Hello everyone. My blog has been rescued from the depths of oblivion after I have read quite a few blogs for the “Convert Truths” blog carnival and felt compelled to contribute. (And yes, I’m way late…sue me). I wanted to share what my own personal experience has been like as a Black, convert Muslim, female living in the United States. Here goes:
I wish I could tell you about the beauty. I wish I could tell you that I took shahadah after being fascinated with Islam and seeing the goodness of Muslims. I wish I could tell you how I found a family, a community and a new place to exist. I really wish I could. And I wish that because I am quite aware of the fact that Muslims don’t want to hear my kind of story. It’s too painful and too much truth for one person to digest. The reality is my convert experience has been a rocky one. It has been, at times, fraught with doubt and confusion as to why I chose to be a part of this community and around these particular people. Once the initial convert zeal wore off, I found myself in a miserable circumstance.
Many of you are quite aware of my story. For those who aren’t I can give you the quick rundown. I converted to Islam when I was 17 years old. I was initially part of the predominately African-American masjid where I took shahadah but became distant from the community after it folded due to mismanagement, personal scandals and a failure to help new converts like myself navigate the pitfalls of the larger world around us. Unwittingly, I fell in with members of the Tablighi Jumat (though I never officially joined it) and eventually the Salafi movement (which I also never officially joined) because my Muslim friends and support were part of these movements. I was only able to maintain that level of Islam for a couple years before I found myself burnt out, tired and wanting more. I “took a break” from practicing Islam for several years. I eventually found my way back after I moved to South Florida and became part of a Caribbean Indian and Indo-Pak mixture community. That is where it all began…
If you ask me what it has been like to be a Black, convert, Muslim, female I will reiterate it has been rough. Having spent most of my Muslim experience in non-Black immigrant communities, I have faced a great deal of racism, sexism and colorism. Though I often heard how we are “all Muslim” and have been reminded of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) last sermon where he says, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action,” the reality amongst Muslims was and is far from the ideal. Beyond all the beautiful speeches given to me by my Indian, Pakistani, Caribbean Indian, and Arab brothers and sisters I realized that being Black, a woman and a convert made me less than. The litmus test was marriage. I watched as my fair-skinned Latina friends were repeatedly asked for their hand in marriage. I watched as the White female converts were held in high esteem and absorbed into immigrant Muslim families (their babies will be so fair, mashallah!) and I laughed inwardly at the sisters’ tales of being proposed to at the annual ISNA convention because that NEVER happened to me. Yet, I continued to subject myself to this mistreatment because I didn’t know what else I was supposed to do. It occurred to me that my presence was being tolerated. I was angry at myself because the Afrocentric movement was what had led me to Islam. Before becoming Muslim I was confident and proud of the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, the shape of my nose and of my slave ancestors. How did I move from that to being ashamed of taking off my hijab at sisters’ only events? How could I sit silently as people insulted my skin color or asked me if I was a convert or Muslim? What happened to me?
I eventually woke up. I divorced the Arab husband I was married to, left the masjid that I had been attending and rediscovered/reclaimed my identity. I was free and ready to reconnect with my people, Black people. One would think that moving to a predominately African-American Muslim community would’ve been better for me. I thought I would find myself welcomed into my local W.D. Muhammad masjid with full and open arms. I was coming home! However, from the moment I set foot in the masjid I immediately knew I was an outsider, not to be welcomed in. This time it wasn’t because of my skin color or cultural background. I was an outsider because I wasn’t part of the Nation of Islam experience and I didn’t have an entire family who was. I was also an outsider because I was attractive, single and a threat to the sisters. The fact that I wore abayas, full hijab and tended to be more conservative (due to the years I spent in immigrant Muslim communities) didn’t help either. Sure, I could come to Jumah, participate in community events or even help out with the tasks the masjid administration assigned to me but I got the message loud and clear: don’t think you’re going to come in here and change things or try to be a better Muslim than us. Nepotism was the order of the day and I had no family connections.
Outside of the Muslim community I found myself in a strange predicament. Before 9/11 people would assume that I was from the Nation of Islam. That’s what being Black and Muslim meant. However, after 9/11 I was suddenly “foreign” and from “over there.” People assumed I didn’t speak English, that I was passive and docile, and that someone was forcing me to cover my hair and body. The strangest part of all was that Black people no longer recognized me as Black. My light brown skin (once considered too dark in Arab and Indian/Pakistani communities) combined with my hijab made people assume I was East African or a “Black Arab.” There were no head nods, complicit glances, or casual words spoken to me from other Black people. Somehow, being Black meant you had to be Christian. To be anything else was to be a cultural apostate.
One may ask, why be Muslim then? Why don’t you just leave? Why subject yourself to this? After all, I have had so many negative experiences in the Muslim community. Best believe that I have asked myself these questions many times since I converted. To sit here and say that I haven’t would be a lie. So, why do it? Why remain here? I believe without a doubt or hesitation that there is no nothing or no one worthy of worship of worship except Allah (who has no partners, no equals, no sons) and that the Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah is his messenger and the seal of all Prophets. If I left Islam where would I go and who would I be? Despite the negative experiences I have had and continue to have, the Quran has offered me guidance and peace during these tumultuous times. After all, when I am focused, when I remind myself of my purpose, when I lay that rug out and face the kiblah, I remember that there is nothing and no one else in the world except me and Allah.