My Conversion to Islam

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Ever since I converted I’ve gotten lots of sincere questions regarding my journey and beliefs. I’d like to take the time to address the story of my conversion here. Soon to follow will be a post answering other questions about this inshallah. Feel free to comment with your questions so that I can include them in my Q&A post inshallah. Thank you. 

Many people wonder how a devout Christian could “deny Christ” and become, of all things, a Muslim. I understand that it is surprising and perhaps confusing to some people. It is a bit difficult to explain. I mean, coming into or losing faith isn’t a choice. It is a choice to try to maintain faith, but for some people – myself included – no matter how hard we try, it just doesn’t work. Faith can die, and in my case it died a slow, agonizing death that nearly tore me apart. 

A bit of background may be useful here. I was raised as an Evangelical Pentecostal and later moved to an Evangelical Baptist church. I took part in countless exorcisms, both as the exorcisor and the exorcised. I had a strong belief in the supernatural. I was a staunch conservative; politically, socially, and spiritually. Every morning I prayed and read my Bible for an hour. In the car and at home I listened to Christian music. I went to church several times a week and as I reached my teens I became involved in volunteering in the church in various areas. I read countless devotional books and other Christian commentaries, and had a good grasp of Christian theology. So, as you can see I was a very committed, and I’d even say enthusiastic, Christian. 

Any time doubts came up, I shoved them down because I believed wholeheartedly in James 1:5-8 and similar passages commanding Christians to not doubt and to accept Christian doctrine without second guessing it. I was afraid to entertain doubts or to ask tough questions, because the answers might lead me away from what was familiar and comfortable. I soon learned that the most effective tactic was to not let myself be alone with my questions. Almost unconsciously, I kept myself ridiculously busy with church activities. Partly I wanted to bury my other sorrows, but I also was desperate to not let myself listen to that little voice inside that was whispering doubt. One day though, I began to listen to my heart (that sounds so cheesy, I know), and I decided to wear a head covering and modest clothes in accordance with 1Corinthians 11. Somehow I couldn’t hold myself back from listening to my intuition about what was right. Shortly I was expelled from my church. All my activities were taken away. There was no noise left to to drown out my doubts. I was left alone to face up to them. 

At the time all this was unfolding, I was dating a Christian (not the man I married). I was a novice at love and didn’t know that a woman should never limit herself for a man. So, even though my heart was by this point being powerfully drawn quite specifically to Islam, I was too afraid of losing that man. Around this time I bought my first Quran and created some anonymous and alias online profiles to talk with Muslims and learn more about the religion. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing this. When I first opened the Quran, I read the first chapter. For those who don’t know, it is a very short chapter. We Muslims pray that chapter every day. I didn’t know that then, however. But nonetheless I was struck by its beauty and instinctively prayed it. I was in love. I remember thinking very distinctly that it was everything I’d ever wanted to pray. It was perfect. I began praying it frequently.

Sadly, as I realized that I’d have to choose between my relationship with that man and listening to my heart, I stopped it all. I cut off contact with almost everyone I’d been chatting with. I shoved my Quran in a drawer and deleted my anonymous online profiles. Then came the church crisis and shortly after that, that man and I broke up. To be fair, this wasn’t that guy’s fault. I chose to ignore my instincts. I chose to not even give him a chance to accept me and my doubts – or not. It was enough for me to be afraid that it wouldn’t work out if I were to become Muslim. Alhamdulillah, Allah in His infinite wisdom knew that I’d never grow if I stayed with that person, and ended up putting me with the amazing man that I now have the pleasure of being married to. 

As my relationship with my now-husband took off, I got so caught up in it that for the most part I forgot about my doubts. I had found something new to drown out my whispery inner voice. I do however recall brief moments, flashes really, of that old nagging feeling that something wasn’t right.  My then-boyfriend (now my husband) and I used to read the Bible together every night in Portugal. I couldn’t escape my feelings when the Bible began to disturb me so much that reading it or hearing it read to me gave me actual panic attacks. So I stopped reading the Bible so often. When I returned to the US, I got busy again. But I kept praying every night with my husband. So much of my faith was fear-based. We prayed every night because I was convinced that if we didn’t, God would punish us by making our marriage fail! Things settled down with our visa situation and my mental health left me unable to study or work. I was also finally an adult, and didn’t have to sneak around online anymore. So my freedom gave me peace, quiet, time, and room to explore. 

I didn’t use that room for a while though. I persisted, trying to believe. Finally, one night it came to a head when I was reading the Bible. I came across Deuteronomy 22. It is a very disturbing chapter. It wasn’t the first time I had read it, but this time the usual lines about the “Old Covenant” and “we’re no longer under the Law” didn’t fly. I had always been told that the Old Testament rules didn’t apply to us anymore because of Jesus’ supposed sacrifice on the cross. Previously that was enough to unravel the knot in my stomach that those verses always caused. But this time one thought got stuck in my head that I couldn’t do away with. “Everyone agrees that the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) did come from God and was meant to be followed at one time. How could a loving God send down such a horrible text? Either the Bible is true and divinely inspired, or God is love. These two things can’t both be true.” Once I had found the courage to question, I soon found so many other parts of the Bible – including  in the New Testament – that had always bothered me but that I’d been afraid to question. 1Corinthians 11, James 1, most of the Old Testament, the contradictions in the gospel accounts, among others. 

I couldn’t ignore these doubts anymore. Over the course of a year my husband and I discussed these things at length. I tried to pray and then finally just quit. We turned to his spiritual advisors for counsel. Alas, their cut-and-dried answers weren’t working for me anymore. I began to research in earnest my old love, Islam. I finished reading the Quran and then started over and read through it again. I read so much. I joined Facebook groups and met Islamic leaders and knowledgeable Muslims online who were able to explain Islam to me in a whole new way. Every doctrine made sense. The emphasis on compassion, mercy, and grace, the idea of retribution or reward for our deeds, the ancient rituals, the fact that the Quran was so beautiful and yet had never been revised, and so many other things made me realize instinctively that Islam was true. My husband was beautifully supportive, although at first it was a bit of a challenge for him. 

During that year I began changing my lifestyle slowly but surely. I cut out pork and alcohol, I began wearing hijab properly, I began praying once a day with the intention of working up to the full five daily prayers, and I observed Ramadan by reading the Quran daily and researching even more.  (I did not fast because of my health issues.) Finally, last August in the wee hours of the morning on the third, I said my shahada (the formal Islamic declaration of faith) in skype with two witnesses. 

Afterwards I cried so hard. It was scary! I’d already changed so much, and I knew more change was coming. I was afraid my husband wouldn’t support me. But he became ever more supportive, and I slipped into the routines of Muslim life like a hand into a tailored glove. Over time many questions have come up for me. I have learned my lesson though! I don’t shove my doubts and questions down anymore. I ask my support network questions and then follow-up questions to their answers. I do, however, continue to be satisfied with the answers that the Quran, the Sunnah (prophetic tradition), and those who interpret them, have to offer. 

Quran 2:23 challenges disbelieving readers to produce a single Arabic chapter equal in beauty and truth to a chapter of the Quran. That speaks volumes. I for one don’t believe that anyone could possibly do so. Certainly no one has. I could go on and on about the scientific miracles of the Quran, the way it resounds with my soul, the way it draws me in like metal to a magnet, and the infinite layers of truth and wisdom it contains. But that is for another blog post! I will say that every time I open my Quran I am awestruck again with its beauty and wisdom. I read it with insatiable thirst. I’m thankful beyond measure for it and for the beautiful religion that I’ve found. 

In closing, allow me to give a small piece of advice. Here it is: never ignore your intuition. Never! No matter what, listen to your intuition. Don’t ignore your doubts or questions. Don’t pretend that things are okay when they’re not. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way. 

Assalaamu alaikum (peace be upon you) friends 💜

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My Journey to Prayer

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For many years I was a very good Christian girl. I prayed and read my Bible and Bible commentary every morning before doing anything else. I always had words to pray, so many words. I also prayer journaled, which for those who don’t know is where you write out prayers to God in a notebook. When my massive spiritual crisis began in 2014, I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know what to say to God. I wasn’t angry at Him, just speechless. But I asked God to guide me. I began reading the Quran, and from the first time I read the Fatiha I began to pray it in English in the many moments that I seemingly had nothing to say to God. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say to God. I had so many feelings and thoughts bottled up inside that I wanted to let out in prayer, but when I bowed my head and closed my eyes I couldn’t seem to put those feelings into words. God seemed distant and deaf. I couldn’t help but wonder why He’d bother listening to me – or even if He would at all. Time and again, I turned to the Fatiha. It gave me the words I didn’t have. It summed up everything I wanted to ask of God. 

