Welcome to my blog!

This blog is an honest look at what life is like for this particular American convert to Islam. We're taught in Islam to cover our sins, to not air them, for fear of lessening the severity of sinning. In this blog, I may relate past indiscretions from time to time. This isn't to make light of them, but in the interest of educating Muslims and non-Muslims alike as to the realities of life as an American convert, I present my mistakes honestly. I make no excuses for them, nor do I claim that they were okay to make. I am not perfect, and I make no pretenses as to that. If others can learn from my past, know that Islam, and religion in general, is open for people no matter what mistakes they've made, then I will gladly air my sins when needed.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The West is not the Devil, and most Muslims don't think that. So shut up.

I was born in the United States; Ogden, Utah, to be precise.  My mother was born in Utah.  Her parents were born in Utah.  My father and his family were born and raised in Humboldt County, in Northern California.  The earliest evidence of my family being in the US is that I know that my Dad's side got here during the mid-1800's; I do know that I'm related to both Confederate General and President Taylor.  My ancestry is German, French, English mutt, and maybe a bit Swiss.  I'm as Caucasian as they get.

I was raised in the small Northern Californian town of Fortuna.  Except for living in Sacramento for 7th, half of 8th, and all of 9th grade, I lived in Fortuna until I graduated high school.  Fortuna is small, and boring --- dear God, is it boring.  The nearest entertainment, if it could be called that, is in Eureka, a 20-minute car drive up Highway 101 (yes, the Eureka that's on California's state seal).  Yeah, we have a theatre in Fortuna.  It had one whole screen until about ten years ago, maybe a little earlier.  Then it got a whopping three screens.  We got our fourth traffic light no later than 2001, the year before I graduated high school.

Fortuna has several yearly festivals.  There's the AutoRamma, a showcase of old cars down Main Street.  There's the Clendenen's Apple Harvest Festival, a town-wide arts, crafts, and, yes, apple festiva that was started by the Clendenen family, who still own and operate Clendenen's Cider Works --- and they make the best freaking apple cider I've ever tasted.  Apple Harvest has hay rides throughout town to get people between the Main Street vendors, Clendenen's, the Safeway shopping centre, and Rohner Park.

We have an annual rodeo, a weekly farmer's market, a Mediterranean climate, and a population of 10,497 as of the 2000 Census.  Mom used to leave her car completely unlocked, as well as the front door, because people just didn't waltz off with things that weren't theirs.  We have redwood trees all over the place, and Rohner Park is nestled up against some mountains with great hiking.  Cougars still come into town every so often.

I hated Fortuna whilst growing up; I wasn't popular at school, was always bored, and so on.  But I was also the first to admit that someday, I'd want to come back and live there, maybe raise a family there.  It's painful to go back, now; so much has changed (when did we get a Starbuck's and a Walgreen's?), all my friends have moved on with their lives (and some have even left town), but so much has stayed the same.  It's eerie, what growing up and spending time away from "home" does.  And yes, I still consider Fortuna as my "home."  I may hate the conservative rednecks that live there, I may shudder at the year I spent trapped in the "Victorian village" of Ferndale (visit, but never live there), but still ... it's home, and I miss it.  I'm going up for Apple Harvest this October, in fact.

I wasn't raised with religion --- Mom left that up to us, mentioning once that she wished she had raised us three kids with religion) --- but I was always very spiritual.  I never understood Christianity, but I was in love with paganism, and developed a very strong sense of justice, of right and wrong.  Mom also commented once that she didn't know where I got my social and political views, to which I gave credit to the numerous fantasy books I read, where the good guys (mainly elves, at that point) always stood up for what was right, even if it was a tough decision, where what was right and what was wrong was very clear.  I also give credit, now, to Mom herself.  Even without any specific morality lessons, the way she acted and lived provided me with guidance.

I said the Pledge of Allegiance in school, up through the 7th grade, when I stopped because I disagreed with students who may believe otherwise having to say "under God."  So rather than make a fuss, I stood there quietly.  If I did it now, I would say the Pledge, but would stick with the original version --- "I pledge allegiance to the United States of America, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Liberty and justice for all ... Somewhere along the way, that was ingrained into my soul.  Despite being one of the least popular kids in school, I still stuck up for others, still jumped on bandwagons when I perceived an injustice.  I wore Goth make-up to school to protest the administration banning it.  I went to the same administration when a boy kept insulting me and yelling out unsavoury things about my sexuality, and didn't let up on them until they told him to knock it off or they'd call the police.  I called Child Protective Services when my friend told me that her father was beating her, and urged another friend to get help when her home life took a turn for the worse, as well.  At work, I stay for other people, I come in on my days off, I buss everyone's tables and run their food  when I have the time ... My managers have noted on multiple occasions that I go over and beyond what I need to do at work, the most recent being the server report that I signed tonight.

After high school, I joined the Army.  I went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and from there to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.  I was slated to learn Korean and then become a signals analyst, but I failed Korean and hurt my knee.  I ended up with an honourable medical discharge due to having borderline personality disorder --- essentially, I had no emotional filters, no way to regulate what I felt.  I was on medication for a couple of years, then stopped, and I haven't had an borderline episode since.  I went to a couple of different colleges and a few different jobs, ending up back in Sacramento with the bulk of my immediate family; Sacramento, because Fortuna honestly held nothing for me, despite my mother living there.  I'm still here, still working, still in college ... but I'm getting closer to my goals.  I've had failed relationships, relationships that made me anywhere from wary of falling in love or trusting people on that level to downright terrified of emotional intimacy.  Makes me glad that Islam says no to physical intimacy prior to marriage, and yes to finding someone based on actual compatibility, rather than how they make you feel.  I don't quite trust my emotions in that respect, yet.

