Maria’s Journey into Islam

Please welcome Maria as she shares her story of struggle and exploration into the world of Islam.

My parents split up when I was 9 years old and my mom and I moved to NC to live with my grandmother. Apparently this was a time for soul searching for my mother and that is when she found Islam. I was a young child so I didn’t really pay attention. I went to spend the summer with my dad and when I got back to NC my mom picked me up from the airport wearing a headscarf. She explained to me that she had become a Muslim and will wear a headscarf as part of her belief. At first I couldn’t believe, here was my mom who I never saw without makeup, used to go every weekend to Miami Beach to tan and dress very modern with a scarf on her head and no makeup! Also, I didn’t want my friends to see her because I felt that they would make fun of me. My mom made it clear that I was free to choose what I wanted to believe in, if I wanted to stay with her I had to respect her new way of life and if I wasn’t comfortable I could go and live with my Dad in Miami. Also, she decided to put me in an Islamic School when I started 5th grade. This was the only thing she ever forced me to do and the condition was that if I didn’t like it I could go to public school but I did like the Islamic school and the new environment I found myself in. It was a small school so I became friends with everyone and I was pretty popular since there weren’t many Latino Muslims. I found myself really liking Islam, it all made perfect sense to me. How we don’t associate anything with God, what a great role model Muhammad was, how I was still able to believe in Heaven, Hell, Angels, Jesus as a Prophet and of course Mary as the mother of Jesus. So when I turned twelve and reached puberty I told my mom that I was ready to start covering my hair and wanted to start practicing Islam.

That summer that I spent with my Dad was a real eye opener for me. Since I was born I was surrounded by a lot of alcohol and abuse. I would see my Dad get drunk and then physically abuse my mom. As a child this was traumatizing for me and from there I started having fear of my Dad.

Before my mom got a divorce I remember her asking me if it was okay for me to be away from my Dad and without hesitation I told her YES!! I was so scared of him and what he became when he got drunk; I knew that life without him would be better. I’m sure my mom saw that fear and realized that it was time to take me out of that abusive environment. So from there I never really had a good relationship with my Dad. Also, I didn’t like the way men were starting to stare at me, especially my behind. Several times, men would whistle or say something provocative and I didn’t like the way that made me feel at all.

So having experienced this I realized that more than anything I wanted to live in a home without alcohol or abuse. Wearing the headscarf for me was so easy. I loved it from the moment I put it on. It gave me so much freedom, it defined who I was. I didn’t need to have perfect hair, perfect size 0 body to fit in. So all from 5-8th grade I attended the Islamic school and loved being a Muslim. My dad and his side of the family stopped talking to us for awhile since they thought my mom was crazy and had brainwashed me, I couldn’t care less because I was finally happy!

My mom got remarried to an Egyptian man. That was hard on me, for the first time in a long time I had to share her and I didn’t want to. My step-dad was strict and he made me wear very loose clothing, took the TV out of my room, decided who I could be friends with, barely let me out of his sight except for Friday nights at the mosque for youth events. I didn’t take this very well but I would pray and ask God to give me the patience and strength because even though I didn’t like him, but I was glad my mom had found someone to take care of her. In my mind as soon as I turned 18 I was leaving home anyways and I didn’t want her being alone.

For grades 9-12 I attend Athens Dr High School and it was the first time that I was really exposed to standing out in a new environment. However, nobody EVER gave me a hard time nor did anyone ever tried to pull off my headscarf. In fact, I had friends who looked out for me. If my hair was showing or my neck they would tell me, they wouldn’t curse around me and I even had a guy who wanted to see my hair badly, he begged! I think thought a lot of that had to do with my personality. I’m not a loud vocal person, I’m actually very shy and I’m terrified of public speaking but I’m not shy in a small group setting or one on one. I would always tell everyone that if they had any questions about my headscarf or belief to please ask instead of making stuff up or listening to the news which doesn’t make sense half the time anyways. I was always nice and respectful to my teachers and peers and in return they were that way with me. See to me it doesn’t matter what you faith you have, we are all people and want to be treated with respect but in order for people to respect you gotta give that respect back. This is not religion, it is just common sense!

So I graduated High School and got into NCSU psychology program. I would say for the first time in my life I was given a big test and yep I’m sure you know what day that was, September 11th. I remember I was finishing up my 2nd class of the day when everything on campus just kinda stopped. Such a surreal moment that I’m sure nobody will forget. I know I won’t. That day I got spit on, ignorant people called me racial names, cars honked their horns at me. I was finally an outsider, I was being called a terrorist for wearing a headscarf! My faith that I loved dearly, that had given me so much peace was under attack.