As time passed I realized that I didn’t believe in the Bible and Christianity. I went months without uttering a prayer, pausing only occasionally to utter something for a few seconds. I deliberately avoided it. I was afraid that I was doomed for hell, because I was not praying. This fear in turn made me want to pray even less.  All my old fears of God and His judgement made me rather dislike Him, because I was very disconnected from His Mercy and Grace. As time went on I began reading the Quran again, and again began praying the Fatiha. This whole time I didn’t know that Muslims prayed the Fatiha daily. Soon, however, I learned this, because I began to research Islam again, this time thinking of converting. 

I also learned about this amazing thing called salaat: a way to pray that God Himself gave us. Five times a day we get to meet God in prayer. And, He listens. I watched videos and listened to lectures about it. I found out how to perform it. I was so in love with the words! Instinctively, I knew that as soon as I prayed it salaat I would fall in love with it and my conversion would be inevitable. I already believed in the basic doctrines of Islam. Finally, one night in my walk-in closet I laid out a towel for a prayer rug, set up my iPad with a prayer tutorial, and followed along. When I finished, I was shaking, drenched in sweat, emotional, and almost euphoric. I felt in the depth of my soul that I had truly connected with the Divine. I spoke to the Creator of the universe – and He listened to me. Subhanallah.  

Sure enough, soon thereafter I converted to Islam alhamdulillah. I don’t like to say that I converted – that implies that I chose it. No. God chose Islam for me, and I submitted to His will. Since performing salaat five times a day is a requirement for a practicing Muslim, I began researching the details of it even more enthusiastically. I soon found it difficult. Through the whole process I remained in love with salaat. However, I soon discovered that I had to pray in Arabic, not English, so I had a lot of memorization to do. I had to know when to prostrate, when to raise my hands, when to say what. I worked hard, watching countless YouTube videos about it and taking notes. I Skyped with friends and asked questions of every Muslim I knew – and some I didn’t know! I had found a way to talk to God, and I wanted to do it perfectly. It was the greatest gift I’d ever had. I still feel that way about salaat to this day, alhamdulillah. I mean, how amazing is it that God told us exactly how we can talk to Him?

Many people think of communication with God as a one-way street. We pray, He listens and maybe does what we ask, maybe not. But Islam teaches us that prayer is for our sake. God doesn’t need our prayers. But He has blessed us with the ability to communicate with Him because He knows that without Him we are nothing. And, He communicates in return! Quran 45:3 and many other similar passages tell us that the creation is full of signs from God. All of creation, including our own existence, is a message to us that God is greater, that He loves us, that He is ar Rahman and ar Raheem, that He is the Almighty. God is speaking to us through His creation. Subhanallah!

These days I still have a hard time making my own own duaas. The great thing is, there are many traditional duaas out there that we can use. I have downloaded an app that has duaas in it, and I often look up duaas for appropriate situations. I especially love the tradition of making duaa when it rains. It gives me inspiration to talk to God. When it rains, I do somehow feel more connected making duaa. I do still struggle with feeling unworthy to pray for things I need, so I often end up simply asking for forgiveness for my sins. I am painfully aware that I am very much in need of God’s forgiveness because I am very flawed, as are we all. My salaat, however, has improved greatly. My greatest struggle with salaat is concentration, but I’m working on it. I find great comfort in it and alhamdulillah am typically faithful to pray on time. I can only give thanks for this.  

My advice is that if you are struggling with prayer, keep trying. If you are Muslim, you already have two great gifts from God: the Quran and the Sunnah. And these together tell us how to make salaat. So, work on your salaat. Try to pray it well. Study the meaning of the words being recited, especially if you don’t speak Arabic. Become faithful to it. Pray on time, even when it seems inconvenient. Sometimes it is a sacrifice to get out of bed for fajr, but the relationship with God that these sacrifices open up for us is incredible and indescribably worth it! 

