Daughters Of Another Path (Experience of American Women Choosing Islam)
- :Carol L. Anway
Daughters Of Another Path (Experience of American Women Choosing Islam)
Author : Carol L. Anway
Carol L. Anway, M.S. Ed. In Guidance and Counseling, has spent many years as school counselor. For eleven years she edited and wrote Christian education resources focusing on children, families, and women. She has traveled in the United States and Canada presenting workshops on intergenerational ministries, Christian education, and teacher training as well as giving ministerial leadership at camps and retreats. Her education, writing, and commitment to the spiritual life helped her in the struggle to reconcile with her daughter's choice to convert to Islam. In Daughters of Another Path, Mrs. Anway shares her experience plus the stories of her daughter and other American women who have chosen to become Muslim.
My deep appreciation is extended first of all to my daughter, Jodi Anway Mobammadzadeh, who has caused me to stretch and view the world through another window. Our whole family has been enriched and enlarged by our venture with her to see life with new perspective and insights. Her contribution throughout the project and writing of the book has been so helpful-the editorial reviews, the rewriting, the title, the feedback. My initial encouragement and zeal for the project was sparked by Dr. Jamilah Kolocotronis Jitmoud and Susan Elsayyad, both American-born women who became Muslims and are currently teachers at the Kansas City Islamic School. They met with Jodi and me and helped us define the project, expressing a need in their lives for such a reconciling resource.
would love to personally meet each of the 53 women who shared their conversion stories by responding to the questionnaires. Each one was an inspiration and testimony to what she has chosen-to be a Muslim woman, submissive to the will of God. Working with my editor and long-time friend, Talitha PemUngton, has been a joy. She required so much of me as she helped me present this book to you in a concise, well-organized form. I needed her! And thanks to Joe, my husband and the love of my life, for support and encouragement through this and all our years together.
The world is constantly growing and changing. All persons have a road to travel and a path to find to bring meaning to their lives. Even though in the United States and Canada we may be bombarded with information on how others in the world live their lives, we somehow don't catch on. We are prone to segregate ourselves in our own economic, religious, or ethnic groups and resist bumping into other cultures and ideas. We tend to be shaped by the headlines and daily news reporting, which can feed our fears and reinforce stereotypes that are often misleading. This book is written in dedication to you, the reader, because you have taken the time to look beyond what you know. You have sought to find out about American-born women who have chosen the path of Islam. One of these Muslim women may be your classmate, your co-worker, your grocer, your neighbor, your cousin, your niece, your grandchild, and yes, maybe even your daughter.
The first time I saw Fiddler on the Roof I became upset with Tevye, the father who was so tied to his traditions that he broke the ties with one daughter and almost with the other two because they chose different "traditions." Those girls are good persons who will live good lives even if it isn't in the tradition of their parents. Why not leave them alone? I thought. Then I learned firsthand about the struggle that goes with having one's child break with traditional expectations. Like Tevye, I experienced rejection and anger and grief. Our daughter, Jodi, seemed to learn well one of the concepts I wanted to teach her: "Missouri is not the only place in the world; there is a whole world out there to explore. God loves all people, so we need to be open to them and have a global concept of life." I was happy that some of her friends were from other countries.
Then I began to see that she was getting serious about Reza, a young man from Iran. Soon she announced her intention to marry him and eventually live in Iran. He was a person that we really enjoyed knowing. But to have our daughter marry him and go off to a foreign country. . . . I replayed in my mind the scene of Tevye watching his second daughter board the train, knowing he would probably never see her again. In time, however, my husband, Joe, and I came to accept the idea and knew that we had grown as a result. Although Muslim, Reza seemed open and accepting, and we felt that Jodi was secure in her beliefs in Christ and our church. Her marriage in the church at Warrensburg was a tremendously happy occasion. Since Reza and Jodi were completing their degrees, I told myself it would be years before they would go: to Iran. Perhaps bithen they would change their minds.
Within two years my fears about her move to Iran were superseded by a greater one--jodi's decision to convert to Islam. It had never occurred to me that she might voluntarily choose a different religious tradition than that of our family. But she did. This book presents my story, and Jodi' a, and the changes that occurred in our relationship with her commitment to become Muslim. Also presented are the stories of several other American-born women who have converted to Islam---their backgrounds, their reasons for converting, their acceptance of the principles of Islam which they find so appealing, and what it has meant for their lives and their families. Leaving behind the Western modernistic society that shaped them, they have committed themselves to a way of life dictated by Islamic principles as interpreted in the community of Muslims with whom they worship and with whom they associate.
My hope is that the reader of this book will gain a clearer understanding of the young, American-born women who have chosen Islam, how and why they converted, and the strength that choosing this path has given to them. As these women describe living out Islamic principles in their daily lives, non-Muslims can not only learn about the Islamic way but also discover how best to relate to these Muslim women in the workplace, as relatives and as friends or acquaintances. For many of us, these are our daughters, sisters, granddaughters, cousins, friends, or co-workers who have chosen another path of faith to God. May this book be an opportunity to cross over for a .brief time to understand their approach and commitment to another path.
1. Daughters of Another Path Women Becoming Muslim in America
She may be shopping at the mall, driving or riding in a car, studying in university classes, or sharing an office in the workplace. Her dress is modest, a scarf covering her hair with only her face and hands uncovered (although even her face may be veiled). She wears outfits that are usually neat but not showy, sometimes reflecting foreign fashion. She is very conspicuous in our society, often triggering thoughts like "strange religion," "terrorist," "fundamentalist," "mystery," "foreign," or "oil," and she makes us feel uncomfortable and alienated. Expecting to hear a heavy accent when speaking to her, one may be shocked if she sounds just like any American-hummmm! "Where are you from?" the curious observer might ask. 'Toledo, Ohio," she may reply. But it could have been any other city or town. "Oh, really?" the observer responds, somewhat taken back realizing that she is one of us.
