This evening, I attended and spoke at a Converts Panel at the University of Louisville. It was hosted by the MSA in which my oldest son is the Vice President. He asked me to speak along with him and four other converts. I am great at interpersonal speaking, but not so great at public speaking. I was nervous, but did my duty as a mom. We were asked three questions that each of us were able to touch on. The questions posed were as follows:
1. Explain what or who introduced you to Islam? What were your experiences leading up to your Shahadah?
2. What aspects of the Deen, or Islamic Way of Life, stands out and is most appreciable?
3. How has life in the Louisville community, among Muslims and non-Muslims been for you?
It was interesting our different and yet similar experiences. It was also very touching to see my son and I together as converts on the panel. It is a rarity to see parent and child converts to Islam. Usually, it is either the parent or the child, but not both. It saddened me too that I had three children convert to Islam and two born into Islam and now one of my convert children is on the fence about Islam due to the behavior of born Muslims. It is often said among converts that “Alhamdu Lillah I learned about Islam before I met the Muslims.” It is even more alarming that Muslims do not pick up on that wake up call about their behavior towards converts.
So, the first question was answered mostly that there was in fact one out of many Muslims who actually cared enough to engage with us about Islam in a loving and compassionate manner. Many of those very people that reached out were converts themselves. The other aspect was the scientific knowledge in the Quran. I also mentioned that the rights of women intrigued me as well. Fascinating!
In the second question, I answered with the dirty little word, “feminism”… and had to qualify that I did not mean in the context of burning our bras as was done in the 60’s but in the definition of advocating for women’s rights in society. Rights that women only obtained 200 years ago in the west were firmly established with Mohamed, saw, over 1400 years ago. They were God given rights in Islam; unquestionable. I also said that the Quran talks about a Merciful and Compassionate God; not one that is out to get us, but one that is loving and forgiving and that we should try to emulate that ourselves with other… be merciful and compassionate with our fellow humans. Thirdly, I stated that Islam was a religion that clearly states in the Quran to be critical thinkers, not to just follow blindly. We are also expected to be introspective, not look to others faults but to look in ourselves and improve what we can.
Some of the other panelists mentioned modesty, hospitality, community, structure and the ilk as being what they love about Islam and always saying there are many things to love about the faith.
The last question left us all walking on eggshells. We wanted to speak out more, but in a public forum it was difficult to do so without insulting others. Basically, I said that I have had non Muslims who attacked me, but had some non Muslims that protected me. I feel that the day of out and out hatred against Muslims are easing up as people become more educated about Muslims and that more and more Muslims become involved in society. As for among the Muslim community. I mentioned that it is difficult to be considered a traitor by your society because you are a Muslim now and considered not a real Muslim because you do not adopt the culture of the born Muslims. I am a hillbilly and that does not make me less of a Muslim. There are too many judgments and expectations of convert Muslims.
Most of the panel mentioned the double standard of born Muslims to converts and the facade that is presented. Outward appearances and not the heart seems to be what born Muslims judge someone’s Islam on and that is not Islam. There was a lot more that needed to be said, but sadly this was not the atmosphere for it. We converts need to empower ourselves and show the others how it should be done.
Overall it was a great experience; even a wake up call that I need to brush up on my public speaking skills. I hope that it opened some eyes and spurred some serious dialogue. I look forward to be inviting to more conversations like this one.