Going Public With My Conversion

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It’s done. Irreversibly done. Yesterday my husband and I released a video on our YouTube channel announcing that I’m Muslim. Ever since we had said that I was Christian back when I actually was, people have thought that that remains true. But of course since last year it is no longer true. For a long time when people asked my religion we curtly told them that we didn’t talk about religion. Many friends of my husband didn’t know about my conversion. So, a lot of people in our lives are kind of reeling from shock right now. 

The backlash was a bit worse than I expected. We lost many subscribers, received an incredible number of dislikes, and were flooded with negative, condescending, and rude comments. This is for a couple of reasons. For one, Brazil is a very Christian country. Evangelicals there are even more socially and politically powerful there than they are here. For another, people came to our channel excited to see a Christian couple in the US. They felt that they had something in common with us. We were one of their own, not “other” or different. Now, that’s been turned on its head. While Daniel is still one of them, I’m not. I’m different and other. I’m foreign. 

I’ve lived my whole life used to being different and not one of the crowd. Through this channel I finally felt like one of the gang. Converting to Islam has put me on the fringes of society once again, and now the last place where I felt normal has been taken away. I’m not one of the gang. It’s tiring, always being “other”. So, so tiring. 

One of the things I’ve heard the most is that if I left Christianity, it must mean I was never truly Christian at heart. That’s not true. I was a devout, heartfelt, faithful Christian. I loved Jesus as God’s son. I believed in his death, burial, and resurrection. I read the Bible cover to cover many times and studied it in depth in countless churches, Bible study groups, and on my own. But, I stopped believing. I began to question, and it soon became clear that Christianity wasn’t the right path for me. People change, that much is for sure. And change I did. 

I’ve also been told that I’m too young and inexperienced to know what I believe. The funny thing is, when I was the religion that everyone wanted me to be (i.e., Christian), no one said that. They praised my dedication and knowledge at my young age. But suddenly when I’m actually a bit older and am taking an unpopular path, I’m too young to know my own mind? I’m not buying it. The people who say this are speaking without knowing my story. I’ve been through hell in my short life. Hell. I’ve seen and lived and done things some sixty year olds can’t imagine. That’s not to say I’ve got it all figured out. I don’t. I have a lot of growing and living to do. And you know what? Now is the time for just that process to begin. It’s time for me to let myself grow. And you need to respect my growing process. You say I’m inexperienced? Well, I’m gaining experience right now. So let me. 

I was once put down for being different by a mental health professional. His intention was to change me, but what he did was galvanize my determination to not live to please people. You do you, I’ll do me. I’m going to be true to my heart no matter what. The times I haven’t done so, I’ve been miserable. It’s not worth it. So I’m going to be loudly, proudly, unashamedly Muslim. This is who I am. In the coming years I have no doubt that I’ll change even more, inshallah. Hopefully it will be for the best. And guess what? I’m not afraid of change anymore. I welcome it. The changes that God has orchestrated in my short life have been wonderful, albeit painful, alhamdulillah. If more change is written in God’s plan for me, I’m open to that. I’m finally at peace with change. Alhamdulillah for everything. 

I’m Not Going to Hell

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…. I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – Jesus, John 14:6

These words have been twisted by many radical Christians to mean cruel things. So many times they have been used against me and my community to exclude us from God’s love and mercy. The people who cite this verse out of context claim to be able to know for sure who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. They are arrogant enough to claim to be privy to knowledge and decision making that are purely God’s business. 

I was recently told that God would only save those who believe in Jesus as God and God’s son. I told the people who said this to me that quite frankly I don’t think that God is so cruel that He would condemn to eternal damnation someone who is a good person but doesn’t ascribe to very specific theology. Silence fell over the room. Somehow this idea that God is merciless has taken over a lot of Christianity. It’s one of the reasons why I left. To be fair, when comparable things are said by my fellow Muslims I am just as outraged.

Christians, your own Bible says that God is love. What sort of loving God would be so unjust as to ignore someone’s sincere efforts at being good, and punish a good person for simply not believing in a very specific theology that varies depending on your denomination? If we are God’s children as you say, what kind of sadistic parent would torture their child for all of eternity just for a sincere mistake? It sounds pretty evil to think that God is so terrible. I do believe He is the epitome of love, and I don’t know what definition of love you ascribe to, but last time I checked loving someone doesn’t involve torturing them for a silly reason. 

