Son’s Muslim faith divides one black family
Joshua Blackwell finally visited his mother in North Carolina this summer and they talked about his conversion to Islam. The conversation didn’t go well.
Margaret Blackwell had returned at midnight from her factory job making surgical bandages. Joshua, a D.C. public school teacher, was still up. She pulled out her Bible. He opened his Koran. They tried to reach each other but ended up doing battle. It was 1 John and Surah 31, verses and ayats. It was only those washed in the blood of the risen Christ, and the Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, until after 2 a.m.
And later that morning, they resumed.
“You ever had somebody die in your family?” Margaret Blackwell, 58, asked a reporter quietly. Her hair was pulled into a neat bun, and her face was smooth and unlined. She sat in a straight-backed armchair in the living room of her two-bedroom apartment and stared pensively toward the floor. Big Wheel Gospel — 1510 AM — played softly in the background. She tapped her foot quickly up and down. “That’s how it felt.”
Joshua had been getting his 2-year-old daughter something to eat in the kitchen, and listening to his mother talk. He converted in 2008 but only told his mother about it in a phone call six months ago. This was his first visit home since then. He stepped into the living room, his 6-foot-5 frame filling the space, and made a statement that was part longing for understanding.
“I just believe in religious tolerance, that we should respect each other,” he said. The Koran says to hold your mother in high honor, and he does, he said. “But I’m a man. I made this decision as a man, not as a boy, and I will live with my decision.”
They’ll always be family, but “decisions have consequences,” Margaret said quietly, without looking at her son. “I have one son in Atlanta already in that [Islam], and my hope was that Josh would bring him out.”
She tapped her foot faster.
The Blackwells love one another, but their differences stretch out like the arms of Jesus between them. As in many African American families, Islam is a source of tension. Not because of suspicions about terrorism or Sept. 11. Joshua’s family is worried about his soul.
In the living room of the Blackwells’ home outside Greensboro, filled with family memorabilia and artifacts of faith, there are no geopolitics and no clashes of civilizations.
Only resentment and pain.