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Lola Gani-Yusuf: The Burden of Growing Up in a Mixed-Religion Household

Lola Gani-Yusuf

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I was born into a family that didn’t really practice any form of religion. My father, though born in a strong Muslim home, was a non-practising Muslim. My mother, on the other hand, is what you would call a product of an interfaith marriage – born to a Christian mother and a Muslim father. After her father’s death, she became the step-daughter of a Christian (who to this day is the maternal grandfather I feel ever privileged to have.)

At home, we had both Bibles and Korans in my father’s study. In fact, I never saw either of my parents go to Church or Mosque. As a result, I grew up celebrating both Christian and Muslim holidays. Although, this meant new ‘aunty-give-me-cake’ dresses anytime religious holidays were celebrated, it further fuelled my religious ignorance. At the time, I was living the carefree life of a naïve little girl who had not grasped the role religion would play in her adult life. Let us just say my naivety was such that I thought both religions (Christianity and Islam) were one and the same until my first term in a Catholic secondary school.

On the other hand, my friend, Eniola, did not have it so easy. Although her mother grew up in a strong Christian home, she fell in love and married a man from a practising Muslim background. According to Eniola’s account of the story, her dad was not a practising Muslim until he seemed to have everything in order – family, children, career, and the life he had always dreamt of. No sooner did he achieve a certain level of ‘success’ than he felt the need to be more religious and started practising his Muslim faith. As such, Eniola’s mum was forbidden to take their children to church – because he wanted his children to practise Islam.

It became the war of religion at home as Eniola was caught in the middle of her parents’ battle over whose religion was supreme or what faith the children should learn. Eniola’s mum was a deaconess in church, and Eniola could see the hurt in her mother’s eyes because her children could not follow her to church. Eniola also saw the pride in her father’s eyes on the day of her Koran recitation, and when she started covering up her hair (a common feature among practising Muslim women).

In spite of this, she still felt like she was missing out on her mother’s love and religion. When she had the opportunity to travel out of the country for her master’s degree, she found comfort just in knowing that she was far away from choosing whether to go to the mosque on Fridays or to Church on Sundays. She decided that it was best if she didn’t identify with either of the two religions. For once, it was easy not to have to fight for the love of either of her parents. Besides, she couldn’t get herself to choose between being a Muslim or a Christian because no matter how hard she tried, it felt like she was betraying one of her parents.

The burden of religion is one which many Nigerian children growing up in mixed-religion households have to bear. If you are born into a mixed-religion but liberal family (where both parents are not so particular about whose religion their children adopt), then it is easy for children to grow up and pick up whatever religion they have strong convictions for. But should you be born into a home where two religions are practised and it is a case of ‘I shan’t agree’ or a tug of war over whose religion the children must practise, chances are the children will be caught in a lifetime of battle over which religion to practice until such a time when they are mature enough to choose one. In this part of the world, it may be until you leave your parents’ house (and this may be a long time coming if you are female).

Whatever the case, I hope millennials can take a different approach and not repeat our parents’ mistakes by deciding earlier on (even before they go into relationships) if religion will be a relationship deal-breaker for them or not. So if you consider yourself a ‘religious’ person now or perhaps you have the foresight of you becoming a very ‘religious’ person when you reach middle or retirement age, then for the love of your unborn children, date or marry someone who shares similar religious doctrines as you. Don’t fool yourself into believing that your spouse will convert to your religion after you get married or that both of you will live “happily ever after” in spite of practising two different religions under the same roof. I am learning that when it comes to long-term partnerships like marriage, it pays to stick with your kind. Or what do you think?

Photo Credit: Robert Byron | Dreamstime.com

Lola Gani-Yusuf is a Child Rights Advocate, Campaigner and a Communication for Development Specialist. She is an avid reader with a curious mind about life. She writes to silence the ramblings in her head. You can find more of her musings on www.chattymind.com Instagram: Chattymind

13 Comments

  1. Iphee

    July 5, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Could not agree more. One of the very first conversations to be had in any relationship. Even among same faith, sect can also be an issue. Better safe than sorry

  2. Omo nla

    July 5, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Story of my life.. *sigh*

  3. Bio

    July 5, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    really looking forward to reading practical experiences of folks here. at teh moment i attend a different church from hubby coz he likes our old church while i feel i have found a nicer church in our new neigbhourhood.

    The children likes my church but also like to go out with daddy.
    they are too young to really know the value of sermons etc actually but my church engages them better with drama, musical instruments, ac classrooms and probably snacks so i sense some confusion even though its the same religion.

    At the moment i am just flowing with the tide but I hope one day we can all attend the same church and hopefully that will be my new church.