Excluding people from God’s love and mercy is not your job. You have no right to make that call. Furthermore, as Christians and simply as moral people you’re supposed to be reflections of God’s love. It’s not very loving to think that someone deserves hell because they don’t agree with your theology. The nice thing is that the Bible itself offers a wonderful definition of love and its importance. I’ll leave you with just that to ponder. 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

– 1Corinthians 13

The Exotic Hijab (and other musings by an oppressed muslimah)

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Cultural appropriation and exotization take so many forms, but in light of the recent announcement by Nike that they’re going to produce an athletic wear hijab in the spring of 2018, I thought that in this essay I’d focus on the exoticization of hijab by the West.

In November of 2001, then-First Lady Laura Bush delivered a radio address asking the American people to back a military initiative against theTaliban, in the name of freeing oppressed women. The media campaigns that happened for quite a while afterward focused on oppressed women, and the most recognized symbols of Arab women’s oppression were the head coverings of Afghan women. The blue burka enforced by the Taliban and other variations of Islamic veils were splashed all over the media. One of the most notable such incidences was when TIME magazine released a special edition about women in Afghanistan in December 2001, and on the cover was an Afghan woman in hijab. 


Time and again the hijab, and sometimes the face veil, are used by the Western media as shorthand for “Islamic subjugation and oppression of women”. Time and again the only time a veiled Muslim woman is shown in the Western media is in the context of reports on terrorism, tyrannical regimes, war, and female oppression. We veiled Muslims have grown used to this, and have learned to accept it. This is life as a Muslim in the West. 

Now. Fast-forward to this week. The global sportswear company Nike, of Just Do It! fame, announced that it will be producing a hijab for athletic wear and will presumably be marketing them to Muslim women. Naturally, Nike has been doing an accompanying marketing campaign to draw Muslim attention. Meanwhile, Muslim-owned hijab and modest-wear companies have been selling and attempting to effectively market sportswear and regular hijabs for years. During all these years that such companies – many of which are based in the East – have been marching bravely along, producing veils that Muslim women the world over love to wear, the media has been portraying the hijab as an inherently oppressive garment that Muslim women hate to wear. But now that a multi billion dollar US-based company is wanting to make more billions off of us, we’re suddenly supposed to stand up and cheer, grateful for the attention? 

Let’s be real. Nike isn’t in this to make a sociopolitical statement of solidarity with Muslim women. They aren’t doing this to help us. Nike is following in the footsteps of Dolce and Gabbana, attempting to tap into the pocketbooks of 1.6 billion Muslims the world over. Much of the publicity around this announcement is framed in terms of empowering veiled Muslim women, but in truth we have been empowering ourselves just fine without Nike’s greed. We’ve been producing our own beautiful, practical veils and other clothes for years. The real message behind Nike’s announcement and the resultant media flurry is not that Muslim women will suddenly be able to work out and play sports (spoiler alert: we’ve been athletic without any issue for years), but rather that the hijab is only acceptable and palatable to non Muslim Westerners when they produce it for us and profit off of it. When we veil on their terms, it’s ok. When we veil on ours, it’s oppressive.

This habit of taking aspects of Eastern cultures and religions and profiting off them is as American as apple pie. It is, however, considerably less palatable than apple pie to those of us whose cultural and religious symbols are being exploited. If this was really about empowering Muslim women, attention would have been given these past few years to the brands that Muslim women have been turning to for hijab-friendly active wear, including Capsters, Friniggi, Mu’mine, and ASIYA. These are Muslim owned brands by which Muslim women have been empowering other Muslim women. Yet somehow we are only considered truly empowered when the West does what we do, only better. 

What actually oppresses veiled Muslim women is not the veil. It is the West’s troubling habit of invading our countries and installing puppet governments. What oppresses us is the media portraying us as weak, uneducated, and oppressed, not giving attention to positive Muslim accomplishments and instead drawing attention to those who attempt to hijack our religion just as they hijack airplanes, and refusing to accept our cultures and religion without first whitewashing them. That is what oppresses us. So, we don’t need your whitewashed veils. We have our own proudly Muslim-produced hijabs, and those are working just fine. You’re not empowering us, Nike. If anything, you’re oppressing us by exploiting our religious garments for money. 