A growing number of American-born women in the United ' States and Canada have converted to Islam and call themselves Muslim like any other follower of Islam. Many hold to the tradition of wearing hijab* (covering) in public. Others don't feel it necessary to cover and are, therefore, less noticeable but are
________________________ * A Glossary of Islamic Terms, following Appendix C, gives o definitions for all Islamic terms referred to in the text or quotes.
also among the slowing number of converts in the United States and Canada. No one knows for sure how many of the world's one billion Muslims live in the United States and Canada, but the American Muslim Council of Washington, D,C., estimates the Muslim population to be between 6 and 8 million including American-born converts, those who have immigrated, and a growing number of children born Muslim in America. Thus Islam may already have more followers in the United States than Judaism which has 5.5 million adherents. This would make Islam the second-leading religion after Christianity. The growing number of mosques and student centers also reflects the emerging presence of Islam. Around 1985 there were approximately six hundred mosques, student centers, and other Islamic centers with the numbers growing. Muslim history in the United States is fairly short. The booklet, A Century qf Islam in America, 1 indicates three waves of Muslim immigration. The first occurred in 1875 with migrant laborers, uneducated and unskilled workers willing to work hard. Many stayed, but those who returned home encouraged others to come to America. The second wave in the 1930s was stopped by World War II. The third wave of immigrants in the '50s and '6es tended to be welt educated and from influential families, often trying to escape political oppression or to obtain higher education.
Muslims tend to group in the larger cities where they have support from each other. Many of the larger universities have active Muslim groups, It is here they learn from and help each other live the Muslim lifestyle that is at times difficult to blend with the schedule and activities of the American society. Muslims are obligated to fisllow the practices of Islam in every detail in daily life. These practices are dictated by the Qur'an and the Hadith (the reported sayings, deeds, and practices of Muharnmad), and by the other examples attributed to Prophet Muhammad. Unique in many Western settings is the right to practice
________________________ 1. Yvonne Y. Haddad, A Century of Islam (Washington, D.C.: The Middle East Institute, 1986).
religion as one desires, which extends to Muslims the opportunity to live their lives Islamically as interpreted in their community. Western countries once identified as Judeo-Christian countries may need to recognize they are becoming judeo-Christian-Muslim societies. The growth of Islam in the Western Hemisphere is fast becoming a major topic for media coverage. The expansion of Islam is a major contemporary issue for all North Americans &though most Americans know little about either the principles of Islam or its history. Islam had its beginning in the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century when Muhammad received divine revelations from God (Allah) through the angel. Gabriel. These were received by Muhammad who spoke them orally, and the recitations were eventually written down to form the Qur'an (or Koran), the Muslim's sacred book, which is considered to be the literal and final word of God to the world. Islam Enters My World Fourteen years ago our daughter Jodi married a young man from Iran and soon converted to Islam. She began wearing the cover and learning to live and practice as a Muslim. The next few years were a time of grief and adjustment for our family. In the intervening years we have grown to appreciate the strength and commitment of our daughter and her American -Muslim fiends.
From this personal experience I decided to collect the stories of American-born women who converted to Islam. I developed and distributed a questionnaire and soon began receiving many personal expressions of strength. and faith, Many North Americans (including United States and Canada) are familiar with the book and movie, No Without my Daughter; the movie, True Lies, or other articles and media comments filled with negative portrayals of Muslims. We rarely have the opportunity on a personal level to observe the quality of life that American-born women who have become, Muslim have in their Islamic commitment. I felt that a more positive image was needed, and by gathering and sharing some of the stories of these Americana born women who have converted to Islam, that desire within me has been accomplished. The intent is not to use each story in total but to use portions to unfold the stories and faith journeys of some who chose to convert to Islam. Woven in with these stories is my own story as a mother of one who became Muslim. Here is an opportunity to also find out about the beliefs of Islam and how it is lived out on a daily basis by its disciples.
Overview of Survey Results
The questionnaire (Appendix A) was distributed at several Muslim conferences and also mailed to those who heard about the survey and called in, or were referred by others. Of the 350 questionnaires distributed, fifty-three women responded representing diverse regions across North America: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Virginia, New Jersey, Indiana, Oregon, Alabama, Texas, California, Louisiana, Washington, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Vermont, and Ontario. These fifty-three respondents thoughtfully spent many hours answering the in-depth questions presented to them. The educational level of the women responding ranges from high school graduate to doctorate. Fifty-three percent hold a bachelor's degree or above. Thirty-five percent of the women have B.A. or B.S. degrees, 12 percent have M.A. or M.S. degrees and 6 percent have MD. or Ph.D. degrees. At the time they responded, seven of the women were college students working toward a higher degree.
The age range was from twenty-one to forty-seven years of age with 40 percent of the respondents in their twenties, 48 percent in their thirties, and 12 percent in their forties. The number of years the women have been Muslim ranged from six months to twenty-two years. Those who have been Muslim six months to three years constitute 32 percent; four to six years, 24 percent; and seven to ten years, 20 percent. Twenty-four percent of the respondents have been Muslim eleven years or longer with the two longest at nineteen years and twenty-two years. Approximately 40 percent of the women work outside the home either part-time or full-time, two women have their own in- home businesses, and 12 percent are working toward college degrees. One-half are full-time homemakers with 25 percent of those choosing to home school their children of school age. Although 75 percent of the women have children, not all of the children are of school age. Forty-seven percent send their children to public schools, 11 percent have children enrolled in non- Muslim private schools, 26 percent have children in Islamic schools, and 26 percent home school. This adds up to more than 100 percent because some families have children in two or three of the different school settings.
In observing the common practices of Islam, only two of the women in this survey are not currently wearing hijab full-time. For the most part, all are involved in daily prayers, fasting at Ramadan, and participating in ongoing study regarding Islam. Eighteen percent indicated they eat meats other than halal (approved) meats with the exception of pork which is strictly forbidden. Ninety percent of the women in the study are married and reflect successful and happy marriages at the time of the survey. They indicate much satisfaction at the position they feel is theirs in the Islamic setting. Some of those who are single as a result of divorce, widowhood, or never marrying indicate that they are uncomfortable at times in Muslim gatherings. They expressed the belief that marriage would give them a better position in the Muslim community. Since, being married is considered "the natural state" in the Islamic community, they feel a loss of power, for it is through a husband that they would have connection and input into decisions made at the mosque.
