My friend and I are converts to Islam and have seen it all… women who convert to please boyfriends or husbands, girls who are forced to convert in order to be able to marry the men they love, women who convert because they feel lonely, those who convert to marry a rich guy from the Arabian Gulf, and those few converts that come to Islam for its message and its teachings.
Some of us challenge many main-stream ideologies and look for alternative interpretations while trying to make the revelation alive and relevant to today’s world. Unfortunately, this is not always welcomed in conservative Muslim circles. My friend and I have a dream of making our ummah alive and its women empowered; however, until now, we find that the main problem for women’s abuse and lack of empowerment are themselves. Many women, including Western converts, get from Islam only what people tell them Islam is. They hardly learn by themselves, and they meet in the mosque just to reaffirm their second-class citizen status.
However, recently we saw what I consider the purest faith in Islam. The embodiment of this faith is a 16-year-old girl, who converted to Islam at age 14. The simple girl, who walks around accompanied by her Catholic mom, is an example of strong faith and modern beliefs. This young lady did not come to Islam for a man and did not see in it a marriage proposal and lots of money. This girl knew, in the moment she listened “Allah,” that she belonged. What is more surprising, still, is her mother. The Catholic mother has seen all these changes in her daughter and has adapted to them. She took her to convert; she takes her to Islamic lectures and bought her a praying mat when she converted. While the mother remains a Christian, she told us that she was happy for her daughter and she explained that people shouldn’t mess with anybody’s faith even if it is your child’s.
Unlikely as it sounds, I saw in this woman a true Islamic behaviour and in her daughter an incandescent faith. Religion in Islam cannot be compulsory; however, nowadays we listen to the Muslim leaders saying that it is our duty to spread Dawa (equivalent to evangelization) around the world and make the entire American continent Islamic. Besides, it is still surprising how much do mainstream Muslims criticize Christians and Jews. Many of them truly believe that they are sinners. That’s actually all I could think of when I met this Christian mother who took her own daughter into Islam.
In a sense, I felt ashamed for meeting them in a lecture, where the lecturer lady clearly expressed that Christians and Jews did not follow Allah’s revelation and she accused them of making them up stuff in their sacred books. Regardless, the mother sits quietly and listens. She considers that it is important for her daughter to listen and learn about these things even if she does not believe them. She truly thinks that this is the right thing for her daughter. While many Muslims take the essentialist approach, and usually claim that people come to Islam because it has the TRUTH, who knows what the TRUTH is? Even among Muslims there are so many different Truths! Allah did not reveal every single piece of the truth for Allah left us to discover the pieces of the puzzle.
This young Muslim girl won’t ever be an essentialist Muslim because she will find that the person behind her strength is not a Muslim and does not think that Islam has the TRUTH but only part of it. Many Muslim converts wish they had such an understanding mother or father, but our fears are always pushed down by mainstream Muslims who say that we are doing the right thing regardless of what our families think; thus, many new Muslims turn their back to their families and merge into the Muslim community.
Nevertheless, I wonder, what would those mainstream Muslims do if their children came and told them, I believe that Jesus is God’s son or I believe in the Torah? Well, many of them, following Shari’ah, would stone their own children to death for converting to other faith. That’s why I find the young lady’s mother reaction so stunning. Her attitude gives the highest example of a true Islamic reaction. If you cannot make your children follow your religion, support them and enhance their faith in whatever religion they choose.Help your child be the best Muslim, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, etc. that she or he can be. Furthermore, keeping family ties is extremely important from an Islamic perspective. There are few things that Islam values more than the family, that’s why it encourages healthy relationships with parents and relatives.
Contrary to many people, this mother did not push her daughter away. And contrary to many converts, this girl does not see in her mother an ‘unbeliever.’ The principles of tolerance, knowledge, support, solidarity and love are extremely important in Islam. It is a shame that sometimes we value other things more.
While this young girl has come to a community that is like a sweet & sour soup, for all the shades of Islam that can be tasted on it, she will find some of the most powerful features of Islam in her own mother, who has chosen to hold to the strongest principles of Christianity and combine them with the most important features of Islam to provide her daughter with the ‘right’ way.
As for the young lady, coming to Islam is a tough decision; but she has managed to continue with it and make it her own. Her decision was probably more based on an Ideal Islam than on a cultural Islam. Therefore, she has truly found what my friend and I found in Islam: a world of possibilities and a road to a better world. While we struggle to find our place in the community and to fight essentialist conservative views, we are sure that we have a mission in Islam. It is not something we choose or something that we even knew we had, but that comes by itself. That’s why the girl said: “I listened Allah’s name and I knew I had heard that before and I felt that I belonged.”
That was her own spiritual trip and her mom became the road.