Don’t Tokenize Us 

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One of the most annoying micro aggressions that POCs and other minorities face is being tokenized. You know what I mean. You may have even done it, whether intentionally or not. For example, there’s always that one white guy who is racist in one way or another, but spends time with a black person just often enough to say that he has a black friend. Then, when called out for a racist joke or act, he whips out this “friendship” as “proof” that he isn’t racist.  He may even use things his token black friend has said or done as an excuse to partake in racist behavior, such as using the “n” word because his black friend says it. 

Sometimes we minorities know that we’re being tokenized but in the interest of not being accused of reverse racism or reverse discrimination, or in the interest of not having our communities vilified, we are nice and patient and put up with this treatment. This is especially true for religious minorities and black people. We often put up with other microaggressions too, all in hopes of preserving our communities’ shaky hold on the bottom rung of society’s ladder. 

When you tokenize us, you put us in a disempowering position, forcing us to represent entire populations not only to you, but also to the people you talk to about us. We are used as a free pass for you to say and do despicable things. Our power to speak up for ourselves is stolen. This is dehumanizing. It is ignoring the fact that we are individuals, and above all human beings. 

To avoid tokenizing us, there are some useful things to keep in mind. The first is that being friends with a minority does not give you special privileges. It doesn’t mean you can say or do things that would otherwise be considered inappropriate. It doesn’t mean that our friendship makes you “one of us”. You aren’t. If you’re a person of privilege, you are still a person of privilege whether you’re friends with underprivileged people or not. 

Another important thing to remember is that we are individuals. It is unfair and dehumanizing to force us to constantly represent our communities. Being friends with a Muslim doesn’t automatically make you a friend of Muslims. There’s a difference. Being reasonably polite to us doesn’t earn you ally brownie points. It just means you’re fulfilling your duty as a decent human being. Being a friend to a minority doesn’t mean you’re special. It means you’re doing an average, normal thing. Don’t let it go to your head. Furthermore, being that we are individuals, if we don’t have patience with your racist or xenophobic BS, that doesn’t mean we or our communities should be vilified as intolerant or “reverse racists”. No. Just like any other individual, we have the right to set and defend personal boundaries in order to care for ourselves. And us doing so doesn’t give you the right to demonize our communities. 

Finally, reverse racism, discrimination, and bigotry don’t exist. This is because racism, bigotry, and discrimination are based on systematic oppression, and as marginalized minorities we don’t have the sociopolitical power to carry out mass systematic oppression. We as individuals can be jerks, but being tired of racism and resultantly angry and impatient with privileged people doesn’t mean we’re oppressing you. It means we’ve taken all we can take. It means we have run out of patience with unearned, injust birthright privilege. If you are privileged, us not putting up with your BS does not in any way diminish your privilege. 

Hopefully this article will give privileged people some food for thought. Goodness knows privileged people don’t have to do much thinking about these things…. But the rest of live each day forced to think about and face these realities. 

Get to Know Us!

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Some non minorities who show up at social justice advocacy events don’t actually take the time to learn about the people they’re advocating for. They don’t know us. They haven’t been to our houses of worship, haven’t had a meaningful conversation with us, haven’t been to our schools, have never visited our neighborhoods (somehow our neighborhoods are always considered to be on the bad side of town), and generally can’t put a face to the names of our groups. 

Black people? They’re the waiters at your favorite overpriced restaurant, the maids you hire for your houses that are comfortably situated in the best school districts. Muslims? They’re those people who dress funny that you have seen in the movies, usually in the middle of a bombing scene. Hindus? They’re the people who came up with curry, which by the way is only fashionable to eat if cooked by a white chef who studied in France. Jews? They’re conservative women who wear wigs, and families with a number of children that makes you uncomfortable. Immigrants? They make your tacos and talk funny. Their accents are good for laughs on your favorite sitcom. You see, there are no faces in your mind to mentally put with these names. 

