One Voice: Mary Hope Schwoebel

One Voice: Mary Hope Schwoebel

About the time my children went to college I embraced Islam as my own.

Mary Hope Schwoebel
Fairfax, VA
United States
Muslim convert


I was born and raised as a Presbyterian. My maternal grandfather was a circuit preacher in rural Mississippi. He had seven tiny churches in seven tiny communities and he rotated between them every seven Sundays. Both sets of grandparents were Presbyterian tea-teetotalers and their lives revolved around their churches. My parents however became urban, northeastern, leftist, intellectuals. Over the years we all became increasingly secular, until religion played no role in our lives whatsoever.

My husband, who was from Somalia, met when we were working on our Masters degrees in California. When we decided to get married I decided to convert to Islam for the sake of his family and for the sake of our children. I was honest with my husband that I was not going to be any more religious as a 'Muslim' than I had been as a 'Christian'. We married and went to Somalia, where our children were born and where we worked for the United Nations (this was before the war). My father-in-law was a Sufi of the Qadiriya brotherhood. While my husband is a moderate secular Muslim, my father-in-law was a widely respected religious leader. People came from all over southern Somalia for his prayers, healing, and mediation services. I came to love him deeply and through him I came to love Islam deeply.

We stayed in Kenya during the first half of the 1990', again working for the United Nations, and working to resettle my husband's family, first in Kenya, and then in the United States. We all moved to Virginia in 1995, where our children began elementary school, we helped my husband's family get apartments and jobs, I began and eventually finished a Ph.D. and my husband and I both worked. We raised our children as Muslims and we lived a hybrid lifestyle - part Somali, part American. These were frenetic years and I had little time or energy to attend to my spiritual life. My children on the other hand were actively exploring what it meant to be Muslims in America and both emerged as reformist Muslims.

About the time my children went to college I embraced Islam as my own.

I consider myself a student of Islam. I am studying Islamic philosophy and theology and I am practicing. I am deeply attracted to Sufism and wish that I had found the time to be my father-in-law's student while he was alive. He would have loved to have taught me everything he knew. While I have befriended numerous individuals who are also reformist Muslims - mainly in the context of my work - I have not yet found a community of Muslims with whom to study and practice. I am still searching for that community.

About the Project

"The Muslim world" is a phrase that lumps together a complex and diverse group of people and cultures, but one that rarely humanizes the personal and cultural expressions of Muslim identity. On Being’s First Person initiative is an attempt to better understand adherents of the faith by asking each individual to share his or her perspective of what it means to be a Muslim living in the 21st century.

Special Funding

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