  4. Crucified One

    July 5, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Throw away foreign religion and have peace of mind.. church and mosque are not where your ancestors worshiped, the “current” traditional religion has been corrupted so you can’t consider it, you have to dump both foreign and “current” traditional religions and find the true one your ancestors worshiped..

  5. Olubee

    July 5, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    It was really difficult to choose despite the fact that my parents allowed us to practise any of the religion . I have both Muslim and christian names but i decided not to bear any of the two to avoid confusion .God knows ,I’m never going to make that same mistake.

  6. Manny

    July 5, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Yes, it’s good to date or marry someone who shares similar religious doctrines as you. However, even this can change. I know a couple that got married as committed Christians. Right now, the man is an atheist and they are on the verge of divorce because of this.
    That’s why at the end of the day, faith should be personal. I know it must be hard for my friend to have your husband shoot down everything you’re trying to teach your children about God.

    • Crucified One

      July 5, 2017 at 6:39 pm

      the husband is “waking up”… its a pity that the wife is been stubborn, she should ask her husband what made him change.. unfortunately, there are many like the wife that are ignoring the obvious truth – and stopped worshiping the foreign religion.

  7. o

    July 5, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    Nice article sis??

  8. Sandoria

    July 5, 2017 at 8:09 pm

    Beautiful piece lola… even as a christain, where doctrines differ in various worship centers. Am extremely careful!

  9. Nadia

    July 6, 2017 at 2:53 am

    It truly is simple , you can’t eat your cake and have it . You have a discussion about this before marriage.My mum is Christian and my dad had no problem with her Remaining Christian but insisted his kids are brought up Muslim . we didn’t do the whole family that prays together ish but don’t know how it would have been different as we are still strong and very much together . The upside of it though is that I have family of both faith and it allows me to view religion through a different lens than most people. . my ex boyfriend and I did not get married because he is Christian but insisted that I would have to convert after marriage as he would prefer his family to feel like a unit . He was the love of my life but I knew that I truly could not convert and would be decievibg him saying that I may after marriage

    • Mom of 3

      July 7, 2017 at 6:55 am

      Nadia Buhari, how is you?

  10. Ever Green

    July 6, 2017 at 12:04 pm

    My parents are strong Muslims and I went to Government College, we pray in a Christian ways from Monday to Wednesday and pray Islamic prayers from Thursdays to Friday but I have always loved Christianity from childhood, infact 4 of my sisters got married to Christians and are still practising Christianity and 3 are still practising Islam. Initially my parents frown about it but when they saw that I was committed, they gave up and each time I am praying they say amen to my prayers whenever they are present they say amen to my prayers and let me be and whenever I see things, I usually tell them whatever I see concerning them.

    Once in a month as a family tradition we usually gather together to do Night vigil in my father’s house 3rd Friday of every month and during the meeting, each person is allowed to pray according to your faith and funny enough, we see evidence of our prayers and we don’t see one religion as superior, just do you self and I must confess I am always eager for the night vigil. Now there is no room for discrimination in my family, no matter where you choose to be just be committed after all you will be the one to face your God on the judgement day. As for me, I love the way we pray together in different ways and I am very sure God still listens to prayer and He is still in the business of doing miracles.

    The problem usually arise when one party see his or her own religion as superior. Believe in your faith and stop judging others

  11. Alex

    July 6, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    The problem is not limited to inter-religious marriages. My ex-boyfriend and I were both practicing Christians. While I am a Confirmed Roman Catholic, he attended a pentecostal church. Deep down, I always suspected this could be a problem if we ever got married but I didn’t think much about it until one day, he said, “I can’t wait for us to get married so that you’ll leave ‘that’ your Catholic church”. That was the day I started to withdraw my heart from him and the entire relationship. Not only because I considered his statement offensive, but also because I couldn’t imagine myself worshipping in any other church. I knew I wouldn’t cope, having been a devoted Catholic all my life, attending Mass almost everyday of the week, praying my Rosary daily and being a committed member of a couple of church societies. I didn’t just know how not to be a Catholic. This is not saying that I haven’t worshipped in non-Catholic churches, as I went to a boarding school were all Christians had to worship in the single Redeemed chapel available and afterwards proceeded to a private university were students, including Muslims, were compelled to worship in the proprietary church, almost everyday for the duration of one’s program. I guess what I’m driving at is, you know yourself better than anyone. Ladies, even if your intended says he has no problems with the difference in your religions or denominations, and probably promises to maintain same stance even after marriage, ask yourself if you’ll be able to cope if he suddenly changes his mind. If not, be like me and date only fellows from same church/religion. Kpom!

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