When I think of black people, I think of my lovely friends C and Z, for example. When I think of Muslims, I think of my amazing community of countless people across the world. When I think of Hindus, I think of some old friends that I haven’t seen in a while and another that I try to keep up with regularly. When I think of Jews, I think of a brave author I have on my Facebook, and an activist that I met online who I adore. When I think of immigrants, I think first and foremost of my wonderful Brazilian husband. When I think of the LGBT+ community, I think of several lovely souls that I know.  And so on. And you know what’s so important about knowing real live people from numerous minority communities? It creates empathy. It also opens pathways for honest communication about the very real challenges facing our respective communities. And when those of you who are more privileged than not get to know those of us who are more underprivileged than not, you learn to see us as individual human beings with very real needs. You become better equipped to use your power to advocate for us. 

How can you possibly advocate for people you don’t know and therefore at the end of the day don’t particularly care about? But once it becomes personal – once it’s about your friends and loved ones – you’ll come to know what we need and you’ll work hard to help us get it. Furthermore, you may be surprised to find that you, despite having considered yourself to be a social justice advocate, actually harbor misconceptions and perhaps even prejudice about us. By getting to know us, you’ll bypass the media and get information about our communities from those who know us best: us. You might be surprised to discover that our communities are neither secretive nor monolithic. We are composed of individuals – unique, diverse, and above all: human. 

So, take the time to get to know us. Visit our community centers. Meet us online. Strike up a five minute interaction in the checkout line at your neighborhood supermarket. Listen to our music. Take an introductory language class to learn any one of the countless languages spoken by the world’s population. Travel! Get. To. Know. Us. See for us the beautiful, diverse people that we are. Thank you. 

I’m So Tired 

“What do you think of ISIS?” Smile. Be calm. Be gentle. “Don’t Muslims believe you’re supposed to kill Christians and Jews?” They don’t mean any harm. They don’t know any better. “Do you shower with that on?” Laugh. Take it in stride. “Does your husband make you wear it?” It’s ok. It’s just a question. “I’m not islamophobic. After all, I’m friends with you!” Smile, laugh. Be quiet. You have to give a good impression. You’re the token Muslim, whether you like it or not. These are my thoughts when my dignity is taken away. 

It’s so tiring to always be representing 1.6 billion people from all over the world. As soon as people find out I’m Muslim, which generally is pretty quickly because I wear the hijab, they think they have the right to ask me invasive questions. Now, to be clear, I’m not talking about friends who ask sincere, curious questions hoping to learn more about me and my faith. I’m talking about random strangers who interrupt my meal in a restaurant to demand information in an accusatory tone. There is a huge difference between the two. 

A good example of this is my friend K. She and I often have conversations about faith and culture. She asks a million questions, and they’re all sincere and respectful. She often reminds me that if I don’t feel comfortable answering, that’s ok. THAT is actually wonderful. She wants to understand me. I love answering her questions. 

On the flip side, there’s an incident that happened yesterday. I went to a local gyro joint for a nice Arab meal. The cashier, who I later found out was the owner, asked me why I was wearing a headscarf. I told him I was Muslim. He said he was an Egyptian Christian. I said “Assalaamu alaikum,” and he said “wa alaikum salaam.” We exchanged smiles. I took my food and found a seat. I dug in. A few moments later he pulled a chair up to mine and my husband’s table. He started by asking me why I converted, and I gave him the condensed version of the story. He proceeded to tell me I didn’t understand Christian theology, I didn’t know God and couldn’t know Him or love Him. He told me that ISIS were Muslims, the Quran teaches violence, and Islam is a cult. I patiently gave him simple but logical refutations to his horrible comments. He went on and, during our entire meal.  My husband, I should add, stood up for me and told him off. But I knew I couldn’t say anything.

 If I asked him to leave me alone, his belief that Muslims are evil and rude would be reinforced. I had to be kind. I had to smile. I had to be patient. I had to know theology well enough to give good answers. I couldn’t be just another average Muslim. I had to know so much, be so much. I was representing an entire group of people and all of them would be judged by my actions. 

Forcing every Muslim to answer for the actions of every other Muslim is, to put it simply, unfair. It’s wrong. It’s dehumanizing. Since when do we have a policy of guilt by association? There are over a billion and a half of us. We come from every imaginable country and culture. We are young, old, black, white, Arab, Asian, conservative, liberal, anarchists, tyrants, educated, and illiterate. We are not a monolith. Furthermore, my being Muslim does not give me the magical ability to understand every other Muslim’s mindset. It also doesn’t give you the right to invade my privacy and personal space! Being Muslim doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get to have a meal in peace. I should be allowed to be grumpy without my entire religion and community being judged for it. I shouldn’t have to smile and grit my teeth when people are rude. I should be allowed to tell jerks and creeps to FUCK OFF without risking the safety of my fellow Muslims. I like representing my faith to some degree. I love that people look at me and know I’m Muslim. But I don’t love that they think that by knowing me, they know my entire community. They don’t. They can’t. 