Their responses represent extremely positive reactions to their chosen Muslim lifestyle, by contrast to the more negative stories often heard in the media.. M in the American society at large, one can assume the stories of most American-born Muslim women range from happy and well-adjusted, through the in-between "life-is-okay-but" stories, to those stories which contain much grief and unhappiness. In this study, most of the women have found fulfillment and happiness in their decision to live a specific lifestyle-Islam.
Jodi dropped out of college during the fall semester of her sophomore year. She was in a state of emotional and spiritual turmoil and moved in with her grandmother because she wasn't sure she could handle living with us. Later that fall Jodi went with a small group of young adults on a church tour to bring ministry to several congregations and to explore some church historical sites. When she came back from the trip, she told of her experience of emotional healing. "Mom and Dad, I now know what you mean about there being a God-I had an experience with God. As I sat with the group praying, it was like a warm flooding of my soul. It was an assurance that there actually is a God. It was a healing time for me, and now I am ready to start getting on with my life." But Jodi still was not ready to move back home, so we provided a small apartment in one of our rental houses while she attended the community college where her dad taught.
In that semester, Jodi and Reza became acquainted. An engineering student at the same community college, Reza was a serious young man who held similar moral values that Jodi wanted for her life. Here was someone who could help her be what she really wanted to be. At Eastertime we were going out of town to visit relatives. We invited Jodi and Reza to go with us. On Easter morning, as we prepared to go to church, Jodi excitedly whispered, "Mom, Reza wants me to marry him and go to Iran to live! Isn't that great?" No, it wasn't great. Iran was where the hostage crisis was happening. No, this couldn't happen. All through the Easter service, tears streamed down my face. I kept seeing in my mind the scene from Fiddler on the Roof where Tevya sends his second daughter off at the train station, knowing he would never see her again. She sings to her father the song, "Far From the Home I Love." I could not tolerate this! Reza invited us to his apartment for dinner the next Thursday. Could we come? Well, that would be very nice. Yes, we would like that. It was a pleasant time together-then Reza got to the point. "Joe and Carol, I invited you here because I want to marry Jodi and would like to have your approval." "When?"
"As soon as possible-by this summer, we hope." He explained their feelings, their friendship, their agreement on values. We just could not agree. She had college to finish. How would they pay for it? No. No. But as time went on we could see they were going through with it, approval or not. It was the first of May and I was out of town on a work assignment. As I viewed a video in preparation for the weekend workshop I was to conduct, I watched a segment about a missionary to India. The missionary told about walking miles in rough terrain and hot weather to reach a village. His feet were blistered and sore. When he reached the village, he sat on a tree stump. An old lady of the village came to him with a pan of water, removed his shoes and socks, and bathed his feet. As he looked into her eyes, he said he saw the light of Jesus in those eyes. As I heard the story, I fell on my knees. "God, I have not tried to see anything in Reza. I have only resisted. I will look for your light in his eyes and find acceptance."
When I saw him again after my return, I looked at Reza in a different way. His beautiful dark eyes reflected love, gentleness, and light, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of acceptance. My husband, Joe, also had come to accept him, so the wedding was planned for the first of August. Reza was a good man. We would share the gospel with him and, perhaps before long, he would become a Christian.
How familiar the feelings and emotions are for many of us whose children are young adults. They make choices that we don't agree with. We think we are raising them to take on our values and make the decisions which would fit our lifestyle. But somehow it doesn't work. They have options, and they often choose lifestyles different from the ones we hoped they would choose. In my collection of stories of American-born women who had converted to Islam, the overwhelming majority described growing up with a religious commitment either because the family required it or because the girl herself wanted to be involved. Only two respondents said religion was not important in their formative years, and one had never been a Christian. Several had dropped out of church because they felt they couldn't get their questions answered, or when they left home, they no longer "had to go" to church because of parental demands. Some of these women were daughters or granddaughters of ministers.
They came from fundamental as well as more liberal denominations. Although 28 percent did not give specific denominations, those mentioned were Catholic, Southern Baptist, Methodist, Christian-Disciples of Christ, Episcopalian, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), Nazarene Church, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Jehovah's Witness, Quaker, Greek Orthodox, Seventh-Day Adventist, World Wide Church of God, as well as charismatic and born-again Christians. One was a Christian who had become Hindu and another was looking into Judaism. Most came from a religious background and were searching for meaning in their lives during the young adult questioning stage. In the following, some of these women describe their perceptions of the religious environment in their early lives.
Families Who Were Strict in Religious Expectations
Some of the women came from families who were determined that their daughters would be diligent in their church attendance, not only on Sundays but also during the week. The word "strict" was often used to describe the expectations of some families in regard to religion. +I was raised as a Catholic. I was taken to church and Sunday school every Sunday because my father insisted and physically forced me and my brothers and sisters to go and told us if we did not go to church we would go to hell. I believed in God and feared him to some extent and asked him for help. When I was seventeen I stopped going to church and had horrible nightmares about the devil coming to get me for about six months or more. +My father is a United Methodist minister. My grandfather was a Baptist minister. I was raised in a very religious environment. I went to church almost every day of the week.
+I grew up a Christian (Seventh-Day Adventist), going to church and to private schools run by the church. I grew up in a strict environment: no non-religious activities from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, many church activities, restricted diet (not only no pork, but also other things specified in the Bible in the Old Testament), no drinking or smoking, no jewelry, etc. In high school I got disillusioned with the church because I saw so much hypocrisy in it. I stopped going to church and dropped out of high school at seventeen.
These families required what they thought best for their daughters growing up. The women often developed a deep belief in God but going to church became something they had to do, and they were relieved when they were old enough to make their own decisions about church attendance. Parents Whose Denominational Convictions Were Changing or Weak Although many parents had deep religious convictions, they had either dropped out of church or were only attending on a part-time basis. Some families were split in regard to denominational allegiance; others changed denominations during the daughter's growing up period. Some of the women expressed dissatisfaction with their religion of origin. +When I was a child my family belonged to the World Wide Church of God, but they broke away while I was still young. My father felt that most organized churches were corrupt, but he was (in my opinion) extremely religious. Being raised in this way, I was always seeking some religious fulfillment.
