It is funny that in a time when Islam is not only criticized but sometimes even prosecuted so many people are embracing the religion. In addition, many of these people, if not the majority, are women. Beyond the miraculous and sacred message of Islam, women find in Islam something that they do not find neither in their previous belief system nor in their communities. Nonetheless, in order to be able to accurately analyze some of the reasons, it is important to draw a line between Ideal Islam and Modern Islam. When we talk about Ideal Islam, we refer to the principles of Islam and the true revelation sent down to Prophet Muhammad. On the other hand, when we mention Modern Islam, we aim to express how is the religion represented by the believers and their leaders. It is important to make this distinction because many women come to Islam due to its original principles and ideals; however, they may not necessarily agree with current conventions and cultural patterns that ‘represent’ Islam.
Many women, especially in the West, find in Islam something that many Western Christian groups have lost: the sense of community. Islam attracts hundreds of people because of its strong believe in the ummah and the brotherhood and sisterhood of Islam. Moreover, this is something that most Muslims like to endorse not only as a protection system, but also as a support method. The sisterhood of Islam is one of the core reasons for women to feel attracted to Islam. As sisters, we find a family where there are no blood relations and we find friends where there are no commonalities. Regardless the fact that some people do not honour the sisterhood and brotherhood, Qur’an emphasized its importance and Prophet Muhammad paid special attention to it. In most cases, new converts are received with arms wide open and are adopted within the community. Thus, women that come from ‘cold’ societies, where family is not the core unit of society anymore and social relations are restricted now to cyber-space, find themselves in a warm world where they can receive welcoming support.
In other cases, some women have found in the Qur’an a revelation that protects them and takes care of them. Although in reality Modern Islam is going through a crisis due to mistretment of women, Ideal Islam regarded women as human beings for the first time in history. Not only that, Islam provided women with a new status of equality and granted them rights solely due to their femininity. Particularly in the West, women have been exposed to a culture that has de-sacralized femininity and has transformed it into an object that should be desired, shared, given and used. Therefore, although it is surprising for many people, most converts to Islam find themselves wearing proper Islamic clothing and even headscarves really easily. This is because many of them find themselves secure and desirable in a positive way by not exposing, sharing or giving away their femininity. Many women find beauty in ‘privitizing’ their attributes, and in the attention that Islam pays to feminine attributes such as beauty, intelligence and religiosity.
Some other women come to Islam for political reasons. Even though the West and many other parts of the world have experienced waves of Western feminism and sexual liberation, these two things have done little to satisfy a new generation that was born with many possibilities but lacked political access and importance. Yes, eventually it became acceptable to have many sexual partners and no commitments. It also became possible to acquire birth control methods and abortion, in many countries, is legal. In addition, women stopped being housewives to become professionals, and all this combined became the maximum expression of Western feminism. Nonetheless, how do we explain the lack of political representation, the lower wages, and the lack of access to political and economical elites in a system that considers itself women-friendly? A new generation of women, needed answers to these questions; but again, only Ideal Islam is able to provide them. In Islam women are part of the ummah, so they are able to participate within political life and public affairs. As a majority within the ummah, female presence is basic. In addition, Islam acknowledges women’s ability to work outside the home and inside of it as part of a family. But most important, Islam gives women the option that best suits their situation. A woman can decide to work outside or stay at home, she is capable of participating in public and private life. Nevertheless, this is usually given a poor reflection since Modern Islam has shut down this world of possibilities for many women. However, many women see a potential that encourages them to accept the religion.
Coming to Islam represents great sacrifice for non-Muslim women. They face a new way of life, they need to commit to learn the basics of a new language, they have to accept a variety of religious codes, and they usually have to adapt to the cultural context where they convert. Nonetheless, for all of the women that truly find faith, love and satisfaction in Islam, it worths the sacrifice. Although there are other issues that will be later discussed such as domestic violence, women rights, polygamy, etc., many women are able to see the light through the real message of Islam regardless of the different cultural expressions of the religion. Islam provides these women with choices that have rarely been provided to them. Unfortunately, we are still many steps away from achieving an ideal state of Islam. Nonetheless, the search for transformation, progress and change keeps leading women to find empowerment in the message of the Qur’an.