A rather unusual story was sent my way when I was contacted by a revert sister named Kristin. Formerly of the US Army and a revert to Islam, she was keen to tell her story of a Muslimah ‘out of place’. Read her bio and learn more about her story through her interview.
I was born and raised as a Christian. When I was 21 I joined the Army, and at 23 they sent me to Iraq. It was during my deployment that I was first introduced to Islam. From the minute that I heard the Adhan over the loud speaker I was fascinated.
I started reading about Islam on my own. One of my jobs while in Iraq was a prison guard, and one of the Iraqi interpreters that worked there would also teach me some Arabic and about Islam. After I came back from Iraq I got busy with life and got distracted for a minute. I was trying to adjust to life back home after being at war and my thoughts were scattered, but Islam was always on my mind and had already found its way into my heart. So at 27 I started college and one of the classes was world religions. One of the assignments was to visit a place of worship. I used this as an excuse to go visit a masjid. I went for my first visit but was extremely overwhelmed. I didn’t know the language, I didn’t know the customs, I felt really out of place (which I still struggle with sometimes).
However fast forward to 2012. I was 29, my boyfriend at the time had been raised in a Muslim family that had stopped practicing when he was very young. We talked about it for quite some time, and one day we decided to take our shahada together. So for the past two years we have both trying to learn and better ourselves as Muslims, but I know that will be a life long journey.
I often feel like a child without a home. My family does not understand why I have reverted to Islam. Many of my friends are from the Army which is definitely in general an anti Islamic sub culture. I also don’t feel fully accepted by the Muslim community. I am not a full time hijabi, I am covered in tattoos, I am extremely liberal, I just don’t fit any particular mold. I am this 31 year old free spirited, wild heart, white Muslimah engaged to a black man. I work in construction and I am finishing up my bachelors degree in social work. I have no kids but four pitbulls. I love life, I love people, I love Islam, and slowly but surely I am finding my way.
1. As a new Muslim what is the thing you like most about your faith and what is the thing you struggle most with?
As a new Muslim the thing that I like most about my faith is the guidance. Living in this day and age, and especially surrounded by current American culture, it is easy to lose track of right and wrong and what our priorities should be. Islam has helped me, and is continuing to help guide me back on track, remind me what type of person I should be, what should be priorities in my life. Even just getting in the habit of being thankful for everything. It is so easy to take things for granted. I love that I am learning to recognize the blessing in everything…even the smallest of things. My outlook on things is changing. I use to easily get caught up in focusing on the negative, now I can see a blessing in everything. I use to be at work exhausted and stressed out, now I may be at work tired, but I feel so thankful for my job, for my paycheck, and that at the end of my workday I have a comfortable bed to go sleep in. Alhamdulillah for everything. My entire outlook on life is changing and I love it.
The thing that I struggle most with right now I would say is the wearing of the hijab, and I say that for a couple of reasons. The biggest reason being that I just don’t feel comfortable with it yet. I live in an area where stepping outside of my home with my hair covered would no doubt draw a huge amount of attention to myself. I never see hijabis around my area. Now I know that this is not a good reason, but I have to be honest, I am just too shy right now. I would rather dress modestly and throw my hair in a bun and fly under the radar than wear a hijab and have everybody watching me. I feel like by wearing hijab, especially in a place where people don’t know much about Islam or may have some negative preconceived notions about Islam, if I am out and about wearing hijab I need to be the best of example, because I may influence how people feel about Islam. I would never want people to see my faults and attribute them to Islam because of me. And last but not least, I am not very good at wearing hijab.I have spent countless hours in my bathroom mirror trying to follow YouTube tutorials for all the hijab styles and I just cannot seem to get it together. I always end up looking crazy, or lopsided, or completely different from how the girl in the tutorial looks. I don’t know what I am doing wrong. I have one very basic style down, and that should be all I should need, but one day I hope to be a little craftier with my ability to successfully try different styles.
2. Have you ever had doubts about certain aspects of your religion and how did you deal with this?
I would not say that I have had doubts, however there is one topic that I have struggled with in particular. I come from a very liberal background. I have some family members and close friends that are openly homosexual. I have never thought that anything was wrong with homosexuality. The homosexuals that I know are great, kind, good people that just happen to be attracted to people of the same sex. I did not think much about my personal views on homosexuality when I reverted to Islam. However, after I shared with some people that I reverted to Islam, I could tell that they immediately had a kind of shocked or disappointed reaction. I kind of asked why they looked disappointed, and their response was that when they think of organized religion that they think of a lot of judgment. After that conversation it made me want to find out exactly what Islam had to say about homosexuality. I asked a few Muslims that I knew and they responded almost hatefully. They went off on tangents about how wrong it was and that they hated homosexuals. I am now in the process of reading about it myself, because even if Islam teaches that homosexuality is wrong, I don’t want to hate anyone. However I know that sometimes people can be misguided, so for a topic like this I have decided to do the research myself and I am in the process of doing that now.
3. What advice do you have for new Muslims or those considering reverting to Islam?
My advice for new Muslims and those considering reverting to Islam would be to understand that you do not need to abandon everything about your life prior to reverting to Islam in order to be a good Muslim. Just be who you are. I know for me the transition was overwhelming at first. I not only have a new faith but I am starting to dress differently, I am starting to learn a new language, I am observing new Holidays and new rituals, but I am still me. I can still be silly and goofy and hang out with my Christian friends and family. I should not feel the need to hide my identity as a Muslim to anyone. People who truly love me will accept me regardless, even if they do not understand. And I should not feel the need to be exactly like other Muslims that I meet. We are all unique. We all have our own stories, our own backgrounds. It is important to find a way to embrace your whole self.
4. As a woman, what do you feel about the discrimination that still goes on in so many parts of the world?
Many things that go on all over the world make me very sad. Women are subjected to all kinds of discrimination from not being able to drive in Saudi Arabia, to genital mutilation in Africa, to being forced to cover while in certain countries while being banned to cover in other countries, to the complete over sexualization of women here in America. I think that it is very important not to mistake culture for religion. Yes, they are intertwined but they are not interchangeable. Just because something is common practice in a culture or socially acceptable does not make it right. I believe that women should have the freedom of choice just as much as men. I believe that women are strong, intelligent, powerful creatures that have so much to offer and should not be limited. Islam teaches us about Aisha, Khadijah, Sumaya, and many more amazing women. I look at Malala who is such an inspiration to me. I am twice her age and hope to one day be half as brave as her. Women have already contributed so much and we have so much more to offer the world. I pray we all continue to find our voices.
5. How does your cultural heritage affect you as a person?
Like many Americans my ethnic background is like a melting pot. I am mostly polish and Irish, but I am also German, Welsh, and Native American. I was not raised with many old family traditions or customs. I grew up the typical Midwestern all American kid. However, I believe that every single experience helps mold us into who we are. American culture exposes us to so many different kinds of people and ways of life that I am extremely open minded. I am fascinated by how all of us are so different but still can find things in common. So I guess my cultural heritage inspired a great love and respect and openness towards all people. I do not judge anyone. Even if their lifestyle choices are not for me, I respect everyone. I think that is so important.
and there will be more from Kristin over the next few days…..