It is nearly impossible to give people The Muslim Perspective. No, it is impossible. There is no single, defining narrative that tells the Muslim story, because there are over 1.5 billion Muslims spread out over every single country in the world and every socioeconomic status and every strength and vision of faith. We don't even have the benefit of the Islamic version of a Pope to tell us and the world What Muslims Believe. Shariah law is defined and implemented by Islamic* governments and everyday Muslims differently. Our religious laws change with the times and cultures they're applied in - and they're meant to, because one-size-fits-all is not something that an accurate faith system should claim.
The incredible diversity found in the adherents of Islam, and how we adhere to it, is one of our biggest strengths, yet it also makes it that much harder to describe us to people who don't have three hours to spare while I tell them about the differences between Sunnis, Shi'as, and Sufis (and Nation of Islam, and Five Percenters, and, and, and ...); about the differences between the main schools of thought in Islam; about fiqh and Shariah and ijtihad and sunnah and fard and the jumbled mess of ahadith and ahadith that were meant for people in general and ahadith that were meant only for a specific person or group of people and fabricated ahadith and strong vs. weak ahadith and by this time you're yelling at your screen "Just give me the short version!" but this is the short version, and how do I possibly begin to describe the vast intricacies of Islam when you ask me a question that has a million different answers that are each correct, even when they contradict one another? Even if I give you an answer, there's no way that I can give you THE answer because I'm not the Queen of the Muslims, no one is, and no one Muslim or group of them speaks for us all (I'm looking at you, Saudi).
I write this rant because I'm reading I Speak For Myself: Voices of American Muslim Women, and while it's an amazing collection of essays by American Muslim women, I find myself in the very uncomfortable, privilege-exposing position of being in the minority - of not being visible at all.
I was initially very excited about this book. Finally, I felt, a bunch of stories about Muslim women that were written by Muslim women. I looked forward to reading about the struggles of immigrants, of women born into Muslim families on American soil, of native Muslims, of converts, of black, brown, yellow, tan, white, and purple Muslim women.
My enthusiasm diminished somewhat as I looked at the faces of the women on the cover, front and back, and diminished further as I quickly scanned the author's names, then began reading. There was one key voice that wasn't represented, when the experience of being a Muslim women in America for them is a big deal - converts. Converts of all races - black, brown, yellow, tan, white, and purple converts. Converts who are forever being asked "How could you choose such an oppressive religion?! Did you marry a Muslim? Do you have a Muslim boyfriend?"**
All of the women in this book - which, by its very title, subtly claims to encompass all Muslim women in America - were born into Muslim families. They're the children of immigrants, or come from Black American families, and I find myself not connecting with them as much as I could, as I feel that, as a Muslim woman, I should, because I'm a convert - I can't identify with growing up Muslim or being raised by immigrant parents, and because I'm white - I don't have the experiences with racism and being considered unAmerican from the get-go that they have.
This book (the first in a series, which I will be buying the rest of) is an excellent read, and a great and noble endeavor. I really, honestly hope and pray that God blesses the women who thought of it, who put it into motion, and the women who contributed to it. At the same time, I feel that while it's impossible to fully include all aspects of American Muslim womanhood, this book does a great disservice by not including the voices and struggles of converts. While I personally felt jilted by not having a white convert's story because I myself am white, any convert's story would have been better than none.
I know of converts who have been kicked out of their homes because they converted. I know converts whose families have assumed that they were going to become terrorists or get "extreme" and start wearing niqab, who have verbally and sometimes physically attacked them for their choices. I know converts who constantly struggle with being told that we're the best Muslims because we chose Islam, and won't we tell everyone our convert stories, and are then left alone to learn even the bare basics by ourselves because quite often it seems like the only thing born Muslims want from us is to hear our convert story, say Masha'Allah (God has willed it), and then leave us alone, with no help and no support group.
I know converts (spoiler alert: it's me) who cry every Ramadan because every other Muslim they know gets up before dawn and eats a big meal with their families, then prays the pre-dawn prayer, Fajr, with them, and then go to the mosque with their families to break their fasts and pray the sunset prayer, Maghrib, and then stay at the mosque with their families to taraweeh, the nightly recitation of the Qur'an during Ramadan, while the convert eats suhoor alone, prays alone, fasts alone, comes alone to the mosque and tries to find any empty spot at the tables where they might be welcomed, or at least tolerated, and then eats as quickly as they can so that they can leave as soon as possible because they work at night and can't stay for taraweeh, or just can't bear to watch the huge family deal that is Ramadan and Eid, the holiday right after, being celebrated by families that they aren't a part of, because they're the only Muslim in their family.
I Speak for Myself: Voices of American Muslim Women is an excellent book, with an amazing purpose and vision that it can in no way ever truly achieve unless it's expanded by two or three more volumes. I, quite simply, feel left out.
That was sad. Have a picture of Gir.
Gir © Nickelodeon/Jhonen Vasquez
* "Islamic" in the sense that they attempt to rule based on their interpretations of Shariah law. How truly Islamic they actually are varies.
** Seriously, stfu with this question. Really. No. Really. No ... really. I mean it. Just stop.