Tavis: With Mother’s Day approaching, it is an appropriate time, I think, to welcome the next two guests to this program. Patricia Raybon is an author, journalist and public speaker who focuses her work on topics drawn from her Christian faith. Her daughter, Alana Raybon, is an elementary and middle school teacher who converted to Islam while in college.
Together, Patricia and Alana have written a new text about their journey of faith, love and acceptance called “Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace”. Patricia and Alana, honored to have you both on this program.
Patricia Raybon: Thank you.
Alana Raybon: Thank you so much, Tavis.
Tavis: This conversion happened when, where and how and why?
Alana: Good question. It was when I was in college. I was exploring learning about my spirituality and I felt really drawn to Islam. I was always searching for a connection with God, so I found it in Islam. So it was a personal journey for me.
Tavis: Patricia, you handled that how? Or did not handle it how?
Patricia: Didn’t handle it because, when a daughter calls from college, she can be calling for a lot of reasons. I didn’t expect her comment to be one about faith. I was also having my own life. Mothers have other lives. My widowed aging mother had just moved in with me. My other daughter was closing a business.
My husband and I were trying to repair some weak spots in our marriage. And then he got sick and almost died. And then I get a call from Alana. “Mom, I’m a Muslim.” Emotionally, this mother had no answer. It was a very short phone call.
Tavis: Was it just bad timing or obviously, at least to my mind, because I read the book, was it just bad timing or was there something deeper that offended you? I use the word offended with caution.
Patricia: I felt like a failure. I knew that the earth had shifted in our family and I thought I had failed as a Christian mother. I felt I had failed as church member. I’d failed God and I didn’t know how to fix it.
Tavis: I assume, Alana, that you had to know, knowing how well you know your mother, that she might have some of those feelings when you expressed this to her. How did you process, then, going forward with telling her what you needed to share with her about your conversion?
Alana: I was concerned that she would feel this way, but I was holding onto the hope that maybe she would be happy that I finally found a connection to God. So I thought things a whole lot different from my end.
It was a celebration moment for me. I finally, finally felt spiritually fulfilled. So when I called her that day to tell her I converted, I was just hanging onto the hope that she would feel and understand what I was going through.
Tavis: And when that conversation was quite brief, as your mother said earlier, you hung up the phone feeling what?
Alana: I felt relieved that it was over. I had a long list of people that I needed to tell. She was the last one on my list, I feel like, because she was the most important on the list. So it was a feeling of relief. You know, it’s over. I finally have told all the important people in my life about the most important decision that I made.
Tavis: Because the Islamic faith has been so demonized and so bastardized in our culture and around the world for obvious reasons over the last few years, what was it specifically about the faith, I’m curious, that drew you?
Alana: It was the idea of monotheism in Islam. I never quite understood the concept of the Trinity and I’d really tried as a child. I really tried to understand and connect with that idea, but I just couldn’t. So when I found out about monotheism from an Islamic perspective, it just attached directly to what I felt like I had always been searching for.
So I just felt really connected with that idea. I felt like I finally had a personal relationship with God, and I always had wanted that experience.
Tavis: Patricia, for better or for worse, people are terribly judgmental and, if you felt as a Christian mother that you had failed, what did your other Christian friends say about this? How did you process them coming to the knowledge that your daughter was going to be attired this way and believing this way and living this way?
Patricia: I feared that they assumed that somehow I had dropped the ball, that if a Christian mother is doing the right thing, taking her children to church every Sunday, all the things that I had done, that I had missed some important element, and the problem with that had to sit with me.
What I experienced instead was an understanding by mothers and others that families have divides. Sometimes you can’t explain them. They come out of left field.
And rather than condemn myself, I experienced a lot of support for the struggle and that’s one of the things that led us to explore our story. Maybe there’s something in our attempting to unpack it that we can share with others to help deal with their divides, whether it has to do with faith or not.
Tavis: I think this in part is just one of those mother things that one doesn’t really understand unless one is a mother. Clearly, I am not. But Alana was an adult and I’m always–my mother’s watching. Hey, Mom. She’s watching right now. She watches every night.
I’ve gone to visit my own mother where I’ve seen my mother take on–I have nine brothers and sisters, 31 nieces and nephews–and I’ve had to counsel my mother–I’m telling our family business on national television–but I’ve had to counsel her any number of times about taking on the guilt of my siblings who have done a particular thing.
Not that I’m perfect. I’ve done things that I’m ashamed of and I’ve said, “Mom, this is not your fault.” But I’ve seen my own mother and other mothers take on this feeling of guilt. But she was an adult when she made that decision, so why the feeling of guilt? Why the feeling of failure?
