SOF asked...We would like to understand the complexity and diversity of “the Muslim world.”I am a Muslim revert, a convert to Islam. My Muslim world is in the largest city in NH, a state that is 99% white, mostly rural, and mostly Protestant. Manchester is a refugee resettlement area, with a long history of immigration, initially to the mills from French-speaking Canada, but also from Greece and Ireland during other times in its history. Manchester has Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians of all denominations, two Mosques, several Synagogues, and a Buddhist Center. The people who attend my Mosque on Friday include Muslims from Bosnia, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Syria, and other countries. Our experience as people is extremely diverse, and our experience as Muslims is also therefore diverse. I have devout Muslim friends who cover with Nikab, and culturally Muslim friends who smoke and drink. As a convert to Islam, my experience is colored by my own life as an educated woman from small town northern New England; and by my own spiritual journey that began in Congregational Protestantism. My “Muslim World” is indeed diverse and complex.
What does being Muslim mean to me?Being Muslim means to me searching for an inner peace through acceptance of a structure that gently and consistently brings me back to God, and to a focus on the larger fundamentals of my existence. Wearing hijab reminds me to consider my actions from an Islamic perspective. Praising God throughout the day reminds me to think about the many gifts I have received, including the gifts of lessons, even when they may have aspects that are not pleasant in the moment. Attending Jummah (Friday Service) is an opportunity to stop and think about the way in which Islam interacts with the world, and to hear other Muslims speak about their thoughts and studies in this topic.
As a convert to Islam, I come to Islam intensely and intentionally, digesting it not as I digested Christianity as a child, but rather as an adult, questioning and mulling over details and implications that were not apparent to me in my childhood experience of God. As a convert to Islam, being Muslim means constantly learning and questioning; what do I believe? What does Islam believe? What do Muslims believe? Which Muslims are we talking about? Attending local adult classes about Islam are as important as finding resources on my own.
What do I find beautiful about Islam; how does it find expression in my daily life?The sound of the Athan, the call to prayer, has come to hold the beauty of hymns for me. Standing in a line of women making Salat together feels ordered and beautiful. It is beautiful to me to attend Jummah and to see that the average age is young. Taking time throughout the day to stop and think about God in the five daily praises of Salat gives me perspective on the relative triviality of my work difficulties. Memorizing surahs from the Qur’an to repeat in Salat allows me to rethink basic religious principles, and how they apply in my life now, relative to other times. Standing tall, bending forward, bowing low remind me of the Sun Salutation I learned in yoga. Except for Salat, or playing time with babies, I really don’t spend that much time in flexible postures. Using my body to praise God fills out my experience as a part of God’s world.
Eating halal keeps my meals and my foods closer to home. I grew up in an environment of gardening, and of eating locally and seasonally. Driving out to the farm to pick my goat for halal sacrifice reminds me of the preciousness of life and the special gift that allows meat to arrive on my table. I realize in Ramadan that I can eschew food and drink from dawn to dusk. It reminds me of the suffering of others, and of the importance of controlling my own personal responses to difficulty.
It is a wonderful thing to hear from a stranger, “Asalaama Alaikum Sister.” My hijab brings me family everywhere I go. Being part of the Masjid in my community offers the opportunity to be part of that community. I meet other families who like to pick strawberries, go to the park, share recipes, learn together. This community offers a wonderful addition and counterpoint to the larger communities in which I move.
What hopes, questions, and fears are on my mind as I contemplate the future of my tradition?In a multicultural community, I have had many questions about what is culture and what is religion. Why do different cultures cover differently? Why do different countries view the role of women in Islam differently? Even within cultures, there are rural and urban differences in practice and thought. As a revert to Islam, these questions are puzzling and on my mind in ways that do not seem to trouble many of my born-Muslim friends.
Women’s liberation in the US has made becoming a physician so much easier for me than it was for my mother only 30 years earlier. Yet, the incidences of heart disease and lung cancer in women clearly rose during that time. Recently, I have begun to see young women in my practice with violent injuries; not victims of violence, but perpetrators. Children in the US are much more likely to grow up with only a mother than with only a father.
I look at feminism with very different questions from an Islamic perspective, than I did from my Women’s College view. Islam notes that husband and wife are parts of the same whole. The genders complement one another, not imitate or compete with one another. My questions are less about whether I get to keep up with the boys, and more about how we can work together better. I wonder how this will play out for me, and in my very diverse Muslim community. SOF programs have allowed me to hear prominent Muslim women’s thoughts on topics I am still learning about.
It would seem that if anyone could leave the violence and vengeance to God, it would be religious communities. Islam specifically enjoins against unprovoked violence. Seeing the wide variety of beliefs and understanding in my own community, I can see how it could happen that even people within the same faith could disagree about important issues. As the non-Muslim world becomes more aware of Islam, it looks in on Muslims’ internal struggles. It is increasingly important that disagreements within Muslim societies be civil, for our own sake, and for our public image in a global community.
I hope for my Muslim community to see the outside world as more than a threat; to see itself as more than a victim; to see the larger communities of the faithful as siblings rather than rivals. I hope we will work to understand each others’ perspectives, and to understand how our own perspectives impact others. I am reassured to see the interfaith groups in my community gather to learn more about each other, and explore our similarities and differences together. I hope my Muslim community is up to the task of greeting the plurality of US society as an equal member of that plurality.
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