Thursday, June 16, 2005


I became Muslim less than a year before September 11th. Just like everyone, September 11 really effected me. I saw the hatred in the attacks, but then also so much hatred towards anyone of foreign nationality who might appear Muslim in America. For goodness sakes, they shot dead some poor brothers who were Sikhs!

At this point in time, a lot of Muslim sisters in my city were (justifiably) afraid to come out of their houses for fear of hate crimes towards them. I was one of these sisters. However, being a “revert” to Islam, I had the “advantage” of not being a foreigner. I could just take off my hejab (headscarf and modest manner of dressing) and “blend in", so to speak, and “seem normal” to everyone (a.k.a., exercise my “white privilege”). But the fear of rejection goes deeper than just the fear of my community rejecting, ostracizing, or even hating me. I was also gravely afraid of telling my (Christian) family that I had embraced Islam. Yes, I hid the fact that I was Muslim from my parents for 3 ½ years after I formally embraced Islam. Actually, I’m not sure if my father even knows I’m Muslim, I’ve discussed it with my mother and just assumed she told him. But that’s another blog posting.

We moved to a new neighborhood in our city right after September 11th. I decided to create a new identity there as a “normal American”, not as “one of them”. My behavior was completely motivated by fear.

When I took off my hejab in the fall of 2001, it was as if one moment I was an African American and the next moment I had become White. People treated me in a dramatically different, racist manner with my hejab on. For instance, I got a lot of uncomfortable stares from total strangers, and a couple of times strange men drove up to my car while I was stopped at traffic lights and yelled obscenities at me. The whole point of wearing hejab/modest dress is not to attract attention to oneself, and now it was attracting what I felt was too much attention. So, after experiencing that oppressive treatment, I have to admit that it felt good to take it off and be “invisible” again.

I went back to what was “culturally comfortable” and did what I had perceived to be “more safe” by attending the Catholic Church and singing in the choir (there actually was a plot against our Mesjid to blow it up). Also, a wonderful Muslim man in our community, and other articulate Muslims and the lawyers who defended them, started getting put in jail purely for their political beliefs.

I continued practicing Islam. The pillars of Islam include believing that there is no other God but God, and that Mohamed (peace be upon him) is a prophet of God; making the five-times daily prayer; giving to the needy; fasting during Ramadan; and praying that someday God will make it possible that I could make the pilgrimage to Mecca, the site of the first house of God built by father Abraham and his son.

Technically I was still practicing Islam; Sociological orientation, i.e. looking “Muslim” or looking “Midwestern-American” has nothing to do with what is in one’s heart. Attending a Christian church because it’s unsafe to attend the official Muslim place of worship, the Mesjid, doesn’t make one an unbeliever. My heart and my mind were still firmly rooted in Islam. Once a person can see past the literal interpretations of other religions, there is actually a lot one can benefit from by contemplating upon their symbology. Although I don’t believe Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him) was God, I do believe he was a very special prophet of God. Christians, especially Catholics, meditate quite heavily on the idea of the crucified Christ.

This idea bears profound spiritual concepts that were exceptionally comforting to me during this time of my life. Most importantly, I learned to surrender my Ego and trust that God will come through no matter how terrible life seems at the moment; not to lose Faith in God, and to remain Hopeful. Although Jesus was totally innocent of the crimes he was accused of, (in fact he was a remarkably perfect human being), he was treated unjustly, and brutally tortured, to the point of death. When he was receiving the 39 lashes, did he curse God? No. When his friends betrayed him, did he lose faith? No. When he suffered the most painful torture by being nailed to the cross, what did he do? He prayed and asked for God to forgive the people doing this to him!

Still, I couldn’t help feeling oppressed, really disappointed, and angry that the responsible and safe thing to do was to outwardly hide that I was Muslim.

Perhaps a good analogy of what happened to me is that of the caterpillar. She is a caterpillar, and as a caterpillar, all she knows and feels is that she must eat so she can grow strong. Since she is an insect, without a will or conscious thought, she has no knowledge of what she is to become. She only knows her present urges and instincts. How could she imagine the beautiful creature she is to become, or what it will take for her to be transformed? Then one day she is nice and fat and her instincts tell her to spin a cocoon, so she spins it around herself and is stuck inside.

Now, all of this time while she is inside the cocoon, what is she thinking? “Why did I do this to myself? I was so happy out there as a caterpillar, eating those leaves! It’s too dark in here. I can’t move! I have an itch, and I can’t scratch it”, etc., right? All of this time, her Ego blinds her to the fact that it was Allah’s will for her to be in that cocoon, at that precise place at that precise moment. To be in this crystalis, to metamorphosize, was her destiny.

Alhumdulillah (praise God), after one year here in Qatar I feel like I am a butterfly that has just emerged from her cocoon. This is a wonderful place for many reasons, especially because here I am able to “open my wings and soar”, without fear, flying freely as the beautiful butterfly Allah has transformed me into.


Leila M. said...

VERY cool

iamnasra said...

Very toucing journey...Sometime we are born into Islam will take it for granted Im sure we born muslims need to lean more about our religion

Baraka said...

Beautiful insights.