+I was a born-again Christian-but was not practicing. I didn't go to church because I wasn't interested in the whole overly religious, pressured atmosphere. My mom became a born-again Christian when I was in third grade. We were Catholic before that. I remember Mom having us kneel in front of the TV while she was watching Jim Bakker on TV. +My religious commitment was deeply imbedded. My parents did not attend church but sent me with family and friends from the time I was two years old. My parents had and, to some extent, still have moral standards that were taught to me in my youth regardless of their church attendance record. My mother's father is a Pentecostal preacher and my mother had always expressed her ill feelings toward her father for making her go to church three times a week.
+When I was a child, I went to the Church of God, my father's denomination. Then, when I was a teenager, I went to the Episcopal church with my mom. The reason for the change was because my mom decided to go back to her Episcopal roots. I was not really satisfied with either one. As reflected by some of the survey respondents, a degree of turmoil or unrest was present in their families in regard to religion. Consequently, the prevailing attitude was one of confusion and doubt.
Women Who Felt a Pull Toward the Religious Experience
Disillusionment, confusion, unanswered questions-these describe the early religious experience of many of the women. However, in spite of frustration, their stories show their devotion, of being in the "search mode" and looking for stability in their religious life. +My father is Presbyterian and my mother is Catholic. My father was never active in any church, but Mother tried to raise us Catholic. I was baptized in the Catholic church and received my First Communion at about the age of eight. After that, we only went about once a year. When I was about ten, I became a very active member of a small Presbyterian church nearby. By ninth grade, I was helping the minister's wife teach Sunday school. In high school I started a church youth group by recruiting four of my friends to join me. It was a small group, but we were content to get together to study the Bible, talk about God, and raise money for charities.
These friends and I would sit together and talk about spiritual issues. We debated about questions in our minds: What happens to the people who lived before Jesus came (go to heaven or hell)? Why do some very righteous people automatically go to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus (we thought about Gandhi)? On the other hand, why do some horrible people (like my friend's abusive father) get rewarded with heaven just because they're Christian? Why does a loving and merciful God require a blood sacrifice (Jesus) to forgive people's sins? Why are we guilty of Adam's original sin? Why does the Word of God (Bible) disagree with scientific facts? How can Jesus be God? How can One God be three different things? We debated these things, but never came up with good answers. The church couldn't give us good answers either; they only told us to "have faith." +I was raised Catholic, but stopped attending services in high school due to disenchantment on my mother's part. I enjoyed the traditions of the Catholic church and liked the conservative values. There were always many unanswered questions for me even as a child-I could not accept the vague or nonsense answers. I knew even as a small child that these vague areas of faith and philosophy of blind obedience to the clergy were not right.
+I was a Christian by birth. I had always loved Sunday school and church. In a mixed-up, divorced, dysfunctional family, I was looking for stability, not just from a community but from God. After the age of eighteen I searched from church to church looking for "the answer" only to find more confusing messages from each minister and pastor. I remember always telling my best friend that I wished I could find a church. I always had an empty space inside of me. She would empathize with me and try to encourage me to go on Sundays. But by the age of twenty-two, I had given up on "man-made religion" but not on God.
+I was raised as a Catholic. My mother practices her faith but my father is not attending mass regularly. Since I was in elementary school, I questioned the teachers (nuns) and parents about the Trinity (who should I pray to: Jesus, God the Father, Holy Spirit? How about the Saints?). I was told there was no explanation and I just had to accept it the way it is. It was too confusing to me. I was never satisfied with Catholicism. I stopped going to church at age seventeen, but I was still praying to God as I had from very early childhood. +I was a Baptist and I was attending Catholic school. I was very involved with the activities of the family church, but I can't say that I had any real commitment. As a teenager, I was constantly searching for what was correct.
+For many years I "bounced around" from one Christian church to another. I was not happy at any of them. If something didn't work out with one church, I'd go to another. I thought that's all there was. Eventually, I became disenchanted with the whole idea. All I had seen were hypocrites, anyway, so I stopped attending church all together. I then entered the darkest phase of my life. I literally sank to the bottom of society. These women were discontent with what they found at church and were questioning and searching for something to fill their spiritual void. There was a sense of readiness on their part for that which would meet the religious and spiritual needs they felt.
Women who Came from a Mode of Commitment
For many of the women, religion was at the heart of their faith journey in their growing-up years. They were active participants in the church as teachers, pianists, soloists, and worshippers and felt deeply devoted to God and the religious aspect of their lives. +I was born and raised the daughter of a Nazarene minister and was very active in church musically. I was the church pianist for years and played and sang in many local contests.
+I was raised a Baptist, but studied different religions after leaving home. I was raised in a Christian family that tried to live as Christians, not just pay lip service. +I grew up Catholic. For most of my youth I wanted to be a nun. I even spent time with the parish priest and even contacted a convent for information. I can say I was a devoted Catholic, attended daily mass-the whole works. +Prior to my conversion I was a Christian, going to Sunday school from two years of age and also attending church services with my family every Sunday from about six years of age. I was very devout and was baptized at age eight after being questioned by the minister of our church. At first he was skeptical to baptize someone so young, but after I answered all his questions, he decided that I was ready to become a formal member of the church. I was baptized and remained a faithful member until I met my husband. Then I began to study Islam.
+Until eighteen years of age, I was a Methodist. At eighteen, I became a Catholic. Prior to that conversion I had read about all world "religions." I was very active in both denominations and other churches-to the point of receiving awards, medals, certificates, etc. I considered myself very active and religious. I wanted to become a nun. I knew several sisters in a local convent and inquired about nunnery life. For many of these women, religion was a natural way of life. They were often dissatisfied with the answers they received to the questions they asked of church leaders. They were at "that phase" in life when they were trying to decide for themselves who they were and what they wanted their lives to be like; they were young adults making independent choices. It was at that point of searching that they made contact in some way with Islam.
3. Changing Path American Women Choosing to Become Muslim
We were with Jodi for two days one summer attending a friend's wedding. She and Reza had been married or two years and were studying at the University of Arkansas, about an eight-hour drive from our home. She seemed so different, yet I liked her mature manner and her kindness. When making a hair appointment, she was careful to insist on a female rather than a male beautician. Even though it was in the middle of a hot summer, she wore long sleeves. Her conversation was serious as she spoke of what she was learning about Islam. On the way to the wedding, we talked. Jodi sat with her dad in the front seat. She turned around to look at me sitting in the backseat and said, "Mom, who do you believe Jesus was?"
"Well, Jodi, you know. You've been going to church all your life," I replied. "But, Mom, I want to hear you tell me now." And so I told her what I thought was basic to the Christian belief of Jesus' birth, of his ministry, of his being the Son of God, of his death and resurrection for our salvation. "Then Jesus is God?" Jodi asked.
"Yes, Jesus is part of the Trinity," I replied, "and throughout his teaching and ministry, he points us toward God." I felt frustrated. Somehow her responses left me feeling inadequate. Why couldn't I do better? Even though she didn't say so, I could feel her moving toward an Islamic viewpoint. Well, no chance of her going all the way, I comforted myself. All too soon Jodi was gone again, back into the world of university studies with her husband, Reza. We, too, returned to our home and jobs. We kept in touch with Jodi by phone. With each call, we felt the gap widening. She was a natural at imitating others and often sounded like an Iranian trying to learn English as she imitated her friends' accents. She talked of cooking-not American foods but Iranian cuisine. She spoke only of her Muslim friends-not Christian or even American friends. We couldn't quite define it, but there was a shift.
November came and Jodi and Reza came home for Thanksgiving. We had been apprehensive but looked forward to it. We really loved those two, and we missed them. Jodi came through the door. She was wearing a long dress over her jeans and sweater. She carried a scarf in her hand, and her hair was flat against her head. We embraced, then sat and talked in a rather stilted, surface manner. It was late and time to retire. Reza went out to carry in the suitcases. As I got up, Jodi came over by me.
"Mom, I need to talk to you." I turned my back and headed for the kitchen. Tears were welling up in my eyes. No, I wouldn't talk with her. I couldn't stand what I thought she had to say. "Not now," I answered without looking at her. The next day was Thanksgiving. We were all heading to Grandma's house, an hour's drive away. "Mom, we won't be eating the turkey or dressing. We're only eating approved meats." Well, big deal! See if I care! I wouldn't look at or acknowledge her. She had the long dress on over her jeans again, and as we walked out the door, she put on the scarf so it covered all her hair. I sat in the front seat and sulked the entire trip. The rest of the family seemed to carry on as usual-Reza and Jodi, her two brothers, and her dad. I managed to avoid her the whole day until that night back at the house.
"Mom, we have to talk."
"I don't want to hear it." "You've got to hear it, Mom, please." I finally gave in, and we sat down. "Morn, I've converted to Islam. I was already Muslim this summer, but I wasn't ready to tell you then. I needed to grow stronger before I told you." The signs are often there that our young adults are changing from the path we want for them, yet we aren't sure just what to do about it. Consequently, we frequently ignore it, hoping the whole situation will go away, and we won't have to deal with it. As young adults, our children are beyond our control; they encounter many new ideas and new perspectives in the world, and they make their own decisions.
Daughters Learning of a New Path
Of the respondents to the questionnaire, 63 percent were married to Muslims before their conversions. Their attitudes toward Islam at the time of marriage ranged from fear of Islam to having already investigated Islam on their own. Twenty-three percent converted before marriage and later met and married a Muslim, while 6 percent who converted are still single. Only one woman responded as having become Muslim even though married to a white, American, non-Muslim male. None of these women felt compelled by their husbands to study Islam and convert. In many instances it was the searching of the wife that drew the husband back into practice of his religion. These Muslim men (often not practicing) seemed, for the most part, to be well-versed in their religion. It wasn't a case of not knowing what Islam was and what it required; it was being away from family in a land where it was difficult to practice Islam that fostered less involvement. Family responsibilities and a searching, supportive wife naturally drew them again into the practice of their faith.
Although the stories of these women vary in the specifics, there are many commonalities in their introduction and conversion to Islam. The majority of women were introduced to Islam by the husband. Others were introduced by classes they took in college, and a few by acquaintance with Muslim neighbors or from having visited in an Islamic country. Islam touched in them a need they felt. Each in her own way chose to accept Islam and make shahada, declaring herself as Muslim by acknowledging "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is a messenger of Allah." The following stories help us gain a sense of the variety of ways they learned about Islam and the conversion experiences that brought these women to the point of declaration.
The desire to further a relationship with a Muslim who had become a significant other was a motivator for some to investigate Islamic beliefs more seriously.
+I met my husband in 1983. Prior to that I held all the common stereotypes of Islam, that it was medieval, subjugated women, and was violent. I never had any formal exposure to Islam despite a master's level education. Although not practicing the prayers or fasting regularly, my husband was very sure that Islam was the true religion of God. I was aware that although I was under no obligation to convert, he would not marry me without my committing to raise any children we would have as Muslims. I felt he had a sound value system and my initial exposure to the Qur'an did not convince me one way or the other, but I saw nothing I felt adverse about in raising our children Muslim. In 1988, our first son was 18 months old. Our marriage was in deep trouble for a variety of reasons. I turned to the Qur'an to find ways I could use it to manipulate my husband into counseling. Our conflict reached a zenith in September, 1988, and I asked him for a separation. I felt I had no options, even though I still loved him. I was calm driving to work. Out of my soul came an intense pain, and I cried out loud for God to help me. At that moment I recognized my desire to be Muslim, and it did not matter if my marriage broke up or not. I wanted to be Muslim for me.
+I met my husband at Louisiana Tech University. He didn't want to have an illegal relationship with me, so he immediately proposed marriage, asked me if I was interested in reading about Islam and becoming Muslim, and he actually asked me to put a cover on my hair. I was insulted by the last two requests, and at eighteen, I wasn't sure I wanted to get married. I was attracted to him and wanted to be with him. He discontinued contact with me. I went home and read on my own about Islam. I changed and wanted to many him.