Oh, yes.  I'm also Muslim, in case the head thing didn't tip you off.  This is a faith that I chose, not one I was born into.  Islam is logical, God is accessible, life is made easier.  I'm told by God to use my brain, to search out the truth for myself and seek guidance from others, rather than relying solely on another person's authority.  I'm told to present Islam in beautiful language, which automatically rules out the pictures of men whose signs read "Behead those who insult Islam."  I'm taught that my Prophet, peace be upon him, was a man who, like Jesus (pbuh), suffered great humiliation in the course of relaying God's message, and who, like Jesus, suffered in silence and once he was in a position to retaliate against those who had harmed him, chose forgiveness.

I'm still wading through authentic vs. cultural Islam, trying to find the balance between what's accepted by the mainstream and what I feel to be right, trying to figure out why some things that aren't specified in the Qur'an are taken as gospel, and which of those are things I should ignore, or err on the side of caution and do.  I struggle, too, with trying to get a feel for how my father and stepmother really feel about my conversion.  My path to Islam was a gradual one, but my decision to convert was quite abrupt.

I struggle with the media's perceptions and proclamations on Islam, and what I read and experience all around me --- they're quite contradictory.  The media says that most Muslims are Arab.  Most Muslims are, I believe, Indonesian.  The media says that the Qur'an commands people to kill those who leave Islam, yet there's a verse that talks of people believing one day, and disbelieving the next, and believing the next, ad nauseum.  I hear that Muslims in other countries hate America, yet I only see a miniscule percentage of Muslims reported on, and those are on the extreme end of Islam.  I hear that Islam preaches hatred, yet I read that to kill one person is to kill all of humankind.  I'm told by that talking box at my father's than Islam hates women, yet I'm entitled to an orgasm when I have sex, I cannot be forced into a marriage that I have no desire to be in, and even though a man will inherit twice as much as I do, he has to spend the majority of his money on me, his wife, whilst all the money that I inherit goes straight into my pockets; I don't have to spend a thing on the household if I don't want to.  In addition to an orgasm, my husband must approach me with "kind words and kisses" --- or, you know, foreplay.  I'm allowed to choose when I want children, and if we can provide for them, as far as I've read, my husband can't say no, and can't do anything that will interfere with either my sexual satisfaction nor desire to bear children.  Me not being satisfied with sex is a valid reason for divorce.  My husband must spend his money on me whilst the money I earn from the job that I'm religiously entitled to sits in my bank account.  He must honour me above his parents, and all the rights that he has over me --- a decent home, sex when he wants it, obedience to him --- are rights that I have over him, as well.  That means that if he has the "right" to beat me, then I also have the right to beat him --- which goes against the line about spouses being garments for one another, and partners.

And really, I'm the oppressed one?  No one is forcing me to wear hijab; there's evidence that it's not even required, even though it's become the general consensus.  Modesty, however, is.  Covering the breasts is.  Not being a hoochie-mama (or papa) is.  Being kind to others, and helpful, and making the world a better place ... all of these are required by my religion.  Yes, even living in peace.  Especially living in peace.  I can't start a fight, and if I'm in one, as soon as the other people involved want to make peace, I have to accept the offer.  I can defend myself, yes, but I can't be the aggressor.  I can't attack women, or children, or non-combatants. I can't force my beliefs on others, because the Qur'an says quite clearly that God will judge people based on the beliefs that He sent down for them.  A Jew isn't going to be judged by Muslim law, nor is a Christian going to be judged by Jewish law, and so on.  By all accounts, the earliest form of Islam is one of a religion that tolerated others, that welcomed diversity, that preached against the extremes that we have today.

And that's the type of Muslim that I'm trying to be.  To you your beliefs, and to me mine.  We can discuss them, we can debate, but as soon as insults and disrespect start, then God gets angry at us, and punishes us, not someone who is innocent.  We're all responsible for our own faith, honour, and salvation, and no one else's.

That brings me to honour killings and women carrying the family's honour on their shoulders, whilst the men get a free pass to do whatever they want.  The women don't, and the men don't; not according to God.  We are responsible for ourselves and that's it.  Your actions don't affect my status in the eyes of God.  If my sister (let's pretend she's Muslim) doesn't wear modest clothing, all I can do is remind her, peaceably, that she should, that God commands it.  If she refuses, though, that sin is on her, not me, not our father, not our family.  Her, because ultimately, she is her own responsibility, just as you are your own, and I am my own.  Our family's honour is made up of all of our actions, and if I'm being a paragon of virtue whilst my brothers are free to drink, smoke, have sex ... Then they have ruined our family's honour, not me.


I love being American.  I love being Muslim.  I see conflict in the news, but I see no conflict with these two identities of mine.  They meld quite nicely together, into something that binds me on both a spiritual and mortal level to strive for great justice, great peace, great equality, for everyone.

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