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
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 fiancés. 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?