+[From one who was unchurched] My husband was supportive in helping me put my life together. I was recovering once again from emotional problems. He really had very little to do with my conversion. He introduced me to Islam but never asked me to convert. Islam does not require me to, but he returned fully to his religion. As I saw him gradually acquire an inner peace, I became envious. Inner peace was what I sought. So I asked for literature. The more I read, the more I wanted to learn. Islam means "submission to the will of God" or "inner peace." I felt God himself was leading me.
Learning About Islam in an Islamic Country
Some of the women actually visited Muslim countries and were profoundly affected by the people and their practice of Islam. They observed the lifestyles and the norms as lived out in an Islamic-based culture. When I was eighteen I married my boyfriend because he was going to Vietnam. I decided to enlist in the Medical Corps. Around that time I was studying Judaism [although a Christian at the time], mainly because they did not believe in the Jesus as Savior thing. But I found out I did accept Jesus as a prophet and the Jews did not! I also accepted the virgin birth, which was another no-no, but everything else about their beliefs was okay with me-much different than the arguments I had with pastors and priests before, so I sort of considered myself a Jew-non-Jew type person.
I was a trained combat nurse and was present during the last days before Saigon fell in Vietnam. (Yes! A bona fide Vietnam veteran with a bronze star and 2 purple hearts!) In 1978 I was sent to Saudi Arabia because the United Nations needed trained personnel to conduct a relief campaign for immunization and care of the cholera epidemic sweeping through south Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen regions. Many children were dying as well as old people. When I could, I watched the Bedouins pray several times a day and the only word I could make out was "Allah," but the devotion of those people impressed me.
I took a tour of the Middle East in early 1980 with my husband. In Cairo my "light bulb" went from dim to bright as I continued my study of Islam. My marriage was in the process of ending and when the divorce came, I had a nervous breakdown because my family and my husband's [family] were trying to "deprogram" me from this dangerous, religious "cult" I had become fascinated with. I buckled under and simply cracked from the confusion.
After intense therapy, 1 moved south to return to college and finish my half-completed bachelor's degree. There I met many Muslim students who wondered at my knowledge of their religion. Six months later I was reading the Qur'an full-time and took my shahada during Ramadan in 1989. +My conversion started when I took a religion class at Purdue University, This first introduction to Islam struck my mind and made more sense (and later, total sense) than other religions I studied. Then I decided to join a study summer tour to Egypt to visit a Muslim. country firsthand, to see the mosques, to talk: with the people. This opened my mind tremendously. From that point on, Islam was the only way for me to go. When I got back from Egypt, I went to the local mosque, and the sisters helped me begin my path of knowledge and life. In November 1993 I converted and have found peace in my life. Before converting I was not religious. I was drinking and being "wild." Islam taught me that this life is the judgment for the after-life and pleasing Allah (SWT) is most important.
+I studied Islam as part of my college major in African and Middle Eastern Studies. . . I did not believe anyone could truly practice Islam in the present age.
I traveled to West Africa as a volunteer and stayed 3 months. In that time, I met true Muslims. When they heard the call to prayer, they ran to the mosque. If someone had extra money beyond his basic needs, he gave it to someone less fortunate. The name of Allah was always on their tongues. The more I was with them, the more I wanted to embrace Islam.
I became very sick and had to be evacuated to a hospital in the capital. I had no one to comfort me-all my friends were far away. All I could do was pray. I prayed almost constantly for three days. I remembered the conversion story of Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens); he was drowning and promised God he would devote his life to God if God spared his life. I did the same. Within two days, I was back in the village with my Muslim friends, but I still resisted converting.
I was miserable when I returned to the U.S. I could no longer function in a society so far removed from what I wanted. I met many American and Arab Muslims who encouraged me ever so gently to let go and submit to Allah. I became so exhausted from trying to resist the pull of Islam that finally on January 21, 1989, I converted. These women seemed to have a fascination with what they observed in the Islamic countries. They were moved by what they saw and felt, and they responded by becoming part of that which was introduced to them.
The Witness of Muslim Neighbors and Acquaintances
Some of the young women met Muslims in this country who influenced them by their daily living and practice. They sensed in the Muslims personal strength that seemed to come from their beliefs. Sometimes the Muslims' witness was verbal as they responded to questions, but more often it was how they chose to live their lives.
+I was fifteen years old when I first started to learn about Islam. A Saudi family moved in next door, and I was fascinated by their behavior, dress, language, and religion. The wife and I became very close, but it took four years for me to convert. They never pushed it on me; they simply answered my questions and showed me great kindness and hospitality. All throughout high school, though I was not a Muslim, I stayed away from negative elements. It came from my Saudi friends' influence. So when I converted, the only real things I changed were my clothing and leisure time activities such as concerts, movies, and sports.
+Before becoming Muslim, I was an atheist and had withdrawn from the church; however, I wasn't closed toward long and in-depth discussions about God and this world. After several years of satisfying but "burnout" type working, I started traveling through South Central America and ended up in Texas. A Muslim community welcomed me to stay and sort out my total and utterly miserable confusion. By the will of Allah, I was guided toward becoming Muslim, saying the shahada, and wanting to be married. This then settled me into a new identity and a different life orientation but without totally losing the old "me." +My husband wasn't practicing his religion at the time I met him so he had no objections when I decided to go back to church and take the kids. The only thing he requested was that we eat no pork. Visitors from Egypt to my father's business let me see for the first time Islam in full practice. It was then that my husband began to think about putting it in his life more seriously.
Then my aunt married a Muslim, and I spent much time there asking questions about Islam. In 1990 I gave birth to my fourth child, and I was caught unaware in my belief. What I mean is I really didn't know I believed in Islam. But one night Allah made the truth to hit me, It felt like a rock, and I cried like my three-week-old daughter that night as I sat staring at my plaque of the Lord's Prayer.