Patricia: My faith happens to be very evangelical, whether you’re in that part of the Christian family or not. So quite naturally, we love Jesus. We want everybody to know Him too. So there was that part. So at first, Tavis, we spent a lot of time arguing doctrine and discipline. What’s better? The Bible? The Koran?
It turns out to get to inner faith peace, what we discovered is to take the attention off the faith peace and turn to the people peace. Alana is an adult and a good person, an excellent teacher, a good wife, a good mother. If I can affirm those things and give the rest to God, then we get the peace.
Tavis: Let me ask an impolitic question. I know your deep and abiding Christology and your deep and abiding faith as a result of your Christology and I know that you believe the Bible to be right. But I wonder whether or not you ever considered or ever thought that, just for your own purposes, it might not be a bad idea to read the Koran to see what your daughter was reading.
Patricia: Yes, it is, and I have…
Tavis: Clearly, she read the Bible. I mean, she’d read the Bible. I was just wondering whether you’d read the Koran, yeah.
Patricia: I’ll say it in a Christian mother’s way.
Patricia: The Lord was saying, “Let that go. Peace is a choice. Are you going to love your daughter or not?” When I understood that and answered that question, then we started to turn the corner.
Tavis: I suspect there may not be, to your mother’s point now, Alana, I suspect there may not be one answer, one singular answer, to this. But was there a moment, was there a time or a period, at least, where you felt this turn starting to happen where you all were going to come to a place where you realized that this is the way it’s going to be?
This is the divide, I’m going to love you as my mother and you’re going to love me as your daughter? Was there a moment or a period where you felt that turn starting to happen?
Alana: There was. There was a point where I think we both realized that the debating and arguing wasn’t getting us anywhere. We were at a standstill. So I had to look at myself and say, you know, I’m not listening and I really had to decide, okay, do I want to just continue to try to make my point or do I want to hear that my mother is actually hurting?
And I developed a feeling of guilt for a moment because I felt bad that she was hurting. I felt like I had caused her pain. I felt like I needed to be more compassionate to her feelings.
This is where I feel like our relationship started to shift because I started to show compassion and love more to her and extend myself to her and say, you know what? I’m here for you. I understand you’re hurting. I’m going to try my best to understand, but I really need for you to understand me as well.
Tavis: Because, as I said earlier, the Islamic faith has been so demonized over the past decade, I wonder whether or not there were ever thoughts in your mind that part of the concern your mother might have had for you was being a part of something in our culture right now that is more and more unaccepted and maltreated?
Alana: I think that was a huge concern, especially after 9/11. She called me in my college apartment and she said, “Have you thought about taking off your scarf?” I think that’s always been a concern for her, but more importantly, not really about how I am experiencing my faith, but more about how others might approach me and might attack me. I think she might have been afraid for me.
Patricia: Well, faith is faith. So if I believe what I say I believe, then I have to trust that God’s going to take care of her and that, in the meantime, I can go live my other life. I can go help somebody, go to the school and help do some tutoring, help feed the hungry. Or I can get stuck in this what looked has been a conflict and a divide with my daughter.
Tavis: I’m laughing on the inside because I’m wondering now what happens to the grandkids [laughter].
Patricia: Oh, there are grandkids, yeah.
Tavis: Well, I know they are your grandkids. In terms of the indoctrination of these grandkids, what happens?
Alana: Well, as a mother, I’m beginning to empathize with her in a sense that, you know, the feeling of control that one has over their children, especially about faith. Faith is so personal, but I definitely have learned as a daughter the importance of being allowed to choose your faith.
It’s a personal choice and it can only be made between a person and God. So I feel like I understand that now. But it’s a touchy conversation because they’re my children and they’re her grandchildren [laugh].
Patricia: And we’re still on the journey. Faith is horizontal with God–vertical, I’m sorry, with God, but it’s horizontal with people. So we’re working that out.
Tavis: Mothers always get the last word, at least in my house she does. So we’ll give your mama the last word tonight. What do you hope the takeaway will be for the readers of “Undivided”?
Patricia: That they’ll see in our story an example of how to choose peace. It’s not this place you get to. It’s what you do every day by the choices that you make. And you can have more peace in your household if you make that choice.
Tavis: I’m glad you said that because I think, in a world that we live today, even beyond this conversation, people need to understand that peace is a choice. You have to choose it and behave…
Tavis: Accordingly, exactly. The text is called “Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace”. Patricia Raybon and her daughter, Alana Raybon, happy Mother’s Day to both of you.
Patricia: Thank you.
Alana: Thank you.
Tavis: An honor to have you on this program.
Alana: Thank you so much.
Tavis: Happy Mother’s Day to you this coming weekend. Thanks for watching our show tonight. As always, keep the faith.
Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.
[Walmart Sponsor Ad]
Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.