How to Support Your Muslim Neighbors 

So, a lot of people are asking what they can do to support the Muslim community as we face four (who knows? maybe eight!) years of systematic discrimination. Some ideas for standing in concrete solidarity with us to actually relieve our burdens would be to: 1) take flowers and cards to local mosques to show love. 2) start attending interfaith events at mosques to get to know us. We don’t bite, I promise! 3) offer to escort women in hijab if they’re afraid to go out, especially in specific areas. 4) sit with and begin conversing with immigrants and Muslim women you see on public transportation, especially if someone is harassing them. 5) learn how to safely and effectively intervene when a Muslim woman is being harassed, and be prepared to put such skills to use. 6) provide emotional support. Right now we are scared and need love. 7) ask us individually what we need and how you can help us one on one, and then listen to what we say. Above all, listen to us. Right now society isn’t hearing us. 8) Contact your senators and representatives to speak up against policies that negatively affect Muslims. 9) Take part in peaceful protests. 10) Engage family and friends who are islamophobic in discussion. Educate them, and don’t let their hate slide. Don’t go with the flow! They won’t listen to us, so be our voice. 11) Learn the basics about Islam so that you can educate people and also so that you can lose any misconceptions that you may still have. 
There’s always more, but those are some starters. Thank you for your allyship! 

Please share.

Privilege / Privilégio 

Can you walk into a public place without most of the people there turning their heads to stare at you? Yes? That’s privilege. Can you walk down the street in a hoodie and not get shot by a cop? Yes? That’s privilege. Can you go into a store, look at expensive merchandise, and not have sales staff tell you that you probably can’t afford it because of your skin color? Yes? That’s privilege. Can you speak your native language in public in the US without glares and stares? Yes? That’s privilege. Can you eat your own culture’s food in public in the US without people making fun of you? Yes? That’s privilege. Can you dress in accordance with your religion and/or culture without eliciting hateful reactions from the general public? Yes? That’s privilege. Can you say your prayers in public and have people either ignore you or positively comment on your piety? Yes? That’s privilege. Are your major holidays widely celebrated in society? Yes? That’s privilege. You get the idea. Now that you know that you have privilege, acknowledge it and use it to help the marginalized. // VocĂȘ pode entrar em um lugar pĂșblico sem atrair olhares fixos? Sim? Isso Ă© privilĂ©gio. VocĂȘ pode andar de camisola na rua sem ter um policial atirar em vocĂȘ? Sim? Isso Ă© privilĂ©gio. VocĂȘ pode entrar numa loja, olhar coisas caras Ă  venda, e nĂŁo ouvir de um funcionĂĄrio que vocĂȘ deve ser pobre demais pra comprar tais coisas simplesmente por causa da cor da sua pele? Sim? Isso Ă© privilĂ©gio. VocĂȘ pode falar sua lĂ­ngua nativa em pĂșblico nos Estados Unidos sem atrair olhares fixos e rudes? Sim? Isso Ă© privilĂ©gio. VocĂȘ pode comer em pĂșblico nos Estados Unidos a comida da sua cultura nativa sem as pessoas tirarem onda de vocĂȘ? Sim? Isso Ă© privilĂ©gio. VocĂȘ pode se vestir em acordo com a sua cultura e religiĂŁo sem atrair reaçÔes odiosas do pĂșblico geral? Sim? Isso Ă© privilĂ©gio. VocĂȘ pode orar em pĂșblico e ou ser ignorado ou atĂ© mesmo receber comentĂĄrios sobre sua piedade? Sim? Isso Ă© privilĂ©gio. Suas maiores datas comemorativas sĂŁo comemoradas pela sociedade? Sim? Isso Ă© privilĂ©gio. VocĂȘ estĂĄ me entendendo. Agora que vocĂȘ sabe que tem privilĂ©gio, reconheça esse fato e use esse privilĂ©gio pra ajudar quem Ă© marginalizado.