As I sit writing this it is Thanksgiving and I'm watching one of the staples of every American's Thanksgiving, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year I have been paying closer attention to all the groups and floats that are included in the parade and although I am happy to see they included a beautiful Native American Indian float and singer to represent their people and culture but another minority group came into my mind, where are the Muslims? I didn't even see one along the sides watching the parade as the cameras panned around to show the audiences lined up along the sidewalks. Maybe i just missed seeing them? I do not believe it is haram for Muslims to celebrate Thanksgiving because in essence it is not a religious holiday but a cultural holiday founded in America to instill a day within the population to stop, take a break, and be thankful for what God has given them and everything around them. You have to put your mind and heart in the right place and see that Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to spread love, promote unity and offer charity for God.
Growing up I enjoyed all the major holidays that are celebrated here Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were always a time when the whole family would gather at my grandparents houses and my parents would be the ones cooking for dozens of people since they were the only ones in my family that were skilled at cooking, and thank God my parents never minded cooking because if I'd had to eat some of the things others tried to cook I may have starved, nobody wants to eat anything burned or covered in cat hair!
These family gatherings over the holidays were highly anticipated and usually started off fun but by the end of the day there would always be family drama, arguments and at least one person saying they weren't going to come to any family functions ever again. Both my grandmothers passed away when I was around 17 and that brought an end to our family holiday gatherings and since then each branch of our family have gone their separate ways.
Since Thanksgiving is the only mutual holiday my parents and I share now it is important for me to use this day to be with them and show them how much I care for them and to tell them I appreciate them for everything they do for me. It also must be said that you don't need a holiday to convey these feelings and thoughts to your parents and you should do it everyday but if you don't have a habit of doing that already then today may be the perfect day for you to start.
I still have the duty of caring for my parents and making them happy because Islam encourages all Muslims to be kind and compassionate to their parents whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims. Regardless of her religion your heaven is still at your mothers feet so you must respect her, keep her happy and do everything you can for her.
'Keep their company with kindness in this world, and follow the path of him who turns to Me. Then unto Me will you return, and I shall tell you what you did' Luqman 31: 15
Treating them with kindness means that we as reverts are allowed to participate with our parents if they are celebrating Christmas as long as we do not eat or drink anything that is unlawful to us and as long as we have the right intention, which is that we are participating to keep our parents happy and show respect to them because they are people of the book, not because you are worshiping Jesus as any form of deity.
As for the Islamic holidays I am left alone. During the Eids and even Ramadan I have no Muslims that are nearby to celebrate with so my fasting is done alone and I have no mosque to go to hear an Imam on holidays or other special days. I had read that the first year after accepting Islam would be the most emotionally difficult and hard to adjust to. In some ways that was true, after all I did spend 29 years as a Christian observing their beliefs and practices and even now during my second year as a Muslim I still find that I am reprogramming myself in some ways.
One of the hardest things about trying to learn how to observe the Islamic holidays is not knowing what you should be doing. I still have to ask countless questions to others about what they do during these special times and I read every book I can find on the subject but there are still times when I stop and ask myself 'Am I doing this right?'. It can be hard because this time you cannot look towards your parents for guidance and moral support like you did as a kid observing the Christian holidays. During Ramadan when I wake up early to cook I do fix more than I can eat and share it with my parents when they wake up, they may not participate in Ramadan but they do appreciate having some warm food for their breakfast.
Sometimes it can be hard to grasp why there isn't more support for new Muslims to help them adjust to their new life, the first couple months after reverting a couple of Islamic learning centers and helpful people sent me a plethora of books and dvds but after that they left me alone. I must add that none of those who sent me things were even from America and I am very thankful that even though those groups were in another country they took their time and money just to be able to send me things.
Aside from wondering if I'm observing special times correctly it is also hard for me to look at photos or videos of communities and families breaking fasts or celebrating the Eids together because I have never experienced that. It gives you a deep feeling of being left out. You yearn for the closeness and happiness that these people have and you wonder if they realize how lucky they are to have someone to do those things with. Although when I was a child I enjoyed Christmas very much when I look back now I feel sadness and would give all of those Christmases up just to be able to enjoy the Eids and Ramadan with my family the way they are supposed to be.
I have no advice to give at this time to others that may be facing the same difficulties, just do your best to keep yourself occupied by reading any books you can find on the subject and if you have Muslim friends try to engage them in a conversation and explain what you feel and are going through. There is also this article that explains a little about supporting reverts.