I’ve always wondered why Americans put pork in everything. Bacon’s too fatty and greasy. Pork chops literally taste like rotten chicken. And pepperoni only serve as mini edible bowls on top of pizza that accumulate oil.
I was told from a young age to avoid pork like the plague. I never really knew why — just that my family was Muslim and Muslims don’t eat pork. It made me feel cool and unique at times. My friends would have to order cheese pizza for me at sleepovers. Teachers would have to check during lunchtime to make sure that the sandwiches didn’t have any bacon in them. None of my classmates had a perversion to such an American staple, and I honestly liked the attention of having some real culture in comparison to the community around me.
In reality, I’ve never been a religious person. I’ve watched my babaanne, my dad’s mom, pray countless times on her rug. I would even try to mimic her as a child. It was more of a fun game to me, standing up, sitting down, bending into child’s pose, standing again. I had the same attitude towards Ramadan as well. How long could I go without eating or drinking? I never made it too far, but I would watch in admiration as my baba did so effortlessly day after day for a month.
Interestingly, I come from quite the dichotomy of belief systems. My mom, born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, is an atheist to the core. She can’t take religion seriously if her life depended on it. My dad, on the other hand, is from Antalya, Turkey, and is pretty dedicated to Allah. He used to go to camii — mosque — every Friday (the Muslim holy day) when I was younger. His parents have both completed their pilgrimage to Mecca. My babaanne and dede pray five times a day, every day. My babaanne wears a başörtü — head covering. Both grandparents read the Quran every day. This was my normal, at least whenever I traveled to Turkey to visit family.
I asked my parents at one point why they didn’t push religion on to me like many other parents do. My mom responded that she didn’t think it was fair to force me to believe one thing or another. She explained that they did their best to raise me with Muslim-ish beliefs (basically just no pork and one prayer in Arabic), but that ultimately they wanted me to make my own decision as to what I wanted to pursue. I subsequently pursued atheism.
I am forever grateful to my parents for allowing me autonomy in terms of religious beliefs. Too many times I witness children indoctrinated into a belief system at such a young age that they never know anything different.