Table of Contents
10. The Daughters Speak Out:
What Muslim Converts Would Like Us to Know .,. 159
|Appendix A: Letter and Questionnaire: American-Born Women Converted to Islam||177|
|Appendix B: Questionnaire: Parents ofAmerican-Born Women Converted to Islam||183|
|Appendix C: One Woman's Story in Response to the Questionnaire||185|
|Glossary ofIslamic terms||197|
|Bibliography Reference Materials for UndermandingIslam||201|
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 informationon 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 resistbumpingintootherculturesandideas.Wetendto 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.
he firsttimeI sawFiddler on the RoofI 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 goodpersons who will live good lives even ifit isn't in the tradition of their parents. Why not leave them alone? I thought. ThenIlearnedfirsthandaboutthestrugglethatgoeswith having one's child break with traditional expectations. Like Tevye, I experienced rejection and anger and grief.
Ourdaughter,Jodi, seemedtolearnwelloneoftheconcepts Iwantedtoteachher: "Missouriisnotthe onlyplaceintheworld; thereisa wholeworldoutthereto explore.Godloves all people, sowe needtobeopentothemandhave aglobalconceptoflife." Iwas happythatsomeofher friends werefromothercountries.
ThenIbeganto seethatshewasgettingserious aboutReza, a young man from Iran. Soon she announced her intention to marryhimand eventually live inIran.Hewasa personthatwe reallyenjoyedknowing. Butto haveourdaughter marry him and goofftoa foreigncountry...'. I replayedinmymindthescene ofTevyewatchinghis second daughterboardthetrain, knowing hewould probablyneverseeher again.
In time, however, myhusband, Joe,andI cameto acceptthe ideaandknewthatwehadgrownasa result. AlthoughMuslim, Reza seemedopenand accepting, andwefelt thatJodiwassecure in herbeliefs 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 by then 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's, and the changes that occurred in our relationship with her commitment to become Muslim.
Alsopresentedarethestories ofseveral otherAmerican-born women who have converted to Islam-their backgrounds, their reasonsforconverting,their acceptance ofthe principles ofIslam which they. find so appealing, and what it has meant for their lives and their families. Leaving behindthe Western modernistic society thatshapedthem,theyhavecommittedthemselvesto away oflife dictated by Islamic principles as interpreted in the community of Muslimswithwhomtheyworship andwithwhomtheyassociate.
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 ofus, 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 brieftime to understand their approach and commitment to another path.
1. Dat.-f5ht~~s ofA"oth~~Path Womm B~comb1SM~slim 1", Ammca
he maybe shoppingat the mall, driving or ridingin a car, studying in university classes, or sharing an officein the workplace.Her dressismodest,ascarfcoveringherhair with only her face and hands uncovered (although even her face may be veiled). She wears outfits that are usually neat but not showy,sometimesreflectingforeignfashion. Sheisveryconspicuous in our society, often triggering thoughts like "strange religion," "terrorist," "fundamentalist," "mystery," "foreign," or "oil," andshemakesusfeeluncomfortable andalienated.
Expectingtohearaheavyaccentwhenspeakingto her,one maybeshocked ifshe sounds just like any American-hummmrn!
"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 sheisone ofus.
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 ofwearinghijab* (covering)in public. Others don't feel itnecessarytocoverandare, therefore, lessnoticeablebutare
*A GlossaryofIslamicTerms,following AppendixC,gives definitions for all Islamictermsreferredto inthe textor quotes.
also among the growingnumberofconvertsin the United States and Canada.
Nooneknowsforsurehow manyoftheworld's one billion Muslims live in the United States and Canada, but the American Muslim Council of Washington, D.C., estimates the Muslim populationto be between 6 and8 millionincluding American-born converts, thosewhohaveimmigrated,andagrowingnumberof 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 religionafter Christianity. Thegrowingnumberofmosquesand 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, ACenturyofIslam inAmerica,l indicates three waves of Muslim immigration. The first occurred in 1875 with migrant laborers, uneducated and unskilled workers willing to work hard. Manystayed, butthosewhoreturnedhomeencouraged othersto cometo America. The second wave in the 1930swas stopped by World Warn. Thethirdwave ofimmigrants inthe '50s and'60s tended to be well-educated and from influential families, often trying to escape political oppression orto obtainhigher 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 ofthe American society. Muslims are obligated to follow 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 Muhammad), andbythe other examples attributedto ProphetMuhammad. Unique in many Western settings is the right to practice religion asonedesires, which extends to Muslims the opportunity to livetheirlives Islamically asinterpreted in their community.
