Rafed English

The Daughters Speak Out What the Muslim Converts Would Like Us to Know

Twelve years had passed since Jodi had chosen to become Muslim. The healing had taken years, but I found myself okay with Jodi as Muslim. There are still twinges of regret at times when I see that choice blocking some things we could do together either as mother and daughter or as grandparents and grandchildren. But my respect is there for her and that which her life demonstrates as good and upstanding. I found myself wanting to know more about other women who had converted. How had their families accepted it? Were the daughters able to work it through with their birth families? Could my story help them move toward healing? I really wanted to assist other grieving parents in their acceptance of these daughters and the path they had chosen.

My decision to do something to share with others about the strength and goodness I saw in my daughter's lifestyle and that of her Muslim friends was made one Sunday morning while I was still in bed. I remember swinging my feet out of bed onto the floor and as I got up, it was as if I were taking the first steps toward a new and challenging endeavor. I talked with Jodi about my ideas. She was in the beginning courses of an M. S. degree in nursing, had two young children, and worked part-time. I'm sure she wasn't eager to take on any other responsibilities, but she agreed to invite to her home a few American-born Muslim women to talk about the possibilities. If this was something these women felt was important, I would go ahead with the project.

Only two women came to meet with us, but it was through their support, encouragement, and ideas for proceeding that I felt the determination and enthusiasm to carry out the almost three-year project of gathering information from other American-born Muslim women, writing my own story, and then finding a way to share it. At this first meeting, the Muslim converts discussed how important it was to them to help family members understand better what they had chosen, how and what they were doing, and how they longed for acceptance by their families. They also wanted to share with the population in general what it means to them to be Muslim.

I have learned so much from these women. I am grateful to them for sharing their lives with me through the questionnaire. This project has smoothed over the scars that I didn't even know were there. Daughters of Another Path has been further healing for me, and I salute these women who have the strength to walk in such a path. Not many of us could do it. Through the questionnaires, the women shared their stories about their conversion, their joys and struggles in taking on the Muslim practices, and how they relate with families of origin, husbands and in-laws, their children, and the world of work. The last question to which they responded on the questionnaire was: "What would you like the American public to know about you that has not yet been asked?" What would they say to us? This is what they wrote. Let us hear them.

Who We Are I would like the American public to know that we are people just like them. We struggle to pay bills (we don't all have oil wealth), we worry about tomorrow, we want peace. We just happen to have strong religious convictions and try to live our life to be acceptable to Allah. My husband didn't make me dress this way, and I'm not oppressed. I'm set free-free from the bondage of fashion, clothes, hair, shoes, and the like. Inheritance is guaranteed to me and my children after payment of debts. I don't hate America or Americans. I still love Jesus, and pray to the same one God he referred to. I don't hate Jews or Israel. In fact, I would love to live there if I knew I wouldn't be persecuted. What I do hate is injustice, lies, ungodliness, prejudice, abortion, defiling of flesh, and all disobedience to the commandments of God, because I love God.

I have chosen this way because I like it. I have not given up anything that I didn't want to give up. I have not been brainwashed. I am an educated person with full-thinking capabilities. I am not a traitor to my country but an advocate of the world. I will always be Muslim with or without my husband. I did not become Muslim because I "love" my husband. I do want my children to grow up Muslim. I do expect them to be Muslim and my daughter to wear hijab. Everyone is always asking me these things. I will put my children in an Islamic environment, not a non-Islamic environment, then ask them to be Muslim. The average Muslim seeks peace. All that one hears about are the Muslim extremists, the political revolutionaries. These are a minority. The majority (by the way, Arabs only comprise one-fifth of the Islamic world) are peaceful. Look at the Indonesians we never hear about, and their numbers are far greater than the Arabs.

I am willing to communicate with them and answer questions if they are respectful of my opinions and beliefs.

I became a Muslim of my own free will.
I am a person with my own mind.
I study the facts before commit to something. Islam is the best choice I could ever make.
I am happy being a Muslim woman.

It is very hid to communicate with your family after such a big and complete change I would like to encourage parents of Muslim converts to ask their children why they changed and try to understand them. It's not easy to live in this society after becoming a Muslim. You see things and people differently, and they see you as different, too. It helps a whole lot if you know that your family is at least talking to you about it and trying to comprehend what you are going through and how important this change is to you. We are changing for the better, for the sake of Allah.

The only thing I feel Americans need to know is that if a person or a woman converts to Islam, that it is not because we are being forced into it. No one can force another person to pray, learn Arabic, to put on long sleeves, dresses, cover the hair, or any other practice that a Muslim must do. We are Americans. We have rights just like anyone else to work and to support what we believe in.

I would like to remind the American public that I am a human being just like them. I do not like to be ridiculed. I feel sad when someone mocks the clothing I wear. Would you mock a Christian nun for wearing her habit or an Amish or Mennonite woman for wearing her bonnet? I have not been brainwashed by my husband. I am an intelligent person who chose to become a. Muslim. Islam is founded on the precept that there is no force in religion. You can believe your way and I need to believe my way.

Some people who want to discredit Islam suggest that women are treated like second-class citizens or as inferior to men. They say that Muslim women must feed the men and children first and only eat what is left. This is a gross distortion of the truth. Yes, sometimes women eat later than others do, but it is not a punishment or a sentence imposed on her because she is a woman. When a woman feeds others first, she is doing so because of her love and concern. She knows that children need to eat often to stay healthy and grow normally. She understands that men need to eat to maintain their strength so they can go to work or to school. She makes sure that women who are: pregnant drink their milk, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and take their vitamins. She feels that she cannot eat and satisfy her own hunger if others need something.

