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True Sister of Islam? Searching for Balance in My Life and Faith

by share

This story originally ran in the November/December 2009 edition of VOX Teen Newspaper.

Their skirts billow in the wind.  Their heads glisten with the beautiful scarves they wear with honor. They are not tempted to wear tight jeans or midriff shirts because they embrace Islamic modesty without fear of what others may think. They are not afraid to wear the traditional attire of a Muslim woman.

For a long time, I did not wear the traditional clothing of a Muslim because of the trauma I experienced as a little girl. All I wanted to do was hide whom I truly was because I believed if I was noticed then I could get hurt, and I did not want to get hurt again. Many people mistakenly believe that Muslim women are disrespected and treated like they’re not human beings because we cover ourselves. But this is a choice that Muslim women come to at their own freewill, not something that is forced.

I want to be like these women. I want to have the courage to show how deeply I believe in Islam through the clothes I wear and way I act every day. But I’m afraid of people around me shutting me out because of their ignorance. I want to display my beliefs without feeling like an outsider from the world I was raised in and live in.

Raised Without Faith

I have always felt different, even among Muslims, because I was not born Muslim. When I was younger, the majority of my family were Christians, but we never showed it. We sort of lived how we wanted to, not caring if anyone else approved of the things we did.

My sisters and brother were always in some type of boot camp or program for juvenile delinquents. They acted like everything had to go their way or no way at all. I couldn’t understand how they could act as if life was just a joke.

My grandparents’ Christian faith was fragile at best. My paternal grandfather wasn’t religious at all. And my mom’s parents were hypocrites. They presented one persona to their church friends but treated each other and the rest of the family like horse crap.

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Meanwhile, I had experienced things as a little girl that no one should have to experience: sexual abuse and abandonment. The only thing I wanted was to feel safe and loved. Tide Begins to Turn Things began to get better
when I turned 8 years old and my mother converted to Islam. Living with her and my stepfather was very
different than living with my grandpa, my dad’s dad, who didn’t practice any religion.

My parents prayed five times daily, attended Friday prayer and read the Quran, the holy book of Islam, every day. But they were far from perfect, constantly drinking and smoking. In Islam, it is prohibited to drink alcohol or smoke, but they drank and smoked like there was no tomorrow.

Even though I was young, I was old enough to question my own beliefs. The abuse I had experienced when I was younger made me wise beyond my years. I began to look more closely at the Bible and Quran, to the extent where I would fall asleep reading them. I searched not only in these holy texts but also within myself for faith. I wanted my heart to help me decide on what I believed because, as I later learned, faith is not gained through logic but through belief.

Searching for Perfection

I struggled with believing in anything because I’d seen so many flaws in the seemingly faithful around me. But eventually I realized that there is no perfect way to believe. Regardless of how much faith people may have, they are bound to make mistakes. I believe that God made humans perfectly imperfect because without mistakes, how can you become a better person?

Once I realized that there is no perfect belief, I began to learn about the religion that called to me and that I believe is best, Islam. Islam mended my wounds. It enveloped me in a sea of love that I never want to let go. On March 5, 2001, I made Shahada, declaring that there is no God but Allah (God in Arabic) and that Muhammad is his messenger.

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Converting

I began to wear a hijab and changed my style of dress. I wore long-sleeve shirts and pants or long skirts. I also made prayer every day, attended Friday prayer and read the Quran. I had already started doing these things with my parents, but now I began to live them.

When people at school questioned me, I simply explained what I, as a Muslim, believed. Some people listened. Others thought Islam was too constricting because there is always a certain way to do things. For example, dating is always a big issue because Muslims don’t date in the traditional way. We get to know each other, of course, but only in the presence of other Muslims or a chaperone. When people look at me crazy, I ignore them because I understand that people who don’t share my faith might not understand where I’m coming from.

The real struggle had not yet begun, though.

Living in Two Worlds

As I got older and entered high school, the struggle to live out my faith began to grow. It has been extremely hard not to do the things people in my high school do. I’m not talking about drugs or sex. I’m talking about not caving under the pressure of wanting my peers to accept me and my beliefs.

I wish a day would go by that a person wouldn’t ask me if I eat bean pies or where I’m from, even though I don’t have an accent. I want my peers not to expect me to be holy or a terrorist. I want them to know I’m human just like them. The only difference is that I believe in a religion where I outwardly display my beliefs.

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School isn’t the only place I struggle. Every time I’m around other Muslims, I feel like an outsider. I want to be a part of the Muslim community, but I just seem to hang around the fringe. Sometimes I feel like the only thing we have in common is our faith.

I feel alone in a religion with billions of followers because I wasn’t born Muslim, and I don’t always dress the way Muslim women usually dress. I don’t wear a traditional hijab, long sleeve shirt and pants or a skirt every day because they make me feel isolated from others at school.

I struggle to find a comfortable balance between being Muslim and fitting in with the people around me. I’m tired of fighting between who I am and what I believe.

Epiphany

I recently read a fictional story about a Muslim boy who moved to America from Sudan. After leaving a majority Muslim country, he strives to fit into American society, where religion is not as important as power or success. His strong faith helped him overcome his hardships and made me feel like I could conquer my own.

I’m learning to let go of my past. Through counseling and with faith, I’ve slowly come to love and respect the person I am today.

Islam healed my scars as a child and still fights my battles today. It is my way of life, not just my religion. And I am a Muslim no matter how I was raised.

I may not be exactly like the women I described earlier. I still have time to grow, but I am still me and that, simply put, is a true sister of Islam.

Veronica graduated from Washington High School.

Resources for Understanding Islam

Generation Islam
www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2009/generation.islam/
Read stories and watch videos in this special report on Islam post-9/11 by Christiane Amanpour.

Islam Q &A
www.islam-qa.com/en
This is a go-to site for answers to some of your questions about Islam.

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