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.