I kept my belief a secret even from my husband for another two weeks. I told him on the phone one day when he called me from work. He immediately started asking me why. He told me it was very serious, that I shouldn't "hop on to it." One must be convinced and not compelled. He cut me short saying "We'll talk about it when I get home." He later told me after he hung up the phone, he cried and thanked God. He promised to try to begin a new life and practice Islam to the full extent. He told me that night, he whispered the call to prayer in our newborn's right ear and the readiness call in her left-something he had not done with our other children. +In 1983, through friends I met an Arab woman, and we became best friends. One day she asked if I could babysit her daughters, and I did. One night before the kids went to bed they told me their prayers and also wanted to teach me. The next day, she asked me if I considered Jesus the Son of God. I replied, "Really, I have no religion but tell me more about your religion, Islam." It took me two more years from then to say shahada.
+I volunteered to help tutor Saudi women who were studying English as a second language. I found it odd that these women refused to have a man tutor them, but after checking out and reading several books on Islam from the public and school libraries, I began to understand these "mysterious" ladies in black. The women began to open up more and more and invited me into their homes and my knowledge of Islam unfolded, really respected the religion as I saw it practiced on a daily basis.
It was irn the spring of 1988 that I really began to practice. I contacted the local Islamic Association and joined a sister's Qur'an study group. There I met sisters who were and still are great role models and guiding forces for me yet today. The impact of devout and dedicated Muslims on the lives of these women supports the church growth principle that in Christianity most are converted to a church because of someone they know who influences their lives toward accepting Christ and the church. These women sensed that living as a Muslim fulfilled these people spiritually and they, too, wanted to feel very close to God by being a true Muslim. Learning About Islam in the College Setting Many of the women made contact with Islam for the first time in the college setting. It may have been through specific religion courses, books they read for general college classes, or Muslim students or friends they associated with on campus. Hearing about Islam greatly interested them.
+ I was meeting with a group of international students ass part of a conversation group program to practice English. As I listened to a Palestinian man talk about his life, his family, his faith, it struck a nerve in me. The more I learned about Islam the more I became interested in it as a possibility for my own life.
The following term the group disbanded, but I registered for a class "Introduction to Islam." This class "'fought back all the concerns I had about Christianity. As I learned about Islam, all of my questions were answered. All of us are not punished for Adam's original sin. Adam asked God for forgiveness and our merciful and loving God forgave him. God doesn't require a blood sacrifice in payment for sin. We must sincerely ask for forgiveness and amend our ways. Jesus wasn't God; he was a prophet like all the other prophets. They all taught the same message: believe in the One true God, worship and submit to God alone, and live a righteous life according to the guidance he has sent. This answered all my questions about the Trinity and the nature of Jesus (all God, all human, or a combination?). God is a perfect and fair judge, who will reward or punish us based on our faith and righteousness. I found a teaching that put everything in its proper perspective, and appealed to my heart and intellect. It seemed natural. It wasn't confusing. I had been searching. I found a place to rest my faith.
+I was in college taking psychology and sociology but felt a need to turn back to religion even though I didn't agree with Christianity a whole lot, especially the way it had been presented to me before in life. After shopping around at all the different religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, I enrolled in the religious studies class in college and took literature of the Old Testament. One of the things that came up was going back to look at the roots of Christianity. It seemed that Christianity was okay then, but it got changed to the point to where women were not really accepted, as well as other changes. Reading through the texts, I came across things that the pastors in our church had never talked about. It really shook me, and it made me begin to question the Bible.
My husband gave me a Qur'an as a wedding gift, and it just sat on the shelf during the time I was taking the religion classes. After that we went to Syria to visit the family. I couldn't speak the language so I had a lot of time on my hands. So I read the whole thing, and while reading it I was looking for things that seemed incorrect or were problems to me. I came across things in the English translation that bothered me, like "Lightly beat your wife." So I would say to my husband, "How can you believe this stuff?" Then he would say, "No, in Arabic that's not the way it really is," and would explain from the original. 1 went through the whole thing and couldn't find anything inaccurate. And I thought, "Well, this is better than anything else I've seen." I converted in 1988. +1 was Roman Catholic. I studied African-American studies as part of my work toward a degree in social sciences. After reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I felt compelled to understand the power behind Brother Malcolm's transformation after making hall, when he returned to the U.S. and said that racism is not a part of Islam. As I began to study, I felt certain that lightning would strike me down 'for studying another religion. I studied casually for three months, intensely for the next three months, then made shahada to Allah before I first stepped into a masjid for the first time on May 29, 1993. On May 30, 1993, I made shahada in front of witnesses in the masjid.
The change was not a choice for me; it was going home. It gave me answers to questions I'd had and questions I didn't have. I love Islam. I love the concept of ummah. Alhamdulillah, that Allah has seen me fit to test. Searching to Fill the Spiritual Void
Many of the respondents were searching for something in the spiritual area to fill the void in their lives. It was through this openness that many began to receive the pull toward Islam. This need is reflected in most of the descriptions the women give of their conversion experience.. They may have come to the conversion point from a variety of situations, but most were receptive because of the need within themselves and the gentle persuasion of the Muslim person Of resource which touched their hearts and souls. +I married someone who was not a Christian and we both were non-practicing in anything religious. I still thought of myself as a Christian. "What else is there," I thought. I still held my belief of God and his creation of the earth, but wasn't sure of the other beliefs I was taught growing up.
The year after my divorce in 1990 I started thinking about what I needed, about what I believed. Early in 1991 I started checking books out of the library and reading about Islam, more because I was curious about it than anything. I slowly read books on it, but also lived my life as I had been living it. It wasn't until the fall of 1992 that I decided I had to do something about it-either get serious about studying it or forget about it. I found several American Muslim sisters in Manhattan, twenty miles from where I lived in a very small town. I studied with them and learned the practical aspects of what I had read for the past year and a half. T took my shahada in December 1992. +My struggle began many years ago with my search for self-identity. Growing up in America as a black presented meaningful challenges to me during the 1960s and 1970s. After rallying around certain racial issues and feeling the pressures of early integration in Mississippi and Texas, I began to question my "role" in life as a black woman.
I was a successful professional, but my personal life was a mess. Bad marriage, poor relationship with parents and siblings, discontented with church and God-these all led me to question who I was and why and what I could do to improve relationships with these people and the world in general.
