“Women Converts Prove Gender Equality in the Religion”
Many of us have heard it… “The majority of converts to Islam are women” or “Western women are converting!” Whether true or not (I am not sure who comes up with the statistics), the numbers can be greatly misleading. In my community the majority of converts are in fact women; however, there is a wide variety of reasons to self-identify as “Muslim.” While it is no one’s place to judge women’s decision to convert to Islam, we must consider the diverse circumstances that bring particularly women to Islam.
For some women conversion is sometimes a “requirement.” Many Muslim men will have no problem dating you as a Christian, but they will have an issue telling their mothers that they want to marry you if you don’t convert… (The opposite is twice as problematic!).Thus, we end up with communities of women that are committed to the religion and practice as long as their husbands are… Otherwise, you will never see them again.
Other women end their marriages after conversion and are stuck in the “how am I going to raise my kid?” dilemma. Without getting into the issue of “appropriate” custody laws in Islam, the reality of things is that in many cases the fathers are not around for one reason or another. Hence, mothers, who perhaps do or do not want to remain in Islam, have to raise the children. Whereas many have true faith in Islam, this is a tricky situation. And if the mother wants to leave the religion then raising a child as a Muslim for 10 years and asking him/her to quit after is rarely an option… Thus, they continue identifying as Muslims but are, often times divided, inside.
In other cases women convert knowing exactly what in Islam is working for them. Yet, like me, entering the community is not always easy. Therefore, yes, we are converts, but we have a troubled relationship with the particular ways in which institutional Islam works.
However, beyond the issues that all these cases pose, women are good to justify pretty much anything. Just as the American government declared war on Afghanistan “for the women” (after everything else of course!) and politicians “prove” their commitment to poverty and minorities by taking pictures with minority, disadvantaged women and tons of kids, mosques tend to see hijabs on white faces as the “proof” they need to corroborate that Islam promotes gender equality, and is therefore compatible or even better than the secular West.
While I truly believe that the Qur’an calls for equality across gender and ethnic lines, I must admit that my fellow Muslims do not always do a good job advocating for this. Islam today is better known for burqas, niqabs and gendered violence than for the commitment that some Muslim women have towards gender equality activism. Thus, many mosques think that if the West accuses them of oppressing women, they should show them that “even white women” or Western women prefer Islam to secularism or other religions.
There are plenty of examples where Muslim converts reinforce these ideas without questioning what happens in private and public life (and the West also rewards converts with exceptional access to media for example). Islam may not encourage gendered violence (as neither do other religions), but gendered violence is an issue in our communities. In some cases, even the proudly displayed Western converts face it because it is not an evil that is restricted to one religion or group.
In some cases, mosques think that having female converts across the lines means that they are doing a good job in “taking care of women.” Yet, they rarely consider that there is a variety of ways in which one gets converted… some get a husband, others never step in a mosque a live happily and some others like me just get a Qur’an and a bunch of feminist literature (Qur’an and Woman, The Veil and the Male Elite, Believing Women in Islam, etc.) and let them work their magic… More often than not it has nothing to do with a mosque, an imam or a bunch of scholars…