My mom was scared that somebody was going to hurt me so she insisted I take of my headscarf out of my personal safety but I told that no way was I going to do that. I didn’t do anything wrong, even if I took of my headscarf, I’m not blonde blue-eyed, I’m still an outsider and no way was I going to let a bunch of ignorant people take away something that I believe in. For the headscarf to me is more than covering my hair, it is my modesty, it defines who I am as a woman. I don’t need males staring at me, trying to get my number, trying to get my attention, for what? I was actually glad that in Islam we don’t date because I saw how much trauma that was in my friends’ lives and really who needs that when you’re already going nuts adjusting to being a teenager. With my headscarf I felt that men respected me as a person, not as a piece of meat. Anyways back to September 11th, I went to class the next day with my head held high and ready to face anything. I stood up in all my classes and told me about me and why I chose Islam as my way of life. Afterwards, I had people write me notes telling me how much they admired me and even a few guys offered to walk me to my next class as my bodyguards. There will always be some good out of some bad. God is so fair and even the disasters, bad news, etc are there so that we can appreciate the good. If life was always good and happy, we wouldn’t appreciate it.

I love being a Muslim woman, I feel that Islam gives me so many rights. It hurts me when I see how the media and news portray Muslim women. They think we’re oppressed for wearing a headscarf but what about all the girls out there with anorexia/bulimia problems that are dying just to fit into a mold of the perfect female? Isn’t that a form of oppression too? I have many Muslims friends who don’t wear the headscarf because they want to fit into American society, but I have found a way of fitting in without sacrificing my beliefs and my headscarf. I truly believe that the best way to teach anyone of your faith is by example. Actions speak louder than words. Like I said to me Islam is more than a religion, it is a way of Life. 

 

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11 responses to “Maria’s Journey into Islam

  • World Wonderer

    Thank you for sharing your journey to Islam, Maria. Your story reveals your deep love for your faith.

    • Maria

      Thank you for your comment:) I feel honored to have such an important part of my life posted on this awesome and inspiring website.

  • Melissa

    Thank you Maria, for sharing this. It was moving to hear such raw truth about your journey, the ups and downs, and the happiness you’ve found. I felt honored to read this and inspired by your journey down your path. So again, thank you so much for sharing this, and being brave enough to face a world that doesn’t always understand.

    • Maria

      Thank you Melissa for your kind words and message:) People like you and all those who have left me such positive and kind comments just let me know that there are still people out there who are kind, just and loving regardless of belief, skin color, socioeconomic status, etc. Doesn’t matter what religion we are, we are here to learn how to live with one another, respect each other and live in a peaceful happy society:)

  • Richard

    Thank you for sharing your journey. Whilst I agree with many of the points and observations you make I have to differ with your assessment of anorexia. This is a disease, it’s beyond just wanting to be slim. Whereas your stepfather and indeed your religion (for which I have great respect) may seek to enforce laws upon you, which is not the same. Look at what Shariah law states regarding women. Look at how women may be denied education and the same rights as a man (like the rules regarding rape and its proof where a woman’s word is not accorded the same weight a as a man’s). Still every faith does this to some extent, they all have rules, it’s just that so much of Islam carries such black and white strictness. The whole concept of one faith being better than another is taken to extremes in Islam where you can be killed from converting to another faith. But most of this is not actually in the Koran but has become part of the religion over time, much like confession and transubstantiation within the Catholic faith.
    I wish you well on your spiritual journey, may God go with you.

    • valeria_oh

      Hi Richard,

      While it is true that anorexia nerviosa is a disease, it’s quite different in that it’s bound to Western culture and its ideals and expectations for females. I think what Maria is saying is that women striving to be perfect by Western standards sometimes starve themselves to emaciation and death, when wearing hijab to fulfill Islamic expectations is not pernicious and may well be a positive decision.

