This weeks FCG blogger is Rachel from ‘Cornwall to Cairo’ – I was contacted by her recently and I was intrigued by her situation, especially as some of the frustrations she is currently going through are things that I have also battled with. While she persists and tries to overcome UK Immigration laws in order to be with her husband, I have chosen not to fight that battle and to have a central base from Dubai for now. She also explains the current laws on her blog for any of you who are interested in learning more about this. If you have had similar experiences or would like to comment, please share below in the comment section.
Q1. How has your perception of Muslims changed over the years?
Until I went travelling to Egypt and the Middle East, Islam wasn’t on my radar at all. Cornwall, where I grew up, isn’t known for its diversity and there are only a handful of Muslims who live there today, so before I embraced Islam I didn’t have a defined perception of Muslims. After I converted, it was a completely different story and I had very high expectations at first. I unfairly expected all Muslims to be living by these amazing moral, social and spiritual standards and almost forgot that we’re only human. This led to a lot of disappointment and to this day I still get laughed at for my optimism or naivety. Rather than lower my expectations, I’ve tried to remove them altogether, because a Muslim obviously has more dimensions than Islam alone.
Q2. How do you balance your Muslim family life with your non-Muslim family life?
Alhamdulillah, my family and friends have never raised any opposition to my choice to become a Muslim and that has made striking the balance much easier. They have been extremely accepting and I’m eternally grateful for that, because I know it must have been disconcerting. I think my decision to convert has brought my Mum and I closer. There are so many different aspects of the faith you have to take the time to explain and the emphasis on respect and love for your parents in Islam has encouraged me to try and perfect that aspect of my life. In that sense, my Muslim family life has really enhanced my non-Muslim family life. The only difficulties arise during time such as Ramadan. I was working and living at home with my parents during Ramadan for the first three years after I reverted and it’s hard when nobody else is fasting with you or understands why you’re doing it. Especially as a convert when sometimes you need support. Otherwise, trying to seamlessly blend Muslim practices into non-Muslim environments has been a very creative process.
Q3. How do you feel your cultural heritage has affected you as a person?
At the moment, it’s hard to tell. Experiencing other cultures and the feeling of being so at home in another culture in Egypt has left me wondering what role my cultural heritage plays in my life. My cultural ‘environment’ plays a bigger role than my heritage I guess, because I always feel at peace near the sea due to growing up in Cornwall. Whenever I visit my family here I feel like I’m coming back to my roots in a way, despite the fact that none of my family are originally from Cornwall! I regret that I can’t answer this question more succinctly right now, because I’m still trying to reconcile my cultural heritage with the dramatically different direction my life has taken so far.
Q4. Do you have any struggles with your decision to convert or issues with Islam and what are they?
I still struggle with fasting during Ramadan and basic aspects like that which require discipline. This past Ramadan was actually my first where I fasted properly throughout the entire month. Otherwise issues tend to come up as and when, which I’m grateful for as they often reaffirm my decision or make me look into an aspect of Islam in more depth. I struggle to wear my decision to convert on my sleeve sometimes. I feel like I’m doing my faith a disservice and need to be more outwardly ‘proud’ of it but unfortunately I find it difficult to translate introspective reflection and thought into words or public actions, but it’s something that I’m working on, in sha Allah.
Q5. Do you ever experience discrimination for your choices?
I wouldn’t necessarily call it discrimination, but having recently graduated from university I know some of my family and friends are worried that I won’t put my degree to good use and ‘just end up as a housewife’. I feel that if I wasn’t Muslim, or my husband was English, they wouldn’t voice these concerns, but if I was a male revert who married during his studies they wouldn’t be worried either so I guess it’s less to do with my choices and more to do with societal norms and stereotypes. The only other distasteful experience I’ve found is that people assume you hold certain political or social ideas just because you’re a Muslim, without taking the time to ask you first. That’s just a question of manners though, not discrimination.
Q6. Which part of your life do you feel defines you the most – being British, being a woman or being a convert.
Being a woman, because to a large extent it determines my relationship with Islam and my nationality. There’s been a lot of discussion about ‘British values’ in the UK media recently and values such as tolerance and empathy have been described as characterising Britain. These are the values which I would cherish the most, but people seem to discourage them nowadays. It’s very arbitrary. I’ve become very disaffected with the notion of being British due to the family immigration laws here too, which has put a price tag on family life and at times made me feel like a ‘traitor’ for marrying a non-EU national. My status as a convert obviously permeates every aspect of my life, but I’m the wife of a Muslim man and the daughter of non-Muslim parents, so being a woman is really the pivot of everything else.
Q7. Looking back on your experiences, since converting, would you change any of your actions?
I would be more confident and less accepting of what other Muslims say Islam is, or isn’t. Ultimately perceiving the world through Islam and striving to live by the faith is an intensely personal experience and you can only be comfortable with it once you accept that and stop trying to conform to other’s expectations. I also regret not explaining my decision or talking about it enough to non-Muslims at first, because I assumed that people weren’t really interested, but there is always something new to be learned through debate.
For the previous posts in this Finding Common Ground Series, see below: