I had no idea I was a Muslim when I was young and growing up in Kuwait in the 1960's until one day when mom told me we do not have a tree because "we are Muslim and not Christian". I screamed but "Mai and Dina-our Iraqi Christian neighbors- have one and they have toys under the tree, its not fair" . A few months later Mai came to our house asking me to convert her to Islam because we were being giving money for Eid -Muslim holiday- and she was getting nothing. She begged me to recite the Shahadah-witness that there is no God but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God. I was six years and old and I still to this day do not understand why I insisted on not doing it. I just felt that it was wrong and some thing bad could happen to us kids if I did it. Its only after so many years later that I realized that Islam was not about repeating a sentence but was actually a way of life.
I was a semi practicing Muslim and knew a lot about the tenants and articles of the faith but this is about all the knowledge I had of Islam.
I was forced to learn and read about my faith a few years after moving to the USA in 1989. American curiosity and questions about my religion made me realize that Islam was not just about reciting verses from the Quran, fasting and praying. It had a much more intellectual depth that I had no idea it existed. I enjoyed approaching the text of the Quran from a "student's perspective rather than a worshiper. As a worshiper I was reciting a scared text but as a student, I was indulging my self in an exciting search for knowledge.
Living in the USA and being exposed to so many different Muslims from so many different countries and cultures made me realize that there are many faces to Islam.
What I have never imagined while growing up in Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan is that one day I will be asked to speak publicly to Americans in defense of the faith. So being a Muslim in America has simply meant for me to be waiting to answer the next e-mail circulating, which describes how the Christian God is more powerful or more gentler than the Muslim one. Or how an American Muslim can never be a good citizen because Muslims worship the moon God Allah. Or that we have to kill Christians and Jews. The more I received these e-mails the more I learnt about my faith and discovered that it also talks about Embryology and Geology, Geography and Astronomy but I never got a question about such topics. I have lectured to thousands of people and no one has ever asked me a question about science! As if all that Islam has given to humanity is a bunch of nut case terrorists. No questions about the first Cataract surgery performed in the world by a Muslim. Or how Muslims borrowed the concept of Zero from India and gave it to the rest of world. The list is too long here to numerate.
To be an American Muslim means watching my President (former) equating my faith with fascism because of the behavior of a very few people. Yet no where in my lectures I equate Christianity with the atrocities committed by Hitler and Mussolini. To be a Muslim means that I have to watch on TV the so called experts, who have never spoke to a Muslim, talk about my faith. It means to pay for Cable news channels that will almost never give a chance to any of us American Muslims to be the experts on TV. Being Muslim means going to the book store and see endless titles like Why they hate and What is wrong with Islam.
However, as a female Muslim, nothing irritates me more than men and women asking me about my rights in Islam and why some cannot drive and why do I have to cover my hair. Being a female Muslim lecturer means that I will never get a question from the audience on how they can help the homeless American women who live in the woods and my mosque feeds every month. Or about the American woman in my county who could not hide from her abusive husband in our local shelter because it was over flowing with women and children or being asked about Palestinian pregnant women dying at check points or the Bosnian women who were rapped to change demographics in the Balkans.
But being a Muslim in America makes me a better Muslim. A more hopeful one. I have had hundreds of amazing messages of love and support. I have had Americans shake my hands with tears in their eyes asking me to speak more. Just this Saturday morning, I was in the company of a very intellectual group of retired men and women (oldest was 95) who are still wanting to learn about Islam from a Muslim, and for this I am for ever grateful to be a Muslim in America.
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