lying is a sin, but it'll probably make them happy
July 20, 2011 6:26 PM   Subscribe

My father unexpectedly passed away last weekend from a heart attack. I am not religious. Part of my family, and most of our community of friends & extended family, are. Help me navigate the religious talk without either going on the defensive, or being complacent.

Our family was raised Muslim. My dad born and raised, my mom converting to Islam from Catholicism. My dad was never super religious, though he did identify as Muslim. He was much more spiritual than dogmatic, and believed in god (not necessarily a specifically Muslim version of god, but more of a general "higher power.") My brother is a practicing Muslim, but not conservatively so. My two sisters are sort of general deists. I am an atheist.

My dad was buried according to Islamic rituals, which i have absolutely no problem with, and actually have quite a bit of respect for - especially the simple, prompt burial.

But I'm getting tons of religion and god-talk, after-life talk. So far I've just taken it and silently nodded, as I realize comments are made in good-faith and intent, and this is not the appropriate time for me to present my counter thoughts (in general, I do not hide my lack of faith, but am not at all "in your face" about it. if it comes up in conversation or if someone asks however, I refuse to lie)

My super conservative cousins have been extremely heavy on the religious and prayer talk. Some of my male, first cousins are the type to not even shake hands with me. One of my female cousins wears niqab and never travels without a male relative. For perspective, my dad always complimented my independent travels. I wore a knee-length skirt to his burial. My dad was the type who would have said to me, "what a lovely skirt!" rather than any kind of condemnation about inappropriate attire. I had plenty of theological conversations with him, and though we may not have shared the same perspective on cosmological issues, we always disagreed respectfully - he knew my real beliefs, and loved me all the while (and I, him).

I'm having trouble navigating the waters of how to handle obligations and respect with things though. Honoring my father, honoring my own beliefs, and going along with the cultural respectful things to do. In a little more than a month, there'll be a reading of Quran. There'll be prayers (not sure I even remember how to pray "Muslim-style," though I can fake it if I try). There'll be lots more meetings with super conservative relatives. I'd rather not participate in any of it, but they'll also mean a lot to my brother, and I don't want him to take on all of these tasks by himself.

Is there any way to be both respectful to others, and true to yourself in these kinds of situations?
posted by raztaj to Human Relations (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The important thing to remember is that these people are there in respect of your father. Their beliefs may not mirror your own, but the ceremony is built around the idea of helping you all to accept the loss of a person who was important to you. Don't overthink this – accept the religious comments as what they are, which is an attempt to offer comfort to you in the context of the worldview that the religious people have.

The biggest difficulty as a non-believer is to realize that most people just assume that you're religious. If it's a ceremonial or traditional occasion, it's often better just to go along with it rather than put up a fight. This isn't being untrue to yourself; it's allowing other people to feel the closure they, too, need.

If you mess up while praying, they're going to put it down to: "She misses her father so badly, she's not quite right yet."
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:33 PM on July 20, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your loss.

It sounds like you have strongly positive memories of your father. Was preserving family or community peace important to him? Going through the motions of these rituals while holding those memories close in your heart could be a good way of honoring him - it was his faith, but not one he adhered to in every aspect, and you'd be doing the same in your own way. You can be true to yourself, the person your father loved and cared for, by going through some motions for your brother and others who are grieving.

Alternately, is there a friend (or one of your sisters?) you can latch on to, someone who could smoothly rescue you if conversations take a poor turn? Often people say in times of loss: "let me know what I can do for you". This could be the thing you actually ask someone for.
posted by donnagirl at 6:48 PM on July 20, 2011

You seem to be doing fine with keeping silent and going along with your other relatives beliefs. This is not a betrayal of your beliefs, rather it is showing respect for your father life and open-mindedness by restraining from causing family feuds and arguments. The time for disclosure will certainly come, but even then try not to dwell on the differences between family members, but on what makes you and them a family.
Loosing a parent, and especially one so understanding as your father seems to have been is hard: my sincere condolences.
posted by francesca too at 7:10 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

When in doubt, listen to your heartbeat. Literally!

You may decide what is important for you to be at for it's entirety and what you are not obligated to stay at

I had left the Catholic Church long before my father passed. My family I would still define as Fundmentalist Catholics. While I did not want to go back to those "ways" or do the prayers I also wanted to be there for obvious reasons. How could I be there without being tranced by the scene.

I had a "plan" as to what I was going to do at the rosary and mass. The moment I walked up the steps of the house, opened the door and saw an aunt and uncle any contrariness I had vanished. I had to be there for them

I picked a sentence or mantra that I chanted quietly to myself throughout the services. It was something that meant a lot to me. I kept repeating it and repeating it. It worked. While the hardcore "he needed to suffer to get into heaven" themes were there, I also saw the beautiful moments that were there just because people gathered to honor someone who had passed.

It was surreal, beautiful and nice to honor my father in, for me, a real way while not being contrary to everyone else's beliefs

When my mother passes, I will do the same. I will also be with someone I can lean on.

I am sorry for your fathers passing. I also admire how you are being true to your heart. I think that your father would be proud of you also.
posted by goalyeehah at 7:26 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

This might be a time when it is an advantage to be a woman. We are seldom expected to volunteer remarks or even replies--usually a quiet murmur will suffice. Could you tell yourself that you want to honor your father and support your brother as much as you are able and that your way of doing this will be to bring a serene countenance and retiring demeanor while all the words are spoken in prayer and reading.

Plan to be there for family and even to murmur as necessary during the rituals that are more or less significant to others. Let others speak all those words and let your presence be your own ritual honoring your father. I don't think you will have to do or say anything. You don't even have to listen. Just be there in love for him and to honor his life and let all the others be what they need to be.

I am so sorry for your loss and so glad you had a lovely father.
posted by Anitanola at 8:54 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Thank you for being here in honor of my father. You probably know that he did not share your interpretation of our religion, but I appreciate your coming."

Sorry for your loss.
posted by LarryC at 12:16 AM on July 21, 2011

Even though your father might have had more liberal beliefs than the rest of his family, it's important to remember that he probably would value the services that he's being given as a part of his religious tradition and that his family is honoring him in the way they understand best. I think that you're right that it's not a good time to bring up faith discussions - focus on the service as an act of memorial, rather than on the particulars of the religion.

I had a similar experience when my stepfather died a couple of years ago - he was a practicing member of a religious group I'd been raised in and which I had distanced myself from. There was a lot of comments that felt intrusive and god and religion were a frequent conversation topic. I felt extremely angry about all of this at the time, especially during the time of his passing when his hospital room was inundated with religious services at a very private moment. Still, I tried to remember that this was a part of his life and something that was quite important to him, just as I was, and that my relationship with him was a bridge between my own private beliefs and the community that he was a part of. A lot of the anger that I felt about this at the time was deeply tied to the grief I had over his absence, and it felt better to be able to focus on emotions that weren't just grief and sadness. As long as you can remember the high esteem that your father held you in, you should be able to make it through the more difficult parts of this ordeal and perhaps find something of value in it. It sounds like you're doing that. Incidentally, I chose at the time to skip some of the more religious ceremonies, and my sisters were understanding about this and we spent time remembering him in private. I'm very sorry for your loss and I wish you the best.
posted by ajarbaday at 1:49 AM on July 21, 2011

Never turn a wake into a pissing match.

"Thank you for being here in honor of my father. You probably know that he did not share your interpretation of our religion, but. I appreciate your coming."
posted by canine epigram at 7:07 AM on July 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

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