Monday, April 13, 2015

Book Review: "Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace" by Patricia and Alana Raybon

I mentioned this book last week. Well, I got an advance copy for free (yay!), so I spent the last few days reading it.

For the official stuff: I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

And now... on to the review!

I was really really excited about this book when I first heard about it. "Finally!" I thought. "A real book about a Christian mom and her Muslim convert daughter and how they got past the hurdles of interfaith issues." It is so relevant to me (being the Muslim convert in a family of Christians) and I thought it might have some good tips or show how Patricia was able to resolve her struggles with her daughter choosing another faith.

I was wrong. What I found in this book was frustration. I was frustrated at Patricia's rambling, nonsensical way of writing. She jumped from topic to unrelated topic. Maybe I'm just not accustomed to evangelical histrionics, but it seemed like a lot of the drama getting in the way of their relationship (at least in the last few years) actually came from Patricia, not Alana.

Allow me to give a few examples:

Patricia refers to her daughter as a Christian (rather than a Muslim) throughout the book - as if "Muslim" is "just a phase". She constantly invalidates her daughter's spiritual path by mocking it as a "copy", a "knockoff" of Christianity.

She also says multiple times that her daughter "no longer believes", a notion that Alana soundly rejects, stating that she "believe(s) stronger than I ever have in my life. I struggle with the frustration of conveying to her that my walk in Islam has filled my heart with so much faith and love that I no longer feel the empty void that I once felt. Then after she hears this, I wish she could be content and happy for me, that I found a love like no other. A love for God."

Patricia describes Islam as her daughter's "defiant choice of faith" (this is a verbatim quote) - as if Alana went to Islam to spite her mother, rather than because she found spiritual fulfillment there.

She also consistently links Muslims and Islam with insanity and violence. Example: she says "Muslims get crazy" when Christians say anything about the Qur'an, after stating that the Qur'an doesn't resonate with her (as if that alone is enough to set off a firestorm in response) - although she and her husband also "got crazy" when the veracity of the Bible was questioned.

Patricia talks about her fears that her daughter

"if...granted a reason and platform to defend her chosen religion, she'll use it as ammunition, to put down her family's faith. Even more, I feared she'd do a good job. That she'd make Islam look good - while I'd fail to life high the Cross. That pressure I feel - to make Jesus and his good deeds and perfect life and extraordinary sacrifice look phenomenal and far better than Islam - weighs me down the most."

Ironically, it's Patricia who uses her faith like ammunition, who puts down her daughter's faith. If she is so concerned about making Christianity "look good", then why doesn't she trust God to do the job? Why does she make it her own personal job?

Patricia intends to fix the relationship with her daughter - the end goal of that repair being to get her daughter back in Christianity. She dismisses the notion that belief in Islam can be just as deep and satisfying for Alana as she finds in Christianity.

In short: Patricia makes Alana's conversion all about herself, rather than about Alana. She takes it personally. She keeps wondering "what did I do wrong?" and moaning and gnashing her teeth and crying, rather than realizing that Alana choosing Islam had NOTHING to do with Patricia in any way.

Alana's parts of the book, however, didn't ramble all over the place. She actually addressed the issues at hand in a fairly straight forward manner - why she became a Muslim, what she sees in Islam to this day, her frustrations that her mother refuses to accept that she does, in fact, believe in God - she simply doesn't called Him by the name of "Jesus". Her worries that her mother will try to teach her kids Christianity, after Patricia states that she wants her grandchildren "to know Christ" (although I will give Patricia props when she actually attempts to respect her daughter's wishes and not teach things that are contrary to Islam). The way she feels like she has to walk on eggshells around her mother, like she can't be "too Muslim" around her family. I'd love to quote whole pages of Alana's words - she's open and honest, but without the drama her mother brings.

In many cases, as I read Alana's sections, I felt like I was reading dialogue from my own head. Things I've thought, felt, and said. We have many of the same frustrations in dealing with our Christian families (even when those families are, in many cases, nominal in their practice of Christianity, they rarely waste time jumping up on the soapbox to preach to us of how "wrong" we are).

In the end, I wasn't convinced that there was any peace, any sort of resolution in their relationship. Patricia has decided to hold her tongue (for now), to grin and bear it, but that's far from peace or acceptance and her thinking about Islam hasn't changed even a bit.

This book was an exercise in frustration. If I'd read it in hardcopy, I would likely have thrown the book at the wall. I was going to give a copy of this to my mom, but now that I've read it, I may go with "Daughters of Another Path" (written by a Christian mother after her daughter converted) instead. I wish Alana would have written this book on her own - it would have turned out much better.

Still want to read it? "Undivided" releases on April 28. Purchase it at your local Christian bookstore, Books A Million, Barnes and Noble, or at Amazon. Then come back and tell me what you thought of it!

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