Q1. 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 I find the learning process to be the best part of my faith. Every little thing I learn has such a positive impact on my life and how I think about things; I can’t help but smile knowing every day that I made this choice and Allah chose me to be Muslim. I’ve also found that my self-esteem has went up a great deal since my conversion and I feel proud to show people and tell people that I am Muslim.
Prior to my conversion and even now, I find that I struggle the most with ignorance towards Islam and the stereotypes and hateful assumptions about Muslims. I’ve learned very well that we can’t teach everybody about our religion but when I can, I always try to make a good impression of what a true Muslim is. I’ve also found that it is sometimes difficult to control my mouth when people insult Islam or other Muslims. I’ve always been a very defensive person and that did not simply go away once I converted. But, I have learned to pick my battles and when it is appropriate to fight back (with words) and when I should just let someone’s ignorance go.
Q2. Have you ever had doubts about certain aspects of your religion and how did you deal with this?
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve had doubts but some things have been harder for me to understand than others. A great example is hijab. I didn’t quite understand, at first, the importance in covering the body and being modest. Making the decision to wear hijab was difficult because I knew that this would instantly tell people I was Muslim. I was fearful that people would treat me badly out in public should I cover. I was honestly afraid I would be attacked, spat on or even verbally accosted in the street because there is a sizable military presence here; but, none of these things have ever happened to me. To combat my fear of covering I told myself I would ease into it so one week prior to my Shahada I began covering my hair. I started slowly by covering it with a turban style scarf, but still showing my neck. The next day, I used a turtleneck to cover my neck with the turban style scarf and then two days later I put on full hijab. Alhamdulilah I received many positive comments about my hair covering so this definitely helped me to feel comfortable right away with covering.
Q3. What advice do you have for new Muslims or those considering reverting to Islam?
Research! Just like any other thing we do in life like buying a car, a home, or even random shopping on the internet.. research, research, research. All this will ever do is help you! Also, ONLY convert/revert for yourself. Do not do this for anyone else as you WILL find later down the road that you will be bitter towards the person you feel “made you” or “tricked” you into converting. From all my research, the women who have done this (and even men) have always ended up with bad experiences and never speak kindly of Islam afterwards. They blame that individual and sadly misinterpret Islam as a whole. Lastly, understand that you will not be the “perfect” Muslim in one day. None of us is perfect, nor will we ever be. Everyone has faults and everyone lives their life differently regardless of practicing the same religion. Just know that you are on a path to the truth and the right way of life and always have good intentions towards Allah and you will be fine.
Q4. As a woman, what do you feel about the discrimination that still goes on in so many parts of the world?
Unfortunately, this is kind of a hot button topic for me. I find that discrimination exists everywhere and in all forms. Sadly, due to the unfortunate incidents in other countries that are happening to women, people just build this assumption that this is how women are treated in Islam all together. An example I hear time and time again is that at any given moment your husband can beat you relentlessly, or stone you to death. When people bring this up to me, I explain to them that these are very extreme cases and just like things happening in the US, or other non-Muslim countries, such as one murdering their wife and kids…bad things happen everywhere and you can’t base those things on religion itself. A fair example is that not all Christians murder their wives/husbands and children, or open fire in a movie theater killing multiple people, or molest children…But, truth be told, sometimes there are just bad people out there but that doesn’t mean an entire group of people are the same way.
Q5. How does your cultural heritage affect you as a person?
I don’t think my cultural heritage is a very present or active part of my life. Since I am American, I have a lot of mixed heritage including Czech, Italian and Welsh and not one portion of it is more present than others. I do find some interest in figuring out my full cultural background as there are some gaps in it as my mother was adopted.
Q6. Have you ever felt discriminated against because of your choices?
Absolutely. However, I take this discrimination a lot less seriously than I did before. It took nearly the first year of being Muslim for me to realize that I don’t need to care what others think of me or my choices. This is my life and these are MY choices, not theirs. At the end of the day, they shouldn’t care about my choice and I shouldn’t care about theirs because honestly, I don’t have enough time in my day to worry about everybody else’s choices.
Q7. What are your aims as a modern Muslim?
I want to be able to teach those who are part of my life, who are ill informed of what Islam really is, that my religion is peaceful and that we are a much more accepting group of people then they could ever imagine. Also, I like being able to show people that just because I am Muslim doesn’t mean I’ve changed EVERYTHING about myself and given up things I had already started prior to my conversion. For example, Muslim women are in the workforce, we don’t just stay at home to raise kids. You’d be surprised; you’ll find us everywhere, even Burger King. Also, I like to show people that becoming Muslim doesn’t mean your closet instantly becomes full of only niqaabs or burkas (I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this, I am just not at the point where I could transition myself so much in such a short amount of time but I hope one day inshaAllah I will be brave enough to fully cover). And, we Muslim women are fashionable; we just choose to wrap ourselves a little differently.
Q8. What impression of Islam do you think most non-Muslims have and how can we change this?
I think most have a negative impression of Islam, whether by lack of exposure or by what the media is feeding people. Ever since September 11 (and probably before but not so intensely) the media has portrayed your everyday Muslim as a hijacker that crashes airplanes into buildings and wants all Americans dead. I think this negative impression really just comes down to people’s inability to look outside the box and learn about things foreign to them and not be judgmental on topics they know nothing about. Many people say they know about Islam and how horrible it is, but these are the people who have no true information about our religion and base their prejudices on what they “think” they know.
Q9. What are your views on marriage and what would you like for your future?
I don’t think my view of marriage prior to Islam was very serious. I suppose this was based on growing up in a culture where people get married on tv for ratings or money and where it’s not uncommon for a person’s parents, friends or other family members to have been married multiple times. With my journey to Islam I was able to develop a better understanding of how serious and precious marriage really is. I have also found that more time is invested in this process, which I believe is right. You don’t just wake up one day and say “I’m going to get married.” You take time to really get to know a person, you make sure that they are suitable for you, that they’ll bring you closer to Allah and not push you away. Also, that they want to care for you and be by your side and help support you. I’m married now and find that I have more respect for my husband than I ever dreamed possible and I feel more secure in my relationship with him. Prior to becoming Muslim I had been married once before and divorced and looking back we had been married for all the wrong reasons. This made it feel as though our union was not real.
Q10. Which part of your past impacted you the most on your journey to finding Islam?
I think living life with no general direction or purpose. I don’t blame anyone for those feelings besides myself. Maybe I didn’t apply myself enough or put forth enough effort in areas of my life, but no matter what I did I felt like there had to be more to life than this…there just had to be. Alhamdulilah I was right, there is. Living your life every day to please your creator, that is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Knowing that you were chosen over others, that Allah wanted you to really live your life and experience blessings you couldn’t have imagined before. Being able to live every day and be grateful for even the smallest things, this has turned my life around tremendously. Finding comfort in things I never thought I would, like prayer. Prior to Islam, I only prayed when I wanted something, now I am excited to fulfill my prayers every day.
You can follow today’s guest interviewee on Instagram @mahmoudjuju and click for her blog here
For the previous posts in this Finding Common Ground Series, see below: