"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Muslim Women in America

I'm reading a book I found at the library last week published in 2006. The Face Behind the Veil by Donna Gehrke-White is a collection of stories of fifty Muslim women in America. Some grew up in America as second-generation immigrants while others are converts who have ancestry here going way back. Others came seeking asylum from war-torn areas or even abusive husbands.  The book includes ten stories for each of the five groups:   The New Traditionalists, The Blenders, The Converts, The Persecuted and The Changers.

Most of the stories are quite inspiring, and so far I've especially enjoyed the Blenders' stories.  One lady in particular is fighting multiple sclerosis yet she has such a wonderful attitude. Plus she grew up in an area of Florida where her family was the only Muslim family so her best friends in the public school were evangelical Christians.  Like herself, they didn't drink, do drugs, dressed modestly and so forth.   She said she had a lot in common with them and the reason this resonated with me is because Samer and I came to these same conclusions early on into our friendship.  And, yes, I know not all evangelicals are like me nor are all Muslims like Samer. It was just a very broad generalization we made ages ago that I liked seeing reflected in a small way in this book by one of the ladies who grew up among more conservative Christians.

The Converts' stories were of great interest especially their reasons for converting to Islam. Granted these were only ten women out of many, many more, but I was struck that nearly every single one of them came from broken (divorced parents) or abusive families.  I think only one wasn't and her father died when she was young.  Maybe that was just a weird coincidence, but it did stick in my mind!  At least two of the women mentioned Catholicism, namely one saw her daughter sing to the Virgin Mary in a children's program and that struck her as idolatry. Another mentioned kneeling in front of a statue of Mary and idolatry came to mind again.  In the case of Cathy, she grew up in a nonreligious family, but wanted her children to have a faith.  Since some in her extended family were Catholics, she tried the Catholic church first, but the people at this particular church were not very welcoming or friendly and she was desiring more of a faith community which she found among the Muslims.  Also she was angered and turned off by the Catholic church's failure to address the sex abuse scandals and condemn them right away. She was the one whose daughter sang to the statue of Mary during a program.

Two of the women grew up in the Bible Belt South -- Louisiana and Mississippi. One was Japanese American and the other African American. They grew up in conservative churches. The black lady's father (divorced from her mother) was a Baptist preacher.  She didn't like the racism that she thought the churches supported back then and this made her disillusioned with Christianity.  She eventually joined the Nation of Islam which still later mellowed into her following a more orthodox version of Islam.  For the lady of Japanese ancestry, she was saddened by her church's new bus policy when they decided they would no longer pick up black children for church services.  A few ladies mentioned growing up in faiths where leaders or grandmothers said "just accept it by faith and don't ask questions." This was a turn off to those who wanted answers to their questions.

For these women and others mentioned, their reasons for accepting Islam included:

Islam promotes strong families
helped them during difficult lives
promotes education
makes more sense to them than the Holy Trinity
wanted a faith more accepting of all (important for those who thought Christianity was racist)
promotes women's rights
Islam was "more liberating to them"
"enriches their lives"
"gives answers about diversity and human rights"
they were able to "keep their birthright" meaning their maiden names when marrying

Not everything was good. Many did not like how some cultures made women inferior, but they insisted this was not Islam.  Also a couple had problems with "underground polygamy" in the US where "brothers" would take advantage of their newness to the faith, try to marry them only for them to later find out these brothers already had wives. Also one convert's daughter who grew up Muslim decided to marry early. She was just six days past 16 when she married an Egyptian professor twice her age. He later took her with him to Egypt where the marriage soured within a year or two.  She had to fight to keep her child with her, but the judge in South Dakota ruled in her husband's favor (since he was more educated and able to provide for the child) so her daughter was taken back to Egypt with him.  Other Muslim women reported abusive husbands and/or fianc├ęs. One lady fled to the US to escape a first cousin whom she met later in life, agreed to marry and then realized he found nothing wrong with hitting her - repeatedly!

Overall though the stories are positive and I've enjoyed getting to better know a few of the Muslim women sharing the United States with me.

I've read 191 pages and have 102 pages to go, but I wanted to recall some of what I read...thus, this post.

Have any of you read this book? It seems maybe Amber did now that I think of it. Did you? Aha, yes, I found your post about it.  I knew this seemed familiar somehow!  Read Amber's post if you want a better description of the five "types" of Muslimah in this book. She did a good job of explaining that and sharing a few things from the book that stood out to her.

Thoughts?  Questions, comments?


Kind Heart said...

sounds like an interesting book, maybe I will borrow it, it is sad that domestic violence now is troubling the world,even when God wanted us to have peace and rest to each other in love and mercy in marriages and families and I take the opportunity to say that you will not find a better examples about the treatment of women than what the prophet Muhammad did and here is a compilation of what I know
you will not find better than :

than the man who used to stand up when his daughter entered to and he was among his companions and greet her, kiss her and sit her down besides him
the man who said that your best friend should be: "Your mother"and your mother and Your mother" "your mother"and then "Your father".
than the man who carried his wife to to watch games so long he got tired
than the man who bent his knee so his wife can ride up on the camel
the man who said about his wife "Verily, I was filled with love for her."
the man who said about his wife "Take one half of your religion from this reddish young lady"
the man that his servant said "I saw the Prophet (peace be upon him), making for her a kind of cushion with his cloak behind him (on his camel). He then sat beside his camel and put his knee for her to put her foot on, in order to ride (on the camel).

the man who said treat women kindly and siad about them: be careful about the glass vessels
than the man who when everyone ran away in battle he shouted "come back" I'm the prophet there is no doubt about me"
the man that was loved so much women took swords to protect him in battle when he was left alone (Nasiba, daughter of Kaab)
the man that was loved so much his companions circle around him to protect him in Uhud battle
The man who when a girl got married agains her will by her father she came to see him and he said :your father have no right to make you marry agains your will and the marriage is invalid"
The man that taught that women can inherit
the man who said in his last sermon "Women have rights over you and you have rights over them"

the man whom after his wife died he used to visit her friends and the people she loved and send them gifts

The man whom his worst enemy Abu Sufian said : "I know very well that he is really a prophet" ‘I know that he is truly a Prophet. Nevertheless, we have so far competed with the Hashimites in everything. They have been boasting of providing food and water to the pilgrims. Now, if they begin to boast of having a Prophet, I will not be able to endure it at all.’

than man who said The "If one of you loves his brother, he should tell him that he loves him."

the man whom God said about "in truth they deny not you, but it is the signs of God that the evildoers condemn"

God's Last messenger
Prophet Muahmmed

Kind Heart said...

and here Sweet Sussane is a well known story about how the prophet treated his daughter:

Fatemah the prophet's daughter When the Prophet saw her approaching, he would welcome her, stand up and kiss her, take her by the hand and sit her down in the place where he was sitting."

When the Prophet was at home or in public and his daughter came to
him or entered the room, he would stand up and greet her, publicly
showing her great respect and tenderness. The Prophet
would kiss his daughter, talk to her, confide in her, and have her sit by his
side, One of the people setting, al-Aqra ibn Habis, expressed his amusement and said: "I have ten
children and I have never kissed any one of them!"

The Prophet answered:
"He who is not generous [loving, benevolent], God is not generous [loving,benevolent] to him."

i just wish i had a daughter that would be the sweetest thing

all the best for you,

Kind Heart said...

oh I would love to know what does the bible teach concerning women and an example of how Jesus treated women? and if women in Christianity can inherit, please enlighten me about that.

Amber said...


I remember this book. I really found the stories very interesting. There was the one...hang on. *leans over to grab the book off her shelf* The doctor in Chapter 9, Dr. Amena Haq is from around here! She lives and works in Broward County, which is only about 3 hours away. And she helped organize relief efforts for my home town when we got run over by Hurricane Charley. :)

Suroor said...

Interesting book it seems. I'm happy you are enjoying it!

Wafa' said...

seems like an interesting one :)

( A few ladies mentioned growing up in faiths where leaders or grandmothers said "just accept it by faith and don't ask questions." This was a turn off to those who wanted answers to their questions.) most times i think that converts are way better in learning about Islam than the rest of us born Muslim, because that's what we are most have been taught. This is not a Christian thing, it seems like in every religion and if religion is a lover then this is a truly turn off in him/her.

adding the book to my list, thanks a lot dear for introducing us to good readings.

lat said...

Thanks for sharing this with us.I sort of stopped borrowing stories of personal testimonies.It's either the same one way or the other.But I've enjoyed how you've simplified it :)

Susanne said...

Kind Heart, thanks for explaining Muhammad's good treatment of women. I remember hearing once that he loved women and perfume. :)

Maybe I'll do a separate post sometime about your question concerning Jesus so stay tuned.

Thanks for your comments. Hopefully you will have a daughter one day. :)

Susanne said...

Amber, how cool! I went back and reread her story since you mentioned her living so close to you. It made it even neater to me. :) Yeah, it's a good book.

Suroor, you'd enjoy the Muslim feminism aspect of the book, I'm sure. :)

Wafa', thanks for what you added. Maybe most 'born Muslims' don't think to ask all the questions that converts do. That makes some sense. I think you'd enjoy this book. It's easy to read and has some inspiring stories.

Lat, thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the post.

Thank you all for your comments! :)

Anonymous said...

Can you believe this book sits on my shelf UNREAD. It has been there for over a year. Not only is this rare--a book unread on my shelf--but now I am sad that I never got passed my thoughts about it. I think I actually forgot that I read the inside of the book to see what it was about. I guess over time I just looked it over continuously because I forgot and figured it was another Ayan H-whatever her name is type of book. Now I will go get it and start reading it. Thank you so much for this post.

I really can't believe this lol...I swear I got up and went into the other room mid paragraph because I remember seeing that title and sure enough it was there hahahaha. And sure enough I did forget was it was about. Funny. Man.

Susanne said...

Shell, glad I can inspire you to read a book you have already! :-D I think you'll enjoy it. It's very uplifting. :)

observant observer said...

Susan, I'm Catholic, so I know very much the accusation of the catholics worshiping Mary...LOL, no matter how much has been said that we are not worshiping her, just venerate her and respect her of what she had done and had participated actively in her life being the parent of Jesus, seems still many don't try to understand. After all the catholics just doing what the 10 commandments instruct us to do, that is to respect our parents.

But that is not the focus of the book, I know. Many people will be going each other directions, one converts to the other and vice versa and they must all have their reasons.

The thing is I've read so many things about Islam not treating the women well, even the prophet of Islam himself had been accused of treating women too much for his own advantage (sorry for the muslims here, but that's what I read). The good things always come with the bad things, and I just don't know why things are unreleased or accepted or given the rightful reasons for the bad parts for those actions. Well, for sure I know the level of the cool headed who participated in this blog here, that no one will argue with temper for goodness sake....LOL.

Anyway, searching is always the best thing to do. The questions will always be: do I take the good things only and leave the bad parts as something which is optional? Religion is only man made, it comes in packages.

So far I've also questions in my mind about Christianity, mostly with how my church has been dealing with many issues, but I stay firmed that the average issues of the skin deep matters have been the only problems brought and charged by the mere average human, when the fact is, with Jesus, all the questions have been answered, we just still use our egos to justify ourselves.

Susanne said...

Observant Observer, thanks for your comment. For sure I could have countered many of the reasons given in this book for converting, but I chose to just write the post without my slant. :) But I'm glad you spoke up about the Catholic church thing. Whenever I see Catholics or Baptists or Evangelicals or others behaving badly, I just remember we aren't supposed to look to men and women as our heroes. When I look at Jesus I see the perfectly lived life and I am OK with following HIM...even if the ones who say they are following him disappoint, he doesn't.

I appreciate your comment.

Anonymous said...

Oh Susanne, I just picked up that book and I can't even get passed the forward--that is how upset I am.

First, whoever this person is does not have the slightest clue about what she is talking about. I mean, quoting Ahadiths without actual reference as to which particular one she is quoting from--with the exception of one and as a Muslim convert of nearly 6 years I have NEVER heard of this person. This is a classic, "lets use this unauthentic hadith to prove our point" which of course, amplifies their point.
Then using verses from the Quran to state their point--"the Quran says that women are playthings?" Come on! Really? If this is the style in which this person wishes to convey their message, then they should have been wiser when quoting Bible verses to counter them. The one where it says "women are weaker" could be misconstrued or misunderstood by someone not familiar with the meaning behind that verse as derogatory. Basically, the SAME exact message it is saying that is sent across from the Quran. Women=less than. Women=weak. Women=ignorant. You get my point.

