My God, They Really Are the Same

My God, They Really Are the Same December 3, 2012

Hang on, I’m having troubles picking my jaw up off the floor over here. I follow a blog called Sober Second Look, whose author writes about having converted into a conservative Muslim sect in the 1980s, married a Muslim man, and then had a passel of Muslim children before deconverting. And today, she wrote this:

Oddly enough, it never crossed my mind when I (and my convert friends) were having multiple children as our small, insular conservative Muslim and extremely pronatalist community vigorously encouraged us to, that … we’d be dealing with a boatload of teenagers and their typical teenage problems down the line.

Oh, a few people tried to tell us that, of course. That these cute babies would be teenagers soon enough, and night feedings and teething and all that sort of thing would seem like a picnic compared to teenage shenanigans. But we would either look at them blankly, or feel smugly superior to them. Because our kids weren’t ever going to be teenagers.

After all, this is what The Cult taught: Historically, there is no such thing as a “teenager”—there were children, and then there were adults. A child is a child until he/she reaches puberty, and then he/she is biologically an adult. “Teenagers” are a modern invention, caused by a godless, indulgent consumerist society, family breakdown, peer pressure, advertising and a lack of discipline in childhood.

Therefore, parents could avoid having their children turn into teenagers by raising them correctly, by instilling the fear of God in them, by teaching them to take on as many adult ritual and behavioral responsibilities as possible when they were still young, and by carefully sheltering them from the wider society. Because if we sheltered our kids, they would never get the idea that supposedly typical teenage behavior is in any way normal or acceptable, so they would be much less likely to act that way. And if we kept them securely inside our conservative, insular Muslim bubble as much as possible, then community expectations that they act maturely would be constantly reinforced, and it would be that much harder for them to be rebellious “teenagers.”

This was part of The Cult’s appeal to young, idealistic (and insecure) parents such as ourselves. We wanted our kids to grow up right. We were extremely worried about ensuring that they would enter paradise. And we had so much to worry about on that score, because it wasn’t just the usual things that parents of teens are concerned about—rebelliousness, unnecessary risk-taking, drinking, premarital sex, drugs, etc—that might keep them out of paradise. We also had to teach them to believe the right things and to take on adult ritual responsibilities, so that by the time they hit puberty (and would be individually held responsible by God for correct belief, prayer five times each day, fasting the entire month of Ramadan, wearing hijab…) that they would be ready and willing to believe and do what was required of them. With absolutely no teenage obstinacy, pushing the boundaries, sulkiness or insistence on making up their own minds.

Jaw. On. Floor.

This is absolutely word for word identical to what I was told growing up in a Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull evangelical homeschool family. Exactly.

I mean, we’re talking so exact that you could replace a few words – substitute “homeschooling” for “The Cult,” say, and “prayer five times each day, fasting the entire month of Ramadan, and wearing the hijab” with “reading the Bible regularly, praying constantly, and dressing modesty” – and if someone showed it to me I would think I’d read it in No Greater Joy, Above Rubies, a Vision Forum catalog, or any other Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull magazine.

My jaw is still on the floor. It really is all the time. So very many of the ideas we were raised on are common to fundamentalism across religions. And yet, we thought we were so very different. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how word for word exactly the same these ideas are. It’s mindboggling.

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