When I was a freshman in college I did a final project on the Muslim tradition of the hijab. I was, and still am, fascinated by the tradition of covering one’s head and what motivates one to do so or not. However, one thing I never thought of was what would people think of me if I became Muslim and started wearing one. In the UK, women of all backgrounds are converting to Islam and receiving varied support and responses from their communities for it.
This Huffington Post article describes the results of a study done in the UK.
I found the results overall very interesting.Women who were white felt that they were viewed as a “trophy” or “victory” by heritage Muslims, not seen as being legitimate women of faith. Some of these women stated that they resented being seen only for the “color of their skin” and not for their religious beliefs. It’s ironic that by the heritage Muslims having the tendency of putting these women on display has negative effects, which is probably not the intent. It just goes to show that sometimes given a group extra attention can actually be unwanted attention.
Many women were also rejected by their family and friends or at the very least questioned and chastised because of their choice to convert. Much of this I believe is because there are many misrepresentations of Islam and a lack of education about the religion. The study showed that many women were asked why would a “liberated/free Western woman embrace a backward faith that oppresses her?” This clearly shows a lack of understanding about the faith that their loved one converted to. Another individual case study talked about how her parents kicked her out and told their friends and neighbors that she had died. When she went to another country to do service, her family reported her as a terrorist to the authorities.
Clearly, there is a lot of pain and misunderstanding that comes with conversion. When reflecting on this article, I had a thought: interfaith cooperation doesn’t just affect social change, but affects a person’s individual faith too. It seems like an obvious statement, but I know that I can sometimes get caught in such a big picture mindset that I forget how important the individual faith journey really is in the big picture experience. If the individuals close to the women in the study were more open to other faiths or knew more about Islam, those women may have had a more positive experience with their faith journey and could have shared that with their family and friends. Community is crucial to faith development, and some of these women have been deprived of that.
I think that we all can not only take the time to learn about other faiths, but be open to helping other people grow in their faith, whatever it is. As a community of interfaith leaders we need to not only support change, but support each other.