Muslims do not celebrate Christmas, but we hope that our relatives, neighbors, and co-workers who are Christian have a wonderful holiday. Please do not think that our children are deprived because we do not put up a Christmas tree or decorations. We have other holidays that you are not aware of and we think our children are happy and growing up just fine. I am not oppressed, and it is not degrading to wear proper clothing. I'd like them to know that my husband does the laundry, helps with cleaning (even does the toilet bowl!) and helps look after the children so I can go out. How about the so called liberated woman? Muslim women do not change their name when married. We are not supposed to take our husband's last name. When, insha' Allah, my daughter is married, her name will remain as she is recognized as an individual, an equal human being. No need for hyphens.

Not all Muslims in America are either foreigners or African-Americans. There are many white-American Muslims in the country. A lot of people find it hard to believe that you can be white and American and a Muslim at the same time. We have more rights than Christian women or any other women. As you can tell, I'm a little different because I feel that the spiritual aspects of my faith are very important, possibly more than the day-to-day problems of what to wear, what to eat, etc. My faith is very deep, however, and will not waver. Something else about me is that I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma over six years ago. I've had one round of chemo and have not needed treatment for five years. I had both my children (five years and fifteen months) after having cancer. My life is very interesting but also difficult with this extra problem thrown in. My faith in God has helped me immensely though this time, and I firmly believe that getting cancer was God's will for me. I am grateful because it has taught me so much: to live now, to love myself and my family, to worry only about big things - "Don't sweat the small stuff'- and it turned my life around to where I'm much more assertive and outspoken than I used to be. But that's a whole other book in itself.

Don't judge me by the few Muslims who do un-Islamic things in the name of Islam. Get to know me, talk to me, invite me to your schools and churches, and let's allow ourselves to dialogue about each other's religion. Don't be afraid of Islam. Get to know me. Ask us what books best describe Islam instead of the paper or anti-Islamic books written by "Middle East experts." Don't think I am repressed by my clothes. When you look at me, look at Abraham's wife and Jesus' mother and how they are dressed. It is nothing new. It is part of your heritage.

I have mixed feelings. I do public speaking on Islam. I tell people we are just like them. We have our dreams and goals and love our families, but some of our attitudes and approaches to problem-solving are different. We are not oppressed or repressed by our faith, but only by ourselves. We are as are all people-good and bad. Americans and Europeans must be careful because those governments have an agenda that is definitely anti-Muslim (our own Congress passed a resolution in the mid '80s declaring Islam to be the greatest danger to the U.S.). They must filter what they are told and seek truth. We Muslims must stop hiding and making excuses and speak for ourselves. In many ways, we represent the positive and often imaginary values which founded this nation but with some very positive differences. As Muslims we need to clean our own closets, shake ourselves up, and re-examine what we are passing off as Islam before we start knocking on anyone's door to tell them about it.

(From new single convert in her 40s with a teenage daughter] Being Muslim is the best and the hardest thing in my life. It is all the answers and all the tools. I was fired from my job on February 28, 1994. I am filing a claim with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission because I feel my termination was due to my reversion [sometimes this word is used in place of "conversion"] to Islam. With every struggle comes ease. The Qur'an is an infinite source of answers, counsel, and warning. I am grateful to Allah for these struggles, yet as a weak human I continue to vacillate between joy 80 percent of the time and something less positive 20 percent of the time. The greatest blessings for me in Allah include my reliance on Allah , my loss of my previously short temper (it's gone!), learned patience, and the peace and tranquility reflected by my Muslim name which means for all of us, Allah is there, Allah is there. The greatest difficulty is to give up old habits of trying to control my life, a need to understand, and to accept the fact that although Islam is perfect, Muslims are not.

I am not a foreigner. I am not an alien. I expect them to treat me and my family with the respect that we deserve. I wish the culture and government of this country could have a system for a standard of living that would allow a Muslim family to live without going into debt or welfare. I want people to know that I don't worship cows, that I don't get oppressed because of Islam, that Islam frees women, that I worship the same God as Christians and Jews, and that Muslims are not all terrorists! I wish people would open their minds and stop being so ignorant. Stop staring and laughing at women who wear hijab! It's their right and their husbands/fathers aren't forcing them to do so! Accept us as Americans, and live and let live! We are not stupid and we are here to serve Allah (SWT) first and not our men. Our duty is this life, and we are happy with our choice.

Just because I cover my head does not make me a weirdo, a fundamentalist, a suppressed woman, or a weak woman. I hate it that everywhere I go people stare (sometimes with mean looks). I just want to be left alone to live my life as I want. One of the biggest misconceptions is that all Muslims are from the Middle East or are married to someone from this region. This is not the case. There are thousands of American Muslims who learned about Islam from other Americans. Both my husband and I are examples of this fact.

oThe best thing that ever happened to me in my life was becoming Muslim. Although my religious and political. views may differ from many Americans, I would hope that they would be open-minded enough to know that "different" doesn't always equal "bad." Muslim women (who are granted their rights under Islam) are not chained to their houses or beaten regularly or tortured. We are part of society, and have a most important task. As Imam Ali said, "Nations are raised on the laps of mothers." We have a very important job to do. I would hope that the American public would not belittle that job.

Adapted from: "Daughters Of Another Path (Experience of American Women Choosing Islam)" by: "Carol L. Anway"

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