I don't want to start anything and I MAY continue to read it but I think perhaps this is why this book has been sitting on my shelf unread for so long. Just the forward itself proves what I said in my previous comment--my initial thoughts on what the book might be about.

I will also say that I understand what the author may be trying to do here--or at least guess since I have only read the forward--and I think that in order for a person to bring about any sort of change or 'convert'if you will, a Muslim into a Christian, they should first educate themselves a great deal. Know what WE think and how WE view those verses they use as examples or points of proof. Also, they should educate themselves on the authenticity factor of a hadith BEFORE they go around quoting them--and DEFINITELY state by whom the hadith is said to be from. This is VERY important--as you already know from all the research you yourself have done. I think that a person such as yourself would be better equipped to write such a book given your knowledge of Islam, the Quran, and us Muslims. Just my opinion.

So yeah...I'm a little upset lol and NO, I am NOT a plaything. I think my husband can attest to the fact that I am the most difficult 'crop' to manage lol

Lots of love as always

Susanne said...

Shell, I'm sorry you are upset. I really don't remember that part of the book, but then I read the forward many days ago now. I would reread it, but I returned the book just today! Blah! Are we talking about the same book? I don't remember it being that offensive, but I read it as a Christian so those things you mentioned may just not have stuck out in my mind. Keep reading the talks about the individual Muslims (NOT the author) and maybe it will get better. Let me know! I don't want you upset! :)


Amber said...

S.A. & Susanne,

I'm going to butt in here and say that I think you're talking about different books. I didn't remember any hadith being quoted in 'The Face Behind the Veil' by Donna Gehrke-White in the forward or anywhere else, and since I own it I just picked it up to look. I skimmed and there was nothing. It's a very 'Muslim positive' book. However, there is another book with a similar title, 'Voices Behind the Veil' by Ergun Mehmet Caner which is not positive towards Muslims. And that forward does reference ahadith, including the one about wives being playthings. Caner's work is heavily criticised by both Muslims and non-Muslims. He is very anti-Muslim.

Anonymous said...

Okay, so sometimes we can't spell...or mix up our words...but, ... :P

Anonymous said...

Annnnd...SOMETIMES, we can't read either lol.

Okay, thank you so much Amber because it IS a different book? Voices behind the Veil is the one I have. I guess I made the mistake when reading the two? Oh well...no worries. I wasn't mad at you anyway--of course I could never be--was just upset over the forward.

And that is spelled differently in the book which is why I put the above comment. lol. Just saying lol

I feel dumb. SO WEAK. So typical Muslim of me huh?--according to that fw at least hehehe. Okay, so now I am joking and being sarcastic. I will go...I'll let you know if I read more and my thoughts...AND if I DO have a different book--gonna double check after this--I'll read this one and let you know my thoughts. :D

Anonymous said...

Double checked Amber's comments and YES, I DID read right. And yes it IS the wrong book. Just wanted to make sure..lol

Thanks again Amber! :)

Anonymous said...

One more thing then I'll stop lol

I didn't know that about the book Amber, that is very informative. THANK YOU very much because now I can be in a specific mindframe when reading it. I was very excited after reading the initial post about the book Susanne read and was expecting something totally different. You can imagine my surprise with the opening.

Now I'll read it for the sake of just reading. Sometimes I like to know what others think--but this time I won't be so upset and caught off guard. I usually know when I am reading at book that doesn't paint Muslims in a positive light--that way I can prepare myself--and this time had no clue.

Susanne said...

Ah, good ol' Amber to the rescue! *phew*

I was really shocked, Shell, when you posted earlier because I totally got pro-Muslim vibes from the book I mentioned here. :-D But now I know we are talking about two different books. Ha! Good to know. Yes, let us know about the one you are reading if you care to finish it. Hehehe.


Thanks, Amber!

Amber said...

Shell & Susanne,

No problem! Glad to have helped clear that one up. I just happen to own both books anyway (control your shock that I just happen to have books...) so it was easy enough to check.

I'd love to hear what you think of the book if you do wind up reading it, Shell. I picked it up years ago when I first started learning about Islam and just never got around to reading it. Which is good since I found out about the authors negative views.