Every Christmas day brings back memories of all the years I spent in the United States (US) and of helping bring up ‘Muslim’ children in a mostly Christian country. As I live in present day Pakistan, I do realise that how difficult it must be to bring up children as Christians in this overwhelmingly Muslim country. Here I must admit that during all my time in the US there was no pressure on us as Muslims to conform with those around us in any way. And you could deny the existence of Saint Nick without being accused and jailed for blasphemy.My intention is not to compare Pakistan and the US but rather think back to how we managed to maintain our religious identity as a family especially during the Christmas season when the all the commercial and municipal areas are lit up and decorated with Christian images. Almost a month before Christmas the radio and the stores start playing Christmas songs. Of these my personal favourite was the one about ‘grandma being run over by a reindeer’. Young children do get overwhelmed by the ‘Christmas spirit’ and demand presents like their schoolmates. Promising then ‘eidee’ and presents at Muslim festivals doesn’t cut it simply because when children get together after Christmas holidays they all compare their Christmas booty. And our children bereft of any such stuff would come home quite dejected. So one of the things we had to do early on was to give them some presents at New Year time to make up for it. New Year works because schools are closed for the Christmas break till after New Year.Another continuous indoctrination was to make sure that our children did not eat pork or ham when visiting with friends. My wife taught them to ask what food they were being offered and politely decline pork products saying ‘we are ‘Muslims, we don’t eat pork’ (or ham). I am not too sure how implicit they were about this as children but I do know that as adults they do not eat any pork products. One of the problems during our early days in the US was that ‘halal’ meat was not available even in the New York metro area where we lived. So for visiting elders from Pakistan it was fish, a vegetarian diet or food from a Jewish deli. Jewish delis really were quite important to us in those days whenever we had parents or other relatives visiting from Pakistan. My older sister, a published writer even wrote a short story way back then about this which if I remember was titled something like ‘Thank heavens for the Jew’.My intention is not to compare Pakistan and the US but rather think back to how we managed to maintain our religious identity as a family especially during the Christmas season when the all the commercial and municipal areas are lit up and decorated with Christian imagesMy eldest son, a smart young kid was quite heavily indoctrinated by his mother about avoiding certain things because we were Muslims. So, while still pretty young he got involved in a discussion with a schoolmate about skiing. The schoolmate and family had just returned from a ski vacation so the other child asked my son, do you ski. This little Muslim child thought mightily and pondered deeply about this. His parents didn’t ski, none of the Muslims (mostly Pakistani doctors) he knew did not ski and none of his aunts or uncles skied. So he came up with the best answer he could, ‘we are Muslims, we do not ski’. Years later one nephew as a teenager did attempt to ski and ended up with two broken legs. So my son’s early observation more or less still holds as far as the Muslims I know well in the US are concerned. I am sure that Muslims that have shortened their first name to Bob, Al or Riz do ski and perhaps even celebrate Christmas drinking large amounts of spiked eggnog. I must admit that spiked eggnog is one of the better secular offerings at Christmastime.In the US, one of the problems was of appropriate Muslim religious instruction for children. The early and even most present day religious schools in the US teach a rather harsh and forbidding version of Islam. Fortunately my late mother-in-law would come and stay with us for much of the summer. She helped my older son read the Quran and taught him the basics about religion. The younger siblings were agreeable but not entirely dependable in this endeavour.All my children are now adults and I suspect that they probably follow the description of a Muslim offered by Mirza Ghalib when he was arrested and interrogated by the Brits shortly after the Indian War of Independence (The Mutiny). That said the final big challenge of bringing up Muslim children in the US comes upon us when it is time for them to get married.Jewish Americans have been complaining for a long time that too many of the Jews are getting married outside of the faith. A problem for the Jews in this respect is that to be Jewish you have to have a Jewish mother. Fortunately for Muslims there is no such problem though for Muslim girls marrying outside of the faith it does require that the groom accepts Islam. So a ‘nikah’ ceremony is often held before the actual marriage celebration. In this nikah ceremony the non-Muslim groom publicly ‘converts’ to Islam. Or as devout Muslims insist he just reverts to Islam.What happens to these grooms when they revert to their previously held beliefs is an open question since Muslim penalty for leaving the faith is rather harsh. And I am sure that that issue is never brought up before the groom is herded in for the nikah. Fortunately most marriages in the US happen for love so such minor inconvenience like the Muslim penalty for leaving the faith is ignored even if brought up usually by somebody in the groom’s family.As far as grandchildren are concerned, I for one am most happy to pass on such responsibility to their parents.The writer is a former editor of the Journal of Association of Pakistani descent Physicians of North America (APPNA)Published in Daily Times, December 28th 2018.