How as a fierce feminist I became a Muslim in the age of Islamophobia
It all began last summer when I decided, in solidarity with my Muslim friends, to fast during Ramadan. They had celebrated Christmas with me, so why not share in their festivities as well? I had been friends with many Muslims for years and found that the community was kind, giving and helpful. I wanted to understand them a bit better, so whilst fasting I read the Quran.
I was brought up more or less an atheist. Most people in my family don’t believe in God and when I started showing signs of being more ‘spiritual’ in my teen years, my family laughed it off as if it was a passing phase. I went to a Catholic school, which put me off religion with its very strict, old-fashioned manner of teaching, and by the time I was in my 20’s, I had more or less come to the conclusion that life without religion was better than life with it.
Was this the same religion I had seen so often in the news, linked with terrorism and oppression of women?
But when, through my voluntary work, I began to meet more and more Muslims. I started to question why they seemed more at peace with themselves and more open to helping others than other people I had met. I found in many of them a kind of selflessness and sense of community that I thought in our fast-paced, modern world didn’t exist anymore.
Fasting in the middle of summer in Northern Europe turned out to be more difficult than I expected, but there was a certain feeling of satisfaction when it came to gathering in the evening for Iftar. Every day I read the Quran, discussed it with friends and delved deeper into the history of the life of the Prophet (pbuh), his amazingly strong and powerful wives Khadija and Aisha, and his beloved daughter Fatima.
Was this the same religion I had seen so often in the news, linked with terrorism and oppression of women? The message I found in Islam was one of peace and equality. That there existed a man in the 6th Century who freed slaves, rejoiced as much in having daughters as in having sons, and announced in his last speech that everyone was equal, regardless of race or where they came from, was incredible to me.
I am a fierce feminist, so I never believed that Islam would be the religion for me. But reading the story of Khadija and understanding why the Quran placed rules in Islam for women – not to oppress them, but to protect them – made me realise that Islam was one of the first feminist messages in our world.
Through fasting and through reading I became closer to Allah (swt), closer to the Prophet’s (pbuh) message and closer to converting.
I wanted to celebrate my new life, and everyone around me remarked how happy I seemed, how at peace I was with myself. But they also noticed other things that had changed. I had stopped drinking, and my non-Muslim friends saw this as a warning sign. “You’re not becoming a Muslim are you?”, one remarked. Another begged me not to convert, without me even hinting that I was, “please don’t do it, it would be a shame for the world to lose you. They’ll stop you being the powerful woman you are.” I shrugged off the remarks, though I would sometimes try to defend Islam, I realised it was falling on deaf ears, so I just laughed it off.
I began to tell my Muslim friends about this, who were happy but apprehensive, making sure I knew what I was getting into. Inevitably conversation turned to how I would dress, in my life and during prayer. Such a personal choice became a running theme, and I felt that for the rest of my life I would have to defend my decision to not wear a Hijab. Sadly, as a woman in this world, it seems we will forever be defending our choice of clothing, whether we choose to cover or not.
The night I converted, I did it surrounded by people close to me. They were all Muslims and it was a special moment for us all. I felt happiness, but at the same time a terrible sadness, as I was hiding one of the most special moments of my life from some of the closest people to me.
It is a difficult feeling, to rejoice in Allah (swt) and the guidance we have been given to protect our fellow human beings, our animals and our Earth, whilst also realising that my decision may cost me my friendships, my family and even my job. I go forward as a new Muslim in this increasingly intolerant world with trepidation. To many Muslims who don’t know me, I am just another Western woman. Many non-Muslims who don’t know that I am a Muslim, will assume that if I don’t hate Islam, then I at least view it with suspicion. I am trapped, alone in the middle with only my faith in Allah (swt) to guide me.
If the fact that I am a Muslim gets out, I wonder if I will be refused entry into Trump’s America. I wonder if I will be targeted by right-wing groups in Europe. And I wonder how long I can stay silent in the face of so much persecution.
I can only be sure of one thing – by following Islam I am a happier, less selfish person, and if people discover my Islam, I hope that this is what they will see as well.