Western countries onceidentified asIudeo-Christian countries may needto recognizetheyarebecomingIudeo-Christian-Muslim societies. Thegrowth ofIslamin the WesternHemisphere is fast becoming a major topic for media coverage. The expansion of Islam is a major contemporary issue for all North Americans althoughmostAmericansknowlittleabout eitherthe principlesof Islamor its history.
Islam had its beginning in the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century when Muhammad received divine revelations from God(Allah)throughtheangel Gabriel. Thesewere received byMuhammad whospokethem orally, andtherecitations 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 wordofGodto the world.
Islam Enten My World
Fourteenyearsagoourdaughter Jodi married ayoungman from Iran and soon converted to Islam. She began wearing the coverandlearningtoliveandpracticeasa Muslim. Thenextfew years were a time of grief and adjustment for our family. In the interveningyearswehavegrownto appreciatethestrengthand commitment ofourdaughter andher American-Muslim friends.
Fromthispersonal 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 strengthand faith.
ManyNorthAmericans (including UnitedStatesandCanada) arefamiliar withthe book and movie, Not Without My Daughter; the movie, True Lies; or other articles and media comments filled withnegativeportrayalsofMuslims. Werarely havetheopportunity on a personal level to observe the quality of life that American-bornwomenwhohavebecome 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 American-bornwomenwhohaveconvertedto Islam, thatdesire 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 journeysofsomewho choseto convertto Islam. Woveninwith these stories is my own story as a mother of one who became Muslim.Hereisanopportunitytoalsofind outaboutthe beliefs ofIslamandhowitis lived outona dailybasisbyits disciples.
Overview of Survey Results
The questionnaire (Appendix A) was distributed at several Muslimconferences and also mailed tothosewhoheardaboutthe 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, NewJersey, Indiana, Oregon, Alabama, Texas, California, Louisiana, Washington, lllinois, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Vermont, andOntario. These fifty-three respondents thoughtfully spent many hours answering the in-depth questions presented to them.
Theeducational level ofthewomenresponding rangesfrom high school graduate to doctorate. Fifty-three percent hold a bachelor's degree or above. Thirty-five percent of the women have B.A orB.s. degrees, 12percenthaveM.AorM.S.degrees and 6 percent have M.D. or Ph.D. degrees. At the time they responded, sevenofthewomenwere collegestudentsworking 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 monthstothreeyearsconstitute32percent; fourto sixyears, 24 percent; and seven to ten years, 20 percent. Twenty-four percent ofthe respondents have beenMuslimeleven years orlongerwith thetwolongestat nineteenyears andtwenty-two years.
Approximately 40 percent of the women work outside the homeeitherpart-timeorfull-time, twowomenhavetheirowninhome 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. Although75percent ofthewomenhavechildren, notallofthe childrenareof schoolage.Forty-sevenpercent sendtheirchildren to public schools, 11 percent have children enrolled in nonMuslim private schools, 26 percent have children in Islamic schools,and26percent homeschool.Thisaddsup to morethan 100 percent because some families have children in two or three of the different school settings.
InobservingthecommonpracticesofIslam, onlytwoofthe womeninthissurveyarenotcurrentlywearinghijabfull-time. For themostpart,allare involvedindailyprayers, fastingatRamadan, andparticipatinginongoing studyregarding Islam. Eighteen percentindicated they eatmeatsother than halal (approved) meats withthe exception ofporkwhich isstrictly forbidden.
Ninety percent of the women in the study are married and reflect successful andhappy marriages atthe timeofthesurvey. Theyindicate much satisfactionatthepositionthey feelistheirs intheIslamicsetting. Someofthosewhoare singleasaresultof divorce, widowhood, ornevermarryingindicatethattheyareuncomfortable 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 isthrough a husband thattheywould haveconnectionandinput into decisions madeat the mosque.
Their responses represent extremely positive reactions to their chosenMuslimlifestyle, bycontrasttothemorenegativestories often heard inthe media As in the American society at large, one