Alana Raybon was baptized as a child in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She attended youth activities and Vacation Bible School and even sang in the choir. But today, she wears a head scarf and worships Allah. Her mother, Patricia, describes her conversion to Islam as “heartbreaking,” and yet, they’ve found a way to love each other despite the faith divide. They share their struggles in Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace, a book which begs an vital question: “How would you respond if your Christian child converted to Islam?”
RNS: Alana, tell us the story behind your conversion.
AR: I developed a love and reverence for God in church, but I couldn’t connect with the idea of the Trinity. I didn’t let my mother know about these feelings, and patiently waited to feel a connection to this concept. In my 20’s, I began searching for spiritual enrichment, and came upon the concept of Islamic monotheism—the idea of God being one, solely without any associate. I became inspired to learn more about Islam, and converted to the faith as a junior in college and called my mother to share the news.
RNS: How did you react, Patricia?
PR: I was devastated. A daughter can call from college with all sorts of news—forgetting her mother is still dealing with her own life. In my case, my husband and I had hit a low point in our marriage, my widowed mother had come to live with us, my other daughter was closing a business, and my husband had a cardiovascular emergency. In all of that, Alana called from college to say, “Mom, I’m a Muslim.” Emotionally, I had run out of steam. So I thanked her for calling, asked how her classes were going and if her car was running okay. Then after a few minutes of such talk, we hung up. Looking back, it was my oddest reaction ever to a phone call.
RNS: Did you two have any emotional fights, and if so, what sparked them?
PR: We fought bitterly at first. Our deepest divide is Alana’s view that Jesus isn’t God. We also contested her rejection of the Trinity and her disavowal of the Bible—all deeply precious to me. Equally divisive, however, was the break in our family as a family. The faith debate became a dead-end argument for the two of us, so the Lord released me to another direction: “Stop fighting with Alana. Start serving the world. Start walking in love. Stop mourning your daughter’s choice. Instead love her. Liberate yourself and leave the rest to God.”
RNS: Do you worry that Alana is not going to heaven when she dies? If so, how does this affect your relationship?
PR: The Bible says be anxious for nothing. As for the end, for Alana, I trust God with the outcome. In the meantime, I pray. Those are my marching orders.
RNS: What about you, Alana? Do you worry about your mother’s eternal destination?
AR: When I get on the phone and hear my mother talk about her love for God and her many acts of kindness and charity, I feel grateful that she is a woman of faith. I pray for God to guide my mother and other family members to Islam, but I also know that God is the only judge of our hearts and deeds. I have hope in His mercy for myself and my mother. So instead of worrying about her salvation, I focus more on myself and how I can better serve God.
RNS: Patricia, what advice do you give Christian families who have a child who leaves the faith?
PR: Take your hurt to God. If you failed, ask for forgiveness. But don’t get stuck in hurt and guilt. Instead, take the long view, understanding you’re on a walk with God. Remember St. Augustine’s mother, Monica, who prayed 17 years for her son to know Christ. Along the way, seek the Lord for wisdom and insight. In the meantime, stop grieving, worrying and arguing. Talk about things other than religion. Do life together—share a meal, see a play, paint the house, help the poor, take a walk, go on vacation. And love each other. Loving someone is not compromise.
RNS: And, Alana, what advice to you offer those who’ve converted away from their Christian families?
AR: Remember that God wants you to have a positive relationship with your family. Our faith traditions should be the means to resolve family conflicts, not an impediment to peace. Patience is key, and empathy is vitally important. Try to understand the hurt that your loved ones may feel and think about what you can do to reassure them of your love and respect. Lastly, hear them out. Let your family express their perspectives, then validate their feelings and reassure them that your faith will not keep you from being a loving member of the family.
PATRICIA AND ALANA ON NBC’S “TODAY SHOW” :