I grew up in a decidedly non-religious home. We never went to church, save for funerals and occasionally weddings. I knew who Jesus was, but I didn’t know any of the Bible stories.
I don’t remember feeling anything about religion at all, negative or positive. My parents never spoke of it. As I got older and started attending the weddings of friends, I would joke that I would be smoted (smited? I don’t even know) as soon as I entered the church. I felt uncomfortable being there.
When I met my fiancée, who is Muslim, I was at a point in my life where I felt disconnected from myself and that I perhaps needed something more. I wanted guidance, mostly, and a reason for why bad things kept happening in life.
It was my idea to convert to Islam. He never asked me to do so, but I knew I wanted to for a variety of reasons. I definitely wanted his parents to accept me, and it would be easier if I was Muslim. But mainly I did it because I needed to believe that someone, somewhere, was looking out for me.
I guess at this point I should tell you that I am a white girl from Canada.
I feel self-imposed guilt for this fact, because it is easy for me to look “non-Muslim.” I don’t experience the ignorance and bigotry that many Muslims unfortunately do. It shocks me how much vitriol is directed towards Muslims in Canada. The many misconceptions about the religion are spouted in the comments section of any news article about a person from the Middle East (even if they are not Muslim) and spread in email forwards.
Some of these email forwards come from my family, who I am sure mean well but don’t realize how offensive they are being by forwarding the lies. My mother was hesitant when I told her about my conversion. I think she was worried I was being forced into it. I have done my best to help my mother understand Islam during my conversion process, but she is agnostic and it has been hard for her to wrap her head around it. Luckily, her main concern is that I am happy.
I am pleasantly surprised when I do tell other people that I am Muslim. Most people think it is great and already know quite a lot about the religion itself, so they will ask me about if my eating habits changed and if I still drink alcohol. The answers are yes and no, respectively.
I became a vegetarian when I was 14, so I already didn't eat pork. I do eat chicken and fish now, but I am careful to eat only halal. Making that switch was easy, as halal meats are available at most large grocery stores nowadays. The reason I became a vegetarian was because I didn’t like the way animals were treated in traditional slaughterhouses, and I find that animals killed for halal meat are treated much more humanely and with more respect than their unfortunate non-halal friends. I still won’t eat beef, though. That shit’s gross.
Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol and this worked out well for me because, frankly, I needed to stop. In my early 20s, I drank entirely too much, probably bordering on alcoholism. So I was beyond happy to cut that out of my life.
My conversion has been a great educational experience, as I’ve now read the Qur’an three times. I understand the stories now, even the ones about Jesus! I am in the process of learning to read Arabic so I can read the Qur’an the way it was intended to be read.
I also plan to take the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca that each able-bodied Muslim should take in their lifetime if they can) with my fiancée sometime in the future. I want to do these things because they give me a sense of personal well-being and accomplishment. They make me feel like I am becoming a better person, the person I want and need to be.
As a feminist, I will inevitably be questioned about how Islam treats women. From my perspective, Islam respects and reveres women. Children are taught that the most important person in the world is their mother. Women have been an integral part of Islam from the very beginning, as the prophet Mohammed greatly respected them and valued their input and contribution to society. The stuff you see about women not being able to drive, having to cover every inch of their bodies so as to not “tempt” men and other such idiocies are not a part of Islam -- they are a cultural thing.
I do not wear the hijab, but I understand why many Muslim women do. It's a choice we each need to make. I would not go to a predominantly Muslim country and not wear one. Many women choose to wear them because they feel closer to God, especially when praying. By the same token, I feel a burqa should be a woman’s right to wear IF she is not forced to do so and is wearing it under her own free will. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case in many countries where it is mandatory dress.
I never had any real concerns about being a feminist and a Muslim. I think there are many of us, but we are just not vocal enough yet. I am hoping to change this and, maybe it sounds presumptuous, but I hope that I can maybe inspire others to do the same. In the meantime, I will continue to correct the many, MANY errors incorrect assumptions about Islam and try to be a force for good in the world.
I guess that is really what Islam has brought to me -- a meaning to my life. And isn’t that what we are all searching for anyway?