I began to seek out answers by researching black history. I was amazed to find out that most African people came from Islamic states. I later met some Sunni Muslims who shared very impressive information about heaven and hell that touched my Sufi heart. I was teaching speech and drama at a Catholic high school in Washington, D.C. at the time. I became Muslim in 1974. I was asked to resign at the end of the year because several students also converted to Islam. Islam cooled me out. It helped me to find God without all of the hangups and guilt I felt as a Christian. I've always loved God, and knowing that I could talk directly to Allah was a welcoming treat.
+1 was first introduced to Islam at the age of fourteen, but because of family conflicts I was not able to learn or practice. After leaving home to go to college, I had the freedom to pursue the religion. The biggest change I had to make (besides the obvious ones of dress, diet, etc.) was to put some distance between myself and my family and former friends. I did this as a protection for myself that would allow me to grow stronger in my religion without distractions. I had little sense of loss because I filled the void with newfound Muslim friends, and later, my husband.
Many of the women have expressed their growing respect and love for the Qur'an, which is considered the final and literal word of God. For some women the Qur'an was an important part of their conversion experience. oMy conversion began as the result of a challenge by a Muslim to read the Qur'an in order for us to have a debate on the position of women in Islam. I held the stereotypical view of Muslim women as being oppressed and in a bad position relative to their Christian counterparts. I was nominally Christian, raised in a Catholic environment, but was not practicing the religion and really only bothered to label myself a Christian in order not to appear too rebellious in front of my extended family (my family was also really only Christian in name, not "reality").
The reading of the Qur'an and of hadith of the Prophet is what captured me. I went through a very odd experience whereby for the whole week it took me to read the Qur'an I couldn't sleep and seemed to toss and turn all night in a feverish sweat. I had strange and vivid dreams about religious topics, and when I would get up all I wanted to do was continue reading the Qur'an. I didn't even study for my final exams which were happening at the same time! I began a course in Middle Eastern History, which immersed me further into the study of Islam. When the professor read passages from the Qur'an to illustrate how powerful a "tool" it was in spreading Islam throughout the world, my heart sang. I knew I had found the TRUTH! I had been searching for God since the early '80s. At this point I knew I would someday be a Muslim. After the class was over I continued my investigation into Islam. I bought an English translation of the Qur'an and read it daily. I was living at home at the time so hid most of this from my family. I got together often with my new friends and my total lifestyle began to change.
+My conversion was a long process. I left Christianity while in junior high school. I was raised Methodist. My father had been a minister one time and was rather strict when I was a child. My parents left the church-mother went the American Indian Lakota way and father just left. I looked into a number of faiths but nothing attracted me. I was raised to look at other cultures from a point of understanding to try to step out of my own culture to view others. The Iranian revolution sparked many questions for me. I decided to learn more about the people and culture and began reading the history of Iran which led to history of Islam-an area not even touched in school. This led to reading Qur'an. I hit an emotional crisis when a relationship (with an Arab) fell apart, and I found myself turning to the Qur'an. I realized a need to rely on something other than people. My mother was dead, my family far away. I didn't know who I could turn to or trust. The Qur'an touched a chord. I got in touch with a [Muslim] women's study group and they were very supportive and informative. I especially liked Islam's base of logic. It took me a year to finally take shahada.
This holy book, the Qur'an, so revered by Muslims as the final word of God and the direction for humankind, touched these women as if it were a call to the faithfu1 to come and submit themselves to that which is holy and divine. They responded with zeal and passion to Islamic scripture.
Finding Answers in Islam
Some of the women tied to prove Christianity to their Muslim husbands. They sought help from Christian leaders but were frustrated in. their attempts. Some of the women smuggled with letting go of Christianity even though they felt "Muslim." Several religious questions seemed unsettling to them. Whereas Islam tends to "have the!, answers," there is often confusion Christian theology. In Islam there is only one God so how can Jesus also be God, the Muslims ask.
The Bible, viewed by many Christian as being the literal word of God, is also questioned. Muslims emphasize the many changes made over the centuries in the numerous manuscripts that make up the Bible and that it was written by those who only "felt inspired," cam many years after the events occurred. They point out what they led are contradictions in the Bible. Muslims, are well-versed in their beliefs and are often able to fill in the gaps for the confused person longing or God, answers, for what to do to be at peace. Varying degrees of dissatisfaction with Christian theology as they perceive it is apparent in many of these women's stories. Some of the problems center in the concepts of Trinity, original sin, or Jesus as the Son of God or Jesus as God. Their frustration with some of these ideas helped to open the doom for "new" religious expression.
oAfter the birth of our second child, I decided to go back to church. I was so enthusiastic and went around singing, reading the Bible, and telling my husband how much he should get back to God. With some reluctance he went to church with me and my daughter several times.
One day he said, "I can't go, anymore and I don't want you to take our doughty (either." We had a big fight and were going to split up until we decided that we would take a look at both religions. If I could explain Christianity satisfactorily, he would become a Christian. At the same time, I would take another look at Islam. (I had claimed Islam two years after we were married, but he wasn't active and I lost interest quickly.) I started asking a lot, of questions from ministers, theologians, and seniors in the field to help me prove Christianity to my husband. I wanted it se badly, I vied to several of them to help me and most of them said, "I'm sorry-I don't know" or "I'll write you," but I never heard from them. The harder I tried to prove Christianity to convert him, the more I moved toward Islam because of its logic, until I finally yielded to the belief and oneness of Allah. One thing led to another until my husband and I became practicing Muslims Islam for me gives me peace of mind because I don't have in understand the Trinity and how God is "three in one" or that God died on the cross. Fu me Islam supplies the answers. +I called myself agnostic when I' went to college. I thought I believed in God and didn't want to do anything about it. After a few years, was ready to go back to being "religious" again. In the meantime, I met a man from Lebanon who would later become my husband. He and both started learning mor,.7t about Islam and about six months later converted. We were married six months after that. The hardest part was changing my ideas about Jesus, It took A long time to he able to say that Jesus isn't the Son of God without it feeling like blasphemy. But., I realized that the beliefs are really close, in some ways. Mary was a virgin and Jesus is a great prophet. The difference is in the divinity of Jesus.
+I never knew anything about Islam except that "Muhammad was a killer and Islam was spread by
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