Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace
Alana, raised in a Christian home, had converted to Islam as a college student. The subsequent faith-related rift between parent and child made communication difficult. Tension nearly severed the family cords. Apparently, someone suggested that the mother and daughter try to “talk it out” in a book format.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a narrative book that engaged me so much that I didn’t want it to end. You might not think I’d have an interest; on one level, this is a book for and about strained relationships between parents and their adult children --- more specifically, mothers and their adult daughters. Can a mother step back from her need to control, listen rather than lecture, and set boundaries on her expressions of displeasure? Can a daughter identify conversational flash or trigger points, let down her guard and trust her mother’s intentions, and express appreciation for a stable childhood and a mother’s heart?
"It’s been a long time since I’ve read a narrative book that engaged me so much that I didn’t want it to end."
I don’t live out either of these roles, but that familial relationship is merely a framework for a deeper discussion: about interfaith dialogue, and pursuing and living in peace with near and dear ones, neighbors and strangers. Can we get past the stereotypes, the headlines and the fears?
Chapters are written with internally tandem voices. Mother Raybon, the more experienced writer, starts each chapter, introducing its topical theme: for example, “Can We Talk?” followed by “Can We Listen?” and later, “Now, Why Islam?”, “And Why the Christ?” and, finally, “Rock the Boat” and “Peace Is the Road.” Daughter Raybon then responds --- as if in an email or letter exchange, though it’s obvious that they’re writing with a public reader in mind, not privately to each other --- with each chapter comprising two or three back-and-forth volleys.
Patricia Raybon is a right-fine writer, effectively using metaphor to relate the physicality of her daily life in Denver to her internal journey: her frustrations, obstacles and breakthroughs. She walks us through seasons --- Easter, Mother’s Day, Ramadan, Eid, the start of a school year --- showing that the ongoing nature of time itself can produce change.
By the end of the book, mother and daughter are still ideologically/theologically at odds. They read and claim different books. Neither has converted; neither has “seen the light” that illuminates the deep, peace-affirming faith of the other. But they walk parallel roads of respect. It seems that they both hoped for a critical moment when peace would descend, maybe like a dove. In reality, they both realize that peace is a process, a journey, a path. The last line, before an epilogue, is by Alana, who addresses her mom directly (uncharacteristically, as most of the book is in third person): “So pack your bags, Mom. We’ve got work to do, and the peace train never stops.”
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on May 29, 2015