EXPERIENCES OF AMERICAN WOMEN CHOOSING ISLAM
Daughters of another path
DAUGHTERS OF ANOTHER PATH
Woman becoming Muslim in America
She may be shopping at the mall, driving or riding in a car, studying in university classes, or sharing an office in the workplace. Her dress is modest, a scarf covering her hair
with only her face and hands uncovered (although even her face may be veiled).
She wears outfits that are usually neat but not showy, sometimes reflecting foreign fashion. She is very conspicuous in our society, often triggering thoughts like “strange religion,” “terrorist,” “fundamentalist”, “mystery,” “foreign,” or “oil,” and she makes us feel uncomfortable and alienated.
Expecting to hear a heavy accent when speaking to her, one may be shocked if she sounds just like any American-human! “Where are you from?” the curious observer might ask. ‘To ledo, Ohio,” she may reply. But it could have been any other city or town.
“Oh, really?” the observer responds, somewhat taken back realizing that she is one of us.
A growing number of American-born women in the United States and Canada have converted to Islam and call themselves Muslim like any other follower of Islam.
Many hold to the tradition of wearing hijab* (covering) in public.
Others don’t feel it necessary to cover and are, therefore, less noticeable but are
A Glossary of Islamic Terms, following Appendix C, gives definitions for all Islamic terms referred to in the text or quotes. also among the growing number of converts in the United States and Canada.
No one knows for sure how many of the world’s one billion Muslims live in the United States and Canada, but the American Muslim Council of Washington, D.C., estimates the Muslim population to be between 6 and 8 million including American-born converts, those who have immigrated, and a growing number of children born Muslim in America.
Thus Islam may already have more followers in the United States than Judaism which has 5.5 million adherents.
This would make Islam the second-leading religion after Christianity. The growing number of mosques and student centers also -reflects the emerging presence of Islam.
Around 1985 there were approximately six hundred mosques, student centers, and other Islamic centers with the numbers growing.
Muslim history in the United States is fairly short. The booklet, A Century of Islam in America,1 indicates three waves of Muslim immigration.
The first occurred in 1875 with migrant laborers, uneducated and unskilled workers willing to work hard. Many stayed, but those who returned home encouraged others to come to America. The second wave in the 1930s was stopped by World War II.
The third wave of immigrants in the ’50s and ’60s tended to be well-educated and from influential families, oft n trying to escape political oppression or to obtain higher education.
Muslims tend to group in the larger cities where they have support from each other. Many of the larger universities have active Muslim groups.
It is here they learn from and help each other live the Muslim lifestyle that is at times difficult to blend with the schedule and activities of the American society. Muslims are obligated to follow the practices of Islam in every detail in daily life.
These practices are dictated by the Qur’an and the Hadith (the reported sayings, deeds, and practices of Muham mad), and by the other examples attributed to Prophet Muhammad Unique in many Western settings is the right to practice
religion as one desires, which extends to Muslims the opportunity to live their lives Islamically as interpreted in their community.
Western countries once identified as Judeo-Christian countries may need to recogniz.e they are becoming Judeo-Christian-Muslim societies. The growth ofislam in the Western Hemisphere is fast becoming a major topic for media coverage.
The expansion of Islam is a major contemporary issue for all North Americans although most Americans know little about either the principles of Islam or its history.
Islam had its beginning in the Arabian Peninsula during the seventh century when Muhammad received divine revelations from God (Allah) through the angel Gabriel.
These were received by Muhammad who spoke them orally, and the recitations were eventually written down to form the Qur,an (or Koran), the Muslim’s sacred book, which is considered to be the literal and final word of God to the wnrld.
Islam Enter My World
Fourteen years ago our daughter Jodi married a young man from Iran and soon converted to Islam. She began wearing the cover and learning to live and practice as a Muslim.
The next few years were a time of grief and adjustment for our family. In the intervening years we have grown to appreciate the strength and commitment of our daughter and her American-Muslim friends.
From this personal experience I decided to collect the stories of American-born women who converted to Islam. I developed and distributed a questionnaire and soon began receiving many personal expressions of strength and faith.
Many North Americans (including United States and Canada) are familiar with the book and movie, Not Without My Daughter; the movie, True Lies-, or other articles and media comments filled with negative portrayals of Muslims.
We rarely have the opportunity on a personal level to observe the quality of life that American-born women who have become Muslim have in their Islamic commitment.
I felt that a more positive image was needed, and by gathering and sharing some of the stories of these American-born women who have converted to Islam, that desire within me has been accomplished.
The intent is not to use each story in total but to use portions to unfold the stories and faith journeys of some who chose to convert to Islam.
Woven in with these stories is my own story as a mother of one who became Muslim. Here is an opportunity to also find out about the beliefs of Islam and how it is lived out on a daily basis by its disciples.
Overview of Survey Results
The questionnaire (Appendix A) was distributed at several Muslim conferences and also mailed to those who heard about the survey and called in, or were referred by others.
Of the 350 questionnaires distributed, fifty-three women responded representing diverse regions across North America: Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Virginia, New Jersey, Indiana, Oregon, Alabama, Texas, California, Louisiana, Washington, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Arkan sas, Vermont, and Ontario.
These fifty-three respondents thought fully spent many hours answering the in-depth questions presented to them.
The educational level of the women responding ranges from high school graduate to doctorate. Fifty-three percent hold a bachelor’s degree or above.
Thirty-five percent of the women have B.A or B.S. degrees, 12 percent have M.A or M.S. degrees and 6 percent have M.D. or Ph.D. degrees. At the time they responded, seven of the women were college students working toward a higher degree.
The age range was from twenty-one to forty-seven years of age with 40 percent of the respondents in their twenties, 48 percent in their thirties, and 12 percent in their forties. The number of years the women have been Muslim ranged from six months to twenty-two years.
Those who have been Muslim six months to three years constitute 32 percent; four to six years, 24 percent; and seven to ten years, 20 percent. Twenty-four percent of the respondents have been Muslim eleven years or longer with the two longest at nineteen years and twenty-two years.
Approximately 40 percent of the women work outside the home either part-time or full-time, two women have their own in home businesses, and 12 percent are working toward college degrees. One-half are full-time homemakers with 25 percent of those choosing to home school their children of school age.
Although 75 percent of the women have children, not all of the children are of school age. Forty-seven percent send their children to public schools, 11 percent have children enrolled in non Muslim private schools, 26 percent have children in Islamic schools, and 26 percent home school.
This adds up to more than 100 percent because some families have children in two or three of the different school settings.
In observing the common practices of Islam, only two of the women in this survey are not currently wearing hijab full-time. For the most part, all are involved in daily prayers, fasting at Rama dan, and participating in ongoing study regarding Islam.
Eighteen percent indicated they eat meats other than halal (approved) meats with the exception of pork which is strictly forbidden.
Ninety percent of the women in the study are married and reflect successful and happy marriages at the time of the survey.