    • Maria

      Wow Richard, I can tell that you have read about Islam. Thank you for pointing out the difference between what the Quran states and what scholars who interpret the Quran state. There are many different school of thoughts within Islam, some are more stricter than others. However, there is a whole Surah in the Quran that is dedicated to women and their rights. For example, the right of women to own property, if the husband dies how much wealth/property the woman receives, etc. Before Islam came along the men were burying alive their baby girls because they were ashamed of having girls in their family. It wasn’t until the verse was revealed and the verse were it became a sin to kill ANYBODY that women started having more rights. In Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan where the women cannot have an education, are forced to wear the Burqa and just pretty much used as slaves for men are countries that took Islam to the extremes. If you ever read a biography of Prophet Muhammad you will see how gentle and kind he was to his wives, daugthers, etc. He used to help with household chores and even his wife Khadija was a wealthy woman and much older than him. Unfortunately those Islamic fanatics don’t practice that at all. They prefer to oppress the women so that they can feel their MACHO power. I can go on and on about this topic though:)

      I have never read anything in Islam where it says that if a Muslim converts to another religion that they should be killed. Perhaps another invention or wording of the Prophet misinterpreted so that it benefits the men or whoever made it up. Islam prohibits the killing of another human being PERIOD. There are punishments for those who commit adultery, fornication, steal, etc to serve as a deterrent.

  • Penny G

    Hi Maria,
    I really loved reading about your journey and am glad you had the courage to stick with your beliefs and to share your story with us.
    I love that you find the wearing of the headscarf to be liberating, which is what I think was the original intent of it. I also love that dating is forbidden in Islam. I think that dating puts a lot of unfair pressure on both sexes at any age, and makes it difficult for men and women to relate to each other as human beings first and foremost. I notice that not all Muslim women wear the hijab, and that some do date in a similar way to non-Muslims. Do you know if these rules are actually part of the Qur’an, or did they originate from the cultures where the Qur’an was first revealed and embraced?
    What about the burqa? When I first saw pictures of women wearing the full-body burqa in Afghanistan, I was shocked and angry. It seemed to me that these women were being held prisoner in their own clothing, and that they were being robbed of their identity. Differences in culture and belief can often be shocking at first, but I have found that once I know the reason behind the differences they make much more sense.
    There are not many traditional Muslims where I live, but I sometimes watch “Little Mosque on the Prairie” on TV. Some of the characters on the show wear a headscarf, and I find that these head coverings are very beautiful. I wish you all the best, and am so glad that you have non-Muslim friends who support you in your beliefs.

    • Maria

      Hi Penny, thank you so much for leaving such a wonderful comment! It amazes me how you understand that wearing the hijab is liberating, very few understand that. The Quran does state that a woman must cover but it doesn’t exactly specify as to what. So there are scholars who interpret it differently. Some say that a woman can only show her hair and hands. Other stricter interpretation say that woman must cover her entire face, wear gloves, etc. There are many different school of thoughts within Islam and so it depends which scholar you prefer to follow. There are some sayings of the Prophet wear it says that a woman spoke behind a screen so that is why some say that women must cover their faces. Also, you have to understand that back in those days they lived in the desert that was prone to sandstorms so sometimes covering the face was a necessity so that sand wouldn’t go in your mouth, eyes, etc.

      Another thing I love about Islam is that there is a saying of the Prophet that says that Islam isn’t supposed to be an extreme, it is supposed to be moderate. When presented with choices, he said to take the easiest. Therefore, as a Muslim living her in the States the easiest choice for me is to just cover my hair. Some of my muslim friends choose not to wear their hijabs because that is their easy choice and they are uncomfortable sticking out in public. Wearing the hijab is truly a personal choice and it should be something that is between you and God. Nobody should force you to wear it.

      I loved the not dating part either, at first when I was a teenager I wasn’t totally convinced but in college when I saw so many of my friends heart broken and depressed because their boyfriend/girlfriend cheat on them I was glad I wasn’t part of all that drama. Muslims aren’t perfect and there are some muslims who will date, sleep over, drink, etc. They are just choosing to not practice the rules in the Quran. Also, when I read back on history the guy used to come over the girl’s house and ask the dad permission to take his daugther out, be home early and sometimes they were chaperoned as well. There was no sleeping around before marriage either. Times have definitely changed though.

      I hope I have answered some of your questions, feel free to contact me back if you have anymore questions. In high school and college I always told my non-muslim friends to ask as many questions as they wanted since it was better than assuming something that wasn’t correct. Thank you again for your comment, it makes me so happy to know that there are people out there like you who see the beauty in something that is portrayed so negatively.

  • Aakifah

    Asalaamu alaikum ukhti… I just wanted to say thank you for your lovely post. May Allah (SWT) reward you and keep you on Siratul Mustaqeem, Ameen.

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