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A Muslimah savors Pico de Gallo Quiche and finds an apt metaphor. She is colorful like the salad and just as fresh. Crunchy, sour, as sweet as any of the ingredients, and she kicks like a chili pepper. Taken together and in the right proportions, she is enlivening. The Muslim Woman and her hijab regularly give admirers or detractors, the chance to uncover their preconceived ideas, prejudices, and banal misconceptions. True sympathy and familiarity deconstruct allurement and misperceived weakness of a woman who can be as unpredictable as the recipes for Pico de Gallo are variable.
The curious have often asked why I converted to Islam. Their inquests often masked an ulterior motive. It is presumptuous, but in my defense and to their chagrin, the questioners departed from our encounters deflated, unenthused, or sometimes questioned why my answers are incompatible with their predetermined set of ideas. This observation applies equally to Muslims and non-Muslims.
Q: Was there a dramatic event in your life that caused you to leave Christianity?
Converting to Islam has nothing to do with the “Arab boyfriend” who “forced” me. I entered Islam as many women in the USA do; university educated, career oriented, and unattached. A retort may include a reference to the end of Chattel Slavery; moreover, no one can compel me to wear headgear in the heat of a New York City summer. Nor is a feigned or exaggerated love of another culture a rationale.
Q: Why do you want to go to one of THOSE countries? You know they BEAT their wives over there.
A: That’s right, no Christian man ever put his hand on his wife, girlfriend, lover, and mistress, in an act of violence all on the same night, because he could not get to all of them before sunrise.
Or perhaps I was in search of a new tribal alliance? In the impassioned words of a good friend, “Why did you abandon your people?” she wailed. Word of my religious swap reached her auditory nerve and in the fog of her imagination envisioned me, going to live in the desert, entering in a harem, and disappearing forever? The histrionics of this self-confessed non-believer was bemusing.
Q: Why Islam? Of all the religions? Why that one?
A: Which one do you prefer for me?
I grew up going to church, taking communion, baptizing a few babies, and doing everything any good Catholic girl and woman should do including, partying and club hopping when I came of age. The innate belief in the Qur’an being an authentic religious text which I determined to read one day was ever-present, this is in spite of no exposure to Islam and Muslims in my environment. Meeting a level-headed British Muslim, who politely answer mundane questions about his faith changed everything. When requested, he produced a copy of the Qur’an. It is incomparable gaining knowledge directly from the source and not through the filter of an obtuse agent. The decision to read the Qur’an was fraught with apprehension in part because of the many futile readings of the King’s James Christian Bible. I thought it would be difficult, but to the contrary, far easier to read and comprehend than I assumed.
Q: You are well educated; how can you be Muslim? My idea of a Muslim woman is, she rolls couscous, pops out babies, and is submissive to men.
A: Aren’t you precious? It is, precisely because I am intelligent that I chose Islam.
Education is dangerous. Islam resolves many questions that Christianity never has and probably never will for me. There is no need to debate the merits of one religion, theology, or ideology above another. Better to pursue an academic study of one’s belief system and then undertake a similar path of knowledge in another religious discipline before endeavoring into a comparative discourse. Knowledge must come from authentic, trustworthy, and unbiased sources. We enrich our lives when we learn to see beyond our myopia.
North American Vegetables Meet European Quiche
The person who fixates on the gift wrappings of race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender; notwithstanding, is unable to appreciate character, achievement, or merit. It is sad to watch a person stammer as they attempt to cover up their exposed prejudices with patronizing platitudes. “Hey, you’re not bad. You’re pretty normal.” Am I really? Aw shucks. I really did not one anyone to notice that about me.
Q: But do you still believe in GOD?!
Islam is the religion to which I subscribe and where spirituality expresses itself. It is the connection to the Divine and unexpectedly, has also become the vehicle by which I embrace the person I wanted to be before society interfered. An evolution that is overtly characterized by a hijab and quietly lived out loud through the thoughtful recognition of being my authentic self. It is the subtleness of aromatic cilantro, which enlivens and sometimes overpowers. It is appreciating humanity and a loving hope-filled recognition of our collective beauty. Islam gives greater balance and peace during the storm.