Most of our parents and elders immigrated here. Along with their packed bags, they brought along their culture and whatever they knew of their religion and set up shop in the land of opportunity. We must keep in mind that most of our elders were not fully in tune with practicing Islam to its fullest until the Islamic Revolution in 1979. All of a sudden, the passion of Islam came surging through their hearts, and we began to see the creation of Islamic centers and mosques across the United States.
Although it was a pure Islamic revolution which took place, a cultural upbringing with not as much emphasis on living active Islam is all our elders knew. As time passed in their lives and living in a new country, along came the new experiences of Hollywood movies, American politics, and of course, raising children in literally unknown territory. And that is the problem.
Our parents, may Allah bless them for all of their efforts, have learned by example of their parents, on how to raise children, in their homeland. A child raised in Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Iraq is living a different life than a child being raised in America, Canada, or Mexico. Each environment allows for different experiences, and as psychology states, a human being's personality and character is shaped by their experiences. We’ve all heard of "nature versus nurture" – this would be the nurture part.
Here come along the "American-born" kids. The majority of us has been caught in a mess of identity confusion and a struggle to come to terms with what our elders are saying, believing, or doing. We have been raised watching Power Rangers and Full House, picking up every little behavior that is supposed to be acted out by a common "American" child. Our parents have learned the opposite. You tell them you're invited to a sleepover, and they give you the "are you crazy?" stare (after you explain to them what it is).
What I have come to believe is this: fear is a factor in our generation gap. I once had the classic argument a daughter has with her Pakistani parents – "Why can’t I go?" And I never understood why a lot of Muslim parents weren't as keen as allowing their kids to go out and about as others. They fear. My father then told me, "Don’t you watch the news? Everyday something bad happens, we don’t want you to be the one out there."
At a young age, of course we don't understand and put it together; we just say, "That's not fair." But now, at an older age, I can say with conviction that due to our parents' TLC and fear of the unknown, it's why they act the way they do.
Now of course there comes a point in every child's life when they are no longer their parent’s child. They are now the child, in a figurative meaning, of their experiences, of their surroundings, of their friends, of their intellect, of their ideas, and more – and that's the difference. Living and being raised here in the West, we have been taught to grow wings and fly away from our nests; we have had the word freedom pounded in our brains. Our elders have been taught otherwise. We have been taught to question everything, even if our parents say so; they've been taught to submit to whatever an elder says. We have spent nearly 12 school years, eight hours each day, with people of different family backgrounds, religions, ethnicities, and values; our parents have not. All these experiences add up to affect our mindset, our personality, our views and opinions, and it has made us different adults than our parents. After all, Imam Ali (peace be upon him) said, "People resemble the people of their time more than they do their fathers."
I am not writing an excuse or a reason for the American-born Muslims to disconnect and stand up to their parents and say, "See, I’m different, peace out." Although in the literal sense we are different, we cannot forget we have our blessed Islam, which puts us hand in hand. We have been blessed to spend more time with learned people, to live Islam actively, compared to our parents. We get to have Q&A’s with scholars, we have books and movies, documentaries, the Internet, and we have youth groups and Sunday school – all things which our parents weren’t as lucky to have growing up.
The key to understanding our differences with our elders is communication. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said, “Endeavor to converse with your children, lest others who transgress and disobey get to them before you.”
When a difference of opinion arises in the home, talk about it, explain why you feel the way you do and why you believe the thing you believe. Sadly, and I speak from knowledge of the Indo-Pakistani ethnicity, our culture doesn't encourage explaining why one feels they way they do and why they are doing what they do. We must change that. Along with communication comes an open mind. If we are not willing to take another point of view or see a situation from someone else's side, we are only being stubborn and stumping progress. If we don't try and understand why a person is thinking a certain way or doing a certain thing, than we are following in the footsteps of ignorance and stubbornness. Another key thing to help facilitate understandings is the ability to say: "I am wrong."
Now, of course this is a mutual thing. Both sides have to be willing to accept that one side is right and the other is wrong. Of course there are cases when both sides can be right. But when a person has the ability to say they were wrong, that shows humility, intelligence, and most importantly, that they are human. The opposite of this is having an ego problem, which is so rampant today in most people, young and old alike. Egotistical people can never be wrong; they're always right and can never see the other picture or even think about it. Let us not be "big heads".
Lastly, a quality that is rarely found in people today, is compromise. Sometimes, meeting halfway is what it takes. It can be what it takes to save a relationship, maybe even a few. Compromise is a mixture of sacrifice, generosity, and love – all characteristics of our Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). We must keep our eye on the bigger goal. This entails being able to "lose a few battles" sometimes. If we are unwilling to do so in the name of unity and peacemaking, we are not living up to the goals of Islam for our family, our communities, or our Ummah.
Islam is the Number 1 advocate of brotherhood and understandings. This gap we have cannot be blamed solely on the fact that our parents and elders are "FOBs". We are all at fault for not using Islamic values and advices to their fullest. When we all take responsibility for our problems, then we can work on solutions. Insha'Allah living with differences in our families or communities does not stop us from living true Islam, for that is our uniting factor.
Madiha Zaidi is an undergraduate student at the University of Houston. She has kindly agreed to contribute to Islamic Insights on a regular basis.