,” which can be awkward since I don’t consider Jesus as my God, but I’m not going to stop them because that’s their faith. Other times, the person leading the prayer will replace “Jesus” with “God” to be inclusive and respectful of my beliefs. I really appreciate that.
I do wear the hijab during these Easter celebrations. Some of my family members don’t get it. I remember when I first started covering, my mother told me, “You are not going out with that on your head.” She didn’t understand what the hijab meant, and what it meant to me. She was also embarrassed of what her friends would think. My sister, who probably took my converting to Islam the hardest, really didn’t like that I was covering. She would tell me that I was going to join a terrorist group, and, when confiding in her about the harassment I sometimes encountered when wearing the hijab, she would just say, “Well, what do you expect?” I know she didn’t really mean these things ,and that she was just upset and wanted to scare me into leaving the faith, but it is still hurtful – especially when Islam is already so misrepresented. Much of the Islamic slurs and shame has died down. Usually, everyone is just really curious. Easter has become an awkward holiday with family bombarding me with questions about why I’m covered, who am I allowed to not be covered around and if I have to wear the hijab indoors.
5) Josenny Torres, 26, New York
My family wasn’t extremely religious, so Easter wasn’t as big a deal for us as it may have been for other Puerto Ricans I knew. We would go to church, do an Easter egg hunt, perhaps go watch a movie and have a dinner at home for my whole family. When I had my daughter, I wouldn’t take her to church, but I would go to the zoo and participate in the egg hunt with her there. Since converting to Islam, I no longer do that with her. It’s just not my faith. But while it’s not something I engage in, she still celebrates Easter in this way with her father. He and I aren’t together anymore, so she’s with him on those holidays, and I have her during Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha.
Honestly, religious holidays are lonely, and that’s not something we talk about too much. It doesn’t feel good knowing your entire family is together and you’re home alone because you don’t want to mix beliefs. And it’s the same thing when the Eids come around, and I don’t have friends or family to celebrate it with. Passing those holidays alone is sad, and while I wish it wasn’t like that, you have to adapt, and I do.